Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Neil’s Review: The Watson’s Go to Birmingham

Neil’s Review: The Watson’s Go to Birmingham

The Watson's Go to Birmingham - 1963

The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963.

Neil says:

The Watsons are very funny. Byron is the oldest. Kenny is the funny one. Joey is the annoying one. The whole family has done something funny. Like when Byron kissed his reflection on the car window. Kenny was embarrased when he read a higher book than the 5th graders. (This is still back during racism). The mom has a gap in between her teeth so she covers her mouth when she laughs. I thought that was very funny. The dad was laughng so hard he cried. I’m telling you this book is hilarious.

Thanks Neil!

Amazon Look Inside: The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963

If you like reading about the 1960s, a time that was full of lot of new, controversial, sometimes scary things like: the Cuban missile crisis, men in space, the fight for civil rights, rock music & more, try one of these:
This Means War Criss Cross Gemini Summer Countdown
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Moon Over Manifest

Moon Over Manifest

Moon Over Manifest

Have you ever had the feeling that maybe the adults aren’t telling you something? They stop whispering when you enter the room. They get funny looks in their eyes when you ask questions. Their eyebrows raise. Sometimes, they seem about to tell you something…and then stop.

Abilene arrives by train in Manifest, Kansas looking for some answers. Her Daddy has sent her to his home town alone, a home town he hasn’t set foot in since he was a boy. Why did he send her away? Why did he send her to Manifest? Why is everyone so evasive? (That means they want to avoid her questions; they don’t want to talk about her Dad.)

All Abilene finds at first is more questions, like who drew the map and wrote the letters that she finds in the old cigar box? And why does the box, which was hidden very carefully, also contain a cork, a fishhook, a silver dollar, a fancy key & a tiny wooden baby doll? Is the map a treasure map? Are the little items just junk, or are they clues? When Abilene starts to ask questions an ominous note appears at the entrance to the treehouse she is using for a hideout. “Leave Well Enough Alone” (page 47)

This is a story about the kind of mystery that has remained unsolved for so long, it almost disappears as the suspects and the clues fade away or die as the years go by. Abilene intervenes just in time so that the things in the cigar box can help the grown-ups tell a very important story that will give Abilene the answers she needs to solve a very important mystery; and the answers she needs about her Dad. Sometimes, the grown-ups are just waiting for the right time to talk as well as the right way. Author: Clare Vanderpool; Newbery Medal 2011

If you like the idea of family secrets and believe that treasure can be found in the attics, barns, and hidey places in old houses…as well as in the stories that old people tell and in their memories, this the story for you.
Finding Family Penny from Heaven The Brooklyn Nine Kaleidoscope Eyes
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Young Samurai: The Way of the Sword

Young Samurai: The Way of the Sword

The Way of the Sword

Ninja pirates killed Jack’s father when they attacked his ship. Jack was rescued by a samurai sword master who takes him to his samurai school in Japan and begins training Jack in the way of the Samurai.

The way of the Samurai is very similar to something Jack does understand being an English schoolboy…and that is the chivalry of English Knights. The rules about loyalty, honor and mad fighting skills are very much the same whether you are talking about Japanese Samurai or English Knights. The Japanese culture though, is very, very different from what Jack knows. Jack is looked on with suspician by his fellow students. He has to work hard to gain their respect. He is at the same time pursued by his Father’s killer, the ninja Dragon Eye, who wants something Jack has that once belonged to his father.

In The Way of the Sword Jack’s adventures at the dojo continue as he prepares for the Circle of Three, a contest during which five students are chosen to perform a series of tests – kind of like the Tri Wizard tournament in Harry Potter except the Samurai students are all from the same school. The series of tests are actually deadly and only the very best students are chosen. Their skills are tested but also their discipline, loyalty and ability to control their own fear.

Can Jack survive the Circle of Three? And when Dragon Eye makes his move can Jack defend himself? Maybe with the help of his new Japanese friends and some pretty amazing Samurai teachers. This one made me one to go out and take a martial arts class. I also liked seeing a person like myself in a new environment. Usually stories are about a kid that is from somewhere else coming to OUR culture…but this one is the other way around…a kid like me going somewhere new.  Jack’s English, but still, American and English customs have a lot of similarities. I could really relate to Jack trying to figure out the Japanese/Samurai ways because I didn’t understand at first either. Read Chapter One: The Way of the Sword

1: The Way of the Warrior
2: The Way of the Sword
3: The Way of the Dragon
4: The Ring of Earth (coming soon)
5: The Ring of Water (coming soon)
6: The Ring of Fire (coming soon)

If you like reading about Jack I think you will also really like Heart of a Samurai – it is a survival story about a boy separated from his family who strives to live his life by the standards of the samurai and ends up doing great things – it’s based on the life of a real boy too – a boy who is thought to be the first Japanese person to ever come to the United States. So it’s the opposite, about a Japanese boy coming here and trying to figure out our ways.
Hearts of a Samurai Life as a Samurai Samurai Life as a Ninja
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Heart of a Samurai: based on the true story of Nakahama Manjiro

Heart of a Samurai: based on the true story of Nakahama Manjiro

Heart of a Samurai

Manjiro is only 14 years old when he takes a job on a Japanese fishing boat to help support his family. A big storm shipwrecks the fisherman on a deserted island for several months. When they are finally rescued by an American whaling boat they are almost starved to death.

