Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Waiting for Nanea – Author Kirby Larson

There is just over a month until the release of Nanea Mitchell (August 24th), a Hawaiian girl living at the time of Pearl Harbor.  Nanea’s books are written by distinguished author Kirby Larson.

Prior to writing Nanea’s books, Larson wrote about the Pearl Harbor-era in her book Dear America – The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us.  The book opens in Seattle, 1941, with Piper’s brother Hank departing for his naval base in Pearl Harbor.  Piper’s father is a Baptist minister who serves the Japanese-American community in Seattle.

The book focuses on the after-effects of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, namely the war with Japan and relocation/imprisonment of innocent Japanese-Americans living on the west coast.  This story about an attack leading to war and racial profiling of U.S. citizens seems terribly timely and familiar.

Before the war, Piper is just a regular 13 year-old girl upset because she is a “PK” (Preacher’s Kid) and therefore she isn’t allowed to wear lipstick.

Monday, November 10, 1941

It’s not fair!  I bought that tube of Tangee lipstick with my own money, and Pop won’t let me wear it.  He wants me to be such a Goody Two-shoes. . . . All I know for sure is that I am the only girl in the seventh grade with naked lips.

After the bombing, Piper finds herself with a first-hand view of the conditions experienced by innocent Japanese-Americans who were relocated to remote deserts and incarcerated: no sewer, no coal to heat with, extremely poor food, and no running water.

I was able to visit one of the Japanese camps in California many years ago.  Manzanar was one of 10 camps used to relocate and imprison Japanese-Americans because of their ethnicity.  It is in a very remote part of California near the Mojave desert.

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My photo of Manzanar.  I believe this is the Guard Station at the entrance to the camp.

Larson’s Dear America book brings to life many timely ethical issues, which I will leave to you to ponder should you pick up the book.  I recommend the book 5th grade and up based on the complex social issues of this era.

Brianna adds . . . 

Another great World War II book written by Kirby Larson is called Dash.  Eleven year-old Mitsi Kashino, a Japanese – American, has lived a pretty normal life with her parents, siblings, and beloved dog Dash. That was up until the attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrifying anti – Japanese sentiment. Many of her friends and classmates begin to turn on her.

Mitsi and her family are sent to a scary, big incarceration camp. The worst part is that Mitsi is separated from her dog, Dash. All Mitsi wants is to find her beloved dog again.

I (Brianna) recommend this book for kids in 5th – 6th grade. I remember reading it in the early part of 5th grade as an AR (Accelerated Reader) book. It was amazing!

We hope you look into these books by award-winning author Kirby Larson this summer before the release of Nanea!

 

Julie: “Let Girls Play, Too!”

Words are taken from Chapter 5 “Let Girls Play, Too” of Meet Julie by Megan McDonald.  “Dakota” is standing in for Julie’s best friend, Ivy.

“Saturday morning Julie was reading her horoscope — “Don’t hesitate; today’s the day to jump in” — when she heard Ivy’s knock.

IMG_7693“You’re here!” Julie said, leading her friend into the living room.  The two girls pushed boxes into the corner so that Ivy could show Julie her latest floor routine.

IMG_7696“Did you know Olga Korbut was the first person to do a backwards aerial somersault on the balance beam?” Ivy asked as she turned her handstand into a back limber.

IMG_7698Julie tried to copy the move, but as soon as she got into a handstand, her feet clomped to the floor.

IMG_7694“Girls!” called Mom. “What’s going on?  Sounds like a stampede of elephants in there.  Julie, please tell me you’re not bouncing that basketball inside.”


Olga Korbut was a former Soviet gymnast who won 4 Olympic gold medals and 2 silver medals.  Today she is 61 years old and a US citizen living in Scottsdale, AZ.  I don’t think Olga would approve of Ivy doing handstands in Dr. Scholl’s sandals!

American Girl, I Can’t Keep Up!

Lately I feel like American Girl is moving so fast I can’t keep up.  There’s the MegaBlocks toy sets coming out this summer, ZCrew videos (#AGZcrew) on YouTube and accompanying merchandise, Wellie Wishers dolls, a Melody sneak peek, and let’s not forget Lea!  Maryellen is ancient history by now.

My initial reaction is nostalgia for the days when AG was a few dolls with wonderful historical outfits and accessories. You chose your path… Samantha?  Addy?  That became your special friend. 

All these new items!  Will they hurt the brand identity?  

