Thursday, January 29, 2015

Historical Fiction – Celebrating the Possibilities

By Suzanne Morgan Williams

The funny thing about history is that you aren’t aware that you’re making it. My daughter once asked, “How do you plan your life?” I answered something like, “You can have an idea of where you want to go, but honestly, you make one decision and then another and they add up, and there you are. Mostly life goes day by day.”

History too is sometimes created by the accumulation of random events added, perhaps, to the intersection of powerful people. Considering that every participant has a unique and often differing point of view, it’s amazing we can ever agree on some kind of shared backstory. But the idea that one narrative doesn’t define an era is exciting for authors.
Finding an untold point of view or a detail overlooked by traditional teachings can launch an entire book. Mary Cronk Farrell’s 2014 nonfiction book True Grit; How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, is exactly that kind of story. Who knew about these nurses and what they contributed and endured in the Philippines? Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson adds details, insight, and humanizes the Civil Rights era and the years that followed through a stunning memoir. But what about historical fiction? What can it add to the conversation?

Fiction, in my mind, can be used to present truth in a way that the constraints of nonfiction may not allow. And yet it is fiction, made up, not true. And young readers may not know anything about the events a book is based on. So how can historical fiction books enrich and enchant the middle grade reader without confusing them? When kids read historical fiction how will they know what is fact and what is fiction? Chances are they won’t, so authors must do impeccable research. A good historical fiction book depends on solid facts, whether it is the method of creating celadon pottery in twelfth century Korea as in Linda Sue Park’s Single Shard, or the streetscapes of 1930s San Francisco in Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts. These details bring the books to life and lend them authority and authenticity. For readers who are familiar with the time and place, they underscore the book’s honesty. For young readers, they provide information that they will accept, probably without question, so the facts had better be right. These authors don’t change the facts. They use them to underscore their characters and add drama to their plots.

In my opinion the strength of historical fiction is in humanizing stories that may have been mythologized or sanitized, and bringing young readers squarely into the emotional lives of a character experiencing a historic event. Historical fiction can remind us that every war statistic represents a person and every economic downturn can devastate real families. It may present a point of view we never thought of – a slave in Boston during the Revolutionary War (Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson) or a Cuban teen who is sent to Miami during the Cuban Revolutions during Operation Pedro Pan (The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez). Historical fiction engages children in a way a few text book pages can’t, gets them asking questions they never knew they had and thinking for themselves. Keeping the facts straight while making the story unforgettable. That’s the possibility of historical fiction.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mary Louise Sanchez:The Battle of the Bulge

Since it's January, many people may think this post addresses weight loss. I am Mary Louise Sanchez, and yes, I need to fight the battle of the bulge too. However, our blog addresses middle grade historical fiction books, so I'd like to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge that took place from December 16, 1944 – January 25, 1945, and was Hitler's last gamble to win WWII.
Google Images -
He wanted to recapture the port of Antwerp, Belgium and believed the Allied forces, especially the Americans, were not strong in the western part of Europe and so decided to attack them in the heavily forested Ardennes region, primarily in Belgium and Luxembourg but also in Germany and France. 

Hitler's plan was to split the allies in their drive towards Germany in a surprise attack by using the bad weather, which his meteorologists forecast; frozen roads to enable the German tanks to press forward; and  the special forces Panzer units.

The initial attack by the Germans caused a bulge in the Allied front line, thus, this offensive became better known as the Battle of the Bulge, rather than the Ardennes Offensive.  Because the Nazis needed much fuel for this offensive and the allied air power destroyed most of the supply, the mission was doomed from the beginning. Hitler also underestimated the camaraderie of the allied forces, and clear skies on December 23, which allowed Allied planes to drop supplies for the divisions. 

Google Images

Sometimes we get caught up in the Invasion of Normandy at D-Day, but forget or don't know that the Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle fought by the Americans in World War II. 600,000 American troops were involved in the battle. The Americans lost 81,000 men, while the Germans lost 100,000 killed, wounded and captured soldiers.

