Timeline of Middle Grade Fiction 2016

1242: The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz. travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing. These children may be saints, or they may be using evil magic to do wonders that will deceive the faithful. And the dog, Gwenforte, who once saved a child from a deadly serpent, may be resurrected, but can a dog really be a saint?

1606: Caravaggio: Signed in Blood by Mark Smith. For fifteen-year-old Beppo Ghirlandi, an indentured servant accused of murder, there is no one to turn to. The only person who will help him is the painter from across the piazza, the madman genius known as Caravaggio—-who, unfortunately, has serious troubles of his own.

1781: Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson. The third book in the Seeds of America Trilogy chronicles the adventures of Isabel and Curzon after the winter at Valley Forge.

*1812: The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford. Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault must find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. But they are in America, where the Americans have just declared war on the British, and the engine is a prize that all three countries will fight to own.

1816: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire. In this steampunk alternate history sci-fi novel, the evil Sir Titus takes Edward’s parents hostage to help him find a lost dragon tomb—on Mars. The political situation in the background of the story involves the British Empire on Earth as they fight the Napoleonic Wars.

1825: A Buss From Lafayette by Dorothea Jensen. Clara’s town is excited because the famous Revolutionary War hero, General Lafayette, is about to visit their state during his farewell tour of America.

1840-1877: In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall. Jimmy McClean learns about his Lakota heritage from his grandfather and from stories about the hero Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse.

*1847: The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby. Jacob Tibbs, ship’s cat, chronicles the sometimes sad, sometimes exciting, adventures of the sailors aboard the Melissa Rae.

1866: Makoons by Louise Erdrich. Makoons, an Ojibwe boy, and his twin, Chickadee, travel with their family to the Great Plains of Dakota Territory. There they must learn to become buffalo hunters and once again help their people make a home in a new land.

c.1870: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. . Faith Sunderly is a proper Victorian young lady who has always been told, and who believes, that she is inferior in every way to men. Her father, the Reverend Sunderly is not only a cleric but also a world famous paleontologist. Faith, too is interested in science and in anything that will impress her father and get him to pay attention to her, but when she begins to learn more about her father’s research, she also finds herself enmeshed in a web of lies and deceit that won’t let go.

1871: Cinnamon Moon by Tess Hilmo. Three children displaced by fires (The Great Chicago Fire and another in Wisconsin on the same day) must find a way to survive and thrive.

*1887: A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson. Eleven year old Rocco must survive on the streets of New York City after his Italian parents sell him to a padrone who uses him to make money as a street musician.

1892: The Crimson Skew by S.E. Grove. Third book in the Mapmakers trilogy. Sophia Tims is coming home from a foreign Age, having risked her life in search of her missing parents. Now she is aboard ship, with a hard-earned, cryptic map that may help her find them at long last.

*1909: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth by Katharine Woodfine. Mysteries abound in an early twentieth century London department store.

1910: Race to the South Pole by Kate Messner. Ranger of Time series. A time-traveling dog, Ranger, helps out during Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica.

1920’s: Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey. 10 year old Isabel is obsessed with becoming a news reporter in 1920’s Chicago, where gangsters rule and the Tribune is the paper of record.

1929: The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach. On a stormy May day William and Maxine, cousins who hardly know each other, meet at the home of their mutual grandfather, Colonel Battersea. Soon after their arrival, Grandpa receives a secret telegram which takes the three of them to New York City. From there, the story rapidly becomes more and more frenzied, dangerous, and desperate as the children try to rescue Grandpa, find a lost package, decide whether or not to trust the courier, a girl named Nura, and work out their own new-found friendship.

1929: The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. Twelve-year-old Martha works as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. The other servants say Rose Sewell is crazy, but Martha believes that the paintings in the Sewell’s gallery contain a hidden message about Rose and about the other secrets in the Sewell mansion.

1934: Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg. Terpsichore’s father signs up for President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project, uprooting the family from Wisconsin to become pioneers in Alaska.

