Tag: African-Americans

Unbound by Ann E. Burg

Unbound by Ann E Burg

Unbound by Ann E. Burg (InfoSoup)

This novel-in-verse tells the story of Grace, a girl living as a slave on a plantation. Grace is selected to start work in the Big House, leaving her mother, stepfather and two little brothers behind. Grace is warned by everyone that she has to keep her eyes down and her opinions to herself, not even allowing them to show on her face or in her eyes. But Grace realizes that things are very unfair on the plantation where some people work in the fields from dawn to dusk and white people aren’t even expected to dress themselves. Grace finds it impossible to keep these thoughts deep inside her, and puts her family at risk. So they all flee to try to find freedom, heading deep into the Great Dismal Swamp where the men and dogs hunting them can’t track them.

The author of All the Broken Pieces returns with another verse novel just as stunning as her previous ones. Here she shares a piece of history that many don’t know about, slaves who found freedom by living deep in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina. The entire book is fraught with dangers from whippings and punishments as a slave to the dangers of reaching possible freedom to the real dangers of the swamp itself.

Told in verse, the poems are in Grace’s voice and it rings with authenticity but also a righteous anger at what is being done to people because of the color of their skin. Readers hearing Grace’s voice will understand her situation and spirit on a deep level. That is the power of poetry, to cut past exposition right to the heart of the person speaking. Burg does this with a simplicity that adds to that power, cutting right through to the core.

Beautifully written, this powerful story tells of the importance of freedom for all people. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

 

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband (InfoSoup)

A young boy is sent to Candle School by his mother, though the truth was the he was not very excited to go. His older sister Tassie almost has to drag him there, because he wanted to stop and see everything along the way. They headed down into the dark basement of a church where there were no windows. The school was run by Reverend John who shared his own story of being born a slave and then working to earn the freedom of himself and those he loved. Then one day men came to the Candle School and declared it closed since the State of Missouri had changed the law and no children of color could be taught to read or write. The school closed, but Reverend John did not give up and soon had his school floating in the middle of the Mississippi on a steamboat where the Missouri law could not impact them.

This picture book is based on the true story of Reverend John Berry Meachum whose story is given in more detail in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. The picture book is told through the eyes of a young boy who attends Meachum’s school and then works to reestablish it on the steamboat and pass the quiet word of the school reopening. Throughout the book there is a strong sense of purpose, of the importance of learning to read but also the importance of standing up for what is right.

The illustrations by Husband are exceptional. Using muted colors and fine lines, they capture the darkness of the school and the light on the children’s faces. They show the sorry of losing the right to learn and then the joy of growing up educated and looking to the future.

A luminous look at the harrowing life of African Americans even if they were free in the 1800s, this picture book is beautiful and filled with strength. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Genie and Ernie are heading to Virginia to stay with their paternal grandparents for the very first time. Though they have met their grandmother before, this is the first time that Genie has met him. The difference between their lives in Brooklyn and their grandparents’ home in rural Virginia are huge. But that’s not the only thing that surprises Genie. He is shocked to find out that his grandfather is blind. Genie is a kid who is full of questions to ask all of the time and so he immediately asks his grandfather questions about his blindness. Genie knows that his older brother Ernie is braver than he is, always taking up fights for Genie and protecting him. He also knows that his grandfather is immensely brave too. When something goes wrong though, Genie will have to rethink what it means to be brave.

Reynolds is so amazingly gifted as a writer. He astounded me with this departure from his more urban writing. He captures the rural world with a beautiful clarity, using the natural world around as symbols for what is happening to the humans who live there. It is done both subtly and overtly, creating a book that is multi-layered and gorgeous to read. Throughout Reynolds speaks to real issues such as guns and disabilities. They are dealt in their complexity with no clear point of view stated, giving young readers a chance to think things through on their own.

Reynolds has created a fabulous protagonist in Genie, a boy filled with so many questions to ask that he has to write them down to keep track of them. He is smart, verbose and caring. Yet at the same time, he agonizes over mistakes, trying to fix them on his own and thus creating a lot of the tension of the book. The depiction of the grandparents is also beautifully done, allowing them to be far more than elderly figures. They are often raw, sometimes wise, and also dealing with life.

A brilliant read for the middle grades, this book is filled with magnificent writing and great diverse characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

 

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Hanalee has always stood out in her hometown in Oregon in the 1920s. She is half African-American and so has very few rights under the law. Her father died a year ago, hit by a drunk driver. A neighbor has told Hanalee that her father is now a “haint,” a ghost traveling the road where he died. Hanalee also discovers that Joe, the boy found guilty for her father’s death is out of jail and back in town, hiding from everyone. The community is also ruled by the KKK, which is certainly not safe for someone like Hanalee. As Hanalee starts to piece together how her father may have died in a different way than a car accident, she also takes a tonic to see her father’s ghost. Joe also tells Hanalee his own secret, why his family has refused him shelter and why the KKK is after him as well.

