Ella Wood by Michelle Isenhoff

Ella Wood2940151472746_p0_v1_s260x420Ella Wood

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Michelle Isenhoff, Publisher, Historical Fiction, May 10, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 12-16

Themes: Morality, Civil War, Slavery, Family relationships, Love

Opening: The sight of blood had a powerful effect on Emily Preston. It was merely a trickle of red oozing from a black woman’s finger, but it rocked the very foundation of her upbringing.

Synopsis: After spending a year living with her abolitionist uncle in Detroit, Emily Preston is no longer a spoiled Southern belle, but a thoughtful 16-year-old whose views about slavery have been dramatically altered. Her heart wants to believe that the slaves living at her beloved Ella Wood are treated well, but she sees signs that things are amiss. Emily has changed in many other ways. She’s really not interested in social parties, suitors and marriage proposals. Although she is drawn to some brief romantic encounters with suitors Thad and Jovie, she harbors a secret dream of attending university like her brother, Jack. This wish creates conflict between Emily and her traditional and controlling father. With the war looming between the North and South and her father’s involvement in politics, Emily’s independent spirit begins to take flight.

What I like about Ella Wood:

Michelle Isenhoff proves her skill as an outstanding literary author in her recent YA novel Ella Wood, a sequel to her MG novel, The Candle Star. Taking Emily’s story to a more mature level is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, who is responding to her readers’ request to know more about Emily’s journey. Ella Wood is the first novel in this new trilogy.

Ella Wood is bold and profound, and heartbreaking and breathtaking all at once. Highly researched, this captivating work of historical fiction offers a penetrating look into South Carolina’s role in the civil war, the elite plantation owners, the customs and culture, and the horrific treatment of slaves.

Readers will care about her distinct and memorable characters. Emily is strong-willed and determined to fight for what she believes, unlike her mother, a proper Southern lady who bows to her husband’s demands. Brother Jack has top grades at the university, but runs with the wrong crowd. Suitor Thad is dashing, exciting, and mysterious, while Jovie is a solid Southern gentleman and supports Emily’s ambitions. Emily’s loyal slave and friend, Lizzie, carries many sorrows and deep-seated secrets.

Isenhoff’s plot is realistic, gripping and full of tension. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged. I am completely invested in this book and enjoyed every moment I spent with Ella Wood. The ending is unexpected and feels a bit rushed for me. It left me with many questions. I look forward to the second book in the Ella Wood Trilogy, which will be published in 2016. I highly recommend Ella Wood!

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of the The Candle Star, Blood of Pioneers and Beneath the Slashings (Divided Decade Collection); Song of the Mountain and Fire on the Mountain (Mountain Trilogy); Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul, Taylor Davis and the Clash of Kingdoms; The Color of Freedom; and The Quill Pen. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website.

Juneteenth for Mazie

Juneteenth9781623701703_p0_v1_s260x420

Juneteenth for Mazie

Floyd Cooper, Author and Illustrator

Capstone for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan.1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Juneteenth, Celebrating freedom from slavery, Passing down family history

Opening: Mazie wants to play outside, but it is too late. “It’s getting dark, Mazie. It’s time to stay inside.”

Synopsis: Mazie is restless because it’s bedtime and she can’t go where she wants, have what she wants or do what she wants. Her father tells her about a big celebration she will attend the next day — Juneteenth. “We will celebrate the day your great-great-great-grandpa Mose, crossed into liberty.” Grandpa Mose works hard in the cotton fields along with many slaves in Galveston, Texas, until that joyful day in 1865, when word of their emancipation finally reaches the slaves. They celebrate and dance into the night. After freedom arrives, Grandpa Mose and many others continue to work and are paid, but equality is still a long way off.  Mazie learns from her father that many African-Americans struggle to stand as equals with white people. Each generation carries that dream to improve their lives. Now it’s Mazie’s turn to celebrate who she is and to remember the accomplishments of her ancestors.

