Category Archives: Historical Fiction

The Silver Hand – Terry Deary

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Bloomsbury Australia

July 2018ISBN: 9781472929488
Imprint: Bloomsbury Education
Series: Flashbacks

RRP $14.99

We all know Terry Deary’s expertise in bring history to life – witness the success of Horrible Histories. Now he turns his hand to a lesser explored part of history in the closing days of the First World War, examining this through the eyes of two children.  Aimee Fletcher is the daughter of a French woman and an English father, living in Bray, Northern France. Aimee’s father is M-i-A and her mother, as she discovers, is a valued member of the White Lady group – a dedicated and successful espionage network working to defeat the Germans. Marius is a young German boy who has learned much about healing from his grandmother and determines to go to help the soldiers if he possibly can.  These two meet as the ebb and flow of Allied/German occupation in the last days of the war play out.

With formidable skill Deary presents significant historical figures to young readers including a young angry Adolf Hitler, Baron von Richtofen aka the Red Baron and General Haig as the battered German army, starving and disassembled, try to claw back some dignity and the Allied forces push them further.

Amidst this the two youngsters are caught up in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game of spies, traitors and valuable information and play their part with a growing respect for each other.

Readers will gain a useful background to the motivation behind the Great War and its ultimate resolution – which sadly, also lead to the Second World War, whilst seeing it in terms of personal experiences.

This would be a superb addition to a ‘read around’ fiction collection for the First World War as well as for those children who enjoy historical fiction.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

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My Brigidista Year – Katherine Paterson

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Penguin Random House

Candlewick  Press

October 2017

RRp $16.99

ISBN 978-0-7636-9508-8

Winner of the Newbery Medal on two occasions, Katherine Paterson is a superb writer for children and now turns her hand to a historical narrative born out of personal interest.

For many outside of America, including me, there is a scant knowledge of Castro’s Cuba. This account of 13 year old Lora Llera echoes the actual actions of many of Cuba’s young people who willingly volunteered to become literacy tutors to the country’s peasant population in remote country areas. Castro’s plan to have the entire country literate within a year of launching of his program seemed impossible and implausible but the selflessness of these many teenagers achieved that remarkable goal.

These youngsters worked alongside their country compatriots during the day often in very primitive conditions and taught them at night. For those as young as Lora leaving their families, relative comfort and security was a huge undertaking but done with open though somewhat naïve attitudes.

While avoiding political comment, Paterson interweaves much history and social commentary on the overthrow of the Batista regime and the rise of Communism in Cuba.

Personally I found it quite fascinating though written quite simply it covers or at least suggests many large-scale concepts and throws new light on a little known historical period.

I would recommend it highly for readers both boys and girls from around ten years upwards.

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

ISBN: 9781460751305

ISBN 10: 1460751302

On Sale: 22/01/2018

List Price: 14.99 AUD

Another gripping episode in the story of Barney and Elsie, providing readers with more insight into the early days of the European colony in Sydney and NSW and I’m so excited that next term I’m using Birrung the Secret Friend with my Year 4s in preparation for their ‘First Contact’ unit. My experience from last year informs me that the children love this as a read-aloud and are intrigued and stirred to discussion and debate on its themes.  I love knowing that those who are ‘ hooked’ will continue to read in the series and now that there are four will be able to satisfy their curiosity on a number of points.

This narrative takes up Barney’s story now that he is grown and becoming a successful farmer and still in love with Elsie. But who is Elsie really? How is it that this girl neither a convict nor daughter of a soldier came to be in the colony?

When Elsie becomes ill with a fever, her delirium reveals her native tongue of French and speculation becomes even more urgent as a war half a world away rages between the British and Napoleon’s France.  The true reason for Elsie not speaking all the previous years since Barney found her starving and cold is out in the open. Will it make any difference to Barney? More urgently will it put Elsie in danger with the authorities?

Once again Jackie French has uncovered history long ignored or forgotten including that of the first female botanist to sail around the world and achieve great things.

As usual the research is impeccable and the writing accessible even for children as young as 7 or 8.  Barney’s story has become special for many readers and I dare to hope this is not the last of history’s secrets Jackie will share with us.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 3 upwards.

