Chains

July 8, 2009

chainsIn this 2008 historical fiction novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, Isabel and her younger sister Ruth are supposed to be freed when their mistress dies.  Unfortunately, they are instead sold and bought by a Loyalist couple living in Patriot-occupied New York in 1776.  Isabel and Ruth’s parents have died, so Isabel takes good care of her sister.  However, she knows that now they are slaves again, Isabel will not be able to protect Ruth fully, so she desperately tries to find a way to freedom.  Isabel meets a boy owned by a Patriot soldier who tells her that if she spies on her master and mistress for the Patriots, she could earn freedom for herself and Ruth.  Isabel knows it’s a terrible risk.  Should she do it?  What will happen if she does?  What will happen if she doesn’t?

I really enjoyed Chains and am looking forward to the second book in the predicted trilogy due to come out next year.  Chains is particularly good at showing readers what it was like to live during the American Revolution.  Small details like the book’s font and historic quotes at the beginning of every chapter help pull readers into the story.  Isabel has a difficult time readjusting to being a slave after she believed she’d be free.  This also helps bridge the gap between 21st century readers and the 18th century setting as readers’ inability to understand is voiced by Isabel.  Chains would also be an excellent book for students learning about the American Revolution and/or slavery because it shows all sides.  Readers are exposed to Patriots and their views but are also reminded that Loyalists lived in the colonies and sometimes pretended to fight the king.  They also see slavery from the slaves’ perspective and meet masters who are cruel or kind.  Chains is a must-read for anyone interested in history AND for those who aren’t.


The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

July 6, 2009

trouble

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a book for nonfiction Monday, but here you go…

Celebrated author Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, comes to life in this fascinating biography.  Newbery medalist Sid Fleischman describes Twain’s child- and adulthood adventures, showing readers how Twain began his writing career and offering insight on how much of Twain’s writing was based on people he knew or experiences he had.  We are introduced to the real-life inspiration for Huckleberry Finn, learn where the celebrated jumping frog was discovered, and share his experience roughing it to the West.  The biography includes occasional photographs, drawings, and newspaper clippings to supplement Twain’s adventures.  As the book’s title (The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West) indicates, emphasis is placed on Twain’s adventures in the Wild West, but his childhood, time on the Mississippi River, and time as a husband and father are also covered at varying extents.  With so much biographical material, readers will really discover who both Samuel Clemens, the subject of the first half of the book, and Mark Twain, the subject of the second half, were.  Assisting the book to become even more interesting is Fleishman’s eloquent and witty writing that truly echoes Twain’s own.  The Trouble Begins at 8 is a great book for anyone reading Twain’s works and wanting to know more about the author.