Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

What secret elements make a quest/adventure book great?

Monday, November 25th, 2013

If you’d like to read a great new middle grade, choose Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early, a quest adventure story about a boy dealing with his mother’s death after WWII. Sent to a Maine boarding school, protagonist, Jack, is unhappy and feeling friendless until he’s intrigued with Early Arden, a unique character with a fascination about pi, who leads him through Appalachia.

Vanderpool’s poetic style lures the reader forward. Here is a scene where they fish with Gunnar, a minor character they meet on their journey. Gunnar carries an emotional, heart-wrenching past.

“You have a fine cast,” called Gunnar.

“I know. My brother taught me before he went to the war.” Early swished his line back and forth. The motion seemed to take him away somewhere.

Gunnar’s expression registered what he knew, what we all knew, of the fate of so many of those brothers who went to war. He looked at me, asking the question he didn’t want to say out loud. Did Early’s brother make it back?

I shook my head in answer. No, Fisher was dead.

Gunnar allowed the quiet to take over as Early moved farther out into the water and into his own thoughts.

Finally, Gunnar spoke, his voice so fluid and moving, it could have come from the river itself. “I once hear a poem about angling. It say when you send out your line, it is like you cast out your troubles to let the current carry them away. I keep casting.”

I liked the sound of that. The river pressed and nudged, each of us responding to it in different ways, allowing it to move us apart and into our own place within it.

Notice the unique dialogue of Gunnar, creating a fully formed person in just a few lines and a second layer of meaning within the words, so you’re not just reading a scene about fishing.

Another aspect which is fascinating about this book is how this Newbery Medal-winning author broke the rules. (In order to break the rules, you must first establish that you know them.) Although in writing adult novels (and nearly always in the movies), authors (and screenwriters) are allowed to fictionalize history for the sake of character and plot. In children’s books, this has been a distinct no-no. Why? We don’t want to confuse nonfiction facts with untruths for kids. But at the end of this book, Vanderpool has a page: PI: FACT OR FICTION? Here she lists the truths about this captivating number, since she has bent the truth within her story.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write a quest/adventure short story with the above elements in mind. Before you begin, think and wonder about your story, developing the plot and characters within you. Daydream, jot notes, and free write about the back story of each character first.

2. Can you write a quest poem? Any style you choose!

3. Create a piece of art with a quest/adventure theme.

4. As you begin reading a book, use post-it notes to mark the scenes that are evocative. Why do they work so well?

Friday, August 17th, 2012

This morning was a sleep-in day.  Hallelujah!  While dozing past our usual bounce-out-of-bed time, we heard a clunk from above. 

“What was that?” asked my husband.

Later, when we stood outside our car ready to run errands, a Pacific Gas and Electric worker approached us from his truck parked in front of our house. 

“A problem?” I asked.

“You had a meter leak.  I fixed it,” he said. 

I thanked him.  He nodded. 

“It was small,” he added, before hopping into his truck and driving away through the neighborhood. 

My husband said, “Wow.  I worked over there in the yard just yesterday and I never smelled a gas leak at all.”

“Bob,” I reminded him.  “You couldn’t smell a fire if it raged next door.  How could you smell gas?” 

“Maybe,” he admitted. 

“Face it,” I said.  “Your sniffer is off.”

“Humph,” he said in mock dismay.

As we pulled out of our driveway, we noticed the PG&E worker stopping at another house. 

“I think they’re being very careful after the accident,” said Bob, referring to the horrendous gas explosion in San Bruno last fall, which caused many deaths  and destroyed a complete neighborhood. 

“They SHOULD be,” I said.

Unfortunately, it took a high cost to become preventive now. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Rewrite your history. What if . . . is a game we all play in life and in writing.  What if a turn of events DIDN’T happen?  What if a turn of events DID?  In world history, there is always a WHAT IF.  Which WHAT IF do you WISH had occurred?  What WHAT IF do you wish hadn’t?  Write scenes as though they had and hadn’t occurred. 

