Tag Archives: history

A Few Red Drops by Claire Hartfield

A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield. January 2, 2018. Clarion Books, 208 p. ISBN: 9780544785137.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1120.

On a hot day in July 1919, three black youths went swimming in Lake Michigan, unintentionally floating close to the “white” beach. An angry white man began throwing stones at the boys, striking and killing one. Racial conflict on the beach erupted into days of urban violence that shook the city of Chicago to its foundations. This mesmerizing narrative draws on contemporary accounts as it traces the roots of the explosion that had been building for decades in race relations, politics, business, and clashes of culture.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence



Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 7-10. This well-documented text outlines the events leading to the race riot in Chicago in the summer of 1919, which caused 38 deaths and more than 500 injuries. The prologue, the first two chapters, and the last three chapters (out of 20) address the riot; the rest provide a detailed and accessible history of the growth of Chicago as a meat-processing center, the formation and influence of trade unions, the influx of European immigrants, and the WWI-era black migration from the South. Quotes, statistics, and period photos help build background. An epilogue describes the partly successful results of a commission charged with instigating change and mentions other unhappy events of the “Red Summer” of 1919: 25 additional race riots across the U.S. The conclusion paints a positive picture of diverse, present-day Chicago, noting that the past century has brought many needed changes. This solid entry covers a topic not often mentioned in YA literature, and will support researchers looking for balanced coverage for history, civil rights, and economics reports.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2017)
A clash on a hot summer’s day served as catalyst for a deadly race riot in 1919 Chicago.The deep racial and ethnic resentments that permeated Chicago in the early years of the 20th century exploded into violence when the death of a young African-American teen was caused by a rock-throwing young white man, whom a white policeman refused to arrest. The incident quickly escalated, and after days of unrest, 38, whites and blacks, were dead, and more than 500 were wounded. From the epigram taken from a Carl Sandburg poem, this detailed work is deeply grounded in Chicago history. Details about the actual riot bookend the narrative. In between, Hartfield introduces black Chicagoans from the middle of the 19th century as well as later arrivals who fled the racial violence of the South. She includes the role of the black press in articulating the demands of the black community as they became urban dwellers. The stories of white ethnic groups, their struggles to achieve the American dream, and their racial animosity are examined, as is the role of labor unions. Richly illustrated with contemporary photographs, the narrative is also carefully researched, drawing on accounts from the time. There is a great deal to digest, and it sometimes overwhelms the core story. However, it is successful in demonstrating that past conflicts, like current ones, have complex causes. A comprehensive, careful account. (source notes, bibliography, map, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Claire Hartfield received her B.A from Yale University and her law degree from the University of Chicago. As a lawyer, she has specialized in school desegregation litigation. More recently, she has been involved in setting policy and creating programs in a charter school setting on Chicago’s African-American West Side. She heard stories of the 1919 race riot from her grandmother, who lived in the Black Belt in Chicago at the time, and was moved to share this history with younger generations.

Ms. Hartfield lives in Chicago. Her website is clairehartfield.com

Teacher Resources

1919 Chicago Race Riots Lesson Plan & Materials

Around the Web

A Few Red Drops on Amazon

A Few Red Drops on Goodreads

A Few Red Drops Publisher Page


The Player King by Avi

The Player King by Avi. October 17, 2017. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 208 p. ISBN: 9781481437684.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.9; Lexile: 690.

From Newbery Award–winning author Avi comes the gripping and amazingly true tale of a boy plucked from the gutter to become the King of England.

England, 1486. King Henry VII has recently snatched the English Crown and now sits on the throne, while young Prince Edward, who has a truer claim, has apparently disappeared. Meanwhile, a penniless kitchen boy named Lambert Simnel is slaving away at a tavern in Oxford—until a mysterious friar, Brother Simonds, buys Lambert from the tavern keeper and whisks him away in the dead of night. But this is nothing compared to the secret that the friar reveals: You, Lambert, are actually Prince Edward, the true King of England!