Why I like this book:

  • Floyd Cooper’s Juneteenth for Mazie beautifully illustrates and celebrates a memorable day in American history. His picture book about June 19, or Juneteenth, will encourage a new generation of children to celebrate, ask questions and remember. This year will  mark the 150th anniversary of that auspicious day.
  • This is a lovely saga about Mazie, her family and their ancestral relationship to Juneteenth. Her father narrates this touching story about Grandpa Mose who “worked in fields that stretched all the way to sunset.” He tells Mazie about her family legacy, the joy of freedom, the struggle for the right to vote, the desegregation of schools, of forgiveness, achievement and celebration.
  • With June 19 approaching, this is a perfect book for teachers to integrate into their lesson plans. The text and writing style will encourage children to love history and want to know more about their own family histories.
  • Cooper’s captivating oil illustrations are in shades of warm browns and yellows and give the book a nostalgic feel.  The faces of each character captures the intensity of the struggle, the joy of freedom, the determination of future generations, and celebration of milestones made.

Resources and Activities: Do you know your family history? Talk with your parents and grandparents and ask them questions about what they may know about your family history. Record their stories or write information about your history in a journal. Browse through family photo albums. Ask your parents to help you draw your own family tree.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

Mumbet's Declaration9780761365891_p0_v2_s260x420Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

Gretchen Woelfle, Author

Alix Delinois, Illustrator

Carolrhoda Books, Biography, Feb. 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes: Elizabeth Freeman, African-American Woman, Slavery, Massachusetts, Human Rights

Opening: Mumbet didn’t have a last name because she was a slave. She didn’t even have an official first name. Folks called her Bett or Betty. Children fondly called her Mom Bett of Mumbet. Others weren’t so kind. 

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren’t the only ones who believed that everyone had a right to freedom. Mumbet, a Massachusetts slave, believed it too.  She longed to be free, but how? Would anyone help her in her fight for freedom? Could she win against her owner, the richest man in town? Mumbet was determined to try.

What I like about this book:

  • Gretchen Woelfle’s tells Mumbet’s compelling and true story for the first time in a picture book biography. While the book is considered nonfiction, it is fictionalized so that the reader experiences the hardships in 1780s. The author’s language is true to the time period, she creates the right amount of tension and her pacing of the story is perfect.
  • The characters are realistically portrayed and well-developed. Mumbet is a smart, bold and determined character filled with hopes, dreams and ambitions for her life. Col. John Ashley is wealthy and owns the iron mine, a forge, a sawmill, a gristmill a general store and 3,000 acres of land with slaves. His wife is mean, abusive, strikes the slaves and calls Mumbet ” useless baggage, a stubborn wench and a dumb creature.” She didn’t break Mumbet’s spirit.
  • Mumbet’s courageous actions to fight for freedom and equality and challenge the new Massachusetts Constitution in the courts, is a huge step in ending slavery in the United States.
  • You can’t help but smile when you see Mumbet returning to the courthouse in 1781 to choose a name for herself, Elizabeth Freeman.
  • Alix Delinois fills the pages with bold, colorful. evocative and detailed acrylic illustrations.

Resources: Mumbet’s story is an excellent read for Women’s History Month. The book is a resource which will spark many discussions.  There is a wonderful “Author’s Note” at the end with a lot of information to use in the classroom, a picture of Mumbet and suggested reading materials. Check out the Mumbet website with the transcript of the trial as well as photos. Visit the author Gretchen Woelfle at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick9780061920820_p0_v1_s260x420Brick by Brick

Charles R. Smith Jr., Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Amistad an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, Historical Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5- 9

Themes: Building the White House, Slave labor, Trade, Buying Freedom

Opening: “Under a hazy, hot summer sun, many hands work together as one.  The president of a new country needs a new home, so many hands work together as one. Black hands, white hands, free hands, slave hands.”

Synopsis: President George Washington needs a new house.  It took both skilled and unskilled free men and slaves working together to dig, break, chisel and transport stone to lay the foundation for the president’s home.  Even children worked with clay, sand and water to make the bricks. Hands are an important theme in the story because machinery didn’t exist. The laborers worked 12-hour days which was hard on their hands bodies.  The title of the book Brick by Brick highlights how the White House was built by hands.

