Rossi, Veronica. Rebel Spy. Delacorte, 2020. 978-1-524-77122-5. 348 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

When Frannie Tasker’s abusive stepfather announces it is time for her to take her dead mother’s place in the household, she knows she has to escape her brutal life with him as a salvage diver on Grand Bahama Island. Fate intervenes by way of a fatal shipwreck, and a dead young woman who looks similar to Frannie. A quick change of clothes, (and a bout of “trauma-induced” mutism until she can polish her vocabulary and manners) and she becomes Emmeline Coates, wealthy British heiress on her way to America, during the height of the Revolution. She gradually adapts to her new life, family and friends, and even catches the eye of a handsome British officer. But a chance encounter with American rebel Asa Lane, who befriended Frannie on the voyage to New York and coached her in the ways of society women, shakes her out of her comfortable lifestyle. Utilizing her position in Loyalist society, Frannie begins spying for the Americans, passing along information she overhears during teas and dinner parties. But spying is a dangerous game,and Frannie is risking everything, including her new life and persona. Will Emmeline, or Frannie, survive? Based on the unknown identity of a member of the famous Revolutionary War Culper spy ring, Rossi creates a story for female agent 355. Meticulous research brings to life events of the war, many less familiar than those learned in history class, highlighting the little-emphasized contributions of women patriots.

THOUGHTS: A well-constructed combination of mystery, romance, and history featuring a strong, intelligent female main character, Rebel Spy is perfect for historical fiction fans, readers seeking an adventure story, or period romance readers.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Real Revolutionaries (Series NF)

Real Revolutionaries. Compass Point Books, 2020. $25.99 ea. $207.92 set of 8. 64 p. Grades 6-8.

Braun, Eric. The Real Aaron Burr: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-56250-2.
—. The Real George Washington: The Truth Behind the Legend.   978-0-756-55890-1.
—. The Real Thomas Jefferson: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-55891-8.
Gunderson, Jessica. The Real Benedict Arnold: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-55897-0.
—. The Real Alexander Hamilton: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-55892-5.
—. The Real Benjamin Franklin:The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-55893-2.
Lassieur, Allison. The Real John Adams: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-56251-9
Smith-Llera, Danielle.  The Real James Madison: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-56252-6.

This series of brief biographies of famous American founding fathers focuses on presenting facts and dispelling myths surrounding their careers. Infamous for being a “traitor, turncoat, and spy,” Benedict Arnold becomes a more fleshed-out person in the well-researched, scaffolded explanations of author Jessica Gunderson. She succinctly tells of Arnold’s descent from riches to poverty as well as the resilience, skill, and ambition that enabled him to become an accomplished businessman, a shrewd businessman, and a cunning military strategist. Gunderson then sets forth valid arguments to support the claim, “His reasons for his treachery stemmed from personal frustration with the Continental Congress and the lack of recognition for is sacrifice” (26). Arnold’s absolute fall from grace is matched only by his initial desire to uphold the patriots’ cause. The book examines the slights Arnold felt from military leaders and the brilliance and fervor of his soldiering. It lays out the treasonous plot and describes Arnold’s ignominious life afterward. Each slim chapter layers the information nicely and builds on facts mentioned in the previous chapter, making it a simple but thorough resource for young researchers. Colored illustrations enhance the text. Includes timeline, glossary, source notes, bibliography, further reading, and an index.

THOUGHTS: At first read, The Real Benedict Arnold: The Truth Behind the Legend may seem repetitious. For example, the author relates a fact about Arnold’s battle injury in one chapter, then revisits it with a longer explanation or in connection to another point in a later chapter. However, for students first approaching serious research, this technique proves beneficial. The decision to layer in the information makes it easier to digest and understand while not distilling the truth. This slim volume can be used to demonstrate how to create and support a thesis for beginning researchers.

973.3 American Revolution            Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Leave It to Abigail! The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams

Rosenstock, Barb. Leave It to Abigail! The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-41571-2. 40 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5. 

From a young age, Abigail Adams was different from almost every other girl in the colony of Massachusetts. She blurted out questions, lost herself in the pages of books, and ran all around her family’s farm. Instead of marrying a prosperous minister, she insisted on marrying the man she loved: a poor lawyer named John Adams. While John built his law practice, Abigail managed their house and farm and raised their children. As John became increasingly involved with shaping the American colonies’ new system of government, Abigail took on greater responsibilities around home. She supervised farmhands, educated her children, and housed soldiers. She and John also exchanged countless letters in which she shared some of her revolutionary ideas. This lively biography chronicles some of the ways Abigail continued to surprise her contemporaries with her original ideas, strong voice, and constant courage. Baddeley’s pen and ink and watercolor illustrations are interspersed with cross-stitch needlepoint samplers that pay tribute to this popular colonial past time. The book’s final spread highlights other bold women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Coretta Scott King, and Gloria Steinem who benefited from the strong foundation of Abigail’s inspirational, revolutionary ideas.

