The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

Hoops

Hoops by Walter Dean Myers: Book Cover

Hoops

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 183

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

Career Connections: Professional Basketball Player

PLOT SUMMARY: Lonnie is about to finish high school when he is approached to play on a neighborhood basketball team in a tournament that will have college scouts attending.  Lonnie joins the team with hopes that he may actually receive a scholarship.  However, when Cal, the neighborhood wine-o shows up and says that he is the team coach, Lonnie’s hopes fade.

Cal challenges Lonnie to a three basket one-on-one pick up game and Lonnie learns that Cal does “have a game”.  Cal manages to get the team uniforms and trains them to work together as a team.  He is continually on Lonnie to do better, but Lonnie begins to like Cal. The bond between the two builds as they practice and the team competes.  Lonnie begins to think of Lonnie as a friend and father figure. 

But Cal has a past that haunts him and occasionally does not show up for practice and games. When Lonnie finds him, Cal confesses to him about why he quit playing basketball professionally.  The two form a bond but Cal again disappoints Lonnie and the team.  It is through Cal’s discreet actions that Lonnie learns not only the game of basketball but the game of life.

REVIEW: Myers depicts his love for basketball in this book about basketball on the streets of Harlem.  Boys of the African American race will like this as it is written in slang which makes the story more believable.  There is a lot of basketball action but the story’s theme focuses on the true game of life.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None that are not content and age appropriate

AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Character, Setting, Generalizations. Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: Night Hoops, Slam, Shooter

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/3687

www.selfesteem2go.com/team-building-lesson-plans.html

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Hoop Dreams (1994), City Dump: The Story of the 1951 CCNY Basketball Scandal (1994), Game Day (1999), Streetballers (2009), More than a Game (2009)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Chains

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson: Book Cover

Chains

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Page Length: 316

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Historical Fiction

Career Connection: Military service, undercover work

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting is the New England colonies, 1776; the characters are Isabel (13) and her younger sister, Ruth.  They are African American slaves whose mistress has just died.  They should be freed upon the declaration of her death, but their relatives choose to sell them to the Lockton’s who live in New York City and support the British Redcoats during the Revolutionary War.

Isabel is protective of Ruth, whom Madam Lockton uses as her “pet” to impress society friends from Britain.  Ruth suffers from epilepsy which Madam Lockton cannot understand.  The book covers an eight month time span where Isabel is separated from Ruth, beaten and branded, cooks and serves the soldiers of King George’s army, and spies for George Washington’s imprisoned patriots.

Her hope in life is built on the influence of Curzon, a young fellow slave, who is injured in the war and is housed at the local hospital; and, Lady Seymour, sister in law of the dreaded Madam Lockton.

Contrary to most African American slaves of the time period, Isabel can read. After reading Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and being discovered as a spy, Isabel realizes that she must find freedom or die at the will of Madam Lockton.  She bids the severely ill Lady Seymour good-bye; then, returns to the hospital prison to rescue Curzon, in the hope that they can cross the water from New York City to the shore of New Jersey and travel to Atlanta to find Ruth.

REVIEW: I found this book interesting in its historical recalling of slavery in the northern New England colonies at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Written from Isabel’s point of view, I developed a sense of empathy for her as she related her feelings of loneliness and helplessness in the world of aristocratic hierarchy.  Unlike most slaves I have read about, the protagonist can read and is quite intellectual and informed for a 13 year old.

The author uses similes and metaphors frequently throughout the book. At the end of the book, an informative Appendix and a Reader’s Guide are included.  This would be an interesting class novel to read as a study of the Revolutionary War, slavery in the United States, or African American history.  The book would be appealing to girls who enjoy American history.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Recalling Details, Historical Context

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

RELATED BOOKS: Octavian Nothing, Forge

RELATEDWEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/lhanderson.hml

www.charlotteaward.wordpress.com/young-adult

www.branson.k12.mo.us/elementary/emints/lessonplans/chambersinterdisciplinarylesson.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Finding Fish

Finding Fish

Author: Antwone Quentin Fisher

Page Length: 340

Reading Level: 10

Genre: Autobiography       

PLOT SUMMARY: Antwone Fisher was born in a prison and immediately placed in foster care where he was constantly verbally abused, often physically abused, and on occasion, sexually abused.  He lived in the home of the Pickett’s with his two foster siblings for 13 years.  During that time, he expressed himself through artwork, but mostly led a rather silent life, feeling unworthy.  On page 72, Fisher writes how his dreams were abandoned and he lived only to survive the day-to-day routine of school and verbal abuse at home.

