Archive for Historical Fiction

Booktalk: Jackaby by William Ritter

Jackaby cover

Jackaby by William Ritter is an awesome mix of historical fiction, suspense, and magic.  And since we’re in Women’s History Month, I should also mention that it features an awesome kick-ass heroine!


Abigail Rook is new to the United States, and she’s new to detective work.  But she needs a job to keep a roof over her head, and that’s why she answered the ad to be an assistant for investigative services.  She didn’t realize until she went to inquire about the job that “investigative services” wasn’t a company but instead it was one man, R.F. Jackaby.  And she didn’t realize until she arrived at her first crime scene that there was a reason Jackaby had used the line “strong stomach preferred” in the ad.  The sight and the stench of a dead body, especially the body of someone who was killed so violently, would make most women faint.  But Abigail Rook isn’t most women.

Abigail has no idea that the kinds of crimes she’ll help to solve will be caused by both men and monsters.  She has no idea that Jackaby has the unique ability to see creatures that no one else can see.  She has no idea that working with Jackaby means that her life will be in more danger than ever before.  And she also has no idea about what happened to Jackaby’s LAST assistant.

Booktalk: Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips

Crazy cover

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips was one of my favorite teen books of 2014, and there are several facets of this book that make it unique.  It’s a poem-format novel, it’s historical fiction, and it tackles family problems in general and mental illness specifically.  Laura is a great protagonist, and readers will feel for her as she tries to deal with the normal hurdles of her teenage life while wondering if the mental illness in her family will prove to be the biggest hurdle of all.


The year is 1963.  My name is Laura, I’m 15 years old, and I’m an artist like my mother.

My world is filled with plenty of good things, like my friends, Mrs. Grant my art teacher, Dennis Martin with his deep blue eyes and his gorgeous smile, American Bandstand on TV, and my Beach Boys records.

Unfortunately, my world is filled with lousy things, too.  Like how whenever I get embarrassed I get these big red splotches all over my neck and I can’t stop sweating.  Like the way I thought that Dennis Martin was going to ask me to take a ride in his new car, except he didn’t and now my friends think I’m a lost cause.  Like the way I think I might be going crazy.

I told you that I’m an artist like my mother.  That’s only partially true … or maybe it’s not true at all.  You see, my mother used to be a painter back when she was my age.  But then she stopped.  I still look at her paintings on the walls sometimes, and I wonder why she doesn’t do it anymore.  I wonder if the part of her brain that made the paintings is the same part that doesn’t always work the right way … and which seems to be getting worse.  I wonder if creating those paintings was a symptom of what was going wrong inside her head.  And I wonder if me being an artist like my mother means that I’ll go crazy, too.


Booktalk: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

The Shadow Hero cover

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang is a great choice both for reluctant readers and for grownups who need to be convinced about the value of graphic novels.

In my booktalk, I mainly promote the connection between Hank and his mother.  But there’s a lot more going on in this story.  There’s the historic setting.  It’s a great choice for educators looking to get some diversity on their shelves.  It’s a book about superheroes and what it means to be a superhero.  Hank has a romantic interest in a woman who might be one of The Bad Guys (isn’t that ALWAYS the way?)  And it’s also laugh-out-loud funny at times.  Share this one with the teens in your life, and with the librarians, teachers, and parents who are looking for great books to share with the teens in their lives.

Note — there is one point that I’m not 100% clear on, and that’s the exact time frame for this story.  I’ve seen it referred to in reviews as taking place in the 1930’s or 1940’s.  The story does span a number of years, but since this character is based on one who originally appeared in a 1940’s comic book I chose to say the 1940’s … but I could be wrong.  In any case, feel free to adjust as necessary!


It’s the 1940’s in Chinatown, and Hank just wants to live a normal life and work in his parents’ grocery store.  But his mother wants him to be a superhero instead, and she won’t take no for an answer.

The problem started when his mother was rescued by a superhero.  You see, her life was in danger because a bank robber was holding a gun to her head.  And then a superhero called the Anchor of Justice flew in to help, and he saved her life.  She was so impressed by this that she decided that her son should be a superhero, too!

This is the story of Hank, also known as the Green Turtle.  It’s the story of a boy who wants to be just like his father, living a quiet, ordinary life.  It’s the story of a boy who doesn’t realize how much strength he really has, and how much potential he has to be much MORE than ordinary.  It’s the story of a boy who becomes a superhero … even if it isn’t his idea.

