Tag Archives: Black History Month

Copper Sun Review

copper_sunCopper Sun by Sharon Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. 978-0689821813

Winner of the 2007 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Amari lives a peaceful life in her African village until the day a group of white slave traders steals her, sells her, and sends her on a ship across the ocean to America, where she is sold once again. Polly is an indentured servant who must take on the burden of working off both of her parents’ indentures after their deaths. Both girls have very little left that is their own, except for a small spark of hope that makes them believe that perhaps they will be able to one day be free.

Why I picked it up: I had heard good things about Draper’s work and was eager to delve into her writing.

Why I finished it: Told in alternating viewpoints, Draper has woven together a tale of two unlikely friends whose fates become intertwined. They become forced to rely on each other, though at first they are reluctant to extend the olive branch. Amari is young and carefree until she is confronted with the harsh reality of the world beyond her village. She is forced to watch people she knows and loves die both in body and in spirit, planting seeds of doubt in her mind as to whether or not it is worth staying alive. In contrast, Polly is no stranger to hardship and the blatant unfairness of the system, struggling to become a lady as her mother wished for her. She struggles to seem competent in the face of her new employer, reluctant to accept help from the African slaves. Both girls are striving for the same goals, but it takes a while for them to recognize it. Draper’s characters represent two different forms of slavery in the early 18th century, and both shed light on the difficulties of maintaining a sense of self and a sense of hope. What intrigued me the most about the story was the thoroughness of Draper’s research and the partial list of resources provided in the afterword. The slave trade was an important, if not unfortunate, part of our history, and though this work is fictional, it gives the reader a starting point to do their own research. For many, this is part of a personal history; so many African Americans are descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage, part of who they are, part of their heritage. It’s a touching story that invites the reader to examine the complicated relationships on early American plantations and the idea that hope is eternal though it is often hard to see.

Other related materials: Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper; The Jericho Trilogy by Sharon M. Draper; Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Sold by Patricia McCormick; Nightjohn by Gary Paulson; Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimbery Brubaker Bradley; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Day of Tears by Julius Lester; The Glory Field by Walter Dean Meyers; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Now Is Your Time! Review

now_is_your_timeNow Is Your Time!: The African American Struggle for Freedom by Walter Dean Meyers

Amistad, 1992. 978-0064461207

Winner of the 1992 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Since they were first brought as captives to Virginia, the people who would become African Americans have struggled for freedom. Thousands fought for the rights of all Americans during the Revolutionary War, and for their own rights during the Civil War. On the battlefield, through education, and through their creative genius, they have worked toward one goal: that the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness be denied no one. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I wanted a non-fiction book about the history of Africans in America for younger readers, and Meyers’ book fit the bill.

Why I finished it: The reader can almost feel the weight the author has taken on, the weight of the many that came before him and fought for freedom and equality. It gives us a brief history of some of the greatest minds of their generations and how they contributed to American history and African American history. It gives us insight into the fight waged even among the Blacks for recognition and acceptance. As a white female, I won’t ever hope to understand the struggle experienced by African Americans, but learning and having knowledge of the struggle makes me more aware of the fight. I was intrigued at the tidbits of the author’s own history that were added to the narrative, illustrating for the reader the reasoning behind Meyers’ shouldering of the yoke of his ancestors. Life was not always easy for African Americans in the United States, and there are many places in America where things are still segregated, which tells me that the struggle for freedom lives on in the current and future generations. Will there ever be true equality between the races? Perhaps not, but I am not so disillusioned as to believe that there won’t be a common ground found that will pave the way for a nation of peoples who are all equal, on every level and in every sense of the word. This book is an excellent history of a people and a nation, a history of which we should take heed. It is a book about self-discovery as much as it is about the discovery of the potential for change and the need for it to occur. It may be a book aimed at young people, but it can be enjoyed and appreciated by all ages, races, sexes, and creeds.

