May 11, 2017

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I had a delightful visit on May 9 to B.C. Charles Elementary School in Newport News. The children had read Lottie’s Courage and a couple had read Divided Loyalties. The students were bright, enthusiastic and polite. They had wonderful questions and gave thoughtful answers to the questions I asked. Students graciously helped me with research for a new book.

I gave each student a copy of Marching in Time and personalized the books. The class gave me a lovely Orange Star plant. Thank you Mrs. Tatum for inviting me to visit.

April 11, 2016

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The third volume of my trilogy based on the life of Viscountess Ermengarde of Narbonne, THE VISCOUNTESS AND THE TEMPLARS, will soon be available through Amazon and other online booksellers. 

September 19, 2013

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I’ve recently done a podcast about becoming an historian:

Check it out.

August 22, 2013

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One of the problems with being a children’s author is that my readers grow up. And yes, I want them to “outgrow” my books. As it’s important for them to grow up, I need to grow as a writer, too. My six books of middle grade historical fiction have been successful, but I took on a new challenge in writing my first adult historical novel. THE VISCOUNT’S DAUGHTER was published August 10. It’s available both in paperback and as an ebook. Check it out. The ebook is available at:

The paperback is available at:
Also check o.ut my other website:

July 10, 2013

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The Library of Congress National Book Festival Summer Writing Contest for rising 5th and 6th graders encourages kids to write about a book that is important to them. “A Book That Shaped Me” essays should be one page long. Get an entry form at your local library or download one from:

July 10, 2013

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Early summer seems to be a good time for children’s book authors. Kids are out of school and the summer stretches invitingly before them. I recently had a busy book signing at Colonial Williamsburg and to my delight met a lot of young readers.

I hope the kids who got my books will enjoy them in the days ahead. I have visions of them on the beach, in the mountains, or stretched out on the couch reliving our history through my books.

In the days ahead I’m sure I’ll hear from some of them.



April 5, 2013

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I met this delightful mother and daughter recently at Colonial Williamsburg where they bought a copy of one of my books.

I met this delightful mother and daughter recently at Colonial Williamsburg where they bought a copy of one of my books.

March 5, 2013

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Matthew Whaley Elementary School in Williamsburg celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday with their annal book fair at Barnes and Noble. I’m shown here with Media Specialist Maud Ann Wilson. What an exciting and delightful event.

February 10, 2013

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Librarians and Children: a great team!

Children from local schools participated Friday night in choosing this year’s Beacon of Freedom Award winner. The winning book was  Steve Sheinkin’s THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD. Congratulations Steve and to the students who did an excellent job selecting a winner. Of course the students wouldn’t shine without the support of their librarians and families.


February 8, 2013

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I’ve been remiss. Over the years, I’ve received a lot of letters, cards, and emails from readers. And I’ve found they only write me if they like my books. In the past, I’ve not posted any of their letters. With her permission, I’m posting this comment from Ty’Reonna:

“You’re book was great I enjoyed reading it! Lili’s Gift inspired me to know that many young girls like me could not go on a great journey to find their father and have an amazing gift from god. That’s extraordinary! My favorite part was when she found her dad and they became a family again. Also when she went to go talk to the witch who didn’t turn out to be one, and what you explained on that part was the cover of the book where she held out her hand. The part that was sad was when her mom didn’t have enough money and Lili  and Caleb had to be sent to the orphanage and she would always get in trouble with her gift. You’re book was out of this world I will continue to read more. Hope you can write more books for my family and we would be delighted to read them thanks for being a great author! I learned a lot about the civil war and Virginia.”

Thank you, Ty’Reonna!




January 20, 2013

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This is Martin Luther King Weekend, and it is a pleasure to see so many African Americans visiting Colonial Williamsburg. Celebrate our history!

January 13, 2013

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White Mane Kids, the publisher of five of my children’s novels, has just made BETWEEN THE LINES available in electronic form. Check it out on Smashwords.

January 13, 2013

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Limelight Talent, a children’s theater group, in Petersburg, Virginia performed skits based on two of my books: DIVIDED LOYALTIES and BETWEEN THE LINES as part of the celebration of the  Revolutionary War Battle of Petersburg.

I took a number of movies of the great performances of the cast members, but I unfortunately lost those somewhere in cyberspace.

The actors and actresses did a great job with my characters. I spent December 1 and 2 at the Centre Hill Mansion in Petersburg where the skits were performed. One young man asked me if I didn’t get tired seeing the same skits several times. I told him an author never gets tired of hearing their words repeated by someone else.

Thanks to the young actors and actresses. Well done! It was privilege to see you. Thanks for your hard work in bringing my characters to life,


IMG_1209 IMG_1214

August 28, 2012

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I was signing books at Barnes and Nobles in Williamsburg when a lovely 4th grade teacher bought books to share with her class.

Where would we be without enthusiastic teachers!

August 19, 2012

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Today I was signing books and I met a delightful reader whose mom purchased all of my books for her !!! I hope to hear from this very special reader.

July 7, 2012

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What a pleasure to meet Xavier and Sahara at my most recent book signing! Xavier reads to his little sister. I hope they enjoy LOTTIE’S COURAGE.

July 4, 2012

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One of the great things about being a writer is meeting readers. This was very special. I met Sara and Hannah through their grandparents (children’s writers LOVE grandparents).  These grandparents bought LOTTIE’S COURAGE years ago when it won the Beacon of Freedom Award. They gave it to their granddaughters who only now are old enough to enjoy reading it. When these girls visited Williamsburg, they wanted to meet me. So granddad took us all out to a lovely lunch where we had plenty of time to chat. I gave Sara and Hannah two of my more recents books and hope they will enjoy them as much as they did LOTTIE.


May 13, 2012

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Fifth-grade students at Langley read LOTTIE’S COURAGE. Here are some of their comments:

“I loved it when Lottie escaped from slavery.”

“I liked the part when Lottie got back with her mommy”

“I liked the part when the boy helped the soldiers.”

“I liked it when Ned hung the boy not he fence.”

“I loved the book, its full of history.”

“I like your books. They are amazing.”

“I couldn’t stop reading.”

“It’s a great book.”

“My favorite part of the story was everything.”

“I love everything about the book it’s giving me courage to write a book myself.

No wonder I love going to Langley. I was invited to see a presentation by Langley students. Check out these short clips on youtube.





May 1, 2012

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On last Saturday I drove to Richmond to attend a meeting of the Mid-Atlantic branch of the children’s book writers and illustrators. Literary Agent Molly Jaffa from Folio Literary Management gave the attendees an insight into some of the things an agent can do for a writer. She has helped Lana Krumwiede to make her first book a better book. It sounded like the ideal author-agent relationship. I left wondering if today that kind of partnership wasn’t rare.