1939: You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carol Boston Weatherford. Verse novel about the struggles and achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black air training program during World War II.

1940: Once Was a Time by Leila Sales. Time travel isn’t possible, is it? Or can time travel be the secret weapon that will allow the Allies to win World War II? And can friendship last over time when one friend gets displaced and can’t return to her own time?

1940’s: Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz. 13-year-old Irish boy, Michael O’Shaunessey, becomes a spy in Nazi Germany.

1940’s: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepard. Winged horses live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. But only Emmaline can see them.

1940’s: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. During the Blitz, Katherine, Robbie and Amelie Bateson are sent north to a private school in Rookskill Castle in Scotland, a brooding place, haunted by dark magic from the past. But when some of their classmates disappear, Katherine has to find out what has happened to them.

1941: Bjorn’s Gift by Sandy Brehl. Sequel to Odin’s Promise by the same author. Mari, a young Norwegian girl, faces growing hardships and dangers in her small village in a western fjord during World War II.

1941: Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Fourteen-year-old Junior Bledsoe struggles with school and with anger—-at his father, his insufferable granddaddy, his neighbors, and himself—-as he desperately tries to understand himself and find his own aim in life.

*1942: Skating With the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer. Gustave, a twelve-year-old French Jewish boy, has made it to America at last. After escaping with his family from Nazi-occupied France, he no longer has to worry about being captured by the Germans. But life is not easy in America, either.

1942: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk. Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Then, new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks.

1942: Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban. Ten year old Manami, a Japanese American girl sent to an internment camp with her family, clings to the hope that somehow grandfather’s dog, Yujiin, will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again.

1942: The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough. Marcel, a French boy, dreams of someday competing in the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race. But ever since Germany’s occupation of France began the race has been canceled. Now there are soldiers everywhere, and Marcel bicycle may be useful for more important things than winning a race.

1942: Brave Like My Brother by Marc Nobleman. An American soldier in WWII England shares his war experiences with his 10-year-old brother via letters.

1952: Making Friends With Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood. Azalea Ann Morgan leaves her home in Tyler Texas to stay with her injured Grandma and help out for the summer. Although Azalea has difficulty making new friends, she and Billy Wong have adventures together in the small town in Arkansas where Azalea’s grandma lives.

1969: Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock. A North Carolina town hires its first African-American teacher in 1969, and two girls–one black, one white–confront the prejudice that challenges their friendship.

1973: Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Ben Hogan Putter just lost his dad to cancer. Now Ben has a permanent lump in his throat that he believes is an actual golf ball, and his barbecue-loving, golf-loving daddy is speaking to him from beyond the grave, asking Ben to take his ashes to Augusta, Georgia, home of the most famous golf course in the world.

1975: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. If Raymie Clarke can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home.

*1978: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas. Zomorod Yusefzadeh is living in California with her Iranian family during the Iran hostage crisis. No wonder she wants to change her name to Cindy!

*1984: Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. On his twelfth birthday, Al receives two gifts: a hamster and a letter from his deceased dad. The letter informs Al that it might be possible for him to use his dad’s time machine to go back in time and prevent his father’s death. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for Al to even get to the place where his dad’s time machine is waiting, not to mention the difficulty of manipulating past events to change the future.

1989: Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet. Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. Now, the family is headed for East Berlin, and Noah/Jonah mustn’t ask any questions.

2001: Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Four children living in different parts of the country are affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

2001: Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Actually set in 2016, this story is about three schoolchildren who are studying the events of 9/11 and who come to see its impact on their own lives.

2011: The Turn of the Tide by Roseanne Parry. Two cousins on opposite sides of the Pacific experience the 2011 tsunami.

A few notes about this list:

Some of the blurbs are taken from Amazon or from Goodreads and edited to fit my list.

My favorites of the ones I’ve read are *starred. No, I haven’t read all of these. Links are to Semicolon reviews of the books that I have read and reviewed.

