Review: Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

“Yet here she was, three months later, with a full-fledged tumor. Either her doctors had missed it during her last exams – which seemed impossible – or it had grown at a terrifying rate.” page 17

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Broadway Books, Crown Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, New York, 2010.
My edition 2011, some portions published as early as 2000.
Nonfiction, 381 pages including notes, index, and reading group guide.
Lexile:  1140L  .
AR Level:  8.0 (worth 18.0 points) .

Henrietta Lacks had an usual type of cancer.  Cells from this cancer were able to become the first immortal cell line and have been invaluable to many scientific discoveries and advancements in the past century.  But Henrietta was also a working-class black woman whose family was not informed of the existence of this cell line, and who died misdiagnosed.  This book manages to tell three stories: the story of Henrietta and the Lacks family, the story of her famous and scientifically important cells, and the story of the reporter’s own experiences interacting with the family.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The movie tie-in cover tricked me.  I needed to grab a Target pick quickly, so I grabbed this book without realizing it was one I had flagged as do not purchase/obtain from friend or library.  As you can tell, reading this book was something I was conflicted about, and after finishing it, I remain deeply conflicted and uncertain if I can recommend it (though I know a great deal more about the HeLa controversies than I did before reading this).

Continue reading “Review: Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

Review: Twice Toward Justice

“I felt differently. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to grow up and greet the world, and so did my best friends.” p. 27

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose.
Square Fish Imprint, Macmillan, New York, 2009.
Age 10 + nonfiction, 150 pages including extras, notes, and index.
Winner of the National Book Award and a Newberry Honor Book.
Various other awards and best of lists.
Lexile:  1000L
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 5.0 points)

Before Rosa Parks was a household name, there was Claudette Colvin.  The first black woman (really a girl) to refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus and be arrested for doing so, she knew and inspired Rosa Parks, but was not considered suitable to be the face of the movement.  Her story is now coming to light for a new generation.

Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose.

This is “The acclaimed true story of the girl who changed history” according to the front cover.  What it is inside was a little different than I’d expected.  Most books by white men about black history tend to assume an authoritative, know-it-all position that often leaves out details important to the people who were living that history.

Significant portions of this book are told in the first person, taken directly from extensive interviews with Ms. Colvin herself.  Yet he is credited as the sole author.  I’m torn.  Hoose clearly made the best choice by letting Colvin’s voice shine and allowing her to narrate as much as possible of her book.  On the other hand, he is receiving all the credit.

Continue reading “Review: Twice Toward Justice”

Review: Let the Truth Be Told

This picture book biography of Ida B. Wells gives a lovely overview of her life.

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Meyers, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen.
Amistad Imprint, HarperCollins, New York, 2008.
Picture book biography, 37 pages including timeline and quotes.
Lexile:  AD900L  (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level: 5.4 (worth 0.5 points)

Ida B. Wells stood up for truth and justice with her words and actions, and foreshadowed the civil rights movement in many of her actions.  With an illustration at least every other page, and excellent explanations of difficult topics such as lynchings, this book makes Wells’ life accessible to middle grade readers, and could even be read to some younger children with a parent.

Let the Truth Be Told cover resized
Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen.

Continue reading “Review: Let the Truth Be Told”

Review: When the Beat Was Born

“Kool Herc’s music made everybody happy. Even street gangs wanted to dance, not fight.” p. 19

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip-Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III.
Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2013.
Elementary to middle grade picture book biography, 30 pages.
Winner of the 2014 John Steptoe Award for New Talent
Lexile:  AD910L  (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 0.5 points)

Have you ever heard of DJ Kool Herc?  He was a Jamaican immigrant who was instrumental in the development of hip-hop.  Step into his world and learn how hip-hop came to be with this picture book biography.

When the Beat was Born cover 2

While I’m sure an avid fan of hip-hop would get more out of this book, I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible it was to myself as a not-so-musical person.  Context is given to everything that makes it understandable, and the pictures and words work in beautiful harmony.

