Maria and the Plague: A Black Death Survival Story

Years of bad weather and natural disasters have choked Italy’s food supply, and the people of Florence are dying of starvation. Breadlines are battlegrounds, and twelve-year-old Maria must fight for her family’s every loaf. Adding to the misery, the Black Death is rapidly spreading through the country, killing everyone in its path. Maria has already lost her mother and sister. Will she be strong enough to survive the challenges ahead of her?

Maria and the Plague educates readers about the challenges of living during the black plague. Maria mentions the death of her mother and baby sister; however, their deaths took place before the events in the story and are not described. But tragedy follows Maria’s family. When her father is infected, Maria says goodbye to him and then he goes off into the woods to die. With her father gone, Maria is not left alone for long. She soon meets up with a group of survivors and the adults willingly take Maria under their wing.

Even though the story tackles a difficult topic, the engaging tale describes the events in a kid-friendly manner. While Maria makes it clear that some of her loved ones will die, the actual deaths are not described. Although the story doesn’t go in-depth, it does include some interesting facts. For example, the song “Ring Around the Rosie” began during the plague. A “part of the song was about the rash that appeared on people’s skin. It was also about the flowers and herbs we carried near our faces to stop the smell of the sickness.”

Each chapter begins with the date and location, which makes it easy for readers to follow the events which take place between April 13, 1347 and September 10, 1348. Black and white illustrations appear every 7 to 10 pages. The book ends with a note from the author that describes some of her thoughts while writing the story. There is also a glossary, and three questions about the story.

Maria and the Plague will help readers understand the events that revolve around the black plague. Readers will connect to Maria because she is a relatable character who loves her family. Throughout Maria’s ordeal, she shows determination, bravery, and compassion for others. Maria and the Plague is a fast-paced story that will entertain as it educates. Readers who enjoy historical fiction should also check out the Imagination Station Series by Marianne Hering & Paul McCusker.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While Maria was in line for bread, “two people behind me started arguing over who got there first. Their raised voices turned into blows.”
  • After leaving the breadline, a man stops Maria and demands her food. “He wrenched my arm and grabbed for my bag. I kicked him, hard, and ran. As I sped away, I heard his heavy steps pounding after me.”
  • An old woman, who was carrying a basket, walks by Maria’s house. “Two men ran up to her. One of them grabbed her and held her tight. The other wrestled the basket from her hands. . . The men shoved her to the ground.”
  • A group of men tries to steal Maria’s bag. Her dog, Speranza, “launched herself at him. Her jaws clamped down hard on his leg. The thin man howled in pain.” A group of adults intervenes, and the men leave.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A man calls Maria’s dog a “stupid mutt.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Maria’s father says that the plague will not kill any of their family because “The saints will protect us.” Maria’s brother disagrees saying, “The saints are in heaven, not on Earth. We mustn’t rely on them.”
  • As Maria and her Papa are leaving the city, they are “forced to step around the bodies in the road. I [Maria] tried to say a prayer for each person I saw, but I soon lost my voice.”

 

The Dust Bowl

Thimble is Ginny’s best friend on the Oklahoma farm where they live. But during the 1930’s Dust Bowl, the land has dried up and Ginny’s family can no longer afford to care for Thimble. Thinking she can help her family and save Thimble, Ginny develops a plan to move to California and runs away with her horse. But things don’t turn out as Ginny planned. Can she and Thimble make it to California on their own?

The Dust Bowl is historical fiction that will engage readers of all ages. Ginny tells her story using a conversational tone that doesn’t waste words on unnecessary details. The horse-loving Ginny is instantly likable and relatable because of her love for Thimble and her misunderstandings with her father. Even though her parents are loving, Ginny thinks they would be better without her so she runs away. In the end, Ginny’s experiences highlight the importance of family, helping others, and communication.

Along her journey, Ginny meets Silvio, a boy her age who is traveling to California so he can send money home to his mother. When Ginny meets Silvio, she thinks, “There weren’t many Mexican folks in Keyes, but I’d seen a sign or two in Boise City about places that wouldn’t serve them food or let them buy things. It wasn’t fair to treat people differently on account of what they look like.” While the theme of discrimination isn’t explored further, Silvio is portrayed in a positive manner.

