Posts tagged ‘Newbery’

Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together.jpgTitle: Piecing Me Together
Author: Renee Watson
ISBN: 9781681191058
Pages: 264 pages
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, c2017.
Awards: Newbery Honor Award (2018), Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner (2018)

The front of the folder shows a group of black women–adults and teens–smiling and embracing one another. Woman to Woman: A Mentorship Program for African American Girls. Mrs. Parker is smiling like what she’s about to tell me is that she found the cure for cancer. But really, what she has to tell me sounds more like a honking horn that’s stuck, a favorite glass shattering into countless pieces on the floor. […]
“Why was I chosen for this?”
Mrs. Parker clears her throat. “Well, uh, selection was based on, uh, gender, grade, and, well, several other things.”
“Like?”
“Well, uh, several things. Teacher nominations . . . uh, need.”
“Mrs. Parker, I don’t need a mentor,” I tell her.
“Every young person could use a caring adult in her life.”
“I have a mother.” And my uncle, and my dad. “You think I don’t have anyone who cares about me?”
“No, no. That’s not what I said.” Mrs. Parker clears her throat. (17-18)

Junior Jade has a scholarship to attend St. Francis, a mostly white, expensive private school on the other side of Portland from where she lives with her mother and uncle. When she is called down to the counselor’s office, she thinks it’s about the study abroad to trip to Spain, a trip she’s anticipated for the last two years, learning Spanish and making money for by tutoring her classmates. Instead, Jade learns she’s been nominated for Woman to Woman, a mentor program that pairs her with Maxine, a graduate of her high school. Maxine however, doesn’t seem to be the best person to mentor, showing up late to or completely forgetting about plans and being more concerned about her ex-boyfriend then Jade. Jade doesn’t want to forgo the “opportunity” to get a full-ride scholarship if she completes the program, but the things they do make her feel more out of place then ever. She’s tired of being someone who needs help, and wants to get out of town and out of her circumstances; the trick is finding someone who can listen and help in the way she needs.

I finished Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson and it’s given me some things to consider as a mentor and a librarian. There’s a lot of excellent passages that I could quote from that provide insight and an evaluation of who we feel is “in need” and what we feel they need. After much self-doubt, Jade finally gets the courage to voice her concerns about the program to her mentor Maxine. Jade tells Maxine that just because her parents aren’t around doesn’t mean she needs a mentor. (In actuality, her mother just works an nontraditional schedule and is highly involved in Jade’s life and is not like other non-existent mother characters that are cliche characters in other books.) Just because she has the opportunity to go other places doesn’t mean she wants to see what she can’t afford. Just because she lives in a “wrong side of the tracks” neighborhood doesn’t mean there aren’t still things to see and people who can help from within. Why is Jade “only seen as someone who needs and not someone who can give?” (direct quote from page 199) While it was a little preachy in places, I would recommend it for anyone who finds themselves with who we typically consider “underprivileged youth.” Sometimes even mentors need a reminder that the people they mentor are capable of contributing in their own way, and don’t need to be rescued by someone.

The material is also very relevant in relation to the Black Lives Matter conversation. Although that phrase never makes an appearance in the narrative. About two-thirds of the way in, an incident makes the news regarding a fifteen-year-old black female named Natasha Ramsey receiving a broken jaw and fractured ribs as a result of police breaking up a house party due to a noise complaint. Jade’s uncle E.J. (who is only a few years older then Jade) responds with scorn at Jade’s suggestion that they say a prayer.

