The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

The Stars Beneath Our Feet

David Barclay Moore, Author

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 19, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Awards: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent

Themes: African-American, Family relationships, Harlem, Gangs, Grief, Self-discovery, Friendship

Book Synopsis: It all started with two garbage bags full of Legos. Or not, maybe it started with the two thugs following 12-year-old Lolly down 125th that night.

Or maybe it was Jermaine’s dying. Or that fight they had before ‘Maine got shot. Yeah, probably it was that.

Lolly’s having a hard time knowing how to be without his older brother around. Seems like he’s either sad or mad. The thing that helps most is building. His mom’s girlfriend, Yvonne, gave him two huge bags of Legos for Christmas, and Lolly’s working on an epic city — a project so big it outgrows his apartment. The community center lets him work on his magical Lego city in a storage room which provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world from his grief.

But there are dangers outside that persist. There are older guys who harass, beat up and rob Lolly and his friend Vega on the street. They pressure the boys to join a crew (gang), like his brother Jermaine. What would Jermaine want him to do? Get with a crew and take revenge? Or build a different kind of world for himself. Lolly’s going to have to figure this one out on his own.

Why this book is on my shelf:

David Barclay Moore has penned a powerful debut novel with a gripping plot and timely, real-life issues for young people of color. He opens readers eyes to how 12-year-old boys are easily targeted and drawn into gangs/crews as a way to survive. They don’t want to be part of gangs, but they are beaten, robbed, threatened and bullied into submission. It’s a way of life in many inner city neighborhoods where opportunities are limited. They believe that having the protection of a gang can save their lives, but it can also kill them, like Lolly’s brother, Jermaine.

I like how the author helps Lolly deal with his brother’s loss through imagination, creativity, and his love of architecture. Lolly builds epic cities with fantastic stories. He doesn’t realize that he is a gifted artist and storyteller headed for great things.

The relationship between two very unlikely friends, Lolly, who doesn’t know what to do with his anger and grief, and Big Rose, who is on the autism spectrum, is my favorite part of the story. Lolly is furious about the center’s director giving Rose permission to build Lego cities in the storage room with Lolly. But, then he begins to see her talent and speed at building. They end up traipsing all over New York City studying, photographing and drawing its unique architecture. They need each other and are important to each other’s growth healing.

A major reason the author wanted to write this novel is because he feels “there aren’t enough books that speak with the voices of the characters in his story.” For instance a slang word in one Harlem neighborhood may not even be used in another neighborhood a few blocks away. So the narrative is richly textured and thought-provoking, and offers hope and an opportunity for self-discovery.

This novel belongs in the hands of every teenager and middle grade and high school. It offers students the opportunity to engage in important discussions about real life and modern social issues.

David Barclay Moore was born and raised in Missouri. After studying creative writing at Iowa State University, film at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and language studies at l’Université de Montpellier in France, David moved to New York City, where he has served as communications coordinator for Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and communications manager for Quality Services for the Autism Community. He has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Yaddo, and the Wellspring Foundation. He was also a semi-finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. David now lives, works, and explores in Brooklyn, N.Y.  You can follow him at his website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson

under-the-same-sun51bay5xc9kl__sx434_bo1204203200_

Under the Same Sun

Sharon Robinson, Author

AG Ford, Illustrator

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jan. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: African-American, Family Relationships, Multigenerational, Multicultural, Tanzania, Safari

Opening: The sun rose in the sky like an orange ball of fire. The rooster crowed. Then the dawn light gave way to an early-morning blue. “Nubia! Busaro! Onia! Wake up!” Father called. “Rachel! Rahely! Faith! The plane will soon be landing!”

Synopsis: Auntie Sharon and Grandmother Bibi are coming to Tanzania from America to visit their family. It will soon be Bibi’s eighty-fifth birthday and her seven grandchildren are planning a big surprise! They spend the next few days telling stories, exchanging gifts, making trips to the markets and preparing spicy meals.

Finally the big day arrives, and three generations of family pack their bags and pile into their father’s jeep for a safari trip in the Serengeti National Park. They view beautiful animals in the wild — hippos, crocodiles, exotic birds, gazelle, a pride of lions, elephants, zebras and giraffes. They make a final stop on their return home to Bagamoyo, a slave-trading post along the Indian ocean.  It is a meaningful stop, because Bibi’s African-born grandchildren learn about how their great-great grandparents were captured and shipped to Georgia to pick cotton on a southern plantation.

