Review: Ninth Ward

“Outside, the neighborhood has been torn apart. Trees, snapped like toothpicks, are lying on the ground.” page 139

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Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
MG speculative fiction, 218 pages.
Lexile:  HL470L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  3.3 (worth 4.0 points)  .

Twelve-year old Lanesha is different from her peers in one major way: she can see ghosts.  And several minor ways: she was raised by Mama Ya-Ya, the midwife who birthed her, but without the formality of kinship or an official foster care relationship.  She loves to learn, tackling difficult math problems and learning new words with glee.

Ninth Ward cover resized

The book covers nine days directly before and during the events of Hurricane Katrina over 14 chapters.  Within the chapters the text is further broken into sections, and the sentences tend to be short.  Although Parker Rhodes doesn’t shy away from challenging words, they are decipherable with context clues if not defined in the text.  These explain why this has a low reading level, but it’s not meant for very young readers.  Children closer to Lanesha’s age would be a much better fit, because the novel does include deaths, extreme peril, hunger, destruction, and family rejection.

The story starts slowly, establishing Lanesha’s character, neighborhood, and routine before tearing everything apart.  It’s a first person novel, and Lanesha is smart, independent, and loving.  She’s in an unofficial kinship situation with Mama Ya-Ya since her mother died in childbirth without revealing her father and her mother’s family refuses to accept or acknowledge her.

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Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins

“The trick was in knowing how to dispose of people when you were through with them, and Gilly had plenty of practice performing that trick.” page 51

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1978.
Historical fiction, 178 pages.
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 5.0 points)  .

At eleven years old, Gilly Hopkins already has a reputation for being unmanageable and a talent for moving homes.  She has no interest in living with the Trotters and is determined to pull out all the stops to get out of this latest home.

The Great Gilly Hopkins resized

I feel so conflicted about this book.  On the one hand it seems to play into every old stereotype about foster care.  The majority of Gilly’s homes are careless at best.  But let’s start with some of the positives first.

Paterson must have had at least some knowledge of foster care, because there are some things she gets right.  The difficulty of transitioning from one home to the next, the reluctance to love a new family, the battles over personal care and confusion over standards are all common.  The dedication is to an adoptive child, so perhaps she learned about foster care through first-hand experience.

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Review: The Lost Boy

“Leaving Duinsmoore was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. In a matter of months, in the tiniest fraction of my life, Duinsmoore had given me so much.” page 278

The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family by Dave Pelzer.
Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1997.
Memoir, 340 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  5.1 (worth 9.0 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, this is an adult book, not suggested for MG readers.

Peltzer’s first book is all about the inhumane treatment he suffered at the hands of his mother.  The second, after a brief recap of the abuse, focuses on his life in the foster care system.

Pelzer - The Lost Boy

I believe this was the first book that I ever read about foster care.  Many years later, I found some of the series in a thrift store and decided to read through it again.  After the sensational story of the first book, this one is significantly milder.  Peltzer’s mother still has a lot of power over him – mentally, emotionally, and legally.  But her physical control of his body is limited and he starts to heal in some ways.

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Review: Miracle’s Boys

“Ever since I could remember, Ty’ree had sat with Mama at the table, the dim light from the floor lamp turning them both a soft golden brown. While Mama filled out the money order and figured out how to pay some of the other bills, Ty’ree made grocery lists and school supply lists and added and added the cost of everything.” pages 29 and 30

Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson.
My edition Scholastic Read 180, originally published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, New York, 2000.
MG/YA realistic fiction, 133 pages.
Lexile: 660L  .
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 3.0 points)  .

Ever since Mama died, Lafayette and his brothers have been struggling to come together as a family.  Oldest brother Ty’ree had to give up his dream to keep the family together, middle boy Charlie is consumed with guilt that he was away when she died, and Lafayette is engulfed by grief and trauma.

Miracle's Boys cover resized

This was a free book choice I made a while ago, knowing nothing about the title (I didn’t even have time to read the blurb) but simply trusting Jacqueline Woodson as a consistently excellent author.  She did not disappoint.

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Review: The Last Black Unicorn

“I know this, but honestly, part of me still feels like I could end up homeless again at any point in time, and then all I’m going to have is a bag with a dog on it. ” page 265

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Hadish.
Gallery books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Memoir/autobiography, 276 pages.
Not leveled.

The life of comedian Tiffany Hadish from foster care to Hollywood stardom.

The Last Black Unicorn

Yet another Target pick.  I’ve been finding some gems (and a few duds) randomly choosing books at Target that have POC on the cover.  Before reading this book, I didn’t think Hadish was familiar to me, but then realized I’d seen her before.  I’m not very informed on pop culture so the name wasn’t as recognizable to me as it might be for others.

Although the cover isn’t particularly fantasy-ish, the unicorn of the title interested me.  Alas, it’s a comedian’s memoir, not a fantasy novel.  But the last comedy memoir I read from Target was excellent, so I decided to give this one a try.  This is the story of Hadish’s life from high school until her more recent Hollywood success.

The twelve chapters are topical, arranged in roughly chronological order.  Some of her stories are laugh-out-loud funny, while others, particularly the chapter about her ex-husband, are much more serious.  Hadish has been through a lot, and she’s open about her experiences both negative and positive.

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Review: Understood Betsy

“He sent his marble straight to the mark, pocketed his opponent’s, and stood up, scowling at the little mothers. ‘I guess if you had to live the way he does you’d be dirty! Half the time he don’t get anything to eat before he comes to school, and if my mother didn’t put up some extra for him in my box he wouldn’t get any lunch either. And then you go and jump on him!’ ” chapter 8

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield, illustrated by Ada C. Williamson.
Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1917 (orig. pub 1916)
Children’s literature, 271 pages.
Lexile:  1000L  .
AR Level:  5.9 (worth 8.0 points)  .
NOTE:  The references above are to the print edition, however I read the free ebook edition available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5347? .

Nine-year-old Elizabeth Ann’s parents died when she was a baby, so she’s lived all her life with her great-aunt Harriet and has been raised by her cousin (whom she calls aunt) Frances.  However, since Harriet’s taken ill, she has to go live with another branch of the family while Frances nurses her mother.

Understood Betsy cover

At my new job I’ve been getting to know some homeschooling parents.  Many are more concerned about other aspects than diversity, but one asked my opinion about a few booklists.  Most of the books I was able to find reviews of on other sites, but a few I wasn’t able to find good critiques of, so I found copies to read them myself.

Friends, it was dismal.

After reading so many books that were at best unconsciously perpetuating stereotypes and untruths, and knowing they’re on modern day reading lists and staunchly defended by certain parents, I was feeling rather depressed about America.  So I decided to try to find some better books.  Most don’t fit on this blog, but since this book deals with kinship fostering/adoption, I’ve chosen to review it.

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Review: Queen of Katwe

“Phiona had never read a chess book. Never read a chess magazine. Never used a computer. Yet this girl was already a national champion.” page 132

Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion by Tim Crothers.
Vintage Canada, Penguin Random House, Toronto, Canada, my edition 2016, originally published 2012.
Nonfiction, 232 pages.
Not leveled.

Phiona Mutesi followed her brother to a place where children were learning to play chess.  Initially motivated more by a free daily meal, she soon found she had a gift for chess which might propel her out of the slums of Katwe, Uganda.

Queen of Katwe resized

Normally I am very strict about always reading first before seeing any movie based on a book.  In this case both my family and I really wanted to see the film, so I did watched before reading the book.  Sometimes seeing the movie version first can color the interpretation of the book.

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