Posts Tagged Historical


I’m so thrilled to post a review of Fleur Bradley’s newest middle grade book, DAYBREAK ON RAVEN ISLAND! Plus, you could win a hardcover copy of this spooky, adventurous story. Just enter the contest at the end of this post. U.S. residents only please. Contest ends September 5th. 

About Daybreak on Raven Island by Fleur Bradley:

From the critically acclaimed author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel comes a thrilling new middle grade mystery novel inspired by Alcatraz Prison.

Tori, Marvin, and Noah would rather be anywhere else than on the seventh-grade class field trip to Raven Island prison. Tori would rather be on the soccer field, but her bad grades have benched her until further notice; Marvin would rather be at the first day of a film festival with his best friend, Kevin; and Noah isn’t looking forward to having to make small talk with his classmates at this new school.

But when the three of them stumble upon a dead body in the woods, miss the last ferry back home, and then have to spend the night on Raven Island, they find that they need each other now more than ever. They must work together to uncover a killer, outrun a motley ghost-hunting crew, and expose the age-old secrets of the island all before daybreak.

My review:

Daybreak on Raven Island sucks you in from the very first chapter infused with mystery, intrigue, and foreboding. This dark tale begins with three unlikely friends thrown together on a fieldtrip to Raven Island—home of tragedy, misery, and an abandoned prison with gloomy tales to tell.

Tori, Marvin, and Noah are soon trapped in a sinister puzzle they must unravel before the next day using all their knowledge, wits, and uncovered resources. This field trip quickly becomes more than just a day off from school when we discover Tori, Marvin, and Noah each have a secret connection to this haunted island. The suspense intensifies as these kids begin to experience unexplained phenomenon that shakes up their sense of self and what they thought they knew—and leads to darker dangers they could never have anticipated.

If you love ominous, atmospheric stories, then you’ll love Daybreak on Raven Island. The suspense quickly grows with this diverse set of characters who all carry woeful baggage. They work well in contrast to each other to unravel the secrets of Raven Island—and soon discover not all is as it seems.

7 things to love about Daybreak on Raven Island:

  1. A haunted island with an abandoned prison, lighthouse, mansion, and spooky forest (my fave combo!).
  2. Ravens who watch over the island … and follow you (think Hitchcock’s The Birds but in a good way!).
  3. History comes alive—literally before your eyes.
  4. Gobs of spooky foreshadowing to give you creepy chills.
  5. Ghosts galore (of course!).
  6. A dark and tragic history to be uncovered.
  7. New friendships forged under tough circumstances.

Fleur does a wonderful job of creating not only a unique set of characters but a unique setting that comes alive. The landscape and wildlife are eerie characters themselves that at times hinder and aid our three young investigators.

With each scene the situation worsens, leaving us to wonder if Tori, Marvin, and Noah will indeed survive their night on Raven Island to see daybreak. Throw in a ticking clock, ghostly help, tragic mystery to solve, and a terrifying world to navigate in the dark and you’ve got a chilling mix for a compelling story.

I’m a big lover of touring historical prisons, imagining them in their heyday and the people who lived there—and died there. I checked off a bucket list item to tour Alcatraz several years back, and would have given anything to stay overnight on that island with an abandoned prison! This book happily fulfilled that yearning 😊. Be sure to check out Fleur’s new, Alcatraz-inspired story. It’s scary, has a murder mystery, and tons of real history folklore as its inspiration. And don’t forget the very Hitchcock-y ravens…

About Fleur:

Fleur Bradley is the author of the (scary) middle-grade mystery Daybreak on Raven Island, and award-winning mystery Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking/Penguin Random House). Her story The Perfect Alibi appeared in Mystery Writers of America’s middle-grade anthology Super Puzzletastic Mysteries, edited by Chris Grabenstein (HarperCollins). Fleur regularly does school and Skype visits, as well as librarian and educator conference talks on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two daughters, and entirely too many rescue animals.

Connect with Fleur:

Website: Fleur Bradley (





Enter to win a copy of Daybreak on Raven Island below or purchase a copy here!

