The Jefferson Cup Award honors a distinguished American biography, historical fiction or history book for young people. The Youth Services Forum of the Virginia Library Association has presented this award annually since the 1982 publishing year. Through the award, the Youth Services Forum seeks to promote reading about America’s past, to encourage the quality writing of United States history, biography and historical fiction for young people, and to recognize authors in these disciplines.
The Ornament Tree
by Jean Thesman
Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Grades 7-10.
The Ornament Tree tells the story of recently orphaned Bonnie Shaster, age fourteen, who moves to Seattle in 1918 to live with her genteel, elderly cousins. The Devereaux’s reduced financial circumstances have forced them to take in an eclectic group of boarders. The women are very progressive for 1918, as they support women’s suffrage, birth control, and the elimination of child labor. Conflicts between the boarders, as well as domestic help difficulties, play out against a devastating flu epidemic, labor strikes, class distinctions, and physical disabilities. Bonnie desperately wants to help her beloved intellectual cousins who are encouraging her to grow.
Jean Thesman’s subtle tone compliments the theme of women’s rights, class distinctions, and labor issues by providing an enlightened and educated point of view. Thesman utilizes the boardinghouse setting to create conflicts between characters. She also demonstrates the effect historical events have on the boarders as in the case of Mr. Johnson who manages a shipyard during the general strike. The symbolic ornament tree serves as a unifying element. Thesman seamlessly intertwines historical events, characterization, theme, and plot into a unified whole conveying a strong sense of time and place so important to historical fiction.
by Tony Johnston
Tambourine Books, 1996. Grades 1-3.
On a Carolina morning a child is born. A child whose skin, “like smooth, dark wood,” makes him a slave. Johnston’s skillful use of contrasts and simile, perfectly matched with and enhanced by Ransome’s light and dark illustrations, tell the story of a young slave boy working for his master and longing for one thing he cannot have – freedom to go where he pleases and “to do what free boys do.” As the boy recounts his life as a slave and dreams of being carried to a better place, the reader can experience with him a gamut of emotions–from the despair, anger and hatred of slavery to the jubilation of freedom’s arrival and the sadness of hearing of Mr. Lincoln’s death. A very emotional and unforgettable look at slavery.
Train to Somewhere
by Eve Bunting
Clarion Books, 1996. Grades 2-6.
Eve Bunting’s powerful text tells an emotional story of a young girl who is heading west on an Orphan Train with fourteen other children. Marianne is sure that her mother will be waiting for her somewhere along the way. After all, her mother promised her that she could be back to get her—before Christmas—but Marianne has waited so many Christmases. Now she is heading west, too. Stop after stop, Marianne searches the crowd for her mother. As some of the children are chosen to be adopted, no one shows any interest in adopting plain Marianne. Then the train makes its final stop in a place called Somewhere.
This heart warming, emotional story mixed with Ronald Himler’s beautiful illustrations gives the reader an emotional account of the Orphan Trains that traveled west from the 1850’s until the 1920’s.
Worthy of Special Note
Full Steam Ahead: The Road to Build a Transcontinental Railroad
by Rhoda Blumberg
National Geographic Society, 1996. Grades 5 and up.
Rhoda Blumberg’s extensive research is evident as she leads the reader through the harrowing, sometimes deadly experiences, of the men who build the transcontinental railroad. After the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 was signed the Central Pacific Company, building east, and the Union Pacific Railroad, building west of the Mississippi River, set out to win the race, often dealing in underhanded tactics meant to defraud the government. The celebration on May 10, 1869 was a monstrous occasion throughout the United States as the final spike was driven, more so than at Promontory Summit where onlookers were trying to find the gold spike and souvenirs. The well written, well-documented text, along with many pictures and illustrations, captures the tenor of those who built the transcontinental railroad.
The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker
by Cynthia DeFelice
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996. Grades 4-7.
In 1849, the only cure mentioned for consumption is a macabre practice of unearthing a deceased relative who has died of consumption. Young Lucas Whitaker wishes he had known of the “cure” before his mother died. Perhaps he could have saved her. Scared, alone, and grieving, Lucas leaves his home and ends up in Southwick where he becomes the apprentice of Doc Beecher. Lucas does not understand why Doc does not use the cure for this dread disease. Although Doc tells Lucas this so called cure is nonsense, Lucas still believes that there is a way to help the dying people around him and he sets out to prove Doc wrong.
The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker is an interesting and gripping story of people who are desperate and will go to great lengths to save their loved ones from the disease we now know as tuberculosis.
An American Hero: The True Story of Charles E. Lindbergh
by Barry Denenbery
Scholastic, 1996. Grades 8 and up.
Barry Denenberg’s excellent, well-researched biography captures Lindbergh’s drive to succeed, as well as his desire to remain a private person. The author uses quotes from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s diaries and letters and quotes from Charles’ writings, and the hour by hour log during the flight to Paris to give the reader a keener insight into Lindbergh’s struggles throughout his life.
The Life and Death of Crazy Horse
by Russell Freedman
Holiday House, 1996. Grades 5-8.
