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Category Archives: Historical fiction

Book Review: Kat, Incorrigible

Twelve-year-old Katherine (Kat, for short) is the youngest of four children, including two older sisters could not be any more different.  Her mother having died soon after she was born, Kat was raised by said sisters, who continue to watch over her and chide her about her childish behavior.  The family is at a crossroads as their brother has racked up a tremendous gambling debt and it seems as if oldest sister Elissa must marry an atrocious older man rumored to have murdered his first wife.  Kat takes matters into her own hands, however, when she discovers her mother’s magic books and possessions.  She must think quickly on her feet and trust her instincts as she goes about trying to save her sister from martyrdom.

While it may seem as if the plot is serious and dramatic, this middle grade novel was fun, fun, fun.  The family dynamic and the relationships between the three sisters had me giggling and dying to find out how exactly they would stick together and protect each other, even in the midst of misunderstandings and dramatic emotions.  Kat is in the protagonist of the story but her sisters also show redeeming qualities and won my heart over with their individuality yet togetherness as sisters.

The plot moved at a fantastic pace, after a brief introduction of Kat’s past and their present predicament, including one interesting stepmother.  Though the novel is a short one, enough happened for the reader to feel as if they have taken a journey with Kat, a journey of self-discovery and a showing of bravery.

Kat, Incorrigible

by Stephanie Burgis

Published by Atheneum

April 2011 (in the US)

 

#34 The Watsons Go To Birmingham — 1963

When it comes to children’s books, there are a few elements that I absolutely love to have included.  These are not always true with YA books, just mostly with children’s books.  First, I love a family story.  Families, though most of the time seemingly crazy and intolerable, are so important in our lives.  I am lucky to have an amazingly wonderful immediate and extended family and, though they do make me want to pull out my hair sometimes, I love them.  Others may not be as blessed to have such a wonderful family and look to close friends for their familial relationships.  Whether you are the former or the latter, I simply mean to emphasize that I love a story that has family or family-like relationships involved in the story.

Second, I love me some humor.  Though I don’t normally review books that are based on a humorous main character, irony or any type of satire, I have to say that I do appreciate that a lot in books.  An author that can poke fun at the happenings of the world, while maintaining control in their writing is a total turn-on (in a non-sexual way).

Lastly, as most of you know, I am a fanatic for historical fiction, or period fiction, as I like to call it.  Reading about events in the past that I did not experience makes me feel more enlightened about the world that I live in.  I can hardly resist a historical fiction novel, especially when it has to do with race relations and the civil rights movement.  Why am I telling you all these factors that I appreciate in fiction novels?  Mostly because #34 on our Top 100 Children’s books list contains all of these.

The numerous awards that this novel won (Newbery honor, Coretta Scott King, etc.) speaks for the greatness of the novel in the literary world.  Now you know why I appreciate the book.  Now go read it!

The Watsons Go To Birmingham — 1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

Originally published in 1995

 
 

#37 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

I would consider myself a person that is very passionate against racism.  I am an American of German and Irish descent, with very little personal experience of being a minority.  I did spend a few months in China being ogled at, and a few months in the deep South during which I was told, “You sound like you’re stuffed up when you talk.” Other than that, I have no idea what it is like to be discriminated against.  But I have certainly observed people being talked down to because of their race.  And I want to take a few minutes to share with you my deep-set feelings against racial discrimination.

But first, the book that inspired this post.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a novel that I have read before, a novel that every American should read, no matter if your family originates from Africa, Asia, Europe or another America.  In this novel, we meet the Logan family, a land-owning African family living in Mississippi in the 1930’s. There are four children in the Logan family, and a lot of risk-taking in their history.  Their grandfather was a bold man, and they must live up to that by defending their honor as a black family and overcoming the obstacles that are put in their way, namely a money-hungry white landowner that will go to any length to save face and take names.  In all honesty, I cannot sum up in my own words the beauty that is this book.  It is novels like these that children and young adults need to understand their country’s history and begin to grasp the concept that all men are, in fact, created equal.

It was with a heavy heart that I read this novel, knowing that the people rooting for slavery could have very well been my ancestors.  It was with sadness that I realized that this behavior is part of MY history.  And it is with great anguish that I remind you all that racism runs rampant in our country still today.  Rather than sit here and scold those taking part, I want to offer you my encouragement in the fight against racism.  I am not one that says the world should be “colorblind.”  When I look at what different lives my best friend and I have had, I rejoice in the beauty of differentiated cultures according to race.  I encourage you, my fellow Americans, to open your eyes wide to the people around you and learn to appreciate your similarities and differences.  Notice the color of skin around you and know that that color matters, as well as the content beneath it.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred D. Taylor

Originally published in 1976

 

#41 The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Now is the time when I express my distaste for a Newbery award-winning novel.  Is that even allowed?  Buh, I feel horrible even typing this post.  However, I did promise you, my readers, that I would write about my experience reading the top 100 children’s books, and that is simply what I am doing.

