Review: Giving Thanks 1621

Some thoughts on a slightly controversial children’s book.

Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast by Kate Waters, photographs by Russ Kendall, in cooperation with the Plimoth Plantation.
Scholastic, New York, 2001.
Picture book, 40 pages.
Lexile:  620L  .
AR Level:  3.9 (worth 0.5)  .
NOTE:  There is another book by the same title but subtitled “A Native American Good Morning Message.”

A 1621 harvest feast as seen through the eyes of two boys, reenacted at Plimoth Plantation.

Giving Thanks 1621 Harvest Feast

I feel it’s important to note that this book is on the former Oyate’s List of Thanksgiving Books to Avoid.  That’s part of why I checked it out from the library instead of buying.  However, I couldn’t find any in-depth reviews, so I decided to look through it myself to see how suitable, if at all, this would be for teaching about the holiday.

Because this is one of the Oyate Books to Avoid, the format of this review will look rather different than most.  I decided to use the 11 Myths about Thanksgiving template to consider this book.  My overall thoughts will follow.   Continue reading “Review: Giving Thanks 1621”

Reivew: Hoodoo

“It felt like the world was spinning and I was hanging on, hoping I wouldn’t get thrown off and fall into darkness.” page 155

Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith.
Clarion books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2015.
MG historical fantasy/horror, 214 pages.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 6.0 points)  .

In small-town 1930s Alabama, Hoodoo Hatcher is an unmagical twelve year old born into a folk magic family.  It’s embarrassing enough to not be able to do a simple spell when your name is Hoodoo, but it could be downright dangerous when the Stranger comes to town looking for a boy with that name.

Hoodoo cover

Hoodoo is an incredibly unique book.  Which makes it memorable and interesting, but also a bit challenging to discuss.  How do you classify it?  Hoodoo is decidedly set in the past, and some elements are very evocative of the time and place.  But it’s also definitely a magical book.  The magical elements are not simply magical realism – spells have effects (although not flashy ones) and the existence and efficacy of hoodoo are generally accepted in the town.

There are many creepy aspects.  Astral projection occurs a few times, and messages and items are sent from beyond the grave.  Lives are in danger, people are possessed, cemeteries are dug up.  I find it challenging to classify MG horror since it’s so much less scary, but my sense is that this would mainly fall into horror, with aspects of historical and fantastical fiction that make it a good entry point for readers of those genres.

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Review: The Girl From Everywhere

“Though the distance from cabin to gangplank wasn’t more than twenty feet, I was protective of the ship. Slate had told me from a very young age not to talk to strangers about Navigation.” page 168

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig.
Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016.
Speculative fiction, 454 pages.
Lexile:  750L  .
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 13.0 points)  .
NOTE: This book is not suggested for MG readers despite the reading level.

Nix’s father is a Navigator who can travel to any place, real or imagined as long as he has a map for it, but he’s only obsessed with getting back to the one place he cannot reach – 1868 Honolulu, where Nix’s mother died.

The Girl From Everywhere cover

Now having read this book, I can finally fully appreciate why all of the reviews were so maddeningly vague.  This is, unfortunately, the type of book that you can’t discuss with any real depth unless you’ve read it, because to discuss anything interesting is to give away part of the action.

So I apologize in advance that you might find this review to also be maddeningly vague.  In a book where the majority of the setting and even the time frequently changes (and further changes amongst real and imagined places), the focus is rather on both the characterization and the action.  Both are fast-paced!

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Review: Fire from the Rock

“I have to suck up as much pride and dignity as I can while it’s there for me.” page 200

Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2007.
YA historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile:  760L  .
AR Level:  5.0 (worth 9.0 points)  .

Sharon Draper detours from her usual realistic fiction for a historical novel set in 1957 during school integration at Little Rock.

Fire From the Rock cover resized

The novel opens with a bang as a white man’s vicious dog is turned loose on Sylvia’s 8-year old sister.  Several incidents throughout give a realistic portrayal of what it was like to live during that time period.  For example, although Sylvia takes great pride in her mother’s sewing ability, it’s also a practical necessity since she explains that at the time only white people were allowed to try on clothes in department stores or return them if they didn’t fit.  The nature of historical fiction also makes these glimpses more interesting and memorable to the reader than say, a textbook.  I think this book would work well in a high school history course.

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Review: Ninth Ward

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

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: 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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