Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Today is the sad anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers were killed because they were locked in at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory during a fire due to labor practices at the time. Though this is a tragic event, it changed the face of labor relations and for children interested in history, particularly women’s history, this flash point event is important. I have already highlighted some parts of women’s history earlier this month, but felt that this particular event needed it’s own post. Here is some reading on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire:

 

Swept Away: Books About the Ocean

I just finished reading Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus and I loved it. It’s a story of a young Japanese boy who is shipwrecked with his friends and goes on a great adventure that finds him traveling the world on a whaling ship. Throughout the story the reader comes across whaling and sailor lingo and it really gives you the feeling of a life at sea. It got me thinking about other books about the ocean. As the weather starts to get warmer, a life at sea, or at least at the beach, starts to sound like great idea. Here are some good ones you should check out:

  • Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. This Newbery Honor book takes place in the Florida Keys and you really get the feel of Conch culture, which involves a lot of fishing and a lot of nicknames.
  • I Wonder Why the Sea is Salty: and Other Questions About the Ocean by Anita Ganeri. I love this book. It answers so many questions kids have about the world above and below the sea and is in an easy to use format.
  • Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier. A picture book about a mother and daughter walking on the beach, the simple text and bright pictures make the treasures they find just that much more entertaining.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, retold by Jaqueline Morley. A classic retold in graphic novel format, Verne’s story has never seemed more exciting.

As the weather gets warmer, look to the ocean for reading inspiration.

The Last Frontier of Literature: Books about Alaska

When talking about princesses and Cinderellas the other day, I failed to mention a new favorite in the Cinderella variations – The Salmon Princess, which is an Alaskan Cinderella story (you can tell because it’s about salmon fishing and the princess wears Xtratufs). This got me to thinking about Alaskan children’s literature. I am originally from Alaska. I was born and raised in Juneau, the capital city, and because of this I have a fondness for stories about Alaska. Plus, anything you can do to dispel myths that Alaska is constantly covered in snow, that there are 24 hours of sunlight or darkness in all parts of Alaska (it’s a big state!) and that everyone lives in igloos (this ignores so much of Alaskan Native cultures), the better. Alaska is the Last Frontier and there’s a lot of children’s literature about it, ranging from information books to folklore to historical and contemporary fiction.

(Sandy Beach from my last winter trip home, December 2009)

Alaska has a great history of storytelling because of the Native Alaskan traditions as well as the early Russian immigrants and the Filipino, Irish, and other immigrant groups of Alaska. I’m particularly fond of the Tlingit/Haida tales I heard growing up in Southeast Alaska, especially those about Raven. Raven is a trickster and is involved in a number of Tlingit creation stories, like how Raven stole the daylight (included in this volume of Native American creation myths). Check out stories like Totem Tale: A Tall Story from Alaska,The Wave of the Sea-Wolf, and The Frog Princess: A Tlingit Legend From Alaska (retold by my very favorite Eric Kimmel) for good examples of this Alaskan storytelling tradition.

Alaska is a vast wilderness and the people who grow up and live there have a unique view on life and many feel a special connection to nature. There are many subjects about Alaska that children would enjoy reading about, including:

  • the Iditarod Sled Dog Race
  • amazing animals like all types of bears (especially the fearsome Kodiak Grizzly), caribou and moose, salmon, puffins, and narwhals
  • Gold Rush. The stories from Skagway are especially interesting and this book is a good place to start. Another part of Alaskan storytelling comes from the Sourdoughs, the miners that came to find gold in Alaska. One of my favorites growing up, partially because of a particularly good reading by my 8th grade English teacher, was The Cremation of Sam McGee.
  • modern stories from Alaskan Native cultures. There is a tendency for many non-Native children (and adults) to view Native cultures as something that exists in the past when these cultures are still very much alive. Learn more about the tribes of the Aleutians, the tundra, the far North, Southeast, and all the varying regions of Alaska.
  • nature! From temperate rainforests (my hometown area) to the tallest mountain in North American (Denali) to the tundra, Alaska is filled with beautiful wilderness and exciting things for children to learn about

If subjects are too broad, a couple of great authors to start with are Cherie B. Stihler (she did a great adaptation of the Gingerbread Man called the Sourdough Man) and Susi Gregg Fowler. Both of these authors have a number of different types of books based in Alaska that will get you started on your journey into the Last Frontier.

 

Favorite Childhood Authors

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about my childhood favorite authors. Though some of them may be obvious, they include:

  • Roald Dahl
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Jon Scieszka
  • Eric Kimmel
  • Beverly Cleary
  • Judy Blume
  • E.B. White
  • Eric Carle

As I mentioned yesterday, Roald Dahl continues to be a favorite of mine. As much as I loved any other author, he was always first. His putting children first as the hero is part of what has made him an enduring figure in the children’s literature canon. He has an entire month (it’s Scrumdiddlyumptious September) dedicated to him! He also recognizes that children love silly things. Who else would come up with a word like scrumdiddlyumptious? And what are snozzcumbers? If you’ve read The BFG, you know!

Reading The Twits, 1993

The author, age 10

Nonsense is part of what makes children’s literature so fun to read, even as an adult. Dr. Seuss is the all-time master of nonsense. The reason nonsense is so important is because it triggers the imagination. What kinds of words can you make up? What do they mean? Say something silly and then try to define it. By doing so, you’re working on literacy skills and vocabulary. Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelusky are favorites because of their awareness of the power of silly. Another silly favorite? Jon Scieszka. From The Stinky Cheese Man to The Frog Prince Continued to The Time Warp Trio series, everything I read by him was ridiculous and made me laugh.

Not everything I was a fan of as a child was silly. Like a lot of children from the 80s and becoming big readers in the 90s, I loved The Babysitter’s Club and The Boxcar Children. Series books are still popular with kids and it’s not hard to see why. You get to follow characters over a period of time and many adventures. These characters gain depth and you get to know them. It also makes the question “What do I read next?” very easy to answer.

I was also a fan of classic children’s literature. I tore through The Secret Garden, couldn’t get enough of Anne of Green Gables (and the rest of her stories), and loved Ramona. Obviously I was a fan of historical fiction and realistic fiction. I also loved folktales. Eric Kimmel is an astounding storyteller and very prolific. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins was my absolute favorite Chanukah book growing up, so much so that I would take it out of my parent’s closet at random times of the year just to read it because I couldn’t wait until Chanukah rolled around again.

Another category I adored was fantasy. Though I wasn’t as into dragons and knights, I liked animal stories, particularly those by E.B. White. My copy of Stuart Little is falling apart, but that’s because it is so well loved. Recently, I picked up a copy of Charlotte’s Web, which is an enduring favorite of many children. Though not as fantastical as some, these both represent the breadth of fantasy novels.

And speaking of animals, the work of Eric Carle is beloved because of his artwork and representation of animals. Admittedly, I started reading him later on, when my younger brother was given The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This beautiful picture book drew me in and made me a lifelong fan. Picture books are wonderful for children of all ages and you never know what’s going to catch a child’s eye at any age.

Many children have a wide variety of interests and you never know what might snag them into reading and reading a lot. Though obviously anyone interested in working with children should attempt to keep up with the ever changing field of children’s literature, introducing a child to one of your childhood favorites is a great place to hook children in. Your passion for the text often translates into the way you talk about it. That enthusiasm is contagious. Shel Silverstein is still a favorite of children and it’s not just because he’s silly. It’s also because of the generations of children that loved him before and shared that love with the next group of kids.

Share the love. Share your favorites!