The Dust Bowl is an entertaining story that will spark readers’ interest in the Great Depression. While the story doesn’t go into great detail about any one event, Ginny’s story shows how the Dust Bowl affected different families. Even though Ginny and Silvio have no money, they still take the time to help others. When Ginny and Silvio see two men with a broken down car, Silvio doesn’t know how two poor kids can help “rich looking men.” But Ginny is determined to help because her father “always said we should never turn away from a stranger in need, even if we don’t have much to give.”

Even though the book focuses on how the Dust Bowl negatively affected families, the story is surprisingly upbeat. Through every event, the characters find a way to look at the bright side. Even though many parents had a hard time providing food and many had to leave their homes, readers are reminded that “even when everythin’ seems bad, somethin’ good always comes from it.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Ginny upsets her father, he says, “Darn it, girl—these days are hard enough without you always makin’ ‘em harder!”
  • Heck is used once.
  • Ginny’s sister calls her “dumb bunny.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ginny and Silvio help two stranded travelers. Ginny says, “But Pa always said we should never turn away from a stranger in need, even if we don’t’ have much to give. It’s in the Bible.”
  • When Silvio tells Ginny that she should go home, she “closed my [Ginny’s] eyes and sent up a silent prayer for Silvio Hernandez, the only boy I’d ever met brave enough to tell me I was wrong.”

Storm Rescue

Sunita and her friends—Zoe, Brenna, David, and Maggie—all volunteer at Dr. Mac’s veterinary clinic. The kids work with all kinds of pets, but each one has a favorite. For Sunita, cats are the best pets, but she is afraid of dogs, especially big dogs.

Sunita is also afraid of the water, which is why she has never learned to swim. As a hurricane approaches, Sunita realizes that Lucy, a diabetic cat with a broken leg, is in danger, along with her owners. But when the evacuation begins, both vets are out on emergencies. Will Sunita be able to save Lucy or will she be a scaredy-cat? And when a Great Dane needs help, will Sunita be able to get past her fear?

Storm Rescue is told from Sunita’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand her fears. However, Sunita’s actions are often irresponsible and dangerous. For example, when Sunita goes to check on an injured cat, she isn’t completely honest about where she is going because she knows her mother would never allow her to go into a flooded neighborhood during a hurricane. When rescue workers leave Lucy in the house, Sunita convinces her two friends, David and Maggie, to canoe to the house and try to rescue the cat on their own. Even though Sunita cannot swim, she jumps into the freezing water and doggie paddles to the attic window. While her intentions were honorable, Sunita’s actions could have easily lead to her and her friends’ deaths.

While the hurricane adds suspense to the story, some events in the story are not realistic, including how Sunita and her friends rescued Lucy. In addition, when the wet kids come in from the storm, Dr. Mac puts the kids to work caring for the animals before they even have a chance to dry off. In this installment of Vet Volunteers, the adults are off helping animals, but this leaves the unsupervised eleven-year-old kids to make unwise decisions. The story never acknowledges Sunita’s impulsive, dangerous actions. Instead, Sunita’s actions are praised.

Readers will relate to Sunita’s desire to help animals in distress and cheer when she is able to overcome her fear. However, the story’s short length does not allow her or the plot to be well developed. While the story teaches about the dangers animals face during a natural disaster, the characters needlessly put themselves in danger. The book ends by giving information on how to keep animals safe during a natural disaster.

The story is educational and will keep the reader’s interest. The happy ending is slightly unrealistic; however, the conclusion shows that one person can make a difference. The short chapters, interesting plot, and relatable characters make Storm Rescue a book that will appeal to animal lovers of different ages.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • The vet gives a scared dog a tranquilizer to calm him down.

Language

  • When a worried pet owner calls the clinic, one of the kids says, “Mrs. Creighton is a nut. Precious is probably on a hunger strike to try to get herself a new owner.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1891

Oscar Starling never wanted to come to Chicago. But then Oscar finds himself not just in the heart of the big city, but in the middle of a terrible fire! No one knows how it began, but one thing is clear: Chicago is a giant powder keg about to explode.