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Interview with Anne O’Brien Carelli on Brave Girls in History + Giveaway

I’m thrilled to share an interview with the fantastic middle-grade author Anne O’Brien Carelli. Anne’s debut novel, SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER, came out the same year as my debut novel, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, and I fell in love with the book’s characters. In the book, Anne brilliantly parallels the story of a girl helping the resistance during World War II and a girl trying to help her grandmother during Hurricane Sandy in New York. Anne has continued to write books about young girls in historical times, with two more released this year, ONE LIGHT and BENEATH THE HEART. I asked Anne about her new books and her writing choices.

Hey Anne! Welcome to From the Mixed Up Files.

Skylark and Wallcreeper by Anne O'Brien CarelliYou once told me that your brand has become “brave girls in danger (and spying!)” and that’s so true! What draws you to writing historical MG fiction and especially these types of stories with spying and brave girls?

Thank you, Samantha. I had not intended for that to be my brand, but it appears that I tend to write about courageous girls who are in the midst of challenging historical events like the French Resistance or the Revolutionary War. I have always loved history and have had a lifelong fascination with the WWII Resistance, plus my favorite museum is the International Spy Museum, so I guess it was inevitable that I write about those things!

ONE LIGHT and SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER are set during WWII and your latest novel, BENEATH THE HEART, is set during the Revolutionary War. Why did you choose these wars to be the backdrop for these stories?

SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER is about a girl who is helping to evacuate her grandmother during Hurricane Sandy in New York City and discovers that her granny was a spy in WWII. The story came from a conversation with a nurse who was responsible for relocating 400 elderly residents during the hurricane. I combined that event with the French Resistance in a story that goes back and forth between 2011 and 1945. ONE LIGHT is a companion Resistance novel with a young girl who helps Jewish refugee children who are hiding in the cellar of a monastery. All of these stories are based on the actual involvement of children in the Resistance. I don’t think kids get enough credit for how brave they can be!

BENEATH THE HEARTOne Light by Anne O'Brien Carelli came from the amazing discovery that my ancestors owned the house and barn that were used as the American headquarters on the Saratoga battlefield during the Revolutionary War. That fact is especially remarkable because I’m originally from Michigan and moved to the Saratoga area before I knew of my family history! When I walked that land, I wondered what it would be like to be a twelve-year-old girl living in that house, and a story was born.

These books must need a lot of research. What’s your biggest tip on researching?

Primary sources are the best, and fascinating to read. I always try to dig out journals, patents, newspapers, maps, and other publications of the time period. Plenty of them are online now, but museum curators, reference librarians, and college professors are always happy to help you do some digging. (But be careful not to exclaim, “Wow!” when you discover something surprising while conducting research in a quiet library.) My favorite “deep dive” was when a curator and I unearthed the black lace coat of the suffragist Susan B. Anthony in the Seneca Falls Historical Society attic. Very cool.

Historical fiction has its own challenges in that you’re still fictionalizing real historical events. How do you figure out what kind of fictional story you want to layer over the real history?

My stories are always based on historical facts, including references to clothing, transportation, language, food, and other details. I like to put children in the middle of historical events and provide them with problems to solve. Since I rarely outline my books in advance, my characters generally take over the story and off we go!

Beneath the Heart by Anne O'Brien CarelliSKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER, your debut novel, was published in 2018 through Little Bee Book’s Yellow Jacket imprint. For your next two novels, you chose to self-publish. Could you tell us about that decision and the differences between the two?

This was a big decision and the pandemic clinched it. I had worked with traditional publishers when I was writing nonfiction for adults but entered the world of children’s literature at a late age. I was thrilled when Little Bee published SKYLARK, but the publishing world operates at a slow pace and I’m not a spring chicken, so after a long discussion with my wonderful, supportive agent I decided to publish books myself. It has been challenging to handle the details and marketing, but I love the freedom of publishing according to my schedule. I could never have pursued this route if I hadn’t met so many incredible writers, teachers, librarians, and readers when I first started this journey.

I know you’re always working on a number of projects. What can we look forward to seeing from you next?

I just finished THE SKELETON’S GOLD, which is a story told by a fourteen-year-old boy in the Civil War. It’s based on a little-known robbery in 1864 and it was so much fun to write! It will be released in the spring of 2021. (There are brave girls in that one, too.) A new middle grade book that is about two friends who bond over experiences with the tragedy of September 11th and a refugee’s journey, will be published after that. A lot of the story is based on personal experience and my years of working with refugee children. And there are many other works in progress!

These sound wonderful. Thank you, Anne!