I was fascinated by the presentation of Hazel Buys whose picture Olaf’s Door is available on iTunes. Buys seems to be taking advantage of the new technology.  I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more time given to the ebook revolution.



April 8, 2012

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My newest book is now available from White Mane Kids. Check it out!

March 4, 2012

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Until the new book is available about April 1, I’m offering my ebook THE TIME MAGUS  for $.99. It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Smashwords. My hope is that you’ll love THE TIME MAGUS so much you’ll want to buy the new book.




February 20, 2012

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It was a pleasure to meet Elizabeth, an eager reader, who was in Williamsburg visiting her grandparents. Keep reading, Elizabeth!



January 29, 2012

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It’s a very long process to write a book and get it published. But I am almost there with my new middle grade novel. It will be out in March from White Mane Kids.

Between the Lines is an historical novel for children between the ages of eight and thirteen. The story begins in Williamsburg, Virginia. Cassie is a mixed-race child who is a slave. During the Revolutionary War, the British Army offered freedom to slaves who joined their cause. Cassie escaped to the British only to be put out between the battle lines during the Battle of Yorktown, the decisive battle of the war.

I have seen sketches for the cover and I am looking forward to holding the book in my hands.

September 18, 2011

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My niece Pam and her husband James celebrated their wedding with a huge party.
 They offered a prize for the best decorated flipflops. Above are my winning flipflops.
 We had a great time and we are SO happy for the bride and groom.
What fun!

September 4, 2011

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There were many downed trees in our neighborhood.

Fortunately our house was undamaged, but others nearby were not so lucky. We have just had power restored after six days. We are glad we invested in a generator after Hurricane Isabel.

During the worst of the storm we could hear the thunk of trees going down all around us. It was scary.

Destruction was everywhere.



Our street was blocked and neighbors helped clear the trees.


Too bad!!!

August 26, 2011

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This fellow says hee-haw.

The animals can the Camino are sometimes real and sometimes legendary.

A legend or a fact? The beast of Gevaudan.

This wolf-like creature terrorized south central France between  1764 and 1767. There were over 200 attacks and more than 100 people died.

An heroic cat immortalized in stone.

This is a happier story. Cats were outlawed in France, but one little girl hid her cat. After the cats were gone, mice and rats overran the area. And the little girl’s cat saved the day.


August 19, 2011

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This dog was sleeping earlier in the middle of the road!


What you don't see, is that I could reach out and touch these critters.


It's hard carrying a pack all day.


How can one visit Spain without seeing El Toro?



August 14, 2011

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A dog's life

Modern day pilgrims who hike the ancient pilgrimage route, The Camino de Santiago, across France and through Northern Spain, encounter not only other pilgrims but a variety of animals. Fortunately, most of them are friendly.

Mama Horse and Colt

Getting out of the wind


In the 12th-century, people were interestedf in real and imagined creatures such as these carved on a capital at San Juan de la Pena

August 7, 2011

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Part of the fun of being a writer is to meet other writers. Friday night I met Maggie Stiefvater who was in Williamsburg as part of a book tour. Her latest book Forever, is the third volume of a young adult trilogy. The first two volumes, Shiver and Linger, have been wildly successful. Maggie Stiefvater gave an engaging talk and I got a signed copy of her newest book.

Mattie Stiefvater and me!

The next day I met Penny Clifford for lunch. Penny is another writer and long-time friend. She brought me a French copy of her young adult novel, The Shalimar Code. Check out Penny’s website:

That evening I signed books at Colonial Williamsburg and as always it was great fun to meet readers and their families.



Today I’m back to my own writing and household chores.
























July 16, 2011

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It is always great to meet kids who like to read.

Great looking kids!

July 8, 2011

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Here is six-year-old Juan completing an 8 K (nearly five miles) walk with his grandad

The Camino de Santiago is a medieval pilgrimage route that starts in France and end in Santiago, Spain. More than a 100,000 walkers undertake what at times is a very difficult journey. Pilgrims carry everything they need in backpacks and stay at pilgrim dormitories called albergues or refugios. Sometimes these places offer food for walkers and local restaurants provide special pilgrim menus. My husband and I have walked the route four different. This year was the first time we saw any kids on the Camino.

 Here Juan has been reunited with his mom and brother Javier and of course. his proud granddad.  Juan and his family live in Pamplona, Spain.


Sisters from Denmark

Nine-year-old Joan is on the right and her sister Marianne is five. They are walking all the way to Santiago with their mom. This day Joan has a blister. But the kids say they are enjoying the trek.

Carla from Ireland

Nine-year-old Carla was walking with her Mom and Dad and an older brother and sister. Carla likes the time in the dormitory best when she is NOT walking. Her family walked from Pamplona to Burgos, about 120K ( almost 75 miles).  Carla reported that her 12-year-old sister refused to come because her makeup might run. She stayed with her grandmother in Ireland.

What a pleasure it was for me to meet such great kids on the Camino. WELL DONE, KIDS!

April 27, 2011

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This year we had an usual Easter dinner, eating a picnic with friends on board their yacht.

April 22, 2011

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April 20, 2011

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It’s always exciting to meet avid readers.

This reader couldn’t wait to begin reading LOTTIE’S COURAGE. How rewarding for me to see someone enjoying my books!

April 17, 2011

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Life is good in Williamsburg in April!

April 16, 2011

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Colonial Williamsburg is lovely in April. Enjoy!

Gardens at the Governor's Palace




Governor's Palace Garden

Colonial Williamsburg Garden


If you look closely you should see a bee enjoying the tulips.

