Novels with Heart and History
by Barbara Bietz – Children's Book Reviews
Several new novels written for older kids and teens have fascinating characters and compelling plots, involving significant events in history and contemporary issues facing society today.
From the civil rights movement to immigrant children during WWII, to the effects of war on soldiers and their families, these novels will help teen readers think about their world in new ways.
My Life with the Lincolns by Gayle Brandeis
Mina Edelman is convinced that her family is a reincarnation of the Lincolns , and her dad Abraham Baruch Edelman, (A.B.E) is Abraham Lincoln. Her father owns a furniture store called "Honest Abe's: and Mina writes a newsletter for the store called "The Lincoln Log." Mina researches the Lincoln family intensely, and believes that she is Abraham's son, William. She attempts to save her family from the tragic fate of the Lincolns, resulting in her own hypochondria. Mina's wacky thought process is endearing. Although her logic is a bit off, her voice is so authentic and believable there is no doubting her integrity. When her father becomes involved in the civil rights movement, Min is even more convinced that he is Abraham Lincoln. My Life with the Lincoln's is full of quirky humor, and plenty of heart and soul. The author manages to weave significant historical detail throughout the book, offering young readers numerous history lessons within the context of the story.
Things A Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt
Levi's older brother Boaz is a hero, and Levi has always lived in his shadow. Now Boaz is returning from the war and it seems everyone thinks Levi is the luckiest boy in town to have Boaz as a brother. Levi is not so sure, and struggles even more when Boaz, who now goes by Bo, refuses to engage with his family and barely leaves his room. Levi wonders if his brother will ever be normal. When Bo claims he is going on a hiking trip, Levi discovers that Bo has other plans – including a walk to Washington D.C. Levi realizes that if he wants to reconnect with his brother in a meaningful way, he has to follow him. Boaz reluctantly allows Levi to join him, and both Levi and the reader wonder about the ultimate destination. Eventually, Levi comes to understand the depth of his brother pain, and the love and loyalty Boaz feels toward him.
Is it Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman
When the Nazi's evil makes its way to her family's little town in Germany, Edith's family must make quick decisions. Her parents will not leave her grandmother behind, and her older sister Betty has already settled in Chicago. Edith is stoic when her parents put her on a ship to America. Her sense of loss is palpable and any young reader will find her situation sympathetic. What if my parents didn't come to America? What if they never got their passports and papers? What if I never saw them again? After meeting other children her age on the ship, Edith begins to hope for a good life in America. When she finally arrives in Chicago to live with her Uncle Jack and Aunt Mildred, Edith's dream for a new life shatters. Aunt Mildred treats her like a servant, her cousin Dorothy scoffs at her, and her Uncle Jack seems too weak to stand up for her. Even worse, she barely sees her sister Betty who lives with another family an hour away, and brags on about her "new" sister. At school Edith is teased for being a foreigner. Edith finds solace in the library and finds determination and inner strength through her tribulations. Edith's tragic story touches on the universal experience of many children who were sent to America during WWII. Their stories are not well-known. Is it Night or Day? is based on the true story of the author's mother and sheds light on the devastating experiences of children who may have survived the war, but whose lives we were forever changed when they were forced to separate from their families.