Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mending Horses: Reviews

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“Fluid writing and a true sense of history—including fascinating insights into early circuses—raise this well above the usual. Barker’s characters are nuanced, difficult, and real, and so is her sense of horses. An absorbing look into a patch of past not often examined.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review, February 2014)

“Barker’s deft sketches even endow most peripheral characters with individuality… Barker fashions a well-researched roster of circus eccentrics to serve as a colorful backdrop to Daniel’s slow flowering as a horse trainer and Billy’s pugnacious evolution towards contentment..The sideshow troupers, tragic childhoods, and near-fatal altercations—plus some gender disguise—could combine for a noisy novel, but Barker crafts a story of grace and strength.”

–Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY, School Library Journal (April 2014)

“…Barker skillfully evokes the realities of class, racial, and gender oppression in the nineteenth century through a rich cast, lifelike setting, and complex, compelling plot.”

Francisca Goldsmith, Booklist (starred review, April 2014)

“A skillful evocation of race, class, and gender in nineteenth-century New England.

Ilene Cooper, Booklist (Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth, April 2015)

“’Mending Horses’ may be the best book I have reviewed in the past year. M. P. Barker’s young-adult novel is dramatic, insightful and lyrical…’Mending Horses’ is meticulously researched and smoothly paced. Barker explains in an afterword that the circus acts depicted are based on real 19th-century practices and she effortlessly draws readers into her story….I would recommend ‘Mending Horses’ to readers over the age of 11. The book has dark moments, but its message of hope and understanding should move teenagers and adults.”

–Tinky Weisblat, Greenfield Recorder (24 January 2015)

“…a poignant and seriously written work of  historical fiction and deals with issues of gender equality and acceptance of different cultures and races….an incredibly sweet, touching book about learning not only to trust others, but to trust yourself. It’s a wonderful coming of age novel about a boy and his horse and a girl who learns what it means to truly be free.”

–Morgan Lee, “For Such Love We Feel” blog

“M. P. Barker’s new book, Mending Horses, is a sequel to her first novel, A Difficult Boy. Quite often second books do not match the quality of the first effort, but in this case, the story of Daniel, an Irish lad recently freed from indentured servitude, continues the riveting plotlines and social conscious introspection that characterized its predecessor. The sense of time and place, New England in the 1830s, is so stark and vivid that you can almost smell the earthy richness of the farm country and hear the hoof beats of the prancing ponies that Daniel tames as the story progresses. The other major characters, a youngster with an angelic voice that belies an angry heart and an aging peddler who struggles to do what is best for his two young charges, bring vigor to the tale as they navigate physical, emotional, and moral obstacles. Even secondary characters, such as a wily conjurer, and a plethora of curious and sometimes cunning circus people, bring energy and imagination to this young adult novel. I am well beyond the young adult stage, and I found this book engaging, suspenseful, and delightful. The deep descriptions lured me into the time period, and I could not put it down. I would heartily recommend Mending Horses for anyone between the ages of twelve and a hundred and twelve.”

–Melva Michaelian, Educator and Author of Contemporary Fiction

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Mending Horses: Book Group Discussion Guide

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1                 Why is the book called “Mending Horses”? Who or what is mended in the course of the story?

2                 The story is told from several points of view. How does the author use word choices and language to create a distinctive voice for each point of view character?

3                 How the characters are perceived by others and who they really are is often very different. For example, Daniel is perceived as a thief and a liar because of his Irish accent. Discuss how the characters struggle against the limitations imposed on them by others’ perceptions of who they are or should be and what they should do.

4                 Discuss the role of rumors and misunderstandings in creating difficulties and dangerous situations for the characters in the story.

5                 Why doesn’t Jonathan tell Sophie the truth about Billy? Who would be a more suitable parent for Billy—Jonathan or Sophie? Why?

6                 Why does Daniel object to Billy’s disguise? What makes him reconsider his opinion?

7                 Many of the characters hide their true identities for various reasons. For example, Fred Chamberlain pretends to be an Indian prince when he performs in the show. Choose a character and discuss how and why that character hides who he or she is.

8                 By the end of the story, each character has learned something important about him or herself. Choose a character and discuss the lessons she or he has learned and how the character has changed by the end of the story.

9                 Daniel and Billy both make important choices at the end of the story. Do you think they’ve made the right decisions? Why or why not? Discuss what the consequences of their decisions might be. How might their futures be different if they’d chosen differently?

10              What do you think might happen to the characters after the end of the story? What problems might they encounter in the future?

To find out more about New England in the 1830s, go to the Old Sturbridge Village Web site – . You can find research articles and historic documents here: .

For a HUGE collection of resources on 19th-century America, go to:

If your book club wants to prepare some 19th-century dishes for your meeting, you can find some recipes on the Old Sturbridge Village website here: .