Why I like this book:

This is a personal book for Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player. She shares the story of the trips she and her mother make to visit her brother David, who returned to Tanzania to raise his family. Readers will get a strong sense of the rich cultural heritage, customs and language. This is a heart-felt multigenerational story with a twist, showing Sharon’s African nieces and nephews learning about their ancestral heritage. AG Ford’s oil paintings are exquisite. Just study the vibrant and lively book cover. His brush captures the love and joy among the Robinson family.

Resources: There is an Author’s Note, family photos, a map of Tanzania, a glossary of Swahili words spoken in East Africa, and a page about Tanzanian history and meals. This is a great read for Black History Month. Encourage children to talk with great grandparent, grandparents and family members about their family history. Record the stories told, or write them down.

Favorite Quote: Bibi gathered her children and grandchildren in her arms. “We may be separated by land and sea, but we are always under the same sun,” she said. And she hugged them all at once.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website where you will find lists of books by categories.

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.

Double Dutch by Sharon Draper

Double Dutch

Sharon Draper, Author

Atheneum Books, YA Fiction, 2003

Suitable for: Grades 5 to 9

Themes:  Dyslexia, Bullies, Friendship, Secrets, Sportsmanship

Synopsis:  Three eighth-grade friends prepare for the International Double Dutch Championship jump rope competition  to be held in their hometown, Cincinnati.  Delia, who is the main character, loves Double Dutch.  She is the fastest and best jumper on her team, and  has a shot at the championship.  But, Delia, has a secret she has kept from everyone, including her mother.   She can’t read.  In order to compete, she must pass the state proficiency tests.  This could jeopardize her chance to participate in the competition.  Even her best friend and team member, Yolanda, “Yo Yo” doesn’t know for a while.  Yo Yo, specializes in telling very tall tales, and no one can believes a word she says — she’s the comic relief in the story.

Delia isn’t the only person with a secret.  Randy, whose father is a truck driver, has been missing for weeks.  Randy is close to his Dad and can’t understand why he can’t reach him.  Randy assists the Double Dutch coach, Bomani, and helps with practices — a great distraction for Randy.  He also has a crush on Delia.  Randy is running out of money to pay the rent and electricity.   He doesn’t have enough to buy food.  He’s afraid to tell anyone because he’s doesn’t want to be put into a foster home.  He always makes excuses to Delia about his dad, but deep inside he’s scared and worried.

One thing is for sure, all three friends share a fear of the new Tolliver Twins, the school  bullies.  Especially Yo Yo, who is shoved into a locker when the Tolliver’s pass her in the hall.  They dress in black, wear skull caps, only interact with each other and angrily storm the halls.  They seem to follow Yo Yo around at Double Dutch meets and practices.  Out of fear, she spreads a rumor that the Tolliver twins are going to blow up the school.  Even the teacher’s are intimidated when the twin’s mother goes onto a television program and asks for help for her sons.   This causes a stir at the middle school.  Will there be violence?

What I like about this book This is a good novel for 6th graders, and not too young for eighth graders.  There are no inappropriate scenes and the language is clean.  Author Sharon Draper has skillfully woven together the lives of three middle grade students and all the angst that accompanies their drama-filled teenage years.  She has created a diverse group of characters, a great theme about friendships, and a strong plot with a few twists and turns.  I enjoyed reading Double Dutch, because I used to jump it as a girl.  But not at the competitive level of the characters in the book.  I was amazed at what athletic skill, talent and focus is required of its jumpers.  This book was a great read and will certainly appeal to middle grade girls.

Sharon 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 Literary Award for her novels Copper Sun, and  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, and Copper Sun on Mar. 12, 2012.

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.

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom

The Escape of Oney Judge

Emily Arnold McCully, Author and Illustrator

Farrar Straus Giroux, Historical Fiction, 2007

Suitable for: Ages 6 and Up

Themes/Topics:  Slavery, African-American, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis: “Oney!  Come here, child.”  It was Mrs. Washington!  Oney ran to her and curtsied, as the house slaves did.  Had the mistress caught her doing something wrong?  “Oney, I’ve had my eye on you,”  the great lady said.  I see a bright girl who can learn.  Tomorrow you will take up a needle and sew alongside your mother in the Mansion.”  “Oh, thank you, ma’am.” Oney cried.  “I’ll be glad to work with Mama!”  Oney knows why she was selected to work in the big house at Mt. Vernon.  It was because her father was white and she was light-skinned.   But, she’s also very bright and loved learning new things.

