Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming9780399252518_p0_v2_s260x420Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Memoir, Aug. 28, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes:  Jacqueline Woodson, Childhood, Family relationships, Living in the north and south, Finding one’s voice, From girl to author

Pages: 366

Opening“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital/Columbus, Ohio./USA– a country caught/ between Black and White.”

Synopsis: Jacqueline Woodson shares what it is like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both Brooklyn, NY and Greenville, SC.  The south is home for Jacqueline and her brother and sister as they spend the summers with their grandparents. Children tease Jacqueline and her siblings about their northern accents. She struggles with the subtle prejudices in the South as her  awareness of the civil rights movement grows. In Greenville there are loving grandparents, friends, and a lot of love. In Brooklyn she’s teased about being a Jehovah Witness and having to follow rules that her  friends don’t understand. And living in the shadow of her sister’s academic performance in school presents another challenge. Jacqueline has difficulty with schoolwork. It is through her poetry and storytelling that a teacher tells  her “You’re a writer.” Jacqueline’s voice begins to grow stronger with each word she pens because she wants to believe.  Readers will find Jacqueline Woodson’s journey to become an author engaging and inspiring.

Every dandelion blown

each Star light, star bright,

The first star I see tonight.

My wish is always the same.

Every fallen eyelash

and first firefly of summer…

The dream remains.

What did you wish for?

To be a writer.”

What I like about this book: Brown Girl Dreaming is a deeply personal and authentic memoir for teens struggling with race, prejudice, absent fathers, and finding their place in the world. Jacqueline Woodson’s determined and uplifting voice is eloquent. Her use of free verse compliments the theme in her memoir.  Her story is lyrical, emotional, and powerful. Each page is a clever, lively or soulful poem about a growing girl’s identity; her struggle with reading, a love of stories, and a desire to become a writer. She gives her readers hope and the sweet taste of what it’s like to follow your dreams.

Jacqueline Woodson is the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, the recipient of three Newberry Honors for After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers and Show Way, and a two-time finalist for the National Book Award for Locomotion and Hush.  Other awards include the Coretta Scott King Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Miracle’s Boys. Visit Jacqueline Woodson at her website.

Knock Knock

Knock Knock9780316209175_p0_v1_s260x420Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream For Me

Daniel Beaty, Author

Bryan Collier, Illustrator

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Dec. 17, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Fatherless sons, Separation, Loss, Hope

Opening: Every morning, I play a game with my father. He goes KNOCK KNOCK on my door, and I pretend to be asleep till he gets right next to the bed. Then I get up and jump into his arms. “Good morning, Papa!” And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.” We share a game…KNOCK KNOCK.

Synopsis: Every morning a boy plays a game with his father. Then one day the knock doesn’t come. The boy’s father is gone and is not there to help him get ready for school, cook his breakfast or help him with homework. One day he finds a letter from is father on the desk in his room. His father is sorry that he won’t be coming home and gives hims advice “for every lesson I will not be there to teach you.” He encourages his son to “KNOCK KNOCK down the doors that I could not.”

Why I like this book: Daniel Beaty’s powerful storyline is based on his own experience as a child when his father is incarcerated. In writing this heart-wrenching story, Beaty doesn’t indicate where the father in KNOCK KNOCK has gone. Many children who have an absent father due to incarceration, divorce, abandonment, military deployments and death, will identify with this story. Even though the story is sad, it is also about love, survival, and hope. Beaty’s text is simple and lyrical. The plot is engaging and moving.  The last few pages are filled with inspirational words from the father. Bryan Collier’s stunning illustrations are done in watercolor and collage and support the sentiment of the text.

Daniel Beaty is an award-winning writer, performer, educator and empowerment expert. KNOCK KNOCK  has won the Huffington Post Best Picture Book of the Year, the Boston Globe-Horn Books Award Honor and the ALSC Notable Children’s Book Award.  You can visit Beaty’s website here.

Bryan Collier has illustrated more than 25 picture books, including the award-winning Dave the Potter and Fifty Cents and a Dream.  He  has received three Caldecott Honors and five Coretta Scott King Award, including the 2014 Coretta Scott King Award for KNOCK KNOCK. You can visit Collier’s website here.

 

A Dance Like Starlight

A Dance Like Starlight9780399252846_p0_v1_s260x420.jpbA Dance Like Starlight

Kristy Dempsey, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Ballet dancing, African-Americans, Discrimination, Janet Collins

Opening: “Stars hardly shine in the New York City sky, with the factories spilling out pillars of smoke and streetlights spreading bright halos around their pin-top faces.  It makes it hard to find a star, even harder to make a wish, the one wish that if I could just breathe it out loud to the first star of night, I might be able to believe it true.”