“And what is prayer going to do?” E.J. asks. “Prayer ain’t nothing but the poor man’s drug.”
“What?”
“Poor people are the ones who pray. People who don’t have what they need, who can’t pay their rent, who can’t buy healthy food, who can’t save any of their paycheck because every dollar is already accounted for. Those are the people who pray. They pray for miracles, they pray for signs, they pray for good health. Rich people don’t do that,” he tells me. […]
“Be careful today, Jade. For real.” (182-183)

Jade is hyper-aware of her classmates’ response to the event, which seems nonexistent as there is no talk in the hallways, no discussion in the classroom, and from her perspective everyone is acting oblivious, except for her Spanish teacher whom she finds watching new coverage during his break. There are small instances of racism that keep frustrating Jade, especially because the only other person she talks to at school, a white classmate named Sam who also comes from her neighborhood, doesn’t seem them as racism. When Jade is the only one who gets in trouble for laughing at another student’s disrespectful comments about a staff member, Sam blames it on wealth disparity. “Her parents donate a bunch of money to the school every year. She can say and do whatever she wants,” Sam says. “That had nothing to do with her being white and your being black.” Jade responds “You know that’s what people are going to say about Natasha Ramsey. That it had nothing to do with her being black.” and Sam asks “Who?” Another time, Jade questions why she is always the one given these opportunities instead of Sam, who lives in the same area, is also lacking parents, and sees Jade as being ungrateful at having these opportunities to go places like the symphony. This is definitely a perfect scene to spark discussion for students and adults. When have their been times where two people have been in similar situations and the outcomes have been treated differently, and what factors played a role in the resulting outcomes?

We as readers will never know the real reason why her classmate doesn’t get punished for saying the comment but Jade gets in trouble for laughing at it. I think both reasons could be validated, as money and race both talk, but I also fear that as a white female I’d be accused of implicit bias if I brought up this possibility, just as Sam does. I can’t claim to understand what African Americans have to face in terms of racism, both overt and obvious, but I do understand that if you face enough situations with racial overtones, everything starts getting colored and about color. And there was at least one instance in the book of overt racism that Sam also discounts when faced with the account, that could be contributing to Jade’s mounting frustrations. Jade instead seeks out people who understand her feelings on the issue, and readers in turn gain an understanding of just how much the case has affected Jade and her friend from the neighborhood, Lee Lee. These girls are scared it could have been them or will be them, and the other white girls in Jade’s school don’t have that fear because they are insulated by their racial identity. Jade and Lee Lee feel a powerlessness that they are hesitant to admit, because then they fear it means they are, and they don’t want to see themselves or have others see them in that light. In studying Lewis and Clark and their slave York, which she finds out about from Lee Lee’s talking about her history teacher, Jade wonders if he ever “existing in a world where no one thought him strange” and I think Jade feels that otherness herself. Going to an all white school where she can’t relate her family life with that of other students, and then coming home where she can’t relate her options and experiences at school to her family, Jade and Sam share that feeling of isolation and being stuck in the middle.

I keep coming back to the previously quoted passage, “Why am I only seen as someone who needs and not someone who can give?” Jade and Lee Lee are scared, but they don’t want to be seen as someone who needs protection, reassurances, or special treatment. They are women of action, and by the end, it’s inspiring that they found a way to tie resources from their community into a proactive attempt at change. Jade responds to a question that she has learned from the mentor program she doesn’t “have to wait to be given an opportunity” and I think that’s really the most important thing that we can teach the people we mentor. This book is placed in the teen collection at my local library, but I feel it would be appropriate for middle school reading.

It’s making me consider how I can reach out more professionally and personally to fulfill the needs and the desires of the kid I mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters and the public I serve. What are we pressing on others versus providing others? How can we identify what patrons need but also what they can give, and how do we tie the two together? I welcome your thoughts in the comments, and also recommendations for further reading on either enacting these goals, or working with populations that are traditionally seen as underprivileged, but should never be seen as uninformed or unable to contribute.

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El Deafo

El DeafoTitle: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Color: David Lasky
ISBN: 9781419710209
Pages: 242 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2014.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2015)

I wake up every morning happy and relieved to be home. I stay close to Mama, no matter where she is. But suddenly, I lose her. Where is she? I call out but she doesn’t answer me! When I finally find her, I know that everything is different. I think she knows it, too. I can’t hear. (11-12)

As a result of meningitis when she was four, Cece spent some time in the hospital. When she got back home, her parents and her realized that there was something wrong. She had become deaf. After being fit with hearing aids, Cece attends a special school to adapt to her lost hearing, but a family move means she leaves behind the welcoming environment. A new school means she needs to adapt to kids not understanding what the hearing aids do and how to react and interact with her.

