Thursday, September 29, 2016

Picture History

By Suzanne Morgan Williams

Historical fiction isn't just for middle grade readers. There's plenty of it for young adults and adults. But are there historical fiction books for our youngest readers? There are legends and folk tales about world cultures. There are some tall tales. But I can't think of many historical fiction picture books. Can you?Some, like Drum Dream Girl  are based on fact but fictionalized. Perhaps there are enough true stories to give our youngest readers a basic sense of history. After all, you have to know a bit about history to identify what is and isn't fictional.

But there are plenty of good nonfiction picture books, and told in the best way, their stories are as engaging as fiction. Here are few of my favorite nonfiction picture books from my collection. Enjoy

Pow-Wow is Coming, written and illustrated by Linda Boyden (this is contemporary but  a favorite)
My Name Is * Me Llamo Gabriela; the Life of Gabriela Mistral by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra
Iron Horses by Verla Kay, illustrated by Michael McMurdy
Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose, Growing Up on Mount Rushmore by Tina Nichols Coury, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Drum Dream Girl, How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael L√≥pez
Harvesting Hope, the Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Go Singing into the World; The Story of Pablo Neruda written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
The Christmas Coat, Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier.
Ellington Who Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Moses; When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carol Boston Weatherford illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The Jade Stone, A Chinese Folktale, adopted by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by Ju-Hong Chen

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Celebrate #Diversity during #HispanicHeritageMonth #HHM

September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month! Some 55 million people in the United States identify as Hispanic, making this the second largest ethnic group.

Why September 15 to October 15? September 15 marks the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16 while Chile’s anniversary is September 18.

According to the US government, “The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.”

In the Americas, many Hispanic people can trace their roots back to indigenous peoples. These include the Maya, Inca, Aztec, and others. Today’s Hispanics may also have roots in the Spanish explorers, the Africans who were brought to the New World as slaves, and of course many other cultures.

This provides teachers, librarians, homeschooling parents, and students many options for exploring Hispanic heritage in the Americas.

Middle Grade Novels and Nonfiction

Unfortunately, there aren’t many historical fiction novels about the Maya for young people. This National Geographic post only lists my novel, The Well of Sacrifice, and Seven Serpents Trilogy—Book 1, The Captive by Scott O’Dell as historical fiction for young people. It also lists a couple of travel books and titles on Mayan prophecy and myth.

Terra Experience has an extensive page of “Children’s Books on Mayan Culture, Guatemala, Southern Mexico, Nicaragua, and Latin America.” This site lists many books about current or historical Mayan people, plus Mayan legends and folk tales. Most of the books are for younger children, but picture books can work for middle grade students as well!

A Book In Time has a list of some Books on Early American Civilizations: Inca, Aztec, Mayan, & other Native Americans.

School Library Journal has a post from 2009 on The Aztecs, the Inca, and the Maya: Empires Lost & Found, with fiction and nonfiction for different grades, pus links to Museum Collections

To learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month, visit the following sites:

The National Education Association provides Lesson Plans, Quizzes, Activities and Background Resources for National Hispanic Heritage Month, Grades K-5.

The US government site for National Hispanic Heritage Month includes resources for teachers and a calendar of events, mainly in and around Washington DC.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has lesson plans and links to websites on the conquistadors, the gold rush, the US-Mexican War, prayer to Ricoh, and much more. A featured lesson plan is for Esperanza Rising: Learning Not to Be Afraid to Start Over (also available inSpanish).

The PBS Hispanic Heritage Month site links to episodes about famous Latinos, issues affecting immigrants, and much more.

Scholastic offers resources for celebrating the month, including information on Latinos in history and Hispanic history in the Americas. Scholastic also has Bring Hispanic Heritage Month to Life: A Collection of Resources and 24 Great Ideas for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Hispanic Heritage Month includes information on the history of the month, people, events, and fun facts.

Please add any recommended books or resources in the comments.

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Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Explore the State You're In: by Mary Louise Sanchez

Every state probably has at least one yearly list of the best current children's books. But  it is sometimes difficult to find a book by a state author or about the state on these lists.

Here are the common procedures for a book to receive a state award. The books are either nominated by the state's children, or by a committee, following the criteria set by the reading committee. In most cases,  a list of the nominated books is circulated, children read the books or are read to, and eventually children throughout the state vote on their favorites. The lists are often broken down into primary, middle, and upper grades.