With the aid of the deceitful Earl of Lincoln, Brother Simonds sets out to teach the boy how to become the rightful English king. Lambert has everything to gain and nothing to lose, or so he thinks. Yet in this dangerous battle for the throne, Lambert is not prepared for what’s to come—or for what it really means to play at being a king.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Realities of war



Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Grades 4-7. In 1486, Oxford, England, a lad named Lambert works, sleeps, and lives at Tackley’s Tavern. A friar lifts him out of hunger and poverty in exchange for his learning to play the role of the Earl of Warwick (heir of Richard III) not on stage, but in earnest. He agrees and subsequently rallies others to rise up against King Henry VII in order to place himself on the throne. It’s a fool’s game, since others are plotting to kill the young pretender once the Tudors are overthrown. Can he win the kingdom or, failing that, his life? Told from Lambert’s point of view, the first-person narrative effectively avoids the complicated political backstory and focuses on the boy’s experiences as he learns the unfamiliar speech, manners, and knowledge and plays his part. Avi, whose Newbery Award-winning Crispin (2002) was set in fourteenth-century England, again makes the past vivid and personal in this relatively short, accessible book. An author’s note reveals what is known of the actual Lambert Simnel, whose story inspired the novel.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
From prolific, Newbery winner Avi, a novel set in the Middle Ages that is replete with authentic period details, page-turning brief chapters, and a plot filled with twists, turns, and political intrigue.Avi expands on the historical footnote of an unnamed boy who challenged the kingship of Henry VII, was crowned briefly in Ireland, then led an army to England where he was soundly defeated. Lambert Simnel is a young orphan of unknown age who works and lives in a tavern where he is treated cruelly. A friar with his own selfish motives sees Lambert, purchases him, and schools him in the rules of behavior in order to pass him off as the previous king’s nephew, supposedly escaped from imprisonment. The first-person narration adds immediacy to Lambert’s fears and confusion. Having previously watched street actors, Lambert determines his best chance is to be a convincing player king, perpetuating the sham and nearly convincing himself. Although Lambert rises from a “loathed nobody” who spent “his life in a cellar, like a rotten turnip,” his fortune rapidly plummets. Touches of humor, brought about by both Lambert’s need for spiffing up and a colorful vocabulary (“gundy-gut,” “bootlicker,” “want-wit”), are sprinkled throughout. Unsurprisingly, the cast is an all-white one. An appealing protagonist pursuing a grand adventure and struggling with themes of power, pride, and identity will appeal to fans of historical fiction. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Avi is a pen name for Edward Irving Wortis, but he says, “The fact is, Avi is the only name I use.”  Avi is the author of more than seventy books for children and young adults, including the 2003 Newbery medal winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead. He has won two Newbery Honors and many other awards for his fiction.

He lives with his family in Denver, Colorado. His website is www.avi-writer.com/

Around the Web

The Player King on Amazon

The Player King on Goodreads

The Player King on JLG

The Player King Publisher Page

Victoria by Catherine Reef

Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef. November 7, 2017. Clarion Books, 256 p. ISBN: 9780544716148. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1030.

Catherine Reef brings history vividly to life in this sumptuously illustrated account of a confident, strong-minded, and influential woman.

Victoria woke one morning at the age of eighteen to discover that her uncle had died and she was now queen. She went on to rule for sixty-three years, with an influence so far-reaching that the decades of her reign now bear her name—the Victorian period. Victoria is filled with the exciting comings and goings of royal life: intrigue and innuendo, scheming advisors, and assassination attempts, not to mention plenty of passion and discord.

Includes bibliography, notes, British royal family tree, index.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None


Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 7-10. Royalty seems to have a perpetual hold on young readers’ imaginations, and this biography brings the young nineteenth-century queen to the forefront. First, it skims her childhood in a palace, coronation, and fairy tale wedding before going beyond those highlights to shed light on Victoria’s long-lived importance at a time when England and its empire were rapidly changing amid spectacular technological advances. If the conditions of Her Majesty’s rule recalls that of great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II’s reign, it won’t be lost on those absorbing Reef’s beautifully produced book. Full of color portraits, period engravings, and fascinating photographs of the queen, her consort, and her progeny, this endeavor is made to pore over again and again. Victoria’s personality is at the forefront and humanizes the bio. She is by turns hot-tempered and fair, hardworking yet emotional. Back matter includes a family tree that leads to newest royals George and Charlotte, as well as extensive notes. Anglophiles and history lovers should definitely enjoy this.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
Fans’ obsession with Victorian England seems never-ending, yet how much do young Victorianaphiles know about the real woman who gave the period its name? Coming to the rescue is veteran biographer Reef (Ernest Hemingway, rev. 9/09; Florence Nightingale, rev. 5/16) who, beginning with Victoria’s family background and her complicated and cruel upbringing, paints a vivid portrait of the feisty monarch who assumed the British throne at age eighteen and then ruled for over sixty years. Reef dexterously shows not only Victoria’s development as a person but also her evolution as a ruler within the social and political upheavals of her time, elegantly layering in details to provide a broader view of the era (including the misery of the desperately poor throughout the British Isles, and the brutal bloodshed tied to Britain’s empire-building in places like the Crimean region, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Victoria’s “jewel in the crown,” India). On the personal side, readers will be intrigued by the well-drawn descriptions of Victoria’s relationships with a range of individuals including prime ministers, her own children, other family members, and the various men in her life. These last include her beloved husband Albert and the Scotsman John Brown, a retainer who became (scandalously) close to Victoria after the prince consort’s death. Full of primary source material and spectacular paintings in full color as well as back matter that includes a Windsor family tree, source notes, and a rich bibliography, this is a biography for Victoriana and history lovers alike. monica edinger