The idea of portraying the people as bunnies was an inspired choice on the author’s part. Deafness seems more pronounced when exhibited by an animal with such pronounced ears, and that makes real the anxiety that the author feels when trying to hide her defining characteristic. I had a classmate with a similar hearing device that Cece wears and uses in school, and it’s interesting to see the world from that perspective. Cece’s reluctance to learn sign language was surprising to me, but her reasoning makes sense. She is trying so hard to not appear different that she is isolating herself because she can’t change her differences. It’s when she finally embraces her differences and uses them to the class’s advantage (like a super power) that she makes friends. But honestly, I’m glad she made friends like Martha, who didn’t care about her hearing aids, either as a positive super power or a negative disability.

Most of the feelings of acceptance are universal, they are simply amplified by Cece’s difference. Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and R. J. Palacio’s Wonder will probably enjoy this graphic novel with a similar story line. These books are important to have to teach acceptance to children and share unique perspectives, but some may be turned off by the continued emphasis of the differences and the primary role they play in the plot.

ALA Media Awards 2015

The ALA Media Awards were announced today. The Oscars of the children’s and teen literature world, here’s a break down of some the winners. The complete list can also be found on their website. I hesitate to include all of them because this post would be way too long, but these are the ones I think the majority of the readers have heard of and are interested in learning. But please do check the website, as all of the winners should be considered and I may include the winners of the other awards in a future post.

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
Newbery Slide 2015

WINNER

“The Crossover,” written by Kwame Alexander

Two Newbery Honor Books also were named:

El Deafo” by Cece Bell, illustrated by Cece Bell
Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson

You’re going to have a sense of de ja vue between the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Author Award, so let’s get that out of the way.Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:
Coretta Scott King Author Slide 2015

WINNER

Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson

Three King Author Honor Books were selected:

Kwame Alexander for “The Crossover,”
Marilyn Nelson for “How I Discovered Poetry,”
Kekla Magoon for “How It Went Down,”

I had a weird since of coincidence as well when viewing the winners of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. I give you the trio of biographies on female African American artists.

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Slide 2015

WINNER

“Firebird,” illustrated by Christopher Myers and written by Misty Copeland

Two King Illustrator Honor Books were selected:
Christian Robinson for “Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” by Patricia Hruby Powell
Frank Morrison for “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” by Katheryn Russell-Brown

You’ll see some repeats from the above list to this next list as we move to the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children.
Sibert Slide 2015

WINNER

“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” written by Jen Bryant

Five Sibert Honor Books were named:

Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & the Fall of Imperial Russia,” written by Candace Fleming (Also recognized as a finalist for YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults)
“Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson
“Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands,” written and illustrated by Katherine Roy
“Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation,” written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

I don’t think anyone was as surprised by the list for the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:
Caldecott Slide 2015

WINNER

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend,” written and illustrated by Dan Santat

Six Caldecott Honor Books also were named:

“Nana in the City,” written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo
EDIT: (reviewed here with other books featuring grandparents)
“The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art,” illustrated by Mary GrandPré and written by Barb Rosenstock
“Sam & Dave Dig a Hole,” illustrated by Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett
“Viva Frida,” written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant
This One Summer,” illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki

SIX Honorees! Three picture book biographies! And the most shocking inclusion of all, is a young adult graphic novel!! While I applaud the diversity of the selections and the number of honorees is unprecedented (can anyone prove otherwise), I’m disconcerted at the range of ages that the selections are intended for. I need to gather my thoughts and reread the book before addressing this fully, so stay tuned.

This One Summer was also featured in the list of the Michael L. Printz Award books for excellence in literature written for young adults as an honoree. Am I the only one thinking “WHAT CRAZINESS IS THIS!?!?”
Printz Slide 2015

WINNER

“I’ll Give You the Sun,” written by Jandy Nelson

Four Printz Honor Books also were named:

“And We Stay,” by Jenny Hubbard
“The Carnival at Bray,” by Jessie Ann Foley
“Grasshopper Jungle,” by Andrew Smith
This One Summer,” by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

A list that didn’t have a single repeat on any of the other lists was the Odyssey Awards, presented for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States:
Odyssey Slide 2015

WINNER

H. O. R. S. E. A Game of Basketball and Imagination,” produced by Live Oak Media, is the 2015 Odyssey Award winner. The book is written by Christopher Myers and narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers.

