The Rock and the River was written by Kekla Magoon and published in 2009. This title won the CSK award in 2010. I chose to read this book because it c...moreThe Rock and the River was written by Kekla Magoon and published in 2009. This title won the CSK award in 2010. I chose to read this book because it came highly recommended by my 8th grade daughter. This story is set in Chicago, 1968, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Sam Childs is thirteen and the son of Roland childs, a well-known civil rights activist. Sam and his older brother, Stick, go along to the peaceful demonstrations and watch their father and the great Martin Luther King, Jr. speak about civil rights. Everything changes when one day, after a speech, the crowd becomes unruly and Stick and Sam are caught in the middle of a fight. Having always been taught to fight with words and not with fists, the boys feel about how they want to act. Sam watches as his brother joins the Black Panther Party and moves away from the peaceful ways of their father. The story focuses on Sam as he contemplates the way in which he will fight for civil rights: the way his father always has or the way of the Black Panther Party.
I became very involved in this book and found that I couldn't put it down. Magoon presents a story that is so layered and thoroughly develops each character. Although it is told from Sam's point of view, the reader clearly can feel the emotion the other characters feel at different points of the story. I was stunned by the violence witnessed by Sam and his friend, both 13 years old, throughout the book. It was difficult for me to accept at times while reading, and I know that my kids of the same age would not fair as well as Sam did throughout the book. I was most compelled by the title of the book as I read. I wanted to understand it, as it initially doesn't seem to connect to the plot line. When I encountered the quote the first time in the book, it still wasn't clear, but by the end the title (and the quote) caused me to pause and reflect on decisions in my own life. "As the river flows it wonders what it would be like to be so still, to take a breath, to rest. But the rock will always wonder what lies around the bend in the stream."
I think this book definitely is a middle school and older book. The subject matter allows this to relate to any History or Social Studies curriculum about the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Panther Party. I feel it paints a fairly accurate picture of the 1960s feel in a city setting where African-Americans were treated differently purely because of the color of their skin. I also think that this is a good book to use in a Language Arts class to look at the language used, the imagery described, and to really focus on the title and what that means to the characters in the book, as well as to the individual readers. (less)
The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood is a beautifully told story of a young girl who wants a new red coat for Christmas. Virginia lives...moreThe Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood is a beautifully told story of a young girl who wants a new red coat for Christmas. Virginia lives on the Sioux Reservation in South Dakota with her family. Her father is an Episcopal priest on the reservation. Every year boxes of donated clothing are sent to the reservation for the families and children there. Because Virginia's father is the priest, his children are taught to let all others go first before them. This particular year, Virginia needs a new winter coat and her younger brother wants some cowboy boots. When the boxes of donated clothing come, Virginia spots the perfect coat which is edged in fur. Virginia is forced to sit by and watch as a snotty girl from school, who is not her friend, selects the fur coat. Virginia is left to take a plain, unattractive coat which is leftover. Later, when the fur coat is found to be unsuitable to the harsh winter weather in South Dakota, Virginia has to give up her plain coat, as well. On Christmas Eve, two special boxes are brought out which were sent especially for the priest's children. When Virginia and her brother open the boxes they find a beautiful red coat for Virginia, and a pair of cowboy boots for her brother. What a wonderful Christmas!
