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Meg is a modern day woman who has no use for her great-grandmother’s diaries, as famous as they may be.  The diaries chronicle her great-grandmother Hannah’s arrival on the New Mexican frontier in the 1890’s, and Meg’s grandmother, Claudia, has spent her life researching the diaries and getting them published.  Meg has always lived in the shadow of the diaries, and has not even read them, until she is strong-armed into accompanying Claudia back to New Mexico to tie up a few loose ends.

Once Claudia and Meg arrive in New Mexico, new discoveries about Hannah’s life are made, and Meg begins to read the diaries.  She is instantly captivated by Hannah’s story, and becomes intent on solving the mystery swirling around Hannah’s death.

This is one of those books that takes awhile to get into, but once your are, you can’t put it down.  The strong female character, doing what needed to be done to survive on the frontier, reminded me somewhat of Turner’s These is My Words.

How did I not know about this book before now?  I LOVE Laura Ingalls Wilder and have read and reread her Little House series many times.  I just happened to stumble on this sweet novel by her daughter at the library.  While Lane writes with a completely different style than her mother does, her writing can stand on its own.  Lane tells of Molly and David, married young, who travel to the Dakota Territory to claim their own homestead.  When their carefully laid plans fall through, David must return East to seek work, leaving 16 year old Molly to care for their son, and guard the homestead.  If you’re a fan of prairie fiction, you will love this book.

This book has been added to my “to buy” list.  I also discovered that there’s a movie version of the book too, but only available in VHS.  Maybe we’ll need to dig out our VCR…

Rylant’s book fills in some missing years for Laura, Mary and the rest of the Ingalls family. It begins with the Ingalls leaving Walnut Grove, and covers the time they spent in Burr Oak, IA. Based on Laura’s unpublished memoirs, Rylant does an excellent job writing in the spirit of Laura Ingalls. While it won’t be mistaken for an original Little House book, fans of the series will welcome the addition.

Historical Fiction Roundup

30th October 2010

Blue Willow by Doris Gates

Janey and her family have been on the move since their farm failed in the dust storms of Texas.  Janey can’t even imagine staying in one place for more than a few months, and her dream is to settle in a house like the one pictured on her precious blue willow plate.  This Newbery Honor book told Janey’s story gently, and was enriched with illustrations by Paul Lantz, whose drawing style reminded me of Lois Lenski.

Bound for Oregon by Jean Van Leeuwen

A fictionalized account of the Todd family’s journey to Oregon, told through the eyes of 9 year old Mary.  Written for upper elementary/middle grades, the story is authentic, full of details and awe inspiring.

Lost Childhood: My Life in a Japanese Prison Camp During World War II
A Memoir by Annelex Hofstra Layson

When the Japanese invaded the island of Java during World War II, they imprisoned the island’s Dutch citizens in prison camps for the duration of the war.  Annelex was 4 years old when she was sent to a prison camp with her mother and grandmother.  In this slim volume, she shares her memories of that horrible experience in order to honor those who suffered, and to share the lessons of compassion, freedom, and positive thinking that she learned in the camps.

Annexed: A Novel by Sharon Dogar

Anne Frank’s story has been told in many ways by many people.  But what about Peter’s story?  For the first time, an author explores what life may have been like for Peter VanPels, hiding in the annex with Anne and 6 other people.  This novel is based on Anne’s diary, other historical documents and extensive research.  Haunting, powerful, heartbreaking.

Aiden and Maddy are starving to death on their Kansas farm when Jefferson J. Jackson finds them.  Jackson agrees to transport the siblings to Washington.  In return, Aiden will pay off the debt once they reach Washington, by working as a lumberjack.  In the middle of their trip, Aiden befriends some Nez Perce Indians who save his life.  When the Nez Perce find Aidan again in Washington, and ask for his help in obtaining the precious smallpox vaccine to bring back to their people, Aidan must decide if he will risk his life to help.

This was an excellent book and possibly one of my favorite pioneer books of all times.  From the opening pages, I was hooked on Aidan and Maddy’s story.  And although most Oregon Trail fiction ends with the first glimpses of the Williamette Valley, McKernan continues her story beyond the Oregon Trail.  The Devil’s Paintbox is rich with historical details, ranging from the Civil War, to drought in the midwest, the development of the smallpox vaccine, relations between the Native Americans and the pioneers, lumberjacking and much more.  I learned a lot while enjoying this incredible story.

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