Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Historical Fiction

Conkling, Winifred. Sylvia and Aki.
Nominated for the Cybils by Edith Campbell.

Sylvia is glad that her family is finally able to have their "own" farm-- they are leasing it from a Japanese family sent to an internment camp. When Syliva finds a picture of Aki, who is about her age, along with Aki's beautiful Japanese doll, she vows to take care of the doll and be a good steward of Aki's place. Sylvia has problems, though; because she is Hispanic, she is not allowed to enroll in the local school, but must go further from home to a substandard school that provides an inferior education to "Mexican" students. Her father does not deem this acceptable, and sues the school system. Based on the real case of Mendez vs. Westminster School District, this draws interesting parallels between Sylvia and Aki's lives.
Strengths: This gives a very human perspective to a little known historical event. While I knew about the treatment of the Japanese in the 1940s, I had no idea about the Hispanic segregation.
Weaknesses: Students today might have a hard time understanding the acquiescence of the Japanese. The historical notes at the back of the book help with this.

Yelchin, Eugene. Breaking Stalin's Nose.
Nominated for the Cybils by Craig Jaffurs
Sasha is all set to become a Communist Young Pioneer, since his father is prominent in the party. He doesn't mind that he lives in cramped quarters with other families; this is the way of Communism, which he fully supports. He is sad about his mother, an American who died "in the hospital", but whom he suspects may have been killed as a spy. When his father is suddenly taken by the police, Sasha tries to keep his normal routines, although he must go live with an aunt. For the first time, he starts to see that the class treatment of a Jewish boy whose parents have been sent to jail might be unfair, and his frustration with school and the Communist party grows in a brief span of days and culminates with his breaking the nose off of a statue of Stalin. This causes an uproar in his school, and various students emerge as being foes of the Party, among them, Sasha, because of his father's imprisonment.
Strengths: This is a riveting account of one boy's troubles under Stalin. There is very little that I have seen written about this time period.
Weaknesses: The cover and title make this look like a book for younger students, when the philosophy and poor treatment definitely make it more appropriate for older students. The drawings are uneven, and some are rather strange.

Enderle, Dotti. Crosswire.
Nominated for the Cybils by Jo Ann Banker

In 1883, Jesse's older brother Ethan has turned to drinking and gambling, which causes him to be thrown out of the house. Jesse's father is a hard man, but the rigors of trying to raise crops and cattle in the midst of a drought make it impossible for him to survive any other way. Jesse should now be his father's favorite son, but his reluctance to shoot a gun (in the wake of an unfortunate accident) limit his usefulness to his father, especially since the farm is beset by fence cutters who destroy the family's property in order to get to their precious water. When a suspicious hired hand arrives on the farm, Jesse fears that he is connected to the fence cutters, but a final showdown proves that he is not. Based on a real but rarely coveered problem in Texas during this time period.
Strengths: This is an excellent book for reluctant readers. The conflicts are harrowing and gory, the emotions raw but briefly discussed, and the "wild west" setting with Texas Rangers and gun toting evil doers is hard to find. Buying a copy for the readers who like Paulsen's Mr. Tucket series.
Weaknesses: This might be a hard sell-- the cover and title are nondescript.

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