There's a 3rd grade class that comes to visit my library every other week, and I usually prepare a booktalk and/or readaloud for them. I find that thi...moreThere's a 3rd grade class that comes to visit my library every other week, and I usually prepare a booktalk and/or readaloud for them. I find that this makes them really want to check out the books that I read them, and it's a good way for them to learn something new. I really like them and how excited they get about Lego Ninjago and Pokemon. This week, the teacher asked me to do a biography readaloud (they've been studying nonfiction as part of common core for quite a while now). I groaned a little bit, because most biographies are pretty long for readalouds, and kids on field trips have pretty short attention spans. I wanted to read a picture book about a famous woman for women's history month, and ended up with Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman, which had the right amount of text for a 3rd grade read-aloud. I did skip or summarize a few of the pages, but it really had the kids on the edge of their seat. Ok, I did bribe them by telling them about the brand new Lunch Lady, Lego, and Dork Diaries books that I had waiting for them if they listened quietly. But anyway, they were really engaged with this book, and gasped in all the right places.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman is about Wilma Rudolph, and spans from her birth in 1940, to her record-breaking wins in the 1960 Rome Olympics. It starts out by talking about how she was premature, only 4 pounds at birth, and how her leg became paralyzed. Though she was told she would never walk again, she went on to win THREE Olympic gold medals and a full scholarship to college, making her the first in her family to go to college. It's a very suspenseful book during the racing scenes, and the kids really liked it. They exclaimed, "What?!? That's not possible!" when I got to the part that said she had 19 older brothers and sisters to help take care of her. Of course, they didn't check out any of the women's history biographies that I pulled and pretty much just checked out the popular stuff, but hey. At least they learned something new.
Of all the books in the "Grace" series, about a plucky African-American girl, Amazing Grace is probably the best pick for a Black History Month storyt...moreOf all the books in the "Grace" series, about a plucky African-American girl, Amazing Grace is probably the best pick for a Black History Month storytime. The series includes Princess Grace and Grace at Christmas, and there's pretty much a Grace book for any occasion or storytime theme. The main reason that I picked Amazing Grace, though, is that it was available on Bookflix, which sets picture books and nonfiction to video, Reading Rainbow style. I like using Bookflix when I'm trying to mix it up a little bit.
In the book, Grace loves playing pretend, including portraying Hiawatha (hmmm.... this book was written in 1991. I guess dressing up as "Indians" was considered ok then?), and desperately wants to be the lead in her school play, "Peter Pan." However, her classmates tell her that she can't do it because she's a girl and black, and Peter Pan is a white boy. But her grandmother takes her to see a production of Romeo and Juliet in which the star is from Nana's homeland of Trinidad, which fills Grace with hope. As expected, she aces the audition and flawlessly portrays Peter. Frankly, I think it's a little dated, and you can tell from the art, but the series is worth keeping around.
Of all the picture books that I read for the African-American History Month/Jazz-themed storytime, This Jazz Man went over by FAR the best, probably b...moreOf all the picture books that I read for the African-American History Month/Jazz-themed storytime, This Jazz Man went over by FAR the best, probably because it was the most fun and least serious of the bunch. Set to the tune of "This Old Man" (which I sang real quick in case some of the kids didn't know it), it adds various instruments with each page. For example, when this jazz man plays 1, he snaps his fingers. When this jazz man plays 2, he taps his toes. When this jazz man plays 4, he conducts. And so on. You can either sing it or read it, as it still sounds good when it's simply spoken aloud. You can watch this in video format (though slightly dark) here. As I read the book, I passed out kids' instruments one by one. Of course, they didn't always correspond (I don't just have a saxophone lying around), but playing instruments was a favorite part of storytime. Afterward, I played a kids jazz CD (which was surprisingly good) and had them dance around and play instruments. One of the kids had a pretty short attention span and very low reading comprehension, and what she most picked up was the snapping and toe-tapping. I highly recommend this book for a readaloud.