When Antwone entered a new school in fourth grade, he met an angel, his teacher, Miss Profitt.  She was fair and treated him as if he were special. Although the Child Protective Services monitored Antwone’s foster parents and they suspected the Pickett’s were not providing the appropriate domestic environment, there never seemed to be a better placement for Antwone. 

At the age of 16, Antwone was placed in a reform school, where he felt more comfortable and safe than in his foster home. Antwone knew he had nowhere else to go.  After a time at the reform school, Antwone left and found himself homeless.  He eventually joined the Navy and it was there that he found confidence in himself and learned that he was worthy of a good life.  He began to write poetry and demonstrated excellent written and oral command with leadership qualities (p. 291). Through his experience in the Navy, Antwone found family, friendship, belonging, education, and purpose.

He eventually reconnected with his foster siblings, his biological mother, and then, married and had a daughter, Indigo. 

REVIEW: Because of the tragic experiences Antwone Fisher experienced in his childhood, this book reads more like fiction than reality.  The harsh treatment he received by his foster parents is difficult to read.  However, the story gives hope to those who do experience abuse, poverty, and loneliness as Antwone tells how through a few positive contacts in his life he did strive to be the best he could be. 

Although the writing is very descriptive, the teacher should be aware that it is quite graphic.  I would suggest the book for mature students.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: descriptive murder (p. 21), sexual abuse (p. 43-44, 241, and 245), harsh language and profanity (p. 138, 155, 195, 199-200, 231, 246, 274, 281)

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Character, Sequence of Events, Cause/Effect, Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Antwone Fisher Story (screenplay), Who Will Cry for the Little Boy? (Poems), A Child Called It

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Antwone Fisher (2002)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.antwonefisher.net/index.html

www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061127410/Finding_Fish/index.aspx

www.mercury.educ.ketn.edu/database/eureka/

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Begging for Change

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Begging for Change

Author: Sharon G. Flake

Page Length: 248         

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Raspberry lives with her mom who has been beaten up by Shiketa, a teen-age girl in their neighborhood.  While her mom is in the hospital, Raspberry’s father visits which is an unpleasant experience for her because he will steal and lie to anyone to get money for drugs.  Raspberry is anxious to leave the hospital with Zora, her friend, and Zora’s dad, Dr. Mitchell, who her mom dates. 

While eating dinner that evening, Zora and Dr. Mitchell both leave the table.  Raspberry feels compelled to look into Zora’s purse and instinctively takes the cash from her wallet.  Raspberry doesn’t know why she took Zora’s money, but doesn’t know how to give it back.

When her mom returns home from the hospital, there is tension between Shiketa’s friends and Raspberry and her mother.  Raspberry spends the summer days working and hanging out with other teens in the neighborhood.  Zora becomes stand offish but does not confront Raspberry about the stolen money and doesn’t tell her dad. 

As each day passes, Raspberry feels tension about her theft, but when the opportunity arises to steal from a neighbor lady, she takes more money.  When Raspberry’s father comes to her apartment and steals her own money, Raspberry knows how Zora must feel towards her. When Zora insists that Raspberry tell Dr. Mitchell about stealing the money, Raspberry makes up a lie to tell the doctor and her mom.  Raspberry begins to wonder if she is like her dad—a thief and a liar.

The summer passes with Zora and Raspberry not speaking, her friend, Mai, having bi-racial issues, a romance developing with Sato, another theft by her father, and a move to a nicer part of town. Raspberry has a good support system from her mom, Dr. Mitchell, and her friends but she has a love for money. It is only after she sees her dad, finally drug free, that she can admit her guilt.  She realizes she was “begging for change” not only through monetary means, but in her own life style.

