February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

History in Fiction: More than Just the Facts │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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We often teach children that fiction is not true. But there is always a bit of truth in historical fiction. Writing in that genre consists of doing a lot of research. Language, clothing, housing, technology are just the tip of the factual iceberg when it comes to building a fictional story based on actual events. How could you write about a boy whose father has shell shock if you didn’t know its treatment? How could you write about a boy in 1981when government soldiers massacred a small village in Guatemala? Use the following fictional titles, selected by Junior Library Guild editors, to support Common Core State Standards (CCSS) while leading middle schoolers to the facts.

Stay Where you areBOYNE, John. Stay Where You Are & Then Leave. Holt. 2014. ISBN 9781627790314. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

The fighting started on July 28, 1914. They said it would be over by Christmas. Alfie was five on that day. Now he is nine years old and his father still hasn’t come home for the war. Then the letters from the field stop coming. His mother says his father is on a secret mission. When Alfie learns that his dad is in a hospital with shell shock, he is determined to rescue him from the horrible place. What price will he pay to do so?

The author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Random/David Fickling Bks. 2006) delivers another powerful war story that pulls on your heartstrings. Visit his website or read his blog for the latest news. He can be followed on Twitter. A teaching guide aligned with CCSS is available on the publisher’s book page. The book tab in the JLG BTG LiveBinder contains additional links to content such as shell shock, shoe shining, and World War I.

CaminarBROWN, Skila. Caminar. Candlewick. 2014. ISBN 9780763665166. JLG Level: C+ : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9).

War has broken out in Guatemala. Carlos is torn between obeying his mama and his desire to be the man of the house. She tells him to run to the mountains if the soldiers come to their village. Yet when the invasion comes, the young boy is in the jungle picking mushrooms. The sound of screams causes him to drop them, but he doesn’t run. He closes his eyes and listens. How can he learn to be a man?

Brown’s debut novel in verse, set in 1981 Guatemala, depicts Carlos’s passage from boy to man as he survives on his own. Students will want to know more about the civil war, so offer the information at PBS. Visit the author’s website where her blog incorporates the culture of Guatemala in video and photographs. A teacher’s guide for use in language arts and social studies is available. You can read an excerpt on Candlewick’s website. Though the author includes a glossary with pronunciation, as well as interview questions, readers may be curious about the languages of the Central American country.

PK Pinkerton and the Pistol Packing widowsLAWRENCE, Caroline. P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows. Putnam. 2014. ISBN 9780399256356. JLG Level: C+ : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9).

P.K. is on another Romantic Job. Despite the conflict of interest, the private detective takes the case to shadow Poker Face Jace (the investigator’s friend and mentor) from the pistol-packing widow. Disguised as a blind widow, P.K. sits in on the legislative arguments about the bill that brought Jace to Carson City―The Corporation Bill and the assignment of The Toll Road Franchises. Trouble is: the secret that P.K. is keeping is the only thing that can save them both.

The “P.K. Mysteries” have their own website and Twitter account. If you want to know more about the author, read her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Watch a book trailer on the latest mystery.

West of the MoonPREUS, Margi. West of the Moon. Amulet. 2014. ISBN 9781419708961. JLG Level: C+ : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9).

In Norway, Astri is sold by her stepmother to a goat herder. Leaving her sister behind, her circumstances go from bad to worse, as she is given little food and much work. Running away to her father in America seems like the only way to survive. Astri escapes with a magic book, a few gold coins, and a girl who spins fine wool. With the goat keeper hot on her trail, the determined girl makes decisions that she regrets. Can she rescue her sister and find a better life east of the sun and west of the moon?

Preus has woven a page from her family history into a novel that blends folklore and reality. Back matter includes family pictures and an author’s note about the factual content. On her website you can read about her previous releases and find out what she’s reading. Follow her on Twitter and be sure to wish her a happy birthday (June 7). A book trailer is available. Learn more about Norwegian folklore by exploring a Pinterest board. Visit the online Vesterheim Norwegian-American museum or Luther College history that contains information about Linka Preus who inspired the story.

Additional Resources

In an effort to organize these links, I have created a LiveBinder. All websites will be posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources will be added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see LiveBinder main tabs. Each tab is a book title. Under each color-coded tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Please visit JLG’s new LiveBinder, JLG Booktalks to Go. Booktalks and resources are also included on JLG’s BTG Pinterest board.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com. (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)


Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.

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