Book Review: Lyddie

Lyddie was another in a line of middle grades historical fiction that I have read as the Middle School Language Arts teacher at the homeschool co-op I am a part of. I’ve been more impressed by the selections for this year (part of a writing curriculum based on Modern History as opposed to last year’s Medieval History). By Katherine Paterson, I had never heard of it, but I had heard of some of Paterson’s titles:

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  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • Blueberries for the Queen
  • A Sense of Wonder
  • Consider the Lillies
  • Come Sing, Jimmy Jo
  • Flip Flip Girl
  • Jacob Have I Loved
  • Jip
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins
  • Parzival
  • Park’s Quest
  • On Nightingales That Weep
  • My Brigadista Year
  • The Invisible Child
  • The Master Puppeteer
  • The King’s Equal
  • The Sign of Chrysanthemum
  • The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks
  • Stories of My Life
  • The Same Stuff as Stars
  • Preacher Boy
  • A Sense of Wonder
  • The Day of the Pelican
  • The Field of the Dogs

Okay, there are actually quite a few more. She wrote a heck of a lot of books and they are very wide in their scope. For children, yes, but everything from picture books to nonfiction, fantasy to historical fiction. Maybe they aren’t even all for kids, since a couple are memoir/writing life books. You can likely find something that would interest you amongst her books, especially if you are a kid or someone teaching kids. (Check out her website HERE.) Having now read two of her books, I can hardly believe the same person wrote both of them. That’s not really a bad thing, I was just surprised that the same lady wrote Lyddie, Jacob Have I Loved, and Bridge to Terabithia. Didn’t see that coming. It is clear that she loves story and cultures and that she does a lot of research and writes difficult subject matter for middle schoolers. Like a Jacqueline Wilson, but time-travelling, American, and less predictable.

I was taken by this book, just enough. For middle grades historical fiction, I thought Lyddie was a real solid read. It’s not going on my all-time favorites list—I just didn’t find anything in it to love—but I would read more of her writing, which is award-winning like this one. Just an FYI: there is some real heavy stuff, including issues of a parent with mental health issues and inability to function, indenturing children, and also a boss who takes advantage of his young, female workers. It doesn’t get real explicit, but it would need to be discussed, partly because it is a little unclear (particularly if you are a contemporary eleven-year-old). In fact, I had to do quite a bit of explaining to teach this book (which is great to go along with a graphic novel of Oliver Twist as well as an Oliver Twist movie version), but an especially sharp reader would find a lot in it. Once again, I found several of my students enjoying a book that I too was enjoying. I do think the student of history would be the most interested here, and that means the more mature.

The story is this: Lyddie is thirteen when a bear crashes into their farm cabin, setting off a series of events that change Lyddie’s life forever. Dad has been MIA for years now, and Mom has never quite recovered. For a little while it’s just Lyddie and her ten-year-old brother on the farm, but then Lyddie’s mom decides they’d be better off hired out to people in town. Lyddie doesn’t last long at the tavern, not when she realizes she’d be making money much faster as a factory girl. That way, she could pay off the farm debts and reunite her family before too much time has passed…

It might be a little difficult for modern kids to relate to this book. I mean, they are mostly very far removed from the hard work, abuse, and social issues of the 1700s, but they can be taught. Like I said, I found all the things to be interesting and I thought the writing was fine, too. Perhaps inspired by the Oliver Twist that showed up in the story, it’s a peek into the life of children during the dawn of the factory age.


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