Year of Historical Reading – February update

YHR-February update

As you may remember, I declared 2020 my Year of Historical Reading.  Check out this blog entry and my appearance on the Sarah’s Bookshelves Live podcast to learn more about this project.  Each month, I will post an update on how I am progressing!  As a reminder, I hope to make 85% of my reading historical fiction and nonfiction.  

February was a good reading month for me, with 13 books read.  I did keep to my historical reading theme, with just a couple of books falling outside of that genre.  

Here are my books for February, and I have indicated if they were pulled from my unread shelves, purchased, or borrowed from the library.  I have also included what museum or historical site would pair well with each book.  Let me know if you like this addition to my reading lists!


Historical Fiction:


Who Comes with Cannons by Patricia Beatty (library): A middle grade novel about Quakers living in North Carolina during the Civil War.  The language was a little stilted (lots of thees and thous!) but the premise of the book was very interesting.  I learned a lot about Quakers and how they were treated in the Civil War.  This book would pair well with a visit to the North Carolina Museum of History.


These three middle grade and YA novels would pair well with a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (library): This middle grade novel is one of my favorite reads of the year so far!  The Watsons are a normal family dealing with sibling rivalry and friendship struggles. Until the last couple of chapters, which take place during the real-life horrific bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, this historical fiction reads like a fun middle grade novel.  I love how the author wove a hard-to-explain historical event into the storyline.  I have added the author’s other novels to my TBR!  

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (library): This Young Adult (YA) novel about racism and women’s rights in the World War II era is well-done and thoughtful.  It contains some hard history but sheds light on an under-researched topic.  

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (library): This book in verse is what I would call a historical memoir.  It not only tells the extraordinary life of the author, it also describes the African American experience during the 1960s and 1970s.  Its message is powerful and poignant.  


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (own): This is one of the best historical fiction books that I have ever read.  It is not easy – it deals with some very traumatic and hard history – but the story the author weaves between generations, locations, and families is masterful.  One of my must-reads!  This book also pairs well with a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.


Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (library): As I discussed on Sarah’s Bookshelves Live, I typically shy away from sci-fi books UNLESS there is a historical element.  This book fits that exception. Its premise is so intriguing – an African American woman from 1976 suddenly time travels back to the 1800s on a Southern plantation with her ancestors.  The sci-fi elements are a little wacky and not really explained but that’s ok, the story propels you forward.  This book is not an easy read and deals with the horrific abuse and treatment that enslaved persons had to endure in this time period.  The book is thought-provoking and challenging.  This book also pairs well with the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.


Historical Nonfiction:


Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James L. Swanson (own): I met the author of this YA narrative nonfiction book a couple of years ago at the Junior League of Richmond’s Book and Author event, and it had lingered on my older son’s bookshelves.  I am so glad I took it from his shelves and read it myself!  I had no idea about the backstory behind James Earl Ray and the hunt for him after the assassination.  When it came to the point where he was getting ready to pull the trigger, I wanted to yell, “No get back inside!” to Dr. King, even though I knew how it was going to end.  This pairs well with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel.  It is a moving place to visit.


Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green (library): I was interested in this narrative nonfiction about a town only 60 miles from my home in the Richmond, VA area.  It was a quick read and really made me analyze the past and its ramifications on the present and future. It sheds light on a little known Civil Rights struggle that shut the Prince Edward County schools for years.  I can’t wait to visit the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville, VA to learn more about this struggle.


Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked by Mary Miley Theobald (library): This is a very quick but entertaining read about historical myths.  I found it interesting and funny!  This book would be good to read before visiting Colonial Williamsburg.


The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower (library): I really enjoyed one of this author’s other White House books, First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, and this book was similar.  I love learning about Presidents and First Ladies and enjoyed this unique behind-the-scenes view of the staff at the White House.  They are hard workers and are to be admired for their loyalty, integrity, and work ethic.  This book is good to read before visiting the White House in Washington, DC.


The Smithsonian’s History of American in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin (library): I loved looking through this book full of pictures and stories about the most meaningful objects in the vast Smithsonian collection.  The author describes the time period and why this object is considered important and impactful on American history.  Some of the items are obvious – President Lincoln’s top hat, President George Washington’s sword and uniform – but some are not.  I enjoyed learning about these objects even more than the well-known ones!  The book is a great companion for a visit to the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC (review coming to The History Mom on Wednesday!).  


Other Genres:

I did read two personal growth books in February, including my favorite, Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel (own-read ARC).  I pre-ordered this book by one of my favorite bookish podcasters and got the advance review copy as a pre-order bonus.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the physical book so I can highlight, underline, and fill out the questions.  This book comes out tomorrow (March 3, 2020) so pre-order today to get the fantastic bonuses!



Stats for February:

85% historical fiction and nonfiction – right on target!

4 of 131 unread books (2 were added to the unread shelves!)

9 library books


If you enjoy following along on my Year of Historical Reading, be sure to friend The History Mom on Good Reads and to follow me on Instagram, where I post the books I am reading in real time.

With upcoming trips to London and Spain, I am trying to read more about these destinations.  What books about these destinations should I add to my TBR?

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