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Twentieth-century friends

Here are four works of historical fiction with vivid characters whose relationship with friends and family will draw middle-grade readers into their stories.

neri_tru & nelleIn G. Neri’s Tru & Nelle, Truman, an eccentric Little Lord Fauntleroy aspirant, and Nelle, a feisty girl with a boyish haircut, strike up an unlikely and unshakable friendship in Depression-era Monroeville, Alabama. Sharing a love of books and playing pretend, Tru and Nelle escape small-town boredom by telling stories, solving local mysteries, and getting into no small amount of mischief. They also endure trouble with bullies and encounter racism, including run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan. This fictional account of the childhood bond between Harper Lee and Truman Capote will entertain readers even as it serves as a love letter to two cultural icons; fans are bound to recognize the seeds of Scout, Dill, and their To Kill a Mockingbird adventures here. (Houghton, 8–11 years)

sepahban_paperwishesLois Sepahban presents a somber but emotionally true story of WWII Japanese American internment in Paper Wishes. In 1942, ten-year-old Manami and her family are forced to leave their home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, for Manzanar, an internment camp in the California desert. Grandfather has arranged for their beloved dog Yujiin to stay with their pastor, but Manami hides the pup in her coat instead. On the mainland, a soldier discovers him, and he is left behind in a crate, his fate unknown. Heartbroken, Manami becomes mute. Her emotional trauma is sensitively portrayed, but she recovers her voice when she needs it most, and the story closes on a hopeful note. (Farrar/Ferguson, 8–11 years)

meyer_skating with the statue of libertyIn Skating with the Statue of Liberty (sequel to Susan Lynn Meyer’s Black Radishes), Gustave and his parents have escaped the dangers of Nazi-occupied France and arrived in New York City. Life here is challenging (“Somehow, they had become poor”), and Gustave finds that they haven’t entirely escaped anti-Semitism, either. His story unfolds in highly believable moments as he learns English; makes the uncomfortable transition to American schooling; and befriends the vivacious September Rose, an African American classmate who, like Gustave, experiences discrimination. This is powerful historical fiction that conveys for modern children — who know how WWII turned out — the agony for 1940s emigrants who themselves didn’t know whether Hitler would triumph or not, and their fear for loved ones left behind. (Delacorte, 8–11 years)

dicamillo_raymie nightingaleKate DiCamillo returns to her Because of Winn-Dixie roots in Raymie Nightingale. When ten-year-old Raymie’s father runs away with a dental hygienist, she decides to enter the 1975 Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest. In her mind, she’ll win; impress her father; and he’ll return home, filled with pride. She enrolls in baton-twirling lessons, where she meets two other girls with their eyes on the same prize: orphaned Louisiana, who desperately needs the winner’s money and hard-as-nails Beverly, who intends to sabotage the contest and, consequently, her overbearing mother. The girls’ initial association of convenience turns into a friendship of mutual understanding and fierce loyalty. They promise to “rescue each other” — and in a beautifully layered story, they do. (Candlewick, 8–11 years)

From the April 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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