Some of these are straight historical fiction, and others are time travel or other fantasy books set mostly in the time period indicated.

Finally, we need more (excellent!) books for middle grade readers set in ancient times and in the middle ages or at least before 1800. I know of lots of older books set in these time periods, but not many are being published now. Too much research required? Or just a lack of interest?

What’s New in the Library? November 1, 2016

These are just a few of the books that I’ve recently added to my private subscription library for homeschoolers and others in southeast Houston, Meriadoc Homeschool Library:

Finding Providence: The Story of Roger Williams by Avi. With lovely illustrations by James Watling, this I Can Read Chapter Book tells the story of the hero of religious liberty, Roger Williams, from the point of view of his daughter, Mary. The book has five very short chapters, and the text by Avi is thorough, but simple and straightforward. I have another book about Roger Williams for more advanced readers, Lone Journey: The Life of Roger Williams by Jeanette Eaton.

Ten Brave Men: Makers Of The American Way by Sonia Daugherty. With illustrations by Sonia’s husband, Newbery award winning author, James Daugherty. The stories include the following men: William Bradford, Roger Williams, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln.

Tales From Far and Near and Tales of Long Ago (History Stories of Other Lands) by Arthur Guy Terry. World history in story form, perfect for reading aloud.

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant. The one is a brand-new picture book biography written by the very talented author of The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus. Six Dots concentrates on the few years in his life when Louis Braille was busily inventing braille writing, in his early teens! At age fifteen, Braille had essentially perfected braille writing, a magnificent invention that “has had a lasting and profound impact on so many people.” Helen Keller compared Louis Braille to Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press.

We Were There at the Battle of the Alamo by Margaret Cousins, historical consultant, Walter Prescott Webb. There were about 35 or 40 books of historical fiction published by Grosset and Dunlap in the We Were There series. Each volume has both an author and a historical consultant. Mr. Webb, who was a renowned Texas historian during the first half of the twentieth century, was president of the Texas State Historical Association for many years. He also launched the project that produced the Handbook of Texas. So, if his name is on the book, it’s historically accurate. And Mrs. Cousins, who wrote a couple of the Landmark series books, Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia and The Story of Thomas Alva Edison, was also an accomplished writer for children and a respected biographer. She also wrote The Boy in the Alamo, another Alamo story. Other We Were There historical fiction in Meriadoc Homeschool Library:
We Were There with Cortes and Montezuma by Benjamin Appelt.
We Were There on the Oregon Trail by William O. Steele.
We Were There on the Santa Fe Trail by Ross McLaury Taylor.
We Were There With the California Rancheros by Stephen Holt.
We Were There at the First Airplane Flight by Felix Sutton.
We Were There With Caesar’s Legions by Robert N. Webb.
A few of the books in this exciting and educational series are available from the public library as e-books. Most of them are not available in any form at Houston or Harris County Public Library.

I also acquired several volumes in the Makers of History series by brothers, Jacob and John Abbott. Jan Bloom says of the thirty-two volumes in the series that they are “interesting, well-written, and full of insights into the people the brothers thought were important.” These books are for older students, junior high and high school, even college age. Of the thirty-two, I have the books profiling the following “makers of history”: Alexander the Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Empress Josephine, William the Conqueror, Henri IV of France, Marie Antionette, Darius the Great Xerxes the Great, Alfred the Great, Cyrus the Great, Pyrrhus, Mary Queen of Scots, Peter the Great, Genghis Khan, Joseph Bonaparte, and Romulus.

So many treasures to read, so little time.

How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman.

What a fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction history! I learned so many things that I didn’t know before:

The Treaty of Union between England and Scotland (1706-1707), according to Mr. Herman, was actually a huge boost to Scottish commerce, progress, and culture. As he writes the story, the Scots may have given up their independence, but they received innumerable benefits from the deal, including a paradoxical and practical independence from English interference in their affairs that enabled the Scots to “invade” London and indeed England and become leaders in government, education, and business for over a century.

