“Still I do not believe that traders in slaves are born worse than other men. It is the slave trade and the greed it brings that hardens men’s minds and kills their capacity for kindness.” page 81
The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron. (With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995. My edition reprinted, Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2005.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.7 (worth 4.0 points) .
Olaudah Equiano was an African prince from Benin who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, in which condition he traveled widely and had many different experiences. Ann Cameron abridged and adapted this book for young, modern readers.
Although this book has a great deal of adventure, the prologue is more of a moral lesson, and in the first chapter Olaudah describes home life during his early years. For this reason, I’d recommend getting through the first bit quickly to hook kids into the narrative. If you are in a library or another setting where you can’t, then tell the kids about Olaudah’s life so they stay interested.
After chapter two, the pace increases. Cameron breaks the narrative up into short, topical chapters. Some reviews complained about the narrative ending before Olaudah’s book finished, but the afterword summarizes the rest of his life.
“Mrs. Hilliard had to tell her that slave catchers had come from Georgia and that she and William had been right to be suspicious.” page 65
Two Tickets to Freedom: The True Story of William and Ellen Craft, Fugitive Slaves by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.
My edition Scholastic, New York, 1995. Orig. pub. Simon & Schuster, 1971.
Nonfiction, 96 pages.
Lexile: 1030L .
AR Level: 6.8 (worth 3.0 points) .
This book tells the life story of husband and wife William and Ellen Craft, best known for their famous escape from slavery.
In case you are not familiar with this couple, William was a skilled tradesman whose entire family was separated by slavery. Ellen was given to her sister as a wedding present from her father’s wife. They had better lives than many slaves – Ellen was a house servant with comparatively light duties, William was allowed to do extra work and earn his own money, and their owners permitted them to live together in a common-law marriage (it was not legal for slaves to complete a religious or civil marriage ceremony).
However, both deplored the condition of slavery, and they decided not to have children as slaves. One day, William came up with an idea. Ellen was light-skinned and could easily pass for white. They had money from William’s extra work. Ellen would disguise herself as a young man (since a white woman would never travel alone with a male slave) and William as her slave.
It’s a fascinating story, and I’m often surprised that it isn’t better known. We read a book about it (that also includes a reader’s theater) back during the 30 day project., so I was excited to learn more. The kids kept asking what happened next, and the picture book only gave a page of text to tell what happened in the next part of their life.
“All those laws against segregation have been passed, and all that progress has been made. But a whole lot of white people’s hearts have not been changed.” page 187
Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1992 (my edition 1999).
Middle grade autobiography, 192 pages including index and timeline.
Lexile: 970L .
AR Level: 6.2 (worth 6.0 points) .
This is Rosa Parks’ own telling of her story – the story of her life, and the story of that fateful day when she became the icon of a movement.
Some books are ubiquitous – this is one of those books. As far as I can recall, every school library I’ve been in has this book, though I haven’t checked them all. However, I’d never read it before, so when we saw a cheap copy at the used bookstore, we bought it.
I have no regrets about adding this to our collection. While the book is accessible to children, it works as a quick adult read too!
“Like you, I was brought to a family who loved me and whom I love. I cannot stop loving that family, and I don’t want to. I can only allow my love to increase.” page 377
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.
Algonquin Young Readers, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2016.
Middle grade fantasy, 386 pages.
Lexile: 640L .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 12.0 points) .
Xan is the witch of the forest. Every year, the isolated people of the protectorate leave a baby in the forest for no reason she can fathom. Not one to let an infant die in the forest, she takes it on the perilous journey to the other lands, where the children are heralded as Star Children, and adopted into carefully chosen families. On the way, she feeds them starlight. Until one day the aging witch feeds a child moonlight instead…
I enjoyed this book, but wouldn’t recommend you buy it.
“The day before yesterday, when I wrote about Flatworld, there was a reason I didn’t say anything about the day, which was that when I woke up, I couldn’t move at all.” page 43
Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker.
Viking, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
MG science fiction, 283 pages.
Lexile: 940L .
AR Level: not yet leveled
Felix is your average kid, trying to do enough school work to get by, dreaming about his crush, drawing in class, and trying to avoid the school bully. However, he’s also a very special kid, because at three years old, he was fused with an alien from the fourth dimension. With Zyx inside of him, Felix has a lot of disadvantages, and a few advantages, that most kids don’t. But the biggest problem is the Procedure, which is designed to finally separate them but might also kill them both. And it’s happening in 29 days.
This book had a great tagline: “It’s what’s inside that counts… and what’s inside Felix is an alien.” Also, the cover is fabulous, simply presenting the style and major problem of this stand-alone book.
My thoughts about this book were complicated. It has great promise but falters in some of the execution.
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten.
Magination Press, American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C., 2014.
Informative fiction, 36 pages.
The story of Pridefest presented through a parade for family discussion.
This was one of the picture books Husband bought that I mentioned before. I struggled reviewing it since my feelings are mixed. While characters of color are included in this book, it struck me that all the couples included seemed to be either white, or of mixed race. None of the families had two adults of color.
“In the end, the only certainty may be that America had lost one of its most original and outspoken leaders.” page 101
Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer, art by Randy DuBurke.
Serious Comics, Hill and Wang, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York, 2006.
Graphic novel biography, 102 pages plus extras.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 6.6 (worth 3.0 points) .
A black and white comic-style graphic novel biography of Malcolm X.
For some time now, I’ve been trying to find a great middle grade children’s biography of Malcolm X. I’ve gotten some from the library, and purchased a few. So far none have greatly impressed me, which is why I’m just now getting around to reviewing them. Children’s biographies of Malcolm X have a tricky balance to strike. Islam must be included, since it was an important part of his life and work. His militant views (and later ideas about a more hopeful society) can’t be left out, but should be presented in a way appropriate for children. It’s a tall order.