Monday, May 27, 2013

George Washington's Spy



George Washington's Spy (Time Travel Adventures)is the time traveling sequel to George Washington's Socks (Time Travel Adventures)
which I reviewed earlier.

This sequel has the children returning to the Revolutionary War, but to a time before their previous visit. This time the boys have been assigned to read about Washington's fortifications at Dorchester Heights, but before they can complete the assignment, the boat arrives allowing them to live the assignment.

Perhaps the author realized the book needed more girls, because in this story while the boys are camping out, Katie is staying with a group of girls next door and when they don't believe her about having met George Washington, she becomes determined to show them where the boat is stored and the adventure begins.

The author wants to provide the reader with a chance to see life in Boston from a Tory or loyalist perspective and that of a Patriot or rebel one. To do this she splits up the boys and the girls. Katie's foot is hurt in the journey. While the boys head off to find help, Patriots capture them and the girls are taken in and cared for by a Tory family who mistakes them for the children of British aristocracy. This split allows the author to provide more insight and perhaps some balance in telling the story of the evacuation of Boston.

As I mentioned in my review of Woodruff's previous book, her novels provide great background knowledge for children with the added draw of fantasy. However, they can be graphic. In this novel, we see how the tensions between the Tories and the Patriots play out and it can be harsh. While many students may have heard of tar and feathering, the author personalizes it when the Tory father of the girls that rescue Matt's friends is tarred and feathered and dies in Matt's arms. As in the first book, Matt is led to question his belief that one side is good and the other evil in this conflict. In a similar situation, the same father is afraid to have his Patriot brother-in-law in his house for fear of what the British soldiers would do to his family, even though his personal loyalties are clear. He ultimately is killed for them. Through the character's eyes, we see that the situation is complicated.

I thought this was an important topic that is not often addressed, especially in children's literature. While the Sons of Liberty is given credit for getting the movement started, there was also a fear that without controls the mob could turn the Revolution into a mob action. Surviving Tories and Patriots would live to see what unchecked mob violence would accomplish during the French Revolution. The fears were not realized here, but many Tories and Patriots both had reasons to fear that the potential existed. While Hancock and other Boston merchants backed the cause of freedom, they also knew they had to restore order or chaos would destroy them, too.

Living in New England, I've always been aware of the story of Dorchester Heights and the evacuation of Boston. In fact while most people get confused, Boston does not have a city holiday for St. Patrick's Day, it is technically Evacuation Day in Boston. The city celebrates the day the troops left. What this book addresses that I never thought much about is who left. I knew the troops boarded ships and left, but they didn't just abandon Tory families to their fate, they helped them leave, too. I knew many families immigrated to Canada and some back to England after the Revolution. However, I never thought about it in relation to the evacuation of Boston. While some stayed, it was quite dangerous for those that did. Many Tories already facing mob attacks with British protection, feared death without any military protection. They left under British naval protection. Some settled in Canada, others moved to colonies still under British protection, and others who had the resources returned to England. To illustrate the rush to evacuate our characters almost end up immigrating to Halifax. They manage to get off the boat and once again, Katie saves the day when she spies the boat.

As always, I suggest parents or teachers review the book before using. However, I think this is a great resource for providing children with the historical background on the evacuation of Boston and a historical perspective on life for the Tories during this time.









Monday, May 20, 2013

George Washington's Sock's



I am always looking for titles that will engage children in learning more about history and I find titles that can combine fantasy or science fiction with history have a good chance at engaging reluctant readers to at least try reading them. George Washington's Socks (Time Travel Adventures)fills that need.

One challenge with this model is making the story believable. Fantasy requires the reader to suspend disbelief, but some children's fantasy requires children to ignore main parts of the story, to get to the parts of the story that they want to enjoy. In time travel stories, this is often the worst challenge. In this case, the author employs a very old oral tradition of boats disappearing into the mist and travelers being lost in the mists of time. Not only does it attach to a long oral tradition of stories, but the author also ties it the children discovering that there is a history of people disappearing in their town. They discover the answer to the mystery as part of their own time travel adventure. I was impressed with the smoothness of the time travel in this book.

