Another Cybils nominee, Stones for my Father, really got me hooked on historical fiction. It is set during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), and is written with a beautiful lyricism. Here are the opening lines:
My mother once told me of a dream she had as a young girl, in the days before the English came. She had dreamed of a child, a boy, with ruddy cheeks and blue eyes like my father's, and a gurgling laugh that could make even Oom Jakob smile.
I was not that child.
The narrator is Corlie Roux. Her beloved father is dead, and her mother dotes on Corlie's younger brothers while treating Corlie with cruelty. The family lives on a farm in the Transvaal, but their way of life crashes down around them with the British scorched earth policy. They have to flee their home, are captured, and placed in a concentration camp, where illness and death abound. A terrible secret is revealed, with devastating effect for Corlie. As it says on the dust jacket, "Will Corlie's resilience and devotion to her country sustain her through the suffering and squalor she finds in the camp at Kronstad? That may depend on a soldier from faraway Canada, and on inner resources Corlie never dreamed she had..."
Why I liked it : Stones for my Father is a compelling tale with high stakes for its resilient heroine. The land of the Transvaal is beautifully described. In fact, the language of this novel is dazzling throughout. This would be a great story for the upper middle grader, and has crossover appeal with the boys. Even though Corlie the narrator is a girl, there is plenty of military action. Guns are fired!
Pair this with Michaela MacColl's Promise the Night, and you have a unit of African historical fiction to study!
About the author: Trilby Kent is a Canadian who lives in London, England. You can find out more about her on the website Red Room.