Sweet Adversity – Sheryl Gwyther

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Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd

ISBN: 9781460755105
ISBN-10: 1460755103
RRP : $17.99

 

In her new historical novel Sheryl Gwyther takes  readers on a dramatic, sometimes tense and often poignant adventure to a grim time in Australia’s past – the Great Depression. While the Wall St collapse impacted all around the world, Australia suffered terribly because of a variety of factors; huge loans from England, over-supply of our trade goods and the sponsorship of both returned soldiers and immigrants among them. For many it was a precarious time of minimal survival.

Adversity McAllister, only child of theatrical parents, is among those for whom this was a heart-breaking and dangerous time. Her parents know that their livelihood is in jeopardy as travelling thespians so think their best action for their beloved daughter, along with her clever cockatiel, is to have her in a home where she will be well-cared for and protected. Little do they know that the vile Matron in charge is not only far from the kindly woman she presents to outsiders but a ‘crook’ who skims off the government funding and worse, has an arrangement to sell useful or promising children off as nothing more than indentured slaves to an extremely odious co-conspirator.

Addie is not a docile child by any means (love her Mighty Girl sassy attitude) and when she believes that her parents have perished in a drowning accident in their travels and then Macbeth, her Shakespeare quoting bird, is likely to be killed, she takes action. Escaping the Emu Swamp Children’s Home with Macbeth via a borrowed gypsy caravan Addie first lands with a camp of ‘lost children’ all of whom are fending for themselves.  At least Addie makes one true friend here who proves to be a lifesaver.  But this respite doesn’t last long as the vile Matron and villainous Scrimshaw catch up with her and she is dragged back to the home. Aided by an unlikely ally she and little Jack, whom she has protected during her time at the home, are bundled off to Sydney where Addie is to be sold to a theatre where her acting and singing talents will bolster the failing performances. Addie has discovered the perfidy of Matron Maddock and she is determined not only to extricate herself and Jack from their predicament but to find the pair of them a safe haven.

Depression times Sydney is a dangerous place for many but especially vulnerable children but Adversity demonstrates her intellect and spirit as she contrives a safe escape for herself, Macbeth and little Jack.

This is a tale of courage and resilience set against a backdrop of extraordinarily difficult times and seemingly insurmountable odds. Addie is an impressive hero. Despite her youth and her troubles, she refuses to bow to the immense pressures and evil predation put upon her.

A narrative which explores a seamy side of our history but celebrates the triumph of one young girl, this is a must for your shelves and your avid historical fiction readers.

Highly recommended for readers from around 11 years upwards.

Read the story behind the story here. Thank you Sheryl for sharing this!

 

The Diamond Horse – Stacey Gregg

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Harper Collins

          ISBN: 9780008124403

         ISBN 10: 000812440X

         Imprint: HarperCollins – GB

01/05/2017

         List Price: 14.99 AUD

I’ve bought two of the previous books in this series for my library but not had the chance to read either so I was very glad to receive this one for review.

Of course the horsey girls will love it (as they have done the others) but the historical facts on which it is based are also quite fascinating.

Two very different Russian girls and two very different special horses are separated by time but linked by a very special diamond necklace.

Anna Orlov lives in a magnificent palace in the often frozen Russian wilds surrounded by a menagerie of animals. They’re not pets exactly although two become so for the girl, rather they are part of the breeding program for which her highly-ranked father is famous throughout the empire. In the late 18th century Count Alexei Orlov was one of the most powerful men at Catherine’s court (not least because he was a conspirator in the overthrow of Tsar Peter III so that his wife, Catherine, could take the throne).  After Anna’s beloved mother dies, life with her cold-hearted father and her cruel older brother becomes almost unbearable as she discovers more and more about the darker side of both. Her only memento of her mother is a beautiful black diamond necklace that is rumoured to have special powers.

Anna’s father is given the credit for breeding the now famous Orlov trotters after he brings home a beautiful Arabian stallion to cross breed with the best of Russian horses but it is really Anna who saves the stallion’s foal and raises him secretly to become the foundation of the breed.

 

Valentina Romanov is an orphan trapped in a circus where she performs with her unusual looking horse, Sasha. She has however big dreams that go way beyond the tawdry and poor life she has at the mercy of her so-called benefactor, the ringmaster. Valentina has only one precious possession – the same black diamond necklace that once belonged to the Orlovs. [Her character is based on Alexandra Korelova who won Olympic gold with her Orlov trotter Balagur – also a former circus horse!]

