Archive for History

Harry Miller’s Run

Written by David Almond
Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

What was it like to be in the first Great North Run? Liam, eleven years old, doesn’t know, but he’s excited to train for his first participation in the Run. The older kids run all the way from Newcastle to South Shields, thirteen miles. Liam is in the Junior division, running a shorter route. On the way to training, Liam and his Mam stop to care for Harry, an older gentleman. Liam is reluctant to take the time, but ends up glad they did. Harry tells him all about the first time he and his buddies ran to the sea. Harry and three friends set out on a lark and ran and ran. They stopped many times to get drinks. Once, they stopped to enlist the help of a girl who knew the way. “There’s a wolf on your tail! Run for your lovely life!” people would tell them. They knew they were done when they talked to the ice cream man on the Ocean Road. And Harry kept contact with the girl. Shortly after Liam’s visit, Harry died.

Rubbino’s illustrations are perfect for the flavor of the times and the culture of Harry and Liam. The illustrations for present day are black and white, while the time of Harry’s first run are color, as Harry’s memories are so vivid.

Though the story is about a specific event, it points out the importance of oral history and learning about traditions from our elders. Liam found that Harry had a lot to teach him. The dialectic dialogue is occasionally difficult to decipher, so younger or reluctant readers may need a little help with comprehension. But this story is well worth the effort.

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  • Harry Millers RunTitle: Harry Miller’s Run        
  • Author: David Almond
  • Illustrator: Salvatore Rubbino
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 4
  • Genre: Early Reader, Oral history, Tradition
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8975-9

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

Written by Janet Nolan
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

After the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, a steel beam was selected for recycling by the US Navy. The beam, weighing seven and a half tons, was transported by truck to a foundry in Louisiana. The steel became the bow of a new landing platform/dock (LPD), a type of war ship designed for a crew of 360 and transport of 700 to 800 troops. It was to become the USS New York. The shipbuilding itself was briefly interrupted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The ship then sailed the steel back to its home port of New York.

The mixed media illustrations convey the solemnity of the story.

Reading with a teacher or parent is highly recommended, as the text relies heavily on the recognition of symbols, many of which kids may not be aware of. An adult can explain how much the symbols mean. Throughout the story, flags drape the steel and the ship. A twenty-one gun salute greets the ship in New York. Statistics about the ship, as well as a detailed description of her crest follow the story. Even the diner on board is symbolic of the towers.

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  • Seven and a Half Tons of SteelTitle: Seven and a Half Tons of Steel
  • Author: Janet Nolan
  • Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, August 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-912-4
  • Extras: More about the USS New York, The crest of the USS New York

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans!

Written and illustrated by Gary Northfield

A fun and exciting way to explore the Roman Empire, this story about an unlikely hero will have kids wanting to be gladiators. Julius, a rebellious zebra, gets caught all alone at the local watering hole. When he is captured by Roman soldiers, he finds himself insulted, boxed, and transported a long way across land and onto a boat. He talks to and befriends other animals. Even the humans understand what Julius and the other animals are saying. Through a series of silliness, Julius is trained as a gladiator and is due to appear at the birthday celebration for Emperor Hadrian. There are a lot of details and terms that relate directly to the gladiator world, if you can weed out the obvious absurdities. The cartoonish illustrations add to the excitement and actually make this almost a graphic novel. Children younger than third graders would have fun reading this with a parent or teacher to learn more about Rome. An enjoyable read all around.

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  • Julius ZebraTitle: Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans
  • Author/Illustrator: Gary Northfield
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Creative, fantastical historical novel, humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7853-1
  • Extras: Primer on Roman numerals, extensive glossary

The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet

Written and Illustrated by Don Tate

Who would have thought a man who taught himself to read could come up with such beautiful poetry? While selling his master’s fruit at a university, George’s use of language caught the attention of college students. The students commissioned him to write love poetry for them, helped him learn to write, and to learn about literature and history. George paid his master to let him write full time and eventually published a volume of poetry, The Hope of Freedom. His master refused to let him buy his freedom outright, though. Eventually, the Emancipation Proclamation brought an end to his servitude and George moved west with the army.