Philosophers Adam Smith and David Hume, historians and biographers James Boswell and Thomas Babbington Macaulay, poets Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, inventors John Macadam (macadam roads), Thomas Telford (canals and bridges galore), James Watt (steam engine), and many other men, both famous and under-appreciated, were all Scots or of Scottish extraction.

Scotswomen, other than the Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald, seem to have been quite unheard of and unremarkable in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, at least. The dearth of women in the pages of this book reminded me of the scarcity/non-mention of dwarf women in The Lord of the Rings. You know there must be women, and every once in a while a “mother” is mentioned, but the women were not part of literary, educational, or polite society. (Scotsmen remind me of dwarves, or vice-versa, anyway.)

The whole Bonnie Prince Charlie thing and Highland kilts and bagpipes made the Highlands of Scotland a tourist attraction in the early 1800’s, mostly because of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Scotland’s literacy rate (boys and girls) was higher than any other country in the world by the end of the eighteenth century, and printing and book-selling were major industries in Edinburgh during that same century.

And lots more. I found this book fascinating, even if it was a somewhat one-sided view of the power, influence and sheer overwhelming greatness of Scotland and its culture. If everything good, especially in the eighteenth century, came out of Scotland, what happened in England, Ireland, France, America, even China? Another fault in the book, the author begins his story with the true tale of Edinburgh theology student Thomas Aikenhead who was hanged in 1697 for the crime of “obstinate blasphemy”. Herman calls Scotland “a nation governed by a harshly repressive Kirk; a nation of an unforgiving and sometimes cruel Calvinist religious faith.” However, the rest of the book makes little of the influence of the “Kirk” or of Calvinism or indeed of Christianity in general, even though most of the Enlightenment figures in Scotland who dominate the culture for the next two centuries were professing Christians, many of them ordained ministers. With the notable exception of atheist philosopher David Hume, it’s as if their religious beliefs were baggage to be hidden away or overcome and not an influence on their thinking at all.

I would have liked to read more about how the faith of men such as educator, theologian, and philosopher Francis Hutcheson shaped their theology —or perhaps how Mr. Hutcheson was able to reconcile his Presbyterianism with his belief in the innate goodness of man. In fact, the author, Mr. Herman, does highlight the Christian faith of Hutcheson, although with less of a explanation of how that faith was worked out in his life than I would have liked. But the faith of other men who are featured in the book would have been valuable to explore and interesting to read about.

Nevertheless, even if the book is biased in favor of Scotland’s influence and standing in the world, and even if Scots Calvinism is given short shrift in the building of that Scottish moral philosophy, How the Scots Invented the Modern World certainly was a good read. It made me want to look up and find the names and histories of some of my own Scottish ancestors so that I could claim a part in the Scottish heritage that Mr, Herman so ably extols.

Historical Fiction and Nonfiction: Seventeenth Century Europe

Last week I reviewed several books set during World War War II. This week my book travels have taken me to seventeenth century Europe. I haven’t read every single one of the following books, but I can generally recommend either the book or the author.

What have you read that is set in seventeenth century Europe, either England or the continent? About Puritans, Cavaliers, Cromwell, the two Charleses and two Jameses, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, the Sun King, metaphysical poets, English civil war, philosophy, pirates, astronomy, physics, fables(La Fontaine) and fairy tales(Perrault), slavery, and religious upheaval?