An army of firemen is trying to help, but this fire is a ferocious beast that wants to devour everything in its path – including Oscar! Will Oscar survive one of the most famous and devastating fires in history?

While the story’s focus is the Great Chicago Fire, Oscar is also dealing with his father’s death and his mother’s new marriage. Even though Oscar’s father has died, Oscar thinks about his father often, which helps him be brave during the fire. Oscar’s father gives the story added depth and interest. Because of his father’s stories, Oscar is able to help two parentless kids and stand up to a street gang leader.

The Great Chicago Fire, 1891 jumps straight into the action, which continues throughout the story. The compelling story focuses on the fire, but also includes information about homeless street children. The two subplots are expertly woven together to create an interesting, suspenseful story that readers will devour. Full of surprising twists and unexpected danger, The Great Chicago Fire, 1891 brings history to life.

The story is told from Oscar’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand the danger and confusion associated with being surrounded by the fire. One of the best aspects of the story is Oscar’s changing opinion of a street kid named Jennie. When Jennie helps a gang of boys steal from Oscar, he thinks she is a terrible criminal. But his opinion of Jennie changes when he learns about her circumstances. In the end, the two kids work together to survive the fire.

The story is accessible to all readers because Tarshis uses short paragraphs and simple sentences. Realistic black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story and will help readers visualize the events. While the story weaves interesting facts throughout, the book ends with more facts about the Chicago fire. The historical information about the cause of the fire would be an excellent opportunity for parents to discuss journalists reporting “fake news” and how gossip can “harden into established fact.”

Readers who enjoy history and fast action stories will enjoy The Great Chicago Fire, 1891. If you’re looking for more historical fiction, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman takes a look at historical events from an animal’s point of view. Both series use engaging stories to teach about history.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Oscar thinks back to when his papa was a sheriff. “Papa heard that Earless Kildair was a killer. And sure enough, by morning the town’s bank had been robbed, and one of Papa’s friends was sprawled out dead in the street.”
  • Oscar’s father followed Earless to Chicago. “He finally found him in a stinking tavern near the river. Papa pulled out his gun, ready to arrest him. But Earless was too quick. He jumped behind the bar and started shooting. . . A bullet whizzed just past Papa’s head. . . The bullet hit Papa in the chest.” His father survives, but later dies.
  • Oscar gets trapped in Chicago during the fire. Burning embers “were all around him, attacking like a swarm of fiery bees. They seared his scalp, burned through the wool of his clothes, scorched his lips. Pain lashed him, and the sickening smell of his burning hair made him gag.” Oscar is injured, but otherwise okay.
  • Oscar goes into a burning house to help two kids escape. “Oscar felt as though he were being attacked by a wild animal. It grabbed him, clawed at him, and spun him around.” Oscar thinks he will not be able to escape, but “then he felt a hand on his arm, pulling him up.”
  • Otis, a gang member, tells Oscar’s friend that she can’t quit the gang. “And before he realized what he was doing, he sprang forward and gave Otis a hard push in the chest.” Otis smacks Oscar and “Oscar fell to the ground, the flash of pain in his head burning brighter than the blazing sky.”
  • As people are fleeing, they cross a bridge. The bridge catches fire and “next came splashes, and Oscar refused to think about what—or who—was falling off the bridge and into the river.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A child tells Oscar, “My mama got sick. She is in heaven.” Oscar tells the boy, “my papa’s in heaven too.”

Eruption At Krakatoa

Parakeet Melati lives with the rest of her bird friends and family on the beautiful slopes of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa. But one morning Melati’s peaceful home is shaken by tremors stronger than she’s ever felt before—her sleeping island volcano has awoken!

Across a narrow stretch of water lives Budi, a rhinoceros, with his old friend, Raja, a tiger and the king of the jungle. They are blissfully unaware of the vibrations on Krakatoa until Melati arrives with a warning that they must flee. Raja believes the animals will be safe in the jungle, but Budi worries something terrible is about to happen, and he urges Raja to take action.