Enter The Witch of Blackbird Pond and it’s main character, Kit.  Kit has spent most of her life in Barbados (on Barbados?) with her grandfather, living the free and luxurious life.  Her grandfather passes away and leaves Kit to fend for herself, so she heads off on a ship to Connecticut to, hopefully, take up residence with her aunt, uncle and their two daughters.  Oh, and did I mention this takes place in the 1680’s?

When Kit arrives, she finds that her family is living in near-poverty and that her ideals and attitude are much different than theirs.  She is instantly looked down upon and makes friends with the local “witch” secretly.  Without giving any spoilers to the remainder of the novel, let me proceed with my thoughts on themes.

There were way too many themes in this book.  The plot was great, introducing characters in a timely manner, revealing characters well and within the plot of the story, and keeping the main character true to herself.  However, I was so confused by the end of the novel as to what the author was trying to emphasize.  The fact that it takes place in colonial America and the main character is a wealthy white girl from Barbados?  Enough for me already.  Then there was the introduction of a witch hunt and outcast characters and politics and courtship and poverty.  I couldn’t keep everything straight.  This novel, while I do enjoy historical fiction, was not my cup of tea.

As I always ask on posts for books I do not enjoy, please, please comment with your positive ideas on this novel.  I welcome your expertise and experience on this award-winning piece of work.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

Originally published in 1958

 

#47 Bud, Not Buddy

Okay, folks, it’s time to talk about awards.  Why? do you ask?  Well, because Christopher Paul Curtis, author of #47 on our list, Bud, Not Buddy, is a brilliant author and award-worthy.  When I picked up this book at my local library, I couldn’t help but notice the smattering of award notations on the outside and inside covers.  First of all, this novel won the Newbery award in 2000, an award presented yearly to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”  Kind of a big deal, y’all.  Bud, Not Buddy was also the winner of the Coretta Scott King award in 2000, an award given to “African American authors for outstanding inspiration and educational contributions” and was designed and put into motion in order to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Also a big deal.

Last but not least, I have to mention that this novel also won the William Allen White award in the year 2002.  For all your non-Kansans out there, let me tell you a little bit about this award.  The award is given to 2 books each year (fiction or non-fiction), one which falls in the 3rd through 5th grade level and the other of which falls in the 6th through 8th grade level.  The shortlist is chosen by an official awards committee, but the winners themselves are chosen by the students of the state of Kansas.  The award began in 1952 and is intended to honor the life and works of William Allen White, one of the most distinguished Kansas citizens and a huge advocate of libraries, reading and learning in general.

All that to say that Bud, Not Buddy is obviously a book worth checking out.

Bud, Not Buddy

by Christopher Paul Curtis

Originally published in 1999

 

Book Review: The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove

Bezellia Grove lives a life of prosperity.  Belonging to a prominent family said to have been living in Nashville since it’s beginning, there are certain expectations of her.  The 1960s and 70s deem to be rather difficult, as the country around her changes, as she changes, and as her family changes right before her eyes.  She must learn to accept that people are weak, love is real, and life will never be easy.

Bezellia’s story is one of the best I have read in a long time.  The emotions and situations felt so real sometimes it felt like I was reading a memoir.  The language and prose of the author made the book flow seamlessly. From the start to the finish, I felt as if I couldn’t put the book down because all of Bezellia’s and her family’s experiences moved naturally from one to the next.

Even though I may have been frustrated with some of the decisions that she made and the situations she got herself in, I still rooted for her the entire time, as she is real, honest and introspective enough for me to understand her well.  She blooms before your eyes, but the changes are still subtle, as the book spans basically from her birth to her death.  This novel is, literally, about the improper and unpredictable life of a young woman, born into privilege in the South.

Rather than continuing to gush and rave about this novel, I will present the book with the Diamond Ring Award.  As explained here, I do not give books ratings, but when I find one that just leaves me standing in awe, I award it with the Diamond Ring Award.  Congratulations, Susan Gregg Gilmore.

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove

by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Published by Shaye Areheart Books, an imprint of Crown

August 2010

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Book Review, Crown, Historical fiction, YA Books

 

#56 Number the Stars

Number the Stars takes place during the Holocaust and tells the story of two young Danish friends, one Jewish and one not, but both of their families brave beyond measure.  A short read, the novel does not drag on into horrendous details of their lives, but touches enough on their emotions for the reader to understand what the girls and their families went through during the Holocaust. When it comes to historical fiction that addresses such a difficult subject as this, I hesitate to even comment on the book itself.  I mean, we all know that Lois Lowry is an incredible author.  Need I say more?

I will, however, make a few positive comments.  For a pre-teen reading this book, I feel as if they would find it very easy to connect with the young protagonist, even though she lived in a completely different time and went through an experience that most Americans could not fathom experiencing.  The author does not go into so much depth and detail as to bog down the reader, but does bring up issues that the reader can discuss with parents, teachers or other mentors.  Books such as these are vital to young readers in knowing about the world’s history.

Number the Stars

by Lois Lowry

Originally published in 1989