The year is 1841 and as strange as this may seem to us, the country of Japan had a really isolationish view of the world back then. That means that they just wanted to be left alone. They did not want any influences from outside their own country. What this means for Manjiro and the other fisherman is that they cannot return to Japan even though the American whaling ship can easily take them there. If the men return to Japan they could be put in jail…or killed. I know, it sounds really odd to us now but that’s the way it was back then.

So, the American ship takes the fishermen to Hawaii instead. The ship’s captain takes Manjiro under his wing and offers to take him on to America as his adopted son. Manjiro accepts this offer and becomes what is thought to be the first Japanese person to set foot in America. I love this part of the book because it is so different. This Japanese boy goes to school and learns to run a farm in 1840s America.

After Manjiro finishes his education and after he sails around the world, Manjiro decides to return to Japan 1. because he wants to see his mother and 2. because he wants to show that the outside world is not dangerous. He does this even though he knows he might be killed. What happens next in his life sounds like something made up in a movie…or a book…but this times it’s TRUE. Manjiro was a real person and the unbelievable things in this books really did happen. Manjiro left Japan as a poor boy with no future. He returns and Japan is never the same again. Author: Margi Preus Newbery Honor Book 2010

Shipwrecked and Manjiro are both biographies about the real Manjiro – yes, he was real. The discipline, secrecy and skill of samurai is very mysterious – and interesting. The next two are about samurai training. If you liked the survival part of Manjiro’s story try the next four – all about survival at sea.
Shipwrecked Manjiro Young Samurai The Way of the Sword The Japanese Samurai
Escape by Sea Shen of the Sea The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Robinson Crusoe
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A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water

Part of this story is about a boy named Salva. He lives in Sudan, a country in Africa, during a Civil War that happened there in 1985. The other part of this story is about a girl namy Nya and takes place in Sudan right now.

When we say “The Civil War” here in America we are referring to our own Civil War that happened 150 years ago. The Civil War in Sudan was only 25 years ago. During the War in Sudan many people were killed, children were made orphans and families were separated. In order to get to safety many people WALKED to Ethiopia or Kenya.

When you are reading Salva’s part of the story you hear about how he slept on the ground at night and could hear lions hunting around him:

Marial was gone – vanished into the night. He would never have wandered away from the group on his own. His disappearance could mean only one thing. Lion. (page 40)

Salva even has to cross a river infested with crocodiles. Some of the people do not make it across the river. On the other side of the river is a desert…which the people also have to walk across. Can you even imagine surving a journey like that? I can’t.

Nya’s part of the story is about how she walks twice a day, EVERY DAY to a pond to get water. Nya carries the water in a plastic jug and balances it on her head to walk home. That’s what she does every single day; once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The pond is so far away from her home that she has no time to do anything else. No school. No playing. Just walking – carrying water to keep her family alive.

A Long Walk to Water shows you how Salva’s story and Nya’s story are related even though they take place 25 years apart.

There are parts of the book that are hard to read and very, very sad. Some parts are scary. In the end, though, this is a book about really good things. It is about people looking after each other – even if they are stangers to begin with. It is about trying hard and doing your part and it is about hoping for something better.

The really great thing is that A Long Walk to Water is based on a real boy named Salva – you can see his picture with the author on the book jacket or in the video below. (He’s grown up now.) At the end of the book there is a letter to you from Salva that I think you’ll like to read. The best thing he says is, “Stay calm when things are hard or not going right with you. You will get thorugh it when you persevere instead of quitting.” (page 117) Those are pretty powerful words when you realize they come from a kid who survived a situation much, much more difficult than anything we will probably ever face.

  • Amazon Look Inside A Long Walk to Waterwater-for-sudan-logo
  • Linda Sue Park’s Official Website
  • Linda Sue Park’s Blog
  • Watch the PBS Need to Know Episode “The Lost Boy of Sudan” – it’s about Salva himself.
  • Watch a Video of Salva talking to small children about his project.
  • Water for Sudan – Salva’s own organization that drills wells to provide water to people Southern Sudan.

Here are some more books about people like Salva who decide to DO something:
Wengari's Trees of Peace Three Cups of Tea Do Something Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together
Alex and the Amazing Lemonade Stand A Gift from Childhood Making Change The Doggy Dung Disaster
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