Monday, July 29, 2013

Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation

Diane Stanley finishes the Time Traveling Twins series with Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation (Time-Traveling Twins)and it is a strong end. I wish she had continued the series as I think a fantasy historical picture book series was a great way to engage younger children in learning about our country's history. I picked up the three titles she published. I will have to keep searching for someone else to fill in the historical blanks.

In this edition, the twins and their grandmother travel to Plymouth where the twins learn many historical details often left out of many textbooks for children on the topic. They learn what colony Plymouth was originally part of until they got their own charter. As the twins travel through the Plymouth settlement, the reader is introduced to historically accurate information about the lives of the Pilgrims. For instance, one of the children remarks about what a bad way it would have been to spend Christmas and his Grandmother informs him that the Pilgrims didn't celebrate Christmas.

I was impressed that a children's book could introduce so much about the lives, religious beliefs, historical figures, culture, food, education, and work habits of the time.

I would recommend this book to teachers, homeschooling parents, and anyone who will have younger children that need to be entertained on Thanksgiving Day. It is a great educational, but also entertaining resource. While I am sending the first two books in the series for an upcoming birthday, I'll be sending this book out at Thanksgiving. I think it will be more appropriate at that time.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Lion to Guard Us

I don't see many historical fiction or non-fiction books for children regarding Jamestown. When I saw A Lion to Guard Us on a suggested list I thought it would be interesting to check it out of the library and review it myself.

The story begins in 1609 when a young sailor travels to a home to bring a message to a woman regarding her husband. The woman is ill, so the message is given to the eldest daughter Amanda. She discovers that her father is alive and well and has built a home for them in Jamestown. He hopes to be able to send for them in another year. Their visitor cannot stay and the girl is left with thousands of questions.

For those looking for a book on the Jamestown colony, there is little here. This is a story of adventure that requires a little suspension of disbelief. The children's mother was to have worked for their board while their father was away. However, with her illness, Amanda has taken on her chores. Her two younger siblings are restricted to a room or on the stairs while she works. While the owner is portrayed as cruel, it is also rare that the mother would have been allowed to keep the children with her while she lived in at the home. Most children will likely not know of that issue.

After hearing from the sailor, Amanda grows anxious about preparing to leave for America. The owner of the home already has plans to take the younger children on as unpaid servants Amanda does not want this for their future. When her mother dies, she sets off to put a plan in motion that will take them to America.

This is where the story gets a little less believable although portions of the ship's journey are historically documented. While no ship will take unaccompanied children to America, their mother's doctor decides he wants an adventure and offers to take the children with him. It is possible that the doctor would have had a sudden desire to emigrate. However, having the means and the will to take three children with him seemed a bit questionable. During the journey to Jamestown, the doctor is washed overboard, leaving the children alone again.

The title of the story comes from a doorknocker the children bring with them from the home the father sold to pay his passage and to keep the family in funds while he was gone. The money is lost to the homeowner when the mother dies, but the children manage to keep the doorknocker which becomes trouble for them during the story.

As the journey continues, a storm destroys the ship they are traveling on leaving them stranded in Bermuda. While the children’s characters in the story are historical fiction, the ship and the trip are not. This part of the journey is historically documented. Eventually new boats are built and the passengers are able to continue on to Virginia.

I think I was disappointed because the story was all about the journey and really had no time for the family to reunite and discuss their new life in Virginia. When they arrive, their father is gravely ill. There is no way to know if he lives or dies and then what happens to the children.

The author's interest was obviously in the perils of ocean travel for colonists. However, with so little historical fiction on colonial Jamestown, it would have been interesting to read what happened to the children when they arrived, how they settled in, and what became of them.

Monday, July 15, 2013

There's a Wolf at the Door

I am always looking for new alternate fairy tales and I came across There's a Wolf at the Door while searching for another title.

This story includes five chapters of an ongoing graphic novel story. Each story is told from the wolf's perspective about hunting for food and his feelings about the characters he meets. There are no breaks in the stories, each continues where the last left off. The stories begin with The Three Little Pigs, continue with The Boy Who Cried Wolf, move on to Little Red Riding Hood, falls into the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, and finishes with the Wolf and Seven Little Goslings.

This is not an apologist story. The wolf is honest about his intent to eat the other characters. However, he does have some interesting stories to tell about the other characters. My favorite is his story about how the vain Red Riding Hood becomes more thoughtful after her encounter with him. One of my favorite moments was the sheep rescuing the boy in The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

This is another great addition to my list of alternate fairy tales.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Memory Coat

The Memory Coatis the story of a Russian Jewish family's trip from Tsarist Russia through Ellis Island. The story is beautifully told and the illustrations help the reader understand more of the historical context.

I was fortunate to hear one of my Grandmother's tell her story about going through Ellis Island. Her stories have stayed with me all these years because she realized there were no guarantees even when you did make it as far as the island. Many children today don't have access to their family history to hear these stories. This story is a window into that world.

The story begins in Russia as the Tsar is beginning a round of programs against the Jews in Russia. The story focuses on Rachel and her cousin Grisha who has come to live with the family after his family died in an epidemic. The two are close. Rachel tells stories and Grisha illustrates them entertaining each other for hours. A year after his parents death, Grisha still grieves for his family and clings to the coat his mother made him despite their offers of a new one.

When the family decides to relocate to America, they sell their belongings to raise the money for the trip. They are concerned that even with enough money, they could be turned away at Ellis Island during the inspections. Going back to Russia during the pogroms could be a death sentence. Despite their encouragement to improve his looks for the inspectors, Grisha refuses to surrender his coat.

The family survives the journey to America and while waiting for their inspections, Grisha falls and cuts his eye. This could be a devastating blow to the family. Eye disease was one of the reasons people were turned away. The family's challenge and solution to the problem provide an insight to the issues many families faced on Ellis Island.

While this is a picture book, it is also a great book to use with children of all ages to discuss immigration at the time. The story is compelling. Younger children will appreciate the story as written. Older children can probe the themes and issues in the book far deeper than younger children who will not understand all the historical issues presented in the book.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Good Times Travel Agency in Ancient Egypt

While researching a request for interesting books about the Ancient world for a homeschooling family member I ran across the Good Times Travel Agency series. I like to preview before purchasing, so I borrowed a copy of Adventures in Ancient Egypt (Good Times Travel Agency) from my local library.

This series is appealing as it is written in a graphic novel format. Three bored children out walking end up entering an old travel agency that they have always avoided do to its rather scary looking building. The youngest sister runs into the store her fraternal twin siblings chase after her and meet the travel agency's owner. He does not relieve the children of their concerns as he begins mumbling about the lack of visitors. When the brother grabs a book that has fallen off the shelf on Ancient Egypt, he promises them a wonderful journey.

In a flash, the children find themselves in Egypt around 2500 B.C. As they consult they guidebook to find out more about what happened they discover valuable information about Egypt at this time. Emma also realizes that they cannot go home until they read every word in the book.

The children and the reader continue to learn more about Egypt as the guidebook continues. In order to keep the reader engaged a conflict arises when Josh is mistaken for an Egyptian boy who is supposed to report to work for the King. Emma and Libby must of course find Josh before they can return home. The rest of the book consists of Emma and Libby searching for Josh, allowing the writer to share more information as they learn about Egypt as in their efforts to find him.

This book will appeal to younger children who are exploring Ancient Egypt and even older students who might be reluctant readers. While the information is provided in graphic novel format, the guidebook entries are a good introduction for students who are learning about the culture of the time. This series reminds me a little of the Sightseers Guides only done in graphic style and with a story attached to the guidebook.