“Slavery corrupts the owners. The master’s sons are corrupted by their father’s immoral behavior. The master’s daughters hear their parents fighting about slave women and may overhear talk of their father having seduced or raped slaves.” page 30
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself by Harriet Jacobs, edited by Lisa Barsky.
The Townsend Library, Townsend Press, New Jersey, 2004 (first pub. 1861).
Slave narrative, 152 pages including editor’s afterword.
Lexile: 740L .
AR Level: 7.1 (worth 14.0 points) .
NOTE: I read a printed book which had been edited and contained additional back matter. Project Gutenberg has a free ebook version of the original text available.
The autobiography of a young woman born into slavery in 1813.
This book is remarkable, and I’m only surprised I didn’t read it sooner! But let me write a review anyway in case you need more convincing and haven’t clicked the link above to read it already. So many aspects of Jacob’s life are typical of her time, place, and station in life, but she herself is not very typical.
“We three stuck together / like the pages in a brand-new book. / And being normal young children, / we were almost always up to something.” page 10
My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Farris, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet.
Simon and Schuster, New York, 2003.
Picture book nonfiction, 40 pages.
Lexile: 970L .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 0.5 points) .
Personal remembrances of Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood from his older sister Christine.
I debated a lot before buying this book. Our local libraries didn’t have it and the cover, especially in a small thumbnail version, is just so unattractive. However, I was hoping for something different from the standard stories, which is exactly what this book delivers. Luckily the interior art is excellent!
The book does skew a bit toward older readers with denser text and more difficult words like chifforobe, Cyclorama, Auburn, cruelty, bigotry, nourishing. The main focus here is on MLK’s childhood, specifically on two fronts – both the ways in which he was an ordinary, sometimes mischievous little boy, and the events that shaped his personality.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“His patients believed they were being treated for blood ailments. The tonics the hospital administered, however, were merely sugar water.” p. 124
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Anchor Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
Adult fiction, 313 pages.
Lexile: 890L .
AR Level: not yet leveled
Cora is a young woman on a Georgia plantation when a new arrival asks her to run away with him. Only one slave has ever successfully escaped the Randall plantation, but Caesar believes that if they run together, they’ll make it to the elusive Underground Railroad.
It took me a good while to get to this one. I’d seen a lot of mixed reviews, and in general I’m not a fan of magical realism (which is what most people were calling this). Finally I saw this at Target and decided to use it as one of my targetpicks selections.
Going into the read with low expectations definitely helped this novel blow me away. It’s a very difficult book to classify. Whitehead uses elements of many different genres, including historical fiction, adventure, science fiction, magical realism, and realistic fiction.
“Paris was not the place for me or my son. The French could entertain the idea of me because they were not immersed in guilt about a mutual history…” p. 165
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou.
Bantam, New York, 1977 (originally published 1976).
Adult autobiography, 242 pages.
In a funny coincidence, I gave away Angelou books (not even read yet… but better loved by someone else) and then a month later came across this in the free books. Of course I started reading this one immediately and it was fascinating. I’ve read quite a bit of her poetry before, but never one of her autobiographies. Upon reading this one I realized that they are probably best read chronologically.
This title is the third, and covers the time when she lived in San Francisco after her son was born, worked a wide variety of jobs, spent a few years married to a white man, and eventually found herself with an entertainment career that took her all over the world, but sadly separated her from her son.
Our thirteenth board book, this simple biography of Rosa Parks proved more engaging and interesting than expected.
The Story of Rosa Parks by Patricia A. Pingry, illustrated by Steven Walker.
WorthyKids/Ideals, Nashville, Tennessee, 2007.
Board book biography, 26 pages.
This deceptively simple biography of Rosa Parks covers all the major events in her life in a manner appropriate for even the youngest children.
Honestly, I was surprised by this book. We have several of Pingry’s religious board books, and they are solid additions to the church rotation but not especially moving.
If we teach kids about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. as toddlers, then by grade school they should be ready to learn about Lonnie Johnson, Fannie Lou Hammer, Dave the Potter, Mae Jemison, and more. Then in middle school they can move on to studying people like Claudette Colvin, Misty Copeland, Ida B. Wells, and John Lewis. That’s the ideal, right?
This book was purchased for Baby. I did not expect the older kids to show any interest in it. However, N picked it up under the guise of “reading to baby” and kept looking at it even after Baby went off for a diaper change. My new reader wanted to use it for reading practice. The kids sat through more than one reading of it.