Ages 4-8 (the younger ones can listen to it, but it's harder for them to do things like snapping their fingers) (less)
I didn't shelve Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane as nonfiction, because it's pretty much speculative. But it could be kind of an...moreI didn't shelve Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane as nonfiction, because it's pretty much speculative. But it could be kind of an intro biography for the younger set. This book has a great, jazzy cadence to it, which really serves to introduce the kids to jazz. It also has a bit of a music appreciation theme. This is about when John Coltrane was a young boy, and how he heard music everywhere: in hambones knocking around a pot, in the wails of funeral mourners, in his grandfather preaching. It's a good book to introduce kids to the concept that music is everywhere, and that you don't need instruments. To be honest, that was pretty much lost on the kids, but I still liked it. This is a good Black History Month storytime pick in that it's a lot less wordy that the typical history-themed picture book. Probably because, like I said, it's not really historical.
I was deciding between The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend and Harlem's Little Blackbird for my jazz-themed Black Histo...moreI was deciding between The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend and Harlem's Little Blackbird for my jazz-themed Black History Month storytime, and I'm glad that I chose Harlem's Little Blackbird, because it's a little shorter, and I had kids younger than what I normally get at storytime, which some VERY short attention spans. It was kind of painful reading to them, actually, because of that, but that really has nothing to do with the book. Anyway, Harlem's Little Blackbird is slightly more wordy than I like for storytime, especially since, like most history picture books, there isn't anything funny about it. Anyone planning to read this to kids should be warned that the story ends with Mills' death, and her funeral, but it wasn't really an issue with the crowd. Also, there is a little bit of singing, so prepare for that if you plan to read it aloud. Of course, you can always omit the songs, which tend to be off to the side from the main text. I find the illustrations, which feature cut paper, large heads and big eyes, really inviting for kids. If you want to introduce kids to some lesser-known stories of African-American history, this could be a good candidate, particularly if you want to take a musical route or even talk about the Harlem Renaissance, which is mentioned here.
Three years ago, when I read One Crazy Summer (to which P.S. Be Eleven is a sequel), I loved it so much, that I was so disappointed that it got a Newb...moreThree years ago, when I read One Crazy Summer (to which P.S. Be Eleven is a sequel), I loved it so much, that I was so disappointed that it got a Newbery Honor rather than the gold (which went that year to Moon Over Manifest). Looking back on it, it wasn't quite as strong as some other Newbery winners, but I still really like that book for tackling some dark issues while maintaining a sweetness and innocence--basically some great balance, and tackling a historical fiction subject (Black Panthers) that I can't say I've read about in kidlit before. P.S. Be Eleven takes place immediately after the events of One Crazy Summer and is a kind of inverse of that plot. Whereas in One Crazy Summer Delphine, Vonetta and Fern experience the culture shock of being immersed into Oakland/West Coast/Black Panther culture, in P.S. Be Eleven we see how they have appropriated the Black Panther culture and experience the shock of coming back to Brooklyn.
Delphine has returned to Brooklyn with her sisters and is looking forward to being with her father, grandmother, and friends again. But when she gets back, things have changed, just as she and her sister have. Her beloved teacher has gone for the year, replaced by an exchange teacher from Zambia, Mr. Mwila. Meeting someone who was born and raised in Africa causes Delphine to see the "Back to Africa" movement and her mother's act of taking on an African name in a different light. Also, Mr. Mwila is different from other teachers Delphine has ever had. He treats them like adults ("upperclassmen and women") and expects them to do research with sources and arguments. Delphine's friends are paying attention to clothes and boys, but no one in Brooklyn lives up to Hirohito Woods, the boy she met back in Oakland. There are big changes in their family, too. Their father, who has long ignored the advances of the church ladies, is not dating a mod woman named Ms. Marva Hendrix, who volunteers on Shirley Chisholm's campaign. Uncle Darnell is home from the war, but something is different about him. And the girls discover a singing group they're desperate to see perform in Madison Square Garden: the Jackson Five.
Like One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven handled tough subjects like drug use in a very innocent way without shying away from the realities of these issues, which is a pretty tricky thing to do. The title of the book comes from Delphine's mother Cecile's letters to her, which admonish her to stop wanting to grow up and read Things Fall Apart, and to stay eleven, even when she turns twelve. It's funny to follow up one coming-of-age novel with another one, but clearly Delphine still has some growing up to do, so I very much hope that there will be a third book.
