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(Not-so) long ago or far away

In these works of historical fiction for middle graders — taking place in 1920s Alaska, 1932 North Carolina, WWII England, or 1950s Illinois — the settings may be unfamiliar, but the feelings are timeless.

hill_bo at iditarod creekAt the start of Kirkpatrick Hill’s Bo at Iditarod Creek, Bo’s family has left Ballard Creek for the bigger and noisier settlement at Iditarod Creek, where her papas have jobs working on a gold dredge. Such technological advances are signs of the times. Bo’s own world is changing, too, as she learns to read, makes new friends, learns about prejudice and “bad words” (including the n-word), and acquires yet another adopted brother. Illustrated with LeUyen Pham’s robust spot art, and lightly but effectively plotted, this sequel to Bo at Ballard Creek has all the virtues of the first book. (Holt, 8–12 years)

draper_stella by starlightIn Sharon M. Draper’s Stella by Starlight, eleven-year-old Stella finds that sneaking out and writing at night helps her makes sense of her world in segregated 1932 Bumblebee, North Carolina. There’s plenty of action in the book — cross burnings, house burnings, a snakebite, a near-drowning — but at its core this is a story about one community’s members supporting each other in the face of tough times. With the love of her family, friends, and neighbors, Stella grows up surrounded by warmth and caring. Readers will close the book knowing that she will turn out just fine. (Atheneum, 8–12 years)

bradley_war that saved my lifeTen-year-old Ada, the heroine of Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s WWII novel The War That Saved My Life, can’t walk due to an unrepaired clubfoot, and her abusive mother confines her to the family’s squalid London flat. With her brother Jamie slated to be evacuated to the countryside, Ada sneaks away to join him. The siblings are placed with a reluctant guardian, Miss Susan Smith, who is mourning her own tragedy. The novel is an involving, poignant, nuanced portrait of healing and rebuilding, focusing on Ada but encompassing Susan’s recovery as well. (Dial, 8–12 years)

levine_paper cowboyTwelve-year-old Tommy wants to be a cowboy, but that’s not so easy in 1950s Downers Grove, Illinois. Beset with worry and guilt over family issues, Tommy takes out his troubles on those around him, until remorse leads him to stop being a cowboy out for revenge and become the type who defends others. In The Paper Cowboy, Kristin Levine expertly evokes a small town in the grip of McCarthyism. The themes of bullying, community, and growing up in a dysfunctional family are explored sensitively, and readers will find themselves wrapped up in observing how Tommy will, inevitably, live up to his cowboy ideals. (Putnam, 8–12 years)

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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