“Paris was not the place for me or my son. The French could entertain the idea of me because they were not immersed in guilt about a mutual history…” p. 165
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou.
Bantam, New York, 1977 (originally published 1976).
Adult autobiography, 242 pages.
In a funny coincidence, I gave away Angelou books (not even read yet… but better loved by someone else) and then a month later came across this in the free books. Of course I started reading this one immediately and it was fascinating. I’ve read quite a bit of her poetry before, but never one of her autobiographies. Upon reading this one I realized that they are probably best read chronologically.
This title is the third, and covers the time when she lived in San Francisco after her son was born, worked a wide variety of jobs, spent a few years married to a white man, and eventually found herself with an entertainment career that took her all over the world, but sadly separated her from her son.
“Today there are at least an estimated 3.5 million Americans of Arabic-speaking descent, and they live in all fifty states. […] The purpose of this book isn’t to separate them out but to fold their experience into the mosaic of American history and deepen our understanding of who we Americans are.” p. xi
A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives by Alia Malek.
Free Press, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009.
Nonfiction, 292 pages.
A walk through American history through the lives of a wide variety of Arab-Americans.
I picked this book up on a whim, but it turned out to be very interesting nonetheless. Mostly, I wanted to know why America was misspelled in the title (Amreeka is the Arabic word for America), and after looking at the blurb, I thought this could be an interesting perspective on American history which I personally had not very much considered before.
Much like Prisoners Without Trial, this book opened my eyes to another important part of American history. Similar to that book, this one also deals with a limited time period, since immigration laws prevented large numbers of Arab immigrants prior to the 1960s. However, Malek tells her story in a very different (although just as engaging) way.
After a brief forward explaining the background, format and scope of the book, she takes snapshots from various Arab-American lives and uses them to illustrate a wide variety of experiences and time periods. In between these vignettes are brief chapters that give immigration statistics, updates on legal and cultural developments, and information about world politics that had bearing on Arab-American lives.
“How does a teenager come to hold such a view? The answer is simple: people taught him.” p. xii
Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel.
Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2007.
Adult nonfiction/autobiography, 189 pages.
Part autobiography, part nonfiction, this is the story of Eboo Patel’s life, how it could easily have been so very different, and what he feels is most important for young people today.
This was a very unique read. Patel intersperses the story of his own life with a look at the way various Western minority youth were influenced by religious extremists and carried out various acts of violence.
“For now, both teenagers are just taking the bus home from school. Surely it’s not too late to stop things from going wrong. There must be some way to wake Sasha. Divert Richard. Get the driver to stop the bus. There must be something you can do.” p. 5
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater.
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, New York, 2017.
YA nonfiction/true crime, 305 pages.
Lexile: 930L .
AR Level: 6.5 (worth 8.0 points) .
In November 2013, two teens were on the same bus for just eight minutes. Agender senior Sasha fell asleep on the long ride home from fir small private school. Sixteen-year-old Richard was joking with friends as he left his large public school. Then Richard held a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, forever changing the course of both their lives.
This unique, well-written exploration of one particular incident evokes much more. Richard’s struggling (but loving) young mother took in two nieces after her sister was murdered. He grew up in a rough neighborhood, where 4 of his close friends and family members had been murdered before he was 16, and he was mugged at gunpoint only a week before the fire. And Richard was African-American, possibly ADHD, and definitely traumatized. He spent time in a group home because of fights before, but didn’t start them – he was a follower.
Sasha is white, middle class, an only child who had struggled with fitting in before – autistic and agender, with a major passion for public transport. Fi is shy, so fir parents were surprised when fi started wearing skirts. However, they took great joy in seeing the child a psychiatrist told them to lower their hopes for blossoming into a confident, thoughtful teen.
“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 2.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.
Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.
Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole. Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.
“There is a bit of Japanese folklore that made Chiune’s parents think that perhaps their son might be special.” page 1
A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust by Alison Leslie Gold.
Polaris, Scholastic, New York, 2000.
Nonfiction, 176 pages.
Lexile: 980L .
AR Level: not leveled
The story of one Japanese diplomat who followed his conscience to issue life-saving passports to Jews during World War II, against the orders of his superiors.
Sugihara was such an interesting figure. Many of his choices, starting with the one that caused him to eventually become a diplomat, were quite unusual for Japanese society. His early experiences defying his father look, in retrospect, like preparation for his major act of defiance in issuing the passports.
“Still I do not believe that traders in slaves are born worse than other men. It is the slave trade and the greed it brings that hardens men’s minds and kills their capacity for kindness.” page 81
The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron. (With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995. My edition reprinted, Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2005.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.7 (worth 4.0 points) .
Olaudah Equiano was an African prince from Benin who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, in which condition he traveled widely and had many different experiences. Ann Cameron abridged and adapted this book for young, modern readers.
Although this book has a great deal of adventure, the prologue is more of a moral lesson, and in the first chapter Olaudah describes home life during his early years. For this reason, I’d recommend getting through the first bit quickly to hook kids into the narrative. If you are in a library or another setting where you can’t, then tell the kids about Olaudah’s life so they stay interested.
After chapter two, the pace increases. Cameron breaks the narrative up into short, topical chapters. Some reviews complained about the narrative ending before Olaudah’s book finished, but the afterword summarizes the rest of his life.