Synopsis:  A little girl living in Harlem in the 1950s has a dream of becoming a ballerina. Her mama works all day long and some times into the night for the ballet school, cleaning and stitching costumes for dancers. The girl spends a lot of time around costume fittings and rehearsals, watching every move and practicing in the wings. One day  the Ballet Master sees her talent and arranges for her join the lessons, even though she can’t perform onstage with white girls. When the first African-American prima ballerina Janet Collins performs at the Metropolitan Opera House, the aspiring dancer and her mother attend. The girl is inspired and realizes that she doesn’t need to wish on stars in the sky because dreams are possible.

Why I like this book: This book is a keeper for any child who has a dream of becoming a dancer, musician or artist. Kristy Dempsey ‘s lyrical text is so beautiful with lines like “It’s like Miss Collins is dancing for me, only for me showing me who I can be,” and “You don’t need stars in the sky to make your dreams come true.” Janet Collins inspires the dreams of young ballerinas everywhere, showing them that talent and hard work, not the color of their skin, lead to success. Floyd Cooper’s lively and passionate illustrations are painted in hues of brown and pink and beautifully capture the child’s dream of dancing on the stage.

Resources:   There is an author’s note at the end of the book.  One interesting note, Janet Collins danced at the Met four years before singer Marian Anderson made her debut.  Visit Kristy Dempsey’s website.  This is a good book to pair with When Marian Sang by Pamela Munoz Ryan and Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell during black history month.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration

This is Rope9780399239861_p0_v2_s260x420This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

James Ransome, Illustrator

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Aug. 29, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Theme: Migration of African-Americans north, Jump rope, Family, Moving

Opening:  “This is the rope my grandmother found beneath an old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina. This is the rope by grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: When a little girl in South Carolina finds a rope under a tree, she has no idea it will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto a car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.

Why I like this story: Jacqueline Woodson calls This is the Rope a fictive memoir. She writes a very lyrical and engaging story based on the dreams of the many African-Americans who journeyed from the south to northern cities from the 1900s to mid 1970s to find better jobs and lives for their families.  Woodson’s mother and father left South Carolina in 1968 and moved to Brooklyn. I like how she uses the image of the rope repeatedly as a symbol of family linking one generation to the next. Ransome’s rich and colorful oil paintings vividly highlight scenes of the south and north in an uplifting manner.  His double-page spreads  are filled with expression and details of each period of history. This is a beautiful collaborative book by Woodson and Ransome. Visit Jacqueline Woodson at her website.

Resources:  There is an author’s note in the beginning of the book that talks about the great migration of African-American families. Woodson has a teacher’s guide on her website about using her books in the classroom.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

“Panic” by Sharon M. Draper

Panic9781442408968_p0_v1_s260x420Panic

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, YA Fiction, March 2013

Suitable for Ages: 14 -17

Themes:  Dance, Kidnapping,  Sexual Predators, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Abuse, African-American

Opening“Diamond knows not to talk to strangers.  But just once couldn’t hurt.  Right?”  (Jacket Flap)

Synopsis:  The Crystal Pointe Dance Academy is shaken when one of its members, 15-year-old Diamond, goes missing and no one can find her.  Diamond and her best friend, Mercedes, make a trip to the mall before a dance performance to purchase tights.  While Mercedes is looking around, Diamond heads to the food court to buy food so they won’t be late.  A well-dressed stranger approaches Diamond and asks for directions to the food court.  He tells Diamond that he’s supposed to meet his wife and daughter there.  Harmless, she thinks.  When Mercedes arrives minutes later, Diamond is gone.

Every other chapter is the voice of one of the main dancers, Diamond, Mercedes, Layla and Justin.  There are parallel stories told as Draper alternates between Diamond’s abduction, the emotional reaction of the high school dance troupe to the situation and the every day drama of their own personal lives.  There are some very important themes of relational and sexual abuse, teen dating abuse,  trust, and family issues woven into the story.  What holds the troupe together is their concern for Diamond and their love of music and dance.  My favorite scene in the book is when the dancers are with their instructor, Miss Ginger.  Each student selects a dance that fits their personality and expresses their own fear or desperation for Diamond  — a beautiful and powerfully moving cathartic release.

Why I like this story:  Sharon Draper has written a gripping and contemporary novel that is very real in today’s world.  It is a must read for teens.  Even though kids are taught at a young age not to talk to strangers,  abductions continue.  There is no tidy description for sexual predators.  But predators have one thing in common – the ability to artfully lure a child or teenager into a web of lies and manipulations that leads to kidnapping.  That is what Draper addresses in her skillfully crafted and suspenseful novel.  Draper handles Diamond’s abduction scene realistically but with sensitivity.   She also has a gift of getting into the minds of each character.  Panic is one book readers will have difficulty putting down because it is a page turner.  Hopefully teens will learn through Diamond the tragic results of taking risks with strangers.  Panic is an excellent book for school libraries.