REVIEW: This is the sequel to Money Hungry, whose main character, Raspberry Hill, continues to display a love for money. The book started out a little slow, but as the characters and plot developed, I became more interested.  Middle school and junior high African American girls would probably enjoy this book the most.  The relationship between the girlfriends is very realistic to the feelings 12-14 year-olds experience.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: References to drug use

AREAS OF TEACHING: Characters, Theme, Conflict, and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Chill Wind, Spellbound, and Money Hungry

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Daddy’s Little Girls (2006)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.lindaslinkstoliterature.com/lll/booktitles2.htm

www.sharongflake.com

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

A Hope in the Unseen

A Hope in the Unseen

Author: Ron Suskind

Page Length: 390

Reading Level: 9

Genre: Biography   

PLOT SUMMARY: This story follows Cedric Jennings through his last two years of high school and his first year of college at Brown University.   Cedric went to Ballou High School in the inner city of Washington D. C. The school had a reputation for low-achievers, a high drop out rate, and few students who went on to attend four-year universities.

Cedric’s mother, Barbara, raised Cedric with the intentions of having him be professionally successful by instilling in him a respect for education and a strong, spiritual background. His father had a degree, but he was a heroin addict who served prison time for various associated crimes.

After his junior year of high school, Cedric attended a summer conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Cedric’s dream was to attend school there, but when he was not accepted he applied to Brown University (also an Ivy League school). As an honor student at Ballou High School, Cedric was often taunted by other students and was eager to graduate and leave the poverty filled environment. After an article was written about him in the Wall Street Journal, Cedric was invited to visit Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for a meeting.  That meeting, in which Justice Thomas challenges Cedric and tells him that he will be among many smart white students at Brown, is chronicled on pages 116-123.

Cedric graduates from high school with many honors, but when he reaches Brown University, he finds he is one of the lowest achievers.  He not only must work hard academically, but he also finds that he doesn’t belong in any special place in the population of Brown.  He doesn’t want to associate with only African Americans, but Cedric finds that he doesn’t fit in with the materialistic, white males in his dorm unit, either. He experiences a lot of conflict with his roommate, Rob.  However, Cedric does form a good friendship with one white boy who shares a love of music with him. Cedric also makes friends with one, rather odd, white girl. He also meets a black girl who becomes a life-long friend.

Cedric considers majoring in math but has an interest in education, too.  He writes a poignant paragraph after observing a high school classroom for one of his education classes that appears on page 338. Through his academic and social struggles, Cedric begins to question some of his thoughts about his religious beliefs and his relationship and attitudes towards both of his parents.

The epilogue on pages 362-365 summarizes where Cedric is emotionally, spiritually, socially and professionally at the end of his college experience.

REVIEW: This book describes the hardships that Cedric endured as a strong-willed, intelligent African American male in not only a low-income environment but prominent Ivy League surroundings. It is an accurate depiction of attitudes in both cultures. 

I felt it was a bit lengthy and quite serious.  I would recommend it only to college bound high school students with interests in social or education professions.  However, I think it is an excellent book for high school teachers to read who teach in inner city or low income schools.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: harsh profanity (p. 57, 58, 126, 207, 216, 225, 226, 280, and 351), reference to sexual act (p. 200), references of drug use throughout the book

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions, Cultural Diversity, Racial Differences, Theme, Conflict, and Mood

RELATED BOOKS: Things Fall Apart, Monkey Bridge, The Best of Simple, Middle Passage, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Tutu and Franklin: A Journey Towards Peace (2001, PBS Documentary)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.randomhouse.com/highschool/RHI_magazine/pdf/RHI07.pdf

www.pinkmonkey.com/booknotes/monkeynotes/pmAHopeInTheUnseen01.asp

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 18, 2009

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Author: Mildred Taylor

Page Length: 276

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins with Cassie Logan and her brothers walking to school. Although they are young children, they are aware of the different ways whites and blacks are treated.  Being Negroes, they must walk to school, while the white children ride a bus. Their schoolbooks are worn, discarded rejects from the white children’s school. They even become the subjects of jokes when the bus driver deliberately splashes them with mud as he drives the white children to school.

