Posts Tagged 'historical fiction'

Bluffton by Matt Phelan

Bluffton. By Matt Phelan. Candlewick Press, 2013. 240 pages. $22.99

Summer in Bluffton…. On the shores of Lake Michigan in the early 1900’s,  a community of vaudeville performers summers near Muskegon Michigan. Notable is the Keaton family, including young Buster. Henry Harrison much prefers playing baseball and swimming with these transient members of the community to helping out in his father’s store. The friends grow up and move on… but Henry will have the memories of these Bluffton summers. Matt Phelan takes a little known story about a little known town and brings both alive. Using watercolor panels, Phelan seems to innately know what the scene calls for in order to evoke an emotional response from the reader. The dialogue is sparse with his artwork often carrying the storyline for a series of pages. The palette of summer colors is as refreshing as a dip in Lake Michigan. This book, like Phelan’s award winning Storm in the Barn is a perfect entre to the graphic novel genre. It’s time to summer in Bluffton! For readers and artists in grades 4 and up.

Authors Galore

Its been a week filled with writers and discussions of writing! Thanks to my friends at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL, Clare Vanderpool came to speak to the 4th and 5th graders at my school. Ms. Vanderpool was promoting her recently released book, Navigating Early.

Navigating Early is the quest of two boys, Early Auden and Jack Baker. The boys don’t quite fit in at their Maine boarding school and when a school holiday leaves them to fend for themselves, they set off on the Appalachian Trail to discover the great black bear. A second, parallel, quest is featured in the book. Early, being a math wiz, has created a story of pi. Not the number, per se, but of Polaris, nicknamed Pi. Vanderpool’s ability to weave the two narratives into a cohesive whole is nothing short of masterful. I was spellbound by her practice of the craft — multiple story lines and nuanced characters brought to like with beautiful descriptions and authentic dialogue. It doesn’t get any better than Navigating Early.

Several weeks ago, I reviewed Todd Hasak-Lowy’s novel 33 Minutes. The launch party was held on the weekend at The Book Stall. I wanted to meet Mr. Hasak-Lowy. There were references in the book to locations that I was sure I knew from my high school years in Farmington Hills, MI. Sure enough, Todd graduated from the same high school I attended. Comparing notes on his setting was great fun!  The reasons I liked 33 Minutes still hold and I enjoyed hearing Todd describe the writing process for the novel. Using such a narrow time frame to tell the story is not all that common, maybe even unique.

I enjoyed the week immersed in books and talk of writing. Thank goodness for the lingering warm feelings it created as we settle in for a cold week here in the Chicago area.



Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris by Marissa Moss

Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris. By Marissa Moss. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2012. 224 pages. $12.99
A missing mother. An unusual postcard. A trip to Paris. A gargoyle. Due to an unlikely chain of events, Mira time travels to Paris in the late 1800’s and become embroiled in the Dreyfus Affair. Believing she is on a mission to influence the course of history, Mira meets prominent artists and writers of the time including Edgar Degas, Mary Cassett, and Emile Zola. As Mira time travels between Paris of past and present she catches glimpses of her mother providing an incentive for her to complete her task countering anti-Semitism. While Mira is a delightful and engaging heroine, readers need considerable background knowledge to understand the Dreyfus affair, anti-Semitism, and the world of the Impressionist artists. The frequency of Mira’s time travels should rack-up frequent flyer miles and, at times, makes the plot difficult to follow. An author’s note provides much needed historical context and even then might be beyond the reach of the younger readers targeted by the publisher. Suitable for 5th to 7th grade readers.

The Boxcar Children Beginning by Patricia MacLachlan

The Boxcar Children Beginning. By Patricia MacLachlan. Albert Whitman & Company, 2012. 144 pages. $16.99

Newbery Medal Winner Patricia MacLachlan presents an intriguing back story for the invincible Boxcar Children; Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden. The children enjoy life with their parents at Fair Meadow Farm removed from the dire economic conditions of the Depression. Eventually, though, that changes and the Clark’s including children, Meg and William, and family dog, Joe, stay with the Alden’s after being stranded near the farm. The two families bond and there are many long faces and tears when the Clarks resume their journey after Mr. Clark repairs their car. The Clark’s were only the first of a series of out-of-work families who stay with the generous Alden’s at Fair Meadow. Then tragedy strikes and the scene is set for the long popular Boxcar Children series. MacLachlan’s story is believable up to a point. The children’s transition from happy family to kids-on-the-road is abrupt and seemingly devoid of emotion. Having said that, young readers will enjoy reading about the Alden’s life before the mysteries. Suitable for 2nd to 5th grade readers.

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