Sandip Wilson and Mary Ellen Oslick
Reading historical fiction and nonfiction accounts gives young people insight into places and events, some familiar from textbook introductions and some new for readers. These books can be engaging and transporting, presenting ways to jumpstart thinking about the past. This column features books introducing unique points of view and perspectives on recent as well as long-past lives and experiences.
Enduring Freedom. Jawad Arash & Trent Reedy. (2021). Algonquin.
In 2003 Iowa, National Guard Reservist Joe Killian dreams of becoming a journalist after graduating from university, while in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Baheer Sadiq dreams of becoming a writer. Told from two points of view, they recount their meeting in 2003 when Joe is deployed to Afghanistan and Baheer’s family starts a new life in Farah, western Afghanistan, far away from Kabul overtaken by the Taliban. As Joe and Baheer seek to help one another, they discover the biases that they have about each other are wrong. Readers learn about the lives, work, traditions, and practices of Baheer’s family in this thrilling novel of friendship, hope, resistance, and persistence. The book’s back matter includes notes from both authors. (Gr 9-12)
Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge. Ann Bausum. (2021). National Geographic.
In 1944 some German career military officers planned an assassination of Adolf Hitler at his outpost, the Wolf’s Lair, as a result of their doubts about the tactics and goals of the Nazi regime. Their master plan is suspensefully detailed in the first half of this intriguing book. The failure of the plot precipitates Hitler’s revenge of demanding Sippenhaft, “clan arrest.” Gestapo agents arrested, detained, and executed relatives of these officers and scooped up their children, isolating and incarcerating them in secret places. Including many archival photographs, Ann Bausum’s narrative establishes the context of the officers’ loyalty to Germany and provides details of their family lives. The back matter includes an author’s note with information on interviews she conducted with ghost children survivors, a glossary, and information on the officers. (Gr 6 Up)
Flight: A Novel of a Daring Escape During World War II. Vanessa Harbour. (2021). Feiwel and Friends.
In 1945 Austria, Jakob lives with Herr Engel and shares in the care of the beautiful stallions, the Lipizzaner dancing horses, while concealing his Jewish identity. Determined to uncover every Jewish person hiding in the region and their sympathizers, SS Officer Major Bauer threatens to kill all the horses, demonstrating his intention by shooting one of them. Afraid for the safety of the horses and for one another, Herr Engel and Jakob cross Nazi-held countryside, guiding the skittish horses over mountains and across rivers and passing dangerously close to towns. Vanessa Harbour details the relationships between the horses and Jakob in this novel based on the true story of a joint effort of Germans and Americans to save the Lipizzaner horses in the last days of World War II as the Russians advance from the east. (Gr 6-8)
Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11. Alan Gratz. (2021). Scholastic.
On September 11, 2001, nine-year-old Brandon Chavez takes the subway to the World Trade Center with his father, a chef for Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower. When the first airliner hits the building, he is in an elevator on his way to the underground mall to buy a toy. The chapters alternate between that day in New York City in 2001 as Brandon, a man named Richard, and other strangers work together to escape the building, and another day, September 11, 2019, in Afghanistan, when Taliban fighters attack the village of eleven-year-old Reshmina and her family, killing Americans who were doing reconnaissance there. Her family shows compassion, sequestering the surviving American, Taz, who begged her for help after being blinded in the attack. Taz, who was born Brandon Chavez and became the ward of Richard following 9/11, confesses to Reshmina that he had joined the army seeking revenge but found compassion instead. Back matter includes a map of the World Trade Center and an author’s note detailing the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and the war in Afghanistan. (Gr 6-8)
I Am Defiance. Jenni L. Walsh. (2021). Scholastic.
In 1942 twelve-year-old Brigitte is part of the League of German Girls, the counterpart of Hitler Youth for boys. At first wholehearted in her adherence to Hitler’s effort to create one nation with work and bread for all, safeguarded against the Jews, whom the Nazi’s claimed prolonged the war, she begins to doubt the ideology. She questions Germany’s attack on Poland and its non-German-speaking people, and learns that her eighteen-year-old sister, who had polio in childhood, is at risk for sterilization as a disabled person. Witnessing an anti-Hitler demonstration at the university where her father teaches, and her sister and friend Sophia Scholl are students, endangers the lives of Brigitte and her family. This novel of conflict and loyalty includes a note from the author with information on the White Rose resistance and biographical notes on Sophia Scholl, a member of the movement. (Gr 6-8)
The Poetry of Secrets. Cambria Gordon. (2021). Scholastic.