January 27, 2015 is also an important book anniversary, because two bloggers, Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen, have joined forces for the second year on the website, Multicultural Children's Book Day,  to raise awareness about the need for books that celebrate diversity; and to get these books into the classrooms and libraries. 

To recognize both the Battle of the Bulge and Multicultural Children's Book Day, I highly recommend Dog Tags-Prisoners of War by C. Alexander London published by Scholastic Inc. in 2013 for our middle grade and older readers. Boys, in particular, will thank you for adding this paperback book, from the Dog Tag series, to your collection of war books.
  I've been researching the Battle of the Bulge lately for my work-in-progress set in 1944 and 1945. Thus, I recognized many instances in the story where the author embedded research into the story.

In the book I learned that dark skinned American soldiers, who were not African American, were rounded up with their Jewish American brothers in arms and sent to concentration camps. This story was inspired by the life of Anthony Acevedo, a Mexican American medic. 

The protagonist of the story is an Hispanic medic, Miguel Rivera, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Some of my direct ancestors founded this settlement in the 1700s and you can see their names on a mural in Old Town). The  new friend Miguel is trying to save from the German captors, using their own dog, is Mike Goldsmith, a Jewish American from New York. I give the author kudos for making his protagonist Hispanic. In my research of the Battle of the Bulge, for my work-in-progress, Ken Burns made no mention of the important role Hispanics played in WWII in his book and his PBS special, based on the book. 

To put my research to work, in 2015 I will be posting information about WWII historical fiction and nonfiction books I've read. As I've been reading  about the Battle of the Bulge, I have to remind myself that my husband was only six months old at the time and I wasn't even born.

Be sure and tell me some of your favorite WWII books.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Robert Lee Murphy: Substitutes Are Important

I am Robert Lee Murphy, author of The Iron Horse Chronicles, a trilogy which follows the quest of William Braddock, a recently orphaned fourteen-year-old, who embarks upon a quest to determine his own destiny. Will finds himself embroiled in the historical events that contribute to the building of the first transcontinental railroad in the late-1860s.

It is possible to say that anything past is “historical.” The substitute who comes off the bench to win the school’s basketball game at the last minute has participated in a historical achievement after the final buzzer sounds. Sports’ organizations keep track of the accomplishments of their teams and players in a historical way, giving credit to substitutes when deserved. The driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, is a historical event that used substitutes.

Photo by: Andrew J. Russell, Union Pacific Railroad

During my research for writing the final book in my trilogy, Golden Spike, I came across some interesting facts that are usually glossed over during the telling of the story of the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit. I learned that like the starter in a sporting event, the locomotive that begins the game may not be the one at the finish line. The two famous locomotives that touched cowcatchers when the golden spike was driven were both substitutes. Will Braddock is going to stand beside these famous substitutes when he appears in the not too distant future in Golden Spike–The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book Three. Since I am still writing that book, and rather than keep you waiting until anticipated publication in 2016, I present herewith the fascinating information about how two substitutes became the most famous locomotives in history.

Central Pacific Engine "Jupiter"
On May 6, 1869, Leland Stanford, former governor of California and now president of the Central Pacific Railroad, departed Sacramento with a group of dignitaries to make the journey to Promontory Summit to participate in the celebrations surrounding the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Stanford and his entourage were on board a special train following not too far behind the regularly scheduled CP passenger train. After crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, skirting Donner Lake, and proceeding beyond the new town of Truckee, Stanford’s train struck disaster. A Chinese woodcutting crew working on the slopes above the Truckee River had not been informed of the pending passage of the special train. After they saw the regular train pass below them, and thinking everything was clear for them to proceed, they loosed a log down the slope. The log came to rest on the track. The special’s locomotive plowed into the log, resulting in severe damage. Fortunately, none of the passengers were injured, although one who had been brave enough to ride on the cowcatcher had to dive off to save his life. A telegram to the Wadsworth, Nevada, station, just beyond Reno, directed that the regular passenger train wait for the crippled special to catch up. At Wadsworth, CP’s Engine No. 60, Jupiter, was transferred from the regular train to Stanford’s special, from where it proceeded to Utah and its place in history.

