The Matchlock Gun

matchlock gun

This Newberry Medal book is a historically accurate book which seems to pop up in a lot of reading lists, yet it is not one I would assign without discussion. The story, which takes place in 1756 in New York State, centres on a boy named Edward whose father is off protecting the family from an Indian raid in the north. Edward is primed on how to defend the family at home with a huge old Spanish gun. The story follows the impending attack by some Indians, as they are called, and culminates in Edward successfully shooting off the big gun, saving his mother’s life (it seems), and killing three of the enemy.

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Ages 8-12

Easy-read chapter book for beginners.

Not recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

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Helen Keller

When checking out nonfiction books on a famous life like this one, there are so many options, that it can be overwhelming. Disappointing, too, if you order books without seeing them, and they turn out to be dull. So here are a variety of books for a variety of ages on Helen Keller.

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Hand in Hand: based on the real-life story of Helen Keller and Martha Washington, by Jean Little

The author develops this historical fiction novel based on the real relationship that Helen had as a girl with Martha, the cook’s daughter, who was her first friend.  Chapter book, ages 7-10.

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Annie and Helen, by Deborah Hopkinson and Raul Colon

A picture book that begins with Helen’s inability to communicate and ends with the joy of her first letter written home by herself. A thorough and clear explanation of Annie’s methods, with large illustrations for children, and real excerpts from Annie Sullivan’s journal at the time. Picture book, ages 5-10.

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Helen Keller and the Big Storm, by Patricia Lakin, easy reader

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Helen Keller’s Best Friend Belle, by Holly M. Barry,  picturebook

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Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller,  by Doreen Rappaport

This picture book is similar in style to Annie and Helen, but covers Helen’s whole life from babyhood to death. The large pictures make it attractive to children, and the text is very clear, interesting and informative. Quotes sprinkled throughout are from Helen’s journal this time, instead of Annie’s. Well-done. Picturebook, ages 5-10.




Evangeline written by Helene Boudreau

Evangeline is a wonderful story based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s fictionalized Evangeline. The story follows the life of Evangeline and Gabriel as they grow up in Acadia. Right after Evangeline and Gabriel’s marriage, the British arrive and the Acadians are forced to abandon their homes and villages.  Gabriel and Evangeline as well as many others are separated from their families. The rest of the book is about Evangeline’s search for Gabriel.

At the back of the book there is a brief history on the Acadians.


Age: 4 and up


Reviewed by Meagan

Available from the public libraries

The Nutcracker

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By Susan Jeffers

If the magical Nutcracker fairytale reads like a dream, that’s probably because it is! The picturebook story tells the dream that follows the receiving of a Nutcracker as a Christmas gift.

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Is this book for you? Well, if the music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker thrills your heart, or you just can’t resist the twirling snowflakes in a land of lollipops; if a look at a real Victorian Christmas makes you smile or you want to at least familiarize your kids with The Nutcracker Story, then, yes, this is a picturebook for you.

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Author/illustrator Susan Jeffers wanted to retell the story of the Nutcracker in a version short enough for young listeners and to include pieces of the ballet in her illustrations, which she does. The artwork is truly Victorian from outside architecture to house décor to clothing fashion, and the ballerinas in the Land of Sweets are presented prettily, suiting a little girl’s dream of what a flower fairy should look like.

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Ages 4-7

Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen

Thee, Hannah!

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By Marguerite de Angeli

For children (and sometimes we as adults!) who struggle against being different from others; who want to conform with the current culture; who admire its dress and long for its beauties…this is a beautiful book.

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There are so many aspects to this book. On one level, it is the tale of a little girl who longs to be like her next-door neighbour, but woven through the story-line is the Quaker work with the Underground Railroad. The author also does an excellent job of painting the historical time period and the reader can actually see the various peddlers weaving their daily paths through the city and through Hannah’s life. On a spiritual level, Hannah is struggling with temptation and giving in to it. The tempter, as per Quaker custom, is referred to as “Old Spotty,” throughout.

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I will not give the ending away, but the book winds down and we start to think, is this it? And only on the very last page, does the story come full-circle and its various strands are satisfactorily bound together.