Book Giveaway:  I will be giving away one copy of Panic during a random drawing on March 29.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and indicate whether you’d like to be included in the drawing.   I will announce the winner on Saturday, March 30.

Sharon Draper a New York Times best-selling author has also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Fears of a Tiger.  She won the Coretta Scott King Literary Award for her novels Copper Sun, and  Forged by Fire, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho.  She also was selected as a National Teacher of the Year.  For more information about all the books she’s published, resources, activities, interviews and information on school visits, visit Draper’s website.  I’ve also reviewed Draper’s novels, Out of My MindCopper Sun and Double Dutch.

Morning Star

MorningStarCover.inddMorning Star

Judith Paxton, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, September 2011

Suitable for Ages:  Grades 4-6

Themes: Slavery, Underground Railroad, Racism, African-American

Opening/Synopsis“Flower Felt fingers press down on her mouth, gentle but firm.  She struggled awake to see her mother lift them away, touch one against her own lips, eyes wide with silent warning.”   Twelve-year-old Flower, her baby brother and her parents live on a southern slave plantation.  In the middle of the night they flee for their lives following the Underground Railroad north to Canada.  Their only guide is the North Star and very kind people who help them along their journey.  Bounty hunters are in hot pursuit of her family.  Their journey is threatened by danger, illness, injuries, and hunger.

In a parallel story over 150 years later, we meet eighth-grader Felicia, who has moved from Toronto with her mother and grandmother to a small town in Michigan.  Felicia soon discovers she is among the few African-American students in the school.  She makes friends with a group of girls who introduce her to horseback riding and a drama class.   But, she also has to deal with some racism for the first time in her life.  When the teacher assigns the class to research their ancestry, Felicia discovers that her distant family members were slaves who followed the Underground Railroad to Canada.   She also learns about a community of free slaves living in her new town of Plainsville, MI.  Does she have the courage to share her family history with her class?

What I like about this book:  Judith Paxton has written a compelling and memorable story for young people where she interweaves the lives of two very different girls living 150 years apart.  Their stories are told in alternating chapters.  You will feel the strength and courage of both Flower and Felicia dealing with racism in different ways.  Their past and present paths will cross in an unlikely way.  Readers will easily identify with both engaging characters.  Each chapter is a page turner and the story is full of suspense.  This is a satisfying story for younger readers and a great read for Black History Month.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

January’s Sparrow

January's Sparrow9780399250774_p0_v1_s260x420January’s Sparrow

Patricia Polacco, Author and Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  African-American, Slavery, Fugitives, Underground Railroad, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis“Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them.  All the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’.”  Sadie was horrified when she realized that the men were dragging and beating January, who was like a brother to her.   He had carved a  sparrow for her days earlier and she knew he was going to run.  Adam and Sarah Crosswhite overheard that two of their four children were going to be sold.  The fled the Kentucky Plantation with only the clothes on their back and in the middle of the night.   They made a harrowing trip across the Ohio River into Indiana and traveled the Underground Railroad north to freedom in Marshall, Michigan.  In Marshall, there was a growing number of Negro families who found support and friendship in the white community.  Sadie’s father and brothers found jobs, and Sadie attended school.  But, the family was always on the look-out for bounty hunters and angry masters searching for runaway slaves.  One day a package arrived with Sadie’s treasured sparrow inside.  Attached to it was a note that said, “I found you.”  What will her family do?  Readers will be surprised by the ending.

Why I like this book:  Patricia Polacco has taken a true story that she discovered a few miles from her Michigan home and written a compelling story for children about slavery and the underground railroad.  In fact the home she lives in was site of underground activity.  In writing this story, Polacco used “dialect modified from slave narratives,” which enhanced the unique voice of January.  Polacco did a lot of research about the Crosswhite family and the amazing community of Marshall, MI, which adds considerably to the story’s authenticity.  Polacco’s vivid and colorful artwork is done with charcoal and watercolor.  She captures the fear, terror, pain and the joy in her powerful, detailed and expressive illustrations.  Visit Patricia Polacco on her website.  You can see a photo of her home built in the 1800s, and learn some interesting facts about famous visitors.

Resources:  Patricia Polacco has a Guide for Educators with Curriculum Connections, Discussion Questions and Classroom Activities, including a Reading Response Journal.  You will need to scroll down the PDF file to find January’s Sparrow.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.