Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Josephine (A memoir in verse)



Author: Patricia HRuby Powell
Pictures: Christian Robinson

In short: This memoir-in-verse relates the story of Miss Josephine Baker, her rags-to-riches rise, her entertainment career and mostly her passionate work for equality and an end to segregation.  This book is a Coretta Scott King Book Award, Honor, for the Illustrator, a Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, Honor, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Nonfiction Honor.

 My thoughts:  I am always looking for memoirs in verse. I think as a reader, putting the story in verse, especially for a musician, helps the reader feel the rhythm of that person's life. What I especially thought was a nice touch was how Powell used some actual quotes from Ms. Baker and put that prose into poetic form.

"I improvised, crazed with the music. /Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever./I leapt to touch the sky./When I regained earth/it was mine alone."
As a children's book or tween book, it does not shy away from the controversy and racism of that time. It does a good job of recording the ways that Ms. Baker tried to integrate herself into white society. However, I was left with more questions about this controversial figure. I still wanted to know why she continued to bleach her skin to fit in with high society. In other words if she was so interested in integration, why was she trying to look more white?

Another thing I wanted to see was how she was as a mother. Yes she adopted children from different ethnic backgrounds to make her "rainbow tribe" but then she is seen abandoning her husband for long stretches in Paris, coming back to divorce  him, and nowhere is there a mention of the children. Did she leave them with her husband, take them with her? I could not tell if the adoptions were for show or what she was like outside of the limelight.

I think as a memoir in verse, these types of questions left at the end are great for readers who want to know more and it will encourage them to seek more answers. The author does give references for further reading at the end so it is a place to start.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Classics: The Giver Quartet



When I was a high school teacher, I always thought The Giver was too low level for students. When I was an 8th grade teacher, I thought The Giver was too low level for students. I had read it early on in my career, but 23 years later as I am planning my college-level introduction to teaching course I figure I want to read something light and fast and the whole Giver quartet popped up on my Oyster list.

If you have not re-read or read this book, no matter what age you are, READ it. This is what dystopian literature was about before dystopian literature was relegated to the upper teen YA authors who wanted to put sex, lust and model-licious heroes and heroines into dystopian literature. 
 I mean seriously, are there no ugly people in fiction anymore? I guess that is why I really like Girl of Fire and Thorns mostly because she is fat. But that is one reason why I really liked this series. The characters were not all beautiful, the characters had gifts, but they had to work together, and there was a large amount of compassion. Plus, Lois Lowry as an author has racked up a fair share of awards because, simply, she is a great writer. As an adult I love her writing style, but even for upper elementary and tween readers, she writes well without dumbing down vocabulary, concepts or themes.


Friday, November 6, 2015

The Old Brown Suitcase



In America, when we think of immigrants (both legal and illegal), we think of Mexicans, Southeast Asians, Micronesians. But Europe is struggling with their own immigrant challenges and the atrocities of mass refugees trying to find safety and "home," has resulted in stories coming out that highlight the underbelly of society. 

I listened to the Audiobook of this story by Lillian Boraks-Nemitz, narrated by Sofia Bunting-Newman in half a day. It is the story of Slava, a fourteen-year old who survives the Warsaw ghettoes of World War II Germany and is able to escape to Canada. She struggles with the horrific memories, the challenges of creating a new identity and the challenge of acclimating to a new country. She also has the typical teen issues - friendship, love, parents, school. 

I though that the story was well read. The writing drew me in and I wanted to make sure that this young woman found some kind of peace in her life. The only issue I had with the book was that some of the words fit into the understanding of the young teen audience that it is intended for, but the words did not seem historically accurate, especially for adults. Otherwise, great historical fiction read and I appreciate that the narrator has historical notes about the Warsaw ghetto and in the book there are further resources for continued reading.

Book pairings:
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Maus: a survivorʻs tale by Art Spiegelman
Night by Elie Wiesel


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