Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Peace and letter-writing

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor
Desperate to keep her older brother from being drafted in the Vietnam War, eleven-year-old Reenie strikes up an unlikely friendship with MrMarsworth, an elderly shut-in, who helps her in her mission.

Quick Pick: Caminar

Caminar by Skila Brown

Maybe the title makes people think this is a Spanish language book on the wrong shelf. Maybe 1981 isn’t on curriculum lists for historical fiction. Maybe the cover seems a little too abstract and weird. For whatever reason, the book has been mostly overlooked despite positive reviews.

It’s the story of a boy who lives when his village is massacred in Guatemala’s civil war. It’s told through poems: a poem in the shape of a gun (or other shapes), a mirror poem as two characters meet, poems in multiple voices. Emotionally the main character goes from shock to guilt over surviving to the hope that he may be able to save someone else.

The audiobook was a pick of the day: “Caminar” is a powerful tale of courage in Guatemala | Audio Pick

Caminar was also selected as one of School Library Journal‘s Top 10 Latino Books the year it was published.

You can find it in our current display of books featuring Central America.

Friendship dolls in the library

Miss_Shimane_1 dollsofwar
Dolls of War by Shirley Parenteau just arrived at the library, a continuation of the story of the Friendship Dolls that started with Ship of Dolls and Dolls of Hope. The dolls were exchanged between Japan and the USA in the 1920s.

Kirby Larson also wrote about this exchange in The Friendship Doll. Seeing this book prompted a librarian in Minnesota to rediscover one of these dolls in the library’s collection (If you follow the link, there are photos of the doll Miss Miyazaki before and after her restoration).

You can also read about Miss Shimane (pictured above and to the left) at the Indianapolis Public Library’s Digital Indy website and take a closer look at the collection of miniature objects that traveled with her.

New African American Historical Fiction

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
From the author’s note: “…I chose the Fairchilds Appraisement of the Estate document from July 5, 1828 to tell this story.  Eleven slaves are listed for sale with the cows, hogs, cotton; only the names and prices of the slaves are noted (no age is indicated). I was inspired by this spare information to bring these slaves to life and have them tell their stories.”
The stickers on the cover indicate that it is a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, and a Newbery Honor book in the 2017 Youth Media Awards.

The Hero Two Doors Down: Based on the True Story of Friendship between a Boy and a Baseball Legend by Sharon Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s daughter)
Eight-year-old Steve Satlow is thrilled when Jackie Robinson moves into his Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1948, although many of his neighbors are not, and when Steve actually meets his hero he is even more excited–and worried that a misunderstanding over a Christmas tree could damage his new friendship.

Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Alberti, illustrated by Tony Cliff
During the Civil War, African American Mary Bowser becomes a maid in the Richmond mansion of Confederate States of America president Jefferson Davis as part of a plan to pass along secrets to help the Union. Includes a replica of a Confederate decoder, plus other spycraft materials, in a sealed envelope to help the reader discover clues found in the text and illustrations.

My Name is James Madison Hemings by Jonah Winter; illustrated by Terry Widner
Here’s a powerful historical picture book about the child of founding father Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved Sally Hemings.
In an evocative first-person account accompanied by exquisite artwork, Winter and Widener tell the story of James Madison Hemings’s childhood at Monticello, and, in doing so, illuminate the many contradictions in Jefferson’s life and legacy. Though Jefferson lived in a mansion, Hemings and his siblings lived in a one-room shack. While Jefferson doted on his white grandchildren, he never showed affection to his enslaved children. Though he kept the Hemings boys from hard field labor—instead sending them to work in the carpentry shop—Jefferson nevertheless listed the children in his “Farm Book” along with the sheep, hogs, and other property. Here is a profound and moving account of one family’s history, which is also America’s history.
An author’s note includes more information about Hemings, Jefferson, and the author’s research.

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Rose Lee Carter, a thirteen-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955, but when Emmett Till is murdered and his killers are unjustly acquitted, Rose is torn between seeking her destiny outside of Mississippi or staying and being a part of an important movement.

Steamboat School: Inspired by a True Story, St. Louis, Missouri, 1847 by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Ron Husband
In 1847 St. Louis, Missouri, when a new law against educating African Americans forces Reverend John to close his school, he finds an ingenious solution to the new state law by moving his school to a steamboat in the Mississippi River. Includes author’s note on Reverend John Berry Meachum, a minister, entrepreneur, and educator who fought tirelessly for the rights of African Americans.

African American History, Library History


Something unusual happened at the Youth Media Awards on Monday.  A single book, March: Book Three (written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell), won 4 major awards:

  • Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, recognizing an African-American author and of outstanding books for children and young adults
  • Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

The book already won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in November.  You might have heard Representative John Lewis give an emotional acceptance speech, in which he recalled “I remember in 1956 when I was 16 years old, going down to the public library, trying to get library cards, and we were told that the libraries were whites-only and not for coloreds…To come here and receive this award — it’s too much.”

The history of library services for African Americans has included both exclusion and inclusion.  Here are some books (for a slightly younger audience than March) that help tell the story:

Finding Lincoln
Finding Lincoln by Ann Malaspina
In segregated 1950s Alabama, Louis cannot use the public library to research a class assignment, but one of the librarians lets him in after hours and helps him find the book that he needs. Includes an author’s note with historical information about library segregation in the South.

Goin' Somplace Special
Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack
In segregated Nashville during the 1950s, a young African American girl endures a series of indignities and obstacles to get to the public library, one of the few integrated places in the city.

Richard Wright and the Library Card
Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller (also available in Spanish)
Based on a scene from Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, in which the seventeen-year-old African-American borrows a white man’s library card and devours every book as a ticket to freedom.