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction:
The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes. c.1630. England. Newbery Award book.
I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. Early 1600’s. Spain. Newbery Award book about the painter Diego Velasquez and his slave and friend, Juan de Pareja.
Down Ryton Water by E.R. Gaggin. 1620. Half in Europe, and half in the New World. The book gives a good picture of life for the Pilgrims in England and in Holland before their removal to the New World. Newbery Honor book.
The Walls of Cartagena by Julia Durango. 1639. Cartagena, Colombia. Reviewed at Book Nut.
Campion Towers by John and Patricia Beatty. 1640’s. England. A Puritan girl, Penitence, is transplanted from New England to the England of Cromwell and Charles II.
The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat. 1647. England. The four Royalist Beverley children are orphaned during the English civil war, and they hide from the Roundheads in the New Forest where they learn to live off the land.
Lark by Sally Watson. 1651. England. Lark is a pert, lively, likable girl who, rather than marry her unpleasant Puritan cousin, runs away from home.
Cast Off by Eve Yohalem. 1663. Amsterdam to the East Indies.
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. 1665. London, England. Apothecaries being targeted in London.
A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh. 1665. Village of Eyam, Derbyshire, England. The plague quarantines an entire village.
Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. 1665-1666. London, England. An orphan boy lives through the Great Fire of London.
Pirate Royal by John and Patricia Beatty. 167?. London, Bristol, Cuba, Jamaica, Venezuela. Young Anthony Grey is kidnapped from a Boston tavern and impressed into service with the notorious pirate Henry Morgan.
Huguenot Garden by Douglas M. Jones III. 1685. La Rochelle, France.

Adult Fiction:
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. 1625. Mostly France and sometimes England.
The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge. 16??. The love story of Lucy Walter and Charles II.
The King’s General by Daphne duMaurier. 1642-1656. Devon/Cornwall, England during the English Civil War.
The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliffe. 1642-1656. England during the English Civil War.
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas. 1645-1650. France.
The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas. 1660-1667. France. (includes Louise de la Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask.)
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. 1665-1666. England.
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne duMaurier. c.1670. Cornwall, England.
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. 1685-1688. England and Barbados.
The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. by William Makepeace Thackeray. 1691-1718. England.

Children’s and Young Adult Nonfiction:
Along Came Galileo by Jeanne Bendick. 1564-1642. Italy.
A Piece of the Mountain: The Story of Blaise Pascal by Joyce McPherson. 1623-1662. France.
The Flight and Adventures of Charles II by Charles Norman. 1642-1688. England.
The Ocean of Truth: The Story of Sir Isaac Newton by Joyce McPherson. 1643-1727. England.

Adult Nonfiction:
A Coffin for King Charles: The Trial and Execution of Charles I by C.V. Wedgwood. 1648-1649. England.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. 1691. Paris, France.
Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees by Peter Kreeft. Blaise Pascal, philosopher and mathematician, lived from 1623 to 1662.
The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton.
Religio Medici by Thomas Browne. 1652.

Seventeenth Century Poets:
George Herbert
John Donne
Richard Lovelace
John Milton
Henry Vaughan
Isaac Watts
Jean de la Fontaine.

Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski

Lois Lenski was a prolific children’s writer who wrote “a collection of regional novels about children across the United States” and a number of historical novels about children of different periods of American history. In Puritan Adventure, Aunt Charity comes to a fictional colony in New England to live with her sister’s family, and she brings joy and kindness into the oppressive atmosphere of the Puritan colony, and especially to the colony’s children. Aunt Charity, to the dismay of the authorities in the colony, teaches the children to celebrate Christmas and Shrove Tuesday and May Day—with a maypole! Horrors!

Puritan Adventure gives the Puritans of seventeenth century New England a bad rap. The Puritans did outlaw the celebration of certain feasts, particularly Christmas because it was associated with drunkenness, and they did by necessity work hard and expect everyone in the household to work together for the sake of survival. However, the Puritans and other religious pilgrims who came to America in the seventeenth century were not quite the dour, frightened, suppressed people that Lenski’s book makes them out to be. They celebrated their own holidays and family times. They enjoyed their Sabbath rest and worship each Sunday. Puritan Richard Baxter wrote:

“All Christ’s ways of mercy tend to, and end in the saints’ joys. He wept, suffered, sorrowed that they might rejoice; He sendeth the Spirit to be their comforter; He multiplieth promises, he discovers their future happiness, that their joy may be full; He aboundeth to them in mercies of all sorts; He maketh them lie down in green pastures, He leadeth them by the still waters, yea, He openeth to them the fountain of living waters, that their joy may be full.”