About the Author

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 35 nonfiction books for young people. Her books for Clarion include the highly acclaimed John Steinbeck and Sigmund Freud, which was the recipient of the 2002 Sydney Taylor Award, presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Her website is www.catherinereef.com.

Around the Web

Victoria on Amazon

Victoria on Goodreads

Victoria on JLG

Victoria Publisher Page


My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson. October 16, 2017. Candlewick Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9780763695088.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.6.

In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.

When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Lora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, War, Violence, Racism, Murder, Torture


Author Interview


Booklist (October 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. Fidel Castro’s rise to power elicited many different reactions from Cubans—see, for example, Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s The Red Umbrella (2010). Paterson’s latest focuses on how Castro implemented a successful national literacy campaign. Havana resident Lora, an amazing reader, volunteers to be a teacher in the mountains of Cuba for one year. Lora has never been away from home before, and must leave behind all her city comforts to embark on a journey that will change her life. Readers interested in Cuba will find a wealth of information here; both a time line and political background are supplied between pages. While Lora’s adventure is based on a true story, the weakness of the novel lies in the presentation of danger: the looming threat that Lora could be killed by the enemy at any time does not quite resonate. Readers will find that the strength of the book lies not in Lora’s adventures but in the critical question she asks: Which country is truly perfect? A fascinating, possibly controversial portrayal of a turbulent time in history.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
It is 1961 in Havana, Cuba. Despite her parents’ misgivings, thirteen-year-old Lora becomes a member of the Conrado Benítez Brigade. She, along with thousands of other young brigadistas, travels hours away to live with poor mountain farmers and become teachers in order to fulfill Fidel Castro’s vow that the country become one hundred percent literate in one year. In this idealistic and informative coming-of-age novel, readers experience alongside Lora her triumphs and challenges as she exchanges her sheltered city life for the experience of living on a farm and seeing how learning to read and write changes lives. Lora comes across as a distinct, individual character, but through her readers also learn many details about the brigadistas: how they were expected to work in the fields alongside their host families and help out as much as possible in the home; the dangers they faced due to “counterrevolutionaries,” including threats that they “would come and kill all the literacy teachers in the area.” Though all the brigadistas were young, none faltered in his or her duty to educate rural campesinos for the cause. Paterson also brings in Cuban politics, covering Castro’s rise to power as well as reasons why many Cubans resented America’s interference in their country. Lora’s story helps readers see the Cuban people’s resilience and fortitude in the face of extreme hardship. Though Castro’s literacy campaign happened fifty-six years ago, Cuba has still maintained one of the world’s highest literacy rates. Appended with an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history. alma ramos-mcdermott

About the Author

Katherine Paterson is the internationally acclaimed author of over 35 books for children and young adults.

She has twice won both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award. She received the 1998 Hans Christian Andersen Medal as well as the 2006 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for the body of her work, and was the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature for the Library of Congress.

Two of her best-selling books have been made into feature films – “The Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Great Gilly Hopkins”. An active promoter of reading, education and literacy, she lives in Barre, Vermont. She has four children and seven grandchildren, and her beloved dog, Pixie.

Her website is www.terabithia.com

Teacher Resources

My Brigadista Year Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

My Brigadista Year on Amazon

My Brigadista Year on Goodreads

My Brigadista Year on JLG

My Brigadista Year Publisher Page

Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale

Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale. November 7, 2017. Amulet Books, 128 p. ISBN: 9781419725562.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.4.

