Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Jefferson’s Sons


Jefferson's SonsJefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is an incredible piece of historical fiction that will leave readers with unanswered questions.  Based on the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings, readers are brought into the world of slavery at Monticello during the first quarter of the nineteenth century.  Sally Hemings had four children with Jefferson, three boys and 1 girl; three of those children were light-skinned enough to one day pass for white.  The story occurs over the course of about twenty-one years with the two oldest sons (Beverly and Madison) as well as a third boy close to the family, taking turns serving as the central figure throughout the story.  Even though everyone knows who their father is, the children are taught that it should never be brought up as to any tension it may create.  Especially since Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, and her children live at Monticello, and they are constantly receiving guests.  The family does receive special considerations; violin lessons for the boys, Madison learns to read, apprenticeships, new shoes, yet the children struggle with knowing who their father is and not being able to have that kind of relationship with him.

I listened to the audiobook and I can ‘t help but think that this would make wonderful (but lengthy) read aloud.  There are so many times in which a character asks why?  Such great natural stopping points for kids to have some amazing discussions about right and wrong and the contradictions we find in life.  As a reader, I constantly found myself asking why.  And of course, the age-old question of Jefferson’s character comes up.  How can the man who penned the Declaration of Independence, the man who helped to create a new country, upon his death have 130 slaves at Monticello?  Five of those slaves were set free upon his death, two of whom were his youngest children.  But the wife and children of one of those freed slaves were sold at auction, being dispersed across Virginia.

I found this book in an elementary library.  I’m not sure if that is the best place for it.  Only because the reader really should have a good understanding of slavery in the early 1800s and some of the content could be considered fairly intense.  That being said, I can think of some former 5th grade students who would have devoured this book.  It would probably make better sense in a middle school or high school library.  There would be several jumping off points into different aspects of American History – the life of Thomas Jefferson after his presidency, Monticello, slavery, freed slaves living in the North, just to name a few.  Jefferson’s Sons would be a wonderful addition to any U.S. History class.

I don’t know that I’ve done this book justice.  It’s one of those books that is so amazing it really doesn’t matter what I write.  I can’t find enough words to tell you that this is a must read and it will stay with you long after you’ve read it.




A Couple of Bluebonnets


Walls with WallsWalls within Walls by Maureen Sherry is on the Texas Bluebonnet list for 2013-2014.  It’s the story of a family who has moved from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side of Manhattan because of dad’s new job.  The Smithfork kids have trouble adjusting to their new life, but soon find themselves knee-deep in a decades old mystery.  The mystery stems from the wishes of previous building owner.  A wealthy businessman from the 1930s, Mr. Post was a lover of poetry and puzzles.  His will was never found when he died in 1937, and his vast fortune remained hidden until Brid, CJ, and Patrick move in and begin to piece clues together.

If you’ve read the Chasing Vermeer series from Blue Balliet or the The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart,  I think you’ll like Walls within Walls.  The story is about a group of kids, in this case siblings, finding themselves in a situation and taking the initiative to find answers.  And like the Chasing Vermeer booksthe author did a great job of weaving poetry, history, and architecture into the story line.  I can definitely see where some kids would read this book and become highly interested in any of the details Sherry used to build the plot.  And while the action focuses on solving the mystery, the subplot is about a family adjusting to a recent move to a new neighborhood.


Looking at LincolnAnother Bluebonnet I read this week is Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman.  This biography of Lincoln is told from the perspective of a young girl who comes to the realization that Lincoln’s likeness is all around us.  One she realizes this, she progresses through a simple timeline of his life.  Obviously, Kalman focuses on the major milestones, but she also interjects fun facts such as Lincoln’s love of apples and vanilla cake.  One feature I really liked about this book is the author’s use of fonts.  The biography, which is told in third person, is written with a typical typewriter font.  But when the young girl starts to share her thoughts and ask questions,  the font changes to one that resembles a handwritten font.  The illustrations were fabulous as well. I’m always intrigued by artwork that shows so much detail, yet at first glance seems really broad and general.  I’m not really sure if my words make sense, but take a peek at the book and I think you’ll see what I mean.



38 Great Academic Language BuildersJefferson's SonsIt’s not a Bluebonnet, but currently I’m listening to Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  I just started it, but I’m pretty hooked already.  The audiobook is about 10 hours long, so hopefully in another week or so I’ll be able to share my thoughts with you.

I also just started 38 Great Academic Language Builders by John Seidlitz and Kathleen Kenfield. I have about 10 professional books I want to read this summer and I thought this was a good one to start with.  I’m hoping to find great strategies I can incorporate into my professional development sessions I’m offering over the next couple of months.




One Came Home


One of my favorite genres is historical fiction.  Always has been, ever since I discovered Little House on the Prairie as a kid.  Obviously, it’s helpful if you can sort through actual historical facts and the liberties an author may have taken in telling the story.  Or, at the very least, know how to do some research so you can separate fact from fiction.  But I think historical fiction gives us a glimpse into days gone by.  And for children, historical fiction can be the gateway to understanding, appreciating, and hopefully, even enjoying history.  So I think it’s really wonderful when an author finds an obscure historical event or figure to use as the focus of his or her novel.  That is exactly what Amy Timberlake did in One Came Home.

