Rachel’s Hope

Rachel's Hope9781927583425_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Hope (The Rachel Trilogy)

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, September 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Russian Jews, Persecution, Separation, Immigration. Family, Love, Hope

Synopsis: Rachel Paskar flees the antisemitic violence and persecution against Jews in her Russian village and makes the long journey by train across Siberia with her family to a refugee camp in Shanghai. Rachel makes a name for herself as a journalist. After her mother dies in Shanghai, she and her surviving family members save enough money to sail to San Francisco in 1905. Rachel also leaves behind her boyfriend, Sergei, in St. Petersburg. He becomes involved in the revolution against the Tsarist Russians.

Rachel and her family find freedom from persecution in San Francisco, but are challenged with learning a new language and strange American customs, while trying to hang on to their family’s Russian traditions. Rachel works as a maid, meets a group of women’s voter activists, and makes friends with a female journalist who encourages her writing and introduces her to newspaper editors. She meets a student, Alexander, who she cares about, but Sergei remains in her thoughts. What has happened to him and will she ever see him again? Then the great San Francisco earthquake strikes and Rachel and her family lose everything.  Starting over is hard, yet this determined young woman never loses sight of her dream to attend the university.

Why I  like this book:  Rachel’s Hope marks the culmination of the The Rachel Trilogy. You can read my reviews of  Rachel’s Secret and Rachel’s Promise here. Shelly Sanders’ fictionalized trilogy is based on a true story about her courageous grandmother who faces persecution as a Russian Jew, escapes from Russia and journeys to America, where she becomes the first Jewish woman accepted into the University of California, Berkeley’s science program.  Sanders masterfully reconstructs life in early 20th century Russia, Shanghai and America, weaving the personal with the historical into a compelling story that creates a rich reading experience. She is fastidious in her research of different cultural customs and details of every day life (i.e. food, clothing, dwellings, and work conditions). Her heroine is a strong and courageous character.  Her plot is moving as she brilliantly writes two parallel stories — Rachel’s changing life in America and Sergei’s hard life in revolutionary Russia — and gives the reader a clear and realistic portrayal of a period in history that few people know. Yet, Rachel’s Hope brings a positive conclusion to the story of a Russian family immigrating to America where possibilities are limitless. I highly recommend this important series to teachers for use in the classroom. Resources: Visit Sanders’ website for teachers guides on the trilogy and more information.

Shelly Sanders has worked as a freelance writer for almost 20 years. The Rachel Trilogy was an “intense three-year journey” for her. She learned about her grandmother’s story when she was 16 years old, after her grandmother had died. It wasn’t until after Sanders had a family, that she felt a compulsion to get to know her grandmother.

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.

I Have a Dream

Martin Luther King9780375858871_p0_v1_s260x420I Have A Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kadir Nelson, illustrator

Schwartz & Wade Books, Oct. 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes:  Dr. Martin Luther King, African-Americans, Civil Rights, Freedom, Diversity

Opening/Synopsis:  “I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Book CoverFrom Dr. Bernice A. King:  “My father’s dream continues to live on from generation to generation, and this beautiful and powerful illustrated edition of his world-changing “I Have a Dream” speech brings his inspiring message of freedom, equality, and peace to the youngest among us — those who will one day carry his dream forward for everyone.”

Why I like this book:  Artist Kadir Nelson has taken one of the most powerful and inspirational speeches in history, and created a  beautifully illustrated book set to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963.   Nelson’s oil paintings are masterpieces  and a feast for the eyes and soul.  I was mesmerized by the strength and power in each painting.  Now a new generation of children will have the opportunity to learn about this great civil rights leader.

Resources:  There is a CD that accompanies this book.  The entire speech is printed at the end of the book.  With the inauguration of President Barak Obama, our first African-American President,  falling on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Day, it is right to combine the two.  In honor of both, tomorrow, January 19, has been named a National Day of Service, and Americans are being urged to get involved in a local community service project.   Just check on the website for information

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.