As the events of the book unfold, repeated incidents of racism are witnessed at school and in the community.  The Logan family lives in fear of the Ku Klux Klan ,but with the influence of Big Ma, Mama, and Papa they cling together to protect the 400 acres they call “their land.”

REVIEW: Many of the events and themes of the story are adult in nature, but Cassie, a fourth grader, tells the book in narrative form. The children must witness their mother being fired as a teacher, grown men being tarred and feathered, and a rebellious friend, T. J., accused of murder.  They learn the viciousness that prejudicial feelings of racism bring. Through the violence, Cassie realizes the importance of family and why “the land” is an endearment they must protect.

This is an awesome book I would recommend it for reading as a class novel.  The character development and setting are excellently described, as well as the drama in the sequence of events.  It is a great book to read in conjunction with a Civil Rights Movement theme.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Conflict, Characters, Setting, Theme, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Land, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, A Time to Kill, To Kill a Mockingbird

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), A Time to Kill (1996), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.aloha.net/~uncldon/rothmyc.htm

www.litsum.com/rollofthunderhearmy-cry

www.sparknotes.com/lit/rollofthunder

www.scholastic.com/kids/homework/pdfs/Roll_of_Thunder.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 12, 2008

Witness

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Witness

Author: Karen Hesse

Page Length: 161

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction written in Verse

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting of the story is in Vermont, in 1924.  Ten characters of the small community tell the story in verse.  It is the story of two young girls, Leanora, an African American whose mother has died, and Esther who is Jewish.  Neither is welcome in the community anymore because it has fallen under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan.  The other characters range in age from teen-ager to middle 60’s.  Some of the characters refuse to join the Klan and others become active.  With the Klan growing, violence increases.  However, the community eventually pulls together to find hope and redemption.

REVIEW: The setting of the story surprised me, in that, I was not aware the Ku Klux Klan was active in the North.  The story is told in verse, and could be read aloud as a play. The characters are vivid not only in their descriptions but also in their actions.  Each of them distinctly reflects a response that would be typical of real life when an influential association infiltrates a community.  Although set in the early 1900’s, this would be a good novel to study in conjunction with study of Hitler’s influence over the Nazi party and the Civil Rights Movement in America.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Some violence but it correlates with the theme of the book.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Verse writing, Theme, Conflict, Historical Context, Setting, and Character

RELATED BOOKS: To Kill a Mockingbird, A Time to Kill

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), A Time to Kill (1996)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.teenreads.com/reviews/0439271991.asp

www.kidsreads.com/clubs/club-witness.asp

www.students.ed.uiuc.edu/bmweber/standard4.html

www.winooski.k12.vt.us/DHA_final_TeacherManual.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 24, 2008

Monster

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Monster

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 277

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Steve Harmon is on trial for felony murder.  He is 16 years old, scared, and alone in jail.  The prosecutor calls him a MONSTER.

The story is written in a movie format as Steve writes and directs it.  As the prosecutor brings witnesses to the stand, the reader experiences Steve’s thoughts and emotions.  He is excused because of the testimony of one of the men who committed the robbery.  Supposedly, Steve was an accomplice by going into the neighborhood store in Harlem, checking it out to see if it was safe, and giving the two robbers a “go ahead” sign to enter the store.  As the robbery takes place, the store owner pulls a gun, and in a struggle, the gun goes off, and the owner dies.

Steve’s lawyer never gives him much hope, but there is no “proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Steve was actually involved.  As he takes the stand, he denies being in the store the day of the crime.  He does acknowledge knowing the accomplices. The jury is left to decide the outcome of his future. 

REVIEW:  I have read several of Walter Dean Myers young adult books and enjoyed this one the most.  As he writes the book in a play format, the reader becomes very attached to Steve Harmon’s feelings and fears.  Meyer’s lets the reader come to his own conclusion about Steve’s guilt or innocence.  I think the book would be a good class novel to read.