One Came HomeOne Came Home  is set in 1871 in Placid, Wisconsin.  The main character, Georgie Burkhardt, is an honest, feisty, 13-year old tomboy who loves her big sister dearly. Agatha runs off one day with a ragtag group of “pigeoners” without a word to her family.  Days later, the sheriff is called away and returns to Placid with an unidentifiable body that is presumed to be Agatha.  Georgie refuses to believe that her sister is dead and sets off to find her.  Her journey doesn’t quite go as planned, including the addition of Agatha’s old beau who decides to tag along to keep on eye on Georgie.  It’s a suspenseful adventure with a bit of mystery along the way.  Timberlake does a wonderful job planting just enough clues along the way for the reader to form the story in his or head, while also creating enough suspense so that you won’t want to put the book down.

The bit of history that Timberlake uses as her backdrop is the great passenger pigeon migration that occurred in Wisconsin in the late 1800s.  Apparently great flocks would migrate through the region and people would follow them trying to capitalize on pigeon meat and/or feathers.  This wasn’t a topic I had ever heard of and I’m pretty fascinated by it.  I can see how this would be a good hook for some kids.  Some of the content might be pretty intense.  I think some of my gifted 5th graders would have enjoyed the book and could have handled it.  Not sure that I would go much younger.  Overall, a great book.  One I would definitely recommend and I wll read other novels by Amy Timberlake.


If you’re on pinterest, you should check out Amy Timberlake’s board on passenger pigeons – http://pinterest.com/amytimberlikes/imagining-passenger-pigeons/

What I Read the Week of February 3, 2013


Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah of Buxton FNL JKTinddThis is the fourth book I’ve read by Christopher Paul Curtis and I’ve enjoyed it just as much as the other three. Curtis takes an under-taught and under-appreciated historical element of American (& Canadian) history and uses it as the backdrop to an amazing story in which a young child surprises us with his courage and determination. Elijah is an 11-year old boy living in a Buxton, Ontario, a settlement of freed and escaped slaves, during the mid-1850s. This book is simply a narrative of a part of Elijah’s young life. What I enjoyed about this book (and Curtis’s other works) is that the protagonist is a young child, usually on the cusp of adolescence living in a particularly challenging time and place. Despite the pressures of the world, Elijah lives life as he has been raised, respectful and always expecting good from people. In fact, I often found myself talking to Elijah, encouraging him to make the decisions I already knew he’d be making. I think the message it sends to its readers is that the heroes can and do come from the unlikeliest of people and places.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Wow! what took me so long to pick up this book and read it? John Green writes a beautiful story of a sixteen year old girlthe fault in our stars who has been fighting cancer for the past three years. Not really in remission, the meds she’s on are just really buying her time. Hazel meets Augustus at a Support Group, which is composed of teenagers living with cancer. The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel & Augustus. I’ve read a variety of interesting commentaries of this novel. They all just prove that your personal experiences impact your perspective and connection to what you read. I thought this book was very well done and that the emotions of teenagers dealing with life-threatening diseases were well portrayed. What families of cancer victims and survivors experience cannot possibly be understood by others, I felt as though this book at least offers readers a glimpse into that world.

Adele & Simon and Adele & Simon in America by Barbara McClintock

adele & simonI also read Adele & Simon and Adele & Simon in America by Barbara McClintock.  Adele is the older sister to Simon,which means she’s always looking after him.  This is a pretty heavy responsibility considering that Simon is always losing things.  And that is the premise of both of these books.  The first takes place in their hometown of Paris,France, and the second adventure takes place as they travel throughout America with their aunt.  Both of these books are incredibly precious and introduce the read to famous sites relevant to each setting.  I appreciated the guide at the end of the book which described each site in detail and listed famous figures you might even find at each location.  In fact, with both books, I found myself turning back to each page to understand the details given and to look for those mystery figures.

Play, Louis, Play!: The True Story of a Boy & His Horn by Muriel Harris Weinstein and Frank Morrison

Play Louis PlayFinally, I read Play, Louis, Play!: The True Story of a Boy and His Horn by Muriel Harris Weinstein and Frank Morrison.  It is the biography of Louis Armstrong as told by the very first horn he ever bought. It’s a fabulous story that offers young readers a glimpse into the hard, young life of this musical genius.  Play, Louis, Play  is a Texas Bluebonnet Book for 2012-2013 and so far one, of my favorites.  There are multiple avenues for students to make connections, whether it’s growing up poor, having an absent parent, or simply the love of music.  Not only is this a wonderful, easy to read biography, but it’s also one in which students should be able to easily connect to.

On Deck – 

I am currently ready The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy.  My next audio books will Classic Short Stories from the 19th century, edited by Mark Twain and The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  And I think I’ll focus on the stack of Caldecotts I’ve had on my bookshelf for the past couple of weeks.  Still thinking about what my next chapter book will be.  I have Hero by Mike Lupica and Divergent sitting on my shelf.  Thoughts???