Nathan Hale tackles a topic fans have been asking about for years: World War II.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, officially bringing the United States into World War II. A new generation of pilots were recruited to fly bombing missions for the United States, and from that group, volunteers were requested for a dangerous secret assignment. For the first time in American history, Army bombers would be launched from an aircraft carrier. Once at sea, they were told their mission was a retaliation strike against targets in Tokyo. But on the day of the raid, a Japanese patrol boat spotted them and they had to launch early, with barely enough fuel to get them past their target.

After the bombing, some pilots crashed, some were captured, and many ended up in mainland China and were carried to safety by Chinese villagers, being hunted by Japanese forces all the while. With tales of high-flying action and bravery, Raid of No Return is a story of heartbreak and survival during wartime.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Alcohol, Harsh realities of war



About the Author

Nathan Hale is the New York Times best-selling author/illustrator of the Hazardous Tales series, as well as many picture books including Yellowbelly and Plum go to School, the Twelve Bots of Christmas and The Devil You Know.

He is the illustrator of the Eisner-nominated graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge and its sequel, Calamity Jack. He also illustrated Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody, The Dinosaurs’ Night Before Christmas, Animal House and many others.

His website is www.spacestationnathan.blogspot.com.

Around the Web

Raid of No Return on Amazon

Raid of No Return on Goodreads

Raid of No Return on JLG

Raid of No Return Publisher Page

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough. September 5, 2017. Feiwel & Friends, 372 p. ISBN: 9781250123190.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1000.

Complex, passionate, brilliant, flawed―Alexander Hamilton comes alive in this exciting biography.

He was born out of wedlock on a small island in the West Indies and orphaned as a teenager. From those inauspicious circumstances, he rose to a position of power and influence in colonial America.

Discover this founding father’s incredible true story: his brilliant scholarship and military career; his groundbreaking and enduring policy, which shapes American government today; his salacious and scandalous personal life; his heartrending end.

Richly informed by Hamilton’s own writing, with archival artwork and new illustrations, this is an in-depth biography of an extraordinary man.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, War, Mild sexual themes



Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 7-10. Let’s face it: as a subject, Alexander Hamilton is hot, thanks to the wildly popular Broadway musical bearing his name. This brings a built-in audience to Brockenbrough’s ambitious biography, which follows Hamilton’s eventful life from his illegitimate birth in the West Indies to his appointment by George Washington as America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Brockenbrough gives particular attention to Hamilton’s service in the Revolutionary War and to his role as Washington’s protégé, which gave him influence far beyond his rank. Those expecting a warts-and-all look, however, will be disappointed. The few flaws the author offers—Hamilton’s vanity, his recklessness, his ill-advised extramarital affair, his obsession with honor, which would be his undoing—are largely papered over or dismissed. By the same token, his adversaries, especially Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, are often strongly demonized. All this said, Hamilton’s life is an inspiration, a fact that Brockenbrough captures nicely in a well-written biography that fills a gap in the literature. Expect wide reader interest.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
Over 200 years after his death in a duel with former Vice President Aaron Burr, founding father Alexander Hamilton’s story is a major player in popular culture. Brockenbrough begins her narrative with a list of the contradictions of Hamilton’s life and then sets out to describe many of them in detail. Hamilton’s wretched childhood and struggles for survival and an education set a tone that depicts him as the consummate self-made man whose flaws damaged both his political career and personal life. Hamilton’s courtship and marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, a daughter of one of the country’s most influential families, is a key part, along with prominent figures from American history. Sometimes the intricacies of Revolutionary War strategy and Constitutional Convention maneuvering slow things down, making the pace uneven. However, tidbits about Hamilton’s role in the episode with Benedict Arnold and his close relationships with fellow soldier John Laurens and his sister-in-law Angelica Church are intriguing. The story is targeted to an older audience than Teri Kanefield’s Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America (2017), so the sex scandal that derailed Hamilton’s political career is part of the story, as is, of course, the duel that ended his life. After the epilogue, the volume includes information on 18th-century medicine, attire, and warfare among other contextualizing topics ; the volume will be illustrated with archival material (not seen). With the demand for all things Hamilton still strong, this will resonate with many teen readers. (timeline, source notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12-18)

About the Author

Martha Brockenbrough draws on her diverse experience in journalism, research, nonfiction, and literary teen fiction to bring Alexander Hamilton to life. A powerful storyteller and narrative voice, Brockenbrough is the author of the critically acclaimed YA novels The Game of Love and Death and Devine Intervention. She enjoys reading Hamilton’s original correspondence, playing board games, and spending time with her family. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Her website is marthabrockenbrough.com

Around the Web

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary on Amazon

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary on Goodreads

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary on JLG

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary Publisher Page

From Here to There by HP Newquist

From Here to There: The Story of How We Transport Ourselves and Everything Else by HP Newquist. September 12, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 128 p. ISBN: 9780451476456.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.6.