After the Revolutionary War ended, Oney was puzzled that liberty meant freedom for people, but not for slaves.  Mrs. Washington treated Oney like one of her own children, but she wouldn’t allow Oney to learn how to read or write.  Oney was especially close to the Washington’s daughter, Nelly.  After the general was elected president, Mrs. Washington chose Oney to be her personal maid at the first capital in New York City.  Oney studied ladies’ gowns to see how they were cut and sewn, and designed all of Mrs. Washington’s clothing and caps.  But, she never allowed Oney to earn money when she sewed for other women.

When the capital was moved to Philadelphia, Oney learned about slaves who were free.  Mrs. Washington told Oney one night that after she died, she would give Oney to her newly married granddaughter.  Oney knew the husband would sell her to  a stranger, so she began to plan her escape.  While  the Washington’s were preparing to return to Mount Vernon, Oney saw her opportunity to leave.  She ran to a white friend’s home where she hid until arrangements could be made for her escape.  She didn’t know where she would end up.  The Washington’s didn’t give up their search for Oney, even after she  married a free black slave and had a child.  They tracked Oney for years.  McCully shows how very determined this young woman was to be free.

Why I liked this book:  Little is written for children about the slaves of President George Washington and our Founding Fathers.  Emily McCully gives kids a realistic understanding of that period in our history.   She did an excellent job of researching Oney Judge Staines.  Her illustrations capture the mood of that revolutionary time.  George Washington was a good president, but he never took a public stand against slavery.  Washington hoped for its end, and he freed his own slaves upon his death.  Oney ended up in New Hampshire where she lived with her husband and three children.   I ran across a series of letters George Washington wrote trying to track Oney.  They are preserved in the Weeks Public Library and are very interesting.  She died in 1848, and her death certificate read “domestic servant.”  The Escape of Oney Judge is a 2008 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year, and a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Winner.   Activity:  Click on Oney Judge for classroom 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.

Freedom Song – Perfect Picture Book

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown

Sally M. Walker, Author

Sean Qualls, Illustrator

Harper, Jan. 3, 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and Up

Themes: African-American History, Slavery, the Underground Railroad

Opening/Synopsis “When Henry Brown came into this world, his family sang.  Mama blew kisses on his soft, brown belly.  Papa named him Henry, held him high to the sky.  Sisters and brothers tickled his toes.  Mama’s cooking grew Henry tall.  Papa’s stories grew Henry smart.  The whole family’s love grew Henry strong.  Even though they were slaves on Master’s plantation. “  As Henry worked in the cotton fields and gardens, he made up workday songs.  At night, he knew about children who were sold.  So he sang a silent freedom song in his head, hoping that his family would stay together.  Henry grew up, and his master sent him to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond.  He met a woman, Nancy, and fell in love.  They married and had four children.  Music and rhythm filled his head.  He sang his songs to his children, and to workers.  One day the master sold his wife and children.  Henry couldn’t save his family.  He felt powerless, and was filled with grief and despair.  He stopped singing.  Only one silent song remained in his heart, his freedom song and “its think, plan, take-yourself-to-freedom-land words were getting stronger every day.”   With the help of secret friends, Henry developed a most unusual plan to escape.

Why I like this story:  This is a remarkable story about one man’s courage and determination to be free.   It is based on the true story of Henry Brown, who was born in 1815, near Richmond, Virginia.  Sally Walker did a lot of research as she wrote Henry’s story.  Her text is captivating and lyrical.  Sean Qualls’ beautiful illustrations capture the mood of Henry’s  journey through laughter, despair and strength.   There is an excellent Author’s Note and a letter to the Anti-Slavery Office in 1849, documenting his extraordinary escape.  The letter is from the Collection of The New York Historical Society.  Activity:  This is an excellent book to discuss during Black History Month.  Here are some helpful activity resources to use in the classroom:  The Freedom Center,  samples of freedom songs that were sung as signal songs by the slaves, and the Underground Railroad.

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.