US – 1900s

Marion HaleDark Water Rising  1900

Seth’s family moves to Galveston in 1900 to take advantage of the booming economy.  He gets a job as a carpenter’s apprentice and begins to settle in to the Galveston way of life.  He meets a girl as well.  Then the devastating hurricane hits and 8,000 people are killed.  The story moves swiftly, introducing characters that the reader can identify with and care about when the storm hits.  So well described, it felt like I was in the middle of a hurricane again.  Raised in Corpus Christi and Houston TX, I had my share of hurricanes.  The author made me feel like I was back in the middle of a monster storm.  I especially liked this book because my great grandfather and his mother rode out the Galveston storm in a neighbor’s attic.  His father was a fisherman, lost at sea during the storm.  After the hurricane, he and his mother and siblings walked all the way to relatives in San Antonio.  This book is a must-read for Texans and for anyone looking for an action-packed disaster themed story.

Kristiana GregoryEarthquake at Dawn   1906

Based on photographer Edith Irvine’s experiences during the massive San Francisco earthquake, the novel moves very briskly.  Told through the eyes of Edith’s maid, they arrive in San Francisco for a quick stop before proceeding to Paris.  The earthquake strikes and the girls are separated from Edith’s father.  They make their way to Golden Gate Park where they camp with other survivors.  They experience aftershocks, explosions, and fire with many narrow escapes.  This is a survival story.

Mary Jane AuchAshes of Roses   1911

The Triangle Factory Fire claimed 146 lives, most were immigrant girls, in just a few minutes when a fire swept through the factory.  Exits were blocked.  Many chose to jump to their death rather than be burned alive.  There are several historical fiction books written about this tragic event.  This is one of the best written for the YA audience.

Margaret Peterson HaddixUprising  1911

Haddix offers her rendition of the Triangle Waist Factory fire.  This book goes into a bit more about the working conditions.  Well done.  From CIP:  In 1927, at the urging of twenty-one-year-old Harriet, Mrs. Livingston reluctantly recalls her experiences at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, including miserable working conditions that led to a strike, then the fire that took the lives of her two best friends, when Harriet, the boss’s daughter, was only five years old. Includes historical notes.

Karen HesseA Time of Angels   1918

This gentle and heartfelt story that draws the reader into the 1918 Influenza epidemic is another reason to read all of Hesse’s books.  This one resonates.  Hannah and her two sisters live with their aunts in Boston while their parents are in Europe.   After one aunt dies of influenza and her sisters fall ill, her aunt intends to send her to a cousin in Albany in the hopes Hannah will escape the illness.  Hannah succumbs to influenza while on the train to Vermont and comes under the care of a gentle German who nurses her back to health.

Ronald Kidd Monkey Town:  The Summer of the Scopes Trial   1925

t certainly helps to have a passable knowledge of the Scopes Trial.  Two storylines excel here – one is of a young girl, Frances, growing up in a small town.  The other is of the teacher involved in the Scopes Trial.  It is illegal to teach evolution in Tennessee.  The ACLU wants a test case to bring this law to the attention of the courts.  France’s father, an influential community leader, decides a good way to drum up publicity for their little town is to bring the trial here.  He convinces the new young, popular science teacher, John Scopes, to go along with the plan.  Scopes reluctantly agrees with the understanding that he will keep his job regardless of the outcome.  She has a school girl crush on Scopes and as she sees him destroyed by the trial, she sees the father she once trusted in a new light.  Scopes was betrayed by his lawyer and his town.

Delia Ray Ghost Girl:  a Blue Ridge Mountain Story  1931

The poverty of the folks living in the remote areas of the Blue Ridge mountains during the Depression is gently exposed for the reader.  April is eleven and is called ghost girl because of her white hair and light eyes.  She has never gone to school.  President Hoover and his wife build a school for the children and the wonderful Miss Vest comes to teach for several years.  April must deal with many family problems, but with the help of Miss Vest, she learns to deal with her life the best she can.  Based on the detailed accounts left by the very real Christine Vest, this book is researched in detail.  This is a beautiful story for the gentle reader.

Christopher Paul CurtisThe Mighty Miss Malone 1936

Mr. Curtis’s newest has award winner written all over it!  Set during the Depression, we become one of the Malone family, facing their heartaches, struggles, and joys.  The story opens in Gary, Indiana, where the family is intact, but very poor.  Deza has wonderful parents and an older brother with a beautiful singing voice.  Deza excels in school and longs to be a writer.  As the Depression deepens, and her father’s unemployment and accident cause the family to become homeless, we see and feel their pain.  It is the family values, the importance of honesty and integrity, and taking joy from the smallest things that comes across so clearly in this story.  Deza’s voice is full of optimism even when times are at their worst.  This is an example of how literature can teach what a textbook cannot.  Any study of the Depression should include stories like this so today’s students can deepen their understanding.  Mr. Curtis’s writing excels again.

Sherri L. SmithFlygirl   1940s

I doubt students today understand or even aware of the ground breaking role the ladies of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) played during World War II.  Ida learns to fly a plane for her daddy’s crop dusting business.  She loves to fly – that’s all she wants to do.  She hears of the WASPs and sets out to apply.  Problem – she is black and only white women are allowed to join the WASPs.  However, Ida is very light skinned so she passes for white.  The dangerous missions with little reward and recognition were part of the dedicated women who flew planes for the airforce.  True heroines.  Sherri L. Smith wrote one of my favorite books, Lucy the Giant.

Patti SherlockLetters from Wolfie  1969

I had no idea that dogs are used in the military as combat dogs.  After Danny’s brother goes to Vietnam to fight, Danny decides to give his beloved dog, Wolfie to the army to be trained as a combat dog.   Unfortunately, he donates Wolfie before he receives a message from his brother not to do it.  Danny runs into roadblocks when he tries to get Wolfie back after Wolfie’s tour of duty is over.  This was on our reading list several years ago and was a favorite.  Well written, it is a story that most students can relate to.

Thanhha LaiInside Out & Back Again  1975

inside outThis fictionalized account of the author’s childhood in Vietnam during the civil war, the fall of Saigon, and new life in Alabama is written in free verse.  She never knew her father, who was highly educated but had been missing for many years.  Her mother was left to raise four children with scarce resources.  The difficult decision was made to flee Vietnam.  They gave up everything to start a new life.   The author has managed to pluck the emotions from her memory and convey them with such ease to the reader.  A deserving winner of the 2012 Newbery Honor Medal and the National Book Award, this is a must-read for all.     Highly recommend.