As with most Monday mornings, this one was quite hectic!  From trying to finish last weeks items, to checking emails and delivering equipment to teachers, I rushed from one activity to another without really concentrating on any one in particular.  Then, this co-worker comes in. One of those old heads who moves with deliberate slowness whether in speech or motion because he has mastered the art of capturing attention.

So, he sits down and hands me this paper.  A paper my quick glance tells me I’ve seen this before:  a photocopy of a notice of a slave sale from the 19th century.  But then, he tells me more. He got it from a friend this past weekend who was cleaning out his grandmother’s attic and this! this was the notice of his great-grandmother’s sale. 

A 17 or 18 year old high yellow wench with a good disposition. Smart.  She has children, some will be sold with her but they don’t all have to be.

And, this was someone’s great-grandmother.  I was captured in this story.  I wanted to know what else he found.  Did he know his great-grand?  What will he do with these things?  Why did she come from South Carolina (the place of the sale) to Indiana?

This paper became the most fascinating thing in my library.  Captured by history and embracing it to remain free.

book review: Fat Hoochie Prom Queen

Fat hoochie prom queen

by: Nico Medina

Simon Pulse, 2008

main character:  Margarita Anonia Diaz (“Madge”)

I love that title! I could not wait to read the book!  Unfortunately, I was more than a little disappointed  throughout most of the book.  The gratuitous abuse of drugs and alcohol by the teen characters was overwhelming.  Lucking, the profanity was out flavored by the colorful language created by the author.  Madge and her dear, sweet friend, Lucas took us on a fast paced, intoxicating adventure through their not so ordinary lives in Orlando, Florida.  Madge, a wealthy, plump, independent and resourceful Latina has problems understanding others and forgiving them.  She wants to help Lucas work through his latest love fiasco with Zach and she wants to get back at her former best friend, Bridget for the terrible way she has been treated.  With all the quick moving, colorful events of this drama, it is amazing how gentle the characters are with one another.  I think they provide interesting examples of how to communicate through issues without the need for ugly, negative displays.  Along with Madge, we learn that in doing things for the right reasons, we find success.  I wish Madge and Zach would also learn to enjoy life without the chemicals, but this issue is not addressed in the book.

friendship, integrity, acceptance

book review: Chanda’s War

Chanda’s war

author:  Allan Stratton

2008 Harper Collins Children

main character:  Chanda

With a bangled brown hand thrust assuredly upon her hip, the cover gently tugs us into Chanda’s War. We revisit chararcters introduced in Stratton’s previous novel, Chanda’s Secret in this book that can be understood withou having read the previous work.

Stratton’s time spent researching in Africa pays off as it allows him to develop an authentic voice that relates the culture and traditions of this fictitious country without falling into oversympathetic stereotypes.  Chanda is a young girl with uncertainties and doubts, but she has a clear voice and a strong sense of determination:  she is determined to keep the promise to her dying mother to protect and care for her siblings, to complete her own education and to open a center in her mother’s name.  She also respects the traditions of her family and community and works within those confines to reach her goals.  Her dreams guide her to go back to her ancestral home to reconcile with her mother’s family so that she can have assitance with her siblings.  She does learn to work for forgiveness and understanding but in the process is caught up in the political turmoil of her country.  During the visit to her grandparent’s home, a rebel leader attacks and commits atrocious acts against his countrymen.  It is amazine how well Stratton is able to present these horrendous acts with such style that they are not overwhelming for mature middle school readers.  Surely this story will lead them to want to know more about issues that affect the African continent today.

Through all its tragedies, the story leaves us with a strong hope and belief that Chanda, her siblings and community, will continue to thrive.

resilience, child soldiers, reconcilliation, modern Africa

book review: Chess Rumble

Chess Rumble by Jesse Joshua Watson; illustrated by G. Neri

Lee and Low Books 2007

main character:  Marcus

Chess Rumble is a guy book. It’s written and illustrated by guys for guys with well chosen words and powerful graphics. Written in free verse style, the book uses few words and appeals to reluctant readers.  The book is called Chess Rumble, but it’s about what makes any angry guy’s chest rumble and how that rumbling too often leads him to do things he really doesn’t want to do.  

Marcus’ world falls apart when his sister dies. Buried emotions turn into dad’s disappearing and constant fighting between brothers. Things at school seem to get worse and worse as Marcus/Fat Albert/Hulk blames everyone for things going wrong. With the guidance of a caring adult, he eventually learns how to use chess to think through situations and to react less with his emotions. G Neri’s illustrations do an excellent job of pulling the reader further into the story as they intensify situations.

An Author to watch: Sherri Smith

A few years ago when I first entered the world of young adult literature, I found Lucy the Giant by Sherri Smith.  I loved the book, was intrigued by this young girl’s adventurous life in Alaska and was really surprised to know the book was written by an African American.  Yeah, sometimes even I will stereotype like that.  I hadn’t seen much else by Ms. Smith, but am glad to see that she is still writing and I’m really looking forward to reading and reviewing her two very recent books, Sparrow and Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. I’ve got to scoot over to MySpace to befriend this author to learn how she researched to write these books and find out if she ever plans to do a graphic novel!