history, tween

The Summer We Found the Baby

Author: Amy Hest
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Middle-grade / Historical fiction
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6007-9
Pages: 192
Price: $16.99

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Eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, are on the way to the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island. They have been spending the summer there along with their dad, and are looking forward to the big event. But when they discover a baby in a basket on the library steps, all thoughts of the celebration are gone.

Bruno Bel-Eli is on his way to catch a train to New York City when he sees Julie carrying the baby away from the library. Convinced she’s kidnapping it, he follows them.

Told from all three perspectives, this unusual summer day unfolds slowly, like peeling the layers of an onion. Each of the three main characters expresses their thoughts on the world around them in the midst of World War II, and what they’re feeling about the baby. There is a mystery surrounding her arrival at the library, and by the end of the story, the secret is revealed.

World War II has drifted from our collective memory, and this book shows us what life was like when our nation was in the midst of this war. Not knowing if loved ones would return – or tragically finding out they definitely wouldn’t – hangs in the background as we learn more about Belle Beach and its inhabitants. My only question is why the mother decided to place the baby in the basket on the library steps in the first place, since she reveals herself before the day is over. But otherwise, The Summer We Found the Baby is an interesting and enjoyable read.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

children, history

So You Want to be a Roman Soldier?

Author: Georgia Amson-Bradshaw
Illustrator: Takayo Akiyama
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
ISBN: 978-0-500-65183-4
Pages: 96
Price: $14.95

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If you’ve dreamed of being powerful, earning lots of money, traveling the world, and retiring rich, the life of a Roman soldier might be for you. But are you sure you really want to be a Roman soldier? This handy illustrated guide shows kids exactly what’s involved in this dangerous warrior life.

Kate, Eddie, and Angus are in a museum, looking at the display on ancient Rome. Soon they are transported back in time to the year 100, and are advised by Junia, who explains what they can expect if they really want to be Roman soldiers. First they’ll need to fill out their application form, pass the entrance exam, and take the military oath. Military gear needs to be selected and cleaned carefully, along with their weapons. Finally they’ll need to decide on joining the cavalry, the auxilia, the navy, or the Praetorian guard. Avoiding punishment and knowing their enemies will be useful skills to ensure survival on military campaigns.

The Roman military life comes alive in this tongue-in-cheek look at how to be a Roman soldier. I found it highly entertaining, and it will be a big hit with kids – especially boys – who will enjoy the gruesome humor. (Spoiler alert: yes, there are cartoon severed body parts and smelly things.) I highly recommend So You Want to be a Roman Soldier?

Reviewer: Alice Berger

history, tween

So You Want to be a Viking?

Author: Georgia Amson-Bradshaw
Inspired by the book Viking by John Haywood
Illustrator: Takayo Akiyama
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Genre: Middle Grade / History
ISBN: 978-0-500-65184-1
Pages: 96
Price: 14.95

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If you’ve dreamed of sailing the northern seas of Europe, plundering the local villages, and wearing a cool horned helmet, the Viking life might be for you. But are you sure you really want to be a Viking? This handy illustrated guide shows kids exactly what’s involved in this nomadic warrior life.

Kate, Eddie, and Angus are in the library checking out a book on Viking sagas. Soon they are transported back in time to 991, and are advised by Sigurd the Skald, who explains what they can expect if they really want to be Vikings. First they’ll need to choose a leader, pick out their weapons, and shop for their gear. The various kinds of boats, sailing techniques, and shipwreck survival are important things to know if they want to travel by boat. But if land is more their choice, other options are presented. But the most important (and fun) part of any kind of Viking campaign is plunder, and the proper methods of ensuring the best and most booty are provided.

Viking life comes alive in this tongue-in-cheek look at how to be a Viking. I found it highly entertaining, and it will be a big hit with kids – especially boys – who will enjoy the gruesome humor. (Spoiler alert: yes, there are cartoon flying body parts.)  I highly recommend So You Want to be a Viking?