Other related materials: One More River to Cross: An African American Photo Album by Walter Dean Meyers; A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror by Howard Zinn, adapted by Rebecca Stefoff; A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki, adapted by Rebecca Stefoff; Leon’s Story by Leon Walter Tillage, collage art by Susan L. Roth; The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin, illustrated by Eric Velasquez; With Every Drop by James Collier and Christopher Collier; Sounder by William H. Armstrong, illustrations by James Barkley; The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill; Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

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Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue Review

day_of_tearsDay of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue by Julius Lester

Hyperion Book CH, 2007. 978-1423104094

Winner of the 2006 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: On March 2 and 3, 1859, the largest auction of slaves in American history took place in Savannah, Georgia. More than 400 slaves were sold. On the first day of the auction, the skies darkened and torrential rain began falling. The rain continued throughout the two days, stopping only when the auction had ended. The simultaneity of the rain storm with the auction led to these two days being called “the weeping time.” – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I had never heard of “the weeping time” and was curious about a fictional accounting of the events.

Why I finished it: I feel like I’ve been saying this about quite a few of the books I have read so far this month, but this is really a powerful book. Though many of the characters are fictional, the small handful (Pierce Butler and his daughters, Sarah and Frances, Fanny Kemble, and the auctioneer) are real, as are the circumstances described in the book. It’s appalling to me that there was a time in our history where is was permissible to own people as though they were property, that they could be sold from person to person and moved from place to place as though they were nothing more than animals. While Lester only briefly touches on this notion, there is also some insight by the white slave owners about slavery and their views about how slaves should be treated. Some of these views are shared by the slaves (Solomon [an old slave at a plantation in Kentucky] believes that slavery is a good thing for him), others believe that freedom is the better option, even if they have to worry about things like putting a roof over their heads and where to get a job. I love that this novel is written in a dialogue. It reads more like a play with some insightful asides than a novel, offering the reader a glimpse of both the horror and hope experienced by African Americans in the years leading up to and during the Civil War. It speaks about the psychological effects the auction has on both Butler as the former owner, those slaves not sold in the auction, and those slaves that were sold. Day of Tears is a profound retelling of a little known historical event that will have a lasting impact on the reader even after they close the book.

Other related materials: To Be a Slave by Julius Lester; From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester, illustrated by Rod Brown; A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror by Howard Zinn; Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon; A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl by Patricia C. KcKissack; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark; Stealing Freedom by Elisa Carbone; Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

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The Friendship Review

the_friendshipThe Friendship by Mildred D. Taylor, illustrated by Max Ginsburg

Perfection Learning, 1998. 978-0780780767

Winner of the 1988 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Cassie Logan and her brothers come face-to-face with the realities of what it means to be a black man who is friends with a white man when they stop for medicine on the way home from school.

Why I picked it up: I’ve read some of Taylor’s other work and liked it.

Why I finished it: Taylor writes with such clarity about a period of American history in which lines between black and white were becoming more clearly established. This story isn’t very long, but it hit me between the eyes because of the clear tension established within the first couple of pages. The Logan children certainly don’t live in a bubble, and they are well aware of the ‘rules’ and boundaries established to ‘keep them in line’. It’s a reminder that as the times changed, so did the people and their relationships. Even though Tom Bee has saved the life of John Wallace – a white storekeeper – he is still seen as a lesser man because of his race. The friendship forged between the two men seems to have changed more than both of them realized, and it makes both the reader and the Logans aware of the growing rift between black and white. Ginsburg’s illustrations are just as moving as Taylor’s words, bringing to life the characters and the conflict. The line drawings may seem simple at first, but they are detailed in a way that draws the reader deeper into the story. It makes the reader think hard about the issue of race in the South during the depression and the complications of trying to maintain what once was in the face of what is.

