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Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin (Grades 5-8)

In this nonfiction work, the reader is introduced to the beginnings of the secret service and early crime fighting, counterfeiting, and the horrors of grave robbing.  Sheinkin’s research to produce this book is evident in the interesting and informative detail.

The book is set in the late 1800’s after the death of Abraham Lincoln. Paper money was being printed in large quantities by the U.S. Treasury Department and counterfeiting had become more common and profitable. So, the Secret Service was created to combat this type of crime. Benjamin Boyd was a master engraver and very important to his gang of criminals. Unfortunately for them, Boyd was caught and sent to prison. The leader of the counterfeiting gang who had worked with Boyd conceived of a plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s remains and ask for the release of Boyd in exchange for returning Lincoln to the authorities. The infiltration of the gang by the Secret Service, the intrigue that followed, and the formation of the Lincoln Guard of Honor make for a fascinating story. 

Sheinkin has done extensive research using historical documents, newspaper accounts, reports from various eye witnesses, as well as court records to produce this well-written book. This little-known part of American history is told very well from multiple viewpoints. An ALA notable book, this true life story is a mystery/thriller that young readers will enjoy.  Sheinkin has also written The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery.


A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Grades 5-8, Young Adult and Adult Nonfiction)

Linda Sue Park has written an inspirational book based on the true life story of Salva Dut, a Sudanese Lost Boy. Salva’s determination and strength of character reflect the necessity in life to persevere even when all seems lost. 

This nonfiction work opens in the Sudan in 1985 with an invasion of soldiers. Salva is forced to run from his family and all that is familiar. He escapes to Ethiopia enduring harrowing experiences and even more personal loss along the way.  Encountering rejection and violence in Ethiopia, Salva eventually makes it to the United States.  How Salva’s life is changed and the impact he later has on countless people in his native country makes for fascinating reading. 

Linda Sue Park and Salva can be seen on Youtube in an interview which lends even greater credibility to Salva’s story and personal mission. Bringing water to the Sudan and helping people in his country who suffer deprivation daily has become Salva’s goal in life. This is obviously a selfless individual, a welcome role model in modern life.

Linda Sue Park also wrote A Single Shard, a fictional book which deals with the importance of talent and the pursuit of art.  A young orphan learns valuable lessons about life and resilience from an older man gifted with a talent in the making of unique pottery.


China Dolls by Lisa See (Adult Fiction)

In the late 1930s, a world’s fair exhibition was held in San Francisco. People flocked to the city to see and enjoy this many faceted spectacle. The Forbidden City nightclub was a part of this fair, and young Chinese women were hired as entertainers of various types.  he main characters in this novel meet at the Forbidden City where their lives are changed forever.

Grace is a girl running from an abusive father. She is gifted with a tremendous talent for dancing.  Helen is part of an important Asian family in the city, but she hides a dark secret.  Ruby is actually Japanese, a fact she must hide at this time in history. Called China Dolls, the lives of these women cause them to be anything but fragile and delicate. Prejudice, personal ambition, love, betrayal, and the world events that surround them cause their lives to be complex and often painful.

China Dolls tells the story of a part of American history that was filled with war, racism, and fear that caused people to distrust those who had once been friends. The book begins in the 1930s and ends in 1988 when the three women have led full and unique lives. Lisa See has written another book as captivating as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, her award winning novel.


About the Reviewer: 

Kathy Larabell, Volunteer Book Reviewer and a member of the Friends of the San Benito County Free Library states that “I am an educator who recently retired from an extensive career in teaching. Most of my teaching time was spent in middle school teaching language arts which I love. Reading has been my passion along with music and travel since I was a young girl. I hope you enjoy these reviews and these wonderful, creative books.”