Or go to “Feeding America: the Historic American Cookbook Project” for a variety of 19th-century cookbooks:

For more information on 19th-century circuses, go to the Circus Historical Society’s Virtual Library.

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School visits:
30-minute Skype visit: FREE!
One-hour session: $200 plus travel expenses (discounts available for multi-session days or for schools that purchase books or allow book sales)

Book groups:
Author visits are free if your group purchases books (Travel expenses required for travel more than 50 miles from Springfield, MA)

Clubs, organizations, and special events:
Skype visits (up to one hour Q&A session): FREE!
One-hour session: $200 plus travel expenses (discounts available for organizations that purchase books or allow book sales)

Click here for sample presentation topics.

For pricing on panel discussions or other author events or to arrange a visit, contact the author using the form below:

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Programs and School Visits: Sample Presentation Topics

I can create and customize presentations to fit a teacher’s curriculum or an organization’s needs. All programs except for educator workshops can be adapted for audiences ranging from fifth-graders to adults. Multi-author programs can be arranged.

Click here for information about pricing.

Click here for testimonials about M.P. Barker’s presentations.

Types of Events:

Writing workshops:
Length: 1 or 2-hour presentation
Description: Interactive workshops for writers of all ages and skill levels who want to improve their writing, research, and revision skills and learn how to get published. Includes a reading, a Q&A, and a sale and signing.

Sample presentations:

  • The Rocky Road to Publication (one-hour presentation) – Learn how to get published, from researching editors and agents to writing a good query letter and dealing with rejection.
  • Researching Primary Sources for Historical Fiction (one–hour presentation that can be expanded to a two-hour workshop) – How can you use primary sources to bring realism to your historical fiction? Get tips on finding and evaluating the resources that make your historical novel come alive. In the two-hour version, you’ll have a chance to work with primary documents and discover what they can add to your own writing.
  • Character Building Exercises (one-hour workshop) – Having trouble creating believable characters? This workshop shows you how to craft well-rounded story people.
  • Self-Editing and Revision (one-hour presentation that can be expanded to a two-hour workshop) – In this how-to workshop,  take your manuscript from rough draft to polished prose.  Get valuable tips for mapping your story with charts and timelines, identifying and highlighting themes, and tightening up your manuscript. In the two-hour version, you’ll have the chance to practice what you’ve learned and receive input on your manuscript.

General Author Visit
Length: 45-minute presentation with 15-minute Q&A
Description: Short presentation with general comments about the book(s), writing process, and other information that answers questions most commonly asked at my events; a reading from the book(s); a question and answer period; a book sale and signing period.
Sample presentations:

  • Meet the Author – Learn the inside story on my books. Where did I get my ideas for settings, plot, and characters?
  • Book Group Discussions – Sometimes in the reading of a novel, a person wonders what the author was thinking. Was it difficult to write certain scenes or to create an unlovable character? Why was a situation resolved in that particular way? I’ll meet with book group members who’ve read my book(s) and answer their questions.

Themed Author Visit
Length: 45-minute presentation with 15-minute Q&A
Description: Similar to a general visit, but structured to address a specific audience (such as tween/teen readers, adult readers, writers, historians, teachers, etc.) or theme (such as a conference, program, series, or celebration currently underway or planned by the hosting organization. Includes a reading, a Q&A, and a sale and signing.

Sample presentations:

  • A Child’s Life in 19th Century New England: What was it like to grow up in 19th-century New England? What sorts of chores did children have and what did they do for fun? How were their lives different from kids’ lives today?
  • The Author’s Life: What is it like to be a writer? How do you get a book published? What is it like working with editors and agents?
  • Fact into Fiction: How do historical novelists find all that information? And how do they turn it into interesting stories? Learn about the challenges involved in turning historical fact into historical fiction.
  • Life as an Indentured Servant: How did children get indentured? How long would a child have to serve? What were living conditions like for indentured servants in the 1830s?
  • Running Away to Join the Circus: Learn the backstage story of what circuses were like in the 1830s and how they grew into their present form. Find out about life beneath the Big Top before it became the Big Top we know today.
  • From Circus Tents to Shanty Towns: Find out how a novelist turns fact into historical fiction as I share the research behind my historical novel, Mending Horses. The topics delved into while writing the book ranged from circuses to Irish shanty towns to the arrival of the railroad in Western Massachusetts.

Dual-Author Presentation or Group-Author Presentation
Length: 45 to 90-minute presentation with 15-minute Q&A
Description: A general or themed presentation by me and another author or with a group of authors. Includes a reading, a Q&A, and a sale and signing.

