Gloria Rising by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Lis Toft.
Stepping Stones, Random House Children’s Books, 2002.
Realistic fiction, 98 pages.
Lexile: 640L .
AR Level: 3.9 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: Technically part of the Julian/Huey/Gloria series, but works as a stand-alone.
Before the start of fourth grade, Gloria has an unexpected encounter with a celebrity astronaut who looks like her and answers all her questions about space! But at school, her teacher doesn’t believe she met Dr. Street, and worse, thinks she’s a troublemaker.
I got this book at the dollar store back when I first started reading diverse. That was part of the reason that I grabbed it, as was the cover. A young black girl in space with an onion? So many questions. I regret to inform you that this book is not science fiction (as the cover would indicate). However, it’s still worth reading!
When I picked it up, I didn’t know this book was part of a series. This book can be read alone, which is how I approached it. Most of the Julian series are actually collections of short stories, but this one is a regular novel. After reading this book, I found several libraries have most of the series. Six months later, a friend gifted me several earlier books. Gloria Rising comes directly after Gloria’s Way, however there is no need to read any of the other books to enjoy this novel.
It’s tricky to level books at this age. I’ve marked Gloria Rising as an elementary school read. It’s not quite an early chapter book as the vocabulary is a bit advanced, but the sentence structure and plot would be comprehensible to much younger children.
If they weren’t particularly sensitive to bullying or a mean teacher, a gifted kindergarten student could read these, but the series has also been used with middle school students who struggle in reading. The sweet spot for this book is second to fourth grade readers.
As soon as I read this, I knew it would make a great read-aloud, particularly for classes studying space. There are other interesting aspects. Although racial tensions are never explicitly mentioned in this book, there is a subtle narrative. Gloria is a black middle-class only child, but the teacher who judges her is white. It’s difficult to say the ethnicity of her old, supportive teacher since there is only one illustration of her, but she appears to be Asian or mixed.
I’ve never seen another fiction book that follows black children dealing with unfair treatment from a white teacher. Gloria and her classmates don’t resolve this problem alone, but they do ask for help. The book also has a positive message in encouraging the children to prove their teacher wrong by having excellent behavior and studying hard. Again, this shouldn’t be necessary, but children currently in similar situations need this message.
The other amazing part is the black female astronaut, who seems to be inspired by Mae Jemison (PDF). Since a fictional character with long hair is used instead, modern-day kids could relate to Jeanette Epps. When Gloria is talking to Dr. Street, and thinking inside her head that others around them might mistake them for mother and daughter… that scene gets me every time!
The ending is overly neat and hopeful, common in books for children this age. Gloria’s problems are all solved, but she learns some lessons along the way. Given that she is white, Ann Cameron did a fine job portraying a middle-class African-American girl. While this book could have been edgier, Cameron also wrote it before the diverse children’s book movement. Hopefully we’ll see more like it by #ownvoices authors.
This book would make a great family read-aloud that younger kids can relate to. There’s much to discuss as a family or in a classroom setting. This would also be a great book for elementary school students to read independently. If you’ve read the other Julian stories, know that this novel (not a collection of short stories) stands alone, and is my personal favorite of the ones I’ve read so far.