Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things (Version 2010, Part Two: Historical Fiction)

Free as a BirdLetters from WolfieWoods Runner
I have been quite terrible about writing reviews this year, opting instead for hastily put together posts that typically link to an article I read online. You noticed, didn't you? I'm sorry.

To make up for it, I'm trying to cram in reviews of my favorite reads before the calendar turns the page to 2010.  In my last post, I wrote about my favorite science fiction reads from 2010. In this post, I'll blather on about the best historical fiction.  I think that most people's lists would include Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution (which I really enjoyed, but had a few issues with) and Deborah Wiles' Countdown (nothing against it, it just wasn't my favorite), but I found other books just drew me in deeper and left me more satisfied.

Free as a Bird by Gina McMurchy - Tear. Jerker.  A moving story set in the 1960s about a girl with downs syndrome who is put in an institution after the death of her caretaker grandmother.  The depictions of life in an institution are gritty and realistic, yet also accessible for younger teen readers.  The girl, Ruby Jean Sharp, is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take part in a fledgling "life skills" program which could lead to life outside of the institution.  Possibly the most awesome thing about the book, however, is that the author actually worked in the institution which she describes in the story AND has a younger sister with downs (who, incidentally, was NOT institutionalized).  I have been recommending this to my middle schoolers and every student who has read this has LOVED it.  Read this book.

Letters From Wolfie by Patti Sherlock - This was published in 2004 and I only read it because we received a parent complaint at school* but I wound up loving this book so much that I had to put it on my list.  Mark's older brother has shipped off to serve in Vietnam, and seeking some attention, Mark winds up donating his Sheppard mix, Wolfie, to the US Army.  Only after Wolfie begins training and Mark starts a correspondence with Wolfie's trainer does Mark realize he's not getting Wolfie back. Ever.  Army dogs are considered equipment, and as such, are used up until they aren't up to standard, and then retired by being put to sleep.  Mark starts up a campaign to change the way the Army treats dogs, requesting they serve tours, just like soldiers, and then be allowed to return to "civilian life."  But it's not just about the dog.  Mark's whole world is filled with the current events of the time: his brother away at war, his father a steadfast supporter of the war, his mother seeking new independence and questioning her support of the war, teachers in trouble for speaking out about the war, it's all there.  An author's note (which made me cry) at the end briefly explains the history of military dogs.

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen - This is embarrassing to admit, but Woods Runner is the first book I've read by Gary Paulsen.  I'm not sure why it took me so long, but it did.  It's set during the Revolutionary War and mixes fiction and nonfiction in a really neat way that I haven't seen done before.  I wrote up a long review of this one, but then never posted it until today.  Oops.  But, now that it's up, you can find it here.

*On page 34 the term "reproductive processes" is used and then on the next page, Playboy magazine is referenced.  Fairly harmless, but every parent has the right to make decisions about his or her child's reading.

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