March 21, 2011

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Kids in Ohio read Divided Loyalties and sent me great questions. I thought I’d post them since other readers might be interested in their questions and my answers.
1. We think Divided Loyalties should be made into a movie. Is there any chance of that? I totally agree. It would make a great movie and we could have action figures. Over 400 kids in Williamsburg where I live wrote to Disney asking that my book, Lottie’s Courage, be made into a movie. They never even got a response. However, I was thrilled that they cared enough to write Disney.
2. Why did you have MacAllister die in the story? We really liked this character. I liked MacAllister, too. The only crime in our U.S. Constitution for which there is a death sentence is treason. During the Revolutionary War it was hard to know who was a loyalist and who was a patriot. You can imagine, then, that treason would be taken VERY seriously. And the punishment was hanging. If he was discovered and “let off” the book wouldn’t be accurate. Also, I think it is important to remember what a high price the patriots paid for our freedom.  
3. Is there going to be a Divided Loyalties II?  Will you add new characters in a sequel or focus on Teddy? I haven’t thought about a sequel to Divided Loyalties. Perhaps you can tell me what should happen in the sequel. What problems would Teddy face after the war was over? Josh would have problems, too, but his would be very different because of his race. What do you think would make a good story? I like Teddy and Josh and I think they should be in a sequel.
4.  Why did you add Ears to the story? Lots of kids love pets and when I can, I try to include one in my stories. They are a part of life today and in times past. 
5. Do you ever go back and reread Divided Loyalties? It took me a long time to get all the errors out of Divided Loyalties. Usually books go through two galley proofs. Galley proofs are copies of the book from the publisher the author must correct and check and recheck making sure everything is correct. Divided Loyalties went through THREE galley proofs. Actually, I’m afraid to read it again. Afraid, I might find an error I missed. Sometimes I read a selection of one of my books when I visit schools so that readers can hear the author’s voice. What part of the book would you like to hear me read? 
6. What is your favorite book that you have written? I don’t have a favorite book. The characters become like my children. And most moms with more than one kid will tell you that they love them all the same.
7. Where did you get the idea for the plot of Divided Loyalties?  The book is based on an incident that actually happened and I found out about it when I was researching my nonfiction book Marching in Timeon the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps. Is that why Teddy lives in Virginia where you live? My son was a fifer in the corps and his best friend was an African-American boy. So, I dreamed up the book while watching my son march through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg. 
8. Why did Teddy’s mom have to die? I had a hard time with Teddy’s mom dying. I wrote about it and I felt so bad I took it out of the book. Then I thought about it. I try to be accurate with my books and in the eighteenth-century life expectancy (the overall time a person could be expected to live) was only 35-40 years. Today life expectancy in the US is 78 years. So, it was very likely in the eighteeth century for a kid to lose one or both of his parents before he/she was grown. As a result I returned to the way I had written about Teddy’s mom’s death at first in the hopes that some readers would ask the very question you’ve asked and learn how difficult life could be in times past. 

March 13, 2011

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It’s always a treat to visit Langley Elementary School. The fifth graders have read Lottie’s Courage and they had wonderful questions and seemed to really enjoy the book.

I got thank-you notes from many students and even a gift! What a pleasure to meet such great students and see Mrs. Stohler again, one of the fifth-grade teachers who loves history and instills that love in her students. I’ve been invited to attend their Civil War Fair in May! It should be great fun.

This year I videoed my talk. But I haven’t yet been able to figure out how to edit the material to a size that will fit on this website. I’m still learning….

March 4, 2011

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Some visitors to Colonial Williamburg are very knowledge about colonial life and customs. It’s always a pleasure to meet them. The young man shown in this photograph has taught himself to fife and he will appear next year in The War of 1812 electronic field trip created by Colonial Williamsburg. I was delighted to learn he had read my historical novel, Divided Loyalties, and found an historical error in the book. In one instance, I mentioned “socks” when the correct word was “stockings.” Since two experts connected with Colonial Williamsburg read the manuscript and we thought we’d gotten out all the errors, I was both humbled and delighted to learn a reader had spotted an error. It is very difficult to get all the “bugs” out of a manuscript and I work very hard to do so. It is gratifying to know someone is paying attention and cares about the details.

February 15, 2011

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Otis and I hosted a potluck dinner at our local pool for people who have walked the Camino de Santiago, or those who are intending to walk, the medieval pilgrim route tot he shrine of St. James in Santiago, Spain. 

 To our great delight Cullen and Palma made wonderful paella. 

Ron’s tortilla (Spanish potato omelet) was also a treat.

We had plenty to eat.

We shared memories.

We reconnected with old friends and made new ones.


  The great food, the Spanish wines, and the company made for a memorable evening.

January 16, 2011

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I have only recently delved into the rich and exciting world of podcasts. I’ve been reviewing my French on Coffee Break French, listening to a History of the World in 100 Objects, and the Secret History of Art.  I’ve explored a couple of writing podcasts, New Yorker shortstory podcasts, and even a Rick Steves podcast on pilgrimages.

For those of you with MP3 players, go to iTunes and select podcasts. That will take you to categories. You will find a podcast about almost anything you are interested in. Enjoy!

December 31, 2010

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This Christmas I was delighted to get a BIG box in the mail from Mary one of my readers in Pennsylvania with not only a gift for me, but also one for my coming grandchild. How very nice of her and her mom. They MADE these gifts!!!

An Adorable Baby Blanket

A Soft and Colorful Christmas Throw

Mary has also read my first e-book and written me a great review on Amazon:

I am blessed!

December 20, 2010

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Even though I’ve lived in Williamsburg since 1985, I never tire of Christmas here.

All the colonial houses are expertly and artistically decorated.

These decorations won first prize.

A dusting of snow adds to the feeling of Christmas.

The Governor's Palace wears greenery, too.

We even have colonial snowmen in Williamsburg.We have colonial snowmen in Williamsburg. 

This sign has a tiny yellow effigy of King George III, hanging by his neck!


Merry Christmas everyone!

 There is always something going on in the historic area. Today it was a humorous version of Scrooge. I made a short movie of part of the performance.

December 14, 2010

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The view from my study window. It is hard to stay on task when the world turns white.


Lovely, lovely snow!

December 9, 2010

Sixth-grade student members of the Wildcat Cafe read Divided Loyalties this year and had great questioned when I visited yesterday.

December 6, 2010

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It was Lili’s big day!

I was invited to Centre Hill Museum (built in 1823) in Petersburg, Virginia to attend a series of skits based on my two Petersburg books for kids. What a thrill for me to see real children from Limelight Talent bring my characters to life.

The historic Centre Hill Mansion was a wonderful setting for my Civil War stories and it was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Two different actresses, Heather Talley and Sydney Welton, brought Lili, the heroine of Lili’s Gift to life and I was delighted to see children playing Fiona, Caleb, Miss Hodgkiss, Mr. Stroop, Mr.  Undertow, Matron, Mary, Aunt Edna, and the children’s grandmother Willow. 

After these wonderful performances, an actor, Stuart Nicholson read an excerpt from Anybody’s Hero.

Here I am with the actors!

Kids waiting to perform.

Studying lines. 

The wonderful skits were followed by a delightful version of Dicken’s The Christmas Carol.  Matthew MacLaughlin played Scrooge and three-year-old grandson Victor MacLaughlin was a touching Tiny Tim.

Kudos to Limelight Talent, Maria MacLaughlin who composed the Lili skits, and to Laura Willoughby, Curator of Collections for the Petersburg Museums. Well done!

