review: Qutugh Terkan Khatum of Kirman

title: Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman
author: Shirin Yim Bridges
illustrator: Albert Nguyen
date: Goosebottom Books, 2010

Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman is an award winning volume in the Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses. Qutlugh ruled in Kiman, a region in Persia. Rescued from enslavement as a child, her benefactor educated her and treated her quite well. Qutlugh lived a fortunate life, becoming a princess and a ruler of many people, She acquired much power and used it to benefit others. Her story reads quite different from other rulers who manipulate and murder to maintain their positions.

In reading her story, we learn much about the Persian culture and how different Qutlugh’s life was from ours. The story is documented with some photos that are well placed throughout to emphasize important details while others add background details. It’s eye-opening to realize how few details are left about this woman who ruled for 26 years.

other books in this series

review: Percy Lavon Julian Pioneering Chemist

title: Percy Lavon Julian: Pioneering Chemist Signature Lives Series

author: Darlene R. Stille

date: Compass Point Books; 2009


reading level: 7.0

preview the book

There is a very limited range of biographies of people of color that are available for middle and high school readers, so I was glad to find Percy Lavon: Pioneering Chemist for my school media center.

I think in reviewing and booktalking non-fiction books to students, we have to begin to teach them to look at these books in ways they don’t typically treat fiction. Most important, they have to learn to look at the credibility of these books more so that the size of the volume or its overall attractiveness. Looking in the back of this book, I found a ‘selected bibliography’ that only listed secondary and tertiary sources. Yes, even Julian’s quotes in this book are lifted from non-primary sources.

Julian was born in Alabama in 1899 and in explaining his life, it is no doubt important to explain the conditions that Blacks faced in this region at that time. In this book, the description of this era is highlighted with a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. from the 1960s. Images of individuals are often separated from the textual context by several pages. While there are several images of Julian throughout the book, none show him actually engaged in work. As I’ve learned from reading Marc Aronson’s blog, we have to learn to read the images as well. This separation distracts from the importance of the individuals being discussed.

There’s a thin line between great and bad non-fiction as both leave you wanting to know more. The really good stuff engages readers in a way that leads them to wonder while the poorly written stuff leaves one to question events and details.

There was much to learn about Percy Lavon Julian and his numerous contributions to science. For example, through his work with soybeans, Julian was the first to synthesize steroids. But, I never got to know about his temperament, why he was accepted to DePauw or what his friendship with Joseph Pikl was like. While the discrimination of the times was presented, it was never made personal. Consequently, it was difficult to know what life really was like for Julian.

While this book stands as rare print documentation of someone who made significant contributions to history, it leaves out important elements that would help to make Julian less of a caricature and more human. I am glad that my students have at least this much information about Dr. Julian, but in learning how to effectively analyze these types of books, perhaps they’ll become motivated to add to the body of literature about people of color.



book review: They called themselves the KKK

"With compelling clarity, anecdotal detail, and insight, Bartoletti presents the complex era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877, that gave rise to the KKK." ! ~SLJ

title: They called themselves the K.K.K.: The birth of an American terrorist group

author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti

date: Houghton Mifflin, 2010


I’d been hearing about They called themselves the K.K.K. for quite some time now and from what I’d heard, I expected it to deliver a good read. And that it did!

In the bibliography at the rear of the text, Bartoletti  states that her purpose in writing this book is to give testament to the victims of atrocities committed by the K.K.K.. She does this by describing how the Klan came into existence and how it set out to rob Black citizens of their power as American citizens after the Civil War.  Bartoletti uses a variety of images that relate the attitudes of hatred and bigotry that existed at that time while also showing Blacks as educators, intellectuals, farmers, parents, workers, leaders and as victims. These images reach us on an emotional level that the text avoids.

The book takes us from the little meeting in Pulaski, TN where the boys got themselves a club that grew in so much political and societal strength that it was able to perpetuate the grasp of racism on this country and deny opportunities for Blacks for decades to come. We get the details of clothing choices, involvement of women and copies of their rules and regulations.

And, we get their actions. The brutality suffered by several named individuals is related in ways that don’t focus on the grotesque, but that does get the point across. Layered with the story of these individuals is the story of the political play of numerous groups, including the republican and democratic parties. At the same time, Bartoletti lets us know that not all injustices against Blacks were limited to southern states, and that much of the reason the Klan was able to thrive was that Whites lived in fear, too.

I think this books should be in every high school and public library to help young adults understand how racism is perpetuated in this country as well as to understand how power is attained.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an award winning, full-time writer.

review: Panther Baby A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention

"This spirited, well-honed account of cutting his teeth as a member of the Black Panthers brings Joseph back to his youth, a painful time in late-1960s America." Publishers Weekly

title: Panther Baby

author: Jamal Joseph

date: Algonquin Books; February, 2012


reading level: 6.0

Honestly, I didn’t want to read Panther Baby when Doret first suggest it. However,since I trust her judgment of books, I read the book and I’m so glad I did! I’ve wanted to put Panther Baby into the hands of every young man and every teacher of young men that I’ve seen since finishing it.

In Panther Baby, Jamal Joseph (born Eddie Joseph) relates personal and historic reason that brought him to join the Black Panther Party. Quickly tracing developments from the Jim Crow era to the Civil Rights movement through the history of the family with whom he is living, we see how revolutionaries of the sixties were almost a natural development from previous generations. Joseph was an intelligent, keenly aware and angry  young Black man who through a series of circumstances decided to join the Black Panther Party.  In his anger, he sees the Panthers as a militant organization that will allow him to fight any and every person who crosses his purposeful path. He quickly learned  however, that the Panthers were more about doing right than being right; that their struggle was more a class struggle than a race struggle and that their aim was to overthrow the capitalist system that perpetuated inequality and injustice. Readers soon learn that Panthers were not anti-White. They were anti-establishment and anti-government.

Joseph details many community programs run by the Panthers as well as their training with firearms. When he ends up in prison the first time, I think I as a reader began to really see Jamal’s deep commitment to the organization. He never seemed to question how he was betrayed. Rather, he took what he had learned from the Panthers and used it to empower his fellow prisoners. He learned the ways of prison life just as he learned the ways of the street and the ways of the Panthers, all of this being a code of decency which when maneuvered correctly allowed one to give and receive respect through proper treatment of others. While interactions with women were somewhat limited in the book, Joseph even learned how to give proper respect to women through both implicit and explicit lessons.

Joseph managed to write a complex story in a voice that rings clear and true. Make no mistake: Joseph’s story is a controversial piece of history told from one perspective. While part of me wondered what the story would look like told from another perspective, this is Joseph’s story and as a biography, its merit is on the author’s ability to express his life’s story with honesty and integrity to that others will want

I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not so desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. ~Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, 1849

to read it.  I wanted to finish this book because of the story Joseph was telling about fighting for humanity.

Part of me wants to excuse myself for not knowing about this piece of history because I was in elementary school when much of it happened. However, Jamal Joseph was all of 15 when he first joined the Black Panthers. His activism began early and did nothing but grow from that point. I think Doret wanted me to read this book because much of it occurs during Joseph’s young adult years and we’re with him as he acquires important life lessons.

Although released as an adult book, Panther Baby belongs in every high school and public library collection.

I would suggest reading Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience prior to reading Panther Baby. I think reading this credible American Revolutionary will accentuate the Panther’s cause and enhance the message.

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” Joseph could have said this as easily as Thoreau.

 American Libraries interview with Jamal Joseph