As ash rains down on the island and the rumblings worsen, Raja must put aside his fears and trust Budi’s instincts if they are to have any chance at surviving the mighty eruption of Krakatoa . . . and saving the one place they call home.

Told from the animals’ point of view, Eruption At Krakatoa shows the historical events of the 1883 volcanic eruption. However, the story doesn’t just show the devastation of the animal’s habitat. The story also includes information on how the eruption caused devastation on human villages as well as a resulting tsunami that killed many on land and at sea.

While most of the intense action comes from the exploding volcano and the tsunami, Raja’s story adds an interesting element. As king of the jungle, Raja is afraid of humans and lacks leadership skills. Even though the animal kingdom looks to him for guidance, Raja runs from the responsibility and allows fear to control him. Raja’s personal growth and his friendship with Budi are inspiring. Raja learns that not all humans are to be feared because not all humans are bad.

Eruption At Krakatoa is a tale of bravery and friendship. This action-packed story will keep readers flipping the pages until the very end. Readers will relate to the animals, who must overcome fear, injury, and exhaustion in order to survive. The surprising and heartwarming conclusion ends on a hopeful note. The end of the book has historical background, a timeline, and animal facts. The author’s notes tell about Charman’s research and artist William Ashcroft, who painted over five hundred canvases of the atmospheric changes that the eruption caused. Readers should take time to research his paintings.

Both history buffs and animal lovers will enjoy Eruption At Krakatoa. Five black and white pictures are scattered throughout the book and help bring the scenes into sharper focus. Although this story is the fourth book in the Survival Tails Series, each book is an independent story. Readers interested in seeing history through a dog’s eye should add the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Raja is afraid of humans. When he was a cub, a human injured him. He has a nightmare about the events. “Flames flickered across his vision until it was all he could see and the terrifying feeling of heat against his body returned. The smell of his fur melting as it burned away. . . Then the searing pain as the fire scorched his fur, his body. . .” Raja’s father died trying to help him.
  • A boy throws a sac over Melati’s head. “Melati squawked inside the sac, flapping her wings and trying to claw her way free as her heart raced in her chest.” The boy puts Melati in a cage, “poking at her with a thin stick through the bars.” Melati is able to escape.
  • The story revolves around an erupting volcano. When it begins to erupt, Budi runs up the mountain, “but the downpour of debris from the island was never-ending.” The humans also run up the mountain. “Many of them were coughing and struggling to breathe. Many more were injured, limping, covered in blood from where they had been hit by the missiles falling from the sky.”
  • Melati went to look for a human girl. The bird “swooped and swerved in an attempt to avoid the larger rocks and stones that fell from the sky. A red-hot glowing rock hit the longest of her tail feathers as it fell, and Melati was knocked off course for a moment. She hissed as the sizzling pain flashed through her. . .”
  • The noise from the erupting volcano causes a girl to temporarily lose her hearing. Melati noticed “a thin trickle of blood ran down the side of her [a girl’s] face from each of her ears, and she had a gash on her forehead from where a wooden beam had fallen and hit her.”
  • The erupting volcano spewed a “wave of heat and gas so fierce that as it reached the humans who lagged behind, they fell to the ground, screaming in agony.” Budi ran but there was no place to hide. “Budi fell to the ground as the wave of steam and gas overtook them, and held his breath, waiting for it all to be over.” Many people and animals were burned.
  • Some people died from their burns. Budi was surprised as “the humans helped those who could be helped and covered up those who were gone.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Budi says, “Darn those monkeys!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • After several earthquakes, ships began keeping their distance from the island. Melati thinks it’s because “some of the humans who had ground up in Sumatra believed that a spirit—Orang Alijeh—watched over the mountains, and she wondered whether the spirit had been angered somehow.”

Storm Blown

A little rain and wind doesn’t worry Alejo—they’re just part of life at the beach. As his padrino says, as long as there are birds in the waves, it’s safe. When people start evacuating though, Alejo realizes things might be worse than he thought. And they are. A hurricane is headed straight for Puerto Rico. Worried that his padrino needs help, Alejo braves the storm in order to search for him.

