Saturday, September 6, 2008

Deborah Hopkinson. INTO THE FIRESTORM

Back when I was a classroom teacher, I used to tell my language arts students that reading historical fiction is like taking a trip back in time. This is a trip back in time to a major natural disaster. It takes place in 1906 in San Francisco. Nicholas Dray has just become an orphan. He grew up Texas, picking cotton since he was a small child. Since he’s all alone, he decides it’s a good time to make his way to “the Paris of the Pacific”, as his teacher used to call San Francisco. After several days of bad luck, he finally meets a man that offers him a job and a place to stay. The kind Mr. Pat allows Nick to watch his stationery store while he goes out of town for a few days. The very first night of Nick’s new job, an earthquake strikes. An earthquake alone was bad enough, but then fires break out in various places in the city. The fires spread quickly, since the water mains are broken from the earthquake and limit the amount of usable water. People are evacuating their homes and leaving town. The remainder of the novel is an account of Nick making heavy decisions for such a young kid. How will he help his neighbors, a young girl and her pregnant mother, evacuate if necessary? How will he protect the store or its valuables? How will he ever find Mr. Pat’s dog, Shakespeare, who ran off? Should he go back home to Texas? You really feel the desperation and sense of loss that must have clouded the city through Nick and the other characters.

This was a fast paced, exciting novel. What a devastating event. It’s one of the worst natural disasters in American History. It left half the population homeless and so much of the city destroyed. Usually, I find it difficult to pick up a historical fiction novel, unless I’m already interested in that time period. But, this one grabbed me from page one. I enjoyed my trip through time. In my opinion, a good historical fiction novel, like this one, leaves you with the feeling you were there.

This author has written many historical fiction books. To find out more, click here for her website.

***I have the pleasure of interviewing this author. I will be posting that interview the week of Sep 21. She has a new book coming out on Sep 9:

In Knob Creek, Kentucky, in 1816, seven-year-old Abe Lincoln falls into a creek and is rescued by his best friend, Austin Gollaher.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few of my other favorites by Ms. Hopkinson:

APPLES TO OREGON: being the (slightly) true narrative of how a brave pioneer father brought apples, peaches, pears, plums, grapes, and cherries (and children) across the plains
(yes, that's the full title!)

A pioneer family moving to Oregon decides to take part of their orchard with them. They carefully place apples, peaches, pears, plums, grapes, and cherries in a big wooden wagon and head off on their journey. Along the way, they have obstacles such as rivers to cross, droughts, hailstorms, and Jack Frost. All through it, one daughter, Delicious, helps her father to protect the precious plants. He loves the plants so much you wonder when he says that “we got to find a water hole or my babies are done for” if he is thinking of his kids or his plants. They finally make it to Oregon with the plants intact, and they live to a ripe old age. The whimsical illustrations depict the light hearted tall tale well. They really made me laugh out loud numerous times. My favorite is when the kid’s feet are shown dangling out of the apple trees. The author’s consistent use of alliteration like “peaches are plummeting” and “plums are plunging” make this an excellent read aloud.

THE KLONDIKE KID: Sailing for Gold

I loved the size and length of this book. I think it’s a great way for advanced readers to get longer books, yet still have pictures. The cliffhanger ending is a wonderful way to keep kids interested in the series. The plot was well-paced. The illustrations are simple black and white sketches of meaningful scenes. The main character is endearing. The secondary characters are interesting.


SHUTTING OUT THE SKY:Life in the tenements of New York 1880-1924

SKY BOYS: How the built the Empire State Building