Thomas Watson, another Puritan writer, said simply: “The more we enjoy of God, the more we are ravished with delight.”

So, Aunt Charity, with her idealization of Old England and its celebrations would likely have been looked upon as an anomaly in a Puritan colony, but not necessarily hounded and bought before the magistrate as she was in the book. And drunken celebrations would have been discouraged, but Aunt Charity’s child-centered Christmas and Shrove Tuesday celebrations would most likely have been looked upon as odd, but harmless. Neither Old England nor New England had a very child-centered culture. Children were little adults, given as much responsibility as they could possibly handle and sometimes more.

I don’t know what to recommend about Puritan Adventure. I will keep it in my library. Ms. Lenski was a great writer of children’s books, and she tells a good story in her novel of Puritan New England. However, that good story is based on a skewed idea of the Puritans’ joylessness. Maybe it would be a good book to read with children and to discuss. One could discuss the dangers of legalism and also the dangers of lawlessness, as exemplified by Patty, the servant girl. Readers could also talk about the misunderstanding that is prevalent today in regard to the difference between temporal pleasures and eternal joy. We should teach the children (and the adults) to choose joy every time—and to not be afraid of a little innocent pleasure.

1776 by David McCullough

I feel as if I learned a lot about the first year of the American War for Independence while reading this book, and I did enjoy it. However, all I can really remember right now is a few broad impressions.

The war went really, really badly for the Americans right up until the crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton at the very end of the year. This defeat of the Hessian troops left there to “guard” Washington’s army was such a great victory because the year up until the day after Christmas was such a disaster.

Washington’s greatest attribute was perseverance.

“Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake, and he never gave up. Again and agin, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance—for ‘perseverance and spirit,’ for ‘patience and perseverance,’ for ‘unremitting courage and perseverance.'”

And he needed that character attribute. He also needed it in his soldiers and officers, who would have been praiseworthy in the eyes of many, including their own friends and families at times, to have given up and gone home. I wonder if the United States of America produces men, and women, nowadays like those who persevered and fought in the grandly named, but not so grandly supplied, Continental Army of 1776.

The war in 1776, for enlisted men, was 95% slogging through forced marches and living in destitute conditions while not getting paid and worrying about your family back home. Communications were poor; disease was endemic; and if you made it through the actual shooting part of the war, you were only marginally likely to survive the other part in which sickness, starvation, and privation were daily dangers.

Several times during the battles and retreats of 1776, God seems to have saved the Continental Army, by His mercy providing a concealing fog or other helpful weather conditions or human intelligence that just came in the nick of time to preserve the army from certain destruction. At the end of 1776, when a great part of Washington’s army had their enlistment time ending and when a goodly number of them were sick and tired and ready to go home, Washington offered a bounty of ten dollars to those who would stay for six more months and managed to talk many of them into reenlisting. General Nathaniel Greene said, “God Almighty inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.” (p.286)

I do think that God had a hand in creating and preserving this nation, and I do wonder if He has finished with us —as a nation. I pray not, but we heartily need Washington’s perseverance and God’s mercy and provision now more than ever. And how many of us are praying and looking for His hand in our history?

The Collapse by Mary Elise Sarotte

The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte.

World Magazine just published its annual issue on books, and one of the books chosen as a runner-up for book of the year in the history/biography category was The Collapse. Coincidentally, I had already heard of the book and requested it from the library and had it in my stack of TBR books in the cradle next to my bed. (Since I have passed the years of child-bearing and baby-rocking, my handmade wooden cradle now serves as a books-to-be-read repository as it awaits the advent of grandchildren.)