2.  Show a preventive scene in your writing project that foreshadows an upcoming disaster.  It doesn’t have to be a physical disaster – – it can be an emotional one.  (Example: a break-up could be foreshadowed by a small rude or annoying behavior, or a tell-tale sign of infidelity)

3.  Write the climatic scene of the break-up or the disaster in your book or story. 

4.  Write a poem of an image or scene in your life you would have liked to have had preventive knowledge. 


Poets and Writers Contest

Ten Great Books I’ve Read this Year

Monday, December 20th, 2010
The following books are a mixture of books intended for adults, young adults and children.    I have marked the adult books.
In Franklin’s House by Beverly Lauderdale,  Oak Tree Press, 2010. 
(Marketed for adults)
Two stories interweave deftly; one at the turn of the century and one in present day with an intriguing and handsome ghostWhen the main character, Kate, discovers a 1906 diary and a lovely necklace, she accidentally stumbles into a portal of another world.  Romance, suspense and history plus a story evocative of the time and place. 
The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.   
Death narrates this book set in World War II Germany, when nine-year-old Liesel Meminger steals her first book, The Gravediggers Handbook
Charles and Emma  by  Deborah Heilgman , Henry Holt & Co., 2009.
An amazing nonfiction book that reads like a novel, we learn about the life and work of Charles Darwin and that of his wife, Emma. 
 Marcelo in the Real World  by Francisco X. Stork, Arthur A. Levine, 2009.
I was all set to dislike this book, because problem-novels “aren’t my thing.”  Surely a book on Asperger’s syndrome wouldn’t be something I’d delve into with excitement?  I’m pleased to announce I was very wrong.  With a powerful voice, strong characters and high tension, you’ll be swept into this story right through until the end.
One Crazy Summer  by Rita Williams-Garcia, Amistad, 2010.
Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two sisters fly from Oakland, California to stay with their poet mother, Cecile in 1968.  Cecile isn’t going to win the World’s Best Mother Award, so Delphine has to hold everything together.  Cecile’s mysterious work, the girls’ involvement in the Black Panther-run community center, and her relationship with her mother all grows into an unforgettable read. 
Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences  by Janis Bell, W.W. Norton and Co., 2009.
(Marketed for adults but should be used in schools too!)
Humorous and clearly written, the author shows the grammar and punctuation problems people need to learn.  Fun quizzes are at the back of each of the seven chapters.
 The Year of Living Biblically by  A.J. Jacobs, Simon & Schuster, 2008.
(Marketed for adults.)
Hysterical!   Written by an agnostic, although Jewish by birth, Jacobs will teach you more about yourself, the Bible, and make you question your own spirituality and religion than you ever thought possible.  He lives the Bible literally each day for one year. 
Growing Up by Russell Baker , Signet, 1992.
(Marketed for adults but I’m sure it’s used in high schools and middle schools.)
Pulitzer-winning Baker’s memoir about growing up between the two world wars is a “you-have-to-read-this-book” before you ever attempt to write your own memoir. 
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers  
(Marketed for adults and young adults.)
Twelve-year-old Frankie Adams grows up in the American South.  Character, emotions, and adolescence written richly and with grace.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Putnam, 2009.
(Marketed for adults) 
Although everyone I know has read this already, and a movie is on the way, I can’t help mentioning it.  Set in 1962 in Mississippi, I probably don’t need to say any more. 

Colonial Essay Contest! Grades 5 – 8 Contra Costa County

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

 Celebrate America’s History!

Are you in 5th through 8th grade? 

You’re invited to participate in an…

   Essay Contest

 Topic:  Memoirs of Paul Revere

 In celebration in 2010 of the 275th anniversary of the birth of Paul Revere, pretend you are Paul Revere writing your memoirs.  Relate various accomplishments for which you wish to be remembered in the annals of American history.

 Open to Grades 5-8

Length:  300 – 1,000 words (depending on grade level)

Essays Due :  November 30, 2009

 To:  Leslie A. Pfeifer, American History Chairman, Daughters of the American Revolution

Anne Loucks Chapter

[email protected]

Essay is to be handwritten in black ink, typed, or prepared on a computer or word processor using black type in non-script font no smaller than 12 point or larger than 14 point. 

