The Lyon's Roar

by M.L. Stainer

published by Chicken Soup Press

160 pages, 1998

Sarah May and the New Red Dress

by Andrea Spalding

illustrated by Janet Wilson

Published by Orca Books

32 pages, 1999

War of the Eagles

by Eric Walters

Published by Orca Books

224 pages, 1999






Over Her Shoulder

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


I still remember the first work of historical fiction I ever read. I don't remember what it was called, or even precisely what it was about. What was more important to me was the feeling of excitement the book left with me. It was as though I'd been given a magic window into another time. A time that was not simpler than my own, but different. Where, unlike the dusty characters in the history books we read at school that seemed not only devoid of life but who were also utterly devoid of interest. The characters in this wonderful book lived and breathed and -- perhaps without even meaning to -- fired a passion for living history in me so strong that -- even all these years later -- nothing has quenched it.

This is, I think, the potential power of children's fiction. The good stuff keeps children alert and interested and anxious to start on still another book. Another adventure. But great children's fiction begins a thirst for still more knowledge. It opens doors (and magic windows) and invites the young reader to begin a course of their own research.

The Lyon Saga by M.L. Stainer is such a series. Designed to invite young readers into another time and keep them there through the five book saga. Book one, The Lyon's Roar begins in April of 1587 when a ship called The Red Lyon set sail from England headed for the new American colonies. Jessabel Archade is an engaging 14-year-old who is on board with her family, and all of the Archades are excited about finding their place in the new world. The series focuses on the lost colony of Roanoke Island in North Carolina and what might have happened to the settlers that were abandoned there.

Told in the first person and with an immediate voice, the books read like a settler's journal: though through youthful, female eyes. It's a novel approach, but lively and geared at readers in grades five to nine.

At the time of this writing, books one through three of the series -- The Lyon's Roar, The Lyon's Cub and The Lyon's Pride are currently available. Book four The Lyon's Throne and book five The Lyon's Crown will be available later in 1999 and in early 2000, respectively.

Younger readers might find historical enchantment in Sarah May and the New Red Dress. In Sarah May readers are introduced to the past by a familiar figure of the present: a beloved grandparent.

I wasn't always Grandma, you know, bespectacled and stiff-kneed.
Once I was Sarah May.
I wasn't always grey, you know, with wrinkled hands and feet and a surprised morning face at the old lady in the mirror.
Once I was Sarah
Sarah of the Sea Shore
Sarah of the West Wind
Yes, I was Sarah May.

Come, let me tell you about her.

In Sarah May we don't find a specific history of a certain time or place because we're not given any dates or specificity beyond the fact that there are an awful lot of horses around and everyone seems to be working hard enough in all of the illustrations that you just know there aren't too many appliances anywhere. What I love about this story, however, is the idea of grandma as sprightly girl. It's a pleasingly thought-provoking concept: the idea of the continuous band of time and grandparents as real people with concerns outside of their grand-offspring.

Aside from any of that, the story is strong, happy and satisfying and Janet Wilson's impressionistic illustrations invite youthful imaginings.

Eric Walters' War of Eagles is set during World War II and this relatively recent historical setting puts this story in line for both a modern tale as well as a deeply historical one. The story centers around Jed whose British father is serving as a pilot overseas while he moves with his mother to her Haida community on Canada's west coast.

Geared to readers aged 12 to 16, War of Eagles deals with questions of maturation, racism and sense of place. None of these topics are new to this reading age group, but Walters' voice is incomparable in these waters. This is sterling prose, just as fitting -- as the best of children's literature tends to be -- to the adult reader as it is to the young person. Walters never gives you the feeling that he's holding back or talking down, an apparent danger when writing to this age group. Instead we have a novel that -- in a different binding -- would satisfy the most demanding adult reader. | May 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.