Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America Trilogy is one of my favorite historical fiction trilogies for tweens, teens and adults. Today, I am reviewing the final book in the trilogy, Ashes, but will include brief synopsis of the first two books, Chains and Forge, because it gives the reader a perspective of the revolutionary war that is relatively unknown and not talked about — the important role of black soldiers in the creation of our nation and their hopes and dreams. Although, you could read Ashes and still understand the story, you would miss the rich alternating voices of the characters Isabel and Curzon and their journey that began in 1776 with Chains and ends in 1781 with Ashes. I strongly suggest you read the three books in order.

ashes-51oxtesd6l__sx336_bo1204203200_Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book #3

Laurie Halse Anderson, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: American Revolution, Black Soldiers, Slavery, Freedom,

Book Synopsis: “Freedom for one, freedom for all?  That’s the question that burns in Isabel’s mind as she and Curzon forge on through chaos and fear toward the dream that’s kept them alive for so many years: freedom.  But her dream of living not as a “runaway” but as a free person with land and a family of her own seems impossibly far away. That dream hinges on one thing: finding her little sister, Ruth.

It’s been three years since Ruth was stolen from her. Is she even alive? And if Isabel can find her, how will they make it safely through the war between the Patriots and the British that rages on as dangerously as ever in 1781, while bounty hunters try to kidnap them at every turn! In the American Revolution, one must pick a side in order to survive.  But how can you care about a nation’s freedom when the very same nation has kept you in chains?

Why I like this book:

Laurie Halse Anderson is a skillful literary author. Her language and dialogue is exquisite. Her novel is bold and breathtaking. Her settings are unimaginably descriptive and believable. It is easy to get lost in the realistic plot where you can smell the sweat of laboring men digging trenches, hear the nearby exploding cannon balls and feel the bone-chilling cold of nights in the camps. The pacing keeps readers fully engaged.

Thoroughly researched, this engaging novel offers readers a fresh perspective on the role the black community played during the war, including women and children. Each chapter is introduced by a quote from significant historical figures during the war that helps provide insight into the attitudes of the war: Gen. George Washington, James Madison,  King George III,  Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams, Thomas Paine and many other regiment leaders, judges and slaves. It is a very effective tool that gives readers a greater sense of the overall mood of that period of history.

Although the story is about the war effort where Isabel, Curzon and Ruth are firmly planted in the middle, there is a stronger theme running through this final book for the threesome — freedom from slavery and not just from England.  The memorable characters are all dealing with secrets and inner demons that drive their story forward and require sacrifice, courage, trust, resilience and an unwavering commitment to each other.

chains-51yupuz0efl__sx334_bo1204203200_Chains, Book #1, 2008

National Book Award Finalist

Synopsis from the author’s website: If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl? As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom. Check out Sue Kooky’s review today of CHAINS at her website Kitty cat at the Library.

forge-51eqo8p14ul__sx334_bo1204203200_Forge, Book #2, 2010

Synopsis from the author’s website: Blistering winds. Bitter cold. And the hope of a new future. In this compelling sequel to Chains, a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson shifts perspective from Isabel to Curzon and brings to the page the tale of what it takes for runaway slaves to forge their own paths in a world of obstacles—and in the midst of the American Revolution.

The Patriot Army was shaped and strengthened by the desperate circumstances of the Valley Forge winter. This is where Curzon the boy becomes Curzon the young man. In addition to the hardships of soldiering, he lives with the fear of discovery, for he is an escaped slave passing for free. And then there is Isabel, who is also at Valley Forge—against her will. She and Curzon have to sort out the tangled threads of their friendship while figuring out what stands between the two of them and true freedom.

Laurie Halse Anderson is descended from many soldiers who fought in the American Revolution. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous ALA and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. You can follow her on Twitter @Halse Anderson, or visit her at her website. Anderson has prepared teacher guides and other activities for teachers.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Blood Moon by Michelle Isenhoff

Blood Moon 517wv6vKojL__SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Blood Moon (Ella Wood) Volume 2

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace, Historical Fiction, Jun. 5, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: Love, Family Relationships, Civil War, Slavery, Abolitionists, Pursuing educational dreams, Hope

Opening: “Brilliant orange sparks streaked across the night sky, snatched by the furious wind and flung onto rooftops to spring up as new geysers of flame. Building by building the fire magnified, towering over the cringing city, devouring the waterfront. Emily raced toward the inferno, compelled by visions of those she loved.”

Synopsis: Charleston lies in ruins and war between the North and South is imminent. Yet, Emily Preston refuses to give up her dream of becoming an artist. She defies her overbearing father and secretly enrolls in an art correspondence course under a male pseudo name, a step toward fulfilling her dream of studying at a Maryland university. When her father discovers her disobedience, he demands she leave Ella Wood to find her own living arrangements. Emily is now free to pursue her education, but she has many hurdles to overcome to support herself and earn her tuition for college. A love-triangle forms, betrayals are uncovered, family secrets abound, and Emily faces loss. Uncertainty looms big in her heart, as war threatens her dreams and the people she cares about most.

Why I love about Blood Moon:

Convincingly penned from beginning to end, Blood Moon is inherently absorbing and skillfully presented, establishing Michelle Isenhoff as an exceptionally talented novelist. Readers who have invested themselves in Isenhoff’s Ella Wood series, will be thrilled with the second volume in her latest sequel, Blood Moon, which continues Emily Preston’s transformation from Southern Belle to a determined young women who will stop at nothing to chase her educational dreams.

Blood Moon is richly textured and impeccably researched as it offers a vivid portrayal of the emotional landscape that bring Emily’s tale to life. It also sheds light on the penetrating truths of South Carolina’s role in the civil war, customs and culture, the suppression of women’s rights and the unforgivable treatment of slaves.

Her characters are vividly drawn and the many period details with which she fleshes out her story never feel forced or melodramatic. Emily, Thad, Jovie, Jack and Uncle Timothy are real. Some are gritty and abusive while others are tender and sweet, but most of all they are very much alive. I could feel the pain of loss, betrayal and hopelessness when Emily’s dreams are shattered and, yet through it all there remains a true bond of friendship and selfless acts of love.

Blood Moon is stunning, wrenching, and inspiring. Isenhoff’s sweeping imagination adds to a multi-layered, compelling, harrowing, and realistic plot. Her deliberate pacing and tension keep readers fully engaged and invested in Blood Moon.  There are many surprises for readers. It is truly an exceptional story and the characters will stay with you long after you finish Blood Moon.

The third volume in the series, Ebb Tide, will be available in the Spring of 2017Ella Wood is  available free to readers on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo.  Ella Wood is a sequel to Isenhoff’s middle grade novel, The Candle Star.

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of Ella Wood; 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.

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.