This lively history of transportation follows our fascinating route from primitive technology like sandals to driverless cars and beyond!

Since humans first stood upright, we’ve been on the move. Need food? Water? Land? A place to live? Survival depends upon motion. For thousands of years, people have devised ways to move faster, farther, and more comfortably. Their inventions—shoes, skis, the rudder, the wheel, engines, rockets—have had an enormous impact on how and where human beings live and thrive.

When human beings get a move on, change happens:
– The wheel, probably first used in the Middle East around 6,000 years ago, meant building and trading supplies could be moved more easily—whole civilizations rolled out.
– The Vikings sailed far and wide because they used a keel on their longships.
– Horse-and-carriage gridlock gave rise to subways.
– The bicycle changed the world for women in terms of freedom and fashion.
– Drones and driverless cars are the future . . . coming sooner than we think.

Award-winning author HP Newquist explores the transportation inventions and technologies that have transformed the way we experience the world around us. It’s a fascinating journey!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Publishers Weekly (September 18, 2017)
In this second book in the Invention & Impact series, published in partnership with the Smithsonian, Newquist demonstrates how mobility has been vital to the growth of civilization. Beginning some 40,000 years ago with the earliest footwear, he goes on to explore the evolution of transportation methods, up through air and space travel, providing insight into how technology builds slowly and owes much to trial and error. Chapters detail significant technological milestones and figures, as well as those involved in missteps (in 1896, Sylvester H. Roper died riding the steam-propelled bicycle he invented). An engrossing, in-depth study of how far humanity has come-and how it got there. Ages 10-up. Agent: Alec Shane, Writers House. (Sept.)

School Library Journal (October 1, 2017)
Gr 4-8-Planes, trains, automobiles, and more are covered in this examination of how people get from one place to another. Newquist begins by looking at shoes, skates, and even sleds, positing that human life depends on locomotion. Subsequent chapters discuss the ingenuity of engineers and their inventions that revolutionized travel. The chapters are necessarily broad, but thorough. Fortunately, the book is well designed. Each chapter employs a color scheme (for picture borders and captions), while each spread contains plenty of beautifully reproduced photographs and archival illustrations, many selected from the Smithsonian’s vast holdings. Before the index, Newquist includes a list of resources-perfect for students who want to learn more about individual topics. VERDICT A fine addition to nonfiction collections, especially for those looking to beef up their STEM offerings.-Marie Drucker, Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, NY

About the Author

HP Newquist’s books and articles have been published all over the world, and his writing has been translated into languages from kanji to farsi.

All told, he has written more than two dozen books and hundreds of articles, along with numerous awards and citations.

His writing spans a vast array of interests and issues. In the late 1980s and 1990s he wrote extensively about artificial intelligence (AI), compiling a body of work that is arguably the most extensive coverage of the AI business created to date.

Newquist’s books cover the same array of topics as his magazine articles, from brain science and space exploration to legendary guitarists and the strangeness of the Internet. To date, he has written over two dozen books. And he’s already committed to writing many more.

His website is www.newquistbooks.com.

Around the Web

From Here to There on Amazon

From Here to There on Goodreads

From Here to There on JLG

From Here to There Publisher Page

Sinking the Sultana by Sally M. Walker

Sinking the Sultana by Sally M. Walker. October 10, 2017. Candlewick Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9780763677558.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.1.

The worst maritime disaster in American history wasn’t the Titanic. It was the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River — and it could have been prevented.

