Tag Archives: historical fiction

Blue Birds: Insights from Caroline Starr Rose

BlueBirds_CVCaroline Starr Rose is a former history teacher and author of the starred novel in verse, May B. Her new historical middle grade novel Blue Birds (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group USA, 2015) is set in 1587. It’s the honest and gripping story of Alis, one of the unwelcome English settlers on Roanoke Island. Kimi, a member of the Roanoke tribe, has lost both her father and her sister to violent attacks from the colonists. Despite language and mistrust, the two girls find friendship.

MUF: History clearly inspires you. When do you turn from research to story?

CSR: I am not an author who is oozing with plots and characters. Instead I start with an era or event that I want to explore, and I trust ideas will start to grow out of what I’m learning and from the “what if” questions I pose. I need to immerse myself in my study until I feel confident with the material. By the time I start thinking of story, it feels like a natural outgrowth of the history I’ve learned.

MUF: Alis is a brave girl, but also of her time, with chores and children to watch. And yet she is drawn outside of the protection of the settlement to the friend she has made. Tell me about building the tension Alis feels between the two worlds.

CSR: A large part of Alis stems from my exploration of my own experiences as a girl and teen. I moved back to the U.S. at the age of six, after three years in Saudi Arabia. I knew little about my own country or culture and was very much an outsider. My fifteenth year I spent on exchange in Australia. Again, when I came home, what was supposed to be familiar was actually foreign. I wanted to watch a similar tension grow in Alis, wanted her to be drawn into a new world but also come to see her own culture as an outsider might.

MUF: You really capture Alis’ joy in the natural world. I loved the wood carving and learning the word for blue bird, iachawanes. What was your inspiration?

CSR: Author Lucy Maud Montgomery was the inspiration behind Alis’s love of nature. Readers will know her as the author of the Anne Shirley and Emily Starr books. While both these characters deeply love nature, I would argue L.M. Montgomery was even more under its spell. (I’ve read her five-volume journal twice now and plan to do so every ten years. They’ve become a huge part of my writing and reading life.)

Iacháwanes was tricky. I wanted to find an animal indigenous to the Outer Banks that both girls might have encountered and that also had a known Algonquian counterpart. Because the Algonquian dialect the Roanoke and Croatoan spoke is now dead, there were a limited number of words to pick from. The eastern blue bird — iacháwanes — is actually the third bird I picked! When I found Governor John White’s beautiful watercolor (see here), I knew this was the bird my girls connected over.

MUF: You remain true to the terrible and violent history of what happened to both Native people and the white settlers but in a way that won’t frighten young readers. Did you struggle with that?

CSR: An unvarnished picture of history, one that doesn’t try to explain the ugly parts away, is always most impactful. I was worried some of these heartbreaking events might frighten young or especially sensitive readers, but at the same time I knew I couldn’t hide from what really happened. These young characters couldn’t, and I couldn’t do that to my readers, either. That said, I’m happy my publisher chose to label the book as “10 and up” rather than the typical middle grade 8-12.

MUF: There is a demand for diverse books, and yet it’s hard to write across cultures. How did you address describing the Roanoke experience?

CSR: Honestly, it was a very challenging, sometimes scary experience. I’m a non-Native author. I’ve written about two tribes that no longer exist, groups who left no written record and are the subject of very few reference materials. Have I gotten things wrong in some places? I’m almost positive I have. But I tried my very, very best to work with what I knew, as was absolutely my responsibility. It was also important to find a reader from the Lumbee tribe (possibly the modern-day descendants of the Croatoan) who was able to vet my work.

Ultimately, I had to trust my life experiences — I’ve been a girl, I know how profoundly friendship can shape a person — gave me a measure of authority to write about a character far different from me. Writing is a risky endeavor. There’s no room for playing it safe.

MUF: Verse expresses beautifully the connection between Alis and Kimi, especially when there are so few words they share in common. Why did you choose to write in verse?

CSR: I knew from the start this book would be in verse, partly because that’s what I’m comfortable with, partly because I find it such a great way to write historical fiction. Verse gives a reader immediate access to a character and her world. The extraneous is stripped away.

Once I realized the story needed to be told in both girls’ voices, verse added another layer of communication through stanza and line placement on the page. As the girls are drawn together, the words are, too. Verse is magical this way.

MUF: You have a picture book out soon too! Will you continue to write novels in verse?

CSR: Yes! Over in the Wetlands releases this July. Though my next historical novel, a story about the Klondike Gold Rush, is written in prose, I definitely will write verse again. I’m learning to listen to the best way a story can be told. Ideally I figure this out before I begin drafting!

March New Releases

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to SPRING into March! There are so many wonderful books releasing this month, and I’m honored to have one of my own  among them!