Sample presentations:

  • Dual-ing Authors – One event, two authors. Our presentations and our writing genres may be totally unrelated, or the program may bring together similarities between our work. Past presentation topics have included: trends in young-adult literature; research techniques; how to find an agent and publisher; and the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
  • Author Panels and Author Events – I participate in a variety of author panels and multiple-author events at conferences, book fairs, and other events created by or for libraries, schools, and other organizations. The authors’ presentations or the panel discussions may be related by genre, work process, theme, etc.

Educators’ Professional Development Workshops:
Length: 1-hour presentation
Description: A presentation focused on strategies to enhance reading, writing, and history curricula. Includes a reading, a Q&A, and a sale and signing.

Sample presentation:

  • Using Primary Historical Resources to Enhance Reading and Writing Curricula: Artifacts, images, and primary documents can bring an additional dimension to readings in history and historical fiction and help make history come alive. Participants will learn how to find those resources and to use them to enrich reading and writing curricula while connecting students with the past.

Conference Speaker
Length: Customized to conference needs
Description: I’m available to speak or present workshops at conferences and will tailor presentations to themes and audiences.

Other Things to Know about Events:

  • All books I bring to sell at my author visits are offered at a cost slightly below retail value and includes sales tax.*
  • Book sales are handled by me or my assistant; no one from your organization is burdened by this task.*
  • I can also arrange sales through a local bookseller, if you prefer.
  • I offer to send a press release announcing the event to local newspapers and will provide it to you for use in newsletters, Web sites, or elsewhere.
  • I can provide you with an easily duplicated poster to promote the event.

*Not applicable to book store events.

You can use the form below to contact the author about creating a special presentation for your group:

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17th Century London in 3D

In preparation for the release of my new novel, Mending Horses, my publisher recently sent me an author questionnaire. In addition to the usual background questions—name, rank, serial number, etc.—there was this one: “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” As a writer of historical fiction, I’d love to be able to go back into the past and see what things were really like in ye not so goode olden dayes. But as someone who really, REALLY appreciates indoor plumbing, central heating, modern medicine, and the other niceties of 21st century living, I would probably last all of fifteen minutes in the deep dark past. Yes, I did spend eight hours a day in the 1830s when I worked at Old Sturbridge Village, but that was enough to make me realize I wouldn’t want to live there, particularly as a female.

So what I’d really like for my superpower is the ability to SEE the past without the discomfort of actually having to BE there. If someone could invent a camera that could look back in time (preferably in 3D), that would be perfect.

Well, a group of students from DeMontfort University, Leicester, England, has done the next best thing. Using maps from the British Library, period images, and photography of surviving buildings from 17th-century England, they put together a video recreation of London as it might have looked before the Great Fire. Imagine Google Earth in 1666. The result is amazing. And it’s as fascinating to read about their research and creative process as it is to watch the video.

You can find their wicked cool work at their Pudding Lane Productions blog.


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Caleb’s Crossing

Quick, when did Harvard graduate its first Native American scholar? The 1960s? The 1860s? How about 1665? Yes, that’s right—1665.

Founded in 1636, Harvard very quickly found itself in financial difficulties. In order to stay afloat, the college obtained funding from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, which was formed for the purpose of converting Natives to Christianity. Harvard’s 1650 charter called for “the Education of the English and Indian Youth of the Country,” and the college agreed to build an “Indian College” where Native Americans could study free of charge. The Indian College building also included a printing press operated by James Printer, a Nipmuc convert, who translated and typeset at least fifteen books in the Algonquian language

Only a handful of Native American students are known to have attended the college. Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a Wampanoag from Martha’s Vineyard, was the first Native to graduate from the short-lived Indian College in 1665.

Author Geraldine Brooks uses Caleb’s story as the starting point for her beautifully told historical novel Caleb’s Crossing. Brooks combines fact and fiction to follow the journey of Caleb, a Wampanoag chief’s son who hopes to save his people from destruction by learning the language and ways of the English settlers. His story is told through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, the (fictional) daughter of a minister striving to convert the Wampanoags on Martha’s Vineyard to Christianity. While Caleb struggles with the two cultures, Bethia struggles with her role as a young woman hungry for learning at a time when higher education (and, often, any education at all) was reserved for males.

Bethia and Caleb strike up a secret and forbidden friendship, each learning the other’s language and ways. They share a hunger for knowledge and a yearning for freedom from the stereotypes that limit their opportunities. They see education as a way to be free in spirit, if not in fact.

Eloquently narrated and thoroughly researched, Brooks’s novel ably captures the voice and spirit of the seventeenth century, a time when gender and ethnic roles were rigidly enforced, and crossing boundaries could prove fatal.

For information on an archaeological dig on the site of the Indian College, see this article:

For more about Caleb and the Harvard Indian College, go to: –

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