Why I like this book: This book is a beautiful tribute to the laborers who worked under harsh conditions in the middle of nowhere to clear the forest in 1792 to build the president’s house. Charles R. Smith, Jr., beautifully captures the rhythm and power of the workers through rhyme. Throughout his poetic text, Smith scatters the first names of workers adding a sense of realism and dignity to the forgotten heroes in American history.  You have to love the power in his rhyme:

“Slave hands saw twelve hours a day,/ but slave owners take slave hands’ pay./ Slave hands bleed under a hot, hazy sun,/ slave hands toil until each day is done”.

“Slave hand learn/new trade skills/using chisels,/saws,/hammers,/and drills.”  “Skilled hands earn/one shilling per day,/reaching slave hands closer/to freedoms with pay.”

Although the conditions were horrible, many slaves were learning skills and trades brick by brick that eventually yields shillings that buy freedom for their families. And, they play and important part building the history of their country.  Floyd Cooper’s illustration evoke emotions of exhaustion, anger and pride. His illustrations are in soft brown and yellow colors that show uniformity and  match the mood of the era.  Great teamwork between Smith and Cooper who are both former Coretta Scott King Award winners.

Resources: The author includes a page at the end of the book about why slaves were used to build the White House, which was later burned by the British on Aug. 24, 1814. Smith also includes resources for further study.  A good classroom activity would be to write  a story about one of the many characters in his illustrations. The facial expressions are so lively they speak to you. Visit Charles R. Smith Jr. at his website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Morning Star

MorningStarCover.inddMorning Star

Judith Paxton, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, September 2011

Suitable for Ages:  Grades 4-6

Themes: Slavery, Underground Railroad, Racism, African-American

Opening/Synopsis“Flower Felt fingers press down on her mouth, gentle but firm.  She struggled awake to see her mother lift them away, touch one against her own lips, eyes wide with silent warning.”   Twelve-year-old Flower, her baby brother and her parents live on a southern slave plantation.  In the middle of the night they flee for their lives following the Underground Railroad north to Canada.  Their only guide is the North Star and very kind people who help them along their journey.  Bounty hunters are in hot pursuit of her family.  Their journey is threatened by danger, illness, injuries, and hunger.

In a parallel story over 150 years later, we meet eighth-grader Felicia, who has moved from Toronto with her mother and grandmother to a small town in Michigan.  Felicia soon discovers she is among the few African-American students in the school.  She makes friends with a group of girls who introduce her to horseback riding and a drama class.   But, she also has to deal with some racism for the first time in her life.  When the teacher assigns the class to research their ancestry, Felicia discovers that her distant family members were slaves who followed the Underground Railroad to Canada.   She also learns about a community of free slaves living in her new town of Plainsville, MI.  Does she have the courage to share her family history with her class?

What I like about this book:  Judith Paxton has written a compelling and memorable story for young people where she interweaves the lives of two very different girls living 150 years apart.  Their stories are told in alternating chapters.  You will feel the strength and courage of both Flower and Felicia dealing with racism in different ways.  Their past and present paths will cross in an unlikely way.  Readers will easily identify with both engaging characters.  Each chapter is a page turner and the story is full of suspense.  This is a satisfying story for younger readers and a great read for Black History Month.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

January’s Sparrow

January's Sparrow9780399250774_p0_v1_s260x420January’s Sparrow

Patricia Polacco, Author and Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  African-American, Slavery, Fugitives, Underground Railroad, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis“Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them.  All the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’.”  Sadie was horrified when she realized that the men were dragging and beating January, who was like a brother to her.   He had carved a  sparrow for her days earlier and she knew he was going to run.  Adam and Sarah Crosswhite overheard that two of their four children were going to be sold.  The fled the Kentucky Plantation with only the clothes on their back and in the middle of the night.   They made a harrowing trip across the Ohio River into Indiana and traveled the Underground Railroad north to freedom in Marshall, Michigan.  In Marshall, there was a growing number of Negro families who found support and friendship in the white community.  Sadie’s father and brothers found jobs, and Sadie attended school.  But, the family was always on the look-out for bounty hunters and angry masters searching for runaway slaves.  One day a package arrived with Sadie’s treasured sparrow inside.  Attached to it was a note that said, “I found you.”  What will her family do?  Readers will be surprised by the ending.

