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.
“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.
“We wrote this book so that young readers who are facing these same problems today don’t feel ashamed like we did. When someone in a family struggles with substance abuse, the whole family struggles.” p. 219
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, coloring by Lark Pien.
Graphix, Scholastic, New York, 2015.
MG historical fiction, 220 pages.
Lexile: GN490L .
AR Level: 2.4 (worth 0.5 points) .
Sunshine Lewin is spending the summer in Florida visiting her grandfather, who lives in a retirement community there. But that wasn’t the plan for this summer, and there’s something going on that she isn’t talking about.
This series gotten a lot of buzz, both positive and negative. The Holm duo are already well-known for their Babymouse series, but this is aimed at a slightly older crowd. There will be some spoilers for this book discussed in my review, if you want to avoid them please scroll down to the final paragraph for my general opinion.
It’s historical fiction set in 1976, but some parents take issue with the fact that drug addiction and smoking are portrayed. It’s difficult to tell from online hysteria whether or not a book is actually suitable for a certain age range or group of students, so I decided to see for myself.
“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.
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.
“Everett had been wandering around for almost an hour. His body ached from the cold, and he had no idea where to go.” page 19
Away West (Scraps of Time 1879) by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon James.
Puffin Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2006.
Elementary historical fiction, 121 pages.
Lexile: 510L .
AR Level: 3.4 (worth 1.0) .
The Scraps of Time series is built around the idea of a grandmother and three grandchildren building a scrapbook about their family from items kept in their grandmother’s attic. One of the children finds something and asks Gee about it, and then the story proper begins as she tells them the story behind that item.
In this case the item is a Civil War army medal, although the story does not deal directly with the Civil War. Instead, Gee tells them about her grandfather, Everett Turner. The youngest of three brothers, he was determined to find his place in the West.