Check out Anne O’Brien Carelli’s books on her website, and click the links in this interview purchase copies. Plus, make sure you enter the giveaway below for your chance to win a paperback copy of ONE LIGHT and BENEATH THE HEART. Ends Dec. 31. U.S. and Canada only.

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Historical Hysteria

What is it about history that makes it so intriguing? Our innate desire to understand where we came from? The challenge of figuring out how we came to be where we are today? The drama of past events and the personality of the characters involved? A drive to dig deeper into the facts of history to pull out a somewhat complete story?

All the above?

Whatever the reason, the power of history draws us in like no other area of human study. History seeps into the cracks of everything because everything has a history. The middle-grade years are not immune to the magnetic draw of history. In fact, it is probably at this age where history is most appealing.

History is more than facts and dates. It lived and breathed. Each historical event documented in a single paragraph of a textbook has been distilled, sifted, cleaned up, manipulated, and finally written from a library-sized store of viewpoints, documents, accounts, and physical artifacts. That is the beauty of history. It is alive. It is vibrant. It shifts and changes with discovery and time.

As a reader and a writer, I am crazy over history. Researching history is a rabbit hole for me. I often get lost in the deep forest of the topic and have to force myself back on the intended path, while jotting notes of interesting things found in the deep forest, of course. I do have a special place for history. Maybe it’s because I’m creatively still stuck in a middle-grade mindset. Maybe it’s because history is a nice balance to my professional life in science.

Whatever the reason, I am drawn to history, especially the American Civil War. Growing up in Kansas City, I have a particular interest in the Border War between pro-slavery Missouri and Free State Kansas. This conflict was the lit match that ignited the powder keg of the Civil War. So many little stories surround American Civil War and the wealth of information in diaries, personal accounts, newspapers, magazines, photographs, and books, provides resources. A writer’s dream.

One of the beautiful things about history in literature, besides there being a nearly infinite source of subject matter for the writer or reader, is its seamless integration into both fiction and nonfiction. A piece of history works in historical fiction as a dramatic foundation on which to build the fiction upon. The piece of history performs just as well as the central component in nonfiction, where the actual facts and occurrences are under the spotlight. Narrative nonfiction appeals to me, in particular, because it artfully weaves the facts to present them as an engaging story.

As we stand at the edge of the winter/holiday season and contemplate a “historical” reading list for those long, cold, windy nights (at least like we have here in Kansas), I’ve assembled two TBR suggested titles list of historical middle grade books. The first is a historical fiction list of middle grade books with a heavy influence of time, place, and event. The second list is historical nonfiction, many of the narrative variety. (I feel I should probably apologize for the large percentage of the nonfiction list being from Steve Sheinkin, but HIS BOOKS ARE AWESOME. It is no small wonder middle grade readers flock to his books where history not only comes alive, but jumps off the page.)

Each list consists of ten books. Each list could have easily have been 50 books. There is so much great middle grade historical fiction and nonfiction out in the world it was hard to leave fabulous books off my lists. Since there exists a finite amount of bandwidth, though, the self-imposed limit was set at ten. If you have favorite historical middle grade books to add or comments on my humble list, please leave a comment. I am always looking for more historical reads.

Ten TBR Historical Fiction Titles


1. OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt
Troubled family life in 1968 New York.
A modern retracing of Crazy Horse’s life in the 1870’s by a grandfather to his grandson.
The Klondike Gold Rush, 1896
4. HOW I BECAME A GHOST by Tim Tingle
Choctaw Trail of Tears, 1831
5. ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
Civil Rights in Oakland, CA, 1968


6. MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool
1918 WWI & 1936 Depression in Southeast Kansas
7. HIDDEN ROOTS by Joseph Bruchac
Native identity in upstate NY in 1950 and the Vermont Eugenics Survey ~1930’s
8. BOXERS AND SAINTS by Gene Luen Yang
China’s Boxer Rebellion in 1900
9. WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt
Long Island, 1967-68. Vietnam, religious identity
10. THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE by Louise Erdrich
1847 Ojibwa community in Lake Superior region

Ten TBR Historical Nonfiction Titles

march_covernotorious-benedict-arnold_coverlincolngraverobbers_coverbomb_coverQuail Ridge Brown Girl Dreaming

1. MARCH Graphic Novel Trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
3. LINCOLN’S GRAVE ROBBERS by Steve Sheinkin
5. BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson


6. PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore