I first came across this ages ago and was happy to find it linked in the comments of the first article, because this is such a great reference. This line in particular jumped out at me: “In friendships between white and non-white children, is it the child of color who does most of the understanding and forgiving?” because that is a subtle indication of bias that I have overlooked in the past.
“Some children were happy at the orphanage. Living there was better than having no home at all.” p. 19
On Her Own: The Life of Betty Brinn, written by Priscilla Pardini, illustrated by Joanne Scholler Bowring.
Elizabeth A. Brinn Foundation, Elm Grove, WI, 2001.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
In Wisconsin, especially Milwaukee County, Betty Brinn is known for the excellent children’s museum bearing her name. However, not many people know her story, or how her own experiences as an institutionalized, and later a foster child drove her to philanthropy.
The first half of the book focuses on Betty’s birth family and her life in the orphanage. On page 21, she and her sister move to a foster home. Betty was in 17 different foster homes, so this book only focuses on the Stinson family, whom she lived with between ages 13-16. The final pages cover her adult life from struggles to success to her early death from cancer.
This book is ubiquitous at used bookstores near Milwaukee. At one I occasionally visit, there is always a copy on the children’s discount bookshelves, so I picked it up for a dollar. (The paperback retails for $4.50 new.)
I’m glad that I read this because I definitely learned a lot about Betty Brinn’s life and why she was driven to do what she did. However, I also am not sure who to recommend this for. The words and pictures don’t exactly connect to each other. Reading about the author and illustrator, it appears that Priscilla Pardini is an experienced author but had never written for children before, and that really shows in the writing.
There are at least two paragraphs of text in every two-page spread, sometimes more. One two page-spread has seven paragraphs! The text seems to be geared towards a fourth or fifth grade level while the pictures are aimed at a younger audience. The writing is factual but doesn’t really tell a story that engages kids.
Due to the density of the small print, this doesn’t make a good read-aloud. The kids who are drawn to the pictures typically aren’t ready to read such challenging text. And the kids who are able to read the text dismiss it as babyish.
There are some lovely details in the book. The front and back covers have maps of the orphanage and the Stinson’s farm. It certainly gives a comprehensive overview of Betty Brinn’s life. The writing is solid non-fiction. Unfortunately there is a fundamental disconnect between the disparate elements of the book.
If you have interest in Betty Brinn, orphanages, or foster care, then this book may be for you. But I cannot recommend it in general.
“Black soldiers servied in artillery and infantry, and black women, who could not formally join the army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies, and scouts.” ~p. 24
Black Soldiers in the Civil War by Rick Beard. (America’s National Parks Press Series)
America’s National Parks Press, Eastern National, Fort Washington, PA, 2016.
High school informative non-fiction, 24 pages.
This is a short little book, almost a pamphlet, giving an overview of black soldiers’ service in the Civil War from their eagerness to fight (met with a resistance to arm blacks) to the discrimination and marginalization of surviving veterans.
Before we get into the review, let me explain how I came across this book. Elementary school teachers will already be well aware of the wonders of Dollar Tree. These days I have the amazing luxury to afford brand new books, but once upon a time I got new books by saving some cash and going to the thrift store, or maybe a library sale. Dollar Tree was a revelation – I could buy brand new books for a dollar with no cigarette smell or disgusting surprises between the pages.
These days I occasionally do a quick run and grab less than $10 worth of books. Sure, half of them may be horrible and quickly given away or resold, but I’ve also discovered some real gems there.
The selection changes as it is mainly remaindered books, but there are a few constants – National Geographic always has some books, and there are always at least a few of these National Parks Service titles. They change but always have some patriotic theme – Washington, The Liberty Bell, etc. I like them because they are a nice cheap way to fill out a patriotic classroom collection. The short length and the contemporary portraits and photography make them resemble a picture book, but the reading level and content is aimed at more of a teen or adult audience.
For example, here is a sentence from this particular book:
“Within days of Douglass’ fiery speech, Secretary of War Simon Cameron tersely deflected an offer of “three hundred reliable colored citizens” to help defend Washington during the suspenseful first weeks of the war, when a Confederate assault on the nation’s capital city seemed imminent.” ~p. 5
The vocabulary and sentence complexity combined with the overall knowledge of the Civil War required bump this book’s level, but a talented or particularly motivated middle school student could read it. I will warn that the word “negro” does appear in context of primary source quotations, and death, injustice, and discrimination are present.
This is a great little book. The format makes it easy to digest, it uses a lot of primary source quotations, summarizes complex information quickly, and for the adult reader, gives a comprehensive overview in one sitting.
Best of all is the price. As of this writing, you can buy a used copy on Amazon for $9, or you can go to your local Dollar Tree and score one for $1. That’s cheap enough that you might be able to get a couple copies for small group work. I’ve used this series to study non-fiction text features with some success.
We got two copies of this book so N can follow along in her copy as I read it aloud to her. If you are able to get this from your local Dollar Tree, then it is well worth the dollar. I learned a lot from it.
“If I had to choose, I have no idea who I would pick between a biological brother I didn’t know and Felix, who I loved so much.” p. 171
Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah.
UK: The Chicken House. US reprint: Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade realistic fiction, illuminated book, 282 pages (including extras).
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 7.0 points)
Dara Palmer’s life is sooo dramatic. She was clearly born to be a star, you can tell by how much TV she watches! It’s life or death that she gets the part of Maria in her school’s production of The Sound of Music, so when she doesn’t, some family members feel that it’s her dark skin keeping her from a part in the musical, not her overacting.
This was entirely an impulse buy. When I opened the book and discovered that it was illuminated (text is complemented/completed by pictures drawn around the margins and in the white space of the book), I was surprised. Another surprise followed as I found out the book was set in Great Britain. This edition is slightly Americanized (5th grade instead of 6th year), but the characters are still very British.
Dara Palmer is a pretty unlikeable character. She literally states this at the end of the first chapter:
“This all happened a while ago now. Let me just say, I was a different person back then. I don’t know if you’re going to like the old me much when you hear what I was like, but I’ve changed. Stuff happened along the way – all kinds of stuff, actually. Nuns and noodles were just the beginning.” ~page 2
Dara is self-absorbed, overly dramatic, and yet somehow magnetic. She comes off as very unsympathetic, until we get to know her a little more. If it wasn’t for the caveat in the first chapter, I might not have made it past the second. And that would have been a shame.
Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell.
Running Press Teen, Running Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2014.
Teen realistic fiction, 252 pages.
Note: This is fiction although I am not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.
Cricket Montgomery was caught trying to smoke pot in the stables (we later find out it was actually oregano), so her usually lenient father has shipped her off to be a camp counselor. She knows nothing about the camp, so she faints when she finds out she’s going to be working with disabled teens and pre-teens. Her goal is to get out of camp as quickly as possible, but an attractive fellow counselor might change her mind.
For the last little bit I’ve been thinking about occasionally sharing websites that relate to the books or topics I’m writing about as well, so here is a new category: Website Wednesday. I won’t be doing this every week, just as I feel there is something I want to share or remember for later.
Having just reviewed Simone Biles’ new autobiography, I thought I would start off by sharing a few of my favorite sites/articles about her. There is a lot available, this is just the tip of the iceberg!
The New York Times has a great interactive journalistic piece, which, if it will load on your computer, does a nice job breaking down why exactly Simone Biles is the best gymnast in the world, with lots of videos and commentaries.
“Adam was the one who’d suggested Bannon’s Gymnastix for the field trip. It was just down the street from the day care, and he knew that his little sisters would enjoy it…” p. 44
Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles, with Michelle Burford.
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016.
Young adult biography/autobiography, 250 pages.
Not yet leveled.
This is the story of Simone Biles, a gymnast who came to national and international attention as the first female gymnast ever to win three consecutive all-around titles, and then again as she took the Olympics by storm in Rio this year.
This book is co-authored by Michelle Burford, a founding editor of O magazine who has assisted several public figures with their biographies, including Gabby Douglas.
“They don’t understand how hard it is for me to follow directions when the electric pencil sharpener is going, or the door keeps slamming, or I’m worrying about whether someone is about to sneak up behind me and do something mean.” p. 54
Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.
Scholastic, New York, 2016.
Realistic chapter book fiction, 216 pages + extras.
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 5.0 points)
Ravi (pronounced Rah-VEE) is new to America, but confident that he will be the smartest and most popular kid in 5th grade, just like he was back home.
Joe’s no stranger to Albert Einstein Elementary, but he’s facing some new challenges this year. He’s always had Auditory Processing Disorder, but this year his best friends have moved away, and his mother’s taken a job at school, ruining his favorite subject: lunch.
This novel takes place over their first week of fifth grade, broken up into five days and alternating viewpoints between the two narrators. The chapters tend to be short, and between the two narrators they cover a lot of ground.
I had heard a lot of buzz about this book, so I was really excited to read it. It’s a good fit for this blog also as both of the main characters are from traditionally marginalized groups.
The book opens with Ravi’s perspective. He comes off as a little bit arrogant but the reader is still able to sympathize with him. He is the only Indian in the class, at least by his grandmother’s standards. Most of the kids are white, but there is a boy named Dillon who is American-born but from an ethnically Indian family. Clearly, Ravi thinks, they will be best friends.
This book has an intriguing premise. There are two stories – on the top of each page, outlined in red, is what my copy calls life in “a small African village” and on the bottom of each page, outlined in blue, is what my copy calls life in “a modern suburban setting.” The two stories are very, very different, but they are united by the central text, which in simple words states what is happening in the lives of both boys, for example “Today was the last day of school before vacation.” or “I helped my mom and dad.” In my copy, the text is only in English, although some other reviews have indicated that other editions might have had other text as well at one point, and there is white space where such text could occur.
Normally I don’t seek out reviews for books I’m planning to review, but this book was an exception. I needed to see what others were saying in order to make sense of my own reaction to the book, and I was confused that the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. There were very few negative reviews even though the book has several crippling flaws.
A multicultural cast for the very youngest of chapter book readers.
Pedro: First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon.
Picture Window Books, Capstone, 2016.
Early chapter book fiction, 90 pages + 5 pages of bonus material. Lexile: Pedro Goes Buggy – 310L
Pedro’s Big Goal – 250L
Pedro’s Mystery Club – 330L
Pedro for President – 320L AR Level: Pedro Goes Buggy – 1.9
Pedro’s Big Goal – 1.9
Pedro’s Mystery Club – 2.3
Pedro for President – 2.2
All worth 0.5 points each.
NOTE: This early chapter book is a compilation of the first four Pedro books.
Pedro is a hard worker who loves to have fun too. He plays soccer, solves mysteries, collects bugs, and even runs for class president, all with his best friends Katie and JoJo.
I got this book at Target because after reading this article, I changed my buying habits there. My local store recently cut way back on books, so I like to encourage them by buying something every month or two. Ever since reading that article, I make a point of buying practically ANY diverse books that turn up at Target, doing my little bit to tell them that diversity matters to their customers. I’ve gotten an interesting variety of books.