At the end of the book, there are a section of questions for discussion and questions for the author that would be good to use if read as a class novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Main Idea and Supporting Details, Setting, Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, Conflict, and Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Violent content but written in an acceptable manner

RELATED BOOKS:  Autobiography of My Dead Brother, Bad Boy: A Memoir

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.northern.edu/hastingw/myers.html

www.northern.edu/hastingw/myers.html

www.kennedy-center.org/multimedia/storytimeonline/harlem.html

www.powells.com/biblio/0064407314

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 12, 2008

Hank Aaron Brave in Every Way

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Hank Aaron Brave in Every Way

Author: Peter Golenbock

Illustrator:  Paul Lee         

Page Length: 32

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY:  Hank Aaron was born on February 5, 1934 to two loving parents.  His father had visions for him to play baseball, his mother wanted him to make a difference in the world.  The story is about Hank’s childhood, is beginning in league baseball, and his professional career.

REVIEW:  This is a short, easy to read, nicely illustrated book of Hank Aaron’s life.  I enjoyed it because it presented a different side of an African American family in the early 1900’s.  Although poor, Hank was able to get an education, have hope and pursue dreams.  He did experience some racial ridicule as broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, but his praise and support from the rest of the world completely outweighed the bad.

This is a good book for the reluctant reader who enjoys sports because it is short.  However, there is enough information where a concise report could be written about Hank Aaron’s life.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Main Idea and Supporting Details

RELATED BOOKS: Jackie’s Nine, Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy, Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, When Willard Met Babe Ruth

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.bookideas.com/reviews/index.cfm?fuseaction=displayReview&id=546

www.cushcity.com/books/0152020934.htm

www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-77749055.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 29, 2008

Orphea Proud

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Orphea Proud

Author: Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Page Length: 190

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story of Orphea begins in a club where Orphea shares her material with the crowd. Orphea begins to tell us her story. She begins with a flashback to when her mother, Nadine, was a beautiful singer, wed to a controlling preacher. Orphea tells us how they met and what unfolded in her childhood. Orphea and her best friend fall in love with one another. Orphea’s brother doesn’t approve; he creates a tumultuous home life for Orphea. After being sent to live with her aunts, Orphea befriends Ray, and through their friendship Orphea’s broken heart begins to heal. She begins to write again and finds her way back to living again.

REVIEW: This is not your average book. In fact, Orphea falls in love with her best friend, Lissa (they are both females). The book deals with the romance and rather briefly addresses the physical nature of their relationship. Prejudice is revealed through the brother who reacts toward the relationship with violence. The book does create an understanding for Orphea as a person and would be useful in teaching students to understand instead of judging others. However, I would not want to have to defend this book to a parent. I would avoid this book on the classroom level all together.

On the other hand, times are changing and some students may need the support this novel could offer about sexuality and same-sex relationships. Read it your self before your students do and you’ll be prepared instead of surprised.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: conflict, cause and effect, countering prejudice,

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: lesbian relationship (detailed on pages 22-23), physical abuse (pgs. 23-24)

RELATED BOOKS:

Female same-sex relationship books: The Rules for Hearts, Good Girls Don’t, I’ve Known Since I was Eight, Keeping You a Secret

Wyeth books: A Piece of Heaven, Something Beautiful, Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_6_38/ai_n7179968

http://www.clt.astate.edu/sparks/Volume%204/Issue%203/Y%20Adult/Orphea%20Proud.htm

http://www.sharondenniswyeth.com/

http://www.sharondenniswyeth.com/young_adults.html

http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/authors/results.pperl?authorid=33850

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 1, 2008

The Glory Field

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The Glory Field

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This novel tells the story of generations of the Lewis family. The story begins in West Africa in 1753 when Muhammad Bilal is captured, bound, and taken on a ship. Young Muhammad longs for his family, watches many of his shipmates die, and wonders what his own fate will be. He longs for his freedom. Next we meet, Moses and Joshua Lewis on a South Carolina plantation in the year 1864. They too are on a dangerous quest for freedom no matter what the cost. The story continues across the family tree in each generation concluding in modern times. The Lewis family must summon all of their strength and courage to overcome hardships that continue to present themselves in different forms to each generation.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the historical perspective this book provided. Myers did an exceptional job of helping the read feel the struggles of each generation. He truly relays how arduous the struggle for equality has been for African Americans. Different generational stories are told by both the males and females of the family – making the book equally appealing for all students. The novel is rich with historical connections and would make an excellent teaching tool.