Booktalk: All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry

All the Truth Thats in Me cover

All the Truth That’s in Me is primarily a suspense story, but it’s also a historical fiction novel which is unusual because we never know exactly when this story takes place.  The story unfolds in short, poetic chapters told from the point of view of a girl who has survived one ordeal and may have to survive another.  Judith is a fascinating narrator — sometimes unreliable because of the gaps in her memory and understanding, but always empathetic.

Check out Julie Berry’s website for more information about this book and her other titles for young readers.


Four years ago, Judith and her best friend Lottie disappeared.  Soon afterwards, Lottie was found, dead, in a stream.  Two years after that, Judith suddenly came back to town, but she couldn’t tell anyone what had happened to Lottie or what had happened to her.  That’s because the man who had kidnapped her had cut out her tongue to make sure she wouldn’t speak.

He also told her that if she tried to tell anyone what had happened, that he would destroy her town.  She’d spent enough time with him that she’d seen all of his weapons and explosives, and she knew that he could do it.

For two years, Judith has lived as an outcast.  Nobody wants to talk to her or interact with her.  Nobody knows what to say to her.  And she doesn’t know what to say to them without putting them in danger.

But when the town is threatened once again, Judith can think of only one way to save it.  And that means going back to the place where she was held captive for two years.  Going back to the man who kidnapped her and cut out her tongue so that she wouldn’t speak.  And pleading with him to use his weapons and save the town before it’s too late.

Booktalk: To Be Or Not To Be by Ryan North

To Be Or Not To Be Cover

If you follow Kickstarter news, then you’ve definitely heard of this book and you or your library might already have a copy of it.  In 2012, Ryan North started a Kickstarter campaign to fund this book, and it turned into the #1 most funded publishing project on Kickstarter (full disclosure: I’m one of those many backers, which is how I got my own copy).  In fact, several of the stretch goals included donating copies to schools and libraries, which is why your library may already have a copy.  But if you don’t already have a copy through Kickstarter, it is available to purchase through the usual channels, as well.

To Be Or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure would be most appreciated by high school students or adults, since they are most likely to be familiar with the original source material.  Basically, it would be a great book to share with Shakespeare fans, with people who were forced to read Shakespeare in school, and with fans of the choose-your-own-adventure format.

Oh, and I have a brief booktalking note: when I was first writing this booktalk, one of the ideas I had was to read aloud some of the choices that are available in the book.  I decided to go in a different direction, but I still think that it’s a good idea.  So another way that you could approach this booktalk would be to give a brief introduction of the concept of the book, and then read aloud some of the choices in the book (make sure you mark off the pages with page markers or sticky notes first for easier reading!)  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • (p. 11) Go murder your uncle: turn to page 195
  • (p. 36) Show her how non-murderous you are by killing whoever’s behind the curtain: turn to page 294
  • (p. 203) Become a ghost: turn to page 636 / Do not become a ghost: turn to page 633
  • (p. 211) Step from the shadows and introduce yourself dramatically: turn to page 250
  • (p. 251) Turn into a gamma-irradiated monster: turn to page 274
  • (p. 413) Shout “I’m not a murderer!!” then throw the book as hard as you can at Hamlet’s head, tell the court “I regret nothing” and make a break for it: turn to page 421

ETA: As you may have noticed, there are two small issues with this episode.  The first issue is that I left off the opening music, which is entirely my fault (but in my defense I’m still in vacation mode).  The other issue is that my description of this episode isn’t currently showing up in iTunes.  I think it has something to do with a technical issue that the Quick Blogcast gurus are currently trying to resolve.  Anyway … um … onward and upward?


Spoiler Alert: Prince Hamlet learns the identity of his father’s murderer, he seeks revenge, and by the end of the story a LOT of people are dead.

But does the story HAVE to wind up that way?

What if the characters made different choices?  What if Hamlet’s father decided not to come back as a ghost?  Or what if he decided to get his own revenge, rather than making his son do it?  What if Ophelia wanted to confront the ghost herself?  Or what if she decided that dating Hamlet was too much trouble and she just broke up with him instead?  What if Hamlet was so depressed by all his family drama that he decided to kill himself?  Or what if he skipped the whole revenge thing, married Ophelia, and lived happily ever after?

YOU decide what happens next!

Booktalk: The Life History of a Star by Kelly Easton

NOTE: I needed to swap my episode order this month, so the “how-to” episode I planned to do this week will be going up next week instead.  Stay tuned!

I’m a fan of The Life History of a Star by Kelly Easton for several reasons.  Because I like fiction stories that are written as journals (and those are easy to adapt into first-person booktalks), and because it’s a historical fiction book about a period of time that’s not frequently covered in young adult novels.

Oh, and here’s a little booktalking trick I use a lot that might be helpful for you.  As I’m writing my booktalk, I like to use repetition or lists/series of things because it makes it easier for me to memorize it.  If you look back through my earlier booktalks, you’ll see just how often I use that trick!


My name is Kristin Folger.  I’m 14, but I feel like I’m 50.  My English teacher gave me this journal to keep track of my thoughts because, as she put it, “They’re really quite unusual.”  Well, here’s an unusual thought:  I don’t believe in God, but if I did, I’d have a lot to say to him.  You know, if I believed in God, I would tell him off for making it so that one week out of every month I feel fat, tired, and suicidal.  If I believed in God, I’d ask why my best friends are acting so weird that I don’t even know them anymore.  If I believed in God, I’d ask him for normal parents who actually talked to each other, instead of just fighting all the time.  If I believed in God, I’d ask why he allowed the Vietnam War to happen, because it broke my family into a million little pieces.  And if I believed in God, I’d ask him why we were living with a ghost.  A ghost that has the body of someone I used to love, but not his mind … not anymore.

Booktalk: Death and the Arrow by Chris Priestley

If you ask most teens if they’d like to read a historical fiction book set in the 18th century, they would probably say “no.”  But if they knew that the book in question was a murder mystery featuring a strange figure who marks his victims before he kills them with “death” cards, I think they’d change their minds. 

Death and the Arrow is a suspenseful book set in a historical era not often covered in young adult fiction, and you can recommend it to teens who ask you for good historical fiction books or mysteries.  You can learn more about Chris Priestley at his website, even though the emphasis there is on his Tales of Terror series and more recent releases.


It’s the year 1715 in London, and a man has just been killed.  People are killed every day in London, but it’s the way in which he was killed that was so unusual.  You see, this man was killed by an arrow through the heart.  Not only that, but nobody saw where the arrow came from, and nobody knows who did it.  When the dead man’s body is examined, a card is found in his pocket – a card with a picture of Death holding an arrow.  If this wasn’t strange enough, a few days later the exact same thing happens to another man.  He’s also killed by an arrow that comes out of nowhere, and the same card is found in his pocket.  The city is soon gripped by fear and rumors, and everyone wonders who’ll be next.

Tom Marlowe is following the news like everyone else.  When his friend Will shows up looking terrified, he doesn’t understand why … until Will shows him a “Death and the Arrow” card, and says that his life is in danger.  When Will is found dead later that day, Tom can’t help but get involved in the case.  Will was a pickpocket who spent a lot of time with other criminals.  Tom wonders if maybe he knew the killer; maybe he was killed because he knew too much.  Tom has his work cut out for him, because this case raises so many questions.

How does the killer get to and from the crime scenes without being seen?  Why does he use Mohawk arrows made in America, and how did he get them to London?  And how does he get the “Death and the Arrow” cards on the bodies of his victims … and why?

Booktalk: Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

I can’t believe it took me this long to share a historical fiction booktalk!  Actually, Catherine, Called Birdy combines some of my favorite elements of teen fiction.  It’s historical fiction, it’s written in a journal format, and it’s also hilarious!  Check out Karen Cushman’s website to learn more about the author of Catherine, Called Birdy, The Midwife’s Apprentice, Matilda Bone, and lots of other exciting historical fiction titles.


Catherine’s life has just gone from bad to worse.  Up until now, she’s been the daughter of a not-very-rich lord.  They have their title, they have their land, but that’s about it.  Catherine has spent her days doing things she hates, like cooking and cleaning and sewing and embroidery – and she’s not good at any of it!

But now, like I said, things just got worse.  Catherine’s father has decided that he wants her to be married to someone as rich as possible as soon as possible.  But Catherine doesn’t want to be married, especially not to the ugly old men who keep coming to see her.  She’d rather be a monk, a musician, or even a crusader!  Catherine has to make a plan, and soon, if she doesn’t want to be married.  But she has a lot of tricks up her sleeve, and she’ll use every last one to drive her suitors away.

Life sure was tough in the thirteenth century!