Category Archives: History

True stories or stories set in history.

Tree by Melina Sempill Watts

by Melina Sempill Watts
Change the World Books, 2017

I loved this book, it consumed my imagination.  Tree starts out as an acorn and grows to be nearly 250 years old.  We share in the tree’s experience as Indian cultures are replaced with Mexican and eventually Caucasian cultures.  The reader also experiences how Tree learns to connect and communicate with the environment around it; its in these connections that we learn the science.

Ms Watts knows her science and writes this fictional piece in layman’s terms to describe the science.  She packs so much into each section, it’s what I would call very dense writing, but when I got done I felt so connected to the story, to the character, and to the science of it.  It’s an eye and heart opening story.  (Written for adults, although teens may find it fascinating as well.)

Ms. Watt attended UCLA and worked 14 years as a Watershed Coordinator in the area where the story takes place.  Visit Ms Watt’s youtube interview ( to meet her and share in her enthusiasm about the story.  Anyone with an affinity to trees or interest in the environment will find the story fascinating and inspiring.

You can read more reviews and order on Amazon.

Kirkus Reviews gave Tree a 5 Star review:

…. The saga of Tree becomes a window into the immensity of nature, simultaneously dynamic and everlasting, and the ways that humans have come to upset the ancient balance. Watts writes in an elegant, highly detailed prose that shows an incredible knack for chronicling the minutiae of the natural world. …    An ingenious and satisfying tale about a single live oak. … Read complete review at

Book Summary

Tree is a novel about a tree written from a unique point of view: the chief narrator is a tree. Tree uses magical realism as a key to access the interrelated emotional realities of the many species that share one pristine valley in Topanga, California. Grass, birds, other trees and animals come to life on the pages, while one 19th century Mexican woman and one 20th century school boy, hearts opened by grief and loneliness, come to know one California live oak whose 229 years span the evolution of four human civilizations, Chumash, Spanish/Mexican, Yankee and new money Hollywood, which each leave their mark upon the landscape and upon Tree. The author’s obsessive botanical, scientific and historical research give substance to a world that feels both as real as last weekend’s dust on hiking boots and as mind altering as a fully fledged mystical experience. Take a journey into the heart of the woods where every plant shines Tree will change how you see nature.

Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History












Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History
by Vashti Harrison
Little, Brown and Company, 2018

Little Leaders celebrates 40 well-known and little-known women who changed history in little or big ways.  From currently popular women, like Oprah Winfrey, to little-known women like Alma Woodsey Thomas.  Like other collections of women  who made a difference, I’m amazed at the variety and caliber of careers, especially those in history where women having careers wasn’t allowed.  From medical researchers, to physicians, to spies, to astronauts, engineers, filmmakers and more.  For many of these women, they made their mark against all odds, just quietly going about their work. An inspiring and eye-opening collection for girls and boys from all backgrounds.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.

Step Right Up, How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness












Step Right Up, How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness
by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter
Lee and Low Books Inc., 2016

This little known history story is about a former slave who had a way with animals. Because of his abilities, people soon started calling him Doc. When the Civil War ended, he started a horse hospital. He owned a horse who birthed Jim, part Arabian.  The horse was so sickly, Doc kept him in his house until he got better. Doc soon discovered just how smart Jim was and began teaching him the alphabet—which Jim learned!  Doc and Jim began touring the US.  In time Jim worked with the Human Society and helped promote kindness towards animals. The compelling story keeps the pages turning and an afterword includes photos and more details about Doc and Jim.

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Write to Me, Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind













Write to Me, Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind
by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Amiko Hirao
Charlesbridge, 2018

A little-known true story of one person’s friendship and generosity and the impact it made to her recipients.

When Japanese citizens were sent to internment camps during World War II, Clara Breed, a librarian, said good bye to her patrons at the train station, where she handed out penny postcards and encouraged the children to write to her. She visited them at their temporary camp in California and sent boxes of books to the children when she could. In time, postcards from the children began arriving.  When the internment camps were closed, a few children returned to Clara’s library.

An Author’s Note tells of how when she moved to a retirement home, she found a box of more than 250 letters and postcards she had received. She was honored in 1991 at a reunion for Japanese Americans who had been imprisoned in Poston, Arizona.  More than seven hundred people gave her a standing ovation.

Read more reviews on Amazon.