In the author notes, a comment is made that one of the motivations for writing this book is that the author is a pacifist who had a son enamored with GI Joe. She wanted him to understand the realities of war. It states with her research she came away with an understanding of the strength and courage of those who fought. While this book looks like a slightly longer version of a Magic Tree House time travel book, it is a bit more realistic. Two soldiers, one American and one Hessian are killed and the author is graphic in describing some of the issues of dying most students likely don't encounter when thinking of death. If the author notes are accurate, this may have been done to help her son understand the realities of war.

Another strength of the book is it allows children to see a glimpse of life for soldiers on both sides of the war. At one point, the main character Matthew realizes that there is good and bad on both sides. There are no clean wars. As a modern child, he is the eyes for the reader showing them how the soldiers survived and died. As with all time travel stories, there are some stretches of the imagination, but for the most part they are handled well. In places the author does well simplifying complicated political and military situations and in other places, she over simplifies and complicates the story. However, it is the strongest book of this genre I have read. As always I suggest parents preview the book if they have any concerns.

I liked the book. It starts with a realistic premise, boys starting a club and camping out. While not every child has a fascination with American history, I am sure there are lots of kids who do have non-traditional interests who would love to have a group of friends to hang out with and discuss their interests. I like the idea that the book doesn't assume it is weird to have academic interests. I think that aspect could be a draw for some students.

Girls will be less than thrilled that the only female character is a nagging little sister. However, she does end up a hero. Without her help, they might never have made it home. That might excuse her earlier weaker role.






Monday, May 13, 2013

If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights



I had a request from a family member who was looking for titles on Suffragists that were written at an age appropriate level when I came across If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights while researching some other books.

I have been a big fan of this series and had not realized they had published a book on the history of the movement to give women the right to vote. This was actually published in 2006. Most of the titles in this series start with If You Lived, If You Traveled, If You Were, etc. The format for the books is question and answered based. They are a great introduction to just about any historical topic a child might be studying.

This book starts out by discussing the rights woman had in colonial times and during the Revolutionary War. Along with discussing the impact of their lack of rights, it also addresses the responsibilities women had, even though they lacked the rights to control the situations that impacted those responsibilities. The book addresses the issues of marriage laws, access to education, and the challenges of employment for women during the 1800's. From there the book moves to discuss how and why some women got involved in the abolition and prohibition movements during the 1800's. The author explains that from their challenges and restrictions of working in the abolitionist movement, women came together to form a women's movement to have more rights and freedoms.

The author then introduces the reader to the 1848 Seneca Women's Rights Convention. While the Convention did not succeed, immediately in getting women the right to vote, it planted seeds and the author does an age appropriate job of explaining the progress and the challenges women faced on the road to getting the right to vote in 1920.

I thought the author did a particularly good job of sticking to age appropriate explanations as she explained how the women's rights movement was stalled during the Civil War and why women were frustrated that they did not receive equal treatment when male slaves were freed and granted the right to vote. These can be sensitive subjects and I was impressed with how the author approached the topic for children. It got a little harsher as she described the treatment of the women during the 1900's, but I am not sure there is an age appropriate way to discuss the treatment the women received when they were marching and assembling.

As with all books, I always suggest screening before using. As I mentioned, I picked this up for a family member who is looking for age appropriate materials for her daughter on the topic. I think it is one of the better books I have found on the topic.






Monday, May 6, 2013

Joining the Boston Tea Party



Joining the Boston Tea Party (The Time-Traveling Twins)is part of the Time Traveling Twins series.

I liked the book because it provides picture book readers with a fantasy connection to history that the Magic Treehouse series provide to chapter book readers. The concept is much simpler, but the readers are younger. Grandma has a magic hat that allows the children and Grandma to travel to historic time periods. In this book, the children arrive in Boston and actually participate in the Boston Tea Party.

Two criticisms I have read of the book are that the brother calls his sister a dummy and that the children don't tell their grandmother they are going to the Tea Party with a relative because they believe their Grandmother would not let them go. I certainly don't approve of children calling each other names. However, having four brothers this struck me as fairly realistic behavior between brothers and sisters. I must say sometimes that the relationships between book brothers and sisters seem overly pleasant to be believable. As with all things, parents can choose how to address this issue. Some will choose to censor the book; others may use it as a teachable moment, asking their children if it is OK for him to say that to his sister. I think the second is likely to be more effective.