(Listed In Order of Release Date)

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold; illustrated by Emily Gravett (March 3) 

Rudger is Amanda Shuffleup’s imaginary friend. Nobody else can see Rudger-until the evil Mr. Bunting arrives at Amanda’s door. Mr. Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumor has it that he even eats them. And now he’s found Rudger.

Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. He needs to find Amanda before Mr. Bunting catches him-and before Amanda forgets him and he fades away to nothing. But how can an unreal boy stand alone in the real world?

Flunked by Jen Calonita (March 3)

RlunkedFull of regret, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.

Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she’s not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its sweet mission. There’s a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villian really change?

The Box and the Dragonfly (The Keepers #1) by Ted Sanders (March 3)

KeepersArtifacts. Miseries. Mysteries . . .
From the moment Horace F. Andrews sees the sign from the bus–a sign with his own name on it–everything changes. The sighting leads him underground to the House of Answers, a hidden warehouse brimming with peculiar devices. But there he finds only questions. What is this curious place? Who are the strange, secretive people who entrust him with a rare and immensely powerful gift? And what is he to do with it?

 

Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera (March 10)

MsRapscott'sGirls

Fans of Mary Poppins will love this whimsical tale of a boarding school for children of very busy parents, where an extraordinary headmistress teaches them life lessons about courage, adventure, friendship . . . and the importance of birthday cake.
Nestled inside a lighthouse, Great Rapscott School for the Daughters of Busy Parents takes its motto from Amelia Earhart: Adventure is worthwhile in itself. Headmistress Ms. Rapscott couldn’t agree more, but her students, who are shipped to the school in boxes, could use a little convincing. Still, despite their initial reluctance, the students are soon soaring through the sky and getting lost on purpose. In addition to learning what birthday cakes are and how best to approach a bumbershoot tree, the students also manage to learn a little something about strength and bravery.

Little Miss Evil by Bryce Leung, Kristy Shen (March 10) LittleMissEvil

When you live in a volcano, ride to school in a helicopter, and regularly see your dad on the news with the caption “EVIL GENIUS” underneath his picture, it takes a lot to rattle you. Until you get a message that says: We have your father. Deliver the NOVA in 24 hours or we will kill him. But telling him to stop building weapons is like telling Michelangelo to stop painting. And that’s why thirteen-year-old Fiona has a flamethrower strapped to her arm. After all, who’d mess with a girl who can throw fireballs? Apparently, these guys. Big mistake.

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi (March 10) CatchYouLater,Traitor

Brooklyn, New York, 1951.
Twelve-year-old Pete Collison is a regular kid who loves Sam Spade detective books and radio crime dramas, but when an FBI agent shows up at Pete’s doorstep accusing his father of being a Communist, Pete finds himself caught in a real-life mystery. Could there really be Commies in Pete’s family? At the same time, Pete’s class turns against him, thanks to similar rumors spread by his own teacher; even Kat, Pete’s best friend, feels the pressure to ditch him. As Pete follows the quickly accumulating clues, he begins to wonder if the truth could put his family’s livelihood–and even their freedom–at risk.

Roller Girl (A Graphic Novel) by Victoria Jamieson (March 10) RollerGirl

For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school… in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman (March 10) Nightbird

Twelve-year-old Twig’s town in the Berkshires is said to hide a winged beast, the Monster of Sidwell, and the rumors draw as many tourists as the town’s famed pink apple orchards. Twig lives in the orchard with her mysterious brother James and her reclusive mother, a baker of irresistible apple pies. Because of a family secret, an ancient curse,Twig has had to isolate herself from other kids. Then a family with two girls, Julia and Agate, moves into the cottage next door. They are descendants of the witch who put the spell on Twig’s family. But Julia turns out to be Twig’s first true friend, and her ally in trying to undo the curse and smooth the path to true love for Agate and James.

Molly Pepper and the Night Train by Courtney King Walker (March 13) ???????????????????

Hidden somewhere in the fog of the San Francisco bay lies Blue Rock Island, home to the bay area’s two best-kept secrets: Bell’s Bluff, the old, abandoned prison on one side of the island, and the Night Train, a mysterious train ride on the other. When twelve-year-old Molly Pepper receives a secret invitation promising a night of magic and adventure aboard the Night Train, she is skeptical. In her experience, most promises prove too good to be true. The fact that she lost her mom is proof enough.

Still, Molly gives hope another chance. Together with her loyal friend, Noah Wonderly, they sneak out of the house and follow a string of clues leading to the Night Train. But when the train stops at Bell’s Bluff, Molly discovers the real reason she was invited. There, she starts to wonder if hope and magic not only fix broken promises; but make you believe in them again.

