Fear not these historical novels

Tween books - September 2006


Sandi Pedersen

Ughhh, not that again!

Your teacher just said those two dreaded words. You know the ones-those two words that make the whole class go "ughhh." The words are included in a sentence something like this one: "This month I want you to pick historical fiction for your book report."

You hear the words "historical fiction" and your mouth automatically opens into an O shape and a groan escapes without you even thinking about it.

Never fear, my friends, this month I offer you a list of books that will please you and your teacher.

WEEDFLOWER, by Cynthia Kadohata, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, $16.95; ages 10-13.

Twelve-year-old Sumiko and her family live in California on a flower farm. Sumiko is the only Japanese-American at her school. She is aware of prejudice before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but after that event, life changes. Sumiko and her family are sent to live in an internment camp on an Indian reservation in the hot Arizona desert.

The Americans don't want the Japanese-Americans in the United States and the Indians don't want them on their land. The daily desert dust storms, the boredom, the lack of privacy, the worry about those who were forced to go into war, are all making life very difficult.

Sumiko makes friends, plants a few of her family's flower seeds and finds the courage to continue.

THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $15.95; ages 8-12.

Ethel and her family move into the executive mansion the day her father becomes president of the United States. On that day, Ethel's life changes. The year is 1901 and Ethel's father is Theodore Roosevelt.

Ethel has to adjust to boarding school; she learns what it is like to be prejudged by the girls at school, how to handle the media and how to enjoy life as the daughter of a president.

This is an easy and enjoyable read. My favorite part is about how the women fool the media into thinking they own more than one dress when blue becomes cornflower and red becomes crimson.

WHEN MY NAME WAS KEOKO, by Linda Sue Park, Dell Yearling, $6.50; ages 9-12.

Sun-hee is 10 and her brother Tae-yul is 13. They live in South Korea at the time of the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II. The Japanese have enforced laws to make all things Korean illegal. Sun-hee's name becomes Keoko and her brother becomes Nobuo. Their family name is changed to Japanese. In school they must read and write in Japanese and learn Japanese history.

Keoko and Nobuo take turns telling the story of their family, their life and their struggle to preserve their heritage and their dignity.

THE BOOK THIEF, by Markus Zusak, Random House Children's, $16.95; ages 12 and older.

This book is about Liesel, a 9-year-old German girl during World War II. It's a story about books and words and how important reading and writing is to everyone. It's a story about struggle and perseverance. It's a story about life for a poor German family in a small German town during a horribly difficult time in history. And it's a story about what it was like to be German, and unable to voice your concern for your Jewish friends and neighbors-missing them and never knowing where they are or how they are.

The narrator is Death and the book is told through his voice. Death meets Liesel when he comes for her little brother. The part that stuck with me the most is that Death has emotions and shows us more feelings than doom and gloom. Death is portrayed as insightful, hopeful, caring and even loving.

This book is sad and hard to get through. I cried many times. And yet, it is thought provoking, memorable, extremely well written and impossible to put down.

THE MISADVENTURES OF MAUDE MARCH: OR TROUBLE RIDES A FAST HORSE, by Audrey Couloumbis, Random House Books for Young Readers, $17.99; ages 9-12.

In Sallie's own words, "this is the true story of how my sister, Maude March, came to be known far and wide as a horse thief, a bank robber and a cold-blooded killer."

Sallie, who loves to read dime store cowboy novels, is 11, the year is 1869, and the setting is the Wild West. First, Aunt Ruthie is shot dead. Second, Sallie's favorite dime store novel hero, Joe Harden, is the one who killed her. Then the lives of Sallie and Maude become the stuff of a dime store novel. The lives of Sallie and Maude become truer than fiction; the lives of Sallie and Maude become historical fiction.

This book is fast-paced and fun. Read how Sallie and Maude steal horses, escape from a bank robbery and shoot it out with some cowboys. Enjoy it--I dare you.

P.S. Attention all Lemony Snicket fans: The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket is doomed to darken my comfy chair Friday the 13th of October. Are you ready to read the dreadful ending? I am.

Sandi Pedersen is the mom of four and the Web mistress for Chicago Parent.


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