The Book Reviews – Website

January 17, 2009

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Author: Camilla Wilson

Page Length: 74

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography   

PLOT SUMMARY: Rosa Parks was always concerned with black Americans being treated equally.  As a young girl, Rosa was disciplined by her mother for threatening a white boy.  After receiving a scholarship to Miss White’s School for Girls in Montgomery, Rosa learned there was more segregation in the large city than her small hometown.  Rosa married Raymond Parks in 1932.  She was attracted to Raymond, partly, because of his involvement with the famous Scottsboro case.  While she worked as a seamstress, Rosa spent her lunches and evenings working actively in several black organizations.  She wrote letters and advocated the right to vote for both African Americans and women.

One day after long hours at her job, she boarded a bus that was full of both whites and blacks.  She sat towards the middle of the bus with three other black women.  When a white man got on the bus, the driver told the black women to move to the back.  Rosa refused to move, which caused her arrest.  She went to trial and was found guilty.  She had to pay $23.  However, the bus companies of Montgomery were the actual ones who had to pay.  Rosa’s arrest and subsequent trial caused the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 380 days and started the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.

REVIEW: This is a brief story of Rosa Park’s adult life.  It tells of her involvement in gaining equality for African Americans that she worked for her entire life.  The book would be a good supplement to a study of the Civil Rights movement or in conjunction with the realistic fiction book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Sequence of Events and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Bus Ride to Justice, Rosa Parks: My Story, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It,

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Rosa Parks Story (2002), Heroes of Freedom: Harriett Tubman and Rosa Parks (2008)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 23, 2008

Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep

Author: Sharon Robinson          

Page Length: 64

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY:  Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, writes a narrative biography of her father’s life.  She begins with a brief history of the beginning of America and how it was a black and white world. 

She goes on to tell of how the view of the people of the United States changed over the next 200 years towards African Americans.  She includes in the text, the changes her dad experienced during his life as the first African American to play major league baseball. She tells of the struggles he went through to break the “ Jim Crow Barrier”. Also, she includes descriptions of her parent’s relationship, their family life, and life after Jackie’s career as a baseball player.

She tells of the fight for equal rights that her father was very active in during the l960’s and how he promised to help change life for the African American people of the United States.

REVIEW: This is the third and best biography I have read about Jackie Robinson.  I enjoyed the narrative form of writing that Sharon Robinson used.  Also, included, were excellent photographs, which chronicled Jackie’s life and events that have occurred after his death which celebrate the great man he was.

I think this is an excellent book for boys and girls who like baseball to read.  Also, it is a good book for those who are interested in the Civil Rights movement to read because Jackie Robinson was an advocate for Civil Rights in his years after baseball.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Character, Compare/Contrast, and Cause and Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, Jackie’s Nine

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Jackie Robinson Story, Brain Pops: A Social Studies Movie about Jackie Robinson, Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 29, 2008

Malcolm X By Any Means Necessary

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Malcolm X By Any Means Necessary

Author: Walter Dean Myers        

Page Length: 210

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY: Malcolm X was born the son of Louise and Earl Little on May 19,1925 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Both parents were active in trying to make life better for African Americans, and Earl spoke publicly endorsing Marcus Garvey.  In 1931, Earl was found dead by some railroad tracks and Louise believed whites that opposed his political views killed him.

 Malcolm was a good and popular student, but always felt a threat to Black Americans.  As Malcolm ended junior high, one of his teachers ask him what he wanted to do when he got older.  Malcolm answered by saying that he would like to be a lawyer.  In a quote on page 37 the teacher tells Malcolm that he could not be a lawyer.  This was a turning point in Malcolm’s life.

From this point in Malcolm’s life, the book follows his years as a teen-ager in Harlem where he is known as “Detroit Red”, then, he joins the Nation of Islam, and changes his name again, to Malcolm X.  Malcolm is in the public eye as a Black Muslim leader for the rest of his life.

REVIEW:  After reading other books by Walter Dean Myers, such as Slam, Fallen Angels, and Monster I found I did not like Myers non-fiction writing as well as his fiction.  It could be because I didn’t like the personality of Malcolm X and the way he tried to get equality for African Americans.  He was extremely prejudiced towards the white Americans and in a violent manner.  His actions seemed to undermine the works of other civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglas, and Jackie Robinson. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical context, Sequence of Events, Conflict, Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks: Speeches and Statements, Malcolm X A Fire Burning Brightly


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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: (vocabulary & biographies) (extension on book to include women) (resource to use with the movie “The Jackie Robinson Story”) (activities, glossary, timelines)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

May 28, 2008

Sojourner Truth Ain’t I a Woman?

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Sojourner Truth Ain’t I a Woman?

Author: Patrick C. McKissack & Frederick McKissack

Page Length: 182  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY: Sojourner Truth was actually born and named Isabella Van Wagner.  She was born in 1797 and lived as a slave for the first 28 years of her life.  Isabella had a large physique and worked hard for her masters. However, she hated slavery and became an abolitionist, activist, feminist, and preacher.  The book chronicles her life as a slave, then, tells of her first experience with the law, as she helps her son be freed. The story not only tells of Isabella’s life and why she changes her name to Sojourner Truth, but gives a history of slavery, and profiles leading figures in the abolitionist movement.

REVIEW: Although this book was full of great information and historical pictures, I thought it was rather boring.  I think the authors try to write in a different style, by giving the history of slavery and other people, but it seemed to take away the focus of Sojourner’s efforts.  There is a quote from a powerful speech she made at a religious conference on page 113-115.  It was given the name “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech; and, opened the issues of racism and sexism in the early 1800”s. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Frederick Douglas Fights for Freedom, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Story of Harriet Tubman


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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