Reviewer: Alice Berger

history, self improvement

Our Great Responsibility

Publisher: Alcoholics Anonymous
Genre: Alcoholism / History
ISBN: 978-1-644270-52-3
Pages: 270
Price: $10.00

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Bill W. was one of the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Over the years, the fellowship grew, and conferences began to be held on an annual basis. Bill W. spoke at many of these conferences. Our Great Responsibility shares a selection of his conference talks from 1951 to 1970.

As of January 1, 2018, it has been estimated that there are over 61,000 groups and 1.2 million members of A.A. in the United States. Worldwide, there are more than 2 million members. Alcoholics Anonymous has been a lifesaver to many drinkers who had no hope of quitting. This spiritual program provides “twelve steps” that guide the new member to sobriety. Along with sponsors and meetings, the alcoholic finds a whole new, healthier way of living.

Those who are curious about the roots of this program will find these talks from Bill W. to be enlightening and informative. Those whose lives have been improved by working the twelve steps of A.A. will enjoy reading about the early days of this organization. And as a historical document, this book is a fascination read.

If you think you may have a drinking problem, here is a quick questionnaire that will help you decide if A.A. might help you. You can find sobriety through this program.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

art, children, history

The Historical Heroines Coloring Book

Author: Elizabeth Lorayne
Illustrator: Kendra Shedenhelm
Publisher: White Wave Press
Genre: Women’s History / Coloring Book
ISBN: 978-0-9979098-9-0
Pages: 80
Price: $14.93

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In the 18th and 19th centuries, women made significant contributions to the math and sciences community. But they lived in a society where their roles were limited by their gender, and their achievements were often discounted or credited to the men they worked with.

The Historical Heroines Coloring Book introduces kids to some of these pioneering women through one-page summaries of their lives and accomplishments. An accompanying coloring page shows each woman in action in her field of science.

In the introduction, author Elizabeth Lorayne proclaims, “My hope is that through coloring these illustrations of strong, brilliant, hard-working women scientists, you will feel inspired to go forth and seize your own dreams and that you will in turn continue the circle of empowering yourself and others.” After reading this interesting and inspiring book, I believe she has achieved her goal.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

fiction, history

The Ringmaster’s Wife

Author: Kristy Cambron
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Historical Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-7180-4154-0
Pages: 368
Price: $15.99

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Lady Rosamund Easling of Yorkshire, England has a secret passion – riding bareback on her Arabian mare. So when Colin Keary arrives with the intention of purchasing her beloved horse, Rosamund is understandably upset. But what she doesn’t expect is Colin’s enticing invitation to run off to America and join the circus.

Mable Burton is living the simple farm life in Ohio, but the excitement of the city is calling her. A chance meeting in Chicago introduces her to John Ringling, but they won’t meet again until several years later in Atlantic City. John has never forgotten her, and they are soon married. Now she, too, is joined to the circus, but only peripherally.

The Ringmaster’s Wife alternates between these two women’s perspectives, as a circus season progresses. Rosamund’s career begins on a shaky note, but as she gains confidence, she has to handle the rivalry that develops between her and the former star. Mable is a strong and steady force in Rosamund’s life, as she cheers for the young lady to be successful. And Colin is an enigma to Rosamund, as she tries to determine if he is interested in her as a woman or simply a circus performer.

Faith and courage in the midst of overwhelming circumstances are the hallmark themes in this beautifully written historical novel. I highly recommend it.

Reviewer: Alice Berger


The Hollow Ground

The Hollow Ground
Author: Natalie S. Harnett
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Historical fiction
ISBN: 978-1-250-04198-2
Pages: 320
Price: $24.99

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Brigid Howley lives with her family under a curse issued by a priest to her long-ago Molly Maguire relative. After being forced out of Centereach by a mine fire, the family moves back to her father’s childhood home in Barrendale, where another fire burns. But before the fire started, a tragic mine disaster badly injured her father and killed his brother.

As Brigid learns to cope with living just outside the fire zone, she also has to come to terms with the curse, which is destroying her family. And when Brigid makes a gruesome discovery in the mine, everything changes, as old buried secrets suddenly come to light. Brigid needs to know the truth, and she’s determined to get answers from the only people who can tell her. But what if her worst fears are realized?