The two stories run parallel and refer to many actual people and events fictionalised into this really compelling story.  After reading the novel I just had to go and look up the histories of both girls which proved just as interesting as the book.

I loved this – it was a great read and I can see why the girls in my library took to the others so readily.

Highly recommended for readers from around 8 upwards.

Watch Alexandra and Balagur here to see just how truly beautiful this breed is!

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The murderous Count Orlov

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Goodbye Mr Hitler – Jackie French

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Harper Collins – AU

May 2017

      ISBN: 9781460751299

RRP: 16.99 AUD

In a modern world that often seems to be filled with hate and prejudices and refusal to acknowledge basic human rights, we could easily fall into a despondency that could be soul-destroying. Many of us in daily contact with children will have observed that they too feel fearful about outcomes of some of the huge issues the world is facing. How can we as educators help them to overcome their fears and even perhaps hatred born of influence from media and other sources?

I believe that it is with great literature such as this that we can examine the horrors of the past and show the path to a place of peace, love and forgiveness.  We have a real duty to impart to these children that we cannot stand by and let evil happen and that if we all do that, it cannot survive.

Jackie French has continued her “Hitler” series with the story of Johannes and his doctor parents sent to concentration camps when the Nazis took over Poland, as well as following the threads from the previous two books with the fate of Heidi, believed to be Hitler’s daughter, as well as Georg, now firmly an Australian and his mother who has also survived the horror camps.

Their stories are vivid and told with Jackie’s usual painstaking historical accuracy and each resonates with the pain and suffering endured by so many. It is heart-wrenching and poignant and not for the first time we are inspired by the indomitable human spirit of truly good people. How could someone who has survived such vileness heal their hearts we might ask? And yet so many have done just that. Having witnessed truly despicable and terrible events and actions, these are the people who know that the one true way to freedom, not just of body but of mind and spirit, is through letting go of hate.

As these memorable characters find renewed hope and begin to build new lives in Australia, their various secrets, fears and sorrows begin to soften and ebb into a past.

The contemporary situation with asylum seekers and the denial of their rights should be compared to the spirit of generosity with which nations, especially Australia, welcomed displaced persons following the war.

This series is one of the most important and significant within my experience. Students particularly of Modern History and indeed Philosophy should be firmly pointed in their direction.

Find superb teaching notes here.

Highest recommendation for readers in Upper Primary onwards.

Yong : the journey of an unworthy son – Janeen Brian

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ISBN: 9781925126297
Imprint: WALKER BOOKS AUST
Distributor: Harper Collins Distribution Services for Australia and New Zealand

August 1, 2016

RRP $16.99

There have been many accounts of the Chinese coming to Australia in the gold rush era both for adults and children but this is the first I have read which explores the history of some of these worthy migrants making their arduous journey to get to those diggings.

While this is historical fiction there are so many parallels to contemporary issues surrounding the plight of refugees risking all for a better life and the treatment which many of them receive.

“ Janeen Brian has vividly and realistically brought to life 1850s’ Chinese and Australian culture, and themes of prejudice, racism, exploitation, desperation and coping with change are explored.”

Yong’s father is Headman of his village, widowed and living with young children and an aged grandmother when he persuades a group of his fellows to join him on what they hope to be their salvation. He takes a reluctant oldest son, Yong, with him. They are swindled and beset by troubles from their initial ship voyage to the trek to the goldfields by tricksters who see them merely as objects of scorn. The contrast between the honour, respect for others and cultural values held by this group and that of those they encounter is poignant and terrible. Yet, they persevere in their quest, most especially Yong who struggles with his feelings of resentment and disloyalty towards his father and his feelings of inadequacy in the face of such a monumental challenge.

Beautifully written, with short chapters and a plot laced with danger and daring, this has strong links to curriculum (particularly Key Idea: Australians of Asian heritage have influenced Australia’s history and continue to influence its dynamic culture and society.)

If you are looking for a new novel for a class reading in Upper Primary or as a read aloud to accompany a unit of work this would be a superb choice.

It is also bound to very popular with Middle to Upper readers of historical fiction.

Highly recommended for readers aged around 10 years upwards.

Update: New trailer here

The Lost Sapphire – Belinda Murrell

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ISBN: 9781925324112

Published: 16/05/2016

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $17.99

Once again Belinda Murrell has set her readers’ feet upon a path to the past with an ease that is breathtaking.

