Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Literary Nonfiction texts

Biographies, autobiographies, journals, memoirs, articles or picture books about true events, and diaries written in the form of a fictional story are part of the genre, literary nonfiction. The text should include story elements such as rising action, reaching a goal or high point and falling action. Years ago, I remember the librarians were told to update their biography sections by weeding all the biographies with dialogue that the author created to make the story seem more interesting. Now, in Texas, one of the genres on the STAAR is “Literary Nonfiction,” and we are having to hunt for elementary texts to fill this genre that are very much like the old style of biographies that were written in the form of a story.
Karen Barbour knew Mr. Williams as one of her grandmother’s friends. She interviewed him about what his life was like growing up on a farm in Arcadia, Louisana and has written his story in first person narrative as if he were telling it. This book is a good selection for African American History month as well as Mr. Williams is African American. He was born in 1929 and died in 2000.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
The author includes a historical note about the real Chinese-African-Cuban girl from Cuba, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who at the age of ten-years-old, was the first female to play drums publicly in a band. Before, the drums had been an instrument only for boys. An author’s note explains the history behind this story.

The Book Itch Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
This book is based on the life of Lewis Henri Michaux (1895-1976). He opened the first African-American book store in Harlem in the late 1930’s. The action in the story takes place in the 1960’s. His story not told as a true biography is a good one to use as literary nonfiction since the story has elements of a fiction story. Michaux had the grit and drive to sell books from a cart until he had enough to open a book store. The bank told him that they would loan him money for a food service business, but not for a book store because black people didn’t read. Micheaux believed knowledge is power and made his dream come true. One of his visitors to the store was Muhammad Ali. Michaux made up lots of verses and rhymes similar to the ones Ali was known for creating but they were all about reading and the power of words. Another of his visitors was Malcolm X. In the story, Malcolm X was planned to speak, and Michaux was supposed to sit right beside him. He was late and was not there when Malcolm X was shot and killed. This is a very good historical fiction picture book and a great read aloud. An author’s note explains the nonfiction inspiration of the story.

In this true book, we see a great plot, rising action, climax, and falling action. Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg in Canada, rescues a bear cub from a hunter who has killed it’s mother. As he tames the bear, he lovingly decides he can no longer safely care for her while he is in the military service in WWI. It’s written in picture book format and works great as a read aloud.

Here’s another true story with the elements of literary nonfiction. The details are not provided about exactly how it came about, but an accountant discovered gum that would make bubbles.

In this story about how a school was built in a remote village of Pakistan The procedures are mentioned in the form of paragraphs. The story does have a beginning, middle, and end and fits the characteristics of literary nonfiction.

The Adventures of Granny Clearwater & Little Critter by Kimberly Willis Holt

Schema: Westward Expansion, old west stories

Text-to-Self Connections: being cared for by an elderly relative

Figurative Language: Holt has filled the book with lots of similes such as “the land was as flat as Ma Clearwater’s burnt corncakes;” “Little Critter shot out of the wagon like cannonballs;” “and their tongues went to hanging like a half-starved hound dog’s.”

At the end of the book the author includes information mentioned in the book about true events that occurred during the 1800’s such as westward migration, the gold rush, stagecoach robberies, and the Pony Express.

Holt’s has written a humorous story in tall tale fashion about Granny and little Critter who get separated from the rest of the family as they travel out west from the Appalachian Mountains.  Granny uses her wits and all that her relatives have taught her about survival skills in the desert and the mountains. This book would make a great addition to a fifth grade western expansion unit.

Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack; artwork by Leo & Diane Dillon

Schema: slavery

The author tells the story in third person in a poetic format.

Setting: West Africa, 1725

Author’s Purpose: to show the perspective of a family whose child has been taken by slave traders

Voice: The language the author uses creates a unique voice for Dinga

Personification: The four elements: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air are personified as they seek to mother and then find Musafa.

Summary: Tell the story in sequence from Musafa’s birth to his being found again in the Southern United States in Charleston, South Carolina.

