“Together and alone, we need literature as the California valleys need rain,” muses David Denby, author of Great Books (1996) and staff writer for The New Yorker. But, he wondered, in an age of texting and tweeting, are teens still reading complex literary works? And can an appetite for serious reading be developed in high school?
On January 30, 1945, a Soviet submarine torpedoed the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff, killing more than 9,000 people. While designated as a military transport vessel, the Wilhelm Gustloff was severely overloaded with civilian evacuees from the Baltic region, including an estimated 5,000 children. The high death toll makes this sinking the greatest maritime tragedy in history. Today, the wreckage still lies off Poland’s coast and is often referred to as “the ghost ship.”
At the start of World War II, more than 3.5 million people were evacuated from British cities to the countryside. But it wasn’t until Cheryl Blackford began writing Lizzie and the Lost Baby that she realized her father had been sent away from the embattled city of Hull in Yorkshire, where she was born.
Irish artist P.J. Lynch is known for illustrating books such as the beloved Christmas classic The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, recently released in a 20th anniversary edition. Lynch’s new historical fiction title, The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, the first book he has both written and illustrated, was inspired by the life of Pilgrim John Howland.
“I was a stranger,” writes Julie Checkoway in her preamble to this nearly lost story of a remarkable Maui swimming coach, “but it seemed to me that someone ought to try to save it.” Save the story she has, through exhaustive research and sparkling prose.
John Coy’s many books about sports are especially popular with young readers, and here he brings his knowledge of the history of basketball to tell a timely and inspiring story about John McLendon (1915-1999), the first black coach in the American Basketball Association.
There is nothing so compelling as history well told, whether in print or on film. And viewers who were engrossed by Ken Burns’ recent PBS series on the Roosevelts will find Jay Winik’s new book on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History, especially appealing. Winik, who has written about America’s founding (The Great Upheaval) and the Civil War (April 1865), brings his considerable gifts as a storyteller and a talented historian to this new work exploring the pivotal year of Roosevelt’s presidency and of World War II.
Margi Preus has a remarkable ability to create fascinating, page-turning stories that transport young readers to faraway times and places. Whether she’s evoking Norway during World War II or 19th-century Japan, Preus combines impeccable research with strong characterization and plot—the very elements that draw readers into history and spark the curiosity to learn more.
In Paradise of the Pacific, Susanna Moore sees the history of the Hawaiian Islands as “a story of arrivals,” one that encompasses not only flora and fauna blown by the winds but early Polynesian travelers, explorers, missionaries and whalers.
Half-Japanese, half-black, Mimi Yoshiko Oliver loves looking at the moon and wants to be an astronaut. In January 1969, she moves from California to the frosty Vermont town of Hillsborough, an unwelcoming place. The farmer next door is always rude, and Mimi is teased at school. Even after she forms a tentative friendship with a girl named Stacey, she’s not invited to Stacey’s home. Then there’s the matter of shop class. Mimi would rather take shop than home ec so she can use power tools to work on her science project, but girls are supposed to “learn how to cook and sew so they can be good homemakers.”