All of the essay must be the student’s original work.  Each essay must have a title page listing the following:

Title of Essay:  “Memoirs of Paul Revere”

(A subtitle is permitted if written below the topic.)

Contestant’s full name and address.  If the school’s regulations prohibit providing the student contact information, then school contact information may be substituted. 

Contestant’s telephone number (with area code) and e-mail address, if available.

Name of contestant’s school with grade level.

Name of sponsoring DAR chapter

Number of words in essay

Essay must have a bibliography listing all references utilized.  Internet resources, if used, should be cited in similar format to that used for printed resources.  Add the electronic address used to access the document as supplementary information.  Any essay with information copied directly from sources without using quotes will be disqualified.  

**To be eligible for this contest, students must live and go to school (or be homeschooled)  in Contra Costa County.  Questions?  Contact Leslie at the above e-mail address.  You may also email her your essay before November 30, 2009.  Good luck!



Need a writing idea?

Friday, April 30th, 2010

You are poised with a pen over a blank sheet of paper . . . or your finger tips touch the keyboard.  But.  Nothing. 

Your mind is blank.   That ever happen to you?  No?  Then you are very lucky, brilliant, or you are not telling the truth.  If you are brimming with ideas and don’t need one, keep on writing what you’re writing.  Or if you’d like to challenge yourself and see if you can write on a topic – – snap – – for the fun of it – – then take a break from your regular writing project and try this one.  Can you do it? 

Scene:  The Wild West

Plot:  A Fish Out of Water  (Means someone doesn’t really belong there)  

Who gets “plopped” into the old-time wild west and why?  What’s it like for this character?  How dangerous can it be?  Increase the tension! Give your readers suspense!  Throw in some humor. 

Setting:  Give us some specific details so we’ll know we’re in the old wild west.  How does the air feel? What does it smell like?

Character:  Who is the protagonist/main character?  What does he or she want more than anything?  Make him/her work to get it!

Step Back in Time

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Watch a few minutes of the video below.

Jot down a few impressions of what you see of this moment back in time.

Next, write a few paragraphs placing YOU in the middle of this street. Use all of your senses.

Add conflict. What could happen to you that could increase excitement or tension? Write about that moment. Stretch out that moment in time using your feelings, thoughts, and sensory description.

Finally, if you’d like to write a poem, choose only the most vivid experiences in your writing.  Use a highlighter to show your best writing in the paragraphs you wrote.

Can you cut out the “ands, buts, ifs, the” words?  Cut out any adverbs (ly words) and show with a good verb or concrete (specific) noun instead.

Now read your piece out loud. Does it have a natural rhythm and flow? Rewrite and “tinker” with it until it sounds just right for your ear.

Feel free to enter this in our contest or show it to another writer or teacher for their comments.  You may choose to submit it to another place for publication too.

Questions about DAR contest Answered

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Does the body have to be of a person’s? Can it be of an animal?

It has to be a person – a settler, Irish or Chinese worker or a Native American.

When we switch bodies do we think in their point of view or our’s? Are we just switching body, not thoughts?

The story has to reflect your personal feelings about the completion of this monumental transportation system that promises to change the face of the nation, and, how it already changed or probably will change your life – for better or worse.

So, this story HAS to take place on May 10, 1869?

It doesn’t have to take place that day but it has to be based on the event of that day – the completion of the railroad that crosses the continent.

Leslie A. Pfeifer, CMP

More on the Daughters of the American Revolution Contest

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

2009–2010 topic: Describe how you felt on May 10, 1869, when the golden spike was driven at Promontory Summit, Utah, to celebrate the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Pretend you are either a settler planning to use the train to travel to your new home in the West, an Irish or Chinese worker who helped build the line, or a Native American whose way of life was greatly affected by the railroad.

PARTICIPANTS: All grade 5, 6, 7, and 8 students in a public, private, or parochial school, or those who are home
schoolers, are eligible.