Once upon a time, I didn't like poetry. It just felt too prim and measured. I pictured Emily Dickinson sitting alone in her attic, dipping her pen int...moreOnce upon a time, I didn't like poetry. It just felt too prim and measured. I pictured Emily Dickinson sitting alone in her attic, dipping her pen into an inkwell and writing straight, perfect lines. However, I was an English Literature major, so I had to read (and analyze) poetry. I ended up taking an American Literature class one semester, and one of the assignments was that we had to memorize 15 poems. I was determined to not pick any "old white guy poems," and while researching American poems, I started reading Harlem Renaissance poetry. These poems are the antithesis of what I had experienced in poetry: full of meaning and passion, talking about real issues. Why do I bring this up? Well, "I, Too, Am America" by Langston Hughes was one of the poems I picked, and while I can't claim that I remembered every line and could anticipate what the next would be, I remembered the experience of reading it when I picked up this illustrated picture book version of the poem by Bryan Collier. I recently reviewed I Have a Dream, which is a similar concept: a speech or poem set to illustrations. In a lot of ways, it's more effective as a picture book than I Have a Dream, simply because it is a lot shorter (hey, maybe that was why I picked it as a poem to memorize....) You can find the text of this poem here.
I really like the illustrations here: they're very cohesive and the style is interesting, a mix of illustration and photo collaged together, but in a more subtle way than other books I've seen in this style. The illustrations focus on railway porters cuts to the boy on the cover of the book, peering through an almost invisible flag. Lots of great subtleties yet still some great powerful images. Great for Black History Month and Poetry Month.
Ages 5-7 2013 Coretta Scott King Illustrator award.(less)
I pretty much love everything that Kadir Nelson does. He's one of my favorite illustrators out there. I just love how emotional and powerful his art i...moreI pretty much love everything that Kadir Nelson does. He's one of my favorite illustrators out there. I just love how emotional and powerful his art is. The text of I Have a Dream is the speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous speech. There's even a CD that comes with it with a recording of the speech, and the full speech is printed on the back. Each line or phrase of the speech is accompanied by an image. For example, "my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" has a picture of children. It's still that same recognizable style, but the art isn't as moving as it is in some of his other books, the ones that you can tell Nelson's really poured himself into: Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans or We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, for instance. Still, it's a good Black History Month read.
Every review I've read of The Mighty Miss Malone describes it as an "angry book." Maybe it's because over the past few years I've been exposed to pove...moreEvery review I've read of The Mighty Miss Malone describes it as an "angry book." Maybe it's because over the past few years I've been exposed to poverty (and had plenty to be angry about), but I thought that there was a range of emotions present in the book--anger, sure, but also a great deal of sadness, some humor, and glimmers of hope.
Deza (pronounced Deh-zuh, not Dee-zuh) Malone is a twelve-year-old girl living in Gary, Indiana with her father, mother, and fifteen-year-old brother, Jimmie. Father hasn't been employed in months, since the only work for African-American men in town was working in a factory, which affected his breathing. Her mother works as a housekeeper for a rich white family in town, the Carsdales. They love each other very much ("My dearest darling daughter Deza," her father calls her each day), but they are extremely poor. There are some shocking moments that depict their poverty, like when Deza finds worms in the oatmeal and her parents pop it into their mouths anyway, because they're too poor to throw it out. Then there's the heartbreak in the scene where Deza overhears her father talking to her mother, saying, "Do you know what I automatically do every day when Deza runs up to give me a hug and a kiss? Did you know I find myself turning my face or breathing out of my mouth the minute I'm close to her?... I don't want to say it, but it's the truth. I've found I can't breathe out of my nose when I'm around Deza because of the smell of her teeth. How sick is that?" You see, Deza's teeth are rotting away, and the Malone's can't even afford a dentist to pull the teeth. Besides which, Jimmie's been stuck in the body of a twelve-year-old for the last three years, and it's undoubtedly improper nutrition, which they can't afford, which has caused his growth to stop prematurely. That's how things are at the beginning of the book, and they continue to get worse and worse until the Malones are left with almost nothing.
This is a follow-up to Newbery winner Bud, Not Buddy, and Bud appears in the story, although he isn't named, so you'd have to read the book to get it. I suppose it's darker in tone--Bud seemed to be a lot lighter to me, although it's been a while since I've read it. But I liked Deza Malone very much--she's a great character, with great spunk. No two ways about it, this is an unflinching portrayal of African-American poverty during the Great Depression. Nothing is sugarcoated. But like life, things are hard, miserable, and even tragic, but the fun moments keep us afloat.
