book review: March Book One

marchbookone_softcoverTitle: March Book One
Authors: John Lewis, Andres Aydin and Nate Powell
Date: Top Shelf Productions, 2013
graphic novel; nonfiction

March Book One describes John Lewis’ early interest in equality and civil rights. The first hand account relates how Lewis found his voice and became connected to the formal Civil Rights Movement.

March is told in graphic novel form and is written by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. The three collaborated to combine text and images to tell a striking story. The story begins with Lewis not wanting to leave the warmth of his bed or his soft slippers. Surely, this parallels the struggles he had in giving up the comfort of his family to fight for the rights of strangers, leaving behind the warmth and security for the sake of a call to duty. Matching word to text allows the authors to underscore meanings in a vivid, emotional and wordless way. This young man who cared and preached to the absolute lowest of the low, his family’s chickens, could not help but be overwhelmed with concern for the his black brothers and sisters, those white society saw as their least.

While at the office, two young boys, Jacob and Esau happen to stop by with their mother to visit the congressman’s on what seems to be the day President Obama is being inaugurated. Lewis takes the opportunity to tell them his story and March unfolds. Jacob and Esau? Biblical names of twins who fought inside their mother’s womb. Their story is one of birthrights.

I don’t read graphic novels often and some of the standard visual references were lost on me. I’m not sure what open panels mean. I did catch that crucial moments were displayed in much larger panels, providing more room to convey meaning. I was provided ‘aha’ moments as I uncovered meanings in passages, thus making personal connections to John Lewis and his story. Not only because it’s written in graphic form, but because of how these past events are contextualized into the future, I think young readers will relate to John Lewis and his message of answering the call. The last scenes in the book move from a ringing landline to a ringing cell phone. Who is calling and why are answers for Book Two.

I enjoyed this book. The most memorable scene for me was on page 27 when Lewis states ”by the time I march_book_two_72dpi_copy1was five, I could read it [The Bible] myself, and one phrase struck me strongly, though I couldn’t comprehend its full meaning at the time” and the words are written on the character’s back. Some of the frames confused me when I couldn’t relate the text to the image. I would love to have had an author’s note on what inspired this book or telling whom Lewis consulted with to jolt and clarify his memories but as it stands, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to young readers.

Coretta Scott King Honor Book
ALA Notable Book
YALSA’s Top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens
YALSA’s Outstanding Books for the College Bound
2014 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Special Honor

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

book review: Ain’t nothing but a man

title: Ain’t nothing but a man: my quest to find the real John Henry

author: Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson

date: National Geographic Books for Children, 2008

MG nonfiction

In Ain’t nothing but a man, Scott Reynolds walks us through his research to find out whether John Henry was a real man. His conversational tone enlivens the narrative by making both the process and the topic interesting.

Reynolds describes how he uses song lyrics, pictures and primary source documents (which are not often found on the internet) to guide his search. He uncovers not only information about John Henry, but much about life in post Civil War American that led to the song and the character we’ve come to know as John Henry.

I particularly like how Reynolds incorporated his methodology into his narrative rather than in an afterwards. I was able to see the authenticity of his work while reading and not find rather meaningful content as an aside.

Reynolds gives much value to the life of John Henry, someone most Americans get to know through a childhood song but who gave his life to build this country and yet his contributions went unmarked, as with many people of color in our history.

[This book is currently discount on Amazon selling for &7.58]

book review: Black and White: The confrontation between Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor

title: White and Black: The confrontation between Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor

author: Larry Dane Brimner

date: Calkins Creek; December 2011


White and Black takes us back to the 1950s and 60s when two strong leaders, Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor, confronted each other almost daily over the issue of segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Without commentary or analysis, Brimner guides readers through series after series of tumultuous events between Blacks and Whites, between religious and political leaders and between Shuttlesworth and Connor. While images and sidebars manage to help readers distinguish characters and understand events, the events themselves do sometimes get a bit confusing.

I thought the author’s notes did more to explain what kept motivating these men, particularly Shuttlesworth who had to have believed he would not live to see then end of his crusade to end segregation. Brimner does effectively convey the intensity of the times and the varying degrees to which both Shuttlesworth and Connor were accepted by the public.In reading we learn how Rev. James Bevel brought children into the movement, who guided Martin Luther King Jr.  to develop a message of nonviolence and what the relationship was the relationship between King and Shuttlesworth.  The work of undercover agents who worked to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan is revealed as well as the role of J. Edgar Hoover and Connor in the management of various government agencies to thwart attempts to end segregation.

By framing the civil rights battle in Birmingham within the relationship between these two men, Brimner gives young adults a manageable perspective on a complex chunk of history.

Brimner published a variety of non-fiction articles for adults while teaching in El Centro. He became interested in writing children’s picture books and middle-grade novels while working on an M.A. in writing at San Diego State University. Brimner left Central Union High School in 1984 to write full-time, but soon began teaching education courses at San Diego State University where he would remain until 1992. Although aspiring to write children’s fiction, Brimner realized his teaching experience gave him a unique ability to write non-fiction. He has published over 150 books for children and young adults. (bio source)

Kirkus Review

Chicago Tribune Review