December 2016 Super Book Haul

I don’t normally post on weekends (or book hauls in general), but this weekend I just had to share!

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Review: Amazing Grace

Lavar Burton’s favorite picture book doesn’t disappoint.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch.
Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Books USA, New York, 1991,  Reprinted Scholastic, New York, 1993.
Picture book realistic fiction, 24 pages.
Lexile: 680L
AR Level: 3.5 (worth 0.5 points)

Grace loves stories, whether they are read or watched or told to her.  More than anything, she loves to act out those stories.  When her class is producing Peter Pan, classmates say she can’t play Peter because she’s a black girl.  But Grace believes she can do anything.

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Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch

This book is something of a classic.  It was featured on Reading Rainbow and became somewhat ubiquitous in school libraries in a short amount of time.  Lavar Burton has said that Amazing Grace is his favorite picture book, and it’s easy to see why.

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Review: Born a Crime

Tale of a mixed-race South African childhood is a surprisingly gripping and fast read.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.
Spiegel & Grau, Imprint of Random House, 2016.
Autobiography, 285 pages.
Not leveled.

Purposefully born to a Xhosa mother and a Swiss/German father in South Africa, the act of Trevor Noah’s very birth was a crime in apartheid South Africa, so he spent the first five years of his life inside except for the occasional carefully orchestrated outing.  Visibly lighter skinned than his family, but not quite white either, Trevor holds a unique, insider/outsider perspective on the South Africa of his childhood.

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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

I bought this book at Target thanks to my new policy.  Quite honestly, I wouldn’t have chosen it on my own.  I actually flipped through this book previously and then found a children’s book instead.  It was presented like a comedy book, not something I would seek given my unusual taste in humor.

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Review: Witness

“i don’t know if he could see me well enough / to judge the color of my skin. / i don’t know if my color mattered one whit to him.” p. 41

Witness by Karen Hesse.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2001.
Historical fiction novel in verse, 161 pages.
This book is not an award winner, but the author has won many awards.
Lexile: NP (What does NP mean in Lexile Levels? )
AR Level: 5.0 (Worth 2.0 points)

This free verse novel tells about when the Ku Klux Klan came to a small town in Vermont in 1924.  The story is told through 11 different voices, some of them sympathetic to the KKK and others in great danger from this change.  Two pivotal figures are 12-year-old Leanora Sutter, a gifted African-American, and Jewish 6-year-old Esther Hirsh.  Although this book seems to be aimed at 5th-8th grade students, since the characters span such a wide age range, it could be used in high school as well.

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Witness by Karen Hesse.

I’m not fond of novels in verse.  I love poetry and novels, but feel the combination usually sacrifices either poetic artistry or the craft of the novel.  When I picked this book at the library (SM), I had no idea it was in verse.  Once I opened it, the poor book languished, being read a few pages here and there while I whizzed through other books (autobiographies of Simone Biles and Trevor Noah).  Finally I finished, then quickly re-read it for this review so I could return it.

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Web: Diverse Children’s Books

This week I have a very important post to share – written by a teacher who happens to be Asian American.

Having Diverse Books Isn’t Enough by Katharine Hale

Katherine shares about her book buying experience at a teacher’s conference, and reviews the book she bought.

Be sure to read all the way to the end for a well-thought out book review and a twist to the book-buying story.  The comments also have some interesting points, which leads me to our next link:

Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Racism and Sexism by Sarah Park

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.

Review: On Her Own

“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.
Not leveled.

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.

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On Her Own: The Life of Betty Brinn written by Priscilla Pardini, illustrated by Joanne Scholler Bowring.

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.

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On Her Own, front cover interior map of Milwaukee County Children’s Home in the 1940s.

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.

 

 

Review: Black Soldiers in the Civil War

“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.
Not leveled.

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.

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Black Soldiers in the Civil War by Rick Beard.

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.

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Black Soldiers in the Civil War, pages 7 and 8.

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.