Horton’s is an important story that should be covered in literature and in history. The Civil War was fought by human beings about human beings. Horton took great risks seeking his freedom. After he published his first volume of poetry, North Carolina outlawed speaking out against slavery and also outlawed teaching slaves to read and write. After that, Horton restricted himself to non-political poetry. He also published an autobiography, used by the author of this book. Tate’s illustrations help to bring the poet’s story to life. This could be read aloud in a classroom to stimulate discussion.

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  • George Moses HortonTitle: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Tate
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Biography, Poetry, History
  • ISBN: 978-156145-825-7
  • Extras: Extensive bibliography, Author’s Note

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can


“Achieveable,” Really? Girls going to school? Not born in Zimbabwe during the war. Then girls rarely got to attend school. Only after she grew up and had children of her own was Trent encouraged by the women of her village to learn to read. They needed her to read letters from their faraway husbands.

This beautifully illustrated story is based on the true life experiences of Dr. Tererai Trent, who now hold many degrees and is an advocate for learning and education world-wide.

Traditional values, beliefs and thatched roofed homes are described and illustrated in this full color book. Teachers, librarians, and reading specialists will fulfill core curriculum standards in geography, history, and literacy by using this book with grade three readers.

It also highlights the good possible accomplished by just one person in advocating and supporting education. While Trent dreamed of education in Zimbabwe, it became a reality in America, as she explains in the body of the text as well as in her author’s notes.

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  • Girl who buried her dreamsTitle: The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can
  • Author: Dr. Tererai Trent
  • Illustrator: Jan Spivey Gilchrist
  • Publisher: Viking, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-01654
  • Genre: Non-fiction, biography
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Afterward

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune

Written and Illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The beautiful and realistic illustrations in this engaging new book are a big part of the little-known story of one of the original settlers near Plymouth Rock. John Howland was a young servant indentured to William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims and first governor of the Massachusetts colony. When the group set out on the two-month journey to America, John was obliged to come along. Lynch’s book gives a detailed version of the trek, from the loading on of supplies in London, to the various stops before leaving England, to the perils of the ocean crossing and setting up life on the new shore. During a storm at sea, John ventured out on the deck, only to be swept overboard. Luckily, a bolt of lightning showed him where a rope was hanging over the side of the boat, and he was rescued.

The Pilgrims were actually two groups who set out for Virginia. They merged when one of the ships set to transport them proved unseaworthy. The bad weather on the passage carried them two hundred miles north of their destination, but they decided to settle there anyway. Sickness, exposure, and starvation took out half the population in the first winter. The native Americans were wary but helpful. Squanto knew English as a result of being enslaved for a period. John Howland intended to return to England to make his fortune but decided to remain in New Plymouth.

Third graders and up will benefit greatly from this exciting tale. They will learn a truer history of the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving. They can polish their literacy skills as well.

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  • Boy who fell offTitle: The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune
  • Author/Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: History, Narrative Nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6584-5

Dolley Madison Saves George Washington

Written and Illustrated by Don Brown

Fire! Fire in the White House! Run away, run away, but Dolley Madison didn’t run away. She stopped to save the famous portrait of George Washington. It wasn’t a quick trick, either because the frame was too heavy to manage. She instructed some workmen to cut the portrait out of the frame and carry it to safety.

Don Brown’s biography begins with information about Dolley, including her charm, her ability to hostess wonderful parties, and her remodeling of the White House. He also tells readers how Dolley was actually related to George Washington by marriage.

The muted colors used in the illustrations are representative of the time. However, children will enjoy the great amount of action depicted in the story and the pictures. Teachers and librarians can use this biography to meet the core curriculum standards in literacy and American history. The author’s note also includes an interesting discussion about the many spellings of Dolley’s name. Students might use this as a springboard to studying other names with multiple meanings.

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  • DolleyTitle: Dolley Madison Saves George Washington
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Brown
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-58244-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book, Biography
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Bibliography

Who Was Beatrix Potter?

