Books with mix of fact, fiction may have young readers wanting more

Learning history is not all facts and dates. Sometimes the best way to explore a certain time in our world's past is to read historical fiction. Historical fiction represents a time in the past, and although it may have fictionalized accounts of real figures, most of the main events and characters are imagined. Below are several recently released historical fiction books that kids may enjoy while studying history this year. Check these titles or ask your librarian for more suggestions.

All the Broken Pieces

By Ann E. Burg

Scholastic, 2009

For ages: 12-15

Told in verse, this is a touching, fast-paced book about Matt, who is part Vietnamese, part Caucasian. Matt was airlifted out of Vietnam at the end of the war, leaving his birth mother and baby brother behind. The book begins two years later when Matt is 12 and living with his adoptive parents in America. Matt is struggling with his identity as both American and Vietnamese. His parents take him to Vietnamese culture classes, yet he does not remember this culture of beauty and festivals. He remembers one of bombs and the family he left behind.

Matt is ridiculed at baseball practice by Rob, a boy his age who lost his brother in Vietnam and blames Matt. When their coach becomes sick, will the two boys be able to find common ground? Will Matt finally be able to share his Vietnamese past with his friends and family? This is an awesome story about love, family and friendship. Students will especially appreciate the quickly moving verse format of the novel.

Turtle in Paradise

By Jennifer Holm

Random House, 2010

For ages: 10-12

Before Key West was a tourist destination, it was a poor Depression-era Florida town just trying to get by. Eleven-year-old Turtle is sent there to live with her aunt and cousins when her mother finds work as a housekeeper. Turtle has never met these relations and finds Key West very unusual.

Her three ornery cousins run a diaper gang where they take babies for walks in exchange for candy. The boys have a secret diaper rash formula that keeps the customers coming, even though money is tight. In their spare time, they talk to the local "conchs" about possible pirate treasure and even hang out with an illustrious writer. (We presume Ernest Hemingway.)

Quirky aspects of Key West life are included, like the importance of shaking out shoes to check for scorpions and the favorite island treat of sugar apple ice cream.

Written by one of the authors of the popular Babymouse graphic novel series, this is a great historical fiction book that includes an author's note about Key West in the 1930s and also additional websites that students may want to visit for further research.

Thanks a LOT, Emily Post!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget;

illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009

For ages: 5-8

This amusing picture book describes the excitement our nation felt after Emily Post's first book on manners was published in 1922. This book depicts a happy and already well-mannered family that announces to its readers that everything was "just dandy" before that book came out. Before the Emily Post book, the siblings were allowed to slump in their chairs and talk whenever and wherever they wanted. But when Mother read the book, she was convinced that her children could "have manners fine enough even for those Best Society folks."

Fans of Post will enjoy the ghostlike depictions of Mrs. Toplofty, Mr. Kindheart and Mrs. Worldly, whom Post used as examples of good and bad behavior. These imaginary figures invade our story's family and are constant reminders to Mother to correct the kids. After days of constant correction, the children stage a peaceful rebellion -- correcting Mother with the slightest infraction of an Emily Post rule. Big Brother gently requests that Mother replace the wilting flowers, and when Mother says she "is going to make a phone call, Sister reminds her that 'Emily Post prefers we say telephone.'"

The Private Thoughts of Amelia E. Rye

By Bonnie Shimko

Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2010

For ages: 10-12

A wonderful novel for middle readers, this book is set in upstate New York in the 1960s. Amelia Earhart Rye is the youngest daughter of Mama, who had to be "pushing fifty" when Amelia was born. Her three older siblings are long gone out of the house, and Daddy left with Margo LaRue when he found out Mama was pregnant again. Amelia's story takes place over several years and starts in elementary school. She has no friends, since her mother refuses to spend money on Amelia. Amelia's life is a lonely one until Fancy moves into town. Fancy is the "only Negro girl" Amelia has ever seen, but she is full of spunk and adventure and the two quickly become best friends. Fancy's mother moved from Alabama to live at Old Judge Watson's house to be his housekeeper. When the town finds out that the old judge is Fancy's grandfather, will Fancy be more accepted or even more ridiculed than she already is? This is a wonderful book about family and acceptance, and Shimko's colloquial style will be a hit with readers of all ages.

Signed, Abiah Rose

Written and illustrated by

Diane Browning

Tricycle Press, 2009

For ages: 5-8

Inspired by the PBS documentary Anonymous Was a Woman, Browning has created the fictionalized female artist Abiah Rose. Here, Browning discusses what it was like to a female growing up in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Abiah has always loved to draw and when the family's new barn is painted, Abiah can't resist -- she paints all the farm animals' portraits on the walls. Papa does not like his barn being painted but he does encourage Abiah to paint portraits of some of the townsfolk.

Unfortunately, he discourages Abiah from signing her name. Serious painting is not considered "girl's work." Abiah decides to make her own mark on all her paintings -- a tiny rose. Abiah is lucky enough to show her paintings with her traveling salesman uncle, but she is dissuaded to seek fame. Abiah is still hopeful that she will one day be able to sign her artwork and work as full-time artist.

Browning also has illustrated the book, including the paintings that Abiah talks about in her story. Children may look for her hidden roses within each painting. An author's note provides information on female artists in this time, as well as books for further reading. A glossary is also included.

Wicked Girls

By Stephanie Hemphill

Balzer + Bray, 2010

For ages: young adult

This novel, written in verse, is set at the Salem witch trials in 1692. The book alternates between Ann, who is 12, and Mercy and Margaret, both 17, who with several other young women, accused more than 220 people of witchcraft. Hemphill's verse radiates like a teen high school novel as the girls quickly become wrapped up in their accusations and trials. Just as in any other teen book about girls, boys play an important role, too. Margaret has a flirtatious relationship with Isaac, which of course is forbidden behavior for a Puritan. Mercy is the beautiful servant at Ann's house, who creates jealousy among the other women: "all the men stop/whatever they are about/whenever she goes past."

Students studying this time period will enjoy the story and also come away with an understanding of life in historic Salem. Information on the real girls is included, as well as information on those whom they accused. Hemphill lists some sources that are appropriate for further research.

Lisa Smant is assistant manager at the Youth Center at the downtown Fort Worth Public Library. Look for these books at your local library.