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 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/