In 1865, the Civil War was winding down and the country was reeling from Lincoln’s assassination. Thousands of Union soldiers, released from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps, were to be transported home on the steamboat Sultana. With a profit to be made, the captain rushed repairs to the boat so the soldiers wouldn’t find transportation elsewhere. More than 2,000 passengers boarded in Vicksburg, Mississippi . . . on a boat with a capacity of 376. The journey was violently interrupted when the boat’s boilers exploded, plunging the Sultana into mayhem; passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam, and flung overboard into the churning Mississippi. Although rescue efforts were launched, the survival rate was dismal — more than 1,500 lives were lost. In a compelling, exhaustively researched account, renowned author Sally M. Walker joins the ranks of historians who have been asking the same question for 150 years: who (or what) was responsible for the Sultana’s disastrous fate?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, War, Violence, Criminal culture, Graphic descriptions of burn victims


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Booklist (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 7-12. It may surprise many to learn that the worst maritime disaster in American history was not the sinking of the Titanic. It happened 47 years prior, but the story begins during the Civil War, when the prisoner exchange system ended and the Andersonville prison camp swelled with Union soldiers. Once the war ended, these prisoners needed to be returned home, and transporting troops became a lucrative business for steamboats along the Mississippi River. Walker sets the scene for the Sultana disaster as she describes the captain’s greed (allowing 2,400 passengers when the legal capacity was 376), the chief engineer’s decision to repair rather than replace a deteriorating boiler, the flooded river, and other factors that would come into play. She tells the story through the lens of select soldiers and paying passengers, who each met different fates aboard the steamer. The author not only relates the aftermath of the tragedy that claimed 1,537 lives but also why it was almost forgotten. History buffs, and even adults, will be the biggest fans of this crossover YA title.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
The worst maritime disaster in American history, one that could have been easily prevented, is comprehensively recounted in this briskly paced narrative. On April 27, 1865, the Sultana, a Mississippi River side-wheel steamboat, exploded just north of Memphis on the Mississippi River. The boat, which had a capacity of 376, was carrying over 2,000 passengers, most of them Union soldiers recently released from prisoner-of-war camps. When the Sultana’s boilers exploded, passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam or fire, and flung overboard into the cold, churning Mississippi River. Despite rescue efforts, over 1,500 lives were lost. The narrative focuses on five survivors. Walker chronicles their experiences in battle and as prisoners of the Confederates, their ordeals in the disaster and rescue, and what became of them after. She also discusses the official investigation into the disaster. The cause of the explosion was a damaged boiler that had not been properly repaired. Bribery was responsible for the gross overcrowding aboard the Sultana, but no one was ever held responsible or punished. In addition to archival illustrative material, Walker makes extensive use of primary sources, such as diaries and newspaper reports, although it is surprising more use is not made of the survivors’ recollections Chester Berry collected and published in 1892. Quibbles aside, a finely detailed, well-researched chronicle of a little-known disaster. (maps, glossary, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Sally M. Walker is the author of the Sibert Medal winner Secrets of a Civil War Submarine as well as many other nonfiction books, including Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation. Sally M. Walker lives in Illinois.

Her website is sallymwalker.com

Teacher Resources

Sinking the Sultana Discussion Questions

Sinking the Sultana Teachers’ Guide

Around the Web

Sinking the Sultana on Amazon

Sinking the Sultana on Goodreads

Sinking the Sultana on JLG

Sinking the Sultana Publisher Page

Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus

Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus. May 23, 2017. First Second, 128 p. ISBN: 9781626721401.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.1.

Take to the skies with Flying Machines!

Follow the famous aviators from their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, to the fields of North Carolina where they were to make their famous flights. In an era of dirigibles and hot air balloons, the Wright Brothers were among the first innovators of heavier than air flight. But in the hotly competitive international race toward flight, Orville and Wilbur were up against a lot more than bad weather. Mechanical failures, lack of information, and even other aviators complicated the Wright Brothers’ journey. Though they weren’t as wealthy as their European counterparts, their impressive achievements demanded attention on the international stage. Thanks to their carefully recorded experiments and a healthy dash of bravery, the Wright Brothers’ flying machines took off.

Part of Series: Science Comics

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (April 15, 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-8. The history of aviation gets enthusiastic treatment in this Science Comics series title. Narrated by Katherine Wright, sister to Orville and Wilbur, Wilgus and Brooks’ engaging account of the development of modern aircraft covers key historical moments and figures as well as some of the science behind the designs. While the spreads in which Katherine and other airplane designers explain concepts can get a little wordy, they add very helpful context for how each of the advancements, from the Wrights’ movable rudder to the invention of the aileron to modern turbojet engines, helped improve air travel. Brooks’ depictions of aircraft are detailed and nicely labeled, and they come to life as they zip (or stutter and lurch) through the panels. The Wrights’ competition with blustery European “aeronauts” both enlivens the story line and calls attention to the rapid pace of advancement once early airplanes finally got off the ground. With infectious enthusiasm, clearly articulated concepts, and an engrossing format, this should pique the interest of plane-obsessed kids.

Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2017)
In this entry in the Science Comics series, Katharine, the younger sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, explains the science behind flight and how her brothers invented and flew the first successful airplane.The Wright brothers were not the first to try to create flying machines, nor were they alone in their era in experimenting with them. In addition to chronicling their failures and successes, the narrative discusses the work of other pioneers in heavier than air flight, such as Otto and Gustav Lilienthal and Alphonse Pénaud. Scientific concepts including Newton’s laws of motion are clearly and concisely explained, as are technical components of the airplanes the Wright brothers invented and tested. Further innovations in flight are explained, ending with the invention of the jet engine. The text is informative and engagingly written, and the illustrations are colorful and appealing. A palette of brown, ocher, and blue-gray gives the graphic panels an appropriately antique feel. Unsurprisingly, they are almost exclusively populated by white people. Backmatter includes brief profiles of other aviation pioneers and a short biography of Katharine Wright. There is no bibliography or source notes and a surprising paucity of age-appropriate titles in the suggestions for further reading. An accessible and engaging introduction to the Wright brothers and how they ushered in the age of flight. (glossary, further reading) (Graphic nonfiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Alison Wilgus is a Brooklyn-based author of comics and prose. She got her start as an animation writer on Codename: Kids Next Door, and her work has since been published by Scholastic, Nickelodeon Magazine, Del Rey, Dark Horse, and Tor.com, among others.

Her website is www.alisonwilgus.com

Around the Web

Flying Machines on Amazon

Flying Machines on Goodreads

Flying Machines on JLG

Flying Machines Publisher Page

The Factory Girls by Christine Seifert

The Factory Girls: A Kaleidoscopic Account of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire by Christine Seifert. May 30, 2017. Zest Books, 178 p. ISBN: 9781942186458.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The twentieth century ushered in a new world filled with a dazzling array of consumer goods. For the first time in American history, fashion could be mass produced. Even the poorest immigrant girls could afford a blouse or two. But these same immigrant teens toiled away in factories in appalling working conditions. Their hard work and sacrifice lined the pockets of greedy factory owners who were almost exclusively white men. The tragic Triangle Waist Factory fire in 1911 resulted in the deaths of over a hundred young people, mostly immigrant girls, who were locked in the factory.

That fire signaled a turning point in American history. This book looks at the events leading up to the fire, including a close look at how fashion and the desire for consumer goods – driven in part by the excess of the Gilded Age – created an unsustainable culture of greed. Told from the perspective of six young women who lived the story, this book reminds us why what we buy and how we vote really matter.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2017)
The tragedy known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire marked a turning point in the development of the labor movement in the United States.Because many of the victims were just teenagers, the fire that killed 146 young workers has the potential to hold great interest for young readers. This effort focuses primarily on the Gilded Age’s economic expansion and decadence, immigration, and the labor movement that emerged to protect workers from the extreme exploitation that arose during the era. Although it includes the stories of several young workers who either survived or were victims of the fire, just three chapters describe the conflagration and its aftermath. Readers seeking a book that focuses on it should look elsewhere. The tone is often casual, often characterized by comments such as “Mechanized factory work paid squat” and describing horse manure accumulating in “big poop piles.” (“Poop” occurs frequently.) The book is marred by both poor research and poor writing. Booker T. Washington is incorrectly identified as founder of the NAACP, and noted photographer Lewis Hine (who spent years documenting child workers) is introduced thus: “a reporter by the name of Lewis Hine reported a story of kids who worked on farms.” There are few photographs. Sophisticated readers interested in the fire would do better to read David Von Drehle’s book for adults Triangle: The Fire That Changed America (2003). Neither fully accurate nor especially engaging. (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Christine Seifert is a native North Dakotan, a professor at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a Young Adult writer. She is the author of the YA novel The Predicteds, as well as the nonfiction books Whoppers: History’s Most Outrageous Lies and Liars and The Endless Wait: Virginity in Young Adult Literature (2015). She writes for BitchMagazine and other publications, and has presented at academic conferences on such diverse topics as as Writing, Rhetoric, Twilight, and Jersey Shore.

Her website is christineseifert.com

Teacher Resources

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Resources & Lesson Plans

Around the Web

The Factory Girls on Amazon

The Factory Girls on Goodreads

The Factory Girls on JLG

The Factory Girls Publisher Page