When I read this to a group of 2nd graders I almost stopped in the middle because a couple of them looked like they were going to cry. But we got thro...moreWhen I read this to a group of 2nd graders I almost stopped in the middle because a couple of them looked like they were going to cry. But we got through it. (less)
This book is probably being taught in college lit courses, right? It's the kind of book that's kind of hard for me to read on my own because it's got...moreThis book is probably being taught in college lit courses, right? It's the kind of book that's kind of hard for me to read on my own because it's got so much in it worth talking about. Jeff was like, Then join a book club. But I don't want to talk to just anybody about it. I want Roberta Davidson and Andrew Osborn. John Desmond and Meredith Goldsmith. Give me DPQ even!
I guess what I'll do is go look up articles about it in the lit rags. Maybe I'll even print the articles out and write my opinions in the margins. Sigh. (less)
I have a lot to say about this book that I'm not going to finish. In no particular order:
1. I thought about creating an "urban" tag for this book beca...moreI have a lot to say about this book that I'm not going to finish. In no particular order:
1. I thought about creating an "urban" tag for this book because that's what these kinds of books get called, but I decided against it because I don't like "urban" as a euphemism for "black". I may create an "african-american" tag.
2. I wanted to read something by EJD because he's so popular.
3. I picked Chasing Destiny because MY name is Destinee.
4. I did not enjoy reading this book. The sex scenes were pretty good, but they didn't make up for everything else.
5. Why didn't I like this book? There are a few reasons. As a nerdy white person from Seattle I had trouble hearing the voices of the characters in my head. Also, it felt like EJD didn't edit anything from real life. It's a novel! Skip the boring parts of conversations!
6. I may give another EJD book a try. Any recommendations?
I know a lot of people who love this book, but it didn't do much for me. Maybe it was too precious? I used it when I was tutoring (we called it SLOB i...moreI know a lot of people who love this book, but it didn't do much for me. Maybe it was too precious? I used it when I was tutoring (we called it SLOB in our discussions) and the teenage girls always enjoyed it. There were opportunities in it to research the Civil Rights Movement and the Wailing Wall, so it was interesting. But I didn't love it. (less)
I don't have a single complaint about this book. It was well-written, enjoyable, and I learned a little something about being 13 years old in small-to...moreI don't have a single complaint about this book. It was well-written, enjoyable, and I learned a little something about being 13 years old in small-town Alabama in 1918. I'd be happy if it got a Newbery nod.
The story's told by Dit, one of ten children, who is just your average kid until he befriends the daughter of the town's new postmaster: a super smart girl named Emma, who is black. Because it's 1918 and rural Alabama, their friendship is uncomfortable for many townspeople, both black and white. But it evolves naturally. Emma helps Dit with school. Dit teaches Emma, a city girl, how to play baseball. There's not a whole lot of plot until a fight between the awful white sheriff and a kind black barber results in a crime that rocks the small town--and Dit and Emma get involved in setting things right.
Because the chapters were short and filled with great details, I didn't mind at all that it took the story some time to get going. First-time author Levine was so great at setting the scene that the climax was ultimately pretty believable (which is rare in these kinds of books). Dit's moral development, and his understanding of race relations and history, never felt preachy or didactic.
This is one of those books that will be equally enjoyable for girls and boys, I think. While it is indeed about racism (the n-word is used quite a bit), it's also about friendship between a boy and a girl, and how bonding with a person who's different from you can change your life. In that way, it reminded me of Bridge to Terabithia, which is a pretty high compliment in my book. (less)
More of a teaching tool than a great novel, I think. It had plenty of the ingredients for an outstanding read, but didn't come together for me.
If you...moreMore of a teaching tool than a great novel, I think. It had plenty of the ingredients for an outstanding read, but didn't come together for me.
If you want to learn about the Civil Rights Movement in 1968 from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy whose father is a peaceful leader alongside MLK, and whose older brother is joining the Black Panther Party, this book succeeds. But if you're looking to read a really great story, not so much. I learned a lot from reading it, but I can't say I enjoyed it very much.
The language of book is elegant and thoughtful (though, in my copy, chapter 12 started with a typo: a big W instead of a T, turning "the" into "whe"). But the plot relentlessly hits you with terrible injustice after terrible injustice. The main character, Sam, is constantly hurt, confused, angry, scared--so much so, it's hard to connect with him. He never knows what to think or what to do. Some people may not be bothered by that because it's realistic. But I like my main characters to have a stronger perspective, so they don't just get blown around like a leaf in the wind through the entire book.
