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Children's Book Reviews


History Comes Alive

History Comes Alive

by
Kate Marley


Historical books can make the dull dates and flat facts come alive in amazing ways. No matter how different a culture seems to be, there are always intersections, and books such as these are a fascinating way to discover all the ways we are connected to the past, where we are heading, and what to avoid taking with us.

"If you don't know history, you don't know anything. You're a leaf that doesn't know it's part of a tree." Michael Crichton, Timeline.


PICTURE BOOKS

Dreamstones by Maxine Trottier. US c 2000, Stoddart Kids.
When an expedition to what is now the Canadian north waits too long and becomes caught for the winter, a boy named David has even more time than expected to learn about this wonderful new land. He’s particularly fascinated by the stone structures the natives call inukshks, and one unforgettable night they give him a special message. Detailed paintings by Stella East further evoke the otherworldly mystery of a northern winter.

Shibumi and the Kitemaker by Mercer Mayer. c 1999, Marshall Cavendish.
When rich and sheltered Shibumi learns of the poverty and cruelty in the city, she tries to convince her father, the emperer of Japan, to equalize the distributon of property and to clean up the streets. Her plan to use a huge kite to hang aloft until this is accomplished goes awry, and when she floats off, her father decides to honor her memory by honoring her request. For this, he eventually receives an unexpected reward. The beautiful computer (!) illustrations are by the author.

Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan. c 1999, Scholastic.
Based on a true story, this is the author's only slightly embroidered idea of what happened the night Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt went for a plane ride together in the night skies over Washington DC in April 1933. They really did sneak out of the White House in evening gowns and long gloves, and really did fly together! Black and white pencil drawings by Brian Selznick strikingly illustrate this charming story of two famous women who knew how to have fun as well as make history.


The Royal Bee by Frances & Ginger Park. c 2000, Boyds Mills Press.
Life is very hard for Song-ho and his widowed mother, and as peasants in 19th century Korea they can expect little else. But Song-ho is determined to better himself, and when the schooling he craves is denied, he finds another way to educate himself and prove his worth at the royal bee where applicants are tested. A quietly satisfying tale of determination rewarded, with beautiful artwork provided by Christopher Zhong-Yuan Zhang.




TRANSITIONAL BOOKS

Copper Lady by Alice Ross and Kent Ross. c 1997, Carolrhoda Books.
Here is another side to the story of the Statue of Liberty - from the French side. An young orphan named Andre sneaks away from his harsh master to watch as The Lady, as he calls her, is being assembled. Encouraged by one of the workmen, he learns a little coppersmithing as well. When it comes time for the statue to leave, Andre decides to stow away with her, and gamble on life in a new land. Illustrations are by Leslie Bowman.

Charlotte in Giverny by Joan MacPhial Knight. c 2000, Chronicle Books.
In 1892, Charlotte's father brings his family to France so he can paint with the other painters of the Impressionism movement. This beautiful journal is about Charlotte's experiences in a foreign land, filled with pictures from famous painters and drawings by Melissa Sweet. The whole is much like a scrapbook, with words, drawings, pictures, and artistic scribblings in the margins in French and English.

It's All Greek to Me by Jon Scieszka. c 1999, Viking.
The Time Warp Trio gets sucked into another adventure; this time they are accidently sent to ancient Greece to face their own bad interpretation of Mount Olympus. Anyone familiar with the earlier exploits of Joe, Fred and Sam will know what to expect - jokes so bad that that they'll be a hit with the kids, a nearly impossible plot and goofy illustrations courtesy of Lane Smith. In short, another fun read.



FOR OLDER READERS

Amelia’s War by Ann Rinaldi. c 1999, Scholastic.
When the Civil War comes to Hagerstown, Maryland, everyone is caught in the snarled intricacies of conflicting political loyalties versus lifetime friendships. Amelia is twelve when it all begins and early on she and her family struggle to survive physically and morally as well as they can through three Southern invasions. The third time, their town is held for ransom. How did Hagerstown escape burning? Once again, Rinaldi has taken historical facts and woven a fascinating story about ordinary people during extraordinary times.

Miles' Song by Alice McGill. c 2000, Houghton Mifflin.
To even look at a book brings harsh punishment to slaves on the Tillery Plantation; poor twelve year old Miles is caught looking at a picture and is sent to the dreaded breaking ground. But instead of breaking his spirit, the camp focuses his chafing against slavery. More importantly, he meets Elijah, who teaches him the forbidden art of reading. How he and his Mama Cece plan their escape, evading bloodhounds, snitches and slavecatchers make for an exciting, suspenseful tale. By a Columbia, Maryland resident!

Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm. c 1999, HarperCollins.
Washington state in the late 1890's was still very much a wild frontier. Twelve year old May is the only girl and youngest in a Finnish-American homesteading family with seven boys. More of a tomboy than the Proper Young Lady her parents would prefer, May just seems to find trouble everywhere. This was a great read, with lots of detail, wonderfully believable characters and gritty realism.


Adaline Falling Star by Mary Pope Osborne. c 2000, Scholastic.
It is historical fact that the famous Western explorer Kit Carson married an Arapahoe woman and had a daughter he named Adaline. But the only description by relatives was that Adaline "was a wild girl", and the author felt that perhaps Adaline was not wild but misunderstood. So here is one possibility; her story from her point of view. Mostly, this is about the year she lived with her white relatives after her mother's death and while her father is away. Their ignorance and prejudice make it very difficult for Adaline, but being a strong, proud girl (though only eleven) she struggles to find a way to carry on in a harsh and often brutal world.


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