Other related materials: Song of the Trees by Mildred D. Taylor; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor; Let the Circle be Unbroken by Mildred D. Taylor; The Road to Memphis by Mildred D. Taylor; The Land by Mildred D. Taylor; The Well: David’s Story by Mildred D. Taylor; Stealing Freedom by Elisa Carbone; The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis; In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord

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Bud, Not Buddy Review

bud_not_buddyBud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1999. 978-0385323062

Winner of the 2000 Coretta Scott King Book Award; Winner of the 2000 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Bud’s been with half a dozen temporary families since he’s been at the Home. Ever since his mother died four years ago, Bud has dreamed of finding his real family, the key to which he believes lies in the fliers which fill his suitcase of Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!! And once Bud decides to skip town, there’s no stopping him until he finds his father.

Why I picked it up: I really enjoyed Elijah of Buxton and I wanted to read more of Curtis’s work.

Why I finished it: The way Curtis writes takes historical fiction to a new level for me. This particular story, as detailed in the afterword, is inspired by Curtis’ own family history. His grandfathers were a band leader and a railroad porter, much like two of the characters in the book, adding another layer of realism to the story. Bud’s story may be fictional, but everything about the story feels so very real to the reader. We are angered and frustrated by the treatment Bud receives while in the foster homes. We are scared for him when he decides to take matters into his own hands and venture out on his own to find his father. We cheer for him when he makes friends with the members of the Dusky Devastators. And while what he finds is much more unexpected, through Bud’s narrative we discover another meaning behind family. The reader gets a little slice of American history, as with most historical fiction, but I find that so many books about the depression don’t often focus on African Americans. I found it refreshing that Curtis explores this period through different eyes, much like Hesse did in Out of the Dust. Though Curtis explains that most of the research for his book came from other books, he laments not listening to the stories of his grandparents, missing out on the wealth of knowledge and the perspective that his elders offered to the future generations. So much like Curtis, I would encourage you to sit down with your parents and grandparents, to listen to their stories, write them down, save them up either in writing or as audio, because those memories are precious. We can read all we want about history in a book, but I would argue it is these personal histories that have a larger impact than anything we learn in an academic setting.

Other related materials: The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia; Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse; A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck; A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck; Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor; Let the Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred D. Taylor

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P.S. Be Eleven Review

ps_be_elevenP.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

Amistad, 2013. 978-0061938627

Winner of the 2014 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Delphine and her sisters can’t wait to get home and tell Big Ma and Papa all about their adventures in Oakland with Cecile. But when they arrive back in Brooklyn, Delphine senses something is…different. The things the girls learned in Oakland from the Black Panthers aren’t seen as polite behavior by Big Ma. Papa has a new girlfriend that he wants to marry. Then there’s the fact that Uncle Darnell is coming back from the war. Seeking advice from Cecile, Delphine writes to her mother in hopes that she will have some guidance to offer her daughter. The only response she receives is a cryptic postscript: “Be eleven”. What does that even mean? How is Delphine supposed to be something she already is?

Why I picked it up: The author was signing books at a library conference and the title intrigued me.

Why I finished it: This book hit home for me on a number of different levels, namely on the subjects of how we relate to our family members and how we deal with changes that can seem sudden. Delphine is struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy even though she feels like the world is starting to fall apart: she’s not thrilled with her father’s new girlfriend, the kids at school don’t seem like the same people they were the year before, and she still has to look out for her sisters despite the fact that they are growing up as well. Delphine’s confusion at her mother’s advice to ‘be eleven’ is understandable, but as a reader it broke my heart because as hard as Delphine is trying to be grown, she’s forgetting to be a child. She’s putting her adult-like desires before the little excitements that come with being in the sixth grade. It is pointed out to her that her desire to look out for her sisters is repressing them, a comment that initially doesn’t sit well with Delphine until she begins to see for herself just how much she does for them. Set against the backdrop of the late 1960s, Garcia-Williams creates for the reader a lovingly contrasted picture to the one created in One Crazy Summer. While politics do not seem as heavy-handed in this sequel, the tensions still run high in regards to both the issue of race and the war in Vietnam, something touched upon by the return of Delphine’s uncle. It’s this almost invisible commentary on how the war affected our loved ones that provides more of a discussion into the end of the decade. This story is well-crafted and moving, providing the reader with another chance to hear about Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, their family, and their journey toward becoming the strong individuals the reader knows they will be.