The other main characters in this book (Sam's father Roland, his brother Stick, Sam's girlfriend Maxie, his friend Bucky, his mother, and Stick's Black Panther friends) are all good and well-intentioned people caught in a seemingly hopeless battle for equality. The story's villains (racist white people, usually cops) are all exceedingly evil and one-dimensional. It's easy to hate the bad guys, but hard to choose which good guys you want to follow. The non-violent MLKers who organize demonstrations or the gun-carrying Panthers who provide breakfast and free clinics for black communities? I wasn't drawn into this MLK vs. Panther conflict because they both seemed like good options. It would be interesting fodder for debate among students, though.
There's a lot of violence in this book, almost all of it senseless and horrifying. So this is definitely something to recommend to mature readers, probably 7th grade and up. (less)
This is an emotionally resonant book about a boy who loses his father. The reader doesn't know how the boy loses his father. Maybe he died, maybe he w...moreThis is an emotionally resonant book about a boy who loses his father. The reader doesn't know how the boy loses his father. Maybe he died, maybe he went to prison (as the author's father did), or maybe he was forced to leave his family for some other reason. He says, "I'm sorry I will not be coming home," so we can assume it's not a deployment or temporary disruption. But he does write his son a letter encouraging him to be good and be himself, despite the absence of the father. A truly bittersweet story about the love of a parent who's not there. (less)
I really liked the writing and the feel of this book. It's rare for children's fiction to talk about the Black Panthers, and Williams-Garcia does a gr...moreI really liked the writing and the feel of this book. It's rare for children's fiction to talk about the Black Panthers, and Williams-Garcia does a great job presenting them from a child's perspective, focusing primarily on the community activism and welfare provided by the Panthers as well as the unfair persecution they faced. Many of the characters (especially the youngest sister, Fern) really lived on the page. And I appreciated the complicated look at what it was to be a young black girl in 1968--feeling girl power, black power, but ever-conscious of making a "grand Negro spectacle" in front of whites.
Still, it didn't wow me. There wasn't much in the plot to keep the reader engaged. Three young sisters (11-year-old Delphine, 9-year-old Vonetta, and 7-year-old Fern)from Brooklyn fly to Oakland to spend a month with their mother, a woman they hardly know. The mother is cold to them and sends them out every day to the Black Panther summer camp for kids. Over the course of their month in California, the girls learn a little about the Black Panthers and kinda sorta get to know their mother. At the very end there's some great stuff, but it lags in the middle. Overall, a sophisticated mix of serious and sweet, but ultimately anticlimactic. It needed to be either shorter or longer to be a Great Book.
One last thing: I know I can't be the only reader to wonder what's up with the father and grandmother sending the girls (all under age 12!) to live with a woman who doesn't want them and then NEVER calling to check in on them. True, the mother didn't have a phone. And true, those were different times. But still. (less)
This is a well-written, uplifting story. A third-grade girl and her mom have a house built for them by their church and community. The girl, Sharonda,...moreThis is a well-written, uplifting story. A third-grade girl and her mom have a house built for them by their church and community. The girl, Sharonda, tells the story from her perspective with enthusiasm. I like this book, but I don't love it because it has no context. Young readers will want to know why Sharonda and her mom didn't have their own house in the first place, or why people are building a house for them, but this story doesn't go there. It's primarily about the excitement of watching the house get built by their kind, generous community.
At the end, we get a note from the author indicating that this story came from a Women's Build project, which is cool, but I kind of wanted more. The illustrations are realistic and arty, sort of Pinkney-esque. (less)
Two stars for the generic text, but four for the beautiful illustrations of a wholesome, happy family. The prayer here is a series of promises to the...moreTwo stars for the generic text, but four for the beautiful illustrations of a wholesome, happy family. The prayer here is a series of promises to the baby that he will be loved, blessed, and cared for. There's one sentence on each page, but (despite the illustrations showing the child growing up) don't expect the text to flow together into a story. In fact, at least one textual transition is downright awkward: "You will be showered with many blessings along the way," is followed by, "It can and will come true." What is the "it" that will come true? I have no idea. (less)
Sure, this is a pretty standard story of an elementary-aged girl with anxiety about becoming a big sister for the first time. But we're talking super...moreSure, this is a pretty standard story of an elementary-aged girl with anxiety about becoming a big sister for the first time. But we're talking super author Jacqueline Woodson here, so you know it will be better than average. The dialogue is snappy, including Gia's refrain: "That ding-dang baby!" And the family and children depicted are diverse. Gia and her mother are African American, and Gia has both white and black aunts and uncles. In the Thanksgiving scene we see cousins of different colors, so that's cool. There's also a somewhat non-traditional family situation: we never see or hear of Gia's (or the baby's) father.
