Monday, June 22, 2020

MMGM- Starting from Seneca Falls and The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Schwabach, Karen. Starting from Seneca Falls
June 23rd 2020 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Bridie and her mother have come to the US after losing her father and brothers in the Irish Potato Famine, and have ended in the poorhouse after her father's new husband drank all of their wages from the woolen mills. After her mother's death, Bridie is sent to live with the Kigley's to work on their farm. Once there, she doesn't mind the hard work, but hates that every time the daughter, Lavinia, messes up, she is beaten for it. She decides to run away, and meet Rose, an African-American girl whose mother is dead and whose father is a sailor from whom she has not heard in a long time. She boards with a canal boat captain, and occasionally works for Mrs. Stanton. She introduces Bridie to her, and luckily, Mrs. Stanton is in need of some help. Since she is interested in women's rights, she pays Bridie (who goes by Phoebe to elude the Kigleys) the handsome sum of $1 a week, which is unheard of in 1848. Mrs. Stanton and her friends are working on putting together a women's convention in Seneca Falls, and Bridie settles in to help. She also goes to school, as does Rose. Luckily, the teacher is sympathetic to Rose's situation, and even spends a few extra minutes after school to go over the more advanced math Rose is covering. When Lavinia and Mrs. Kigley show up at Mrs. Stanton's house, trying to escape Mr. Kigley's beatings, Bridie doesn't want to help them, but knows it is the right thing to do. After the convention, Mrs. Stanton arranges to get Mrs. Kigley to Rochester on the train, but Lavinia is left behind. Using their smarts, Bridie and Rose set off along the canal with Lavinia to keep ahead of Mr. Kigley. Once in the new town, both girls find occupations they wish to pursue.
Strengths: Yes! I have looked and looked for historical fiction about the women's movement, and there is very little! Framing this from the point of view of Bridie, whose life is so difficult, was an excellent choice, and how much fun is it to meet Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friends and family this way! Rose is also an intriguing character, and brings up a lot of interesting questions about the state of African-Americans in the North during this time period. My favorite part is the girls' journey along the Erie canal. The canals were fascinating, and yet there is little about them as well. I love historical fiction, and this one really brightened my day!
Weaknesses: I wish the cover looked a little older. My 8th graders aren't going to want to pick this up.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this and would love to see more women's history novels by Schwabach. Still have her The Hope Chest (2009), which circulates well.

Halfmann, Janet. The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls
November 5th 2019 by Lee & Low Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1839 to enslaved parents, Smalls had some small advantages in a terrible situation-- he was a house servant to a family that was not overly abusive. When he got older, he was able to work as a day laborer on the waterfront in Charleston, and married and had a son. He was allowed to work in exchange for paying his owners, and he was saving to buy the freedom of the wife and son, the cost of which was to be $800. In 1861, he was hired as a deckhand on the Confederate ship, the Planter, where he continued to learn new skills and get increased opportunities. Seeing the war heating up, and knowing that things were apt to go badly for African Americans in the South, Smalls devised a plan in 1862. He took the ship with its crew and some civilians, and sailed to the Union blockade. Luckily, they were not attacked, and the ship became Union property. Smalls served as captain on the Planter and the ironclad USS Keokuk and was a celebrated military hero. After the war, he went on to an impressive life as a businessman and civil servant, getting elected to both the South Carolina House of Representatives and the State Senate.
Strengths: I am always looking for biographies about previously unheralded people, especially those from marginalized populations. This short biography explains what life was like for African Americans before the Civil War, something that many of my students haven't really studied. The fact that Smalls was able to overcome the strictures put on people of color during this time period is impressive and an important piece of history for children to know. This is a great nonfiction book to read along with books like Schwabach's Starting from Seneca Falls. While there isn't a large amount of information available about Small's life, the inclusion of background information rounds out this biography very nicely. The bibliography and additional resources listings are a great inclusion for further study.
Weaknesses: While the Impressionist style illustrations are artistically beautiful, I wish that they had been more realistic and detailed in order to show historical details that young readers might not otherwise understand.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this title for my library, and will investigate the Story Of series from Lee and Low. It's good to see this imprint is flourishing; I first discovered them right before the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement of 2014, but they've been around since 1991.
Ms. Yingling


  1. This sounds like a good one, and I am also a fan of historical fiction. Thanks for telling us about it. I know what you mean by the cover. I feel it can make a difference as to whether or not someone wants to read a book or not. I just took over my MG from my publisher and the first thing I did was change the cover.

  2. Reading about that time of the Irish famine & the women's movement does sound good, & I've seen the book about Smalls before, on my list. Thanks, Karen!

  3. Both of these books sound excellent! Starting from Seneca Falls sounds like an intriguing historical fiction book, and I don't know anything about Robert Smalls, so I'd be curious to learn more! Thanks for the great reviews!

  4. I have Starting from Seneca Falls on my future reading list. I also have not found many women's history novels. Glad you found this one appealing and thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  5. I like historical fiction too. Starting From Seneca Falls sounds really interesting. Fingers crossed that my library has it.

  6. These both look really good. Kids need to learn more about the people who led the way to making changes. Thanks for telling me about these.

  7. Both of these look great. I am especially interested in Starting from Seneca Falls. I hope to read it and see if it is a good fit for my elementary school (which it sounds like it is).

  8. Oooh, thanks for the reminder of Starting from Seneca Falls. I have it on my list, but I'd forgotten about it. Great review! And I never read The Hope Chest, either. Boo!