November 2011

The Sand Creek Massacre

Patrick M. Mendosa's Song of Sorrow

My local paper had an article this morning about an annual run in memory of the November 29, 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.  The Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run begins near Eads, Colorado, and over the course of several days, travels to the Colorado State Capitol building in Denver.  This year's run started on Thursday, and ended on Saturday by honoring the graves of the officers who tried to prevent the massacre.

Quality YA History

The Devil's Paintbox by Victoria McKernan

I love finding historical fiction that is both impeccably researched and also totally engrossing, and I love it even more when I find this in a YA book.  I love reading YA, so it's always a treat when I find something like The Devil's Paintbox by Victoria McKernan.

The novel spans a couple of years and a few thousand miles, beginning in Kansas and ending in Washington Territory.  Aiden and his little sister Maddy are orphaned and starving on their family's farm in Kansas, where drought has ruined any chance of farming any longer.  When they are given an opportunity to join a wagon train west and work for a logging company there, they are willing to agree to whatever terms are necessary to pay their way across the frontier.

Believable Historical Fiction

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I've been more interested in fiction lately than nonfiction, so today I wanted to discuss an excellent historical novel, and probably my favorite book that I've read all year: Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants.

Although people who haven't read the book or seen the movie probably won't think "historical fiction" when they think of this book, Water for Elephants is actually a very fine example of the genre.  It's a well-researched story about a vet school dropout who joins the circus during the Great Depression after the deaths of his parents.  Although the focus of the novel is his relationship with one of the performers, and the conflicts with her husband and the owner of the circus (two different people, although in the movie they were combined into one character), history plays a large part in the setting and story.  In fact, in the afterword, the author talks about her research on the history of circuses and the way elephants were treated, which she drew on to write the novel.

The Visual Dictionary of Prehistoric Life

I’m not one for dictionaries. I have never used them much—except maybe while playing Scrabble with my grandmother, who was a stickler for words being absolutely correct!—and I always thought that it was silly that we needed to look up words we didn’t know in school rather than develop our own understandings about them through reading and context clues. (Did you know that every dictionary is written by writers with their own biases and contexts? That makes a difference!)