The Book Reviews – Website

January 18, 2009

The Land

The Land

Author: Mildred D. Taylor

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The time is the 1870’s, the setting is the Southern United States and the main character is Paul-Edward Logan.  Paul was the child of a white man and a woman of Indian and Black mix.  Paul looked white but was referred to as a “white nigger”.  Paul has three half-brothers who share his dad as their father.  Paul’s older sister, Cassie, had the same father and mother. 

As the story begins, Paul is often beat up by Mitchell, an African American boy whose dad works for Paul’s dad.  Paul’s older brothers will not defend Paul against Mitchell, so Paul eventually makes a deal with Mitchell to teach him to “read, write, and figure” if Mitchell will teach him how to fight. The boys stick to this arrangement and become best friends.

Paul’s dad, unlike many white men, acknowledges Paul and Cassie as his children, but when Paul and his half-brother, Robert, have a conflict in front of a white family, it is Paul who is whipped and punished.  Paul realizes that things will never be the same, so he and Mitchell decide to run away.  This begins the adventure they have together trying to make a life for them.  

REVIEW: The Land is the prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  Mildred Taylor writes the book that is based on stories she was told by her parents and grandparents.  The book is historical in that it accurately describes the racial prejudices that resulted in the abolishment of slavery.  The attitudes of the white people towards African Americans are well depicted. 

The characters and their relationships are well-developed, the setting of the south is well described, and the adventures of Mitchell and Paul keep the plot moving at a fast pace.  This is an excellent book for African-American students to read to learn of the hardships their ancestors had to endure before the Civil Rights Movement.

At the back of the book, there is an author’s note, Saga of the Logan Family, and a section with discussion questions that could be used in a book study or when used as a supplement to a class novel.

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

RELATED BOOKS: Song of the Trees, The Well, Mississippi Bridge, The Friendship, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, The Road to Memphis, Logan, The Gold Cadillac

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), Sounder (1972)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


July 29, 2008

Across America on an Emigrant Train

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Across America on an Emigrant Train

Author: Jim Murphy         

Page Length: 150

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY:  This is the story of writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, an emigrant from Scotland who travels across the United States in the late 1800’s by train.  He is in route to see his lover, who has fallen sick in San Francisco.  Stevenson made a hasty departure from Scotland to meet Fanny Van deGrift Osbourne.  Four years earlier, they had a rather scandalous affair in Paris.  Fanny was married and ten years older than Stevenson.  This did not sit well with the straight-laced society of Stevenson’s time. However, Stevenson was deeply in love and left his home country to be with Fanny.

The journey begins on a train out of New York and follows Stephenson’s travel across the Midwest with many “borderland” town stops. On the trains, Stevenson met other travelers, most emigrants looking for new homes in the west.  Many times they were crowded in the train cars with little or nothing to eat.  Stevenson was consumed with making the trip and getting to Fanny as quickly as possible.  He kept a log of his travels and one of the people he met was Davy Crockett.

As the author writes of Stevenson’s thoughts and experiences he also gives historical background of the building of the transcontinental railroad, the slaughter of the American bison, and the treatment of the American Indian as the west develops.

REVIEW:  This book did not appeal to me when I began reading it.  However, Jim Murphy developed an interesting and informative story of the history of the development of the west.  By chronicling Stevenson’s journey, there became a romantic interest.  He used many of Stevenson’s entries from his journal, which are descriptive and eloquently written (see pages 20, 35, 40, 43, 75, 95, 107,120 and 133).  Also, included are pictures from various museums and historical societies.  Murphy has an extensive bibliography that authenticates the story.  Through Stevenson and Murphy, the reader becomes interestingly educated on the history of the trans-continental railroad and the time it was built.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical Context, Setting, Sequence of Events, Informative Texts

RELATED BOOKS: Robert Louis Stevenson by Frank Swinnerton (1915); Robert Louis Stevenson and the Fiction of Adventure by Robert Kiely (1964); Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition by Edwin M. Eigner (1966); Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study by Jenni Calder (1980); Definitive Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Companion by H.M. Geduld (1983); Robert Louis Stevenson by Frank McLynn (1993); Dreams of Exile: Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography by Ian Bell (1993); Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography by Frank McLynn (1993); Robert Louis Stevenson: Life, Literature and the Silver Screen by Scott Allen Nollen (1994); Robert Louis Stevenson and the Appearance of Modernism: A Future Feeling by Alan Sandison (1996)

ART CONNECTIONS: Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home, 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh (a museum)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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