It's interesting to read the names of the awards which often hearken back to what is unique about that state. For instance, Kentucky Bluegrass Award; Mississippi: The Magnolia Book Award; Michigan: The Mitten Award. ( I never knew the significance of the mitten to Michigan until our daughter-in-law showed us various places in Michigan by holding her hand up and pointing to them. The state does resemble the shape of a mitten!)
Missouri: Show Me Readers Award; New Jersey: The Garden State Award; Texas Bluebonnet Award; Utah: Beehive Award.

Wyoming has three awards divided by grade levels. Buckaroo Award, K-3; Indian Paintbrush Award 4-6; Soaring Eagle 7-12.
New Mexico's Award is called the Land of Enchantment Award.
My idea for state award committees to consider is to share lists of  children's books about that state, even if they are not current. These books wouldn't necessarily be voted on, but the teachers and students would at least have a list of the books which could enhance the study of their particular state.

Carol Hurst, from the Children's Literature site, has a list of good children's books for each state.
She also shared an idea where children could add additional titles about states and list information they have learned about the them. Her other ideas along this theme of location are: " Would any of those facts be true of the entire state or just one part of it? How does it differ from your own location in the state? Also, while some of these stories are set in the present day, others represent a historic view. Putting the location titles in their proper place in history can present another challenge to readers."
Here is a blog that posted book covers representing YA books from various states.

Since I'm passionate about New Mexico (ancestors from both sides colonized it when it was called New Spain), and I own over 250  books about New Mexico, I want to share some personal favorite children's books. Besides middle grade historical fiction, I'm adding a few picture books, folklore, and YA. All the book images were taken from Goodreadss.  
I recommend the Josefina books from the American Girl series. They give a good picture of the Mexican period in New Mexican history.

Does your class participate in your state's award book program? What books about your state do you think should be included?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Native American Mythology, Some Middle-Grade Suggestions

In my last post, I presented the idea of mythology as a gateway to history. In the pursuit of mythology you don't have to look far. The J 398.2 section of your library groans under the weight of it all. Even in small libraries there is a surprising representation from around the world. Here, I'd like to focus on some perhaps lesser known Native American resources.

When researching California Indian mythology a few years ago, I came across Jane Louise Curry's delightful Back in the Beforetime.  Curry has also written several other collections, including: The Wonderful Sky Boat: And Other Native American Tales from the Southeast; Hold Up the Sky: And Other Tales From Texas and the Southern Plains; and Turtle Island: Tales of the Algonquian Nations. 

Another book that is fun and accessible for middle-grade readers is Navajo Folk Tales by Franc Johnson Newcomb. The cover here depicts one of my favorite tales of how Coyote stole fire from Fireman--note Fireman's arrows on the left and the torch Coyote used to steal fire burning on his tail. Now you know why, to this day, the tip of a coyote tail is black. The book also mentions that minor detail about how Coyote set a mountain on fire and nearly wiped out the People's homes in the process of helping them.

Another book of Navajo mythology that middle-grade should be able to tackle is The Pollen Path, by Margaret Schevill Link. The latter half of the book offers some additional information and analysis that will not be as relevant for your middle-grade readers, but teachers, librarians, and parents will enjoy the depth it offers.

Stories by Joseph Bruchac, one of the most prominent Native American children's authors of our time, should be available in any library. If not, be sure to recommend a purchase. The Girl Who Helped Thunder, and Other Native American Folktales is one suggestion among many.

Picture Books

I wanted to focus on larger collections of mythology in this post, but I can't leave it without mentioning the availability of some gorgeous picture books that are perfectly suited to any age. There are so many, I hardly know where to begin. But in tribute to Lois Duncan, the beloved children's author who recently passed away, I'd like to conclude with her picture book, The Magic of Spider Woman.

The Magic of Spider Woman

Illustrated by the gifted Navajo artist Shonto Begay, The Magic of Spider Woman is the story of a Navajo woman who loves weaving so much, she loses herself in her work--literally, she vanishes into the fabric. Spider Woman provides a way out of the weaver's self-made prison. The story shows that in the midst of our passions we must not forget one another. It's a great message for all. Thank you, Lois and Shonto!

November is Native American Heritage Month!

It's never too early to prepare for Native American Heritage month. I hope you find these suggestions helpful for stocking your home, classroom, or library. 

