Chigger, a novel by Raymond Bial

Interview with Raymond Bial, Author of Chigger

Chigger is a sweet, poignant novel novel set in a quiet little town in southern Indiana. It’s the late 1950s, and the other kids in the fifth-grade at Rutherford B. Hayes Grade School don’t know what to make of the scrappy newcomer. Dirt poor, always hungry, the girl also has “quite a mouth on her,” and so annoys several of the boys that she quickly acquires the nickname of Chigger. These buggy backyard pests, chiggers, cause a lot of itching and scratching, and the new girl does gets under the skin of these boys. [Click on cover image above to read the full interview …]

Phoebe's Heron, cover art

Phoebe’s Heron – by Winnie Anderson

Phoebe’s Heron ticks all the right boxes for me: a bright young girl, in a loving family, confronting complex issues. I enjoyed the role played by boom-town Denver in the 1900s as an effective backdrop and contrast to the semi-isolated mountaintop life in the new home in the Colorado Rockies foothills where uprooted Phoebe’s coming of age unfolds. In the mountain setting, Phoebe has plenty of free time to develop a friendship with a local boy, Jed, and his affable dog, Mike. However, it turns out that Jed and his father are market hunters, who shoot wild birds for their feathers. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea – by Lauren Wolk

The early chapters of Beyond the Bright Sea unfold at a subdued pace, but one that manages to reveal stunning information: a newborn’s unexplained arrival on an isolated island in the North Atlantic, an austere but tender-hearted man who discovers the baby strapped to a boat and takes her as his responsibility, and a trusted neighbor woman whose steady presence anchors the unmoored pair into a sort of family. That purposeful pace sets the hook before the story accelerates. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow – by Lauren Wolk

Much is made, among readers and writers, of the power of a memorable opening line. In the case of Wolf Hollow, debut novelist Wolk manages to hook readers in the first ten words of a two-page prologue: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.” Line after line, page after page, character after character, the story builds, strengthens, deepens, and never disappoints. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

Jingo Fever, by Stephanie Lowden

Bullying Immigrant Families in America – A Sad Heritage

As the author of a middle-grade novel about anti-immigrant sentiment in World War I, I know that the current prejudice against immigrants and immigrant-American families is not new. In Jingo Fever, my main character, young Adelle Klein, is bullied because she’s German-American. She lives in Wisconsin, a heavily German-American state in 1918. But World War I was raging in Europe, and a rampant patriotism was surging on the homefront. It was a difficult time to be of German origin, even if you were also an American. Jingo Fever deals with the issue of “Fear of the Other” during a time of war. [Click on book cover above to read the full post …]

Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story, by Janet Halfmann

Seven Miles to Freedom – by Janet Halfmann

The story of Robert Smalls is most likely not known by many. Born to a house slave in 1839, he would go on to accomplish one of the most daring escapes of the American Civil War. Seven Miles to Freedom is a biography, but because of its picture-book format and striking oil paintings, this book should appeal to all ages. This is a gem of a title, a perfect choice for Black History Month.

Sweet Home Alaska cover art by Erika Steiskal

Interview with Carole Estby Dagg, Author of Sweet Home Alaska

Carole Estby Dagg’s website tag is “Writing About History as Ordinary People Lived It.” After reading her middle-grade historical novel Sweet Home Alaska, I had many questions about how this fascinating subject and these characters came into her writing life. Here, Carole discusses her approach to writing this entertaining book about a little-known episode in Alaskan history.

A Night Divided, header image

The Berlin Wall – Books for Young Readers

Last year, author Jennifer A. Nielsen visited my school. Her book, A Night Divided, carried me back to my visit to Berlin in 1984, when the wall still sliced the city in two. At first, I saw little to like. The air was thick with the residue of coal-burning, bombed-out and bullet-pocked buildings were stark reminders of World War II, and a huge concrete wall with barbed wire, minefields, and guard towers snaked through the middle of the city. But somehow Berlin, so steeped in history, won my heart. Thanks, Jennifer Nielsen, for reminding me of this adventure in my life, and for the many other books on Berlin that tell stories of our humanity, stories we must not forget. [Click on book cover above to read the full article & list of books …]

Bjorn's Gift, cover

Interview with Sandy Brehl, Author of Bjorn’s Gift

I recently interviewed Sandy Brehl, author of Bjorn’s Gift, a sequel to Odin’s Promise, winner of the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. Both books are set in Ytre Arna, Norway, during the German occupation of World War II. Sandy tells of her writing journey and how she became interested in telling the stories of wartime Norway through these middle-grade novels. [Click on book cover above to read the full interview …]

Social Justice Books

Books for International Peace Day

International Peace Day is September 21. And every other day, too. Right? If you have good books to recommend to help parents, teachers, librarians, and eager young readers…

The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life – by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

When I first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I passed right by the second sentence: “This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.” Yet somehow the sentence lodged itself in a dark recess of my brain. Only as an adult, did I begin to understand the huge impact that the London evacuation during World War II had on a generation of children. Now, I work in an elementary school library. When I unpacked The War that Saved my Life, it went to the top of my Must Read list. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

The Birchbark House, cover art

The Birchbark House Series – A Beautiful Glimpse of Ojibwe Family Life in the Mid-1800s

Louise Erdrich is one of our finest writers, winner of many literary prizes for her adult fiction. The daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a German-American father, Erdrich’s novels explore Native-American themes with memorable characters, storytelling, and often, a graceful touch of magical realism. Her children’s books, especially The Birchbark House series, also explore Ojibwe history, and are likewise deeply steeped in a wonderful storytelling tradition. As Horn Book noted, “Readers will absorb the history lesson almost by osmosis; their full attention will be riveted on the story.” [Click on image above to read the full article …]

Cold War on Maplewood Street, by Gayle Rosengren

Interview with Gayle Rosengren – Author of Cold War on Maplewood Street

Middle-grade author Gayle Rosengren discusses the concept for her recent novel, Cold War on Maplewood Street, and why she wrote this story for young readers, set in the early 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that explores the effects of fear and the overriding value of communication. [Click on cover image above to read the full interview …]

enchanted air: two cultures - header

Two Kids’ Books Explore Cuban-American Relations in the 1960s

The history of our relationship with Cuba is a complex one.

Now, thankfully, we have recovered to the point where the two countries have begun to explore better relations. Here are two kids’ books set in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, going beyond the fears and hysteria of the political conflict to look for the common hopes and dreams of young individuals trying to make sense of the complicated time. [Click on image above to read the full article …]

Syttende Mai in Norway

Syttende Mai & Three Books about Norwegian Resistance in World War II

More than thirty years ago I didn’t know much about May 17. Norway’s annual holiday (Syttende Mai in Norwegian) is similar to our American Fourth of July. Then I got a chance to travel to Norway, where I heard delightful family stories, and fell in love with that country and the warm-hearted people I met. Of the many stories I heard, the ones about life during the Second World War were among the most memorable. [Click on image above to read the full article …]

Barbed Wire Baseball cover, art by Yuko Shimizu

Books that Keep the Past Alive – Stories of Japanese Internment Camps and Baseball

Philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For most of us, knowledge of the past does not come from textbooks but from stories – stories told when generations gather around the dining table, in movies or on the flickering TV set in the family room, in historical novels that pull us into a bygone era. Years ago, I read Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir Farewell to Manzanar and was incredulous that discover that the United States ran concentration camps during World War II and locked up American citizens. [Click on baseball-player image above to read the full article …]