Drawing Conclusions: Do you conclude that Dinga went mad or insane with the disappearance of Musafa or do you think the elements could have communicated Musafa’s whereabouts to him?

Hurricanes: Many hurricanes have hit the South Carolina coast. The author notes at the end of the book that there is a legend in Barbados that says the “hurricane is Mother Africa in search of her lost children.”

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

Schema: Dust bowl, Great Depression, bullies, superheroes, sisters and brothers

Author’s purpose: to entertain and inform about the depression

Inference: The family was leaving Kansas, but then when the mysterious figure runs in front of the car, it seems that the family didn’t end up leaving Kansas. We may infer that the sudden stop caused the car to break down as we see the father working on the car after that.

Cause and Effect: Because of the drought, the effect is that the economy is depressed and people are out of work.

POV: The story is told from Jack’s POV.

Text-to-text connection: The Wizard of Oz

Text-to-self connection: wanting a parent’s attention

Characterization of Jack: Describe all of Jack’s traits such as his caring for his sisters, his desire to be loved by his father, his longing to help with the farm, his courage to confront the Storm Man and capture the thunder, his manner in dealing with the bullies, and the relationship he has with the Ernie.

Historical Fiction: Times were truly hard for the lack of rain during the 1930’s in Kansas, an area called the “Dust Bowl” because of the dry dusty soil that blew away because of the drought.  In order to survive and grow what feed they could for their cattle, the farmers would have jackrabbit drives, where they would round up the jack rabbits and club them to death.  Most of the rabbits would then be fed to other animals.  The people were afraid to eat them because of jackrabbit fever. The books provides a candid view of what life was like for people during this time period.

Drawing Conclusions: What do you conclude is the reason that Ernie tells Jack the stories he shares with him?

Synthesis: Can you think of another hard time in history where some type of superhero could have changed the harshness to happiness?  What would be the hero’s super powers?

This book is on the Texas Bluebonnet 2011 nominee list, written on a 2.3 AR level, and begins with the curse word “damn.”  Following on into the story the author injected two more “hell’s” andin my personal opinion the curse words were unnecessary.

Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker

Schema: wild birds

Read the note at the back of the book so the students can understand the problem better before you begin the book.

Text-to-self connections: doing a project with a sibling, feeling sorry for the birds, seeing problems that wild birds cause

What city animals help keep the balance of nature in our area?  Some insects and birds eat mosquitoes, coyotes eat rats, and ladybugs eat aphids that harm our roses

Text-to-Text Connection: Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre

Organizational Strategies: the cycle of the story begins and ends with Ming-Li as a wise one about  farming.

Mental Images: “Scratching at her thoughts like a monkey.”

Cause and Effect: Because the sparrows were eating the grain from the fields, the effect is that the rulers want to scare the sparrows away.

Because Ming-Li felt so much empathy for the sparrows, the effect is that she rescued some of them.

Because the food chain is broken with the absence of the birds, the effect is that the locust, worms,  weevil, and grasshopper  population grew and devoured the crops even more than the sparrows did.

Voice: Ming-Li’s voice is the strongest one in the book.

POV:  The story is told from Ming-Li’s POV.

Author’s purpose: Historical fiction is a way to teach history in a way that readers can relate in a personal way to the events of the period in history.  The characters make the story more passionate.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: an Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston

yearSchema: Christmas trees, theme of the White House Christmas tree

Text-to-Text Connection: That Book Woman by Heather Henson and Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile ( historical fiction using cause and effect and drawing conclusions) by Gloria Houston

Author’s Purpose:   Gloria Houston and her family grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina; the historical fiction story depicts what life was like in the early 1900’s during World War I.

Characterization: Characterize the mother in the story and use example from the text as evidence to support your depiction.

Loyal: She went to the rocky craigs to cut the tree that her husband promised to deliver to the church saying her husband was as good as his word.