These days, it seems like the only genres I read are YA dystopian novels and middle-grade historical fiction about African-American and white race rel...moreThese days, it seems like the only genres I read are YA dystopian novels and middle-grade historical fiction about African-American and white race relations. This falls into the latter category, but it's interesting because it doesn't take place in the 1960s or 50s, like a lot of books I've read, but in 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina. For those familiar with the race riots and civil rights marches of the 1950s and 60s, it would be easy to think that the Jim Crow laws sprung up immediately following Emancipation, but Crow depicts a black middle class, and even a few upper class blacks who lived in the white neighborhoods. For a community only two or three generations removed from slavery, the characters in Crow are more or less thriving. There are even democratically elected black aldermen and black police officers. But all that starts to change as there's a big push from white supremacists to remove blacks from positions of power, as well as whites who are sympathetic to equality.
Moses's father is a reporter for the Record, the only Negro (this term is used because it was the acceptable and respectable term used at that time) daily newspaper in the world. He is an educated man who attended Howard University, and teaches his son to only use proper grammar. This sometimes puts him at odds with his wife, an uneducated maid, and his mother-in-law, Moses's "Boo Nanny," who was a slave for the first thirty years of her life. When Alexander Manly, the editor of the Record, writes an editorial suggesting that African-American men were unfairly portrayed as violent brutes and pointing out the hypocrisy inherent in white slave masters raping their black slaves but the public seeing it as impossible for a white woman and black man to have a consensual sexual relationship, it's reprinted all over the South, and white men are calling for his head. Rumors fly that the African-American community have arms (when, in fact, it's illegal for them to purchase them) and that they are planning an attack on the white community. A self-proclaimed "Committee of Twenty-Five" puts pressure on the democratically elected officials who are in favor of equality to step down.
I kept hoping against hope that Crow would have a "happy ending," but, as you can imagine, especially if you know the history, that's not the case. It has a lot of mature content, including discussions of rape, lynching & murder, and lots of other forms of violence. I've seen it consistently cataloged in the children's section at libraries, but it might be more on the middle school/young teen side of things.
At first, I was kind of dragging through reading Crow, because it moves a bit slowly (also, that turn-of-the-century time period is not my favorite). But as the tension started to build, I was a lot more interested, and at the climax at the end, I was really... outraged and upset that something like this happened. It seems more of a book that I'll recommend to advanced readers, but I hope that many people read about it and learn of these historical events, and learn from them.
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom, as you might expect, is the story of slaves travelling on the Underground Railroad. The prose is extremely...moreUnderground: Finding the Light to Freedom, as you might expect, is the story of slaves travelling on the Underground Railroad. The prose is extremely short and to-the-point: "We wait." "We hide." "Some of us don't make it." But coupled with the images of huddled, tense slaves, it becomes very powerful. I like the artistic choice to make all of the images in shades of dark blue (since it all takes place at night). The really fascinating thing is that the slaves, people hiding them, and the people searching for them are more or less all the same shade. And the blue shade takes away the black/brown/white labels from the picture. I really liked Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom, and I think that the simple (yet powerful) text and images make it suitable for a really wide range of ages.
I was in high school when I first heard that Thomas Jefferson (most scholars agree) fathered several children in the course of a 20-year relationship...moreI was in high school when I first heard that Thomas Jefferson (most scholars agree) fathered several children in the course of a 20-year relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. I wasn't really shocked that a Founding Father had an affair, having the media coverage of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair fresh in my mind, but the idea that Thomas Jefferson had both black and white descendants was very intriguing to me. After reading Jefferson's Sons, a great historical fiction novel about the lives of Jefferson's children with Sally Hemings, as well as some of his other slaves, I learned that Jefferson's "black descendants" actually were seven-eighths white, and, having hid their parentage, three of the four living children passed into white society. The idea that the man who penned the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal..." owned slaves, and in fact owned his own children, is not an easy one to swallow. Nor is the question "Even if he gives his slaves 'treats,' they don't get beaten, and the slaves are taught to read, is there such thing as a 'good' slave owner?" or "Can a great man participate in evil?" These are heavy, thought-provoking questions, but my one quibble with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is that she asks them outright instead of letting the reader come to them on their own.