The second criticism is the children defying Grandmother. Again, this struck me as realistic. Given a chance to head off with a historical figure and experience the Boston Tea Party as a child, I too would not have told my Grandmother and risked her anger later. As a child, I would not have processed or thought through the dangers involved in this activity. Ultimately, experience and my parents’ interventions got through to me and I learned about cause and effect, dangerous choices, and consequences. That is what makes this moment in the book a teachable one. What a great time to discuss the risks and dangers that the children did not think about and why talking with their Grandmother would have been the right choice. I think it is important to try to put a little reality into children's books. If we only ever write a cleansed version where children are all well behaved, do the right thing, and never defy authority, it is hard to teach kids the reasons why we want them to behave.

One of the reasons I like this book for discussing the Boston Tea Party is that it makes the topic approachable for young readers. The issues of the tension in Boston, the tax on tea, and the disguises used by the Sons of Liberty are all addressed in age appropriate terms. The cartoon illustrations and the thought bubbles will grab children’s attention as they read the text that provides most of the factual information about the topic.

I picked up the three titles in this series for a younger relative's birthday. I love finding picture books that are accurate, make American history approachable and fun.




Wednesday, May 1, 2013

History Book List World History

I have been working on an American History book list and recently started getting requests for World History recommendations. I should have been recording these earlier, but it is never too late to start. I know I keep going back to the American History list when I am asked, so this will be my reminder list for world history Ancient and Modern as I find more books to list.

Ancient China:

DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient China

You Wouldn't Want to Work on the Great Wall of China!: Defenses You'd Rather Not Build

Ancient Egypt:

Adventures in Ancient Egypt (Good Times Travel Agency)Review here

DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient Egypt

Cleopatra (Time-Traveling Twins) by Stanley, Diane, Vennema, Peter (1997) Paperback

History News: The Egyptian News

Mummies and Pyramids: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House 3: Mummies in the Morning

Ancient Egypt: A Guide to Egypt in the Time of the Pharoahs (Sightseers)

You Wouldn't Want to Be an Egyptian Mummy!: Digusting Things You'd Rather Not Know

You Wouldn't Want to Be Cursed by King Tut!: A Mysterious Death You'd Rather Avoid

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Pyramid Builder!: A Hazardous Job You'd Rather Not Have

Ancient Greece:

Adventures in Ancient Greece (Good Times Travel Agency)

DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient Greece

History News: The Greek News

Ancient Greece and the Olympics: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker)

Ancient Greece: A guide to the Golden Age of Greece (Sightseers)

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Greek Athlete!: Races You'd Rather Not Run

You Wouldn't Want to Be in Alexander the Great's Army!: Miles You'd Rather Not March

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Slave in Ancient Greece! (Revised Edition)

Ancient Rome:

DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient Rome

History News: The Roman News

Magic Tree House Fact Tracker 14 Ancient Rome and Pompeii A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #13 Vacation Under the Volcano by Osborne, Mary Pope, Boyce, Natalie Pope [Random,2006] (Paperback)

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Roman Gladiator!: Gory Things You'd Rather Not Know

Mesopotamia:

DK Eyewitness Books: Mesopotamia

You Wouldn't Want to Be an Assyrian Soldier!: An Ancient Army You'd Rather Not Join

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Sumerian Slave!: A Life of Hard Labor You'd Rather Avoid

Middle Ages:

Medieval Life (DK Eyewitness Books)

Knights And Castles (Magic Tree House Research Guide, paper)

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Crusader!: A War You'd Rather Not Fight

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Medieval Knight! (Revised Edition)

You Wouldn't Want to Live in a Medieval Castle!: A Home You'd Rather Not Inhabit

You Wouldn't Want to Work on a Medieval Cathedral!: A Difficult Job That Never Ends

Vikings:

Adventures with the Vikings (Good Times Travel Agency)

Viking World: A Guide to 11th Century Scandinavia (Sightseers)

World War II:

Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust (Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction Picture Books)Review here

Snow Treasure Review here

The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. ReyReview here

The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II Review here