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Stories From the Past

The Hot Off the Press Spotlight segment showcases new books from our current Hot Off the Press list to further assist parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and other book enthusiasts in finding engaging books for all types of readers.

The past holds many lessons for the present: waste not, want not; equality was hard-won and is still a work in progress; power in the hands of the few can lead to the exploitation of the many. These historical fiction titles from our March Hot Off the Press list visit different eras and give voice to characters who face—and overcome—various challenges, all the while educating and entertaining the reader.

Nancy Bess had a Dress, by Claire Annette Noland; & illus. by Angela C. Hawkins (Gnome Road Publishing) — Fiction, Picture Book, Environment / Sustainability / Recycling, Historical Fiction, Careers / Hobbies, ages 4-6.

Waste not, want not! A patterned flour sack becomes a clever creation in this story set in the late 1930’s featuring a crafty girl with a gift for repurposing her favorite daisy print. 

When the family flour sack is emptied, Nancy Bess remakes it into a dress. But little girls grow as little girls do, and soon that dress is too small. Bit by bit, Nancy Bess fashions the material into new creations, until finally, all that is left of the flour sack are a few tattered pieces. Peering into the family scrap basket, Nancy Bess comes up with a plan to use the material once more, sewing something special to last for generations. 

With carefully crafted and richly detailed illustrations, Nancy Bess Had a Dress will appeal to curious young historians and recycling enthusiasts, as well as like-minded teachers, librarians and caregivers.

One Big Open Sky, by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Holiday House) — Fiction, Poetry / Stories in Verse, BIPOC Characters and Creators, Historical Fiction, Family / Community, ages 7-12.

Three women narrate a perilous wagon journey westward that could set them free—or cost them everything they have—in this intergenerational verse novel that explores the history of the Black homesteader movement.

1879, Mississippi. Young dreamer Lettie may have her head in the stars, but her body is on a covered wagon heading westward. Her father, Thomas, promises that Nebraska will be everything the family needs: an opportunity to claim the independence they’ve strived for over generations on their very own plot of land.

But Thomas’ hopes—and mouth—are bigger than his ability to follow through. With few supplies and even less money, the only thing that feels certain is danger.

Right after the war ended/and we were free/we believed/all of us did/that couldn’t nothing hurt us/the way master had when we were slaves/Couldn’t no one tell us/how to live/how to die.

Lettie, her mother, Sylvia, and young teacher Philomena are free from slavery—but bound by poverty, access to opportunity, and patriarchal social structures. Will these women survive the hardships of their journey? And as Thomas’ desire for control overpowers his common sense, will they truly be free once they get there?

Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome’s striking verse masterfully portrays an underrepresented historical era. Tackling powerful themes of autonomy and Black self-emancipation, Cline-Ransome offers readers an intimate look into the lives of three women and an expansive portrait of generations striving for their promised freedom.

Song of Freedom, Song of Dreams, by Shari Green (Andrews McMeel Publishing) — Fiction, Poetry / Stories in Verse, Historical Fiction, Friendships, Romance, ages Teen.

From award-winning verse novelist Shari Green comes an unforgettable story of friendship, first love, and an impossible choice between integrity and duty, family and friends, all while fighting for a dream.

Song of Freedom, Song of Dreams is a historical YA novel in verse that centers around a young pianist in East Germany trying to make sense of love, duty, and the pursuit of dreams during the unsettled months of protest that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s. Written in stunning lyrical verse, Song of Freedom, Song of Dreams is a story of hope, courage, romance, and the power of music not only to change lives, but to save them.

Uprising, by Jennifer Nielsen (Scholastic) — Fiction, Prose, Historical Fiction, Action / Adventure, Family / Community, ages 7-12.

Twelve-year-old Lidia is outside her grandfather’s house when planes fly overhead, bearing the Nazi cross on each wing. Before the bombs hit the ground, Lidia realizes her life is about to change forever. Poland has fallen under German occupation, and her father makes the brave decision to join the Polish army to fight against the Nazis. Lidia wants to follow him into war, but she’s far too young, and she’s needed by her mother and brother.

After her family returns to Warsaw, where life has changed irrevocably, Lidia continues to play the piano, finding comfort in Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven. But she also wants to aid the Jewish people held captive in the Warsaw Ghetto. With the help of a friend, Lidia begins to smuggle wheat and food into the ghetto. Still, she feels like she could be doing so much more. She wants to fight. After her brother joins the resistance, Lidia wants only to follow in his footsteps. Soon, she begins to work as a courier, smuggling weapons and messages for the resistance throughout the city.

When the Warsaw city uprising begins―one year after the more well-known Warsaw Ghetto uprising by Polish Jews―with gunfire and bombs echoing throughout the streets, Lidia joins the Polish nationalists’ fight, too, and she and her peers fight with everything they’ve got. Life will continue to surprise Lidia, as she and the resistance fighters do their best to defeat the German soldiers. No matter the consequences, they’re willing to defend their freedom and their homes from the Nazi invaders―even with their lives.

Drawing on the extraordinary real-life story of Polish teenager Lidia Zakrzewski, bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen presents an inspiring and dramatic account of the Polish resistance fighters who struggled to force out their Nazi occupiers and reclaim their nation’s freedom from tyranny.

Warrior on the Mound, by Sandra W. Headen (Holiday House) — Fiction, Prose, Sports / Games / Recreation, Social Activism / Equality / Feminism, Historical Fiction, ages 7-12.

Narrated by twelve-year-old Cato, this intense and evocative story of racial unrest in prewar North Carolina ends with a dramatic match between white and Black little league teams.

1935. Twelve-year-old Cato wants nothing more than to play baseball, perfect his pitch, and meet Mr. Satchel Paige––the best pitcher in Negro League baseball. But when he and his teammates “trespass” on their town’s whites-only baseball field for a practice, the resulting racial outrage burns like a brushfire through the entire community, threatening Cato, his family, and every one of his friends.

There’s only one way this can end without violence: It has to be settled on the mound, between the white team and the Black. Winner takes all.  
Written in first person with a rich, convincing voice, Warrior on the Mound is about the experience of segregation; about the tinderbox environment of the prewar South; about having a dream; about injustice, and, finally, about dialogue.

For more great book suggestions, be sure to check out the full March Hot Off the Press list!

List compiled by CBC’s resident book connoisseur, Brooke Pisarsky. Check out other Hot Off the Press Spotlight book lists on our blog.

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