When Marli’s mother has to go overseas for work for several months, the teenager is sent to stay with her estranged father in Melbourne, doing so with the scowling bad grace that only an adolescent can summon. While all her friends will be back in Brisbane enjoying themselves for the holidays, Marli knows only too well that her workaholic father will leave her to moulder in boredom and loneliness.

Only one bright spot lightens her mood. She is reunited with her grandfather Didi who has some intriguing news. The old mansion owned by Marli’s ancestors, which has been leased to the government for ninety years is to come back into their possession. Derelict and abandoned, the old house seems destined for demolition.

Marli is determined to find out more about the mysterious mansion and its secrets especially after Didi handing over some artefacts which once belonged to his mother, Violet. Although a precious sapphire ring has not turned up in these, the other items are enough to spur Marli on in her journey of discovery.

Sneaking into the grounds of the mansion through a neighbouring property, Marli is surprised by Luca, a young man from the Italian family of neighbours who also has a connection to the old place.

As two parallel stories unfold, the reader shares in Violet’s life in the 1920s: the loss of her two brothers in the Great War, then her mother’s death, the emotional distance of her father and most interestingly the painful history of the chauffeur Nikolai, a Russian émigré whose family has escaped the Bolshevik revolution as well as following the progress of Marli’s Melbourne sojourn and her growing reconciliation with her father.

As usual, Belinda has woven a story of complete authenticity and within her fiction has much for us to learn about a period of time and events in Australia that are not widely known.

It is fascinating and engaging and will undoubtedly be as hugely popular as the other titles in this wonderful ‘time slip’ series. I have already had the first borrower snatch it up quickly five minutes after it went on our ‘new books’ display. I think that probably says it all!

Highly recommended for girls in Year 5 upwards.

 

The Family with Two Front Doors – Anna Ciddor

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ISBN:9781925266641

Publisher:Allen & Unwin

Imprint:A & U Children

Pub Date:March 2016

RRP $14.99

 

To take one’s own family history and turn it into a delightful, amusing and engaging story takes a real talent.

Anna Ciddor has done so with this wonderful tale of family warmth, traditions and insight. Inspired by her grandmother’s stories Anna has painted a beautiful picture of a Jewish family’s life in Poland before the horror of World War 2.

The Rabinovitches (the family name struck such a chord with me as it was also my great-grandfather’s name!) are a lively and close family who occupy two houses as there are quite a few of them. Yakov the mischief maker, Nomi, Miriam and serious Shlomo and more lead the reader into a fascinating glimpse of life in the 1920s in Lublin, Poland.

The details of daily life, celebrations and rituals, the excitement of older sister Adina’s wedding and adventures in the streets of their town bring this charming family to life before our eyes offering us a superb chance to develop more cultural understandings.

This is a book which holds up the ordinary life of a family and shows us the joy and love that abounds between all its members while at the same time commemorating the author’s lost family.

A marvellous addition to your collection especially suited to readers from around 12 up, I highly recommend it to you. Teaching notes are available here.

A Lottie Lipton Adventure: The Scroll of Alexandria – Dan Metcalf

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Allen & Unwin Australia

Bloomsbury Publishing

February 2016-04-02

ISBN 9781472911872

RRP $12.99

If you are looking for a new series to engage newly independent readers, you need look no further!

Imagine living in a museum full of rare and wonderful objects. Lottie Lipton, nine years old, lives in the British Museum with her Great Uncle Bert and absolutely adores the Great Library with its vast collection of rare and valuable books.

Rapacious Sir Trevelyan Taylor, the new Head Curator of the museum, has other views and sees the disposal of the books as a prime money raiser, claiming that books have no place in a library and no regard for the Royal Appointment that placed them there by King George – which came with unbreakable instructions that the collection must not be split.

But if Lottie and Great Uncle Bert can find the last remaining scroll of the ancient library of Alexandria, which would definitely constitute a museum artefact then the nasty Sir Trev’s plot will be well and truly foiled.

Young readers will love helping Lottie with her puzzle and decoding secret messages as this determined girl follows the clues to find the missing scroll.  Her fellow investigators, Great Uncle Bert and Reg the caretaker are fun characters adding humour to the story. A glossary of more difficult words is included at the end of the book along with a couple of additional brainteasers to solve.

Look for at least three more titles forthcoming in this terrific interactive series. Highly recommended for readers from around 7 years up.