Author: Lauren Wolk
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books
Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
I recently attended the SCBWI webinar “The Craft of Writing Historical Fiction” and received feedback from Kelsey Murphy, associate editor for Balzer and Bray, on the first ten pages of the only historic middle grade novel I’ve ever attempted to write, Twisted Fate. I’ve thought about this book a lot over the years it’s been hanging out in the cloud (my proverbial drawer), but whenever I contemplate going back to finish it I get overwhelmed by the task of getting all the historical details right. I love the story and the characters but since I’m not overly familiar with the setting (even though I’ve visited London several times) or the time period (even though I’ve read a lot about England post World War II) the research required is more than a little daunting.
Kelsey was encouraging and in the webinar Anna Myers made the process sound not only possible but fun! My favourite take home message from both Kelsey and Anna was that I should read more historical middle grade fiction. In addition to digging into Anna’s titles, I also followed her recommendation and read Wolf Hollow, a 2016 Newbery Honor Book. I’m glad I did! This is how historical fiction is supposed to be done. I became so immersed in Annabelle’s story and the setting that I completely forgot it was “historical”.
Set in small town Pennsylvania between the first and second world wars, the story follows 11-year-old Annabelle who lives on a farm with her family and attends a one room school house. Annabelle’s quiet, steady (but unexciting) life is disrupted when Betty, a new girl in town, starts bullying her and her brothers. From there, things escalate quickly. Annabelle ends up protecting and defending Toby, a reclusive World War I veteran, who Betty accuses of committing her own crimes.
This is one of those books that could be included in my post middle grade grows up. Although Annabelle is eleven, Wolf Hollow tackles some difficult issues and Betty’s bullying really does cross the line into criminal and life threatening behaviour. While Annabelle deals with challenging emotions and situations, she has very amazing, mature insights. My favourite quote: “If my life was to be just a single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could?”
As much as I enjoyed Wolf Hollow, neither of my sons really got into it. This could be because the setting distanced them but I think it’s more likely because this is really a book that appeals more to adults. I tend to favour contemporary children’s fiction (although I love adult historical fiction) but I hope to find more titles like Wolf Hollow and The War That Saved My Life so I can learn more about historical children’s fiction as well.