E-book Review: Negro Explorer at the North Pole

“Another world’s accomplishment was done and finished, and as in the past, from the beginning of history, wherever the world’s work was done by a white man, he had been accompanied by a colored man.” page 136

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A Negro Explorer at the North Pole by Matthew Henson, forward by Matthew E. Peary and introduction by Booker T. Washington.
Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1912.
Available online at www.gutenberg.org/files/20923/20923-h/20923-h.htm
Accessed in September 2017.
Nonfiction, 200 pages.

Matthew Henson was the black man who accompanied Peary on most of his expeditions, including to the North Pole.  He received scant notice from the white people of the time, but his life story was very much in demand among African-Americans.  Eventually he used his journals from the trip to write this book.

Henson In His North Pole Furs After His Return
“Matthew A. Henson in his North Pole furs, taken after his return to civilization.” Facing page 139, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.

The book is a curious mix of direct entries from Henson’s journals, summations of journal entries, and his direct writing covering periods of time when he couldn’t write or adding information he felt was helpful.

Racism is very present in this book.  For the most part, this is overt, although it does come out more blatantly.  There are two main forms of racism present – against African-Americans, and against Native Americans.

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Review: Dressmaker of Khair Khana

“To him it was his highest obligation and a duty of his faith to educate his children so that they could share their knowledge and serve their communities.” page 27

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
Harper Perennial, Harper Collins, New York, 2012 (first published 2011).
Nonfiction, 270 pages including extras.
Lexile:  1090L  .
AR Level:  not leveled

The story of one young woman and her five sisters who stayed in Kabul and started a home dressmaking business under Taliban rule that not only provided for their family, but also allowed them to teach other women sewing and positioned them to be leaders in Afghanistan’s economy.

Dressmaker of Khair Khana
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

I’d been traveling and was hoping to visit a specialty gift shop to pick up some diverse books, only to find it closed, so I found a nearby library.  The library wasn’t so diverse, but had extremely cheap books, so I purchased a bunch for under $1 total, including this one.

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Review: An XL Life

“I had loved myself at 500 pounds. I loved myself now, even with my loose skin.” page 203

An XL Life: Staying Big at Half the Size by Big Boy (Kurt Alexander).
Cash Money Content, 2011.
Autobiography/memoir, 237 pages.
Not leveled.

The autobiography of Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy, once known for his size as much as the music he played.

An XL Life resized

This book opened with Alexander talking about the father he never knew and how he didn’t feel that contributed to his weight at all.  It’s a marked contrast to the last biography of a black man I read, Un-Ashamed.

On the other hand, Alexander was greatly impacted by constantly moving around as a child.  His stories about homelessness and frequent moves reminded me more of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, although he wasn’t moving from relative to relative.  His mother must have been truly remarkable, because his six siblings stayed with the family through various moves and hardships, even after they were adults.

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Review: The Kidnapped Prince (YRE)

“Still I do not believe that traders in slaves are born worse than other men. It is the slave trade and the greed it brings that hardens men’s minds and kills their capacity for kindness.” page 81

The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron.  (With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995.  My edition reprinted, Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2005.
Lexile:  840L  .
AR Level:  5.7 (worth 4.0 points)  .

Olaudah Equiano was an African prince from Benin who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, in which condition he traveled widely and had many different experiences.  Ann Cameron abridged and adapted this book for young, modern readers.

The Kidnapped Prince resized

Although this book has a great deal of adventure, the prologue is more of a moral lesson, and in the first chapter Olaudah describes home life during his early years.  For this reason, I’d recommend getting through the first bit quickly to hook kids into the narrative.  If you are in a library or another setting where you can’t, then tell the kids about Olaudah’s life so they stay interested.

After chapter two, the pace increases.  Cameron breaks the narrative up into short, topical chapters.  Some reviews complained about the narrative ending before Olaudah’s book finished, but the afterword summarizes the rest of his life.

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Review: Major Taylor

“Asked by reporters how he managed to keep calm despite attacks by other cyclists, Marshall answered ‘I simply ride away.’ ” page 19

Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome.
Antheneum Books for Young Readers imprint, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Lexile:  AD1020L  (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  5.7 (worth 0.5 points)

Major Taylor became the World Champion of cycling in the early 1900s.  He combined perseverance, an incredible athleticism, and a little luck to set world records and popularize the sport of bicycling in America.  Yet his story is largely unknown today.

Major Taylor cover resized

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Review: Two Tickets to Freedom

“Mrs. Hilliard had to tell her that slave catchers had come from Georgia and that she and William had been right to be suspicious.” page 65

Two Tickets to Freedom: The True Story of William and Ellen Craft, Fugitive Slaves by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.
My edition Scholastic, New York, 1995.  Orig. pub. Simon & Schuster, 1971.
Nonfiction, 96 pages.
Lexile:  1030L  .
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 3.0 points)  .

This book tells the life story of husband and wife William and Ellen Craft, best known for their famous escape from slavery.

Two Tickets to Freedom
Two Tickets to Freedom by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.

In case you are not familiar with this couple, William was a skilled tradesman whose entire family was separated by slavery.  Ellen was given to her sister as a wedding present from her father’s wife.  They had better lives than many slaves – Ellen was a house servant with comparatively light duties, William was allowed to do extra work and earn his own money, and their owners permitted them to live together in a common-law marriage (it was not legal for slaves to complete a religious or civil marriage ceremony).

However, both deplored the condition of slavery, and they decided not to have children as slaves.  One day, William came up with an idea.  Ellen was light-skinned and could easily pass for white.  They had money from William’s extra work.  Ellen would disguise herself as a young man (since a white woman would never travel alone with a male slave) and William as her slave.

It’s a fascinating story, and I’m often surprised that it isn’t better known.  We read a book about it (that also includes a reader’s theater) back during the 30 day project., so I was excited to learn more.  The kids kept asking what happened next, and the picture book only gave a page of text to tell what happened in the next part of their life.

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Review: Rosa Parks – My Story

“All those laws against segregation have been passed, and all that progress has been made. But a whole lot of white people’s hearts have not been changed.” page 187

Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1992 (my edition 1999).
Middle grade autobiography, 192 pages including index and timeline.
Lexile:  970L  .
AR Level:  6.2 (worth 6.0 points)  .

This is Rosa Parks’ own telling of her story – the story of her life, and the story of that fateful day when she became the icon of a movement.

Rosa Parks My Story resized

Some books are ubiquitous – this is one of those books.  As far as I can recall, every school library I’ve been in has this book, though I haven’t checked them all.  However, I’d never read it before, so when we saw a cheap copy at the used bookstore, we bought it.

I have no regrets about adding this to our collection.  While the book is accessible to children, it works as a quick adult read too!

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