Review: Flygirl

“Sure, they’d only been around a few years, they were dangerous, and quite frankly, only a handful of colored people knew how to fly.” page 29

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Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.
Scholastic, New York, 2008.
YA historical fiction, 275 pages.
Lexile:  HL680L  ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 11.0 points)  .

Ida Mae Jones just wants to fly.  But her mother’s dead set against her even going North to get her pilot’s license.  So using her light skin color to join the WASP shouldn’t even be an option, but Ida will do anything to get in the air and help her military brother.

Flygirl

Those of you who have been reading for a while will recall that I’m pretty tough on historical fiction.  I want it to be inclusive of diverse characters and perspectives, but also realistic.  (A character might be targeted with hateful language, but the author should also make clear that those words are wrong.)  Depending on the grade level, I’d also like it to be appropriate for the age recommended, not too graphic nor too idealistic for young readers.  And, of course, it should be well written and have an interesting plot and intriguing characters.

I’m happy to share that Flygirl succeeds on every count.

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Review: Donavan’s Double Trouble

“Maybe, Donavan thought, he wasn’t the only one who felt uncomfortable about Vic’s homecoming dinner.” page 43

Donavan’s Double Trouble by Monalisa DeGross, illustrated by Amy Bates.
Amistad, HarperCollins, New York, 2008.
Realistic fiction chapter book, 180 pages.
Lexile:  550L .
AR Level:  3.8 (worth 4.0 points) .
Note: Donavan’s Double Trouble is the sequel to Donavan’s Word Jar.

Donavan’s got all kinds of troubles lately.  Heritage Month is coming up, and he doesn’t know anyone to ask.  He’s struggling with math and his younger sister is overtaking him.  His favorite uncle is back, but no longer a firefighter.  He doesn’t play basketball or teach dance moves anymore, because Uncle Vic’s National Guard unit was called up, and he came home without his legs.  Donovan’s not feeling good about these changes – he just wants his old uncle back.

Donavan's Double Trouble

When I was trying to find books about PoC with disabilities, one word was overwhelmingly used to describe this book: sweet.  Having read it, I would certainly agree.

Continue reading “Review: Donavan’s Double Trouble”

Review: Black Soldiers in the Civil War

“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.
Not leveled.

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.

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Black Soldiers in the Civil War by Rick Beard.

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.

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Black Soldiers in the Civil War, pages 7 and 8.

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.