Martin Rising, Requiem for a King 












Martin Rising: Requiem for a King 
Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Scholastic Press, 2018

A collection of brilliant “docu-poems” summarizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s(MLK) birth, life and family, and time up to the weeks and months before his death. The time before his death includes his birthday January 15 through April 4, 1968. The story includes the sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis and its challenges, MLK’s last sermon and his last night. It also includes the half-mast flags, funeral and mourning of a community who had lost their leader. Author Andrea Davis weaves in MLK quotes on love into a valentine poem ending with,

“…folks in Memphis
are down on their knees
proposing to Equality:
Be mine!”

The book introduces readers to acronyms like GOD: Gift of Desperation, their motivation for the strike, and COME: Community on the Move for Equality. She uses Henny Penny, a chicken of “The Sky is Falling” fame, as narrator to illuminate, punctuate and foretell events in the story.

In loose, vibrant colors, Brian Pinkney’s illustrations show the emotions of the events, both emotions displayed and emotions held in by the African-American community during their struggles. A brilliant piece of work on all accounts.

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Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers
by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008

This creative history-based tale tells the story of Japanese Yuki who must travel 300 miles with her family and one thousand carriers for her father to be with the Shogun. Traveling on foot, this is a long journey.

Yuki does not want to leave home and each day is reminded she is not home by what she sees. The carriers wade across rivers, climb snow covered mountains and pass bays and villages. Yuki and her mother, however, are carried in a palanquin. Yuki’s life is much different from today’s girls. In one way, following rules for a family of her class, she could not be seen and, therefore, could get out of the palanquin and run or walk on her own. But keeping up with her studies was important and she wrote a haiku each day.

We are a dragon
Our one thousand carriers
the dragon’s long tail.

The story is told in a lovely, poetic voice, interspersed with haikus.  Gloria Whelan’s exquisite writing immerses the reader into the time, country and culture.  Yan Nascimbene’s watercolor illustrations the gentle, protected life Yuki lived.

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Shaking Things Up, 14 Young Women Who Changed the World

Shaking Things Up, 14 Young Women Who Changed the World
by Susan Hood
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2018

More and more books about women in history who made a difference are appearing on the market in time for National Women’s History month. This book selects women from the 1700’s through 2014, and women from the US and around the world.

Beginning with Molly Williams, who was named an official fire fighter near the time of the American Revolution, to 13 year old Mary Anning who unearthed the first ichthyosaur skeleton, to 21 year old Maya Lin who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In each story snippet, we learn the background, what the women went through to achieve their success and how their success made a difference in their world at their time.  To add to the beauty and uniqueness of the book, each story is written in a poetic form: rhyme, open verse, acrostic, and many more.  Readers learn history and poetry simultaneously, while being inspired by (often) little known stories.

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A Different Pond












A Different Pond
by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
Capstone Young Readers, 2017
2018 Caldecott Honor Book

A touching story of a Vietnamese refugee and his family surviving in America.  Working two jobs, he also takes his son fishing to ensure they have dinner. Written in brief, poetic snippets, the reader learns of how it felt to have been in the war and how it feels to speak with a heavy accent:

A kid at my school said
my dad’s English sounds like
a thick, dirty river.

But to me his English
sounds like gentle rain.

When the boy wants to help, but feels uncomfortable hooking a minnow, the dad smiles and respects his son’s decision. A poignant glimpse inside a refugee’s family’s experience.  Backmatter provides more details on the family’s entry into America.

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Malala’s Magic Pencil

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet
Little, Brown and Company, 2017

An inspiring book written by its featured hero, who later became a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Inspired by her writing talent, Malala dreams of what she can do with a magic pencil.  She learns other girls and boys scour the dump for valuables they can use to buy food to eat.  This causes her to think about freedom, especially about going to school. She knows girls in her country are limited in their education, as well as in their dreams and aspirations.

Then the limitations hit Malala directly. While she works hard in school to reach her dreams, dangerous men with weapons enter her city and declare girls are forbidden from attending school. She writes what it is like to be scared to walk to school and how her friends had moved away because of the dangers.   “My voice became so powerful that the dangerous men tried to silence me.  But the they failed.” Malala left her country, but still campaigns for education, including for women.

The art is exquisite, done with ink and watercolor, using gold to represent Malala’s dreams. This voice isn’t going away; a great introduction to contemporary world issues.

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Before She Was Harriet












Before She Was Harriet
by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
Holiday House, 2017

A brilliantly told story that introduces Harriet Tubman, best known as a Conductor in the  Underground Railroad.  Written in brief, open verse, the story opens with her twilight years, and works its way back to when Harriet worked as a suffragist, when she was “General Tubman”, Union Spy, and the many roles she played in history.

“a wisp of a woman
with the courage
of a lion.”

Illustrated in loose, yet vivid, colors, one can ‘feel’ her story.  The book will fuel a curiosity in readers to want to know more about this American hero.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.