Winters writes a gripping novel in this reworking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Set in a time period that is often forgotten, this is a novel of Prohibition, the Klan and the lack of civil rights for people of color. Winters also ties in the loss of rights for LGBT people and how they also lived in the shadows and in desperate fear of being discovered. There is an additional layer of fear as eugenics was being done at the time, a danger for both people of color and LGBT people. With that level of societal pressure and fear, this novel soars and unlikely truces are made in a search for the truth.

Winters’ writing is piercing and honest. She allows Hanalee to figure out the various dangers in her life and somehow at the same time Hanalee is brave enough to not go into hiding or run away but to continue in her search for the truth. Hanalee is an amazing character, filled with love for her best friend, caring for Joe and an adoration of her dead father. Meanwhile she has to handle the dangers around her, and even face them head on with her simple presence in the community.

Brilliantly written, this is a stunning historical novel filled with ghosts and also a firm truth about the risks of the time. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Abrams.

The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (InfoSoup)

This book is about the National Memorial African Bookstore and how it became a center for black culture in the 1960s. Told from the point of view of the son of Lewis Michaux, the owner of the store, this book looks at the figures like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali who come to the store. It is also the story of how Michaux fought to have a store, selling books out of a pushcart at first and being denied a business loan from banks. Michaux was known for his slogans which he shouted on the street, told to his son and painted on the front of his store. The book continues through the assassination of Malcolm X. Readers must look to the note at the end to discover what happened to the store.

This nonfiction picture book speaks to the power of bookstores to inform and to keep a culture strong. One man’s vision comes to life thanks to his own determination and also the way that it spoke to others. The choice location near the Apollo Theater also helped get African-American celebrities to come to the store. The choice to have the story told from a child’s point of view was what makes this book appropriate and understandable for children.

The illustrations by Christie are filled with deep color and thick paint. They directly show the effort and intensity of determination of running a book store like this one. Some pages light with oranges and yellows while others are darkened by death.

A powerful book about an important book store and the vital need for information and books as part of a movement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

The First Step by Susan E. Goodman

The First Step by Susan E Goodman

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography tells the story of Sarah Roberts. Sarah was attending school in Boston in 1847 when she was told that she would have to stop. Instead she would be required to attend the school for African American children across town where there were fewer books and the subjects were not as robust. Sarah’s parents decided not to accept this decision and instead decided to fight for change in the courts. Two lawyers agreed to take Sarah’s case, Robert Morris the second African-American attorney in the United States and Charles Sumner known for his way of orating about justice. Though they lost this first court case challenging school segregation, it set other events in motion and in 1855, Boston became the first major American city to integrate its schools.

Goodman writes an inspiring book about how even losses can begin to change the way people view laws. She does not stop with the longing for change and the case itself, continuing to tell the story of Boston’s changes and then the way that this case led to more cases which resulted in the end of segregation in the nation. This book demonstrates many things to young readers. First that they themselves can create change in the world around them. Second that a loss does not mean the end, it means the fight continues in a different way.

Lewis’ illustrations are done in watercolor and gouache. They echo with historical significance, showing the power of a dream for change, the sorrow of one little girl, and the determination that it takes to make society better. The illustrations range from the subtlety of black and white photographs to the bright colors of change and hope.

A powerful and important story of how children change their world, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

My Story, My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome

My Story My Dance by Lesa Cline Ransome

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (InfoSoup)

Starting from his birth through his rise to Artistic Director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this picture book celebrates Robert Battle’s life. Born with bowed legs, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle and then raised by his cousin Dessie. It was with Dessie that he discovered a love of music and words. He sang in the church choir and after he got his leg braces off, he began to take karate. At age 13, he started dance late in life for a dancer. Soon Robert was noticed by his high school dance instructor and then auditioned for The New World School of Arts. As he grew, he got to see the Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform and was awed by them. Moving to New York City to attend Julliard, his dancing reached another level and progressively he moved to work with Alvin Ailey. This story of talent and determination celebrates dance and the power it has to communicate.

The prose by Cline-Ransome is spry and fast moving. She shows the importance of family in Robert’s upbringing, even if his mother was not in the picture. The theme of the warmth of family plays throughout the book, from the early pages to the very end where Robert Battle is speaking to the Alvin Ailey audience. The author makes sure to not only talk about the facts of Battle’s life but also shows how his early disability and his willingness to work exceedingly hard played into his later success.

Ransome has done the illustrations in this picture book biography in pastels. The rich colors are gorgeous on the page. He uses them to show the richness of Battle’s life and then when the book shows the movement of dance, he uses them to create the moves from one position to another fluidly across the page in a rainbow of sketches.

A lovely biography on a contemporary figure in American and African-American dance, this picture book is rich and powerful. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.