This is a beautifully illustrated picture book which is an easy, straight forward read. The author provides the reader a strong picture of the importance of family and duty. (less)
I recommend you read "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore, a 2009 Morris Award finalist. "Graceling" has a strong female protagonist in Katsa, who was born...moreI recommend you read "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore, a 2009 Morris Award finalist. "Graceling" has a strong female protagonist in Katsa, who was born with an extreme skill called a "grace". Graces are rare and very powerful. Katsa has the grace of killing and is forced to work for her uncle, the King, has an enforcer and killer. Katsa becomes weary of her grace and the way the King forces her to use it and decides to rebel against the King. Katsa meets another graceling, Po, with whom the adventure begins as they solve the mystery of the kingdom, find romance, and Katsa discovers who she really is. This book is for older readers, 8th grade and up, but also a fun read for adult fans of fantasy. (less)
I chose Coolies written by Yin and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. This title was published by Philomel Books in 2001. Coolies is the story of two bro...moreI chose Coolies written by Yin and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. This title was published by Philomel Books in 2001. Coolies is the story of two brothers who leave China in the mid-1800s to find work in America. The work they are to do is as laborers, working for the Central Pacific Railroad Company to build railroad tracks heading East to connect with the tracks which were being built heading West. The two brothers were very young, but their family was poor and needed the money they would earn from working. The Chinese crew worked very long days, were ridiculed by the bosses, and were underpaid for their work. The brothers stayed strong in both extreme heat and cold conditions. This story represents an authentic look at what Chinese immigrants endured when they came to America as laborers.
On the first pages of the book, a grandmother and grandson are taking part in a traditional meal when the grandson asks "why are we bowing to a bowl of oranges?" Grandmother responds that this is the way they show respect and honor their ancestors. She then goes on to tell the story of the two brothers. The contrast in the clothing of the modern day grandmother and grandson to the brothers in 1850s China was the first thing I noticed. Yin does an excellent job representing to distinct time differences by the objects and clothing in the pictures. The parallel of the honor and respect which the grandmother speaks of is demonstrated in the two brothers who are leaving their home to provide for their family. All the while they are in America, Shek, the older brother, reminds Little Wong that they are working for their family. I think that honor is a strong cultural aspect of this book.
The Chinese workers all had long braids which they wore down their backs and wore pajama-like clothing. They were all depicted as being smaller than the other workers, and thin. For these reasons the workers were given the name "coolies", meaning lowly workers. However, it was uplifting to read about the speed of the work they did, and how dedicated they were to the work. I think these sections of the book represent a strength in Chinese people which may be overlooked.
A section of the book which would allow for great discussion is the exclusion of the Chinese workers at the celebration when the two railroad tracks met each other in Utah. Here, discrimination is blatant, and the pride the Chinese continue to hold is powerful.
I would recommend this book for about 3rd grade and up. Although the writing is simple enough for younger students to understand, the impact of the story would be missed on younger students. Older students could definitely use this book for discussions on immigrants, discrimination, or Chinese culture. I think that the themes are present in the book, but are better if supported by discussion and exploration through other similarly themed books and research. (less)
The 2003 Newbery Honor Book, Pictures of Hollis Woods, is a story about a 12 year old girl who is in desperate search for a place to call home - for a...moreThe 2003 Newbery Honor Book, Pictures of Hollis Woods, is a story about a 12 year old girl who is in desperate search for a place to call home - for a family. Hollis Woods was abandoned as a child and spent the rest of her life in the foster care system. Hollis moved from family to family, never staying at one spot for too long. The families found Hollis difficult, moody, troublesome, and in the end Hollis always ran away from the family. Hollis is placed with Josie, an older woman who is a retired art teacher, which works out perfectly for Hollis, as she is a very gifted artist herself. After a brief adjustment period, Hollis begins to feel that she loves Josie and would like to stay with her. However, Josie forgets things sometimes and needs to depend on Hollis for daily activities. Hollis knows that Josie needs constant care and that if the social worker finds out about Josie’s needs, Hollis will be removed from the home. Throughout the book we are invited into Hollis’ pictures of a mother, father, brother and daughter. The reader learns about the relationship Hollis had with this family, about her stay with them, and about the tragedy which caused her to run away. In the end, Hollis does what she needs to do to preserve the family she has with Josie in the summer home of the family she dearly misses. The format of Pictures of Hollis