I can see why The Collapse made World‘s shortlist of best books. It is a stunning account of a moment in history, a moment that changed history. And, as the author points out over and over, it could easily have not happened or have happened very differently. Inexorable violence, intimidation, and renewed repression could have been the operative words to describe the events of October and early November 1989 in Berlin and in greater Germany; instead, Ms. Sarotte uses the adjectives “coincidental” and “unexpected” and “improbable” and even, blessedly, “peaceful”.

In her book, Ms. Sarotte tries to explain how these many, many serendipitous events combined to allow or even produce the opening of the Berlin Wall and eventually the reunification of East and West Germany. The “why” is beyond the scope of the narrative and perhaps beyond the understanding of mere authors and readers. Sarotte does reiterate many times that the collapse of the Wall was not inevitable.

“The Wall’s opening was not a gift from political elites, East German or otherwise, and was in no way predetermined. It resulted from a remarkable constellation of actors and contingent events—and not a little courage on the part of some of the individuals directly involved—that came together in a precise but entirely unplanned sequence. And the larger, successful peaceful revolution surrounding the opening was a truly rare event, one to be considered carefully, not discounted. The history of 1989 shows just how many things have to go right for such a revolution to succeed.”

I am left with some questions of my own, questions that will never be answered this side of eternity, but that are nevertheless interesting to me from a Christian perspective:

The dissident movement in East Germany was birthed and nurtured in the churches of Leipzig and Berlin. Many of the dissidents were not believers, but were nevertheless willing and thankful to use the churches and their “peace prayer” meetings as a shelter and a staging area for demonstrations and peaceful protests against the East German government. Could the peaceful success of the revolution and the reordering of Germany’s culture and government be credited in part (or even in whole) to its genesis as a prayer movement? Perhaps God answered those repeated prayers for peace and justice?

What do historians and politicians mean when they talk about being “on the right side of history”? In the book Soviet leader Chernyaev says of Gorbachev: “He sensed the path of history and helped it to follow its natural path.” Impersonal History nevertheless has a will and a flow? How can this be? (It’s the same way that evolutionists talk about Nature doing this or that. How did Nature become a Force with a will and purpose? And do we humans discern that purpose?)

In a bigger way, could all of those fortuitous events of people being in the right place at the right time or absent from the right place at the right time or able to communicate or unable to communicate, all of those things that had to go right, could they have been orchestrated, not by politicians or revolutionaries, but rather by God himself? Maybe the lesson here is that the “remarkable constellation” was not “entirely unplanned”—just unplanned by man? Man proposes; God disposes.

The Collapse is not a book about God, just as the book of Esther in the Bible hardly mentions God—unless you have eyes to see the hand of God in all of history. I think it much more likely and believable that God is working His purposes out in the course of history than that History itself has an undefined will and an inscrutable purpose.

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A Train in Winter by Carolyn Moorehead

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Carolyn Moorehead.

This book tells the harrowing story of 230 French resistance fighters, women, who were sent first to Auschwitz in 1943 and then to to Ravensbruck in 1944. By April 1945 after twenty-nine months of torture, imprisonment, and starvation, when Ravensbruck was liberated, only 49 of the 230 French women who had left Paris for Auschwitz survived.

Unfortunately, I had trouble keeping up with the various women’s names and backgrounds and feel it would have been better for the author to have concentrated her narrative on just a few of the women, those she was able to interview and get more information about. Nevertheless, the story of what these women endured at the hands of their Nazi captors was painful and appalling even to read about, and I was reminded again of just how cruel and sadistic we humans can be.

At the same time I was reading this book about these mostly Communist and atheist female resistance workers in France (only a few of the women professed to be practicing Catholics), I was also reading aloud The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom to my two youngest daughters. Corrie and her sister Betsie lived in the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, and there their family ran an underground resistance network that mostly hid Jewish people and smuggled them to safe houses in the country or out of the country. In February 1944 Corrie and Betsie were arrested and sent to Ravensbruck, the same camp where the French women had already been transferred.