THOUGHTS: Share this with teachers and students to supplement Revolutionary War units. It will also be a good fit for President’s Day or biography projects.

Biography. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

YA Historical FIC – Dreamland Burning; American Traitors; The Pearl Thief; Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue

Latham, Jennifer.  Dreamland Burning.  Little, Brown and Company, 2017.  978-0-316-38493-3. 371 p.  $18.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

In the early 1920s, Will Tillman is a teenage boy coming of age in Tulsa during the era of race riots and Jim Crow laws.  He wants to become a righteous man, but in order to do so, he must make some difficult decisions between the evening of May 31 and the afternoon of June 1, 1921, when white rioters loot and burn the African American section of Tulsa known as Greenwood.  Almost a century later, seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase begins asking questions when a skeleton is unearthed on her family’s property.  Through alternating narratives, readers learn how Will and Rowan are connected through time and how sadly, the negative attitudes of some people towards African Americans persevere even today.  THOUGHTS: This title is an excellent addition to any school where U.S. history is taught.  Not only does it present a gripping account of one of the most violent (and heretofore largely overlooked) racial conflicts in our country’s history, but it also raises monumental questions about how far we have come, or perhaps haven’t come, as a country.  While the book highlights the stark realities of the state of our country, it still manages to inspire hope and assure readers that the love and courage of a few unsung heroes far outweighs the evil and cowardice of others.  Pair this with other titles that expertly address the issue of racism, such as Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee, Paul Volponi’s Black and White, or Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Historical Fiction     Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Landis, Matthew. The League of American Traitors. Sky Pony Press, 2017. 9781510707351. $16.99. 256p.  Gr. 7 and up.

The League of American Traitors takes place in the present, but there’s an alternate reality that’s been happening for the past 240-years between two secret societies: The Libertines and The League of American Traitors. These groups are made up of the descendants of America’s traitors and America’s patriots since the Revolutionary War and most of society has no idea that they have been dueling to the death for the past 240 years. The Libertines are determined to end the bloodlines of America’s traitors, and, unfortunately for Jasper, he is the last direct descendant of America’s most notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold. The story and action begins with the death of Jasper’s dad, not only making Jasper an orphan, but also putting him next in line to be convicted and condemned for his ancestor’s sins, which he finds out the hard way. Jasper, and the reader, go on a fast-paced journey to try and clear Arnold’s name and avoid having to duel. There is attempted kidnapping, a violent clash on the streets of Philadelphia, a boarding school that doubles as a dueling academy, and lots of history that both Jasper, and the reader, learn about. THOUGHTS: This book is touted everywhere as National Treasure meets Hamilton. I can’t speak to that since I haven’t seen either, but that might be a selling point when book-talking this to students. The author is a Social Studies teacher in my district, and he includes notes at the end discussing the accuracy of the historical information included in the book. Despite the dark theme (gun violence, dueling, murder), the book also has light-hearted realistic teen banter that made me laugh. The League of American Traitors is a book I will recommend to my middle school students (7th – 9th) who are fans of action-packed books from authors like James Dashner, Dan Brown, and Richard Paul Evans or students who like some history with their fiction.

Historical Adventure      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Wein, Elizabeth. The Pearl Thief.  Hyperion, 2017. 978-148471716-5. 326 p.  $18.99  Gr. 8 and up.

The Pearl Thief, a prequel to Code Name Verity, features Julie Beaufort-Stuart a few years before she became a spy. For Verity’s legion of fans, it is especially poignant to witness Julie’s coming of age, since it is impossible to forget her ultimate fate. For those who have yet to read Verity, the book works just fine as a stand-alone. Fifteen-year-old Julie, a minor noble, returns to her ancestral home for the summer holidays and quickly finds herself at the center of a mystery when she is attacked and wakes up with no memory of the incident.  The local police are eager to blame the “Travellers,” an ethnic group (similar and somewhat related to Romany peoples) native to Scotland. But Julie is adamant that they are not to blame; in fact, a Travellers family rescued her. Julie develops a strong attachment to Ellen, a Travellers girl her own age. Their relationship not only foreshadows the deep bond that develops between Maddie and Julie in Verity, but also offers a subtle but deep subtext on issues surrounding sexual preference and gender fluidity. The appearance of a (rather macabre) dead body and the disappearance of priceless pearls heighten the mystery element, but this book is much, much more than a whodunnit.  THOUGHTS: The writing is elegant, nuanced, and complex, and the subject matter is appropriate for younger as well as older teens. Recommended for fans of Code Name Verity and any reader looking for something meaty and thought-provoking; a strong purchase for high school libraries; an additional purchase for middle school libraries looking to acquire books for students with higher reading levels.