Ages 4-12

Reviewer: Doreen


In Flanders Fields


by Norman Jorgensen

This beautifully-illustrated picturebook provides a rather unsoftened look at war. Intended for older kids, it has somewhat graphic pictures in ink (some dead bodies, a skull, rats) which give a look at real life in trenches. The story follows an act of mercy and a brief glimpse of hope is portrayed by the bright bird and the Christmas carol with which it ends.



Ages 8 and up

Available from public libraries


Reviewer: Doreen



Proud as a Peacock Brave as a Lion



By Jane Barclay

“Much has been written about war and remembrance, but very little of it has been for young children. As questions come from a young grandchild, his grandpa talks about how, as a very young man, he was as proud as a peacock in uniform, busy as a beaver on his Atlantic crossing, and brave as a lion charging into battle. Soon, the old man’s room is filled with an imaginary menagerie as the child thinks about different aspects of wartime. But as he pins medals on his grandpa’s blazer and receives his own red poppy in return, the mood becomes more somber.

“Outside, the crowd gathered for the veterans’ parade grows as quiet as a mouse, while men and women — old and young — march past in the rain. A trumpet plays and Grandpa lays a wreath in memory of his lost friend. Just then, the child imagines an elephant in the mist. “Elephants never forget,” he whispers to his grandpa. “Then let’s be elephants,” says the old man, as he wipes water from his eyes and takes his grandson’s hand.”

From the Amazon book description



Ages 5 and up

Picturebook: Remembrance Day or Veterans Day

Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen


Misty of Chincoteague


By Marguerite Henry

Here is an adventure for horse-loving children that will introduce you to a wild horse band on two real islands off the coast of North America. The story focuses on the efforts of a brother and sister to get a pony of their own, and speculates a little on the history and legend of how the first wild ponies got to North America. The children’s success in the story may seem a little too-good-to-be-true, but the author assures her readers at the beginning that though the order of the events in the book may have been shuffled, the events did truly happen!

Bonus: There are many more “horse” books written by this author. It is too bad that public libraries don’t seem to carry many of others.

Recommended for horse-adventure lovers

Chapter Book or Unabridged Audio Book

Available from public libraries

Ages 6-12

Reviewer: Doreen

The First Reformers

The First Reformers by Alie Vogelaar


With Reformation Day coming up next week I was looking for something that would present historical facts and keep four young children interested; not an easy feat. This book is actually the third of four novels written by Vogelaar that bring history alive by presenting it in story form.

Starting with Peter Waldo and the Waldenses the story follows a young French boy as he and his family flee to Switzerland where they continue to worship God in quiet freedom until even the Alps prove themselves too near the pope’s hateful rule. As time goes by the ambushes begin to lessen, as across the lands in England, John Wycliffe is busily translating the Bible from Latin into English. With another threat to his power the pope begins to focus his offences on the country nearer to him. But the ‘disease’ of the Reformation continues to spread and soon in Bohemia a pastor by the name of John Huss also begins to teach the people in their native tongue.  The story ends with the horrible martyrdom of John Huss by his enemies. Not a nice way to end a story perhaps, but as the great, church father Tertullian once said, ” the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”


Historical Fiction

Ages 5 and up

Available from Early Foundation Publishers

Reviewer: Meagan

Mary’s First Thanksgiving: An Inspirational Story of Gratefulness


By Kathy-jo Wargin

A beautiful thanksgiving picture book to enjoy! On one level, this is just another account of the Pilgrim’s first hard years here in America, and their first Thanksgiving in the 1600’s. But perhaps less known is the five corn kernels used at Thanksgiving to remember the five things the Pilgrim’s were thankful for: five things kids can still be thankful for today!

Given just as much page space in this picturebook, is the story of Mary, an Irish immigrant girl to America, in the 1800’s, who is resentful of her family’s poverty. The author skillfully weaves the two stories together, and Mary’s parents both encourage a thankful spirit for the care God shows throughout the book, and encourage her to see what God has given. As for the paintings–or should I say portraits, for  their life-likeness–they are really beautiful!

Ages 5 and up

Historical Fiction


Reviewer: Doreen