Review: Amazing Grace

Lavar Burton’s favorite picture book doesn’t disappoint.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch.
Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Books USA, New York, 1991,  Reprinted Scholastic, New York, 1993.
Picture book realistic fiction, 24 pages.
Lexile: 680L
AR Level: 3.5 (worth 0.5 points)

Grace loves stories, whether they are read or watched or told to her.  More than anything, she loves to act out those stories.  When her class is producing Peter Pan, classmates say she can’t play Peter because she’s a black girl.  But Grace believes she can do anything.

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Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch

This book is something of a classic.  It was featured on Reading Rainbow and became somewhat ubiquitous in school libraries in a short amount of time.  Lavar Burton has said that Amazing Grace is his favorite picture book, and it’s easy to see why.

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Review: Witness

“i don’t know if he could see me well enough / to judge the color of my skin. / i don’t know if my color mattered one whit to him.” p. 41

Witness by Karen Hesse.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2001.
Historical fiction novel in verse, 161 pages.
This book is not an award winner, but the author has won many awards.
Lexile: NP (What does NP mean in Lexile Levels? )
AR Level: 5.0 (Worth 2.0 points)

This free verse novel tells about when the Ku Klux Klan came to a small town in Vermont in 1924.  The story is told through 11 different voices, some of them sympathetic to the KKK and others in great danger from this change.  Two pivotal figures are 12-year-old Leanora Sutter, a gifted African-American, and Jewish 6-year-old Esther Hirsh.  Although this book seems to be aimed at 5th-8th grade students, since the characters span such a wide age range, it could be used in high school as well.

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Witness by Karen Hesse.

I’m not fond of novels in verse.  I love poetry and novels, but feel the combination usually sacrifices either poetic artistry or the craft of the novel.  When I picked this book at the library (SM), I had no idea it was in verse.  Once I opened it, the poor book languished, being read a few pages here and there while I whizzed through other books (autobiographies of Simone Biles and Trevor Noah).  Finally I finished, then quickly re-read it for this review so I could return it.

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Review: A Country Far Away

Creative book concept has a disturbing subtext in execution.

A Country Far Away by Nigel Gray and Phillippe Dupasquier.
Orchard Books, New York, 1988.
Picture book informative fiction, 26 pages.
Lexile:   BR  (What does BR mean in Lexile levels?)
AR level: 1.2 (worth 0.5 points)

This book has an intriguing premise.  There are two stories – on the top of each page, outlined in red, is what my copy calls life in “a small African village” and on the bottom of each page, outlined in blue, is what my copy calls life in “a modern suburban setting.”  The two stories are very, very different, but they are united by the central text, which in simple words states what is happening in the lives of both boys, for example “Today was the last day of school before vacation.” or “I helped my mom and dad.”  In my copy, the text is only in English, although some other reviews have indicated that other editions might have had other text as well at one point, and there is white space where such text could occur.

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A Country Far Away, written by Nigel Gray, illustrated by Philippe Dupasquier

Normally I don’t seek out reviews for books I’m planning to review, but this book was an exception.  I needed to see what others were saying in order to make sense of my own reaction to the book, and I was confused that the reviews were overwhelmingly positive.  There were very few negative reviews even though the book has several crippling flaws.

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Review: Abby Takes a Stand – Scraps of Time 1960

This meaningful chapter book uses one family’s story to explain a chapter in African-American history.

Abby Takes a Stand (Scraps of Time 1960) by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon James.
Puffin Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2005.
Elementary historical fiction, 104 pages.  Author has won the Newberry for previous work.
Lexile: 580L
Not in AR yet

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 lunch menu from a long-gone, segregated restaurant.  Gee herself was just a ten-year old girl named Abby when she accepted a flyer for a free ride on a merry-go-round at the mall’s restaurant, only to find out that she is not welcome there.

This experience changes her and causes her family to become involved in the peaceful protests.  Not all members want to be involved, and both opinions are given some discussion.  Abby and her best friend are too young to join the protests, but they hand out flyers and even sneak downtown where they witness the more dangerous side of protesting.

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Abby Takes a Stand, first book in the Scraps of Time series of historical fiction

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Review: Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It

“The streak test. Hematite was black, but its streak was red. ‘Color is just a part of who you are… like a mineral,” I said. (p.177-178)

Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It by Sundee T. Frazier.
Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2007.
Ages 9-12 chapter book fiction, 193 pages.
Coretta Scott King Award Winner, 2008 (John Steptoe Award for New Talent)
Lexile: 630L
AR level: 4.0 (worth 6.0 pts)

This book I got from the library (SM) as I found the back matter intriguing.  It focuses on ten year old Brendan Buckley over the summer between fifth and sixth grade.  Only child Brendan’s Grandpa Clem has just passed away, his father is busy working as a police detective, and he plans on spending the summer hanging out with his best friend Khalfani, practicing Tae Kwan Do, and learning more about science.  When his mom isn’t making him go to the mall with Grandma Gladys, that is.

On one of those mall trips, he wanders into a display of the local rock club and can’t wait to sign up. But his grandma sees him talking to the club president and drags him away – it’s his grandpa DeBose, whom he’s never met.

So now Brendan has a lot of questions.  Why has he never met his white grandfather?  Who is this guy?  And what does it mean that he is mixed?  What will it mean to look black as he grows up?

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Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It by Sundee T. Frazier

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