Thursday, August 11, 2016

Noteworthy Historical Middle Grade Fiction of 2016

Last year my Project Mayhem posts were about new books I was excited to read, which I arranged according to release date. This year I'll be sharing new releases by genre. Today we'll talk about my favorite -- historical fiction. 
My love affair with historicals began with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books my dad read to me starting in Kindergarten and continued with titles I read on my own in elementary school, such as When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, No Promises in the Wind, and The Yearling. While I liked history class as a kid, I never felt smart enough to "get" everything we were supposed to learn. There was just too much to take in. But once a moment in history was transformed into a book, I could not only remember, I could make connections that felt real and meaningful. History came to life because these characters and their worlds were made accessible through story. 
Author Karen Cushman puts it this way:  
I think for readers historical fiction is important because it helps them to see beyond the boundaries of their own experience. It helps them to stretch and to see what life is like for others. This helps illustrate both how we are the same and how we are different, and can give readers more empathy. 
Here are a collection of boundary-stretching historicals broken into three sub-genres: historical adventure, books about WWII, and plain ol' straight up historical (I can make my own sub-genre, right?). I hope you enjoy! 
Audacity Jones to the Rescue — Kirby Larson (January 26) 
 Audacity Jones is an eleven-year-old orphan who aches for adventure, a challenge to break up the monotony of her life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls. Life as a wayward girl isn't so bad; Audie has the best of friends, a clever cat companion, and plenty of books to read. Still, she longs for some excitement, like the characters in the novels she so loves encounter.
So when the mysterious Commodore Crutchfield visits the school and whisks Audie off to Washington, DC, she knows she's in for the journey of a lifetime. But soon, it becomes clear that the Commodore has unsavory plans for Audie -- plans that involve the president of the United States and a sinister kidnapping plot. Before she knows it, Audie winds up in the White House kitchens, where she's determined to stop the Commodore dead in his tracks. Can Audie save the day before it's too late? 
The Eye of Midnight — Andrew Brumbach (March 8)
A cross between Indiana Jones and The DaVinci Code for kids, you won’t be able to put down this classic adventure set in 1920s New York City with an Arabian twist!
On a stormy May day in 1929, William and Maxine arrive on the doorstep of Battersea Manor to spend the summer with a grandfather they barely remember. Whatever the cousins expected, Colonel Battersea isn’t it. 
Soon after they settle in, Grandpa receives a cryptic telegram and promptly whisks the cousins off to New York City so that he can meet an unknown courier and collect a very important package. Before he can do so, however, Grandpa vanishes without a trace. 
When the cousins stumble upon Nura, a tenacious girl from Turkey, she promises to help them track down the parcel and rescue Colonel Battersea. But with cold-blooded gangsters and a secret society of assassins all clamoring for the same mysterious object, the children soon find themselves in a desperate struggle just to escape the city’s dark streets alive. 
An exquisitely written, gripping adventure, Andrew Brumbach’s debut novel is poised to become a contemporary classic.  
Sweet Home Alaska — Carole Estby Dagg (February 2)
This exciting pioneering story, based on actual events, introduces readers to a fascinating chapter in American history, when FDR set up a New Deal colony in Alaska to give loans and land to families struggling during the Great Depression.
Trip can’t wait to follow in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s footsteps . . . now she just has to convince her mom. It’s 1934, and times are tough for their family. To make a fresh start, Trip’s father signs up for President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project, uprooting them from Wisconsin to become pioneers in Alaska. Their new home is a bit of a shock—it’s a town still under construction in the middle of the wilderness, where the residents live in tents and share a community outhouse. But Trip’s not about to let first impressions get in the way of this grand adventure. Tackling its many unique challenges with her can-do attitude, she starts making things happen to make Alaska seem more like home. Soon, she and her family are able to start settling in and enjoying their new surroundings—everyone except her mother, that is. So, in order to stay, Trip hatches a plan to convince her that it’s a wonderful—and civilized—place to live . . . a plan that’s going to take all the love, energy, and Farmer Boy expertise Trip can muster.
John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy (Based on a True Story) —E. F. Abbott (February 16)
Determined to fight for his country, Johnny sneaks onto a train filled with men from the 3rd Ohio Union Regiment. Taken in by the older soldiers, Johnny becomes a drummer boy, and later, takes up his own musket. As the war rages on, Johnny experiences the brutalities of battle as well as the rampant illness and gnawing hunger in between. But the most dangerous part of Johnny’s journey is yet to come.
Based on a True Story books are exciting historical fiction about real children who lived through extraordinary times in American History.
Making Friends with Billy Wong— Augusta Scattergood (August 30)   
 Azalea is not happy about being dropped off to look after Grandmother Clark. Even if she didn't care that much about meeting the new sixth graders in her Texas hometown, those strangers seem much preferable to the ones in Paris Junction. Talk about troubled Willis DeLoach or gossipy Melinda Bowman. Who needs friends like these!
And then there's Billy Wong, a Chinese-American boy who shows up to help in her grandmother's garden. Billy's great-aunt and uncle own the Lucky Foods grocery store, where days are long and some folks aren't friendly. For Azalea, whose family and experiences seem different from most everybody she knows, friendship has never been easy. Maybe this time, it will be.
Inspired by the true accounts of Chinese immigrants who lived in the American South during the civil rights era, these side by side stories--one in Azalea's prose, the other in Billy's poetic narrative--create a poignant novel and reminds us that friends can come to us in the most unexpected ways. 
Cloud and Wallfish — Anne Nesbet* (October 2016)
East Berlin, 1989
Slip behind the Iron Curtain into a world of smoke, secrets, and lies in this stunning novel where someone is always listening and nothing is as it seems.
Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening). As Noah—now "Jonah Brown"—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs? In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.
Paper Wishes — Lois Sepahban (January 5)
Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family's life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It's 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her and her grandfather's dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat and gets as far as the mainland before she is caught and forced to abandon Yujiin. She and her grandfather are devastated, but Manami clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn't until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can reclaim the piece of herself that she left behind and accept all that has happened to her family.
Lizzie and the Lost Baby — Cheryl Blackford (January 12)
Cheryl Blackford's debut novel is set in England during World War II and told from the dual perspectives of ten-year-old Lizzie, a homesick girl evacuated from bomb-blitzed Hull to the remote Yorkshire valley, and Elijah, a local gypsy boy. When Lizzie discovers an abandoned baby, her dangerous friendship with Elijah is put to the test. Will Lizzie be able to find the baby's parents? And if she does, can she and Elijah remain friends in a world clouded by prejudice and fear?
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle — Janet Fox (March 15)
“Keep calm and carry on.”  
That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do:  when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.
But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse.  What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night?  Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own?  And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?
Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it's too late.
What historical books are you looking forward to this year?

* A Project Mayhem author! 


  1. I love historical fiction and still have No Promises on the Wind on my library shelves (they can't feed the boys, so just tell them to go on their own merry way. Wow!), but historical fiction is a really hard sell to my students. It's much easier if there is a lot of action and adventure involved. Who knows? Maybe this year will be the year that my new 6th graders ask for historical fiction every day. I live in hope!

    1. It can be hard, but I still believe there is a (perhaps small?) pocket of young readers who look for it. I was that young reader. I know there are more out there.

      I hope you'll seek out my Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine, which releases in February and is full of adventure. The Klondike gold rush. A mystery. Bad guys. Good stuff!

      I love knowing you've got No Promises in the Wind on your shelf. Still a personal favorite.

  2. My hubby love hstorical stories and facts he says without knowing past how can one better the future

  3. I love historical MG fiction. My list just grew and grew. Thank you!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!