To see excerpts from the skits:

November 28, 2010

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Going to the beach at Thanksgiving is always a treat. It’s great to see kids having fun.

As always, the scenery was spectacular!

Even at night, the beach captiviated us!

November 23, 2010

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My newest book, an ebook, has just been published on Kindle and SmashWords. The Magus is a prototype of an advanced computer that goes back in time to 1937. The book costs $2.99 and the first 50 pages are free on SmashWords. Check it out!

November 20, 2010

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Walking in my neighbhood, I snapped the following photos for people who don’t have autum leaves or whose leaves have long gone. Enjoy!

Behind our house!

Some leaves are still green.
This fall leaves in my neighborhood are gorgeous.

A feast for the eyes!

November 15, 2010

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I was very fortunate today to talk with 300 sixth graders. What a great audience! What good questions!

It’s always fun to meet readers!

November 7, 2010

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Baby clothes are so adorable! What fun to buy them.

October 25, 2010

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Students did wonderful illustrations of Lottie’s Courage.

The kids were great listeners!

And they had insightful questions.

October 22, 2010

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It is always a joy to meet readers. These sisters from Indiana came to Williamsburg in full costume. Don’t they look grand?

The kids below are from Texas. They were full of enthusiasm not only for my books, but for the prospect of reading books electronically. Readers often ask me which of my books is my favorite, and I honestly can’t tell them. Because once I create the books, the characters become like my children. The same is true for my readers. Once I meet them I am quite convinced that each is very special. 

October 11, 2010

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Garrett, visiting from South Carolina is an avid reader who loves history!

Ian from North Carolina is also a history buff. How nice to meet readers!

October 6, 2010

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Virginia Author Phyllis Haislip to Partner with Petersburg’s Limelight Talent to Bring Civil War Stories to Life 

Limelight Talent will present historical skits based on two of Phyllis Haislip’s books Lili’s Gift: A Civil War Healer’s Story and Anybody’s Hero: The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys on Saturday December 4 and Sunday December 5 at Petersburg’s Centre Hill Museum. While both books are written for elementary and middle school age levels, the stories appeal to those of all ages. Lili’s Gift tells the tale of a twelve year old girl and her brother who journey from Philadelphia to Petersburg in search of their father, a Civil War soldier. Anybody’s Hero tells of two boys’ search for answers to some of Petersburg’s mysteries that coincide with their participation in the June 9, 1864 Battle of Old Men and Young Boys.

Both books complement history and reading lesson plans for 4th to 8th graders. Lilli’s Gift includes lesson activities and both volumes feature glossaries of Civil War terminology. The volumes serve as great classroom resources as well as appealing to avid young readers. 

A performance of excerpts from Anybody’s Hero will take place from 2:00 – 3:00 on Saturday December 4 and Sunday December 5. Performances of excerpts from Lili’s Gift will take place every hour on the hour from 10:00 until 1:00 on the same days. Mrs. Haislip will be signing books from 1:00 to 3:00 on both days. In addition to the performances, children’s activities will be offered at the museum on both days.

Both Lili’s Gift and Anybody’s Hero are available for purchase from Centre Hill Museum’s gift shop. The retail price is $8.95 plus tax. Centre Hill Museum is located at 1 Centre Hill Ave. in Petersburg. For more information call (804) 733-2401.

September 27, 2010

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Members of the Cherokee Nation visited Williamsburg this last weekend. It’s great living here. So much history! And many great photo opportunities.

September 21, 2010

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I have learned the skits based on my books, Andybody’s Hero and Lili’s Gift, will both be performed the same day with a repeat of the skits on the following day. I can hardly wait until December when children will bring my characters to life.

September 17, 2010

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I learned today that a children’s theater group in Petersburg, Virginia will perform skits based on two of my books on December 4 and 5.  The Saturday performance will be based on Lili’s Gift, my most recent book. The Sunday performance will be based on another of my books, Anybody’s Hero. Both books are set in Civil War Petersburg. What a thrill!

September 15, 2010

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Many home schooled children are visiting Williamsburg this week. I met lots of nice families. And I even got a hug and a kiss today from D.J., shown here in her colonial costume. Life is good!

September 6, 2010

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After Hurricane Earl brought us some rain, the air was crystal clear and it was great weather for a walk in the college woods.

Who is this little guy trying to hide?

And who is this fungus?

August 12, 2010

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Chapter 1

Sold !

Williamsburg Courthouse, built in 1770 where Lottie was sold in 1862

                                                                                                                        Author’s Photograph

               Lottie stood on the auction block in her faded, blue-gingham dress, her legs trembling.  Several hundred people milled around Market Square near the Williamsburg courthouse for the annual New Year’s Day slave auction.  The auctioneer pounded his gavel for silence.  He was a stocky, tired-looking man with a flushed face, and he seemed eager to get the day’s business concluded.  When the crowd quieted, he began the sale, “This chocolate-colored girl looks small, but she’s almost ten years old.  She has helped in the kitchen and in the stables.”  He turned to Lottie.  “Stand up straight and turn around so everyone can see you.”  Lottie straightened her slumped shoulders and slowly turned around.  The day was cold, and Lottie felt exposed, almost naked with everyone looking at her.  She heard a catcall from someone in the crowd.  She felt her face go hot with the shame of being looked over as if she were an animal for sale. 

            “It says here,” the auctioneer read from a paper in a raspy voice, “that she can milk cows, churn butter, and take care of chickens.”  He paused for a moment to clear his throat before he continued.  “Although she’s not used to hard work, she’s still young enough to be broke to field work.  The bidding opens at four hundred dollars.”

            Lottie bit her bottom lip when she heard the words, “broke to field work.”  She had seen the drudgery of slaves hoeing tobacco all day in the hot sun, and she knew their lives were short and miserable.  With those awful words echoing in her head, Lottie searched the crowd for her mother, wondering if she had heard the auctioneer.  Lottie’s gaze fell on the powder magazine.  Beyond it was Francis Street, where she had lived her whole life.  Now she wished she could run, run back to the only home she had ever known.  A hand went up as the buyers began bidding.

            “Four hundred twenty-five dollars,” offered a tall man wearing a slouch hat.

            “Four fifty.”  The bid came from somewhere near the back of the crowd.

            “Four seventy-five,” the first man called out.  Then there was silence.  For a fleeting second, Lottie hoped that no one was going to buy her.

Slave Auction in Virginia, 1861

Illustrated London News, February 16, 1861; courtesy of The Illustrated London News Picture Library

                “Sold!” the auctioneer said, pounding his gavel amid a stream of rapidly spoken words, “To Mr. Slye for four hundred and seventy-five dollars.”  Just then Lottie spotted her mother as she slowly made her way through the crowd.

