“A man named Mr. Adams was the only one who didn’t shake Daddy’s and Mr. Tucker’s hands. I hoped he wasn’t about to spend the next six months hating us for being Negro.” page 31
Sarah Journeys West: An Oregon Trail Survival Story (Girls Survive) by Nikki Shannon Smith, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio. Stone Arch Books, Capstone, North Mankato, Minnesota, 2020. Elementary historical fiction, 112 pages including back matter. Lexile: 610L . AR Level: 3.9 (worth 2.0 points) .
During the California Gold Rush, twelve year old Sarah’s family is venturing West on first the Oregon Trail, and then the California trail. But the 1851 trail is difficult and hostile even without facing prejudice from other party members – can Sarah and her family survive the trip?
I like the premise of this as a series for elementary readers. With the title Girls Survive, we always know that at least the main character will make it through the difficult events, which keeps it from being too scary. That doesn’t mean these are necessarily great for sensitive readers, though – in the books from this series I’ve read so far, at least one side character always dies and many get into some life-threatening peril. The characters tend to be aged older but act a bit young, so it could also work for some middle grade readers too.
It’s also really nice to see this series working to use #ownvoice authors and highlight characters of color, which has been a problem with Capstone in the past. In this particular volume, I was also impressed by Shannon Smith’s sensitivity towards recognizing that westward expansion, even by settlers who have no desire to stop on tribal lands, was a negative for the peoples whose land they passed through (and eventually settled on after all).
An update, the hiatus plan, and what was popular on CBR in 2021.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted regularly, and I’ll probably be switching to a more sporadic schedule for a while. I’m also thinking of taking a planned two months off yearly, to ensure that my blogging stays fresh and I don’t burn out. (Most likely this would be either June and July, or June and December.) As I’ve stated before, these reviews are a hobby and labor of love – my real life commitments will always come first. That said, I was a little shocked to leave this blog for over five months and come back to find it was still getting over a thousand views per month! I’m always curious about the top posts, especially when they aren’t the ones I’d expect.
My booklists and negative reviews are consistently among the most viewed (including my Diverse Disabled booklist which is sorely in need of updating – pointing to the real need for accurate lists and reviews of this category of books). People apparently love drama and I definitely want to make more booklists, it just takes a long time because I prefer to review every book on a list, or at least the first in each series, before I feel confident making a recommendation list.
But what interests me the most are the individual posts. My reviews of indigenous fiction have been getting far more hits this year than ever before – even though I haven’t updated the page for that challenge since 2017! I do use the tag regularly, so maybe that’s how people are finding my reviews? Also, now that I’ve gotten to know more homeschool families, and that community is growing since the pandemic, I wonder if that is a newer demographic finding me online.
But by FAR my top post this past year was the second book in the Scraps of Time series, Away West, which I reviewed way back in 2018. I have no idea why but am happy to see a book we loved on my top posts! Perhaps people liked that I suggested it as a family read aloud? Or were looking for historical fiction? Maybe someone will comment and let me know what drew them to that review – especially if you started reading Colorful Book Reviews in March of 2021, when that post suddenly had hundreds of views but no referral pingbacks…
Anyway, seeing that Away West is still among my top back posts, it reminded me that perhaps some of the other books my family and I have been reading about African American life in the West might be worth reviewing here. Plus I probably should get around to photographing and posting my reviews of the final two books in the Scraps of Time series, which we read years ago.
If you came here in the last half year when I was not actively posting, what brought you? What book lists, reviews, or posts would you find most interesting?
I write this blog in large part for my own reference (hence why I keep doing Website Wednesdays despite nobody but me ever reading those posts), but of course I also hope that it is useful to other parents, teachers, and librarians as well.
“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.