Historical Fiction, Mystery           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Lee, Mackenzi. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 978-0-0623-8280-1. 528 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Eighteen year old Henry “Monty” Montague is no stranger to scandal. As the son of an earl, Monty’s flagrant vices do not quite fit the gentlemanly life that’s expected of him. His love for drinking, gambling and cavorting with both men and women have gotten him expelled from school and infuriated his mean father, who often takes out his anger with his fists. So Monty looks forward to a year away with his best friend Percy, who he also happens to have a massive crush on, as they venture on their Grand Tour of Europe. But trouble always seems to find Monty, and soon he, his sister Felicity, and Percy are caught up in political scandal, pirates, and alchemy as they make their way across Europe. As Monty explores the countryside and opens up to his friends, readers will surely see a part of themselves in Felicity, Percy or Monty. THOUGHTS: While this story may seem just like any other YA romance, this is one of the few mainstream teen books to feature a bisexual protagonist. Lee creates an incredible enthralling and fast-paced story that hooks readers in the first few pages. Not only does Lee explore gender identity in the 1800s, but readers will also learn about race relations, disability, and feminism during the time period as well. A delightful, well researched read.

Historical Fiction      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Upper Elementary/MS – Sybil Ludington; Eureka Key; Flying Lessons; Jingle

Abbot, E.F. Sybil Ludington: Revolutionary War Rider (Based on a True Story series). New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2016. 978-1-250-06835-4. 192 p. $15.99. Gr. 3-6

Sybil Ludington is part of a spy family during the Revolutionary War. Her father, in charge of a unit of militiamen, needed help with the war effort. Sybil and her sister write notes in code to communicate with other regiments. Her mother and sisters save the house from invasion by outsmarting the British spies. When someone is needed to gather her father’s men to fight, sixteen-year-old Sybil braves numerous dangers, riding by herself through the night to sound the alarm. THOUGHTS: A very interesting book about a period in time not many know about. I love the non-fiction aspect of it! There are historical photographs and pictures throughout the book depicting scenes and items (a coal scuttle for example) so the reader is given a better sense of what it was like.

Historical Fiction     Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

Thomson, Sarah L. Secrets of the Seven: The Eureka Key. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. 978-1-61963-731-3. 240 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Middle schooler Sam Solomon is really smart, but really bored. He uses his brains to hack the school bell to play music from his favorite video game, and to access the principal’s computer to change his best friends grades. His teachers and parents are worried that this behavior will turn into real trouble. So when Sam wins The American Dream contest and gets to spend the summer on a trip across the country, everyone is hopeful for a positive change. Sam and the other contest winners, brainy Martina and elusive Theo, set off to Death Valley, California, ready to explore seven natural wonders of America. At each stop, the trio will solve puzzles and use clues from the nation’s history to find seven piece of a powerful artifact. But at the first stop, things don’t go very well, and Sam, Martina and Theo find themselves in the middle of a very powerful mystery. They soon discover that they hold the key to unlocking a secret from America’s past, and that there are people out there that will do dangerous things to keep it a secret. THOUGHTS: A fun, approachable read for fans of any Rick Riordan book or the National Treasure movies.

Adventure     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Oh, Ellen Ed. Flying Lesson & Other Stories. New York, NY: Crown Books, 2017. 978-1-101-93459-3. 216 pp. $16.99. Gr. 4-8.

As the cry for more diverse books in children’s literature starts to see results, this collection of short stories edited by Ellen Oh, cofounder of We Need Diverse Books, should gain prominent attention as an exemplary work. The ten short stories capture important and ordinary moments of youth across the country, allowing the reader to hopefully see themselves as well as the lives of other ethnicities and viewpoints. From Matt de la Pena’s hoop obsessed teen to a poor struggling obedient son from Kelly Baptist to Tim Federle’s slightly neurotic and obsessed girl facing a secret Santa dilemma, each story is immediate, empathetic, and engaging. Other distinguished authors include Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, and Grace Lin. As Oh says in her foreward, “… our stories are unique, just like we are.” With inspiration and a closing sample from Walter Dean Myers, we have a warm and readable look into the many lives whose stories are diverse yet connected, often through the power of books.  THOUGHTS: Great for both read alouds and ideas for writing prompts, I would recommend this book to classroom teachers who want to show perspective and point of view. Plus, hopefully, it will open the readers to new ways of understanding and valuing each other.