LENGTH: Grade 5: 300 – 600 words

Grades 6, 7, and 8: 600 – 1,000 words

FORM: To be handwritten in black ink, typed, or prepared on a computer or word processor, using black type in a non-script font no smaller than 12 point or larger than 14 point. (A limited vision student may use Braille, a
tape recorder, or very large type. A written transcript must be included, as well as a teacher’s or physician’s
letter attesting to the student’s special need.)
Must be the student’s original work.
Must have a title page listing the following:
Title: “The Transcontinental Railroad”
(A subtitle is permitted if written below the topic.)
Contestant’s full name and address. (Street, RR, PO Box, City, State, Zip Code) Note: If the school’s regulations prohibit providing the student contact information, then school contact information may be
substituted. Contestant’s telephone number (with area code) and e-mail address, if available
Name of contestant’s school with grade level indicated
Name of sponsoring DAR chapter
Number of words in essay
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Essay must have a bibliography listing all references utilized. Internet resources, if used, should be cited
in similar format to that used for printed resources. Add the electronic address used to access the
document as supplementary information.
Any essay with information copied directly from sources without using quotes will be disqualified.
Judging will be based on historical accuracy, adherence to topic, organization of material, interest,
originality, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and neatness. Pictures, maps, drawings, graphics, and other
such additions will not be considered in judging and should not be included.

My Great-Grandmother Sophia

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

In the 1860’s in Baden-Baden Germany, when Sophia was in her twenties, her family was very sick with a disease called diptheria. Although now we have vaccines for this illness, none were available at that time. With an epidemic raging everywhere, it was nearly impossible to find a doctor to come to the home.

But their neighbor knew one. As as special favor to their family, he arranged for the doctor to pay the family a visit. After Sophia’s family got well, Sophia asked the neighbor what she could do to repay him.

“My brother lives in America. His wife just died leaving him six children. He needs a wife! Would you go to America and become his new bride?”

Leaving her homeland and her family forever, Sophia packed a large trunk and took a sister with her for America in 1866. She was twenty-five-years old. For six weeks, they traveled over the Atlantic Ocean and then on to Jefferson, Wisconsin to meet the man named Ludwig, who was to be her husband.

They married on April 24, 1866. He was eighteen years older than Sophia. Throughout their marriage they had three other children.

Writing Exercise: Do you have any stories within your family history you can discover and share? Interview a family relative. Find out information about your family tree. Which relatives were born where? Who was the first generation in America? Which countries did your ancestors come from? How did they come to America? Ask as many questions about what life was like. 1. Take good notes. 2. Tape record their answers. 3. Better yet . . . video tape their responses! This is VERY valuable for sentimental reasons, historical record, and for all of your creative projects now and in the future!

Questions you may want to ask: 1. What was life like back when you were a child? 2. What did you do for fun? 3. What was a typical summer day like? 4. What was a typical school day like? 5. Who was your favorite teacher and why? 6. What was the most memorable holiday or family outing? 7. What was the most sad day in your childhood? What happened? Recount that day, moment by moment if you can. 8. What was the happiest day? Recount that time, moment by moment. 9. Do you remember anything funny that ever happened to you or to a family member? 10. Did you have any pets? What did they look like? Act like? 11. What was a proud moment for you? 12. What did you used to play/pretend? 13. What did you want to be when you grew up? 14. What was your first job? Tell me about what that was like. 15. Did you ever go to the hospital? Share any experiences when you did or when you were sick.
******* You can also write about YOURSELF by answering these questions!******

Historical Fiction 1900 . . . Book Recommendations Anyone?

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

I’m compiling a list of books for teachers that take place at the turn of the century. If you have a book that fits this category and it’s a PAL book (see the SCBWI website for guidelines . . . ), let me know. Or, if you’d just like to suggest a fabulous one you’ve read, that’s fine too.

And for non-writers who are book lovers, just sent me a great historical fiction title for kids, set around the time of 1900. Thanks! Liz