Union Pacific Locomotive #119
Also on May 6, 1869, Thomas “Doc” Durant, vice-president and general manager of the Union Pacific Railroad, was journeying westward in his luxurious Pullman palace car en route with his own group of dignitaries to join the festivities at Promontory Summit. Today, we are not impressed with Durant’s title, but in the 1860s it was equivalent to saying he served as the UP’s CEO. The term chief executive officer did not come into use until the mid-twentieth century. On May 6, Durant’s train was held up at Piedmont, Wyoming, by a gang of three hundred angry workers demanding payment of back wages before they would allow his passage. This disruptive action makes one think a union must have been involved, but these railroad workers were not unionized. The ensuing wait for the transfer of funds from the east to meet the laborers' demands delayed Durant’s progress enough that the golden spike ceremony scheduled for May 8 had to be postponed until May 10. By the time Durant’s train got back underway, the Devil’s Gate Bridge in Utah had been washed out by snow melt and heavy rain. Durant was delayed again while bridge builders effected temporary repairs. However, it was decided the weight of a locomotive would be too much for the makeshift bridge. Durant’s special Pullman car was pushed across the bridge by hand and attached to Union Pacific’s Locomotive #119, which was borrowed from a regular freight train.

Reenactment of the Golden Spike Ceremony on May 10, 2014
Thus, the famous event, news of which was telegraphed around the world at the moment it happened, found both railroad companies using replacement locomotives to finish the job. Substitutes in many historical events, not just sporting ones, wind up winning the game. To be a substitute on any team should not be diminished. One never knows when he or she might be called upon to perform extraordinary feats.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sara K Joiner: History Is a Story

Sara at Hadrian's Wall in England—
the sight of quite a few stories
throughout history!
Welcome to my first blog post for Mad About MG History. I've never been a contributor on a blog other than my own (and I'm pretty terrible about updating that one), so this is a new experience for me.

To help you understand why I enjoy history and historical fiction, I'll tell you a bit more about myself than on the author page. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone. The town was rather insular and almost from a different time (most people still had black-and-white televisions in the late 1970s). One of my current co-workers is almost twenty years older than I, but our childhoods were remarkably similar thanks to my small town.

But to the blog post!

I have another co-worker who is a non-traditional student working on her college degree. Recently she mentioned having some difficulties with her American history class. "I think I need a tutor," she said.

Without a moment's hesitation, I suggested my mother, who taught history in high school for almost thirty years. "She would be a great tutor," I told my co-worker. "She taught me."

Then I said something that I didn't think was that profound, but my co-worker did. "It depends on what your professor wants though. If she wants you to memorize dates, then Mom's not the best tutor. When she taught, she wanted us to know ideas rather than dates. When the Civil War started was less important than knowing why it was fought."

My co-worker said her professor didn't seem to care about dates. "You're right," she said. "If I think of it like a story, it's more interesting and easier to remember."

That's what is so valuable about historical fiction. I know so much more about the world and my place in it because of the books I read.

It is often said that history is written by the victors, and that is generally true. It's also written by the powerful. So those people who are considered unimportant and insignificant are often ignored. Fortunately, much is being done in historical research to correct this. Children's historical fiction has been doing this for years.

Every year students learn about Christopher Columbus, but what about the other side of that story? Use Morning Girl by Michael Dorris (Hyperion, 1992) in your classrooms for a look at the Native experience before Columbus arrived on that fateful day in 1492. Morning Girl is a beautiful way to show students that history is more than dry dates in a textbook and can serve as a way to get students thinking about the stories that aren't in those textbooks.

Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." Historical fiction for children, especially middle-grade readers, doesn't shy away from difficult subject matter. 

