Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Yes, women voting – mad & wicked!!

A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller   Audio by Katharine McEwan
Published by Viking Children’s 1/23/2014              Published by Listening Library


Vicky attends a “Finishing School” in France with only the art classes she sneaks off to keeping her sane. Unfortunately, someone discovers her extracurricular activities the day she poses undraped – in the nude. Her punishment: return to England, no more art classes, and an engagement to a wealthy gentleman to rehabilitate her reputation. She arrives home in the midst of the England’s Suffrage Movement which becomes a catalyst for life altering events. One afternoon as she slips away from home to draw people at the protest, she encounters a police constable, PC Fletcher, and a suffragette, Lucy. Both of them as well as her lady’s maid, Sophie Cumberbunch (who has been charged with Vicky’s refinement), introduce her to the movement, the Pankhursts and then encourage her to examine her own beliefs and how she lives her life.

Sharon Biggs Waller’s first YA novel is an exquisite look into 1908 England and the Suffrage movement as well as into the heart and mind of Vicky. Ms Waller’s compelling prose wraps us up in the beauty of the art Vicky sees and the power and beauty of the undraped figure. We are drawn into every one of Vicky’s emotions: her hopes, her despair, her passion, and her hatred (of corsets). And we are moved as Vicky opens her mind to a different world, a world beyond her family’s expectations, a world where women vote. With Vicky, Ms Waller creates a fascinating and powerful character whose growth finally gives her the ability to pursue her own dreams, her own desires. After all, isn’t that we all hope for?

In addition, Ms Waller provides extensive historical back matter which includes information about Edwardian life & clothing, Tuppenny Novelettes, the Suffrage Movement, the Pankhursts, hunger strikes & force feedings, and various artists that are mentioned. A thorough bibliography links readers to more information on England and the Suffrage Movement. BTW – if the name Pankhurst rings a bell you might want to thank the movie Mary Poppins for Mrs. Banks sings about Mrs. Pankhurst being “clapped in irons again!”

The Audio Book is just as compelling if not more so than the book for the English accents put us smack dap in the heart of 1908 England. I really know it’s good when my teen daughter tells me to turn it on rather than turn it off! Thank you Katharine McEwan!

A Mad Wicked Folly is a wonderful historical fiction novel that will not only engage students, but get them talking as well.

1964 Missisippi – a time for Revolution!

Revolution by Deborah Wiles
Published by Scholastic 5/27/2014


In the summer of 1964, the headquarters for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the Mississippi Freedom Project are located in Greenwood, Mississippi. The Mississippi Freedom Project is designed to education African-American children and adults and to conduct a voter registration drive. It is a summer of turmoil because white Mississippi takes offence of the Freedom Summer invaders and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Churches and crosses were burned, people were beaten and arrested, and three Freedom Summer workers were murdered. Revolution tells the story of upheaval in Greenwood, Mississippi during this summer through the eyes of Sunny a white girl, her step-brother Gillette, and Raymond an African-American boy.

Deborah Wiles once again stuns readers with a powerful story told not only through fictional characters, but through photographs, quotes, and lyrics which provide readers with a more thorough understanding of that summer. She cleverly inserts juxtapositions between the Freedom Workers’ invasion and the Beatles’ invasion and the US’s commitment to Vietnam with their lack of commitment to African-Americans in Mississippi to get us thinking. In addition, Ms Wiles superbly brings in crucial side stories about Bob Moses, LBJ, Muhammad Ali, and Wednesday’s Women & Dorothy Height which offers a deeper insight into the time period. Needless to say, we as readers are privileged to read this insightful story. Thank you Deborah!

WARNING: Readers of all ages may have a visceral reaction to pamphlets & flyers written by the KKK, the words of Governor Wallace, and communications from the town of Greenwood. Librarians, parents, and teachers – please use this opportunity for discussion about Civil Rights and the 14th amendment.

For older readers who’d like a more thorough account of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner and subsequent lack of justice, I recommend The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell, published by Scholastic.

Nick the Saint?

Nick the Saint by Anthony Szpak
Published by Vincere Press


It is after the Civil War and American is in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. In New York City, people are hungry and factories use child labor to cut costs. Into this mess comes Nick – who lost his parents, who lost his girl and who was sent to jail because of a ruthless factory owner, Fergus Crank. Nick survives only to end up back in New York where he discovers his purpose – to help the children in the factories.

Anthony Szpak’s wickedly creative version of Saint Nicklaus has a comic book milieu which depicts Nick as a vigilante fighting for kids. Since all good comic book heroes have a sidekick, Nick gets Benny, an inventor and fellow inmate, who adds levity to the story with a little OCD, a little steampunk, and a little love. Additionally, Mr. Szpak ingeniously weaves in some pulley theory, some penicillin and some history to get us thinking. Readers will quickly get caught up in the story as we watch Nick develop his own brand of justice. Needless to say, all is not as it seems and we encounter unforeseen twists which keep us on the edge. An excellent action story that will draw both middle grade and teen audiences.

Going Over the Berlin Wall!

Going Over by Beth Kephart
Published by Chronicle Books


It is 1983 Berlin, Germany where we find a wall of cement and concertina wire that separates the city and separates two lovers Ada and Stefan. Ada, a graffiti artist in the West, wants Stefan, in the East, to go over the wall, but with more failures than successes, odds are not in Stefan’s favor.

Beth Kephart expertly weaves Going Over between the lives of Ada and Stefan. Ada is not only a graffiti artist, but also works with children of Turkish immigrants. She desires to save these children from their hard future as well as Stefan from his. Across the wall, we find Stefan whose only connection to his dream is through his Grandfather’s old telescope. Each point of view transports us into the heart and soul of each character. Ms Kephart has created a hauntingly lyrical and powerful story about lives in a divided Berlin, about choices and consequences, about love and loss that draws you in and won’t let you go long after you’ve put the book down.

Note! If you are looking for another novel about graffiti artists, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley is a powerful story of an anonymous graffiti artist and a girl that goes looking for him.

Silver People are worth more than gold…

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR


Silver People is the story of the “others” who built the Panama Canal. The non-white people who worked the hard backbreaking jobs, the most dangerous jobs. These people were paid in silver not gold (hence comes the name) and were left out of the history books. Margarita Engle seeks to reverse this blatant mistake with Silver People.

Ms Engle’s non-flowery poetic style gives voice to the stark reality of the silver people: the medium-dark Cubano – Mateo and the dark-dark Jamaican – Henry, the locals (e.g. Anita) and the forest. Her poetry moves from one person to another and then is juxtaposed with the discordant response of the forest – the animals, the bugs & insects, and the trees. While the U.S. is building this canal to further industry on the backs of the silver people, the forest gives voice to the devastation wrought through the construction. Once again, Ms Engle beautifully shares a story that enriches our lives. Librarians and Readers’ Advisors, please put this book into as many hands as possible – you won’t regret it!