Other related materials: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose; Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn; Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrations by Brian Pinkney; Revolution by Deborah Wiles; Countdown by Deborah Wiles; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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The Madman of Piney Woods Review

madman_of_piney_woodsThe Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

Scholastic Press, 2014. 978-0545156646

Synopsis: Benji and Red couldn’t be more different. They aren’t friends. They don’t even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking them. Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real? – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I kept hearing good things about this author and finally decided to check out some of his work.

Why I finished it: I like historical fiction and what Curtis has woven together in this story is nothing short of heart-warming and inspiring. What begins as a tale of two towns post-Civil War becomes the story of what is destined to become a lasting friendship. Benji and Red may appear to be more different than they are alike, but as the reader goes on, they begin to see the parallels that are drawing the two boys together. Is it fate? Perhaps. Could there have been some divine intervention involved? Maybe. But the events that transpire after their meeting are what forever binds the two boys together, for better or for worse. Both boys are ambitious in their own way – Red wants to be a scientist and Benji a journalist – as well as mischievous and caring. We like them because they are young and carefree. They had friends and family that care about them, even if their own love for their relations wavers depending on the situation and the day. Curtis carefully draws the reader into the world he created in Elijah of Buxton and explores what the town looks like 40 years later after the war has ended in the United States. It shows how people are dealing with the aftermath of the war and other historical events. If nothing, we learn something about the hardships faced by immigrants and blacks at the turn of the century in the years leading up to the Civil Rights movement. It’s a touching story about unlikely friendship, the hope associated with conquering our fears, and the possibility of understanding.

Other related materials: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams Garcia; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; Revolution by Deborah Wiles; Countdown by Deborah Wiles; The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Elijah of Buxton Review

elijah_of_buxtonElijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Scholastic Press, 2007. 978-0439023443

Winner of the 2008 Coretta Scott King Book Award; 2008 John Newbery Honor Book

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman lives in the settlement of Buxton, Canada, a community populated by freed slaves near the American border. He has the distinction of being the first child in the town to have been born free, but he’s also seen as ‘fra-gile’ and talkative. When a former slave steals money meant to free a friend’s family from slavery, Elijah must follow the thief into the South and bring him to justice. Will he be able to overcome his ‘fra-gile’ nature and make the dangerous journey home?

Why I picked it up: Since it’s Black History Month, I wanted to highlight some of the Coretta Scott King award winners.

Why I finished it: Seeing the world through Elijah’s eyes gives the reader a greater understanding of the support the newly freed slaves depended on from each other in order to make better lives. We recognize the hope that children like Elijah represented to these communities and the promise of a future that did not include servitude. As a narrator, we don’t fault Elijah for being ‘fra-gile’ – honestly, I’m pretty darn afraid of snakes myself – because we know that he is trying hard to be an adult. Or at least, more grown up and braver than most people believe. His desire to do the right thing to help his friends and the way he decides to use his talents to help his neighbors is admirable. It’s hard not to admire his courage and his determination as he undertakes his journey. Curtis has created a wonderful snapshot of life for freed slaves in the period during and just after the American Civil War. They needed to find ways to work together in their new lives and support each other, even though there was still somewhat of a danger of being captured and taken back into captive slavery. Buxton, as Curtis points out in his author’s note, is a real place. Although portions of the accounting of the town are fictionalized, the way the settlement functioned and the notion of being self-supporting are all true facts. The town is in fact a lovely piece of history that is worth exploring. This is an enchanting story that inspires the reader to learn more about freed slave communities and makes us remember the hope offered to us by future generations, how our actions now will ensure that they have lives more fulfilling than our own.

Other related materials: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis; Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis; Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates; Shades of Gray by Caroline Reeder; Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling; Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt; Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Gillem Robinet; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams Garcia; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly; Revolution by Deborah Wiles; Countdown by Deborah Wiles; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson; Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

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