Written by Sarah Fabiny
Illustrated by Mike Lacey

Not everyone born to wealth loves it. Case in point, Beatrix Potter. She was born to a wealthy family in 1866 London, but wealth tied her hands. Well, perhaps, not completely wealth. It was also the time in which she was born. A wealthy young woman was not supposed to study science, draw animals or make her own living.

But that is exactly what Beatrix wanted and finally accomplished. It is sad how long it took success to find her, but perhaps the illness and loneliness actually helped her become a better storyteller.

Young readers will be amazed to find out how her stories began. They were letters she wrote to a little boy who was sick. She didn’t know what to write to him about so she told him a story about a young rabbit named Peter who got into a garden.

It is fascinating to read what Beatrix did with all the money she earned from her stories and illustrations. She helped make the world a better place with her stories and saved the part she loved best for future generations to enjoy.

Fabiny wrote a smooth and engaging narrative that reads as comfortably as a letter.

Educators will use this to fulfill core curriculum standards in history, biography, art, and literature. Librarians will use it to introduce a famous author and her wonderful books. Art teachers will use it to show how precise her illustrations were, and to encourage their students to practice over and over again their drawing of real subjects. This is a beautiful addition to Penguin’s, “Who Was?” series.

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  • Beatrix PotterTitle: Who Was Beatrix Potter?
  • Author: Sarah Fabiny
  • Illustrator: Mike Lacey
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 112 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48305-4
  • Genre: Biography
  • Grade level: 3-7
  • Extras: Timeline, Bibliography, related web sites

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Player that Ever Lived

Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares

Sports heroes are often colorful and have an interesting story to tell. Ted Williams falls into that category.

As a child, Ted Williams was skinny and not very muscular, but he wanted to be the best hitter in baseball. Through determination, he practiced every chance he got, swinging the bat long after the other kids had gone home for supper. He swung until his hands bled. He ate to gain weight and exercised to build muscles. His career was first interrupted by World War II and later by the Korean War. He was a very good fighter pilot. But, when he returned, his baseball skills always seemed to pick up where he left off. He led the Red Sox to the World Series and is commemorated in many ways at Fenway Park. In the author’s note, the author points out the conflict Williams had with the media and often with the fans, but those conflicts didn’t lessen his skill on the ball field. And he was dedicated to helping others, especially children.

Vivid illustrations make the story come alive, from the fields where he practiced in San Diego to Fenway Park to the airplanes he flew.

Third grade readers will learn about Ted Williams, history, World War II and the Korean War, sports, and following one’s dreams and talents. This volume of Candlewick Biographies will promote literacy skills and comprehension.

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  • there goes ted williamsTitle: There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Player that Ever Lived
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, history, sports
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7655-1
  • Extras: Author’s Note, bibliography, Ted’s baseball statistics, index

Explore the Cosmos like Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Space Science Journey

Written by CAP Saucier

From the first night he could see the stars from the roof of his Bronx apartment building, science has attracted Neil deGrasse Tyson. In this new book – part biography and part astronomy – Saucier follows Tyson from that early fascination to his status as one of the most respected scientists in the world. The result is a good representation of Tyson’s view of the universe. The author starts with a wide view of the universe and the Big Bang. The reader then learns about constellations, galaxies and how they were formed, black holes, stars, comets, different types of planets, moons, and asteroids. Along the way, the reader also hears about dark matter, dark energy, and space dust. Saucier includes Tyson’s hopes for the future of space travel and exploration and about the importance of all this knowledge to the human condition. The writer also incorporates enough details of Tyson’s life to give a sense of the man behind the science.

Most two-page spreads are highlighted by wonderful photographs of nebulae, galaxies, and planets. Kids will be drawn in by the colorful layout.

This is a very good beginning introduction for third grade and above. There is enough explanation to give kids a sense of the topics, but it leaves the reader to dig deeper. And it creates enough excitement to ensure that will happen.

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  • Explore the CosmosTitle: Explore the Cosmos like Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Space Science Journey
  • Author: CAP Saucier
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books, March 3, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 177 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, astronomy
  • ISBN: 978-1-63388-014-6
  • Extras: Table of contents, notes, glossary, bibliography, index, many full-color photographs and illustrations
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