Review: Understood Betsy

“He sent his marble straight to the mark, pocketed his opponent’s, and stood up, scowling at the little mothers. ‘I guess if you had to live the way he does you’d be dirty! Half the time he don’t get anything to eat before he comes to school, and if my mother didn’t put up some extra for him in my box he wouldn’t get any lunch either. And then you go and jump on him!’ ” chapter 8

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield, illustrated by Ada C. Williamson.
Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1917 (orig. pub 1916)
Children’s literature, 271 pages.
Lexile:  1000L  .
AR Level:  5.9 (worth 8.0 points)  .
NOTE:  The references above are to the print edition, however I read the free ebook edition available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5347? .

Nine-year-old Elizabeth Ann’s parents died when she was a baby, so she’s lived all her life with her great-aunt Harriet and has been raised by her cousin (whom she calls aunt) Frances.  However, since Harriet’s taken ill, she has to go live with another branch of the family while Frances nurses her mother.

Understood Betsy cover

At my new job I’ve been getting to know some homeschooling parents.  Many are more concerned about other aspects than diversity, but one asked my opinion about a few booklists.  Most of the books I was able to find reviews of on other sites, but a few I wasn’t able to find good critiques of, so I found copies to read them myself.

Friends, it was dismal.

After reading so many books that were at best unconsciously perpetuating stereotypes and untruths, and knowing they’re on modern day reading lists and staunchly defended by certain parents, I was feeling rather depressed about America.  So I decided to try to find some better books.  Most don’t fit on this blog, but since this book deals with kinship fostering/adoption, I’ve chosen to review it.

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Board Book Review: Loving Me

While the families in our 45th board book are all indigenous, this book will appeal to any family, and doubles as an early reader.

Loving Me by Debby Slier.
Starbright Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2013.
Board book, 10 pages.

Baby learns about four generations of family through photographs of Native families.

Loving Me cover resized

I first learned about this book through Debbie Reese’s review.  This book is also on her list of recommended board books.  Since I decided to put my purchase dollars towards Julie Flett‘s books instead, this was gifted to us from our wish list!   I’m so glad, because this slim board book will have a variety of uses.

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Review: Away West

“Everett had been wandering around for almost an hour. His body ached from the cold, and he had no idea where to go.” page 19

Away West (Scraps of Time 1879) by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon James.
Puffin Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2006.
Elementary historical fiction, 121 pages.
Lexile:  510L  .
AR Level:  3.4 (worth 1.0)  .

The Scraps of Time series is built around the idea of a grandmother and three grandchildren building a scrapbook about their family from items kept in their grandmother’s attic.  One of the children finds something and asks Gee about it, and then the story proper begins as she tells them the story behind that item.

Scraps of Time 1879 Away West resized
Scraps of Time 1879 Away West by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon C. James.

In this case the item is a Civil War army medal, although the story does not deal directly with the Civil War.  Instead, Gee tells them about her grandfather, Everett Turner.  The youngest of three brothers, he was determined to find his place in the West.

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Review: Black Cowboy, Wild Horses

“Bob had been a slave and had never learned to read words. But he could look at the ground and read what animals had walked on it, their size and weight, when they had passed by, and where they were going.” page 7

Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin, New York, 1998.
Picture book nonfiction, 40 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  4.5 (worth 0.5 points)  .

One expedition of a cowboy named Bob Lemmons, famed for his ability to bring in herds of wild mustangs solo.

Black Cowboy Wild Horses
Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.

As a young reader I acquired a childish interest in the West.  Actually, I’m pretty sure it was from Laura Ignalls Wilder (and yes, I now know how problematic that was, and our kids read Louise Erdrich instead).  In adult life, I’ve been learning just how very much was wrong, or omitted, from my early education.  Even so, it was surprising to learn that the common all-white image of cowboys were actually roughly a third Hispanic and that one in four cowboys was African-American.

Luckily there are several diverse books about this, so I can share a much more accurate and sensitive culturally appropriate portrayal of the West with our kids.  Since we love Jerry Pinkney, of course this was our first title.

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