When Emmy Blue’s father announces his plan to move his family to the mountains of Colorado, Emmy looks forward to the adventure. The Wild West sounds much more exciting than becoming a lady and learning to quilt. However, she learns that adventure also means sacrifice and hard work. After leaving friends, family, and her pet cat, Emmy starts a new life on the trail to Golden, Colorado.
On the wagon train, Emmy and her family experience hardships and strengthening experiences. They make friends and even some enemies in their journey to a new land. At the request of her grandmother, Emmy is forced to learn to quilt as she travels, but her quilting soon becomes soothing and a way to record memories. In her first children’s novel, Sandra Dallas gives a realistic and detailed view of wagon train life. She also tells an interesting story of a child finding her place in a new world.
I recommend it for 10 and up, because there is some discussion spouse abuse. Nothing is discussed in detail and it is age appropriate, but it can be a hard subject and might take a more mature reader to understand.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
When Dinah and her mother move into an old mansion, Dinah finally feels she has found a home. She imagines the home in its former splendor and refuses to notice the crumbling walls and failing electricity that mark it as condemned. With her disappointment over her mother’s new, overbearing boyfriend and her desire for friendship, Dinah finds herself wishing the stone animals from a nearby castle would come to life. To her surprise, her wish comes true and Dinah’s new home is soon protected by fantastical animals. They are invisible to most, but their presence is felt.
Barry and Jacob, two boys from Dinah’s new school, recognize the animals for what they are, but they sense the threat that Dinah fails to see. Together, they try to understand Dinah and protect her in a way that magical animals can’t. This is a fantasy story, but with a hint of the dark and sinister. I was caught up in the story, but Dinah’s life is sad enough that I don’t recommend it for younger readers. There is nothing inappropriate, but the loneliness and magic would be better for older kids or tweens.
Recommended for ages—10-13.
Joseph Michtom lives in Brooklyn with his family during the summer of 1903. His only wish is to visit the new amusement park at Coney Island, but his family is too busy. As Russian immigrants, Joseph’s family struggled with the others until his father sold the first stuffed toy bear. Now the family can’t keep up with the demand for toy bears and Joseph feels his childhood being sucked away by their good fortune.
Through the eyes of Joseph Michtom with some inserted insight from orphans living under the bridge, Karen Hesse brings turn of the century Brooklyn to life. She shows the joys and struggles of that period in history. It is through the experience of the Michtom family and Joseph’s own coming of age, that we see the culture and people of a growing and advancing America. Brooklyn Bridge brings a tween’s perspective of this period of American history.
Recommended for ages—9-12.
Esperanza enjoys an indulged life on her family’s ranch in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Surrounded by wealth and loving family, she has little understanding of the servants and ranch hands around her. An unexpected tragedy robs Esperanza of her comfort and forces her and her Mama to flee to California. There they settle in a camp for migrant farm workers and are forced to endure the hard physical labor and financial struggles of their new position.
In a new land and a new life, Esperanza finds nothing familiar. She struggles to fulfill her required tasks in the midst of personal sorrow. While her new situation is hard, Esperanza learns valuable lessons. She learns about the importance of friendship and compassion as well as the strength that comes from facing and overcoming challenges. Her story is a powerful illustration of life as a migrant worker during the Great Depression.
Although Esperanza Rising, describes difficult circumstances, it leaves readers with a sense of hope in the strength of the human spirit.
Recommended for ages—9-12 years.
In late winter 1858, Early Whitcomb and his family were struggling to save their farm. After a dry year and poor harvest, their savings were barely enough to pay the mortgage. Threats from the bank were becoming more severe and financial ruin seemed inevitable. About this time, the farmers began to hear rumors of gold found out West at Pike’s Peak. Early’s Uncle Jesse is caught up in the gold fever and is sure that digging for gold will solve all their problems.
When Jesse disappears, Early joins a wagon train to follow his uncle and join the rush for gold. This I Witness book gives a realistic look at the culture and struggles of emigrants and gold diggers in the Old West. Avi includes illustrations and photographs that help teach history as well as share an intriguing story.
Stosh has the unique ability to travel through time using only a baseball card. He holds a card from the year he wants to visit, and suddenly he is there. In Roberto & Me, Stosh travels to 1969 to meet baseball star and humanitarian Roberto Clemente. His goal is to warn Roberto not to take the tragic plane flight that cut his life so short. However, Stosh soon learns changing the future is more difficult than he expected.