The Luck Uglies, Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham (March 17) TheLuckUglies

It’s not easy being the daughter of the High Chieftain of the Luck Uglies. Now an insidious new lawman in Drowning has declared Rye an outlaw, and she’s stuck on the strange and remote Isle of Pest. But the island quickly feels much less remote when the battle to control the future of the Luck Uglies moves to its shores. To defeat the Luck Uglies’ bitterest rivals, Rye must defy a deranged earl, survive a test meant to judge the grit of the fiercest men—and uncover some long-buried family secrets. And when Rye leads the charge to defend the island, she and her friends will meet an eerily familiar enemy. . .

In Todd We Trust by Louise GalvesInToddWeTrustton (March 17)

In the sequel to By the Grace of Todd, the Toddlians believe Todd has forgotten all about them. There’s only one solution to their problems: to find a new god! And so they decide to build a raft à la Noah’s ark in order to search for a more thoughtful deity. But who can the Toddlians turn to in their time of despair? And does Todd really not remember the miniature race generated by the dirt on his smelly sock? It will take more than divine intervention to save the Toddlians and mend their relationship with their neglectful creator.

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (March 24)

BlackbirdFly

Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. Her mother still cooks Filipino foods, speaks a mix of English and Cebuano, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” It becomes unbearable in middle school, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is.

The Penderwicks In Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (March 24) ThePenderwicks2

Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and there are surprises in store for each member of the family. Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty’s new dog-walking business. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. But when some unwelcome surprises make themselves known, the best-laid plans fall apart.

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein (March 24) TheIslandofDr.Libris

What if your favorite characters came to life? Billy’s spending the summer in a lakeside cabin that belongs to the mysterious Dr. Libris. But something strange is going on. Besides the security cameras everywhere, there’s Dr. Libris’s private bookcase. Whenever Billy opens the books inside, he can hear sounds coming from the island in the middle of the lake. The clash of swords. The twang of arrows. Sometimes he can even feel the ground shaking. It’s almost as if the stories he’s reading are coming to life! But that’s impossible . . . isn’t it?

What books are you excited about SPRINGing into this month? Tell us about them in the comments!

LouGbiopicLouise Galveston is the author of By the Grace of Todd and its sequel, In Todd We Trust (Razorbill) www.bythegraceoftodd.com When she’s not shuffling through the mixed-up files on her messy writing desk, you’ll find Louise directing children’s theater, playing games with her big family, or up to her eyeballs in laundry.

Bad News and the MG reader

One of the things I love most about writing for MG readers is their fascination with the wide world around them. UnknownI want that wide world to be a kind and welcoming place, but this last stretch of three months has been awash in very difficult news from the wider world. Much as I’d like to shield young readers from the harsh realities of the events in Ferguson, MO, the activities of violent insurgents in the Middle East, natural disasters–a volcano in Japan, a blizzard in Nepal, it’s too late for that. MG readers also read or see or hear about the news all around them. This news has an impact on how they view the world.

So how to address disasters in the news with young readers who are not so young, and here I’m thinking kids under the age of 8 or so, that they can skip the it and learn later when they are better equipped to understand. 9-14 year olds are old enough to have a discussion about the news. 513lCzmWx3L._AA160_

I’ve found over the years that books are a great way to offer context on horrific events. Two mainstays of my household have been The Encyclopedic Atlas of the World and Children Just Like Me. They offer some context about where world events are happening and a few bite sized morsels about  what life is like there under not-tragic circumstances. I think it’s important for kids to see a country and culture not in crisis to counter the images they see in the news. A few minutes with Aseye, the Ghanian girl featured in Children Just Like Me, gives a useful counterpoint to frightening images from the region. Africa is more than Ebola.

51Slf5+HDOL._AA160_ 61W7Zg3ReIL._AA160_Sometimes a more general book about an issue in the news also helps a child put concerns in context. Understanding something about how disease transmission occurs is a good jumping off place for understanding any epidemic. Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus series both have titles about germs and how they interact with the human body. These are on the young side for MG readers but sometimes it’s not so bad to go back to non-fiction picture books as a starting point for conversation.

Once a child has a grasp of some of the basics about epidemics and how they function, and an understanding of their own risk and the wider risk to the world, it’s great to have a more in depth conversation about how people act during an epidemic and the larger issues of discriminations that occur because of them.

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Christopher Paul Curtis’s newest book, The Madman of Piney Woods includes the epidemic of Typhus that the grandmother endures on her immigration from Ireland to Canada. It has some some parallels to what is occurring now with our talk about who should travel to and from West Africa. It would be a great jumping off place for an in depth conversation.

And lastly I’d love to highlight some of the best biographies of people who have dedicated their lives to the eradication of disease. And here’s where I’d love to have some reader input. Have you got a favorite biography of Louis Pasture, Jonas Salk, or Marie Curie? What other heroes of micro-biology would you like young readers to know about? Please mention them in the comments and I’ll add the covers to this post in the next few days.