The Candle Star – Divided Decade Trilogy

The Candle Star

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Historical Fiction, 2011

Suitable for:  Middle Grade

Book 1 of the Divided Decade Trilogy

Emily Preston is a spirited 12-year-old southern belle living on a plantation in Charleston, S.C.   She is outspoken, sarcastic, mean and self-absorbed.  Her parents are disturbed by her behavior and send her to Detroit to live with her uncle, Isaac Milford, who runs a hotel.  Emily is horrified when she realizes that the employees are free slaves and she’s to join them in the daily work of running the hotel.  She misbehaves, skips school and treats the employees with disdain, hoping that her uncle will send her back home.   Her uncle sees his own reflection in Emily, and treats her with firmness and patience.

Detroit and the simplicity of her life begin to grow on Emily.  She would never admit it.  She befriends Malachi, the son of Julia, the hotel cook.  She  is shocked to learn he attends school, reads and writes and wants to be a doctor.  As she settles into her new life, Emily is challenged to come to terms with her southern upbringing.  While she develops relationships with the workers at the hotel, she begins to question everything she has known.  It is a confusing time for Emily.  Her bond with Uncle Isaac strengthens as he begins to teach and trust her.  Emily stumbles upon her uncle’s secret and finds herself involved in events that will change her world forever.   Emily transforms into a remarkable girl who listens with her heart.

Why I liked this book:  The Candle Star is a brilliant work of historical fiction.   Michelle Isenhoff offers a fresh new perspective on the differences between the north and south by focusing on those who risked their lives to help slaves find freedom, before the Civil War.  The setting is Michigan, Michelle’s home state, and many of the characters are based on real people.  Although Michigan wasn’t part of the battleground, it played a significant role in the Underground Railroad, with seven routes passing through Detroit.  Kudos to the author for all the detailed research that went into this book  and for teaching me something new.  Her writing style is vivid, her plot strong and her characters are rich and memorable.

The Divided Decade Trilogy:  The Candle Star is the first book in the Divided Decade Trilogy.  All three books are stand-alone novels that shed light on the role Michigan families played to support the war effort and freedom for slaves.  The second book Broken Ladders, is about Hannah, who tries to save the family farm when her father and brother go to war.   The third book, Beneath the Slashings, was released August 2012.   Grace wants her family to return to a normal life after the war,  but finds her life uprooted when her father seeks work in a lumber camp in northern Michigan.   Click here to visit Michelle Isenhoff’s website.   Make sure you check out the teacher’s resources for each book.  There also is an interesting “Author’s Note” at the end of each book detailing the historical information of that time in Michigan.

Quill Penn cover

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Michelle’s Blog Tour for her new book Beneath the Slashings continues throughout the month of August. Follow her on her other stops:

16th: http://readersandwritersparadise.com/

17th: http://kidsebookfinder.wordpress.com/for-authors

18th: http://chatwithvera.blogspot.com/

19th: http://www.audreybarnett.com/

21st: http://geolibrarian.blogspot.com/

22nd: http://bookreaper.blogspot.com/

23rd: http://michelleisenhoff.wordpress.com/

24th: http://bookreaper.blogspot.com/

25th: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/

26th: http://bookreaper.blogspot.com/

27th: http://sosimplesara.blogspot.com/

28th: http://www.thiskidreviewsbooks.com/

30th: http://michelleisenhoff.wordpress.com/

31st: http://www.lindsayburoker.com/

Copper Sun

Copper Sun

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008, Fiction

Suitable for :  Ages 14 and up

Themes: African-American History, Slavery, Indentured Servants, Escape, Freedom

Awards:  2007 Coretta Scott King Literary Award

Synopsis:  “When pale strangers enter 15-year-old Amari’s Village, her entire tribe welcomes them, for in her remote part of Africa, visitors are always a cause for celebration.  But these stranger are not here to celebrate.  They are here to capture the strongest, healthiest villagers and to murder the rest.  They are slave traders.  And in the time it takes a gun to fire, Amari’s life as she’s known it is destroyed, along with her family and village.”  

