Wednesday, April 18, 2018

My Life in the Plymouth Colony

I've long been a fan of books that don't just attempt to teach history, but try to engage kids with the people, time, place, and events happening. There is also something unique about a book that doesn't take the most obvious part of the subject but moves slightly forward or backward to give you a view of what was life like before or after the big event that is more often chosen as a topic for a children's book.

My Life in the Plymouth Colony (My Place in History) is a historical fiction picture book written in a diary format that tracks the life of an eight year old girl in 1633, thirteen years after the colony was settled. As I said previously I like the time jump because it gives the reader an idea of what life was like after the original settlers arrived. This wasn't the time often chronicled in First Thanksgiving stories. This is about what happened when the colony started to grow.

There are nine diary entries, each covering a different topic a New Year, Anne's First Word (her introduction), schooling, farm life, gardening, the Sabbath, a feast, harvest, and breeching. Each entry is about two pages with lots of pictures. There is a glossary in the back that defines the bold vocabulary words that might be new to children. Each section also has a Note from History that gives a little background information on the topic being discussed.

This is clearly not designed to teach the history of the Plymouth colony, but it is a great book to make the experience more real for students by providing practical life details of what life was like for a child living in one of America's earlier colonies. It can be hard to find age appropriate material for younger children that still has something for upper elementary students. I think the information provided here is unique enough that it could cross those boundaries. With support the language and pictures are appropriate for younger students. The material provided addresses gaps not often found in books written for upper elementary students about life for children.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk

What would happen if a fairy tale character revolted and refused to follow the traditional version of his tale? Josh Funk explores that idea in his picture book It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk when Jack and the narrator experience a battle for control of Jack's story.

I'm a huge fan of alternate fairy tales, but they have to be well written. I recently passed on reviewing a nursery rhyme alternate tale that I didn't feel lived up to a quality retelling of the story. This version is not only fun to read, but it also starts the conversation of why fairy tale characters don't question their paths more often. In this story it takes a while for Jack to get control of his own journey. At the beginning while he questions the narrorator's control, he still is forced into following the story. However, when Jack and the giant meet the two begin to question the path they are on and in talking to each other they find a new path, much to the frustration of the narrator who tries desperately to regain control of the story.

This was one of the better alternate fairy tale books I've read in a while and I think it would be a great way to encourage kids to discuss and even write their own alternate versions of fairy tales. Why couldn't more fairy tale characters revolt against their narrators and find new happier paths.

Monday, April 16, 2018

RobinHood's Faire

The RobinHood Faire is coming to the Bolton Fair Grounds in Lancaster, MA from May 12-28 10:30-6. You can visit their website here.

Tickets are $10 for ages 7-15, $15 for ages 16+, children 6 and under get in for free. Check out the website for discounts for seniors and military here. You can also find passes which provide discounts for multiple visits.

This is one of the more affordable Ren Fairs in the area and one of the only ones offered in the Spring in this area.

Friday, April 13, 2018

At the Battle of Yorktown: An Interactive Battlefield Adventure

At the Battle of Yorktown: An Interactive Battlefield Adventure (You Choose: American Battles) is another very strong entry in the You Choose series, this one written by Eric Braun.

I came across this title while searching historical fiction books on a required reading list. This was not on the list, but as so often happens, it popped up under the also bought suggestions and I realized it was a new title in a series I previously reviewed and loved.

One of my challenges is to find books that present accurate but engaging history for children. The two require balance. You can write a very detailed factual account of history, but if kids find it dull and boring, it isn't terribly helpful in engaging them in wanting to learn more about history. The other side is a wonderful story that sadly misleads kids about events because the research is sloppy. This series is both engaging and factual.

The reader is presented with 3 characters to choose from to follow the events that unfold during the Battle of Yorktown, a French soldier, an African American slave hoping for freedom, and a woman following her husband's enlistment in the Continental Army.

I like the attempt to add diversity to the choices because it provides a more rounded look at the war. Too often we don't look beyond the big names we've all come to know from history to the actual people who lived during the time period.

I am on the fence about the French soldier, though. I understand the desire to help students realize the Americans had the assistance of French military during the war and to include that perspective in the story. However, to do that, they had to leave out what I thought was an important perspective and that was the British soldier who was to suffer the ultimate humiliation when the Battle of Yorktown was lost and they had to surrender to the Continental Army. I think that weighting the option of including the French soldier or getting the perspective of the losing side through a British soldier I would have chosen the British soldier.

All three stories were compelling. A reminder to teachers and parents, this is a story about war and not every path leads to a happy ending. There are deaths depending on the choices one makes, even when those choices seem compassionate. As always I suggest previewing a book before presenting it to a child to read and be prepared to handle the reactions to those outcomes.