It’s 1899. Calpurnia is 11 years old and lives in Texas with her six (six!) brothers – three older and three younger. On her report card, Calpurnia gets an “acceptable” grade for “Posture” and an “unsatisfactory” grade for “Use of Hankie and Thimble”. Her Mother is not pleased! Can you imagine having “Use of a Hankie” as a school subject? (A hankie is a square piece of cloth they used in the old days to wipe their eyes or nose – no kleenex back then.)
Calpurnia isn’t the least bit interested in what is known as “woman’s work.” She doesn’t want to cook and sew and knit – she wants to run and swim and explore everything that lives in the woods and river near her house. She likes to study bugs. The dirtier Calpurnia gets, the happier she is.
After observing some curious grasshoppers in her yard, Calpurnia has some questions. Why are some of the grasshoppers large, yellow and slow, and some of the grasshoppers small, green and quick? And why is it that the smaller quick ones are easier to catch? No one is able to answer her questions, in fact, her family seems completely uninterested.
Calpurnia gets up the courage to ask her Granddaddy, a man who lives in the family house but hardly speaks a word to anyone. He shows up for meals and then disappears: out in the woods to collect specimens, into his library or out to his backyard shed/laboratory. Nobody in the family is quite sure what he is up to, but everybody knows to stay out of his way. Except Calpurnia. She steps into the shed to ask her question and a friendship is born. After 11 years of thinking that she is an oddball, Calpurnia finds a kindred spirit in her quiet, cantankerous Granddaddy who shows her that being a girl who loves books and science is OK.
If you have ever wanted something different than you think is expected of you, or if you have ever felt uninterested in the same things as the people around you, maybe you and Calpurnia are kindred spirits too. Sometimes blazing your own way can be pretty exciting. Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Dit Sims lives in tiny Moundville, Alabama in 1917. He’s got nine brothers and sisters and his Dad routinely forgets his name. It’s summer, it’s hot and Dit’s best friend is away for the summer. When he finds out that a new postmaster is coming to town, Dit hopes the new postmaster, Mr. Walker, has a son close to his age that will want to go fishing and play baseball.
The postmaster comes, and Dit is disappointed to learn that he doesn’t bring a son, he brings prissy, brainiac Emma who always has her nose in a book and doesn’t know one thing about baseball. Dit’s town is disappointed to learn that the Walkers are African-American.
Dit’s family welcomes the Walkers and the two families slowly build a relationaship sharing chores and helping out when family members are sick. Dit and Emma start building a friendship too. Dit teaches Emma how to throw and hit a baseball. Emma helps Dit with math and introduces him to exciting adventure books like Treasure Island. Slowly, over the summer, the two kids become best friends.
Some people in Dit’s town don’t welcome the Walkers, especially the town sheriff. Some people object to Dit and Emma’s friendship, even object to the Walkers living in Moundville at all. When the two kids witness a racially motivated shooting and realize their friend, the town’s black barber, is unjustly blamed and sentenced to hang, they secretly come up with a daring plan to save him.
This story brings the injustice and horrors of racial bigotry to life. It’s a story about friendship between people and how that friendship is stronger than the forces around it that try to tear it apart. Two thumbs up historical fiction. Author: Kristin Levine
It’s 1852, 12-year-old Omakayas and her family are setting out on a dangerous and uncertain journey. Forced from their land by incoming white settlers, Omakayas and her people are travelling by canoe and by foot west along the shores of Lake Superior in search of a new home. They set out prepared for a long, hard winter but unexpected things happen that put their survival in question. There are unfriendly enemies to avoid, a forest fire and an evil traitor who puts all their lives in peril by stealing their food and other provisions. Near starvation, the group trudges forward bouyed by their attachment to each other and the way of life they cherish. Omakaya’s story shows how people can survive and overcome even the most perilous circumstances. Author: Louise Erdrich
The time in this book is right before the Revolutionary War. Isabel and her sister Ruth are slaves owned by an old woman in Rhode Island. When their dying owner promises them freedom after her death, the two see the possibilities of a new life. To there horror, the old woman’s nephew refuses to free them after his Aunt’s death. He instead sells the girls to an abusive couple in New York. While the property of the Lanktons, the girls know only pain and work.
The Lanktons are Loyalists, people who are loyal to King George. New York is a hotbed of discontent between the Loyalists and the Patriots, people who want to break away from English rule. At first, Isabel is drawn to the Patriots and their beliefs in liberty and freedom. She agrees to spy on her Loyalists owners for the Patriots until she realizes that their beliefs about liberty and freedom don’t apply to her, a slave. Isabel realizes that if she wants freedom, she’s going to have to fight for it herself. This is a gripping story of one girl’s fight against what seem like impossible odds. Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
If you want to know what it was really like during the California Gold Rush, this book is a great place to start. It isn’t a textbook telling all the facts, this is the inside story of the gold rush told by one of the miners himself, Thomas Hartley. Thomas tells the story from the day he heard about the discovery of gold in California. All the people around him can talk about is gold, “how much and how to get it and how to spend it once you’ve got it.” Of course, they forget to talk about all the work…and the danger. Thomas’s story includes blisters and rotting teeth, scurvy, dysentery, scheamers, crooks and murderers. A true adventure that just might end in fortune. Author: Tod Olson Illustrator: Scott Allred