Woods takes a little getting used to, as it is almost as if it is two stories being told as one. The first story is a literal interpretation of a sketch book filled with pictures which Hollis Woods has drawn with colored pencils. These pictures reflect Hollis’ dream of having a family to call her own, as well as what a family looks like to Hollis. Throughout the pictures, we flashback to learn about the Regan family Hollis left behind: her mother Izzy, father “old man”, and her mischievous but perfect brother, Steven. Hollis had become an integral part of the Regan family and they loved her as much as she loved them. The Regans were about to adopt Hollis when she decided to leave following an accident for which she felt responsible. Hollis preserves her memories of the Regan family through her sketches, which reflect emotion, heart, and particulars of the time she was with them. Giff superbly demonstrates the emotions Hollis feels throughout her pictures, and readers will understand Hollis’ fears, regrets, and desires for a family. The reader is given each of these pictures, one at a time, coupled with the chapters of the book which tell the second story. The second story is the story of Hollis and her time with Josie, how she came to be with her, their brief time together, and the bond which they developed. Hollis feels as though the placement with Josie is a “last ditch effort” for the social worker, and a final chance for her to make a family. The “tough” Hollis, who is shown to other characters in the book, is shown in a different light with Josie. Hollis is gentle, caring, and responsible for Josie when needed and, rather than being shown as a runaway who is difficult to manage, we learn that this is exactly what Hollis has been looking for. As the two stories of this book twine together, the reader roots for Hollis to finally get what she has always wanted, to get a reality which reflects the pictures in her sketchbook. The reader sees a child who is not jaded by the foster care system, but holds on to hope that what she seeks is out there, and she will find it. This book won the Newbery Honor Award in 2003 and it fulfills the criteria which mark it as a “distinguished contribution to American literature”. This book is definitely a book for children, especially those in grades 4-7. The author, Giff, clearly addresses the focus of children through her theme, plot, and character development, as well as the style of the writing. Hollis Woods is a strong, creative girl who follows her dreams despite her circumstances. Giff creates a main character who uses defense mechanisms to protect herself from being hurt or disappointed. Hollis is shown to be difficult, tough, and one who speaks with a sharp tongue, but then, the reader sees into Hollis’ head and hears her fears, desires, and wants, and the reader sees Hollis’ pictures to round out the complexity of this character. Hollis Woods is a character who the reader cheers for, and who we want to see placed in a loving home and with the family she has always longed for. The theme of Hollis Woods is family, forgiveness and belonging, themes to which every child can relate. Although Hollis is a foster child, she is not depicted as pathetic or worthless, rather being a foster child is what give Hollis her attitude, drive, and desires. Hollis longs for the one thing that readers may take for granted. I especially like that the family Hollis longs for – the Regans – are not a “perfect” family. Hollis remembers times when “old man” and Steven argue and disagree, times when Steven disobeys what his parents tell him to do, and times when Steven and “old man” seem to not like each other at all. At the time, Hollis believes these to be her fault, because she has been brought into the family dynamic. In time, however, Hollis learns that this is a family. Hollis looks back to her sketches of the perfect family – her dream – and sees a scowl on Stevens face, or a smile on “old man’s” face, just as she had drawn them. I think this provides an excellent example for children to see families are perfect – warts and all. Hollis also receives a huge lesson in forgiveness, both of herself and by the Regan family. Again, I think forgiveness is a hard lesson for children, but Giff demonstrates is beautifully in Hollis Woods. The setting of Hollis Woods is not so vital to the story, except for the location of the remote Regan summer home where Hollis takes Josie to escape the social worker. This home needed to be remote and woodsy, as well as the site of the accident which caused Hollis to leave the Regan’s before. Hollis needs to come full circle with the events in order to forgive herself and find her happy ending. Giff beautifully places Hollis back where she had the both feelings of belonging to a family and of great despair as she caused an accident that hurt that family. By returning to that place with Josie, Hollis has to face what happened, what she needs to do next with Josie, and open her heart to forgiveness. I didn’t read the Newbery winning title for 2003, Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi, but Hollis Woods was the first runner up, and I think it was an excellent book. I think that children will enjoy reading this fast paced, moving story. It is reminiscent of The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, Newbery Honor winner in 1979 – another great story about finding love and family. Patricia Reilly Giff has written a story which takes the reader along for an emotional ride with fear, anger, belonging, family, suspense, and love. The characters are strong and relatable, but real and without any elements of fantasy. An excellent read! (less)