Gia's concerns about her new sibling are allayed when her mother reveals that she'll miss their life before the baby, too. Gia just needs to be reminded that she's still special and that the bond she has with her mother will continue and expand to include the baby.
Sophie Blackall's illustrations are a great combination of hip and attractive while still being warm and familiar. (less)
This is a book about a school assignment. Sounds boring, right? Well, I think it managed to be as interesting as a book about a school assignment can...moreThis is a book about a school assignment. Sounds boring, right? Well, I think it managed to be as interesting as a book about a school assignment can be. See, there are these 8th graders: Zander, Kambui, Bobbi and LaShonda, collectively known as "The Cruisers" after an alternative school newspaper they produce. The Cruisers, all of them smart but unmotivated when it comes to school, are assigned to play the role of peacekeepers in a kind of mock Civil War going on at their school. The kids playing the part of the Confederacy take things too far, to the point where they offend people, especially the African-American students. Zander (who narrates the book) is one of the few black students at the school and the lead peacekeeper, so it ends up falling to him to put the Confederacy students in their place.
Zander has a unique way of putting things when he's trying to argue his point. For example, he won't get into a fight if he can't see the "win" in it. He keeps his cool as tempers flare over accusations of racism and arguments about free speech, so we get a pretty thoughtful, if slightly detached, discussion of slavery, history, and middle school culture. I wondered as I read if the Confederacy students really were purposely offensive, or if they were just callous or naive, but that's not really the point of the book. The point is how to deal with complex, senstive issues once they've been raised.
The book includes editorial pieces from The Cruiser as well as the official school paper. As I said, it's almost entirely focused on the Civil War assignment, but we do get to learn a little about the Cruisers' home lives. The parts with Zander and his actress mother were nice breaks from the school drama. I've heard there will be three other books to follow, probably one from the perspective of each Cruiser. Will they give up their lackadaisical attitude towards school by the end of the series? Maybe that's not the point...(less)
I really got into this story, probably because I didn't know very much about the experience of being in the Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina. I was...moreI really got into this story, probably because I didn't know very much about the experience of being in the Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina. I was fascinated by the timeline--the area flooded slowly in the days after the hurricane hit, and then people were stranded for days with no rescue. My colleagues have criticized the ending for being too vague because the story doesn't come to a satisfying conclusion (we're left wondering what is going to happen to Lanesha). But I thought it was still a very powerful little book that kept me totally enthralled. Beautifully written, with wonderful characters and a bit of a history lesson. (less)
The one crazy summer of 1968 has ended. Delphine is back in Brooklyn and entering sixth grade. Her pa has a lady friend, Miss Marva Hendricks. Along w...moreThe one crazy summer of 1968 has ended. Delphine is back in Brooklyn and entering sixth grade. Her pa has a lady friend, Miss Marva Hendricks. Along with her sisters Vonetta and Fern, Delphine has fallen in love with the Jackson 5. Their Uncle D returns from Vietnam a changed man. Big Ma is as disapproving as ever.
So this is a slice of life, episodic book. As with One Crazy Summer, I wasn't crazy about the lack of plot. However, this book had more energy than its predecessor, and I was able to get through it without chronic "Where's this going?" fatigue. (I think I used to have more patience for everyday life books without much plot, but reading so much YA lit has ruined me.)
Things I'll remember about this book:
-Delphine coming to grips with Merriam Webster not being a lady. -Will I remember Fern's favorite word? Surely will. -What does it mean to be eleven years old? Is Delphine too responsible for her age? Is she trying to grow up too fast? (less)
Though no one would call their lives similar, this book immediately reminded me of how I felt after reading Chuck Close Face Book. I was struck by the...moreThough no one would call their lives similar, this book immediately reminded me of how I felt after reading Chuck Close Face Book. I was struck by the fact that both artists overcame serious physical disabilities in order to paint. Chuck Close was already an established artist when he had a seizure and was confined to a wheelchair. But after "the event" (as he calls it) he made up new ways to paint that are arguably better and more innovative than before. It's similarly amazing that Horace Pippin created his best work after he was shot in the arm and lost the use of it. He still painted with his right hand, but guided it with his left. They say artists must struggle--that struggle creates fodder for art. And Pippin's life is a testament to that.
This book stands as a shining example of how a picture book illustrator can lovingly pay tribute to an artist. This is both kid-friendly and masterly work. I had a bit of a quibble with another picture book about a famous artist, Georgia in Hawaii because, though it was beautiful, it never really showed O'Keefe's work. A Splash of Red doesn't have that problem. There are lots of little examples of Pippin's work throughout. (less)