“I read somewhere in an anthropology book that we Sioux ‘thrive on a culture of excitement.’ During the years from 1973 to 1975 we had more than enough excitement for even the most macho warrior, more than we could handle.” p. 192
Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes.
HarperPerennial, Harper Collins, New York, 1990. Originally published by Grove Weidenfeld.
Adult autobiography, 264 pages.
Lexile: 970L .
AR Level: not leveled.
The life story of Mary Crow Dog, especially her time with the American Indian Movement and at Wounded Knee.
Every so often I stumble into a book with no expectations. I wasn’t familiar with this title when I got it and started reading with only the basic knowledge that it was a Native American woman’s autobiography. However, instead it was an education!
“One of the things I hate most in life is people telling me to calm down, as if I’m some out-of-control lunatic who isn’t entitled to have feelings.” page 160
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez.
Ember, Random House Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
YA fiction, 362 pages.
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 12.0 points) .
Julia is not the perfect Mexican daughter. That was her sister, Olga – until she died in a tragic accident that left everyone reeling. Now her already strained relationship with her mother has shattered, her father is a lump, and Julia is obsessed with investigating her sister’s life, trying to get to know the sister who was ignored when she was alive.
Because the majority of this book is about the unfolding drama of Julia’s quest to understand her sister Olga’s life, it’s incredibly difficult to discuss this book in any depth without spoilers. The action spans a space of just about two years, from a few months after Olga’s death, through Julia’s high school graduation.
“When Steve grasped the painting, it tingled against his fingertips. He felt as if he had rubbed his shoes fast over a carpet.” p. 19
The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 2000.
Historical fantasy, 90 pages.
Lexile: 530L .
AR Level: 3.8 (worth 2.0 points) .
Eight-year-old Steve’s parents and all of his belongings are gone after a tragic fire, and now he shares a single room in Chinatown with his grandfather and Uncle Fong (no relation but a childhood friend of Grandfather’s). They are so poor that after his paintbrush split in art class, he’s afraid to go home and tell his Grandfather, knowing that a new one is not possible.
For a book with magic in the title, this book takes a while to get to the fantasy part. The first chapters are all about establishing the setting – early 1960s San Francisco – and characters. The tale of a magic paintbrush given to a poor boy who uses it to spread happiness is a Chinese story that has been retold many times, mostly in picture books. Yep has a unique historical Chinese-American spin to his version though.
“But the aunties’ heads must be so hard by now, Anna thought. After centuries of pulling and tugging and yanking, their heads must be as hard as concrete.” page 39
Hooray for Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.
Kane Miller, EDC Publishing, Tulsa, OK, 2010. (First published in London, 2008.)
Elementary chapter book fiction, 112 pages.
Lexile: 660L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Anna Hibiscus chapter book series.
The continued adventures of Anna Hibiscus and her family in amazing Africa.
I wrote a few years ago about the first book in this series, simply titled Anna Hibiscus. While I loved the story and one of my older children read it independently, at the time of that review, they hadn’t enjoyed it as a read-aloud. Well, it was indeed just a moody day, because we have since been loving this series as a whole-family read aloud choice.
Much like the first, this book is actually four interconnected short stories which could be read individually.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 404 pages.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 12.0 points) .
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow lives in the rather dull (at least by her standards) town of Ferenwood. She doesn’t quite fit in, partly because she is nearly colorless, and partly because of her quirky, temperamental personality.
Mafi has an unusual writing style – you are likely to either love or hate it, and it’s difficult to describe, so I’d highly suggest reading an excerpt from this book to see if her method will be a good fit for you. Much like her unique setting and eccentric protagonist, she writes with a blend of humor, sarcasm, drama, and pragmatic melancholy. Even on the chapters that proceed the main adventure and are mostly worldbuilding, really, everything moves at a breakneck pace.
In the hands of another writer, any one of the many places and magics that Mafi describes could be its own story, but much like Alice in Wonderland, this Alice is focused on meeting her goals. Her beloved Father is missing, former classmate Oliver is a thorn in her side, and her mother is cold and dismissive.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
The life of comedian Tiffany Hadish from foster care to Hollywood stardom.
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.