Maybe it’s because I’ve started serving on the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction committee, but all of the sudden I’ve noticed renewed interest in children’s historical fiction. As a big HF fan, it’s neat to see this uptick reflected in four of the five 2011 Newbery picks. (Interestingly, the fifth title happens to be a poetry picture book, Joyce Sidman’s Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night.) And all five books were starred in Booklist—it’s nice that we were on the same page as the committee.
The Newbery Medal was awarded to Moon over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool, a dark horse novel by a debut author. Set in Depression-era Missouri, this multilayered story exploring identity and secrets weaves together 12-year-old Abilene’s first-person narrative with newspaper stories and tales told by a local diviner.
Jennifer L. Holm’s Turtle in Paradise is also set in the Depression and also features a girl who is forced by economic circumstances to move to a new locale, in this case, Key West, Florida. As the Booklist review says, “The plot is a hilarious blend of family dramas seasoned with a dollop of adventure.”
Margi Preus’ Heart of a Samurai was one of my 2010 favorites. Based on the true story of a nineteenth-century Japanese boy who was shipwrecked, rescued, and eventually helped open his isolationist country to the West, it is excellently researched and splendidly told.
Last but definitely not least is Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer, which also won the Coretta Scott King Author Award. This 1968 story about a girl’s experience with her estranged, Black Panthers–affiliated mother was also our pick for the Scott O’Dell Award, so I’m partial.