Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"A wholly unique memoir..."

Brown Girl Dreaming by
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Published by Nancy Paulsen's Books, 2014. Recommended for grades 5 and up. 

The National Book Award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson should be counted as a classic along the lines of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Diary of Anne Frank, memoirs of strong, spirited girls living through extraordinary historical circumstances, each of whom possess a love of language that help them cope with painful life circumstances.  But this book also exists in a literary class by itself.  Told as a series of interconnected narrative poems, Woodson’s personal story pushes the boundaries of the memoir form, creating something that is wholly unique.  The language is lyrical and sophisticated, yet highly accessible to readers across generations – even to those who do not consider themselves fans of traditional poetry.  Part of the book’s power lies in its inability to be easily labeled.  Born in 1963, Woodson traces her upbringing growing up in the North (Ohio), then the South (South Carolina), and then back to the North again (this time Brooklyn) during a time of great social and political upheaval in America.  As a child as young as five, she bore witness to the civil rights-era sit-ins and marches happening in South Carolina, knew what it was to sit in the back of a bus, to bow her head to whites on the street, to avoid stores that would not serve her family, and she struggled to understand America’s invisible dividing line between the supposed promised land of the North and the restrictive Jim Crow South.  Woodson writes honestly about feeling torn between the economic opportunities in the North and the deep love she feels for her family roots in the South.  But the book’s greatest gift may be the glimpse it offers the reader into how a writer is born.  We watch Woodson go from falling in love with stories as a toddler to falling in love with the written word as an older child to ultimately announcing to her family her intention to become a professional writer.  Against such challenges as having a learning disability and family members who urged her to try for a more sensible career, like becoming a teacher or “doing hair,” Woodson follows her dream.  This book is a moving personal history and an inspiration to burgeoning writers.

Check out Woodson's website for some great resources for children, parents, and teachers.

Many thanks to this special review from author and parent, Attica Locke. In addition to the National  National Book award, Brown Girl Dreaming won multiple Youth Media awards from the American Library Association (the Coretta Scott King Award Book Award and Newbery and Siebert honors).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Commemorating the historic march to Selma

Because They Marched; the people's campaign for voting rights by Russell Freedman. Holiday House, 2014. $20.00. 

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

(Thanks to Ronna Mandel of Good Reads with Ronna for letting me review this book for her blog and keep the copy for my library).

Nearly fifty years ago, on March 21, 1965, three thousand people, black and white, Christian and Jew, young and old, began a five day march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama) to secure voting rights for black people. Although this was not their first attempt, it was highly successful. A judge’s ruling that the march was constitutional and the presence of the Alabama National Guard,  paved the way and protected the marchers from police (and segregationists) brutality. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their numbers had swelled to 25,00. Nothing, not even Klan blockades, could squelch their courage and spirit.  

The impact of this march was immediate, Congress approved the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and, by the following summer, 9,000 blacks in Dallas county had registered to vote.

In a clear and compelling narrative,  Freedman places the march and preceding events  in the context of a society that lived under oppressive “Jim Crow” laws, which effectively legalized and enforced segregation. Accompanied by powerful and dramatic, black and white photos, young readers will easily grasp the challenges and the dangers black people faced in demonstrating for their democratic rights, especially the right to vote. The well-chosen photos further underscore the marcher’s courage and passion in the face of horrific violence and give readers a sense of immediacy, even fifty years after the event.

Highly recommended as a valuable resource in helping young readers understand the profound impact that the Civil Rights Movement had on our country’s political and cultural history. It is also recommended as a powerful and moving tribute to the courage and determination of a people, who sacrificed dearly to obtain for democratic rights-for all.

The book includes a timeline, source notes, and a selected bibliography.

Kirkus gave this a starred review and named it one of the “Best Books of 2014.”
Find an excerpt of this book at Holiday House along with excellent valuable CCSS and teaching resources.

Read more about the author at the  National Endowment for the Humanities and see a Library of Congress webcast featuring Russell Freedman.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Share This Classic!

Pinocchio illustrated by Roberto Innocenti front cover
The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi and Roberto Innocenti. Creative Editions, 2005. Reviewed by parent Cynthia Willard.

Like most of us, I thought I knew the story of Pinocchio.  I was drawn into reading this version of the  original classic because I was familiar with the work of illustrator, Roberto Innocenti.  I quickly realized that my familiarity with the story came only through the exquisite but watered-down Disney film made in 1940.

The actual tale is both darker and stranger than the Disney version.  The original story was written in Florence in 1880 by Carlo Collodi, an Italian story teller.  The story is set in a small Italian village where a poor old wood carver, Geppetto, carves a puppet boy out of magical talking wood.  The puppet boy, named Pinocchio, is mischievous and impulsive. Geppetto soon comes to love the wooden puppet boy but expects him to  conform to certain values and behaviors: hard work, delayed gratification, and duty to one’s parents.  While Pinocchio loves Geppetto, he is selfish and unable to anticipate the consequences of his actions.  He misbehaves and falls afoul of a number of vivid and fantastic characters including  a talking cricket, a fairy with turquoise hair, a talking fox and cat, and a “mile high dogfish.”  He spends time traveling the Italian countryside where he visits strange places such as the Land of Toys and an ocean full of sea monsters.

Pinocchio comes to realize that he has a duty to Geppetto and that his actions have harmed him.  In a quest to rescue Geppetto after he is swallowed by a sea monster, Pinocchio suffers many abuses.  His feet are burned off, he is hung from a tree, and transformed into a donkey.  Eventually, Pinocchio, while not perfect, realizes that he loves Geppetto and rescues him.  The story ends when Pinocchio becomes a real boy.  Interestingly, Pinocchio’s redemption does not come as a result of conformity.  Pinocchio stays mischievous but learns to think of others and the consequences of his actions.  Geppetto loves Pinocchio as he is and embraces his spirited son.
The story is rich and intriguing.  However, the illustrations are the real draw.  Roberto Innocenti brings the story to vivid life with his exquisite, detailed paintings set in traditional 19th century Italy.  Check out the illustrator’s web site for biographical information, a list of books, and some stunning illustrations of his work. 
This book will make a fantastic read aloud for kids of all ages.  The large illustrated format may draw younger kids but the story will engage junior high kids as well.