In The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom describes much the same horrific conditions that the author of A Train in Winter tells about as she relates the experiences of the French prisoners. They all experienced the same fleas, lice, nakedness, cold, hunger, violence, and brutality. Betsie Ten Boom died after spending about six months in Ravensbruck. Corrie Ten Boom was freed about a week after her sister’s death and sent home to Holland, her release due to a “clerical error.”

The contrast between the Ten Boom sisters and the French resistors was not so much in their circumstances, except that the French women spent much longer in prison, but rather in how they responded to and saw those circumstances. Nor were the French women any more or less courageous or perseverant than Corrie and her sister Betsie. Upon their return, however, the surviving French women “shared the same sense of alienation, loss, and loneliness. . . . There was no innocence left in any of them, and they would not find it again.” These women with their faith in country and in the Communist ideal “returned to families that had been broken up, houses that had been bombed or ransacked, children who no longer knew them. Many had husbands and lovers who had been shot by the Germans. Few, very few, found the life of happiness they had dreamt about.”

Corrie Ten Boom also returned from Ravensbruck traumatized and bereft. She had lost not only Betsie, but also her elderly father, Casper Ten Boom, who died in prison not long after the family was arrested. Other members of her family had been arrested and were believed dead. Her country, Holland, was in ruins. And yet, God turned Corrie Ten Boom’s life into a life of joy and forgiveness and ministry. Corrie wrote that it was those who were able, by God’s grace and mercy, to forgive, who were able to heal from the trauma and the suffering of the war. She went to live for another almost 40 years after her release from Ravensbruck, traveling all over the world and preaching the mercy and forgiveness of God for sinners.

The contrast between The Hiding Place and A Train in Winter shows the inadequacy of a philosophy based on the communist brotherhood of men. What happens when that philosophy is shown to be a farce in the face of true evil? Where does a survivor of such atrocious evil get the power and the trust to forgive, move past bitterness, and go on to live in community with other human beings?

Christmas in London, 1661

Christmas Day, 1661. In the morning to church; where at the door of our pew I was fain to stay, because that the sexton had not opened the door. A good sermon of Mr. Mills. Dined at home all alone, And taking occasion, from some fault in the meat, to complain of my maid’s Sluttery, my wife and I fell out, and I up to my Chamber in a discontent. After dinner my wife comes up to me and all friends again; and she and I to walk upon the Leads; there Sir W. Pen called us and we went to his house and supped with him.
~Samuel Pepys

Sir William Penn from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Lisby, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Sir William Penn (23 April 1621 – 16 September 1670) was an English admiral, and the father of William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania.

Samuel Pepys in the rain (3 of 4) from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Glyn Thomas, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

This bust is of Pepys, showing him as a young man as he was when he wrote his famous diary. I can’t figure out from the above quotation whether it was Pepys himself or his wife who spoiled their Christmas festivities with complaints about the maid’s “sluttery.” Either way, it’s good that they made up in time to sup with Sir Penn.

A Note from the Author of Balboa, Swordsman and Conquistador

I just added this book from the old Landmark series to the Meriadoc Homeschool Library database at library thing. It’s a book I recently purchased from a lady who is selling her library, and when I opened the book, I found a lovely surprise: a typewritten letter to readers from the author, Felix Riesenberg, Jr. The letter is loose, written on notepaper with a letterhead at the top giving the author’s name and address in Sarasota, Florida. The typewritten letter is signed by the author. It reads in part:

“This book is the story of Balboa from his teens until after he and his men hacked, climbed and fought over rugged country from the Caribbean Sea to the then unknown Pacific. The discovery, made despite many obstacles, remains one of the most exciting and important events in all man’s history.”

Mr. Reisenberg died in 1962, so I feel as if I have a piece of history in my hands when I read his letter encouraging “young readers” to read about and emulate Balboa, an explorer whom Riesenberg characterizes as bold, brave, and steadfast, as well as kind and beloved by his companions.

I’ve placed the letter in an envelope inside the front cover of my book. What a treasure!