* As a note, some of these books may not be readily available, but in my research, I have found them worth the effort to acquire. I hope it will not stop you from pursuing them. Inter-library loan is a great resource in these cases. 

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.

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sara K Joiner: A Hard Day's Work

Throughout our country's history, Americans have been known for their work ethic. Even today, Americans don't use all of their vacation time (if they earn it). Studies have shown that taking a break from work actually benefits both the employer and the employee.

While the United States falls behind other developed nations in providing paid days off, Americans work an average of 1788 hours a year. The average work-week today is 40 hours, but that wasn't always the case. In the 1800s, people worked between 60 to 70 hours a week.

In honor of Labor Day on Monday and the hard working Americans it celebrates, here are some books about historical laborers.

So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl by Barry Denenberg tells the story of an immigrant from Ireland who finds work in the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. When other mill workers talk of unions and strikes, Mary is forced to decide if the money she earns is worth the hazards she faces at work.

Melanie Crowder's Audacity tells a fictionalized version of the life of Clara Lemlich. Clara, a Jewish immigrant, found work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. Before and after the fire at the factory, she fought for increased safety measures for workers throughout the garment industry.

Breaker Boys: How a Photograph Helped End Child Labor by Michael Burgan is nonfiction. It demonstrates the power of photography to change society by focusing on boys who worked in the coal mines and the life-threatening work they did.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a public librarian.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

History and the National Park Service

The National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday on August 25, 2016. There are two ways to look at history and the NPS. First, there is the history of the founding of the NPS and the stories associated with the establishment of each of the parks, monuments, and sites. Second, there is the history of our country that the NPS preserves at its numerous historical sites.

The first officially designated National Park was Yellowstone, established in 1872. In the years immediately following its creation, civilian superintendents oversaw the protection of Yellowstone; but they lacked the resources to fend off poachers, souvenir hunters, and developers. In 1886, the US Army sent troops to provide muscle to the protective efforts. Today, the Army’s installation there is designated Fort Yellowstone National Historic Landmark and serves as headquarters for Yellowstone National Park. The army relinquished its responsibilities when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act on August 25, 1916, creating the National Park Service, a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior.

Theodore Roosevelt with John Muir
John Muir, a famous naturalist, was a staunch advocate of creating national parks at Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, and Mt. Rainier. President Theodore Roosevelt toured Yosemite with Muir on a camping trip in 1903. Yosemite had been protected by the state of California since 1864 based upon a law signed by President Abraham Lincoln. It was Muir and Roosevelt, however, who worked with California Governor George Pardee to turn Yosemite into a national park in 1906. Theodore Roosevelt also signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, allowing the president to set aside "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" in order to stop their destruction. This act has led to the creation of more than fifty national monuments, and the act is being used even now by President Barack Obama. 

This website contains a complete listing of the facilities maintained by the National Park Service:

Cavalry Barracks, Fort Laramie, Wyoming
This bring us to the second way of relating history to the NPS. As a writer of historical fiction, primarily oriented toward the middle grade reader, I have relied on personal visits to many NPS historic sites in my research travels. In The Iron Horse Chronicles, many of Will Braddock’s scenes occur at the military forts built to protect the railroad and its workers from attacks by the Indians. Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming provides the visitor with the ability to see how soldiers lived on the frontier during the time when the first transcontinental railroad was under construction. My frequent visits to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, though a long way from the frontier, gave me a better understanding of what it would have been like to be a soldier following the Civil War.

Union Pacific Engine #119
An important research site for The Iron Horse Chronicles is the Golden Spike National Historical Site in Utah. Here, the visitor witnesses replicas of two locomotives touch cowcatchers after the reenactment of the driving of the golden spike. To stand near one of these engines when they steam past puts the viewer right into the action—the imagination becomes real life. Walking the ground where history occurred at any such site is worthwhile for students, teachers, and writers.

Although calling it a "kid's" guide might be a turn-off for some middle grade students, the book National Parks: A Kid's Guide to America's Parks, Monuments, and Landmarks, by Erin McHugh, provides an excellent introduction for planning a family visit or school outing. The writing is listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as appropriate for ages 8 to 12, but the middle grade student can benefit from reading it. The book concentrates on the environmental parks, but it does include information for some historical sites. For the middle grade teacher, the National Park Service provides lesson plans and other aids at this site:

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, environmentalist, historian, Wallace Stegner said: "National parks are the best idea we ever had."

Happy Birthday National Park Service!