Joseph Bruchac's book Hidden Roots tells the story of the Vermont Eugenics Program in the 1930s which attempted to sterilize the state's Native population. It's horrifying to think about a state trying to eradicate an entire group of people. But it happened. Bruchac's novel deals with the repercussions of that, helping readers see how history can ripple out even decades later and impact people who weren't even born at the time of the major event.

If more students regard history as a story—and not boring dates—then people like my co-worker wouldn't be as frustrated with their classes.

These are only two examples of historical fiction for middle grade readers. Visit your school or public library to find even more.

Sara K Joiner is the author of the upcoming novel After the Ashes published by Holiday House. She is also the children's coordinator for Brazoria County Library System.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Louise Spiegler on Writing The Jewel and the Key: Time Travel

Time travel is endlessly appealing but endlessly tricky to pull off. When I was a kid, any book with time travel was guaranteed to get my attention, and I started with the grand-mama of them all: Edith Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet. In a future post, I’ll explore some of my favorite time-travel literature. What I’m going to share here is my experience writing my time-travel novel, The Jewel and the Key (Clarion 2011), what my own goals were, and, really - to be perfectly honest - what was so hard about it.

The Jewel and the Key, beloved second child that it was, was also the difficult child, and the difficulty was definitely compounded by the element of time-travel. Writing time-travel means taking on historical and contemporary fiction simultaneously and creating two different worlds, with two different casts of characters. You have to make both these parallel worlds equally complete.

This book was about nine or ten years in the making, with a big gap in the middle (from 2003 – 2005 while I revised my first book The Amethyst Road, for publication). Compared to The Jewel and the Key, Amethyst was straightforward. The story-line was clear and simple: a girl’s search for her disappeared mother and her quest to put her family back together. It engaged a topic about which I was passionate: racism and what it’s like to be caught between two cultures. I got to invent a culture and alternative history and set it in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. It was a story that was waiting for me to tell it.

The Jewel and the Key was entirely more complex. As soon as I realized I had a time-travel narrative on my hands, I had too many stories I wanted to tell, and, like a cook who has just gone wild at Market Spice in Pike Place Market, I wanted to throw them all in the mix.

I started writing the week the U.S. started bombing Baghdad. That was the spark for linking two different eras.

Whatever I’m teaching always informs my creative life, and my college students had been studying World War I. I’d assigned Pat Barker’s brilliant novel, Regeneration, which focuses on Siegfried Sassoon, the British poet, who was sent to a psychiatric hospital when he returned from the front to launch a protest against World War I – a war whose slaughter never justified its aims.  I felt there were just so many parallels between our new war and World War I – the stifling of dissent, the rampant nationalism, the questionable grounds of the conflict, the role of big business, the PTSD that soldiers suffered. Soon, though I didn’t know it then, I was to have students in my class who were veterans still coping with their combat experience. All of them made a very deep impression on me.

This is how my time-travel narrative came about: I saw these parallels and wanted to bring them to life for my readers, because they were so vivid and pressing to me.

But I also wanted there to be a creative counterpoint to all this, a note of hope, so I wrote about a character, Addie McNeal, who was in love with the theater, and intent on ‘bringing back to life’ a grand Seattle theater which had become derelict.

This seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it? However, when I started researching 1917 in Seattle, I realized there was another war going on besides the war overseas: a war between organized labor and management. The Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, a union which organized unskilled laborers regardless of race, gender or national origin, were agitating for organizing rights. Cities such as Everett and Spokane, WA tried to stifle the union by denying workers the right to speak on street corners about their union struggles. So the Wobs started “Free Speech Fights” -- speaking out despite the ban and filling the jails when they were arrested: civil disobedience.

When one shipload of Wobblies arrived in Everett, Washington in November, 1916, they were met by the Snohomish County sheriff’s office and vigilantes. The sheriff demanded who the leader was. When the Wobblies replied, with typical brashness, “We are all leaders!” the sheriff prohibited them from landing. Things got ugly. Shots were exchanged. Most say the sheriff’s department fired first. Lives were lost on both sides – more on the Wobblies’. At this point, 74 of the Wobblies on the ship were arrested and an important political trial was set in motion.

