But now. Today. I'm in awe of the historical fiction students can choose to read. Authors today are bringing to life times past in a way that engages the reader into the story and they are learning such authentic details. I know I've learned more about time periods, events, and historical figures in the middle grade historical fiction novels I've read in the past few years than I ever did in my textbooks or lectures. I hope today's social studies teachers know about these amazing books that they can offer to their students! Learning facts and dates and events can be dry and boring for middle graders. Why? Because it doesn't relate to their lives. But by seeing what it was like to live these events through the eyes of someone their age, now it's more meaningful because they can relate. That's what these middle grade novels do.
Cloud and Wallfish
by Anne Nesbet
published by Candlewick Press
Thinking back to my experiences growing up, I know I learned about the Berlin Wall, but I really don't remember learning anything specific about it. I was in 8th grade when we covered that time period, but I don't remember many details about it going up, why it did, or the tension that was occurring there. When the Wall came down, I was a sophomore in high school. Apparently in my own world because I don't remember anything about it. With some of the amazing historical fiction being published today, I'm learning more about this time period and it's fascinating. Last year's A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen brought to light this time period when the Wall went up and the panic families felt. But as we know, the Wall went up and stayed up for decades. East Germans and West Germans lived this life for many, many years. It affected these countries and other countries around them such as Austria and Hungary.
In Anne Nesbet's newest novel, Cloud and Wallfish, we return to the Berlin Wall, but this time it's later in the history, the late 1980s. Our young main character, Noah, is going to live in East Germany with his family but it's under unusual circumstances as he is having to change his name, his background as he knows it, even his birthdate. Noah has to live under a new set of rules his parents set upon him, without even understanding the reason behind them. We see the way East German children live their lives through the eyes of Noah. The book is rich with historical information, names and places that are embedded through the story so instead of them being a history lesson, it's part of the setting and feel of the book. In the story, Noah meets another child, Claudia, who also has a mystery surrounding her, and the children work together to try and figure out the events that are happening around them. The reader becomes familiar with what is happening during this time period through the story, but also in the "case notes" that follow each chapter. The case notes give further background but are written as if giving additional information to explain the mystery that is surrounding Noah and Claudia.
The author's note in the back of the book explains how Nesbet had lived in East Germany and her experiences there. I really appreciated the amount of information she embedded into the story because it really did give you more of a feeling of "being there". So much authenticity in the details.
This will be an amazing book to add to historical fiction collections. I hope 5th-8th grade teachers and librarians will see this and introduce Cloud and Wallfish and their experiences to their young readers.
Slip behind the Iron Curtain into a world of smoke, secrets, and lies in this stunning novel where someone is always listening and nothing is as it seems.
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. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening). As Noah—now "Jonah Brown"—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs? In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.