Sixteen-year-old Isabela Perez lives with her family in Trujillo, Spain, in 1481 as conversos, Jewish people who have lived in Spain for centuries and have converted to Christianity. Her family secretly practices their Jewish traditions in the cellar of their home where they make wine that serves a clientele of local nobility. Her family has picked a husband for her, but she wants to make her own choice about whom she marries and her future. She wants to learn to read the sacred text and to write poetry. Her abuela promises to help her learn to read and, in support of her poetry writing, gives her a centuries-old scroll of a Jewish poetess written in Arabic. As the Inquisition reaches Trujillo, Fray Torquemada vows to punish sympathizers as heretics and threatens the conversos. Endangered by the policy, Isabela and her family flee the country in this novel based on the true story of Jews who fled Spain for Italy during the Inquisition and later migrated to Turkey. (Gr 9 Up)
Rescue. Jennifer A. Nielsen. (2021). Scholastic.
During World War II, Meg covertly supports the French Resistance in her small village of Perche in Occupied France. Her father taught her about codes and surveillance before he was summoned to aid the Allies in London, and she uses these skills to gather intelligence to warn the partisans living in a nearby forest of Nazi activities. Meg faces a much bigger mission after she finds and helps an injured British pilot who crash landed. If she can lead a German family to a neutral country to escape the Nazis, the German father will share where the Nazis have imprisoned her father. Readers will enjoy Jennifer Nielson’s fast-paced and history-rich novel which includes back matter about secret codes and the Special Operatives Executive (S.O.E.). (Gr 6-8)
Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge. Ray Anthony Shepard. Illus. by Keith Mallett. (2021). Farrar Straus Giroux.
“Why you run Ona Judge?” As Shepard describes the life of George and Martha Washington’s slave Ona Judge, he poses this rhetorical question to Ona and to readers. Ona worked in the Washington’s house, not in the field, and was given nice clothing and shoes, but was never taught to read or write. Shepard proffers that Mrs. Washington kept Ona as her pet until the day she planned to give Ona to her granddaughter. During the night Ona runs away to her freedom and lives the rest of her life as a fugitive from the Washingtons. Considering Ona’s experiences as a slave and examining the timeline and bibliography in the back matter will give readers a deeper understanding of the history of enslavement in America. (Gr K-2)
Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education. Lawrence Goldstone. (2021). Scholastic Focus.
In Separate No More, Constitutional law scholar Lawrence Goldstone brings to light the key legal cases and influential voices that led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that ended the legality of “separate but equal.” Goldstone begins with the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson in which the Supreme Court said that the U.S. Constitution legitimized the practice, perpetuating existing segregation in all aspects of American life including schools, neighborhoods, and even drinking fountains. Goldstone traces almost sixty years of history in recounting state and local court cases leading to the monumental Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision ending school segregation in 1954. This comprehensive text contains an extensive bibliography and notes on the multitude of primary sources used. (Gr 6 Up)
Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women. Monica Clark-Robinson. Illus. by Laura Freeman. (2021). Orchard.
This lyrical picture book is a letter of love and celebration of the strong women in our families and in America: “When we remember them and speak their names, we respect the struggles they overcame. We are grateful for the freedoms they’ve given, we stand on the shoulders of powerful women.” Laura Freeman’s bold and realistic portraits of athletes, activists, artists, politicians, educators, authors, explorers, and scientists are displayed on the pages as three generations of female family members celebrate their stories. At the end, the young protagonist is asked to consider who will stand on her shoulders, fostering both a sense of duty and empowerment for all children, but especially for girls. Brief biographies of all the women profiled are included at the end of the book. (Gr PK- 2)
Together We March: 25 Protest Movements That Marched into History. Leah Henderson. Illus. by Tyler Feder. (2021). Atheneum.
Going back to 1903 and ending in 2020, this nonfiction collection documents twenty-five trailblazing protest movements. While most take place in the U.S., several are worldwide. A year after the Black Lives Matter marches of the summer of 2020, this picture book is especially timely and important. Leah Henderson links the protest movements together chronologically and includes quotes from influential leaders of each march including Mahatma Gandhi for the Salt March, which began the nonviolent protest against British rule in India in 1930, and Dr. Lehman Brightman for the Longest Walk, the peaceful transcontinental march for Native American justice in 1978. Tyler Feder provides colorful cartoonlike illustrations of the marches to augment the text and make it accessible for a wide range of readers. Back matter includes a selected bibliography with a website link for a more comprehensive bibliography on Henderson’s personal website. (Gr 6 Up)
We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance. Deborah Hopkinson. (2021). Scholastic Focus.
Deborah Hopkins spotlights Holocaust stories of Jewish youth from Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Poland during the Nazis’ “Final Solution” in World War II in this narrative nonfiction collection. Divided into three parts by regions and experiences, each section includes a photo album and chronicles the true stories of oppression, resistance, and ultimately, for some, survival. These stories honor the courage of Holocaust victims and remind readers of the power they have when they show compassion. Extensive back matter includes a glossary, timeline of World War II in Europe, internet resources, a bibliography, source notes, and an index. (Gr 6-8)
Sandip Wilson, Chair of the Notable Books for a Global Society Committee, is a professor at Husson University, Bangor, Maine. Mary Ellen Oslick, Co-chair of the committee, serves as associate professor at Stetson University, Deland, Florida.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).