OK. So that was fascinating. I couldn’t leave it out. So I decided to intertwine my story in 1917, as the U.S. entered WWI, with the escape of a single Wobbly prisoner from jail, with my 1917 hero and my twenty-first century heroine hiding him and trying to spirit him out of Seattle.

It all just gets more complicated from there.

All of that material is still in the novel. It’s a complex but very fun plot. But when I submitted it to my editor in 2006, it was insanely complex, because I added a lot of other complications: Addie has just moved because Dad has lost his job. She is dislocated and misses her friends. She meets a Sudanese girl whose brother was a lost boy. He gets into a tangle with other Sudanese refugee kids – I can’t even remember why! He and his sister have a brother missing in Sudan who has been found, and they need money to get him to the U.S. There were even more plot complications than that, and, blindly in love with all of them, I happily sent the manuscript in.

My editor liked it, but there were problems, she said. Not surprisingly, the main problem was the intricately complicated plot! Another was that Addie’s best friend Whaley, who gets the action going by his gung-ho desire to go and fight in Iraq (which Addie wants to prevent at all costs), appeared in the first three chapters and then never again. Why did I just drop him out of the plot? she wondered. Why indeed?

I mourned cutting anything. However, I saw that there was a natural parallel between the two boys – Whaley in present day Seattle, wanting to fight in Iraq, and Reg in 1917 Seattle, wanting to fight in France. The Sudanese story didn’t fit into the plot in the same way, and much as I loved it, I knew my editor was right; it had to go. Admittedly, along with some other extraneous plot twists! 

So I wrote a vastly re-focused version. I developed Whaley into a fully-fledged character: always in fights, always playing his guitar, always longing to change the world, always getting the short end of the stick. And I fell in love with him. When you let something go, like the extra plot lines, you gain something in terms of focus and depth. Meanwhile, my boy in the past, Reg, got to spread his wings as an aspiring journalist, connecting him more firmly to the Wobbly story as he attempted to investigate what really happened.

This is the draft my editor took to the publishing house, and they offered a contract for it. Happily ever after, right?

Well, of course not. This is what I mean by it’s not that easy. At least three major revisions followed, and then lots of copy-editing and fact-checking. And each revision felt MAJOR. I’ll discuss the process of revision in my next blog post. See you in February!

My website:

Buy The Jewel and the Key on Amazon 
Buy The Jewel and the Key at Barnes andNoble 
Buy The Jewel and the Key at Indie Bound
Buy The Amethyst Road on Amazon 
Buy The Amethyst Road on Barnes andNoble 
Buy The Amethyst Road at Indie Bound 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Sometimes, looking back in time, at a single moment or event, inspires an entire book. This is what happened with The Ravens of Solemano, Book 2 of the Young Inventors Guild trilogy.

I admit, I was working through ideas and a section of plotline that somehow would bring the Young Inventors Guild story to Hebden Bridge in northern England. Why? Because it is a wonderfully historic town...and one of my dearest friends (we went to school in France together as kids) lived there. In truth, the second reason was the real reason. I figured I could move the whole gang to Hebden Bridge. Why not? I knew what was going to happen in the story but hadn't found exactly where it was going to take place. However, as we can never force a character to behave as he would not, forcing a story to unfold in the wrong place no longer allows unfolding. Suddenly, we may discover that the story is fighting back or, worse, crumbling and falling apart.

I was so unhappy. Luckily, we were headed for a holiday and it was a welcome break. Our family was in a tiny ancient village in Abruzzo, Italy, and I was taking walks through the ancient streets, looking out at the ancient fields, wandering through the ancient chapel, and still, like a fool, I was trying to get to Hebden Bridge.

