June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Spoonful of Sugar: History Lessons from Riveting Novels │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

History doesn’t have to be boring. Today’s historical fiction is an expert blend of fact and storytelling. Without even realizing it, our readers learn a bit about their past, which often drives them to other resources to learn more. What do you know of Chung Ling Soo, who invented the magic trick of catching a bullet with his teeth? Have you ever heard of the U.S. maritime disaster that took more lives than the Titanic? How about Operation Pied Piper (no, no rats are involved). The following selections by the editors at Junior Library Guild will enlighten readers while whetting their appetites for bygone events.

bullet catchAXELROD, Amy and David Axelrod. The Bullet Catch: Murder by Misadventure. 320p. Holiday. 2015. ISBN 9780823428588. JLG Category: MM: Mystery Middle (Grades 5-8). LiveBinder Resources.

1918: Leo finds himself an escaped thief on the streets, when his life unexpectedly takes a turn for the respectable. He becomes a magician’s assistant, learning magic from the inside. Barzini, his mentor, realizes Leo has a gift that will be useful for the magician’s daring comeback trick—the bullet catch. The trouble is that the apprentice will have to shoot the gun.

Loaded with facts about Chung Ling Soo, the magician who invented the infamous trick, readers are also treated to Harry Houdini as an additional character. An excerpt and an educator’s guide are included in the publisher’s materials. Follow Amy and David on Twitter.

War that Saved My LifeBRADLEY, Kimberly Brubaker. The War That Saved My Life. 302p. Dial. 2015. ISBN 9780803740815. JLG Category: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5-7). LiveBinder Resources.

1939: In an effort to keep their children safe, Londoners ship their kids out of town during World War II.  Jamie is one such kid. His disabled sister, Ada, also escapes, but she’s more afraid of her mother than the war. When no one chooses to take in the underfed children, they are assigned to Susan, a hermitlike woman who seems to resent their arrival. Can the three of them create a home—even temporarily?

Though the characters are fictional, Operation Pied Piper was a massive attempt to save London’s children. Find out more in an author interview or read about the evacuations on DefenseMediaNetwork or BBC. 

runaways goldBURACK, Emilie Christie. The Runaway’s Gold. 272p. Abrams/Amulet. 2015. ISBN 9781419713699. JLG Category: C+ : Advanced Readers (Grades 6-9). LiveBinder Resources.

1842: Already struggling to survive on the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, John is forced to run from his home, haunted by two crimes: one he’s committed and one he’s been framed for. His journey takes him on a dangerous adventure that leads him to New York City—but not to safety.

Complete with a glossary of mostly Scottish words and an appendix that reveals careful research, Burack’s debut novel is a labor of love that began with inspiration of her great-great-grandfather and a shoe box in the back of her father’s closet. Her website includes discussion questions and images that may help readers visualize the setting. Follow her on Twitter.

Stella by StarlightDRAPER, Sharon M. Stella by Starlight. 336p. S. & S./Atheneum. 2015. ISBN 9781442494978. JLG Category: B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5-7). LiveBinder Resources. 

1932: Who knew that sitting on the front steps at night while trying to perfect her writing, Stella would see something so frightening it would shake the core of her family? Racial prejudice comes to the forefront in a small North Carolina town when African American men struggle for the right to vote.

Watch a short video as Draper speaks about the inspiration for the novel—her grandmother’s journal writings. A study guide with discussion questions, writing activities, and research ideas is also posted on her website. 

Like a RiverWIECHMAN, Kathy Cannon. Like a River: A Civil War Novel. 336p. Calkins Creek. 2015. ISBN 9781629792095. JLG Category: C+ : Advanced Readers (Grades 6-9). LiveBinder Resources.

1864: Two unlikely teens form a friendship when Leander enlists in the Union Army and meets Paul Settles at an Atlanta hospital. Their brief encounter will change their lives.

Always interested in history, Wiechman was inspired to write her first novel when she visited the Ohio River Museum, where she learned of the 1865 steamboat disaster that claimed the lives of 1,800—even more than the Titanic. Read about the accident on National Geographic or explore newspapers of the day at the Library of Congress. For more on Andersonville Prison, visit the National Park Service or History.com. Military Legal Resources posts Henry Wirz’s entire Andersonville trial documents. You can follow the debut novelist on Twitter.

Gone Crazy in AlabamaWILLIAMS-GARCIA, Rita. Gone Crazy in Alabama. 304p. HarperCollins/Amistad. 2015. ISBN 9780062215888. JLG Category:  B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5-7). LiveBinder Resources.

1969: Summer with her grandmother is a far cry from life in Brooklyn, but Delphine is determined to watch over her sisters, Vonetta and Fern. Chores like collecting chicken eggs and ironing sheets ruffle some feathers. Leave it to dramatic Vonetta to stoke the fire between the estranged Ma Charles and her half-sister. How can Delphine keep the family peace when so much threatens to break it apart?

A Teaching Guide is available at the publisher’s website. Share the television coverage of the Apollo 11 launch and first moon landing, which are integral to Williams-Garcia’s companion to One Crazy Summer  (2010) and P.S. Be Eleven (2013) with your readers. The “terrible” novel that Delphine first reads on the bus, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, is still available with a teacher’s guide on the publisher’s website. For further information about freedmen histories, the author suggests Sam Ford’s “Black Slaves, Red Masters, Part I.” Don’t miss the Jackson 5’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show or The Hollywood Palace. You can follow Williams-Garcia on Twitter.

Additional Resources

The resources for the above titles have been organized in JLG Booktalks to Go: Spring 2015 LiveBinder. Titles are sorted by interest level, PreK-3, 3-6, 5-8, and YA. All websites are posted within each LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources are added. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. 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.