I go back to a lesson I learned in the posts on DollightfulDolls that feature lots of old catalog pages.  Even “back in the old days” American Girl tried out lots of different merchanise offerings… From a doll from the Amelia books to bath and body products to entire catalogs just for (human) girls’ clothing.  Many items have fallen by the wayside, but my feeling is that new products might bring new customers into the core business.  That’s what I hope, anyway.

In the CBS clip this morning, the American Girl marketing rep stated that ultimately American Girl is a company about stories of girls’ lives.  While I agree that a doll’s story is what motivates me as a consumer, the company’s recent action of removing the special illustrations from the books runs counter to their statement that they are all about the stories.  Maryellen and Melody’s stories both suffer as a result of no illustrations, especially for their target age consumers who won’t bother to look up words like “Afro” or references to Rosemary Clooney. Today’s 1st – 3rd grade readers are drawn to books that are borderline graphic novels, such as Geronimo/Thea Stilton, Dork Diaries, Mercy Watson, and the revamped Babysitters’ Club books.

This past holiday season one of the kids on the playground told me she was getting Grace.  I asked what her favorite AG book was, and she said, “There are books?”  

Keep innovating American Girl, but don’t forget to make the books a “must read” for kids!

Little House Laura

imageDoll friends, have you been over to The Queen’s Treasures to see the reveal of the Laura Ingalls Wilder doll?

I think she has a sweet face and expressive brown eyes.  Excellent value… For 99.00 you have Laura, her sleeping gown and cap, a quilt and pillow, her doll, and the world’s most adorable log cabin box.  I think I already forgot about Melody.

I love the respect that The Queen’s Treasures gives to kids and families.  Already have a doll who wants to be Laura?  You can just buy her clothing, including her “meet” outfit, for a reasonable $16.00.  Instead of bundling the cooking and home care items into a massive package, they are sold in smaller, more affordable bundles.

The must-have item:  Jack the Brindle Bulldog.  His muzzle is even pinkish just like a real bulldog.  It appears his nose is heavy vinyl and his eyes are plastic, not embroidered.

So glad there is now a quality play set that honors the Little House legacy.  Will we get Mary eventually?

Laura ships at the start of July.  Skip a trip to Starbucks every week and you’ll have money for Laura in plenty of time to welcome her in July!

 

 

American Girl 2017

It’s hard to write about 2017 when I am still writing the date as 2015!

Exciting news this week from American Girl author Kathleen Ernst, author of the Caroline books and many of the AG mysteries.  She is currently writing a new book for American Girl which will be released in 2017.  She isn’t able to say whether it is a new character or a book for an existing character, but I know it will be great either way.  Secretly, I hope it is a new character because it was sad to see Caroline go.  I appreciate that the Caroline books featured her relationship with her father as a main theme.

My favorite Ernst book to recommend to you (all ages) is Betrayal at Cross Creek about the Scottish immigrants forced to take sides during the American Revolution.

I hope you considering following Kathleen’s blog  . . .  maybe she will throw her fellow history lovers some more hints 🙂

Addy: Let Your Spirit Sing

A few months ago I purchased Addy’s benne candy tin (Pleasant Co) from eBay, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day seems like a good date to revisit this part of Addy’s story.

Words below are from Connie Porter’s book “Happy Birthday, Addy!”  The character M’Dear is an elderly neighbor who encourages Addy to claim a birth date of her own, since she does not know her actual birthday having been born a slave.  The date she chooses is the end of the Civil War.

Momma led Addy to one table, and there at her place was a tin of benne candies from M’Dear.

Addys Birthday Outfit

noexif_IMG_6689_private“You sure did pick a special day for your birthday,” said M’Dear.  “This is from Sunny and me.”

Addy opened the gift to find two of Sunny’s bright yellow feathers tied together with a bow.  Addy held them gently, a bit of bright sunshine in the palm of her hand.

Addy Birthday Benne CAndy“Thank you,” Addy said.  She kissed M’Dear and pinned the feathers in her hair.

Addy Sunny Feathers“Let these remind you to always let your spirit sing out,” said M’Dear.

“I will,” promised Addy. “I will.”

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Maryellen Dreams of a New Dress

Words are from The One and Only by Valerie Tripp.  I have abbreviated the story.

Maryellen held the plaid dress up in front of herself as she looked in the mirror.  She sighed.

Maryellen Larkin Plaid

“Mom,” she said, “don’t you think this hand-me-down dress is sort of old and worn out?”