Self-sacrificing: She cut up her wedding dress to make a dress for Ruthie to wear in the Christmas play at church.  She also used the nylons her husband mailed to her from Europe to make the doll for Ruthie that became the family heirloom.

Sense of humor:  She went along with the preacher about inferring that the people in the holler were hearing the heavenly angels singing on high the night they cut the tree.

Strong: She used the big saw to cut the tree and then loaded it on the sleigh.

Brave and Courageous: She knew how to “make do” with what they had by using honey instead of sugar, herbal tea instead of coffee, embroidering flowers over rips and tears and lowering the hems of Ruthie’s dresses.

Creative: She designed Ruthie’s dress and created the doll who looked like Ruthie.

Organizational Strategy:  the Flashback:  The story begins with the narrator saying the story happened the way that Ruthie told her.

Metaphor: The old woman was picking her geese for the snow

Simile: the road wound like ribbons

What to do about Alice? : how Alice Roosevelt broke the rules, charmed the world, and drove her father Teddy crazy! by Barbara Kerley


Schema: President’s children, pop stars in the news, publicity

Historical Fiction: polio, Civil War, Rough Riders, Spanish American War 1898

Figurative Language: “eating up the world”

Text-to-self connection: having a pet monkey, many students would enjoy having one

Text-to-text connection: Curious George, Madeline books about little girls in boarding school

Compare and Contrast:  In 1905 when her father began his second term in office, Alice would have been 21 years old.  Compare and contrast Alice’s behavior with the famous and wealthy stars of today with what you know of them from TV and shows like Access Hollywood.

Alice jumped in the swimming pool fully clothed, accepted lots of gifts, requested “trinkets” such as diamonds for wedding presents.  She liked to dance, play poker, ran out at night with her Night Rider group, and she liked to have a very good time.

Stars of today like to do outrageous things, and since they are famous, it is in the news.

Drawing Conclusions: What evidence supports the conclusion that President Roosevelt did not know what to do about Alice?

Magical Hands by Marjorie Barker

magical-handsSchema: giving gifts, making others happy, does it require magic, does it always require money

Historical fiction: Before we had so many automatic ways of doing things, people did work with their hands.
Cooperage: a barrel-maker business

Drawing Conclusions: Vincent drew the conclusion that magic had stacked his fruit for him.

Philip draws the conclusion that a good fairy heard them wishing about their birthdays.

Adrian also draws the conclusion that a fairy visited him on his birthday and made the bread for him.

William draws the conclusion that his friends knew it was him who was doing the work for them on their birthday and that his act of kindness motivated them toward an act of kindness on his birthday.

Characterization: What trait did all four men have in common?  Kindness and caring

Synthesis: When we do anonymous random acts of kindness how do we feel?  How do other’s feel?

Text-to-self connection: Share acts of kindness

Tippy Lemmey by Patricia C. McKissack

tippy-lemmeyReady-For-Chapters book

In this “bridging the gap” between picture book and chapter books, young readers will enjoy reading or listening to this book.  Tippy Lemmey is a dog that barks and scares the children in the story when they ride their bikes by his yard.

Drawing Conclusions: The children draw the conclusion that Tippy is vicious because he barks, breaks the rope, and jumps the fence to chase them.  When Leandra’s parents take her to visit the Lemmey’s to discuss her fear of the dog, she finds out that the dog is owned by a soldier serving in Korea and is being taken care of by the soldier’s parents.

There is a lot of action as the kids discover that dog-nappers are stealing dogs to sell them for cash, and they see Tippy being stolen.  They really want to let it go and be happy he is gone, but then decide the right thing to do is to try and recue the dogs.  The kids rescue the dogs and the dog-nappers get away, but the kids have gotten trapped in a raging river.  Tippy returns the favor by running to get help for them.

There are several parallels about the war in Korea and the war they have with Tippy in trying to maneuver around Tippy’s yard without being chased when he jumps the fence.

For African American History month, this would be a great selection to read or at least read a portion of to your class.