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As a child of immigrants, I couldn’t find my family’s story in the Dick and Jane
books we had to read in elementary school. But I kept looking: first as a university student, then as a mother, and later as a writer. Turned out, I had to write my own. But the journey – the search, and the re-search - was a trip well worth taking.
Lois Lowry’s book Number the Stars (Newbery Award, 1990) opened my eyes to the power of historical fiction for young people. And once opened, my eyes couldn’t get enough. Here are some of my more recent favorites.
John Wilson’s Flames of the Tiger (Kids Can Press, 2003). World War II is seen through a German boy’s eyes during the final days in Berlin.
Kit Pearson’s The Sky is Falling, Looking at the Moon, and The Lights Go On Again (Penquin Books) This is a great trilogy about English war guests in Canada during the war.
Leslie Wilson’s Last Train From Kummersdorf (Faber and Faber, 2003). Here children are fleeing the Russians in the chaos of 1945.
Ilse Koehn’s Mischling, Second Degree (re-released by Puffin Books, 1990). This book is a survivor’s story about growing up in a Nazi country.
My hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba welcomed many post-war European immigrants. Some became writers. Eva Wiseman wrote several books about her background as a child in communist Hungary. Her books include My Canary Yellow Star, which was on the New York Library Best Books list. A more recent book, Kanada, (Tundra Books, 2006) was a finalist for Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award. And I’ve just bought her newest book, Puppet, which I can’t wait to read. It’s set in Hungary in 1882 and deals with a less known time of conflict between Christians and Jews.
Kathy Kacer is a Canadian who also writes historical fiction based on family. Her book, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser (Second Story Press, 1999) is set in Czechoslovakia.
Another local author who’s a must-read is the prolific Carol Matas. Lisa (1987) and Jesper (1989) are two books that deal with the Danish resistance during WWII.
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch lives in Ontario. She’s written about the Armenian Genocide in books like Aram’s Choice and Daughter of War. Kobzar’s Childrenis a young adult collection of stories that she edited. It shares the voices of unheard Ukrainians. Enough (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2000 with Michael Martchenko as the illustrator) is a picture book about the Holodomor – death by hunger during the 1932 famine in what today is again Ukraine. Viktor Yushchenko - the current president of Ukraine – has awarded her his country's highest honor.
Barbara Smucker’s book, Days of Terror, (Puffin, 1981) deals with the years immediately after the 1917 Russian Revolution. It’s about the tense and violent period just before the setting of my own fall-release book, The Kulak’s Daughter.
I could go on. These books are but a sampling of what's available. Good books, good stories, good histories. Considering our countries are filled with people who come from foreign lands because of war, persecution, homelessness, and economics, it’s no wonder authors continue to write their family’s his- stories. They’re our-stories. The days of Dick and Jane are long over.
So, what's your favorite historical fiction book? What's your-story?