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Posts Tagged ‘history’

Title: A Gathering of Days

Author: Joan Blos

Newbery 1980

A very interesting slice-of-life look at New England in the 1830s.  Even though it was written in the 1970s, it is pretty historically accurate (to my untutored mind at least) – dealing with distances, snow, and the isolation of a community in New Hampshire.  The characters are believable, and the story is wonderfully understated.  While there are major events in this book, they happen in and among normal and small events – just like real life.  The book covers somewhat less than two years, and you are left wanting to know more about this girl’s life after the diary ends.

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Title: Smoky Night

Illustrator: David Diaz

Author: Eve Bunting

Caldecott 1995

A child’s recollections of the LA riots are told in fabulous illustrations.  Each page’s background is made up of a collage of objects that could be found in that scene, plus a beautiful painting.  It is hard to imagine under what circumstances you would own this book – unless, of course, you and your child had lived through a riot or war and needed to tell that story.  For older children, it could be a lead-in to a discussion of violence, perhaps when such events were being shown on TV or in the news.  A beautiful book; a heartbreaking subject.

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Title: The Slave Dancer

Author: Paula Fox

Newbery 1974

What an absolutely brutal book.  I rarely unrecommend books, but this one I can’t, in good conscience, suggest that anyone read.  While brutality is not necessarily a bad thing in a book about illegal slave trade in the late 1800s, it seemed like it was horrific with very little information or redeeming value given in return.  If you want to know more about that time period, read something like Roots, watch Amistad, read just about anything else.  I am guessing there are some more recent books that show the reality of the time more accurately with less unnecessary horror.

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HittyTitle: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years

Author: Rachel Field

Illustrator: Dorothy Lathrop

Newbery 1930

Ah, books of a certain era – I recommend this one with a ‘but…’ similar to Dr. Dolittle – there is rampant American/European superiority throughout this book, which is not surprising, but needs to be addressed nonetheless.  Hitty is an engaging character, and her story is also a nice gloss over American history from the early 1800s to early 1900s.  The conceit of a doll who is able to control her limbs enough to write is nice – as a child, you always suspect that your toys are able to do things when you’re not looking.  A sweet, if odd, story.

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doorinthewallTitle: The Door in the Wall

Author/Illustrator: Marguerite de Angeli

Newbery 1950

This is a sweet story, but doesn’t have very much meat to it.  It follows a sort of classic ‘disabled people have something to contribute to society’ format, with the slight twist that it takes place in the Middle Ages.  However, I don’t get the sense that the author did very much research before placing her story in that time period – there are details that don’t ring true with better-researched books I’ve read.  The ambient religiosity may be uncomfortable for some readers, though it is historically accurate.  There are better historical fiction books with more accurate representations of this time.

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Witch of Blackbird PondTitle: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Author: Elizabeth George Speare

Newbery 1959

Given my review of The Bronze Bow, I approached this one with some trepidation.  This story, however, has all of the good points and none of the religious heavy-handedness of its successor.  Kit is a relatively well-developed character, and the Puritans are not flat caricatures of themselves.  They are real people, just a little over-straight-laced.  The ending is a little too pat, but it’s nice to have a book that ends well for everyone every once in a while.   This book would be great, as it is often used, as a fictional introduction to a unit on early American history.

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The Bronze BowTitle: The Bronze Bow

Author: Elizabeth George Speare

Newbery 1962

This is a well-constructed and well-told story, but I am not sure that I can bring myself to recommend it without reservations.  I know that many Newbery winners are used in middle school English programs, but I would hope never to find this on a required reading list in a public school.  It starts out simply as historical fiction, but any historical fiction in which Jesus is a character becomes quickly unsimplified.  He is portrayed as the son of God, miracles and all.  A well-rounded and human son of God, but holy nonetheless, and the emotional focus of the book.

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