Crazy Horse was a sensitive youth who became the greatest of all Teton Sioux warriors. Faithful to a vision, he rode into battle with a single hawk feather in his hair and a few hailspots on his body. His most courageous victory was leading warriors against General Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 26, 1876. He never signed a treaty with the white men and he resisted them all his life.
Russell Freedman retells the legend of courage and idealism of an uncompromising warrior who died for his beliefs.
The Unbreakable Code
by Sara Hunter
Northland Publishers, 1996. Grades 2-4.
Author Sara Hunter’s clear writing style and Julia Miner’s warm color illustrations highlight a little known moment in the history of World War II—the participation of Navy code breakers in communication efforts during battle in the Pacific. However, there is another story here about the special relationship between the grandson who tells the story of being a code breaker and the grandson who must find his own courage to deal with the death of his father. This unique tale is given extra force as it is played out against the backdrop of the Southwest landscape.
Small Steps: The Year I got Polio
by Peg Kehret
Albert Whitman, 1996. Grades 4-6.
Peg Schulze, a seventh grader in Austin, Minnesota, was looking forward to the Homecoming parade that afternoon. Her world was transformed into a nightmare of fear and pain as she fell victim to infantile paralysis or as it was commonly known, polio. Peg Schulze Kehret, recalls those long months as she strives to overcome the effects of the dreaded disease.
Suffering the worst form of polio, Peg was transferred to University Hospital in Minneapolis from the Sheltering Arms Hospital. Her days were filled with pain, loneliness, and anxiety about her future. With loving support from her parents, and a new treatment for polio, Peg began to improve. She was moved back to Sheltering Arms Hospital for physical therapy, and to a whole new world. Sharing her room with four other girls, Peg began experiencing the joy of relationships that uniquely bound them together through suffering. Seven months later, Peg Schulze, walked slowly with her walking sticks down the halls of her old school. Although she knew she would never be as strong physically as she once was, she knew in her heart she was much stronger in many ways.
by Elizabeth Mann
Mikaya Press, 1996. Grades 4-7.
The story of the world’s most famous bridge has fascinated generations of Americans. Elizabeth Mann provides a new generation of readers with a memorable experience. The text is not only lively and interesting, but resonates with the voices of those involved in the design and creation of the bridge. The illustrations, a mix of period photographs and art, underscore the telling of this engineering feat.
A Young Patriot: The American Revolution as Experienced by One Boy
by Jim Murphy
Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Grades 5-9.
Joseph Plumb Martin, an adventurous boy, heard the details of early skirmishes from soldiers who stopped at his grandfather’s farm in Connecticut. In July, 1976, he enlisted at the local tavern for a period of six months and served until the war ended in 1783. Joseph’s first encounter with the British in New York made him realize his fears and confusion were shared by other soldiers. He served under Washington and wintered at Valley Forge. Joseph’s curiosity, creativity, and humorous nature helped him survive the trails and triumphs of army life. Jim Murphy weaves the historical facts and the memoirs of Joseph Martin in a compelling image of the American Revolution.
by Catherine Reef
Clarion Books, 1996. Grades 7-10.
In this well-written and very readable biography John Steinbeck grows from a sixteen-year-old hopeful, too shy to give publishers his real name and address, to a world traveling modern author and winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature. Steinbeck is portrayed both as a simple man with foibles of his own, and as a man who writes with a mission of “making people understand each other.” Through in depth research of Steinbeck’s life and skillful use of quotes from his own works and photographs of the people he wrote about, Reef has written a fascinating biography. The story not only chronicles Steinbeck’s life, but also the history of America from the turn of the century through the 60’s.
Second Daughter: The Story of a Slave Girl
by Mildred Walter
Scholastic, 1996. Grades 6-10.
The year is 1781 and slavery has been abolished in Massachusetts. The cry for independence and equality that began before and continued during the Revolutionary War inspired many blacks to seek their freedom from 1773 to 1779. Mildred Walter creates the story of one such slave in Second Daughter, based on the actual account of Mum Bett who sued her owner for her freedom under the Massachusetts Constitution and won.
The story unfolds as Bett’s younger sister, Aissa, narrates their struggle for survival and hope for freedom in a system that killed their parents and cast them into a seemingly endless life of servitude. As slave to a prominent Massachusetts family, Bett, does not succumb to the forces that would keep her and her family in bondage, but courageously upholds her right to freedom using the ideals that her master and other law abiding citizens of Massachusetts fashioned in their state constitution. Freedom becomes a reality for her family, and opens the long road toward the abolition of slavery everywhere.
Series Award Winner
Dear America Series
Scholastic, 1996. Grades 4-8.
Three well-known authors inaugurate the Dear America Series. Each book is presented as a girl’s diary which records in detail the daily events of a historical period. The books include account of real life, hardship, and sadness. Epilogues bring the books to satisfying conclusions. Historical notes are places at the end of each book as well as other published information. The notes do not detract from the realistic mood created in the diaries. The titles published this year are: A Journey to the New World, The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620 by Kathryn Lasky, The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777by Kristiana Gregory, When Will this Cruel War be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864 by Barry Denenberg.Start Slide Show with PicLens Lite