Emily’s brother, Elliot, has been really sick. He can’t go outside their New Orleans home, so Emily decides to have an adventure for him. Emily wades out to a tiny island. For once, Emily wants her mother to worry about her. While hiding from her home, she befriends an injured goose and a shy turtle. Emily doesn’t know that a storm is racing her way.

As the hurricane rages across Puerto Rico and heads towards the United States, both kids will face life-threatening danger. Soon Alejo and Emily will be in the storm’s deadly path, but nothing has prepared the kids for Megastorm Valerie. Who will survive nature’s fury?

Like a wind-blown leaf in a hurricane, Storm Blown jumps from many different settings and points of view, which quickly becomes confusing. Although Alejo and Emily are the two main characters, the story also gives a glimpse of Emily’s father, the national climatic research center workers, as well as the animals trapped in the hurricane. Since the story includes so many points of view, Alejo and Emily are underdeveloped, which makes it hard for the reader to connect to them.

Storm Blown shows the devastation a hurricane can cause which leads to many daring episodes. However, some of the events are hard to believe. For example, Alejo, who does not know how to drive, is able to steal a van, drive through torrential rains, and arrive safely home. Alejo is so worried about his padrino that he braves the weather only to find an empty house. Although Alejo’s actions are brave, the reader will wonder why he and his padrino did not discuss a disaster plan. Instead, Alejo’s grandfather tapes a note to the kitchen table. In a world where natural disasters happen often, readers will question some of the kids’ daring deeds and actions.

Readers interested in extreme weather or survival stories will find Storm Blown difficult to read because of the many points of view and the challenging vocabulary. The story also ends abruptly and leaves the reader with too many unanswered questions. Instead of choosing Strom Blown, readers should try the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis, The Raft by S.A. Bodeen, or Trapped by Michael Northrop.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Nature’s violence is shown throughout the book. A tree falls, hitting Joy. Emily goes to help her. “Swallowing a sudden nausea, Emily propped herself against the closest limb and pulled Joy to her feet. Joy swayed in the wind, blinking as the rain mixed with the blood in her matted hair. It ran down her arms in rivulets, and Emily tried not to gag as Joy hooked her elbow around her narrow shoulders for support.”
  • The helicopter pilot is injured when he was “pinned to the ground beneath a heavy limb. His face was contorted into a grimace, but he wasn’t moving. Not even as the dark water lapped against the side of his head, threatening to suck him deeper into the mud beneath their feet.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several of the characters are given pain medication after an injury. Elliot is given pain pills, but he doesn’t like how “the pain pills made it so he couldn’t stay up for more than a few hours.”
  • When Elliot’s mother brings him pain pills, he saves them for later. After he got dressed, Elliot slipped “his pain pills into his pocket.”
  • While waiting for a hurricane, the hotel gives the guest drinks. “The hotel bar made so many Dark ‘n’ Stormies that they ran out of rum halfway through Alejo’s rounds, switching to something they were calling a Frozen Valerie.

Language

  • “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Several times in the story, the characters pray for something. For example, Emily’s father “prayed that Sarah had fixed things up with their daughter.” When Emily’s father finally made it home, “Silas prayed for a miracle.”

 

 

Five Epic Disasters

Five Epic Disasters brings five epic disasters to life through the eyes of young survivors. Blending an informational and story format, the series gives young readers a glimpse into historical disasters without scary details.  As Five Epic Disasters unfolds, readers learn about a tsunami, a tornado, a flood, the Titanic, and a blizzard. Each section begins with a story of a young person who survived the tragedy. The end of each section ends with facts and statistics about the disaster.

Because the author tells each story in a matter-of-fact tone, the stories are not frightening. The stories have plenty of pictures and illustrations to enhance each story. Each story is just a small glimpse into the disaster, which may spark the readers’ interest to read more about the events. The end of the book gives other titles about the same topics, so children can easily find additional material to add to their reading list.

Five Epic Disasters presents historical events in a simple, kid-friendly way that will spark readers’ interest and make them want to read more in the I Survived True Stories Series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Nature’s violence is shown, but there is no human violence.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • “Native Americans told stories of whirlwinds created by the Thunderbird, a powerful god who created swirling winds by flapping his gigantic wings.”

 

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