It’s Monday! What are you Reading? Historical Fiction


I have just finished reading One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (A Newbery Honor book, as you know). I missed this one in my reading and I am glad I went back to read it. What a great adventure story mingled with a historical event around the passenger pigeon. Amy has taken the great passenger pigeon nesting in Wisconsin to anchor her story. We quickly land in the late 1800’s and soon fall in love with Georgie.

Georgie is thirteen, spunky and our eyes and ears to the mystery of her lost sister.  She seems smart beyond her years. You have to realize this is the 1870’s where children grew up fast, were expected to do so much more – there was no sheltering or helicopter parents then.

This is a great middle grades book and a perfect one to introduce historical fiction. When someone says I don’t like history here is where you can lead them. The story is imagined but the setting and events all circle around the late 1800’s. There is lots of sights, sounds and smells that fit this specific time and place.

It is a perfect book to discuss:

  • What kind of research did this author do?
  • Where would you find this information? Do you need to travel to that place?
  •  How did she build her writing around her research?
  • What is real and what is fiction?  Could this really happen?
  • What were the roles of women in this time period?  Does our main character fit in?
  • You can keep going… lots of treat questions

Also a great book to do beginning easy research on their own: (there are great photos and information on the web – a good book trailer to get you started –

  • small town Wisconsin – late 1800’s – Pioneer lifesearch
  • passenger pigeons
  • counterfeiting
  • sharpshooting

This is well worth adding to the historical fiction shelf!

I then abandoned my reading list for the week and tumbled back into The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I have started this book three times and just got stuck. It is cold and dark. (It might be that it is also cold and dark in Mpls as well – not the best time to read cold, dark material but worth the read!).

This time I am hooked and can not put it down. That does mean I am not done but what makes the difference?  This has always been a great book. I just couldn’t or didn’t make a connection with the text to keep me going. Reading and I think especially historical fiction needs to make a personal connection but that is a post for tomorrow at Slice of Life. Today is about the book.

Zusak takes us into the life of Liesel, a young girl trying to survive and understand the horrors of World War II. Our narrator is Death himself. He was very active during the late 30’s and 40’s in Germany but seems to have taken an interest in following Liesel.

We learn about Liesel as she strives to make sense of her world through struggling to read, write and help support her foster family. She has lost her father, her mother has left her with another family, she has watched her brother die and yet she keeps moving forward, learning, questioning and seeking answers.  images

This is a great book to add to the collection of World War books. Zusak has captured the time and place with details of smell, color, sounds all putting you into the daily life of Liesel’s new family.

The deep questions that emerge as Liesel’s family takes in and hides a young Jewish man make this book ripe for discussion and further research for students.

It is a book that students need to discuss, to have a guide into the time period. This is a book to teach from or with. You need to be that guide to bring in the connections, to help make a larger context for students. This would be a wonderful tie in with a history class that is studying World War II.   ( Yes, I know the movie is now out – but read the book first then go see the movie.)

Books for next week: ( back to my list)

  • The Mark of the Dragonfly (release date is March 2014)
  • Little Audrey by Ruth White

Stay Warm and keep reading!


About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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3 Responses to It’s Monday! What are you Reading? Historical Fiction

  1. Historical fiction can be a bit of a rough sell, but I’m hoping that the mystery in this will be a good seller.

  2. Myra GB says:

    Oh wow, we’ve read the same book this week! I posted a picture of The Book Thief alongside a near-empty box of tissues beside it. I watched the movie right after because I felt the need to torture myself further. I’m looking forward to discussing The Book Thief in my two book clubs this February.

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