Continue reading “Review: When the Beat Was Born”

Review: Hidden Figures

“They would prove themselves equal or better, having internalized the Negro theorem of needing to be twice as good to get half as far.” p. 48

Hidden Figures:The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly.
William Morrow Imprint, HarperCollins, New York, 2016.
Adult non-fiction, 346 pages including notes and index.
New York Times Bestseller.
Lexile: not yet leveled
AR Level:  9.7 (worth 18.0 points)

In 1969, a human being set foot on the moon for the first time.  Although you wouldn’t know it from the all-white, mostly-male camera coverage, the calculations of a black woman helped him get there.  But this story starts much earlier, when the labor shortage of WWII allowed highly qualified, extremely intelligent, and very respectable female African-American mathematicians a chance at a job with pay and work closer to what they deserved.

They came in droves to Langley, in Hampton, Virginia, for a unprecedented opportunity in the midst of a heavily segregated community.  Those who stayed, and their white female counterparts, spent decades breaking barriers and proving their value to aeronautics over and over again, so that when John Glenn needed the numbers for his first spaceflight checked, Katherine Johnson would be in the right place to be able to perform those and other calculations.

hidden-figures-resized

This book is so superb you should run out and get it right now.

Continue reading “Review: Hidden Figures”

Web: In the Public Domain

Anybody who loves 18th century literature has heard of Project Gutenberg and similar online methods of obtaining books which no longer have a copyright, but when we browse these websites, it is often easier to find books with racist commentary or ideologies than to source books by authors of color.  Today I have a few sources to help you.

The list Black Writers in the Public Domain has a variety of genres available mostly through Gutenberg, but also from some other Public Domain sites.

The same website also has a review of a novel called The Conjure Woman, which is set in the antebellum South and was written by a black journalist.

There are two bookshelves available on Project Gutenberg.  One is African-American Writers, and the other (which has some overlap) is the Slavery bookshelf.  The Slavery bookshelf has some international writers, but is mainly about African-American slavery, which means it includes abolitionist writings by white authors.

Following this rabbit hole eventually brought me to The Antislavery Literature Project, which is all about trying to source original texts about the American antislavery movement from a variety of public domain sources and link them in their database.  This includes writings by white abolitionists as well as trying to source a variety of early writings by authors of color.  Their website is helpful for finding items from smaller digitization projects and gives a brief synopsis of each work.

If you’d like to do a unit on poetry by black authors, poets.org is a great starting place.  They have biographies, essays on, and at least one or two poems by everyone from well-known poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou to comparatively newer poets like Claudia Rankine.

This website is full of sources for teachers, including recommended poems for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Black History Month and other occasions, searchable by poetic form.  Get even more in-depth for Black History Month with this part of the site that includes poems, essays, and original source documents.  There are also areas for movements like the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts.  I’ve only covered the African-American areas, but this site is pretty good about including poets from a variety of traditions and ethnic backgrounds; if you’re interested in poetry, it’s definitely worth a look!

Oh, and for a starter, here’s an anthology of poems, The African American Experience.  I’m reading this and a nonfiction book from the first list electronically and enjoying both.

#DiverseAThon January 2017

I don’t normally post these sorts of things, but Naz at ReadDiverseBooks was very convincing about the need to promote the #DiverseAThon and maybe I have a few readers who might not know about it yet.

It runs from January 22nd to the 29th and “The goal of Diverse-A-Thon is simply to celebrate diversity in literature by reading diverse books all week and engage in thoughtful discussions on Twitter under the #DiverseAthon hashtag. The readathon will largely remain the same. It is low-stress and there no challenges – just read as many diverse books as you are comfortable reading in 7 days. There will be daily chats on Twitter this time around as well, so be sure to follow the @Diverseathon Twitter account to stay updated on all future news regarding the chats.”

challenge-cropped-resized
January 2017 #DiverseAThon TBR

It takes me ages to plan and write a review (I’m not great with cameras), and some of these I might not review, so just like last month’s book haul, this is what I’m (hopefully) reading and what you might see reviewed in the distant future.

Continue reading “#DiverseAThon January 2017”