Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris – The Queen’s Own Fool Mary Queen of Scots 1550
Yet another excellent novel by this writing team. Understanding or even pretending to understand the timeline and political endeavors of England, Scotland and France in this time period is difficult. I learned a great deal from this book. Jane Yolen is truly the master author and I endorse anything she writes. Even if the reader doesn’t necessarily want to learn a bit of history, but simply wants an excellent story, this is it. From CIP: When twelve-year-old Nicola leaves Troupe Brufort and serves as the fool for Mary, Queen of Scots, she experiences the political and religious upheavals in both France and Scotland.
Gary Blackwood – The Shakespeare Stealer England 1558
This is the first in a trilogy. The first is the best one. Sure, the reader learns about Shakespeare and the time period, it really is worth all of the accolades. But the reason I have a special place for this book is because of a line in Chapter 4, “. . . feeling like an ignorant lumpkin.” I knew it! So my husband comes from a long line of lumpkins and apparently that wasn’t so good. What relative of his so many generations ago earned the surname Lumpkins and what did he do to earn it? From CIP: A young orphan boy is ordered by his master to infiltrate Shakespeare’s acting troupe in order to steal the script of Hamlet but he discovers instead the meaning of friendship and loyalty.
Katherine Marsh – Jepp, Who Defied the Stars Netherlands 1580s
Set during the late 1500s, young Jepp, a dwarf, is much loved by his innkeeper mother. When a mysterious noble visits the inn, he convinces Jepp and his mother that Jepp should go with him to the court of the Infanta, the ruler of the Spanish Netherlands (modern day Belgium). Jepp is surprised to see other little people in court where they are treated like pets. The delicate Lia is abused and Jepp is caught helping her escape. After a harsh beating, Jepp is punished and exiled to the servitude of Tycho Brache, the father of modern astronomy. At this point, the story really grabbed my attention because the author delves into the marvels of Tycho Brache and his detailed charting of the stars.
I highly recommend turning to the back of the book and reading the Author’s Note first. A bit of background knowledge about the Spanish Netherlands and the historical characters in the book would helped ground the story for me. The historical aspects of this novel are interesting and well researched and unique to most young adult historical fiction books. The writing is quite good. “Poor Jepp” is what I thought throughout the book. Even when fortune smiled, he could not be happy until he got some answers and is comfortable with his place in the world. Jepp comes full circle and readers will enjoy the ending.
Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe did have a dwarf jester at his estates on Uraniborg. The author includes the many wonders of Brahe’s castle, from fountains to automatons to the scholarly achievements and discoveries in astronomy. The measure of good historical fiction is when the reader seeks more information after reading. I did. One website with more information about Tycho Brahe: http://www.tychobrahe.com/uk/uraniborg.html
Jamila Gavin – The Blood Stone Venice, Italy 1600s
This is an elegantly woven story and adventure requiring young Filippo to show great courage to rescue his father thus saving his family. Very hard to describe – I highly recommend. From CIP: In the early seventeenth century, young Venetian Filippo Veroneo travels from Venice to Afghanistan to rescue his imprisoned father, Geronimo, and stops in India to raise the ransom by selling his father’s beautiful diamond to the ruler Shah Jehan, who later uses the stone as the model for the Taj Mahal.
Mary Hooper – At the Sign of the Sugared Plum England 1665 Plague
I have read several of Mary Hooper’s books and this story resonates with me the most. It gives the reader a peak into London at the time of the plague but also how someone from a rather low background works her way up, makes a better life for herself. From CIP: In June 1665, excited at the prospect of coming to London to work at her sister Sarah’s candy shop, teenaged Hannah is unconcerned about rumors of Plague until, as the hot summer advances and increasing numbers of people succumb to the disease, she and Sarah find themselves trapped in the city with no means of escape.
Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris – Prince Across the Water Scotland 1746
From CIP: In 1746, a year after the Scottish clans have rallied to the call of their exiled prince, Charles Stuart, to take up arms against England’s tyranny, fourteen-year-old, epileptic Duncan MacDonald and his cousin, Ewan, run away to join the fight at Culloden and discover the harsh reality of war.
Nick Lake – In Darkness Haiti 1790s/2010
I finished this book several days ago and it still lingers with me and will for some time. More than lingers, it haunts me. In Darkness weaves together two time periods in Haiti’s tumultuous history and is told through two voices. The story opens with the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Shorty is a young gang member living in the Cite’ Soleil, a shanty town/refugee town under the control of the United Nations, but ruled by rival gangs. He is hospitalized with a gunshot wound when the earthquake reduces the hospital to rubble. As he clings to life, he recounts his life’s events and as his mind wanders, the story shifts to Haiti’s past. The second voice is that of Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the successful slave rebellion of 1790 against the French. The time shift writing mechanism succeeds – brilliantly. The writing is intense, the pacing fast, and the characters are very complex and genuine. Both time periods are violent, bleak, gritty and horrific. Because of the language and many acts of violence, the best audience is high school and adult. Also, background knowledge of not just Haitian history but of the many revolutions during the 1700s helps the reader to better absorb the story. My background knowledge of Haitian history is sparse. When I finished the novel, I immediately read several articles about Haiti and Toussaint L’Ouverture. I went about this backwards. I recommend reading a quick encyclopedia article about Haiti’s history and then start the book. The story of Toussaint L’Ouverture could be told by itself and be as engrossing and dynamic alone as it is when entwined with Shorty’s. It is a story that needs to be told and Nick Lake has done an outstanding job. After telling the story of hundreds of years of oppression and violence, the author ends it on a note of hope.