New & Upcoming Historical Fiction: Middle School
Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson. 9781939547132. October 2014. Gr. 4-7
In the year 1909, there are many things that 12-year old Emily Soper just cannot quite understand yet. Casual racism, women’s suffrage, and the new “horseless carriages” (automobiles) that threaten Papa’s carriage-making business are foremost on that list. Despite Mama’s insistence on tea parties, chores, and turning her into a “proper young lady”, Emily would much rather watch her father work his magic, especially when a carriage order comes in from the President himself…Teddy Roosevelt. “Wheels of Change” will capture the imagination of young readers with its vivid description of the time period and the charming persistence of its female protagonist.
The Paper Cowboy by Kirstin Levine. 9780399163289. 2014. Gr. 6-8
In McCarthy Era America, duck-and-cover drills and fear of even the word “communist” are the norm. When young Tommy discovers a Communist paper at the local dump, he vows to track down its source. After a terrible accident leaves his older sister with severe burns, however, Tommy’s life descends into chaos. His not-always-stable-to-begin-with mother is thrown into a violent mental state, while Tommy is forced to take charge of the family paper route. Through that route and his crumbling home life, Tommy learns the value of strong communities, as well as a healthy dose of ideological politics along the way. With its underlying mystery, political themes, and emotional issues, “The Paper Cowboy” will enthrall middle-grade readers and intrigue older audiences.
Curiosity by Gary Blackwood. 9780803739246. 2014. Gr. 5-8
For all twelve years of his life, Rufus has had a rough go of it: no mother, a father in debtor’s prison, and a crooked spine. Rufus’s outlet? Chess. Displaying a preternatural skill for the game, Rufus lands on the radar of Maelzel, owner of a “mechanical curiosity shop” featuring all manner of robotic exhibits. Here Rufus meets “The Turk”, a wax figure that enthralls audiences with its “mystical” chess-playing skills. The catch? There is nothing “mystical” about the Turk whatsoever…only young Rufus crammed into the cabinet beneath it, challenging (or is it deceiving?) all-comers. As Rufus gets drawn deeper into the business of showmanship, he begins to have serious misgivings, as well as gradually deciphering the mysteries of his past. “Curiosity’s” use of real personas (Edgar Allen Poe makes an appearance) and likely historical scenarios make it a great read for any age.
Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell. 9781442432925. 2014. Gr. 5-7
In the Appalachian Mountains of 1920s North Carolina, it isn’t easy for a twelve-year-old girl to make friends. So, when young Arie Mae Sparks discovers she has a cousin living in the big city, she is so overjoyed at the possibility of kinship that she begins a letter-writing campaign. Through these letters, readers are given an inside glimpse at mountain life, dealing with such topics as “what does it mean to be civilized?” and the battle between the “old ways” vs. the “new ways”. Will the far-away cousin reciprocate the friendship, or will Arie once again be disappointed in a potential companion? This is an excellent book for children interested in pioneer life, with the themes of friendship and family appealing to all readers.