Realistic Fiction; Short Stories     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

 

Korman, Gordon. Jingle (A Swindle Mystery). New York: Scholastic Press, 2016. 978-0-545-86142-7. $16.99. 199 pp. Gr. 3-7.

Griffin Bing, Ben Slovak, and their crew are back at it in Jingle, a Christmas themed Swindle mystery.  After receiving letters thanking them for volunteering for the Colchester family’s Santa’s Workshop Holiday Spectacular, an annual holiday event presented by the wealthy Colchester family for the town of Cedarville, Griffin, Ben, and the gang are horrified that their holiday and winter break plans have been ruined, and it’s all Logan’s fault.  Facing the daily misery of dressing like an elf and working with their nemesis, Darren Vader, the group determines this will be the worst Christmas ever; of course that is until the prize of the the spectacular, the Star of Prague, goes missing, and Griffin, Ben, and their friends become prime suspects.   Going from elf to robbery suspect doesn’t exactly make for the best break ever, but it does allow Griffin to get back to his “plans”.   Knowing that this time they aren’t to blame, the friends set out to clear their names and figure out who really stole the Star of Prague.  Of course, they get arrested and into their own trouble along the way (what’s a tiny bar fight when you’re in middle school), and have to deal with their own personal (Logan not getting into the North Star Players) and family (Hanukkah vs. Christmas) problems.  THOUGHTS:  This was my first Swindle mystery and was very easy to understand even though I hadn’t read the previous seven titles.  This is a fun, fast-paced mystery for upper elementary and middle school students.  The interaction of the friends is both a great example of friendship and a lesson in when to say no or question “the plan”.  Gordon Korman once again delivers a winner.

Mystery     Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS/HS

Elementary NF – Aaron & Alexander; Gingerbread

aaronandalexander

Brown, Don. Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2015. 978-1-59643-998-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-5.

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton’s lives paralleled each other’s in many ways; they were both orphaned at a young age; they were both very smart and studied at prestigious American universities; they both served bravely in the colonists’ battle against Great Britain; they were even alike in size, having the word “little” as part of their nicknames. Author Don Brown says, “Aaron and Alexander could have been friends. They were alike in many ways. But the ways in which they were different made them the worst of enemies.” The two men ended up on opposite sides of the political line after the American Revolution and influential, but hot-tempered, Hamilton often insulted Burr’s politics and character in vicious ways. The day arrived when Burr could take no more, and he challenged Hamilton to a duel in which Burr fatally shot Hamilton. Brown shares an unbiased view of the notorious duel that left Hamilton dead and Burr an outcast. The book contains an Author’s Note and bibliography. THOUGHTS: Brown’s signature style of concise wording and expressive watercolors succeeds in sharing a parallel of two important American figures and their tragic end.

973.4; Picture Book     Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

 

 

gingerbread

Rockliff, Mara. Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-544-13001-2. 32pp. $17.99. Gr 2–5.

Christopher Ludwick was a Philadelphia-based baker known all over the city for his big heart and his delicious gingerbread. Hungry children followed their noses to his shop, admiring the spicy cookies decorated with sweet, white icing. But in the summer of 1776, something other than the smell of gingerbread was in the air. Cries of “Revolution!” echoed up and down the streets. Ludwick, who was born in Germany, was a staunch Patriot. At age 55, he hung up his apron and volunteered his services to General Washington. After learning that Washington’s troops were threatening to leave due to lack of food, Ludwick rolled up his sleeves and fired up his oven. Throughout the Revolutionary War, Ludwick continued baking, and not just for the Continental Army. He volunteered for a secret, midnight mission to a British army camp where he successfully convinced hired Hessian soldiers to abandon the British troops and enlist with General Washington after promising them full bellies. At the war’s end, after the British surrendered, Ludwick baked 6,000 pounds of bread to feed America’s hungry former enemies before returning to Philadelphia and his bakery.  THOUGHTS:  This picture book biography of a little-known Revolutionary War hero is a wonderful addition to elementary collections. An author’s note at the end of the book outlines additional details about Ludwick’s life, and the endpapers include a recipe for baking gingerbread. While the story itself is unique, the illustrations steal the show. Illustrator Vincent Kirsch’s spirited watercolor pictures depict all characters as gingerbread people, and he sticks to a palate of mostly brown with white details. This title provides an accessible introduction to the American Revolution for the youngest readers while also showcasing a forgotten hero’s kind spirit and large heart.

Picture Book Biography   Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County