Ron's Big Mission
Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden
One summer day in 1959, nine-year-old Ron McNair, who dreams of becoming a pilot, walks into the Lake City, South Carolina public library and insists on checking out some books, despite the rule that only white people can have library cards. Includes facts about McNair, who grew up to be an astronaut.

Precedent or Never Again?

As we approach the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I am thinking about not only that event but also a recent statement from Carl Higbie referring to the internment of Japanese Americans after the attack as “precedent.”  His interviewer reacted with shock and a rejection of the idea.  Shortly afterwards I read a statement by actor George Takei, who spent part of his childhood in an internment camp.  He has been using theater to tell the story of Japanese American internment in the show Allegiance (which will be coming to movie theaters December 13 for a one-day event).  Children’s author Yoshiko Uchida has written about her internment experience, as well. You can find biographies, history books, historical fiction, and picture books in our collection to help understand this moment in history.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss
A picture book biography of of Kenichi Zenimura, who played professional baseball before internment in the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona, where he built a baseball field.

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
A Japanese American boy learns to play baseball when he and his family are forced to live in an internment camp during World War II, and his ability to play helps him after the war is over.

Best Friends Forever: A World War II Scrapbook by Beverly Patt
Fourteen-year-old Louise keeps a scrapbook detailing the events in her life after her best friend, a Japanese-American girl, and her family are sent to a relocation camp during World War II.

The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida
Emi, a Japanese American in the second grade, is sent with her family to an internment camp during World War II, but the loss of the bracelet her best friend has given her proves that she does not need a physical reminder of that friendship.  You can find the author’s autobiography, An Invisible Thread, further down on the list.

Dash by Kirby Larson
When her family is forced into an internment camp, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, her classmates, and her beloved dog Dash; and as her family begins to come apart around her, Mitsi clings to her one connection to the outer world–the letters from the kindly neighbor who is caring for Dash.  This title is also available as a Playaway audiobook.  Duke and Liberty are two other books Kirby Larson has written about dogs in World War II.

A Diamond in the Desert by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thirteen-year-old Tetsu and his family are sent to the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona where a fellow prisoner starts a baseball team, but when Tetsu’s sister becomes ill and he feels responsible, he stops playing.  This title can also be downloaded through eRead Illinois.

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After World War II Internment by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
The American-born author describes her family’s experience and impressions when they were forced to relocate in a camp for the Japanese in Owens Valley, California, during World War II. This title can also be downloaded through eRead Illinois.

The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis by Kirby Larson
Thirteen-year-old Piper Davis records in her diary her experiences beginning in December 1941 when her brother joins the Navy, the United States goes to war, she attempts to document her life through photography, and her father–the pastor for a Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle–follows his congregants to an Idaho internment camp, taking her along with him. Includes historical notes.  This title is also available as a Playaway audiobook and can be downloaded through eRead Illinois.

Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler
Drawing from interviews and oral histories, chronicles the history of Japanese American survivors of internment camps.

The Invisible Thread: An Autobiography by Yoshiko Uchida
Children’s author, Yoshiko Uchida, describes growing up in Berkeley, California, as a Nisei, second generation Japanese American, and her family’s internment in a Nevada concentration camp during World War II.

Painting the Rainbow by Amy Gordon
During Holly and Ivy’s annual month-long visit at the family’s New Hampshire lake house in 1965, the distance that seems to be growing between the thirteen-year-old cousins fades when they accidentally uncover hints of a family secret dating back to World War II.

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
Near the start of World War II, young Manami, her parents, and Grandfather are evacuated from their home and sent to Manzanar, an ugly, dreary internment camp in the desert for Japanese-American citizens. This title can also be downloaded through eRead Illinois.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
Sabaku Ni Saita Himawari by Amy Lee-Tai
While she and her family are interned at Topaz Relocation Center during World War II, Mari gradually adjusts as she enrolls in an art class, makes a friend, plants sunflowers and waits for them to grow.  This picture book is in English and Japanese.

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky by Sandra Dallas
After Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese, twelve-year-old Tomi and her Japanese-American family are split up and forced to leave their California home to live in internment camps in New Mexico and Colorado. This title can also be downloaded through eRead Illinois.

Remembering Manzanar: Life in a Japanese Relocation Camp by Michael L. Cooper
Uses firsthand accounts, oral histories, and essays from school newspapers and yearbooks to tell the story of the Japanese Americans who were sent to live in government-run internment camps during World War II.

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For Lent: 3 new books about monks

Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel was Born by Anna Egan Smucker; illustrated by Amanda Hall
My mom told me a variation of this story when she showed me how to make pretzels as a kid.  Brother Giovanni, the baker at the monastery, is trying to get a bunch of rambunctious children to learn their prayers.  If you try the recipe at the end of the book, you’ll see why the smell of fresh-baked pretzels is such a great motivator!

Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe; illustrated by S. D. Schindler
If a bear ate your library book, you might find it pretty hilarious.  Brother Hugo was maybe a bit too much of a wise guy when he reported the loss to his abbot, so he’s assigned the penance of replacing the book– from scratch.  The notes at the end of the book say that it was inspired by actual events.

The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán” by JoEllen Bogart; illustrated by Sydney Smith
Ms. Wendy told me about the poem “Pangur Bán” when we were discussing the movie The Secret of Kells (which features a cat by the same name, and some Irish monks, and some magic).  It’s a poem written long ago by a monk, comparing his own work seeking knowledge in books to his cat hunting mice.  The book won’t be released until mid-March, but this blog gives you a sneak peek at the illustrations.  Pangur Bán’s name refers to his white fur, and I like that the artist chose to give the monk petting the cat white hair, too.