“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.