“Umph,” said Mom.  She was holding a pillow under her chin as she slipped a fresh pillowcase onto it.

noexif_IMG_6667_private“I sure would love a brand-new outfit to wear for the first day of fourth grade,” said Maryellen.  She got carried away, imagining herself in a chic, fashionable, grown-up-looking outfit like the ones girls wore on TV shows.  Oh boy!  Everyone would be impressed!

Maryellen Larkin Our GenerationShe said eagerly, “Mom you and I should go shopping and—”

“Maryellen!” Mrs. Larkin interrupted in a no-nonsense voice. “Carolyn’s plaid dress is perfectly fine for your first day of school.”

“OK, Mom,” . . . As one of six children, Maryellen had long ago learned the sad but true lesson that parents had only a certain amount of patience and energy and attention to give, and you couldn’t use more than your share or your parents got mad.

MaryellenShe’d save the shopping conversation for later.

 

Meeting Melody

Our Melody American Girl book “No Ordinary Sound” arrived today… She beat Lea’s books here which Amazon hasn’t shipped yet.  Brianna and I started reading it in tandem.  We won’t spoil the book for you, but one shareable detail is that Melody’s family calls her Dee-Dee!

If your library won’t stock the book for a while and you want to get in the mood of the early 60s, I can recommend the young adult book, “The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963” by Christopher Paul Curtis.  He worked in an auto factory in Michigan prior to becoming a writer.  Most of his books are award-winning.

Have any readers started Melody or Lea’s books yet?  Maryellen’s?

BeForever 2016

A few blog posts ago I mentioned that the book for the Girl of the Year 2016 and the book for the new BeForever historical character appear to both be coming out on January 1. I don’t think that is a computer error on Amazon’s site.

I stopped back on my Amazon pre-order for the BF2016 book and there are more details in the listing than I remembered from last week. Publisher is listed as American Girl on January 1, 2016. The book is filed under the topics of “prejudice and racism” “1900s historical fiction” and “multicultural stories African-American.”

Can I reschedule Santa for January 2?

In other news… Has anyone received the Maryellen catalog? I really miss receiving the catalog at the same time as the doll launch.

For more on Melody Ellison, BeForever 2016, see Meeting Melody

Falling for Maryellen

Image from Amazon

Image from Amazon

I’m smitten.  Brianna finished Maryellen’s first book “The One and Only” the first day it was released.  It took me two days to finish it because I had to savor it just a little… and make dinner now and again.

I will not spoil the book for you because you simply must read it!  My first reading of the samples that Amazon posted in their “Look Inside” feature gave me the impression that this might be a “lite” book for kids.  I was very wrong.

Maryellen is a 1950s girl struggling to find her identity in a family of 6 kids.  In her efforts to be “the one and only Maryellen” she makes some poorly thought out choices.  Think Leave it to Beaver and I Love Lucy.  I truly did “LOL” during the book!  The comedic moments are accompanied by themes of being unique vs being part of a family, making our individual dreams come true vs sharing our joy with others, and seeing people as individuals vs excluding them based on groups they belong to.  This book is more Molly than Addy or Caroline.  So far Maryellen is not risking her life to intervene in the history of the day.  Her journey in the first book is inward.

Debbie Reynolds. Read the book and learn why I pinned this photo.

Debbie Reynolds. Read the book and learn why I pinned this photo.

Brianna thinks I can be too critical, but my complaints are that Dad isn’t a very developed character — at least so far.  I’m not even sure what his occupation is.  We don’t get to know him in the same was we get to know Caroline’s father in her books.  My other complaint is that the loss of small drawings in the historical books is very sad.  I made myself a Pinterest board as I read, looking up details like “Rosemary Clooney’s gown in White Christmas.”  The story is so much richer when these details have an accompanying image.  A lot of kids may not even have a reference for “coffee-cake” or “round suitcase”…. not to mention “cold cream.”  I hope that the historical dolls won’t lose their appeal as new readers discover their stories without the artwork we all associate with the original books.

Surprisingly, this is a Christmas story in Daytona!  It would make a wonderful gift during the holiday season, or could be read with a loved one who grew up in Maryellen’s time period.  Multi-generation book club?  Absolutely!

I found my heart warmed as I uncovered the deeper significance behind the clothing that is available for the doll.

The Maryellen doll may or may not be on your “wishlist” but don’t miss an opportunity to get to know her as a character.  I hope to hear your thoughts after you’ve read the book too!  No spoilers please.