As a Pennsylvanian fascinated with our coal mining past, and especially the mine fires in the area, I especially enjoyed the feeling of being transported back to a time of an actively raging fire. Places are renamed in this story, but most are still recognizable to locals. But although the fire and the mysterious circumstances in the mine shaft held my interest, seeing this dysfunctional family come completely undone was disappointing. History buffs will enjoy this glimpse of Pennsylvania’s past.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

art, Catholic, history

Martyrdom: The Coloring Book

Martyrdom - The Coloring Book
Author: Hallie Fryd
Illustrator: Julia Gfrörer
Publisher: Zest Books
Genre: Catholic / Art
ISBN: 978-1942186069
Pages: 112
Price: $16.99

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The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. As such, the martyrs for the faith have always been revered by the Catholic Church, and their legends have grown through the ages. In this unique coloring book, these martyrs are shown in scenes depicting their untimely deaths.

Beginning with biblical martyrs St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen, this book tells the stories of the many people who died professing the Catholic faith, and in many cases, attempting to preserve their virginity. Each person is featured in a two page spread, with one page dedicated to the martyr’s legend, and the other a blank coloring book page. While many of the scenes are horrible, none are so gruesome that the sensitive reader can’t bear to view them. But these tragic stories and images remind us of the religious freedom we’ve been granted in this day and age, and of those who died attempting to find that freedom.

Whether you choose to color these pictures or not, Martyrdom: The Coloring Book is a fascinating read, and will greatly enhance your knowledge of these faithful martyrs. And let us pray that no more are added to their ranks, as the war against Christianity continues to rage in the Middle East.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

history, memoir

This Victorian Life

This Victorian Life
Author: Sarah A. Chrisman
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Genre: History / Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-63450-237-5
Pages: 332
Price: $24.99

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Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman love history, and especially the Victorian era of the 1880’s and 1890’s. In an effort to truly experience what this period in history was like, they have engaged in a long-term experiment of actually living a Victorian lifestyle, as much as possible in this modern world. This Victorian Life chronicles their journey.

Sarah is a wonderful story-teller, as she blends actual historical facts and anecdotes with her own experiences. Beginning with the purchase of their new/old Victorian house, she describes how they furnished it with antique Victorian pieces. She also explains how actual antique pieces are often more beautiful and functional than their modern copy-cat versions, as well as why certain antique items are still available while others have long since disappeared. Personal care, along with cooking, sewing, and writing are explained from a Victorian perspective, along with the joys and hazards of bicycling. Ghost stories, historical figures, and her experiences in portrait sitting are also featured. Interesting primary source documents and photos from the time period are scattered throughout the text, bringing the history to life.

While some people may not consider themselves up-to-date in modern technology, the Chrismans are a bit more out of step with the rest of society, in this lifestyle they have come to love. Their home is heated with a kerosene stove, they use oil lamps rather than light bulbs, and they make their own clothes, copying them from antiques they have acquired over the years. This Victorian Life gives a glimpse of the Victorian era from the perspective of truly living in it. I highly recommend this fascinating and engaging book.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

children, history, science

Smithsonian Everything You Need to Know: Grades 4-5

Everything You Need to Know
Author: Ruth Strother
Publisher: Silver Dolphin Books
Genre: Science / History / Children
ISBN: 978-1-62686-312-5
Pages: 275
Price: $19.95

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Kids have a natural curiosity about history and the natural world around them. While picking up an encyclopedia might be the best way to look up information about a subject that interests them, reading one of the 275 cards in this box set might also do the trick. Although there is only a snippet of facts, enough is presented on each topic to give kids a chance to research in more depth.

Subjects in this box include: Outer Space, Science, Inner Space, Weather, Earth in Motion, Biomes and Ecosystems, Human Body, Animal Relationships, All About Plants, Insects, Endangered Animals, Lay of the Land, Natural Wonders of the World, Man-made Wonders of the World, Ancient Times, U.S. Presidents, History Makers, and American History.

Although the title Everything You Need to Know might be a bit overly ambitious, there is a wealth of interesting material here that can generate hours of research and exploration. Teachers might also be able to use these cards as idea starters for projects and papers.

Reviewer: Alice Berger