Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I don't like baseball, and while I vaguely know about the racial injustices in American baseball I had never actually read a book about the Negro Leagues before I read We Are the Ship. From the first words on the page I was drawn into the story—not because of the baseball but because of the history and human drama. The author writes as if he was one of the many players in the Negro Leagues, and this narrative voice drew me in. I could see the crowded buses, the restaurants and hotels that turned away black players, and the clowning moves of some of the early players. The artwork in this book is stunning and took the author/illustrator eight years to complete. This book is written at a perfect level for middle school students, but I'm afraid that they won't pick it up because at first glance it looks like a picture book for younger readers. If this book made me want to keep reading, anyone who actually likes baseball will be absolutely riveted. It should be read by anyone of any age who wants to learn about the history of the Negro Leagues. Teachers, this book would make a fantastic read aloud, either the whole thing or any one of the nine chapters (Nelson calls them "innings"). I was happy to see that this book won both the Coretta Scott King Award and the Sibert Award for children's nonfiction. It deserves it!
First of all I should say I liked this book a lot. I cared about the characters and wanted to see them through to the end. The main character, named Maybe (short for Maybelline), is on the run to California looking for her biological father and trying to get away from her beauty-pageant-crazed mother. She's with two good friends—Ted, a flamboyant character and true friend who gets himself a job as the personal assistant to a former Hollywood starlet, and Hollywood, an aspiring film student and secret admirer of Maybe. I loved these three teens' friendship and how they all had a distinct path they were on in finding who they are. I also liked the way the story came together with Hollywood's award-winning documentary film. I don't think this book is too mature for middle school, but it is definitely a notch up from Lisa Yee's other books. The scene where Maybe's future stepfather tries to rape her was surprising and a little jarring for me, but it served as the catalyst to send her on her journey to California. While not a comedy, the book is infused with humor throughout and not a heavy problem novel like many YA books. It is populated with memorable secondary characters that stay vividly in your mind. I would recommend this for teens from 7th grade up through high school.
Most people know that Abraham Lincoln was shot by a man named John Wilkes Booth, but you might not know that after the shooting it took the nation's best police officers and detectives twelve days to finally track down the killer. This book does a great job of detailing the events of those fascinating days—including the day of the assassination and the steps Booth took to prepare for killing the president. Booth had a group of co-conspirators, none of whom were particularly smart or all that helpful to him. Only one was with him on his 12-day spree. He got pretty lucky in escaping into Maryland and then found a series of sympathetic people to help with his wounded leg, feeding him and his one companion, and getting them on a boat to Virginia. I found the play-by-play action to be fascinating and I think a reader interested in crime, action, or Abraham Lincoln will race through this book.
Friday, January 23, 2009
This book is both fascinating and frustrating. It tells the stories of many women who, disguised as men, fought in the American Civil War. This was not an isolated thing—we know for sure that hundreds of women did this for various reasons. Some for adventure, others to follow husbands or brothers, and others to escape from poverty. The stories that we do know about these women are fascinating. The frustrating part is that we will never know the details of most of these women's lives. There are many tidbits in this book (such as women giving birth as prisoners of war) that are so intriguing, yet we never can know the details of their dramatic lives (How did they hide it? What happened after they gave birth? What did their families back home think of them?). Silvey has researched these women for years and what is known is well-told in this book. It's particularly fascinating to look at the photos of some of these women, both in uniform and in traditional dress.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer by Sally Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander
This biography of Laura Bridgman was fascinating. Years before Helen Keller became famous for her accomplishments, Laura went blind and deaf at the age of two. At that time no one had ever taught someone to read and communicate who had both of these disabilities. Laura was lonely and hard to deal with until she was sent away to a blind school to learn from Dr. Howe. She learned finger spelling quickly and from there the world was opened up to her. According to this book she was one of the most famous people in the U.S. in the early 1800s. She showed the world that all people, no matter what their challenges, should be given the opportunity to learn and live a meaningful life. The techniques Dr. Howe developed with Laura went on to be used with Helen Keller and many others after her. One of the book's authors is herself blind and deaf and in the final chapter she explains how life is different for people today with these disabilities. This book flowed well, was easy to understand, and could be appreciated by readers in 5th grade on up through adults. Recommended for people who like to read about people overcoming big challenges.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Finally a book that I could not put down! I have not been very excited about very books published in 2008, but this one was fantastic. It's set during 1776 when patriots and loyalists were fighting it out over liberty. But we forget that many people in the colonies were slaves and neither side was talking about truly giving freedom to all people. Isobel and her sister Ruth are supposed to gain their freedom when their mistress dies but instead they are sold to a New York couple loyal to the King of England. They are transported to New York City, forced to work extremely hard, and treated poorly by their new owners. This is Isobel's story as she struggles to find a way out of slavery while all around her soldiers are preparing for war and her only friend is imprisoned and near death. When her sister, Ruth, is taken from her she loses hope but later regains it. Isobel is a determined, believable character and her situation is both heartbreaking and hopeful. The horrors of slavery are not glossed over, and there's lots of history here, so I think it will be most appreciated by readers seventh grade and up through adults. Social studies teachers should definitely read this one.
Friday, January 09, 2009
I am a big fan of James M. Deem's books, especially Bodies from the Ash about Pompeii, so I was excited to read this one. It covers all kinds of frozen bodies, from the famous European Ice Man to the child sacrifices of the Andes Mountains to George Mallory, who died scaling Mt. Everest. The book has beautiful photography throughout which makes it fun to browse through. There are several children's books about frozen mummies, but what sets this apart is the focus on melting glaciers and climate change. There's lots of science here, so I recommend it to teachers as well as to students.
Roni is a high school reporter who gets involved in a missing person case. Her classmate, Alicia Camden, is beaten one day and disappears a few days later. The police are on the case, but it's Roni and her sidekick Brian who take big risks and do some crazy things to solve the mystery. Brian and Roni aren't really friends, but they are both smart and determined and they need each other to really figure things out. I enjoyed the humorous relationship between them and the clues and strategies they use to solve the mystery. I definitely recommend it to middle schoolers who like mysteries. And if you like it, read Doppelganger and Skullduggery, the two sequels.