             “Come down from there, girl,” the auctioneer said, shuffling his papers to prepare for the next sale.  “We haven’t got all day.”

            Lottie kept her mother in view as she stepped shakily down from the block.  The last slave to be auctioned was a stooped, white-haired man, and he shuffled to the block, mumbling quietly to himself.  Lottie felt numb.  She had been sold.  Sold to a man she didn’t know.  What would happen to her now? 

            Mama’s sorrow-filled face grew closer.  Lottie stooped and picked up her over-sized woolen coat from where it lay on the steps of the courthouse and struggled into it.

             “This way.”  Slye, the man who bought her, roughly grabbed her arm.  Lottie flinched at the man’s touch.  He was evil-looking with sunken cheeks, gray whiskers, and one dead eye.  He steered her toward a group of slaves standing near one corner of the brick courthouse.

            Lottie went off with the man, away from her approaching mother.  She craned her neck to make sure her mother was following.  She stumbled, and Slye shook her.  “Pay attention to where you’re going,” he growled, fixing his cold eye on her.

            They approached an older man with lanky hair, wearing a dark coat, shiny with grease.  A shotgun rested in the crook of his arm.  He was guarding other recently purchased slaves.  A small group of onlookers, mostly slaves, stood nearby.

            “She’s the last, Ferris,” Slye told the other man, giving Lottie a shove in his direction.  “Let’s get these people secured and get going.”

            Lottie saw Mama limp toward her.  She wasn’t wearing a coat, and the apron she had put on this morning before preparing the major’s breakfast was still tied around her waist.  Lottie guessed that her mother had left her work without permission.  Before anyone could stop her, Mama gathered Lottie in her arms.  “It’ll be all right,” Mama said quietly, trying to comfort Lottie before someone forced them apart.  “It’ll be all right.”

            “What will happen to me, Mama?” Lottie asked, her words thick with dread.

            “I don’t know,” Mama whispered, wondering if she’d ever see her daughter again.  She had hoped that Lottie would find a new owner in Williamsburg.  Now that hope was gone. Probably she would be taken south to work in the cotton fields of the Carolinas where she would become one of the expendable work horses of farm life.  Her little girl would be old before her time, if she survived the harsh life of unending toil.  Lottie’s mother struggled to keep her voice steady.  “I heard someone say you’d been bought by ….”  She choked on the hated words, “a slave trader.”

            Slave trader.  Lottie had heard about slave traders.  She bit her bottom lip.  There was no need for bogey men to scare slave children in Virginia.  The words “slave trader” were enough to frighten the bravest child.

            “Am I being sold south?” Lottie asked, remembering stories she had heard of her father’s uncertain fate.

            “I don’t know, child,” said Mama, her gentle face full of pain.  “There’s no telling where you’ll end up.  But you need to remember where I’ll be.  In Winchester, at Mrs. Emma Howell’s.  Say it.”

            “Winchester, Mrs. Emma Howell’s,” Lottie repeated the words as she had so many times in the last several days.  Mama had worried what would happen to them ever since their owner, Mrs. Shadwell, died in childbirth last October.  Major Shadwell had been away fighting with the Confederate army and had returned home ten days ago.  The day after Christmas he told Mama the dreadful news that she had been inherited by her former mistress’s sister in Winchester and Lottie was to be sold.

                       The auction was over, and the crowd was beginning to disperse.  Lottie heard the clank of chains as Slye began fitting iron collars around the necks of the seven men and boys.  He then fastened a long chain through the hasp of the padlocks that held the neck irons, chaining the men together in a line.  Lottie glanced at the other slaves, hoping she might see a familiar face.  But she recognized no one.

            The man called Ferris began tying the women with a rope.  “Out of the way,” he said to Mama, pushing her aside when it was Lottie’s turn to be tied with the others.  As Mama watched helplessly, he fastened a rope halter around Lottie’s neck and attached her to the heavy-set, older woman behind her.  Whenever the other women moved, the rope chafed Lottie’s neck.  She bit her lip again.  She had seen slaves traveling through Williamsburg in similar slave coffles, but she had never imagined how wretched it would feel. 

            Slye turned to Ferris, “Let’s get going,” he said.  “We’ve a way to go before nightfall.”

            Mama hugged Lottie one last time.  “Be strong.  Only the strong survive,” she said.  “I want you to promise you’ll be strong.”

            In spite of her brave words, Mama looked so defeated that for a moment Lottie feared more for her mother than for herself.  “I’ll be strong,” Lottie said, trying to sound confident.  “I’ll survive.”

             As a slave Lottie’s mother had been taught to hide her feelings, and she had hidden them so often these last several days, they had formed a great knot in her chest.  Now Lottie’s words loosened the knot, and she began to sob.

             Ferris and Slye mounted up.  Then Ferris prodded the slave at the head of the coffle with the end of his gun.  “Move on,” he barked. 

            The line started with a stumble and jerk.  The rope cut into Lottie’s neck.  For a moment, she choked.  Mama let go of her, and she got in step with the others, easing the tension on her neck.  As the slaves began to move away, Mama thrust into Lottie’s hands the flax tow sack she had packed the night before.

            The coffle made its way down Duke of Gloucester Street.  Lottie heard her mother’s sob-racked voice raised above the commotion of departure.  “Gone!  All gone!  Everyone I’ve ever loved is gone.  Why doesn’t God just kill me?  It isn’t right to take my child.  It isn’t right.  It isn’t right.”

            Lottie painfully turned to catch one last glimpse of Mama.  Slye saw her waver in line.  His whip whizzed through the air.  It burned her shoulders through her coat, and its tail bit into the side of her face.  The tears Lottie had been stifling all morning spilled over as she staggered forward, her face burning and her heart breaking.  “Oh, Mama, Mama,” she sobbed.  “Will I ever see you again?”

July 11, 2010

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This picture was taken at Dodger Stadium. We got to watch the Cubs play the Dodgers. It was a great game, but unfortunately the Cubs lost 3 to 2.  LA was cold. We wore sweaters and jackets over them at the game.

In addition to the loving the ballgame, we especially enjoyed the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and the Huntington Library.  Even though the Huntington is a library, it is also a series of fantastic gardens.

Lotus plants growing in the Chinese Garden

One of many gigantic bonsai in the Japanese Garden

We had great food!


June 25, 2010

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A reader brought me this bookmark yesterday while I was signing books at Colonial Williamsburg.  What a thoughtful, ideal gift for a writer! Many thanks Alexandra.

