E-book Review: Lynching in America

“In all of the subject states, we observed that there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching.” Introduction, key point 5.

Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, a report of the Equal Justice Initiative.
Published online at lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/, Montgomery, Alabama.
Accessed in July 2017.

This report walks the reader through the events surrounding racial terror lynchings in America, including case studies of individual lynchings and photographs, illustrations, legal reactions, and original source quotations.

Lynching in America image resized
Lynching in America Report Introduction. Freely available at lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/ .

I don’t recall how this crossed my path.  Normally I prefer to read books in person, whether I purchase, checkout from the library, or borrow from a friend.  However, some popular books are easier to get from the library as ebooks and older books that are out of print can often be found online for free.

This book doesn’t fit either of those categories.  Instead, this is a report from a team led by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy.  His book’s been on my TBR for a while now (I even had it checked out, but had to return it as there was a hold).  After reading this report, Just Mercy got bumped up on my must-reads.

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Review: Dave the Potter

“To us / it is just dirt, / the ground we walk on. / Scoop up a handful. / The gritty grains slip / between your fingers.” page 3

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier.
Little, Brown, and Company Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
Picture book biography, 40 pages including end notes.
Winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, 2011.
2011 Caldecott Honor recipient.
Lexile:  AD1100L (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  6.0 (worth 0.5 points) .

Dave the Potter was a real-life African-American slave and artist.  He must have been incredibly strong, because he was able to successfully make pots as large as forty gallons.  He knew how to read and write, because he marked poems into the sides of some of his pots.  Beyond that we may never know many of the details of his life.

Dave the Potter Cover resized

This book came up several times before I bought it.  The first time, it was mistakenly labeled as fiction.  Later I realized it was non-fiction and added it to the bottom of my TBR.  After reading When the Beat Was Born by the same author, I decided to purchase this book, knowing that the writing would be excellent.  And I loved it!

Since so little is definitively known about Dave, this book focuses on the process of making his pottery that Dave would likely have gone through, using sparse poetry, detailed and realistic images of the process, and collage backgrounds imagining the world he inhabited.

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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.

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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.

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Review: Coretta Scott

“things nature never intended / a child to see / haunted them / tragedy accompanies growth / no matter who we are” p. 22

Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Amistad imprint, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2009.
Biographical poem picture book, 30 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  4.9 (worth 0.5 points)
Note: this book is an illustrated poem.

Ntozake Shange has written a poem and Kadir Nelson has illustrated it in this gorgeous, but non-traditional biography.

Coretta Scott cover

I’m not quite sure what I expected from this book.  Probably something more like Martin’s Big Words because the cover style looked similar to me.  Actually, it was quite different and I have some mixed feelings about it.  I’ve ordered another, more traditional children’s biography of Coretta Scott King which I’m hoping will compliment this one nicely.

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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.

Review: D is for Drinking Gourd

Despite a few flaws, this surprisingly informative A-to-Z book is highly recommended for families and teachers.

D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet by Nancy I. Sanders, illustrated by E. B. Lewis.
Sleeping Bear Press, reprinted by Scholastic, New York, 2008.
Picture book non-fiction, 38 pages.
Lexile: AD1110L  (What does AD mean in Lexile levels?)
AR level: 7.7 (worth 1.0 points)

This is one of the core texts I used for the 30 day project.  Although I was familiar with Sleeping Bear Press from their lovely state books, I wasn’t familiar with this title until I came across it at my local used bookstore.  (Remember when I started to be known as that lady who buys up all the diverse books?  This goes back to my first trip.)

As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the perfect complement to 28 Days, with the only difficulty being 26 letters in the alphabet and 28 (really 29) days in the Smith book.  I got around that by combining some days and finagling so that some topics aligned.

As with all Sleeping Bear Press books I’ve seen so far, I found this book absolutely lovely.  Each letter has either a full page or a two page spread.  There is a short couplet including the featured letter or word.  This couplet is found amidst the illustration, then off to one side the letter is repeated in both upper and lower case along with at least two paragraphs giving further information about the topic and people associated with it.

There was a wide variety of topics and historical figures covered, including several I was not yet familiar with.  As soon as the third page, I was learning about the Buffalo Soldiers and cowboys on the western frontier.  Although one would think that the alphabet format would be limiting, since the topics were general and the paragraphs covered a wide range of people, there was a surprisingly large amount of information presented.

While this book is not quite as versatile as 28 Days, it is another great choice for a 30 day project.  I think this one would be a particularly good choice for schools, since classrooms would not be doing a day on the weekends.  For example, in 2017 there will be 20 weekdays in February.  There are 18 two-page spreads in the book.  That leaves two days for introducing and concluding the project, or to accommodate any days off your school might have.  This book lends itself to combining with coloring pages and picture books, although you might have to include a few historical fiction picture books in order to cover some of the more obscure topics.

Off the top of my head, there are several other ideas that could be used with this book for older children: Students could each learn one of the short poems and recite them in a skit for other classes.  Individual students or teams could be assigned to learn more about topics or to read an outside book and write a report or present to the class (easy to differentiate by the materials available and difficulty of topic).  The original publisher also has a teacher’s guide which might be helpful.

d-is-for-drinking-gourd-twist-and-crop-resized

The children generally enjoyed this book.  They personally found the alphabet format more understandable and relatable than the timeline version.  However, they did not like the illustrations as much.  They felt that the illustrations were darker and it was harder to understand what some of them were depicting, and I have to agree with them.  While I found them appealing, in some it was difficult to know which, if any of the people from the informative paragraphs was shown in the illustration.  This was particularly obvious in comparison to the lively illustrations by Shane W. Evans.  My feeling was that the illustrations by Lewis were calmer and more relaxing, but this didn’t translate for the children.

There was one moment during the reading where we were thrown for a loop.  The Politicians page does mention Barack Obama, but does not have him listed as president, and his picture is not featured.  I was a little surprised until we looked at the copyright date – 2007.  I can only assume that more current editions have updated this page.

I was a little iffy on the letter Q which stood for quilt.  One of the informational paragraphs stated “quilts may have been used to help slaves escaping north along the Underground Railroad.  A quilt hung on a porch rail might be a signal that the house was a safe place to stop.”  While it does use the words “may” and “might,” it doesn’t reflect the reality that, despite this lesson being taught in many classrooms even now, this myth was a complete fabrication.  I felt like those two (out of eight total) sentences could have been more productively used to add more information about Harriet Powers or Faith Ringgold or to provide information about how quilts were made or used.

Some people may also be bothered by the religious references in Z, so be aware of your context and whether it is appropriate to read about the influence of religion on African-American history.  The Nation of Islam also gets a brief mention on the Malcolm X page.

Overall, this is a great book for families or particularly teachers of about 1st to 6th grade (depending heavily on the maturity and background knowledge of students, and whether it will be read independently or out loud, etc.).

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