The one thing I found hard to follow at times – or really that I wish he had done differently would have been to follow one specific family line all the way through instead of taking different characters along the way. However, the stories are woven together well; sometimes, just glancing back at the family tree diagram helps the reader keep it all together in their mind.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: author’s purpose, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, compare/contrast, sequence of events, symbols (shackles),  point of view, causes and effects

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: whippings, slavery, prejudice, cruelty, drugs

RELATED BOOKS: The Color Purple, Gone With the Wind, Up From Slavery, If You Lived When There was Slavery in America, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

RELATED MOVIES: “Gone With the Wind,” “Roots,” “The North and the South,” “The Color Purple,” PBS – “Slavery and the Making of America”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.classzone.com/novelguides/litcons/glory/guide.cfm

http://www.glencoe.com/sec/literature/litlibrary/pdf/glory_field.pdf

http://tc.education.pitt.edu/library/Clusters/GloryField.html

http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schooladventures/slavery/

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 23, 2008

Black Diamond

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Black Diamond

Author: P. McKissack & F. McKissack

Page Length: 184

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-fiction

REVIEW: This is an interesting story about the origin of the Negro Baseball Leagues. There are few accurate historical records to give a clear picture of creation of this league. However the authors have attempted to assemble several sources together in order that the reader may have a glimpse of how the “American Sport” of baseball segregated it’s African American players from white players during the turbulent time of the Civil War and slavery.

Slave owners did not favor their slaves participating in baseball because it was not as profitable as other sports such as boxing and wrestling. However, as time went by, African-Americans who desired to play baseball found ways to participate as their own teams.

The white players in baseball were more concerned about “skin color” than the managers and owners of the teams. However, because the number of players exceeded that of management, segregation remained strong in the early days of the sport. There were some African-Americans who gained access to the “white” baseball teams by passing off as Cubans. Cubans were allowed to play with whites. Elements of segregation, discrimination, and contradictions flow throughout this book in an attempt to show the true environment in which African-Americans lived and played.

Ironically, once the Great Depression occurred and many white men left the country to fight in the World War, blacks were able to “slide in” and play vacated baseball positions in which they normally were banned.

In the Negro Base Leagues, the players participated in multiple positions on the field. Balls were caught bare-handed. They also did not have access to the resources and money that their “white teams” had. However, the Negro Leagues played not for fame or fortune, but for the love of the game. In their travels across the country, they were able to spread a sense of feeling that equality could be achieved through a common bond called sport.

In 1945, Jackie Robinson signed a contract to be the first African-American to play for a major league baseball team. He would later move on to become the first African-American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. What is ironic about Jackie Robinson is that he had been participating in sports alongside whites before he came to major league baseball because college sports and the Olympics were integrated before Major League Baseball.

This book includes great photographs, captions, player profiles, timelines, and a bibliography for further reference.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: compare/contrast (page 98), Logical Arguments (Chapter 11), Hero Theme (Chapter 11), vocabulary (pirating, RBI, barnstorm – pg 26)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: derogatory words (pages 18, 20, 139), elements of racial prejudice and beatings

RELATED BOOKS: When Willard Met Babe Ruth, Jackie’s Nine, Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), “Negro Baseball Leagues” (1946)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.loc.gov/loc/kidslc/LGpdfs/baseball-guide.pdf (vocabulary & biographies)

http://www.coe.ksu.edu/nlbemuseum/resource/lpwomen.html (extension on book to include women)

http://www.teachwithmovies.com/CMP/guides/jackie-robinson-story.html (resource to use with the movie “The Jackie Robinson Story”)

http://www.maaa.org/exhi_usa/exhibitions/fully_booked/baseball/pg_baseball.pdf (activities, glossary, timelines)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 23, 2008