And then, it happened. Checking the facts for something I no longer remember, I accidentally came across a link to an archival article from the New York Times...from 1903. It was the murder of a young Italian man, in a tunnel, in New York City. The event- a mystery that was never solved. I remember that looked up from the computer screen, out towards the fields, the ruins of the chapel, the stone walls around the fields, and it all hit me. The whole story fell into place. I called my publisher (Bancroft Press) and asked if they could include an adjusted rewritten version of the story as the epilogue of The Atomic Weight of Secrets (Book 1) that was on the roster and in the final layout stages. Once I explained, they were convinced.

The rest of the holiday, I wrote furiously, hardly able to keep up with the story that was not unfolding but coming out in torrents. It was incredible and exciting. I felt that I was there, in Solemano, watching the children uncover ancient secrets and solve medieval mysteries. History came alive.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Michele Hathaway on the Power of Diverse Historical Fiction

When I was in elementary school, not long after Gutenberg invented the press, I discovered a tatty set of historical fiction biographies in my school library. Cloth-bound, comfortably worn, and perfumed with old book scent, I loved them, but not for any of these reasons. I loved them because they were good stories. The interesting thing is, the two I remember best were about Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. To this day, they are my heroes.

Both were former slaves who overcame formidable barriers of poverty and prejudice to become educated men. They translated their genius into a means to help not only their fellow liberated slaves but all those around them. Carver invented 100 products for peanuts besides peanut butter, for goodness sake. Even kids with peanut allergies have got to be impressed with that.

Now, I’m a White girl, an Anglo-Saxon-Celtic mix, and, as I mentioned, I stumbled upon these books not long after humankind discovered fire. Well, okay, by that time, Rosa Parks had refused to go to the back of the bus and Armstrong was about to take his first step on the moon, but the WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign was not even a twinkle in an author’s eye. And my heroes were Black men.

That is the power of historical fiction.

Even small libraries harbor great vehicles to colorblindness on their shelves. In the case of George Washington Carver, there is likely enough material available in most libraries, and certainly on the Internet, to forge an extensive and fantastic unit study. I’m certain many of you already have done so.

We are not limited to historical fiction biographies, either. Historical fiction such as Laurence Yep's Hiroshima (Scholastic, 1995), The Girls of Gettysburg, by Bobbi Miller (Holiday House, 2014), and Joseph Bruchac's Code Talker: a novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two (Dial, 2005) offer strong fictional characters set in historic periods and events.

Unfortunately, there are still relatively few diverse historical fiction books for children. Nafiza, on "The Book Wars" blog, points out the importance of historical fiction and the lack of diversity within the genre: 
George Washington Carver
by  Betsy Graves Reyneau
“Children”, she says, “assimilate culture when they are young, they learn the ways of being and they learn to reflect the thoughts of their parents and other family members. If we as educators, librarians, siblings and parents were to ensure that our children grow up learning not just their own history but the histories of different people, no matter the depth, I think the world would be a much better place.”
Offer children good stories about people who overcome the odds, such as slavery, prejudice, poverty, and bullying. Present them with children who are smart, work hard, can do amazing things like grow up to make peanut butter out of peanuts, and you hand them the tools to make this world a much better place.

How about you? What historical fiction books inspired you when you were young? Did any of them feature characters from typically underrepresented people groups? In future posts, I’ll explore the ingredients of good diverse historical fiction.

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Jennifer Bohnhoff: The Imitation Game and Disability in World War II Novels

Jack English/Black Bear Pictures

On New Year’s Eve my husband and I went to see The Imitation Game. This movie focuses on Alan Turing, the Cambridge Mathematician that the British intelligence agency recruited to crack the Nazi Enigma Codes, which cryptographers considered unbreakable. But for one ribald story in a bar scene, The Imitation Game might be a very good movie to show middle schoolers. It is not only an intriguing look at how mathematicians were able to save countless lives, but the movie would open a forum for how society treats those who do not conform to its ideas of normalcy.

Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a compelling performance as Turing, a mathematical genius who latere suffered because he was a homosexual. However, the movie took liberties with the character.

