Monday, January 29, 2007

On the Banks of the Wabash: Around the World With Your Library Card

Today starts our trip around the world. Your passport is your library card, and the only traveling expenses you'll accumulate will be any fines you are charged if you bring your books back late.

You won't need your passport just yet, because we're staying in the USA today. We're Indiana-bound, and we better bundle up. If you think it's cold here in Warrenton now, it's 13 degrees in Indianapolis. A little introduction before we start our journey:

Statehood: Dec 11, 1816 (19th state)
Capital: Indianapolis
State motto: The Crossroads of America
Nickname: The Hoosier State
Indiana Office of Tourism Development
Official state site

We have a variety of children’s books that take place in the state of Indiana, ranging from historical fiction to contemporary suspense novels.

Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Running Out of Time has hounded me for several years. Every time someone mentioned it to me or I saw it listed on some children’s literature list, I always made a mental note to read it. But newer books always called my attention, and my intentions were never realized. Until I saw that it was set in Indiana-there was no escaping it this time!

And wow! Now do I know what I was missing, and why this was so heartily recommended over the years. Just…WOW! If you have a reluctant reader who wants a suspenseful and and unusual read, grab this book. It centers around a young girl named Jessie, who lives in a village in Clifton, Indiana. Life is pretty ordinary for Jessie until the dreaded disease dipthteria strikes her village. This being 1840, there is no modern medicine to treat the disease. Or so Jessie thinks, until she learns that she is actually part of a historical preservation settlement and that the year is actually 1996. Her mother, fearing the loss of her own small children, helps Jessie escape the fortress. Thinking that she will soon contact a trusted sympathizer, Jessie plummets further into a world of confusion and bewilderment.

I always love it when an author is one step ahead of me, and my assumptions about future plot elements prove me wrong! I was taken by surprise several times throughout the story, and I literally could not put it down. I read the book in one night, and that’s not something that I regularly do! This is a fantastic cross of historical fiction and contemporary suspense.

Turning strictly to historical fiction, we have Laurie Lawlor’s The School at Crooked Creek. Beansie lives with his family on the Indiana homestead circa 1820s. It’s time for him to go to school, but he’s not too sure about the prospect. While this might not be a book that children instantly gravitate to, it’s a well-written beginning chapter book about a boy’s life on the frontier.

The Dear America books are perennially popular; as some who loves historical novels for children, this fact makes me very happy. Add in the fact that the books are written by true blue children’s literature authors, and it makes me doubly so. Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift is written by Kathryn Lasky, author of the Newbery Honor book, Sugaring Time, among many others. As you can imagine, diary entries deal with the dark elements of the Depression such as the Hoovervilles (in Indianapolis, where the story takes place, the shantytowns are called Curtisvilles, after the vice president), the rise of Adolf Hitler, suicide, and unemployment. There are lighter elements to the diary, however: the fashions of the time, the popular movies, and getting ready for Christmas. Minnie is quite the character; many things are rated according to her personal “Vomitron.” The Dear America books are quick reads that have excellent historical details. Lasky based her story on actual family members, and an afterward gives further background on the era.

Finally, we have Bernie Magruder & The Bats in the Belfry by Bethesda (MD) based author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Odd things are happening in Middleburg, Indiana. The town is threatened by the mysterious (and potentially life threatening) Indiana Aztec bats. When Middleburgians are not fretting over death by bat, they are driven crazy by a belfry that constantly plays “Abide With Me” by order of a very rich and very dead woman, to whom the towns owes a great debt. In the tradition of preteen and teen sleuths like Encyclopedia Brown, Trixie Belden, and Nancy Drew, Bernie is drawn into the bat mystery, while his irrepressible older sisters draw the family into the “Abide With Me” debate, which threatens to divide the town.

The madcap situations and the humor make this a great choice for a reluctant reader in the elementary grades. You’re probably already familiar with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Newbery medalist for Shiloh and author of the Alice series, among her 100+ books for children and young adults.

If you have a middle schooler, check out The Teacher’s Funeral and Here Lies the Librarian, both by Richard Peck and located in our YF section. Humor and historical fiction aren’t usually found in the same book, but Richard Peck is a master of including both. His books are located in both the children’s room and in the YF section, depending on the title.

Next Monday: We’ll take a trip to the “storytelling continent” by way of two picture books featuring Cameroon, and we’ll swing back for stories featuring West Virginia.

(If a country is only represented by a few picture books or by one novel, I will feature another country/state with it.)

Happy trails!

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