Heaven

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Heaven

Author: Angela Johnson

Page Length: 138

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Fourteen year old Marley loves her life in Heaven, Ohio. She has a loving brother, Butchy and Momma and Pops by her side. Uncle Jack drifts from place to place with his dog, Boy. He writes Marley beautiful letters of his adventures and his hopes for her. Everything seems perfect in Heaven; yet, outside of Heaven, there is turmoil as churches are being burned. One day a letter arrives in the  mail asking for records of baby Monna’s baptism. Marley discovers that she is baby Monna and that Momma and Pops aren’t really her parents after all. Marley’s world is turned upside down when she discovers that her mother died when she was a baby and her father has never quite recovered. She finds solace in her friendships with Shuggy and Bobby. Marley withdraws because she feels betrayed; Momma, Pops, and “Uncle” Jack have withheld the truth all these years. Yet, Marley learns that love makes a family – and that her family has only acted out of love all along.   

REVIEW: This book was very touching. Not only does the reader experience the raw emotions of Marley who is angry that she was not told the truth, but we also experience the love and support of those around her. Uncle Jack’s letters reveal the depths of his emotions that he has not been able to express in person. Bobby becomes a strong role model for young men – he is raising his daughter all on his own and overcoming the obstacles of the past. Shuggy’s life looks perfect – yet we learn that things are not always as they seem. The characters were strong and excellently developed. The ending is beautiful (you might even get a little teary eyed). I would recommend this book as a read for all students. Heaven was the recipient of a Coretta Scott King Award.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: literary techniques: flashback, metaphors “It was one of those nights that started to go down before the sun did.”, writing styles: letters, theme, setting, characters, writing about secrets (why do we have them?)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

RELATED BOOKS: The First Part Last, A Cool Moonlight, Maniac Magee

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Les Miserables, Michael W. Smith: Place in this World

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://aalbc.com/authors/angela.htm

http://www.visitingauthors.com/printable_pages/johnson_angela_print_info.html

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/johnson.html

http://www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-heaven.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

February 6, 2008

Sounder

Filed under: S — thebookreviews @ 10:35 pm
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Sounder

Author: William H. Armstrong

Page Length: 116

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: Realistic / Historical Fiction

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This book is about an African-American family of unnamed characters. They live in poverty in a cabin on the far edge of a southern town during the 19th century. I loved the description of the under-belly of the cabin on page 42 when it stated, “it smelled stale and dead, like old carcasses and snakes”.  Present in the family are a father, mother, and several male and female siblings. The main character is referred to as “boy”. Another prominent character is a dog name Sounder. Sounder is coon dog that travels with the boy’s father as they attempt to hunt for food. Often times the father will return to the cabin empty-handed.

 

Quite rapidly the story changes from a simple tale about a poor family living in the south with their dog, to an account of a father who is caught stealing a ham for the family. As the father is being hauled away for this crime, Sounder gets caught in the commotion. Sounder is wounded and trails off into solitude leaving droppings of blood and a piece of his ear. This book lends itself well to a lesson on imagery.

 

The family is devastated that their father is being taken to jail only for the crime of trying to provide his family with a descent meal. We later find out that his punishment for stealing is years of working in labor camps. In addition to the loss of the father, Sounder’s absence is greatly felt by the boy. Day after day, the boy searches for Sounder in hopes that he will be re-united with the beloved dog. The boy spends the rest of his time attending to jobs in the field, searching for his father in labor camps, and dreaming of being able to read. Various references are made to the boy attempting to read town signs and store signs and newspapers out of the trash can. I really enjoyed the examples cited in this story about the excitement of a boy yearning to read.

 

Later on in the novel, Sounder returns. It is apparent though that he was badly wounded. He has one eye, the side of his face is badly altered, and he limps. Sounder’s spirit that was one present at the beginning of the book is now much more subdued.

 

Towards the end of the book, the boy meets a teacher who offers to help him with his studies. The boy begins to attend school while still helping out his family with work.

 

The story wraps up quickly with the return and death of the father, Sounder’s death, and the boy’s reflection on his continuing studies and life.

 

MOVIE CONNECTION: There is a movie of the same name (1972, 2003)

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00000886.shtml

 

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/armstrong.html

 

http://www.easyfunschool.com/article1936.html

 

http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/armstrong.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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