This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 1996 winner, The Bomb, by Theodore Taylor.
The Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is awarded each year to a children’s book by an American author, usually set in the Western Hemisphere.
In The Bomb, a teen boy named Sorry is one of the 167 people living on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean who are moved to make way for testing the new atomic weapons in Operation Crossroads immediately following World War II.
This young adult novel begins with Sorry and his family and neighbors living under Japanese occupation. Eventually, the Americans take control of the atoll as they advance toward the Japanese mainland. Uncle Abram listens to radio reports and keeps their neighbors informed of the progress of the war, including the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
However, soon after the war, the U.S. military pressures and manipulates Bikini residents into leaving their home because the U.S. has decided their atoll is the best place to test atomic bombs.
Sorry determines to stop the test.
Bikini Atoll and Operation Crossroads–My knowledge of this was rudimentary, at best. I appreciated learning about the residents of Bikini.
The U.S. dropped two bombs in the first round of testing. One detonated in the air and one in the water. There were many further tests during the next decade.
Although Taylor wrote in his author’s note that his novel was loosely based on the people moved from Bikini, he had personal experience with Operation Crossroads. He was a sailor on the USS Sumner, the ship which headquartered much of the operation’s early implementation. In Taylor’s epilogue and author’s note, he also wrote about what happened later to Bikini’s “nuclear nomads.”
Two Stories in One–Taylor used a interesting structure to tell two stories at the same time. The text of the novel is Sorry’s story. However, Taylor also interspersed between chapters a short nonfiction narrative of the history of atomic research, weapons, and Operation Crossroads.
In nonfiction books or magazines, this is called a sidebar. I’ve seen these in picture books, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a sidebar like this used in a novel. This was an effective way of giving the reader historical context without bogging down the story.
Join me Feb. 28 as I talk about the history and writing lessons I learn from the 2002 award winner, The Land by Mildred D. Taylor.
For more info:
What do you know about Bikini’s nuclear nomads? Have you seen nonfiction sidebars used in other novels?
A couple of my recent reads were manga versions (in the Manga Classics series) of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
The Scarlett Letter was adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by SunNeko Lee, and Pride and Prejudice was adapted by Stacy King and illustrated by Po Tae.
Past posts about manga:
Because I began 2017 ill, I’m now very behind. For the next couple weeks I will focus on some other writing/teaching projects, and my next blog post will be on Jan. 31.
What have you read recently?
“But soon history no longer seemed a clutter of dates and names in some dim, cold antiquity but became a storied road of time when dad told her old tales of wonder and the pride of kings. When he told the simplest incident with the sound of the sea in his voice, it seemed to take on such a coloring of romance and mystery that Jane knew she could never forget it. Thebes…Babylon…Tyre…Athens…Galilee…were places where real folks lived…folks she knew. And, knowing them, it was easy to be interested in everything pertaining to them.”
—Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery
This is pretty much how I feel about history. What about you? What makes people from the past become people you know?
This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 1990 Scott O’Dell Award-winner, Shades of Gray, by Carolyn Reeder.
In this middle grade novel, set in Virginia after the conclusion of the Civil War, 12-year-old Will is the son of a Confederate officer who was killed in battle. Will has also lost the rest of his family to violence and illness and is sent to live with his aunt–and her husband who refused to fight in the war.
Shenandoah Valley–Some of the more well-known battles of the Civil War took place in eastern Virginia. However, some lesser-known, but important battles took place in the Shenandoah Valley in the far western part of the state.
What I previously knew about the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War came from the Jimmy Stewart movie, Shenandoah, in which farming families suffered at the hands of both sides–Union and Confederate.
In fact, the valley was an important geographic area. The farms supplied food to the South, and the valley was an access point into the North. The two sides fought each other in the valley multiple times, with each side occupying at alternating times. Finally, in the summer and fall of 1864, Union forces went in again to retake the Valley, cut off the Confederates access into Union territory, and destroy food sources for the Confederacy.
Union General Philip Sheridan achieved all those goals, and his troops laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley.
In Shades of Gray, Will is from the city of Winchester, where there was major fighting in the 1864 campaign.
Lack of dialect–This book is set in the post-Civil War South, and Will lives with his poor, lesser-educated relatives. Yet, because Reeder didn’t use the phonetic, heavy dialect that books such as Tom Sawyer used, her novel is very readable, especially for young readers.
However, Reeder used enough Southern vocabulary to give readers a sense of the setting, and she occasionally used either vocabulary, pronunciation, or grammar to show some of the characters had less education than others. Here are a couple examples:
“I’ll make a stew to go with the poke greens Meg cut along the road this afternoon.”
“That must smart right bad.”
For more info:
Join me Jan. 31 to talk about the 1996 Scott O’Dell winner, The Bomb by Theodore Taylor.
Have you read about or visited the Shenandoah Valley? Have you visited Civil War battlefields? Do you have family stories connected to the Civil War?
“The White Witch? Who is she?”
“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
“I’ve come at last,” said [Father Christmas]. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”
–Excerpts from one of my favorite books, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
Gingerbread houses are a fun, wintery decoration. Yet, they are also a fascinating bit of food craft, architecture, artistry, history, and literary tradition.
In the 1500s–in what’s now Germany–the Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel featured an edible house. The story may have come first, or the gingerbread houses may have been an inspiration for the story. But, the story and the making of gingerbread houses seem to be linked.
Gingerbread dates back thousands of years ago. The ginger root was grown in China. But, a couple thousand years before Christ was born, the Greeks were using ginger to make gingerbread. This would have been a hard-style of gingerbread they used in religious ceremonies.
By the 11th Century, Europeans were making gingerbread shaped like people, animals, flowers, etc. Gingerbread was a festival food. In fact, some of the festivals were called gingerbread fairs.
Americans have adopted the hard-type of gingerbread for cookies and houses, but Americans also historically had a cake-like version of gingerbread. Both George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, and Laura Ingalls Wilder were known for their cake-like gingerbread.
But why are the houses a winter tradition? I’m not sure, except of course, the frosting looks like snow, and the candies and gingerbread epitomize the sweets we eat at Christmas.
There is one other reason of a very practical nature alluded to in the book, The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chairman. The hard gingerbread stays hard in the dryer air of winter and furnaces (in the northern hemisphere). In a humid environment, the gingerbread would soften, and the houses wouldn’t be able to hold their shapes.
Sources and more info:
Do you like to eat gingerbread? Have you ever made gingerbread people and/or houses? What other literary and/or historical links are there to gingerbread houses?
Recently I was in one of my local book stores looking for several particular books. I didn’t find them.
Instead I found a book I didn’t know existed–and that I’m loving!
The World of Little House by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Ericksson caught my attention as I browsed the children’s history and biography sections.
It uses colorful illustrations by Garth Williams and original ones by Deborah Maze, including maps, diagrams of the various Little Houses, recipes, activities, and lots of information about Laura’s life and the world of the 19th Century pioneers.
One fun (or slightly gross?) fact I learned is that the pioneer women ironed everything, including undergarments, not just for appearance sake, but also for hygiene. You see, the heat from the ironing would eliminate insects and germs that washing alone didn’t do.
Another fun thing I learned was that Ma once made a square Thanksgiving Day pie. I was taken aback–a square pie? Why not? Ma used the pan she had available, and that was her square pan she normally used for baking two bread loaves at a time.
I also liked the timeline at the end of the book that put events of Laura’s life in perspective with events happening in the United States.
This is a wonderful book for any Laura fans or anyone wanting to learn more about the daily life of pioneers.
What was your last unexpected book find?