One of the greatest liberties was giving Turing personality traits that seemed consistent with Autism. Cumberbatch's portrayal is of an emotionally disconnected man who cannot grasp jokes or social cues. As many sources, including this one discuss, the real Turing was a sociable man who worked well with others.

I am not sure why those who created this movie felt compelled to give Turing disabilities that he did not have. Was it to make him a more sympathetic character? To make him appeal to a wider audience? To excuse his other eccentricities?

The movie made me wonder how many middle grade historical novels set in World War II concerned protagonists with disabilities. Here are a couple I’ve found. I welcome your suggesting more titles to add to this list.

The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (302p. Dial, January 2015) also takes place in World War II Britain. The protagonist is Ada, a girl who has been hidden away by an emotionally and physically abusive mother because of her clubfoot When her mother sends her little reluctantly taken in by a woman who knows nothing of caring for children, yet gives Ada a chance at learning to love and live.

T4, by Ann Clare LeZotte (112p, Houghton Mifflin, September 2008) Thirteen year old Paula Becker is deaf. It is 1939 and the Nazi Party has an edict called Tiergartenstrasse 4, shorted to T4, which directs that disabled children be removed from their homes for “evaluation” in local institutions, which really meant that they were euthanized once they were deemed to be “useless eaters” who were unfit to live. As rumors about disabled children disappearing are swirling throughout the rural German town in which she and her family live. When a priest offers to shield Paula, she takes his offer but finds his protection short lived. Paula must then use all her strength to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. This novel is told in free verse and is a quick read, even for reluctant readers.

Jennifer Bohnhoff is a 7th grad social studies teacher and the author of  several books, including Code: Elephants on the Moon, a middle grade historical novel set in Normandy during World War II. While none of the characters in her book are handicapped, several deal with ostracism and censure due to their ethnicity or religious beliefs.  You can learn more about this book on her website.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome to the Middle Grade Historical Fiction Blog

Welcome from writer/blogger Chris Eboch
Happy New Year, and welcome to our new blog!

Who We Are

We are a group of writers – ten as of this writing – who love writing historical fiction for young people. Some of us are published and some not yet. Some write exclusively historical fiction and/or exclusively middle grade, while others write in many genres and for different age groups. Many of us write books set in the United States, though group members also have published books or works in progress set in Europe and the Middle East. Time periods span from ancient Egypt to the 20th century. Some of us give history a fantasy or mythological twist, while others write realistic historical fiction. You’ll get a little bit of everything!

Our primary focus here is middle grade historical fiction. However, we may also discuss picture books and young adult novels, especially when they may be suitable for classroom use/middle grade readers as well. Some posts may list nonfiction titles that go well with historical novels.

What We’ll Do Here

Our target audience is teachers and librarians, as well as any writers or readers who want to explore historical fiction. You’ll find some book reviews and author interviews. (Email mghistoricalfictionblog[at] gmail[dot] com if you have a book you’d like reviewed or would like a guest spot.)

We’ll share insights into our writing processes, though we’ll try to keep it interesting for non-writers. We’ll also discuss using historical fiction in the classroom and getting kids excited about history.

Other possible upcoming topics:

What librarians can do to encourage reading of historical fiction.

How teachers can explain the differences between nonfiction and historical fiction and help kids identify what they’re reading.

Specific times and places in history, with lists of books (nonfiction and fiction) that can be used in the classroom when learning about a particular era.

Resources for teachers to get lesson plans.

And much more!

We plan on posting twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can subscribe by e-mail, or follow in a couple of other ways. We hope you’ll subscribe or check back often for new content.

The other authors will introduce themselves in their posts. You can also click on the author names in the right-hand column to learn more about our work. And here’s a little about me:

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with several novels for ages nine and up. The Eyes of Pharaoh is an action-packed mystery set in ancient Egypt. The Genie’s Gift is an Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy adventure. In The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan girl in ninth-century Guatemala rebels against the High Priest who sacrifices anyone challenging his power. Learn more at or her Amazon page