June 10, 2010

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May 24, 2010

Steve Seinkein, the 2009 winner of the Beacon of Freedom Award, with his award-winning book Two Miserable Presidents. The book is about Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis and the kids who chose the winner loved the humor and compelling stories about the Civil War. The kids learned lots of things that never appear in textbooks, but brought history alive for them. Check out Steve Sheinkein’s books.

May 20, 2010

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It’s always a pleasure to meet kids who have enjoyed one of my books!

I got wonderful thank you letters from Mrs. Tatum’s class.

I signed books for the whole class.

I got hugs!

Kids made great posters and I signed each of them, too!

May 15, 2010

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It is always fun to meet readers and I had a wonderful welcome at Walsingham Academy.

Students in Mrs. Dixon’s library class had read Lottie’s Courage and not only did they host my visit, but they took me to lunch at Chickahominey House.

I talked to students about research and I was delighted with their lively participation.

May 13, 2010

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Windsor Middle School has a great program to encourage reading. It is the Wildcat Book Cafe. Readers get to discuss books over lunch.

How wonderful to meet so many enthusiastic readers!

May 10, 2010

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Kids at Windsor Middle School have been reading Lottie’s Courage. I’ll be meeting with them on Wednesday of this week. I was delighted to read their posting about the book on line at:

January 29, 2010

The Black Regiment of the American Revolution by Linda Crotta Brennan, Illustrated by Cheryl Kirk Noll. ( North Kingstown, RI: Moon Mountain Publishing, 2004). An attractive and informative book. Good illustrations. Glossary, places to visit, and resources. There are maps throughout. However they are small and a bit confusing. The sidebars were interesting but they were in very small type and often against a dark background, making them hard to read. A larger format would have improved this book. The text employs primary sources and illuminates an area of history that children may not be familiar with. I wished there had been a brief discussion of “overalls” and the author called Yorktown the “turning point” when Saratoga is commonly accepted as such.

January 29, 2010

Dadblamed Union Army Cow by Susan Fletcher, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root (Boston: Candlewick Press, 2007). An amusing tale with great illustrations. However, I think it is too elementary for middle grade readers. The print is large and it reminds me of a book for little kids. It is based on a true story, but I don’t like the slang used in the book. It is such a struggle to get kids to use proper English that I do not want to encourage them to do otherwise. Also, it is condensing to assume people of the past did not use proper English. I am continually impressed by the Civil War letters I read, even those from common soldiers.

January 29, 2010

Ain’t Nothing But A Man, My Quest to Find the Real John Henry, by Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson, (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2008). An attractive book with great photos, this book gets to the heart of doing historical research. I liked the illustrations and I liked the message of the book. At times I felt the writing was labored, but the tale is an intriguing one. I also liked the material at the end: How to be a Historian and the Appendice..

January 29, 2010

Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas, painting by Layne Johnson (Honesdale, PA: Calkins Creek, 2008). Nice pictures and some things I didn’t know about George Washington, but I didn’t like the continual use of “George” perhaps it was okay when he was young, but later on it got old. I liked the document fragments included, but I didn’t like the script they were printed in.  Although George Washington as farmer is an interesting aside, I wonder when kids know so little about American history if this focus isn’t a little too specific. I liked the two additions at the end: George’s Thoughts on Slavery, and Learn More about Farmer George at Mount Vernon.

January 29, 2010

Remember Valley Forge Patriots, Tories, and Redcoats Tell Their Stories by Thomas B. Allen (Washington, DC: National Geographic 2007). I really liked this book. Great pictures and small pictures of some of the leading figures and as the subtitle indicates, the book contains actual quotes from participants, instead of invented “voices” from the past.  I learned things from reading the book that I didn’t know and it was a great refresher for things I already knew. Good Time line at the end of the book. This book is “patriotic” in that it is a reminder of the many who suffered and died in the cause of American Independence. As Thomas Fleming says in the Foreward “Thomas B. Allen’s book captures this mysterious power of Valley Forge as a symbol of America’s spiritual strength. It is as good as a visit….”

January 29, 2010

Sisters of Scituate Light by Stephen Krensky, Illustrated by Stacey Schuett (New York: Dutton, 2008). This book is listed as “fiction” but it gives every appearance of being an accurate historical account by even including actual quotations from interviews with the girls. However, the girls were not young as portrayed in the book. Rebecca was 21, Abigail was 17. It blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. The pictures, though dramatic and colorful, seem to be more impressionistic than accurate. I liked the story, but I took the book out of the library, again, not realizing I had read it. Apparently, it didn’t make a big impression on me.

January 29, 2010

Dolly Madison Saves George Washington written and Illustrated by Don Brown. (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007). I’ve always loved the story of Dolly Madison and I enjoyed the text of this book. The drawings are whimsical and I didn’t care for them, but kids might like them. The information about Gilbert Stuart and the Author’s Note were interesting, but you can’t depend on kids reading this type of thing.

January 29, 2010

Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin, Illustrated by Larry Day (New York: Walker, 2008). This is a quick read with lots of history presented in a pleasing manner. Great illustration, seemingly accurate. I liked the map on the inside of the covers.

January 29, 2010

The Brothers’ War, Civil War Voices in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis and Civil War Photographers (Washington: National Geographic, 2007). I was surprised to see this book of poems is considered to be nonfiction.  I liked some of the poems, but not for kids. Kids at this age are still literal. I can imagine them thinking that a slave, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Sherman, and other really wrote the poem that are in their voices.

The classic Civil War pictures never cease to startle. In spite of the celebration of violence in our culture, I’m not sure ten-year-old kids are ready for this reality. I took special exception to the photograph on p. 27.

I was particularly bothered by the two letters. My experience of reading Civil War letters would indicate that even the common soldiers wrote very good prose. I’m sure there were exceptions, but just as Americans couldn’t believe Frederick Douglass had been a slave because he was so eloquent, so also it is hard for 21st century people to believe how good the prose was at the time of the Civil War.

 The book has an attractive layout with the gold pages a nice counterpoint to the black and white photographs.

January 29, 2010

The Buffalo Storm by Katherine Applegate and Jan Ormerod (New York: Clarion, 2007). Great illustrations and a sweet story, but this book doesn’t improve readers’ knowledge of history. The protagonist seems a bit young four middle grade readers. I wouldn’t think too many readers would relate to a child afraid of storms. Poetically written.

January 29, 2010

Colonial Voices by Kay Winters and Larry Day (New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2008). This book had wonderful illustrations, but I found it boring, especially for readers familiar with Colonial Williamsburg crafts and trades people.  I liked the glossary and even learned something from the book that I didn’t know. However, the colonists throwing the tea into Boston Harbor is a one of those subjects that has been “beaten to death” and historians aren’t in agreement about its significance. I’d rather kids were introduced to something they knew less about. The use of the first person was not effective.

