Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Which genre is it?

More and more books these days are combining genres.  You have historical fiction with science fiction or fantasy (Leviathan by Scott Westerfield), humor and mystery (The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin), or animal and realistic (Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt). It's fun to see the many different ways that authors are finding of telling stories.  On the other hand, it makes it harder to teach genres because there is so much crossover in the books being published. I guess what it comes down to is helping the students learn to step out of their reading comfort zone and try something new once in a while.  I try to do this myself and I have discovered some new favorites (more about this is coming posts).  So, when I came across Ghost Messages, I was intrigued. 

Ghost Messages
by Jacqueline Guest
Coteau Books for Kids, 2011
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Thirteen-year-old Ailish, a feisty Irish fortune teller, is about to become part of history.  She becomes trapped on the mighty Great Eastern just as the ship sets off on its voyage to lay the very first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.  Escape is impossible!

Ailish must pretend to be a boy to keep from being pitched into the ocean by the superstitious sailors, while dodging a dangerous ruffian who has stolen her golden treasure.  She frequently gets help from a pale young boy named Davy, who seems to know everything about the Great Eastern, but won't ever come up on deck.  

Will Ailish's wits, her determination, and her friendships help her to survive the trip, find her treasure and solve the mystery of her young companion?

That blurb from the book caught my interest.  The book was clearly historical fiction, but there seemed to a hint of the supernatural as well.  As a rule, I don't really like ghost stories, but the historical aspects sounded intriguing and the event (laying of the first trans-Atlantic cable) was not one I had read about before, so I picked it up and read it. 

There is indeed a supernatural aspect to this story, but interestingly it is the conflict between Ailish and the ruffian that takes center stage and moves the plot along.  At the same time, the author does a fabulous job of recreating the setting of the ship at sea and the process of laying the cable.  It was interesting to follow the development of Ailish's interest in the ship and the cable.  At first, she only cares about getting her treasure back, but as she observes the work and befriends one of the workers, she comes to care very much about history-making event of which she is inadvertently a part.

In some historical fiction books, the history can overwhelm the story, and I was afraid that might happen here, but it doesn't.  In fact, the book moves along at a good clip, as Ailish with the help of a shipmate and her new mysterious friend Davy tries to find a way to foil the ruffian's plans.  I liked the fact that Ailish doesn't just use her supernatural gifts but also her brain to defeat her enemy.  I love books where the heroine doesn't sit around waiting to be rescued, and Ailish fits the description to a tee.  I also loved the fact that the title of the book has more than one meaning in the story, I thought that was clever.  Highly recommended for those who enjoy great historical fiction with a large dash of adventure, and a small dash of the supernatural.

Note: for those interested in a SKYPE Author Visit with Laurel Snyder, whose new book, Bigger Than a Bread Box is coming out soon, head on over to her website and check it out.

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