Why I like this book:  Patricia Polacco has taken a true story that she discovered a few miles from her Michigan home and written a compelling story for children about slavery and the underground railroad.  In fact the home she lives in was site of underground activity.  In writing this story, Polacco used “dialect modified from slave narratives,” which enhanced the unique voice of January.  Polacco did a lot of research about the Crosswhite family and the amazing community of Marshall, MI, which adds considerably to the story’s authenticity.  Polacco’s vivid and colorful artwork is done with charcoal and watercolor.  She captures the fear, terror, pain and the joy in her powerful, detailed and expressive illustrations.  Visit Patricia Polacco on her website.  You can see a photo of her home built in the 1800s, and learn some interesting facts about famous visitors.

Resources:  Patricia Polacco has a Guide for Educators with Curriculum Connections, Discussion Questions and Classroom Activities, including a Reading Response Journal.  You will need to scroll down the PDF file to find January’s Sparrow.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Candle Star – Divided Decade Trilogy

Candle Star9781497450257_p0_v4_s260x420The Candle Star

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Historical Fiction, 2011

Suitable for:  Middle Grade

Book 1 of the Divided Decade Trilogy

Emily Preston is a spirited 12-year-old southern belle living on a plantation in Charleston, S.C.   She is outspoken, sarcastic, mean and self-absorbed.  Her parents are disturbed by her behavior and send her to Detroit to live with her uncle, Isaac Milford, who runs a hotel.  Emily is horrified when she realizes that the employees are free slaves and she’s to join them in the daily work of running the hotel.  She misbehaves, skips school and treats the employees with disdain, hoping that her uncle will send her back home.   Her uncle sees his own reflection in Emily, and treats her with firmness and patience.

Detroit and the simplicity of her life begin to grow on Emily.  She would never admit it.  She befriends Malachi, the son of Julia, the hotel cook.  She  is shocked to learn he attends school, reads and writes and wants to be a doctor.  As she settles into her new life, Emily is challenged to come to terms with her southern upbringing.  While she develops relationships with the workers at the hotel, she begins to question everything she has known.  It is a confusing time for Emily.  Her bond with Uncle Isaac strengthens as he begins to teach and trust her.  Emily stumbles upon her uncle’s secret and finds herself involved in events that will change her world forever.   Emily transforms into a remarkable girl who listens with her heart.

Why I liked this book:  The Candle Star is a brilliant work of historical fiction.   Michelle Isenhoff offers a fresh new perspective on the differences between the north and south by focusing on those who risked their lives to help slaves find freedom, before the Civil War.  The setting is Michigan, Michelle’s home state, and many of the characters are based on real people.  Although Michigan wasn’t part of the battleground, it played a significant role in the Underground Railroad, with seven routes passing through Detroit.  Kudos to the author for all the detailed research that went into this book  and for teaching me something new.  Her writing style is vivid, her plot strong and her characters are rich and memorable.

The Divided Decade Trilogy:  The Candle Star is the first book in the Divided Decade Trilogy.  All three books are stand-alone novels that shed light on the role Michigan families played to support the war effort and freedom for slaves.  The second book Blood of Pioneers, is about Hannah, who tries to save the family farm when her father and brother go to war.   The third book, Beneath the Slashings, was released August 2012.   Grace wants her family to return to a normal life after the war,  but finds her life uprooted when her father seeks work in a lumber camp in northern Michigan.   Click here to visit Michelle Isenhoff’s website.   Make sure you check out the teacher’s resources for each book.  There also is an interesting “Author’s Note” at the end of each book detailing the historical information of that time in Michigan.

Blood Pioneers9781499230536_p0_v2_s260x420Beneath the Slashings9781499234619_p0_v3_s260x420The Quill Pen untitled