Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
By Mary Ann Scheuer
It is hard to imagine living in a time without cell phones, much less electricity! Can textbooks really describe this for our kids? Historical fiction can bring a different place and time to life and help us imagine being right there. Often these stories help young readers understand the larger context as well as the personal struggles of ordinary people living through challenging times.
Coolies by Yin, illustrations by Chris Soentpiet (Puffin; ages 6-10; $7.97; 40 pp.). A grandmother tells her great-grandfather’s story as he traveled from China to California in 1865 to work on the transcontinental railroad. Yin transforms the term Coolie by showing the courage and integrity of Chinese American immigrants with this powerful, dramatic story.
Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Carolrhoda; ages 6-10; $17.99; 40 pp.). This compelling story about a family’s escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad is told through the point of view of young Lindy’s rag doll. Nelson creates an accessible, immediate story that conveys the experience of a young child without overwhelming young readers.
Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum / Simon & Schuster; ages 6-10; $17.99; 56 pp.). Ashley Bryan created this stunning portrait of the personal lives of 11 enslaved people from an 1828 estate sale document. He gives them names, African cultures, talents and dreams, juxtaposing universal human desires with the cruel condition of slavery.
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino (Children’s Book Press; ages 6-10; $9.95; 32 pp.). Mari and her family have been forced to leave their home and are detained in Utah’s Topaz Relocation Center during World War II. Mari finds patience, courage and persistence in drawing and gardening, despite the bleak conditions. A touching picture book, with both English and Japanese text, based on the author’s family stories.
Middle grade novels
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic; ages 9-12; $19.99; 587 pp.). Pam Muñoz Ryan captivates readers with this multilayered story of three children caught in the tumult of World War II. Themes of hope, resilience and inspiration echo (yes, pun intended) throughout three different characters’ separate stories, set in Germany, Pennsylvania and California in the 1930s and 1940s.
Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (Wendy Lamb / Random House; ages 9-12; $7.99; 288 pp.). Turn-of-the-century San Francisco comes to life for young readers as 13-year-old Lizzie Kennedy accompanies her father on medical house calls; forms a friendship with the son of Jing, her family’s beloved cook; and grapples with the injustices that exist with gender, class and race. Local author Choldenko creates a tender and gripping story of friendship, mystery and persistence.
Dragon’s Child: A Story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep and Dr. Kathleen S. Yep (Harper; ages 8-12; $5.99; 160 pp.). Prolific author Laurence Yep collaborates with his niece to tell the story of his father’s journey to America at age 10 from rural China, drawing on family stories, immigration records and historical research from the archives at Angel Island.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Henry Holt; ages 9-12; $7.55; 352 pp.). A natural-born scientist, 11-year-old Calpurnia would like to spend time examining insects, getting to know her scientist grandfather or reading Darwin’s controversial On the Origin of Species. But in 1899 Texas, all around her expect young girls to learn to sew, run a household and attract a future husband.
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, with illustrations by Shane Evans (Little, Brown; ages 9-12; $8.52, 308 pp.). Life is hard for Amira on her family farm in Darfur, Sudan, with scarce food, distant water and many chores, and she dreams of school. A sudden attack by the Sudanese militia disrupts everything, causing Amira and her family to flee for their lives to a refugee camp. Pinkney’s spare evocative verse creates space for young readers to share Amira’s hardship and eventual hope.
Young adult novels
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Speak / Penguin; ages 12-18; $9.97; 384 pp.). After the Russian invasion of Lithuania in 1939, the Soviet secret police deported countless numbers of people considered anti-Soviet, sending them to exile in Siberian work camps. When teenager Lina and her family are arrested, they are crammed into a boxcar and begin a horrific journey to a frigid gulag. This story reached into my soul, and I find myself continuing to think about it for many years.
The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo (Harper; ages 10-16; $6.98; 272 pp.). Sade and her younger brother must flee Nigeria after their mother is killed in a shooting meant to target their journalist father. Naidoo presents this traumatic story with political insight and emotional sensitivity, depicting the difficulties the children face immigrating to London, locating their uncle and finding their father.
Refugee by Alan Gratz (Scholastic; ages 10-15; $16.99; 352 pp.). Gratz weaves together three interrelated stories centering on families that have been forced to flee because of war, violence and political turmoil. Josef escapes Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel leaves 1994 Cuba because of political strife, and Mahmoud flees from 2015 Aleppo because his home was destroyed. Filled with tragedy and resilience, these powerful stories will help young readers understand both the larger context and the personal stories of today’s refugee crisis.
Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher librarian. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.