January 29, 2010

Letters from the Corrugated Castle, A Novel of Gold Rush California, by Joan W. Blos (New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2007). I grew very weary of this book. The letters go on and on. It is hard to believe that young persons even in the nineteenth century would write such long and detailed letters. At 305 pages overall, the book is too long for many readers. I also felt that the heroine, Eldora, who couldn’t remember her mother, separated with too little sorrow from her Aunt and Uncle. That isn’t the only separation. Lucia mother leaves her and Luke’s father leaves him. And then there is Rafael, Isabela and Carmen. Yes, it was the nineteenth century and families were separated, but I felt this was forced. Throughout the story, it’s unclear what Eldora wants. So there is little to drive the reader.

January 29, 2010

Attack of the Turtle by Drew Carlson (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2007). I felt the plot in this book was forced. And the storyline meandered, diverting to the Battle of Long Island. It wasn’t convincing that Nathan would leave the Turtle looking for his father, get involved in the battle without actually enlisting, and then leave the “military” as easily as he had joined up. At one point, Nathan is looking for Joshua Wade, but since his best friend at home was Josh, I was confused, not recalling if and when I had heard his father’s name before.  Putting Nate in the driver’s seat of the submarine was not historically accurate. I knew from the beginning he would be piloting it because of his fear of the water. Unbelievable stuff. I also didn’t like it that he put the word “bastard” into the mouth of Joseph Martin, whom I never recall using anything slightly off color and calling him “Joe,” something else I didn’t recall from Martin’s book. Throughout I felt a “modern sensibility” instead of details to transport the reader to another time.

January 29, 2010

Jamestown, 1607 by Michael L. Cooper (New York: Holiday House, 2007) I was not looking forward to this book since I know so much about Jamestown. I was pleasantly surprised. I especially liked that it relied heavily on primary sources, even to include period pictures. A few quibbles: p. 8 “rolled up their sails,” p. 12 pikes [which are like spears], and p. 75 Chaco was not the helpful Algonquin, but Chanco.  Errors like this made me wonder if I missed other errors.

January 29, 2010

Our Liberty Bell by Henry Jonas Magaziner, illustrated by John O’Brien. (New York: Holiday House, 20017)/This book was a quick read and I liked it because it was “patriotic.” I learned things about the Liberty Bell that I didn’t know and for kids it was contained a snapshot survey of a wide swath of American history. I would have preferred color illustrations. The illustrations were whimsical and I think serious illustrations might have contributed more.

January 20, 2010

Teddy makes mistakes in the book? What are those mistakes? Have you ever made similar mistakes? Does Teddy learn anything from his mistakes? Does he grow and change as the book progresses? What kinds of things do you think Teddy learns?

January 18, 2010

The Adventurous Life of Miles Standish by Cheryl Harness (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007) I found it really hard to get through this book. The long sentences really wore me down. (For example a 36 word sentence on p. 90). In other places there were annoying sentence fragments. The tone was “chatty” probably in the attempt to be kid friendly. In doing so, the author used language not appropriate to the times and puts the readers on first name terms with Miles Standish, by referring to him throughout as “Miles.”

At times, the author’s knowledge of history was dubious. She makes sweeping generations that aren’t substantiated by current research:  P. 17 “From the 1500s into the 1700s, tens of thousands of heretics and witches (these, mostly women) were tortured and executed.” P. 21 “Most people, including Henry, believed that God gave kings, queens, czars, and emperors the divine right to rule their land and people with absolute power.” P. 31 I would quibble with her definition of pilgrims. (no mention of the religious connotation). P. 34 the implication is that the Dutch would not have been rich and powerful without refugees. P. 68 too simplistic discussion of self-government. P. 96 incorrect note on tulips. P. 97 misleading discussion of fish manure. P. 103 First Thanksgiving in Virginia.

January 18, 2010

The Amazing Air Balloon by Jean Van Leeuwne, pictures by Marco Ventura. (New York: Phyllis Fogelman Books, 2003). This is the story of a thirteen year old boy, Edward Warren, who was the first American to ride in a hot air balloon in 1784. I felt this was too juvenile for middle grade readers. Warren is thirteen, but there is little text to accompany the nice pictures.

January 18, 2010

My Lost Skirt, The Story of Jennie Hodgers, Union Soldier by Lynda Durrant (New York: Clarion, 2006), I read 106 pages of this book and finally gave up. I found it tough going. It tends to be a narrative of events, rather than a compelling personal story. It is an intriguing subject, a woman who passes as a man during the Civil War, yet the book missed in that it didn’t adequately deal with Jennie’s feelings or give a clear idea of how she coped. The story is a fictional account of an actual person, the only woman on either side of the war to receive a pension. She served as Albert Cashier. I found the prose and the narration ponderous, even though it was written in the first person in the present tense. The book has an author’s note and a bibliography, but no maps. The only illustration is on the cover.  It’s unclear whether the letter on pages 168-9 is an actual document or not. The author might have mentioned it in the author’s note if it was accurate. Contemporaries thought Jennie crazy. Her motivation seems to have been the increased opportunities for men, but this reader wondered if that was all that inspired her to live for 50 plus years as a man.

January 18, 2010

Desperate Journey by Jim Murphy (New York: Scholastic Press, 2006). Maggie and her family had a deadline to meet as they make their way along the Erie Canal in 1848 and they encounter one problem after another. An unlikely “savior” appears to help in the person of Billy Black.

At 268 pages the book is long, and in places it felt forced, especially the conflict between Maggie and Eamon, her younger brother.  It does give readers insight into life on the Erie Canal.

The book contains an author’s note and map at the end, plus a glossary. There was no bibliography. The author continually uses the word “alright” not established until 1893. The book didn’t suggest how the kids went to school and I wonder about the accuracy of the amounts of money described in the book.

January 18, 2010

Night Boat to Freedom by Margot Theis Raven, pictures by E.B. Lewis (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. The story of a boy named Christmas John who rowed slaves to freedom from Kentucky to Ohio. The story was inspired by WPA’s Slave Narrative Collection. The  part of the story of the grandmother being a dyer and weaver and making the patchwork quilt was contrived.

Overall, I felt the level too junior for middle grade readers.  Yet, the pictures made this an attractive book.

January 18, 2010

Iron Thunder by Avi, The Battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac (New York: Hyperion, 2007). A well researched and easy to read novel with Civil War era pictures and illustrations throughout. Contains a glossary, Author’s Note, and The Monitor Today at the end.