Even so, Jefferson's Sons is a far more subtle book than I'd initially thought. At first, I was annoyed that Sally Hemings' boys had such a reverential view of "Master Jefferson," the man who, I figured had more or less repeatedly raped their mother. In the book, the Hemings-Jefferson affair is treated as more of a consensual relationship, but as it goes on, you begin to see that Hemings might just be trying to preserve her sons' innocence. Bradley takes the meager facts that we know about the Hemings' boys (fact: Maddy couldn't pass for white, the others could; fact: Beverly left Monticello at 21 and returned a few months later) and weaves them into a believable story. That she also profiles several boys who are friends with the Hemings boys serves as an interesting contrast. Why do these boys, with the same experiences, living on the same estate, get to have vastly different lives? Why are two boys and a girl spared the indignity of trying to buy their own freedom? The ending of Jefferson's Sons is rather heartbreaking, but it's not too heavy for the intended audience.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans tells the story of African-Americans. From Africans coming to America on slave ships to the Civil War to Jim Crow to Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson touches on several major points in Black History but is by no means attempting to provide a comprehensive overview of it (which would be impossible to do in 100 pages, anyway). Nelson frames the story by using an unnamed narrator who sounds like an old woman, telling the story of her Pap (grandpa) who was kidnapped from Africa and taken to America on a slave ship in the early 1800s. She passes on the oral histories handed down to her, including stories of famous abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, African-American inventors like Booker T. Washington, and Rosa Parks. The "story" is told as a general history, with some personal storytelling about the fictional Pap, but with some "chile" and "honeys" thrown in there, achieving a homey feel of listening to some family stories. However, I did feel like the story got broken up a lot by the images, and it was a little frustrating how big sections are history are not mentioned. That said, I felt that Nelson achieved writing about a history full of violence, oppression and sadness and made it appropriate for children without really glossing over things or toning it down. A simple sentence like "You can't even imagine how awful slavery was" conveys so much.
Were it just the art alone, I'd give this book five stars, easily. These are some pretty powerful images, and Nelson knows his way around a paintbrush, that's for sure. This is a book that every school and library should have. When it comes to history books, they're definitely a tough sell with kids, but if you hand this to a 4th grader, they won't be able to tear their eyes from the fantastic images. And maybe they'll read the text, too!
When thirteen-year-old slave Isabel's master dies, she thinks that it finally means freedom for her and her five-year-old sister, Ruth. Their former m...moreWhen thirteen-year-old slave Isabel's master dies, she thinks that it finally means freedom for her and her five-year-old sister, Ruth. Their former master had stipulated that the girls were to be free upon her death in her will. Isabel dreams of no longer being owned, and being able to work and provide for her sister. But their master's brother doesn't honor the will, and sells them to a couple in 1776 New York City called the Locktons. Madam Lockton makes life hell for Isabel, and a young slave boy named Curzon tries to get Isabel to spy on the Locktons, who are Loyalists, for the Patriots. But Isabel's loyalties lie only with whoever can provide freedom for her and her sister, as the "freedom" the Patriots are seeking doesn't apply to slaves. Isabel starts to feel differently, though, when Madam Lockton sells Ruth, who is epileptic, and sends her away. Curzon and other Patriots are locked into the jail, given no food or blankets and left to freeze and starve to death, and Isabel realizes that she can no longer be chained.
It's hard to create a character who is so lacking in agency and power (Madam Lockton does some really atrocious things to Isabel in the book), yet so strong-willed. There's a great quote: "'Yes, ma'am,' I mumbled, my hands doing the work of a slave, my mind racing free." That's the juxtaposition inherent in the character development throughout the book. Isabel somehow manages to keep her strong spirit. There are some really clever devices where Isabel is able to turn some of the ways that Madam Lockton tries to enslave her into images of empowerment.
The topic of this book (slavery in the American Revolutionary period) isn't as well represented in historical fiction as it should be, but there have been a few books now on the topic. But it's alarming how few people know that the Founding Fathers, so passionate about freedom for our nation, owned slaves. And it's so baffling that slaves fought for the Patriots, since the British were anti-slavery. This is addressed in Chains. I was surprised, and forgot most of the time, that this book was written by Laurie Halse Anderson, since this is so far from the "problem novels" she's known for (anorexia, rape). Those are written well, of course, but just seem so different from historical fiction. But then, this is also about a teen girl who has been trampled on emotionally and physically, and who perseveres with strength and grace in her own way. Chains is an important book and should be taught in (middle) schools.