Historical Fiction


Patricia Reilly Giff Historical Fiction Novel





Giff, Patricia Reilly. 2013. Gingersnap. New York: Random House Kids.                                                                                                       

ISBN 9780375838910


Plot Summary

Gingersnap, by Patricia Reilly Giff is a wonderful historical fiction story that includes of all things, a ghost! Gingersnap is set in the 1940s during WWII. Jayna, nicknamed Gingersnap, and her brother Rob share an apartment in New York after being orphaned when their parents died in an auto accident. Rob enlists in the navy and is sent to war serving on a submarine, but before he leaves he tells Jayna he has found a blue recipe book that may have belonged to their grandmother. Jayna is left in the care of their landlady Celine and one day Jayna decides to travel to Brooklyn to try and find their grandmother’s bakery. Jayna thinks she may be imagining things because she starts to see the ghost of a young girl with red, “gingersnap” hair just like her own who seems to be leading her in the right direction.  When Rob’s submarine is reported missing Celine, Elise, the ghost girl and the blue recipe book help Jayna create a new family and get through tragic days.


Critical Analysis

Gingersnap, by Patricia Reilly Giff is a wonderful historical fiction novel that has the feel of an old book even though it was just published in 2013. This historical fiction novel is set in 1944 during WWII and the dust jacket has the only illustration, but just by using this visual the reader can tell the approximate year(s) the story was set in by looking at Jayna’s clothing.  The food shortages experienced by Americans during WWII are addressed by the recipes in the blue recipe book. The character’s appreciation for the small amount of food they have is an accurate representation of wartime and the lack of food. This is an excellent book for young readers because it blends historical fiction with a ghost story. The theme of this novel is family and how various people can band together and create a family if they really want to.  



Gingersnap has not won any awards. However, the author, Patricia Reilly Giff is a two time Newbery Award winner.


Review Excerpts

Publishers Weekly

Giff smoothly intertwines threads of loss, displacement, hope, family, and the soothing power of food (especially soup) in a quiet but emotionally charged novel set during WWII. Jayna—nicknamed Gingersnap by her mother, who died in a car accident along with the girl’s father—feels understandably alone after her only relative, her older brother Rob, goes missing while serving in the Navy. Inspired by items from her mother’s past that she finds, and urged on by the voice of a ghost, Jayna packs up the turtle she’s adopted and runs away from upstate New York to Brooklyn. The ghost (who Jayna believes to be her mother) promises to help her find a family, and Giff’s deft plotting leads the girl to find just that, in surprising and satisfying ways. The pacing falters occasionally—it takes Jayna a while to share information that she knows links her to the kindly bakery owner who takes her in—but Jayna’s yearning to belong and desperate longing for her brother’s safe return give this story its soulful core.”


Kirkus Reviews


“Giff is one of few writers who can entwine an odd lot of characters, set them in Brooklyn during World War II, flavor the story with soup recipes, add a ghost and infuse the plot with a longing for family–and make it all believable. When Jayna’s brother leaves for submarine duty, she’s left to stay with their cranky landlady (their parents died in a car accident). She remembers an old, blue recipe book inscribed with a name and address in Brooklyn and becomes convinced the woman in a photo standing in front of a bakery named Gingersnap (her nickname) is her grandmother. With her pet box turtle, Theresa, in a cat carrier and the recipe book in her suitcase, she takes a bus into New York City and the subway to Brooklyn. Through a series of misfortunes, she finds the bakery and its owner, Elise. Is Elise her grandmother? Will Rob return from the war? Who is the ghost wearing Jayna’s toenail polish with only her hands and feet visible, and can she connect with Rob? Will Theresa survive? Jayna’s eight tasty soup recipes befit the circumstances as they unfold: Don’t-Think-About-It Soup, Hope Soup, Waiting Soup and so forth. The author’s note to readers refers to her own childhood war memories, lending dimension to the characters and plot. Unfortunately, the cover image of a girl with a suitcase walking by brownstone houses won’t entice readers, though the story itself is riveting. While the outcome is foreseeable, Jayna’s journey is a memorable one.”



Introduce a discussion about WWII.  

Discuss living in foster homes and being reunited with a family member.  

Ask what makes a family a family?


Related Books

Timberlake, Amy. 2013. One Came Home.  New York: Knopf Books.                                                                                                         ISBN 9780375869259


Holm, Jennifer L. 2007. Penny from Heaven.  New York: Yearling Books.  

ISBN 9780375836893


Holm, Jennifer L. 2008. Turtle in Paradise.  New York: Yearling Books.  

ISBN 978 0375836909