The book is written in the first person for the series “I Witness” and tells the story of Tom Carroll, a boy aboard the Monitor while she was being launched and when she fought the Merrimac. The novel contains a great deal of historical detail. It is always a balancing act to get the right mix of history and story. If this book erred at all, it was on the side of history at the expense of the story. And it obviously did not err since it won the Beacon of Freedom Award, a child-chosen award for books on early American history.

Aside from Tom, a number of the other characters were not well developed. However, Avi does a great job of sustaining reader interest throughout. A lot of the research was done in Newport News, Virginia at the Mariners’ Museum.

January 18, 2010

My Name is Sally Little Song by Brenda Woods(New York: Putnams, 2006). The book tells the story through the first person narrative of a twelve-year-old American slave who with her family escapes slavery to find refuge in the Florida swamps with the Seminole Indians in 1802.

Nice little poems head each chapter and the “black” dialogue while well done is sometimes jarring. I was initially put off by the book because the picture it painted of slaves was grim and it is an oft told tale. It was very “black and white” without any nuances.

The book got better when the family made their way to the protections of the Indians. However, I did think that the continual parade of disasters was sometimes a bit forced. You have to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, but that doesn’t always have to be an alligator attack.         I thought the lost mother was handled sensitively with a number of references to it. Many other  times, a leading character suffers loss without showing this in the story.

There is an afterward, but as an historian I wanted more. I wanted suggestions for further reading, a map, and a glossary of Indian terms used.

I liked the picture cover girl who is clearly African American wearing Seminole dress.

January 18, 2010

By the Sword by Selene Castrovill with illustrations by Bill Farnsworth (Calkins Creek, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, 2007) This story of Benjamin Tallmadge missed. The illustrations were pretty and impressionistic. The book had a timeline, author’s research notes, and maps all of which I applaud. However, the story wasn’t compelling, in spite of the action. Perhaps the story wasn’t developed enough for the reader to sympathize with Tallmadge.  He loved his horse, but forgot him. If this is true to the events, it doesn’t make Tallmadge sympathetic. In the Author’s notes when she asks “What is truth?” I cringed, not the best tact for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who can deal with uncertainty, but perhaps not high blown philosophical statements.

January 18, 2010

Voyage of Ice by Michele Torrey (New York: Knopf, 2004). This book was hard to put down. Initially, I was put off by the length, but since the drama was sustained, it went quickly. A great insight into the life of whalers in the 19th century. The age of Nick Robbins (15-16) and his devotion to Captain Thorndike’s daughter, Elizabeth made me wonder if this book was more of a young adult book.

One thing I didn’t like about the book was the statement after the title page: Voyage on Ice Being the true story of my Nicholas Robbins’ experience about the whaleship Sea Hawk, and of my captain’s cruelty, our shipwreck in the Artic, and of the hardships suffered thereby. As told to Michele Torrey. This blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, and kids have difficulty with what is real and what is imagined. Good glossary, overlong author’s note.

January 18, 2010

The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone and How Early Americans Took to the Road written and illustrated by Cheryl Harness (Washington, National Geographic, 2007). There are things I really liked about this book. I was especially taken with the illustrated time line that appeared at the bottom of each page. What a neat way to pique student interest and foster an understanding of many things going on at the same time. I found the Daniel Boone story interestingly presented with great illustrations. However, sometimes the prose was chatty and awkward. In places, I had to read things more than once to understand the author’s point. I liked when the author explained possibly difficult terms for kids such as p. 49 venison(deer meat). On p. 125 where she mention ordinary and with a parenthesis (includes bed and breakfast) although I’m not really sure I’d call an ordinary by that modern designation. Nonetheless, kids enlarge their vocabulary as they read.

I didn’t like expanding the Boone story to include Chapter 5 “On the Go” When Boone died, I lost interest and had to trudge through that last section. Perhaps to make the book different, the author has cast it in a wider mode, but I didn’t feel that was needed or effective. In fact, I felt it detracted from the book.

January 18, 2010

The Many Rides of Paul Revere by James Cross Giblin (New York, Scholastic, 2007). I thought I knew all about Paul Revere until I read this book. I didn’t know that Revere was such an entrepreneur and took more than one ride. I liked the archival illustrations, the Time Line, Maps, and Historic Sites to Visit. A great example of how a specific story, encompasses the whole. Great material for discussion of the events leading up to the Revolutionary War, the War itself, the Industrial Revolution, the War of 1812 and the relationship of the facts to the famous poem. An attractive book, except I didn’t like the double columns.

January 18, 2010

A Pickpocket’s Tale by Karen Schwabach(New York: Random House, 2007). At 213 pages, the book is a bit long, but it is well researched and I think kids will like it. It is the story of Molly Abraham, a Jewish pickpocket who is transported for her crimes to New York in 1730. Of particular interest to kids will be the use of the London dialogue of Flash-cant. There is a glossary at the back of the book, explaining the terms. Many of them can be gleaned from context. The central character is engaging and well-drawn, the tension sustained throughout the story. Very well done. Includes an author’s note, map, and glossary. Highly recommended.

January 18, 2010

Torchlight by Carol Otis Hunter. (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2006) The book revolves around an incident in 1854 (The summary wrong on back of cover) Fifth grader Charlotte befriends an Irish girl, Maggie in Westfield MA amid strong anti-Irish feelings. The story is told from Charlotte’s point of view and language reflects the period. Good historical research. Gentle humor throughout the book graces what could be a dreary topic. Highly recommend.

January 18, 2010

Red Thunder by John P. Hunter (Colonial Williamsburg, 2007)

This book was on a good topic:  The Battle of Yorktown in 1781 and African American spy James Armistead. Young Nate and his dog help James with his spying. There was lots of drama in the book although I found much of it forced and unconvincing.

I do not think this book was suitable for young readers. Books for middle grade students generally do not employ the omniscient viewpoint found in this book, rather using either first or third person. And if more than one viewpoint is employed than usually a chapter shift. Also, at 232 pages this book was too long or perhaps it only seemed that way because of the way it was written.  The author does too much “telling” not enough showing. He tends to  explains things when they should naturally evolve in the story.

Also, the author uses non-eighteenth century terminology: Tarleton, a thug and tsunami….that might pass but when the main charter Nate thinks about someone being a nitwit, employing a term from the 1920s, it is jarring.

I question the accuracy of the story in several places. The writing style seems to be young adult and the content level middle grade.

January 5, 2010

Vinnie Ream had an amazing life for a woman of her time. What did the inclusion of her picture, and the picture of her Abraham Lincoln statue, in Vinnie and Abraham help you understand about her story? Did the watercolor illustrations help tell the story as well?

What did you learn about President Lincoln’s childhood from reading My Brother Abe, which is told from his sister’s point of view?