This book and the other baseball card adventure books are great for young sports enthusiasts. They include baseball facts, but also a glimpse of life in different time periods. The stories are written with enough variety and conflict that even non-baseball lovers can enjoy them. Roberto & Me was a success with my ten-year-old daughter who has never watched a game of baseball in her life.
Recommended for ages 8-12
I was immediately captivated by the title Al Capone Does My Shirts. However, while the title is an excellent fit for the story, it led me to expect an entirely different type of book. I expected kids mixed up with gangsters or some other sort of hilarity. Instead, Al Capone Does My Shirts is a much deeper and more profound work of historical fiction placed against the backdrop of the Depression and Alcatraz. This book was assigned to my ten-year-old daughter and I think she can appreciate it, but readers of her age would need a background on Alcatraz, Al Capone, and the culture of the time period.
Moose Flanigan and his family move to the island of Alcatraz where his father works double shifts as an electrician and prison guard. They make the move in an attempt to earn enough to send his mentally handicapped sister Natalie to a special school in San Francisco. When that plan fails, Moose is overwhelmed with the responsibility of watching his sister. At the same time, he struggles to make new friends and avoid involvement in the troublesome schemes of the prison warden’s daughter.
Al Capone Does My Shirts is an interesting story based on the lives of families who lived and worked on Alcatraz during its operation. It also deals with the trials of mental disabilities and the way it affects families. The book is written with compassion, sensitivity and great insight, but would be a good one to discuss with young readers as they read.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
When World War II threatens the people of London, Tally’s father and her aunts insist that she attend a boarding school in the country. Tally does not want to leave her family and go to a stuffy boarding school, but she is soon caught in the spell of Delderton. This is a boarding school where children are encouraged to ‘find themselves and be themselves.’ No one is forced to wear uniforms or even attend class.
With the friends Tally meets, she organizes a group to attend an international folk dancing festival in the country of Bergania (fictional). At the festival, Tally meets and befriends the crown prince of Bergania. Their friendship becomes very important when the Nazis kill Bergania’s king and Tally and her friends must save Prince Karil. This story is filled with adventure as well as strong messages about the importance of trust in friendship. It is perfect for tween readers and older.
My only complaint with the book is the fictional country of Bergania. Ibbotson holds to the culture and feel of the World War II era, but the fictional country takes away from the historical fiction aspect. The story is still entertaining and well told, but not to be counted on as pure historical fiction.
Recommended for ages 10-13.
In the midst of the Great Depression, Abilene Tucker’s father sends her to live in the town of his youth, Manifest, Kansas. Abilene immediately begins searching for stories of her father or signs of his time in the town. Although she is disappointed in her search for her father’s stories, Abilene finds that Manifest is full of secrets and a past that many choose to keep hidden. Through the stories of Miss Sadie, the town’s Hungarian diviner, old newspaper articles, and a collection of old letters, Abilene pieces together that secret past. In the process of revealing and sharing that story, Abilene helps the citizens of Manifest heal and grow closer together. She also helps her father and herself.
Clare Vanderpool’s clever story gives insights into both the World War I time period and the Great Depression. She introduces a strong heroine and an endearing town, filled with intriguing characters and mystery. This is an interesting story for mature child readers (9 or older) and is a good introduction into important times in American history. This book also teaches good lessons about the power of community and the importance of accepting differences.
This short historical fiction book is perfect for tweens interested in the Wild West. We recognize names like Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy, and Wyatt Earp with their questionable heroics in a wild time, but not many have heard of the truly heroic Bass Reeves. One of the most successful federal marshals in the late 1800s, Reeves worked in Indian Territory arresting criminals and fighting for justice against amazing odds. Reeves, the only recorded African American marshal, was known for his honest devotion to duty as well as his uncanny ability to get out of tight spots.
Little is recorded about this hero of the Wild West, but Paulsen has combined known facts with fiction to create a compelling historical figure. Paulsen creates a believable childhood and combines that story with actually known events to show the shaping of this man. The reading is interesting for all ages, but it does deal with the violence that so filled that time period—raiding Indians as well as the cruelty of white men. None of the writing is explicit, but the themes make it better for 10 and older.