Amari is beaten, shackled and herded with other survivors to the ocean, where she is branded and dragged on to a slave ship bound for the colonies.  Sailing on this ship of death is full of unimaginable horrors.  Survival is for those who are strong.  Upon landing in the Carolinas, Amari faces even greater  humiliation when she is forced to stand naked in front of buyers and is auctioned to the highest bidder.  Amari is purchased by a plantation owner, Percival Derby, who gives her to 16-year-old son, Clay, for a birthday present.  Mr. Derby also buys a white indentured servant, Polly.

This unlikely pair, Amari and Polly, become friends on the rice plantation, Derbyshire Farms.  They endure the daily hardships, back-breaking work, emotional turmoil, fear, and brutality beyond their imaginations.  When things couldn’t get any worse, a murder occurs on the plantation.  Amari and Polly have no choice but to escape and run for the freedom they both seek.  Freedom is found in a very unlikely place.  This novel celebrates the strength and spirit of Amari, and the thousands of slaves like her.

Sharon Draper has written a compelling, realistic and action-packed novel that will keep you in a state of suspense.  Draper is a skillful author whose writing is so vivid that you will find your senses heightened.   You smell the foul odors of the ship, feel the burn of the branding and beatings, and hear the screams of a child being torn from a parent.  Copper Sun is historical fiction and it took Draper 10 years to research and write her novel.  Copper Sun is a masterpiece in children’s literature.  It is also an important book for Women’s History Month.

Sharon Draper is the granddaughter of a slave.  She wrote Copper Sun after visiting Ghana years ago.  She “knew she had to tell the story of one girl who might have made that harrowing journey through the door of no return.”  “This book is dedicated to all the millions of girls like Amari who died during that process–as well as those who lived and suffered, but endured,” said Draper. “I also dedicate this to all those who came before me–the untold multitudes of ancestors who needed a voice. I speak for them. Amari carries their spirit. She carries mine as well.”

Draper has also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Fears of a Tiger.  She won the Coretta Scott King Award for Forged by Fire, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho.  For more information about all the books she’s published, resources, activities, interviews and information on school visits, click here to visit Draper’s website.  I reviewed Draper’s latest novel, Out of My Mind,  Jan. 23, 2012.

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride

Andrea Davis Pinkney, Author

Brian Pinkney, Illustrator

Disney Jump at the Sun Books, 2009, Historical Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 5 and up

Themes:  Slave, Abolitionist, Feminist

Opening/Synopsis:  “She was big.  She was black.  She was so beautiful.  Her name was Sojourner.  Truth be told, she was meant for great things.   Meant for speaking.  Meant for preaching.  Meant for teaching the truth about freedom.  Big. Black. Beautiful. True.  That was Sojourner.”  Sojourner was born a slave  in New York in 1797.  Her parents named her Belle.  She was a valuable slave because she was six feet tall, with size-twelve feet and she was strong and worked hard.   She wanted her freedom and ran away.  She stumbled upon a Quaker family who were abolitionists.   The couple bought her freedom.   She  believed freedom belonged to everyone.  She set out to speak her truth and help others.  She changed her name to Sojourner Truth because she intended to spread the word about freedom and the unfair treatment of black people and women.  In 1851, she stormed a women’s rights convention in a church Akron, Ohio and smashed the lies that were spoken about women that day.  She spoke her truth and marched out of the church.

What I like this book:  It shows the strength and determination of a black woman who was born a slave, could not read or write, yet became a very strong voice for freedom and equal rights for women, before the civil war was even fought.  She let nothing get in her way.  Andrea Davis Pinkney has done a beautiful job of captivating the spirit of this remarkable woman.  The text has a unique and wonderful rhythm and evokes a lot of emotion.  The illustrations by Brian Pinkney, are spirited, bold and emotive.  Together they have created a very memorable picture book that belongs in every school library.  Sojourner  is a leader for young readers today.

Resources:  There are pages of historical information and resources about Sojourner Truth at the end of the book.  An abolitionist friend, Olive Gilbert, wrote a book about her in 1850, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave.”  There also is a photo of her meeting with President Abraham Lincoln on Oct. 29, 1864.   He signed her book.   There is a teacher lesson plan for Sojourner Truth with many great activities.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.