Three Odyssey Honor Recordings also were selected:

“Five, Six, Seven, Nate!” produced by AUDIOWORKS (Children’s) an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc., written by Tim Federle, and narrated by Tim Federle;
“The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place,” produced by Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, written by Julie Berry, and narrated by Jayne Entwistle;
“A Snicker of Magic,” produced by Scholastic Audiobooks, written by Natalie Lloyd, and narrated by Cassandra Morris.

And since we’ve covered all the other age group specific awards, let’s finish this post with the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book (which in my opinion should just be renamed the Mo Willems Award):
Geisel Slide 2015

WINNER

You Are (Not) Small,” written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Two Geisel Honor Books were named:

Mr. Putter & Tabby Turn the Page,” written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
Waiting Is Not Easy!” written and illustrated by Mo Willems

What award or winner most surprised you?

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

BombTitle: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
Author: Steve Sheinkin
ISBN: 9781596434875
Pages: 266 pages
Publisher/Date: Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, c2012.
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Awards: 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, 2013 Newbery Honor Book, Winner of the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, Cybils Top Five Nonfiction Finalist,

This is a big story. It’s the story of the creation — and theft — of the deadliest weapon ever invented. The scenes speed around the world, from secret labs to commando raids to street-corner spy meetings. But like most big stories, this one starts small […] sixteen years before FBI agents cornered Harry Gold in Philadelphia. (7)

Not only is this a big story, but it’s also a complex and sometimes convoluted story, filled with spies and sabotage, intrigue and ingenuity, science and suspense. In 1938, German physicist Otto Hahn was the first to split the atom, an accomplishment that scientists around the world thought was impossible. Less than one year later, President Roosevelt was appraised by none other than Albert Einstein of the possibility of this discovery being used to build a super-sized bomb, and Roosevelt demanded action. Thus began the race for physical, monetary, and intellectual resources to discover the key and build a bomb before any of their enemies. In the shadow of World War II and into the Cold War, scientists worked tirelessly. Robert Oppenheimer’s team in California was the first to crack the code, but the group was plagued with security uncertainties and the government, military, and scientists involved questioned who they could really trust with this deadly and destructive data.

This book has received many accolades, from being a 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature and 2013 Newbery Honor Book to winning the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. One thing that would have helped this award-winning book immensely is a timeline. As readers bounce from scientists to spies and back again across multiple continents and countries, it was almost information overload. It was difficult to differentiate everyone in the beginning, especially when the forward starts in one year and then you zip backwards in time almost a decade and another part where two people on a sabotage team both had the same first name. But for science enthusiasts and detailed orientated people, this will intrigue and enthrall them to have all the pieces of the puzzle together in one concise book. Sheinkin goes beyond the creation of Fat Man and Little Boy and their deployment on Japan, allowing readers a glimpse into the beginnings of the Cold War.

One scene mentioned in the book that particularly struck me was learning how far America went to determine who was spying on us:

While in the United States, Soviet spies had to use an American telegraph company to send information quickly to Moscow. The KGB probably knew that the telegraph company was making copies of every telegram and handing them over to the U.S. Army. This didn’t particularly worry the Soviets–the messages were always written in an extremely complex code.
In 1949, after years of failure, American code breakers cracked the code. Intelligence began decoding all the messages sent to the Soviet Union during the war. That’s when they came across a shocking note sent from New York City to KGB headquarters in 1944. […]
The 1944 telegram summarized a top-secret scientific paper. The paper had been written by one of the British scientists working with Oppenheimer. A few phone calls later, Lamphere [a FBI counterintelligence agent] had the name of the paper’s author: Klaus Fuchs. (221)

Proving how complex the situation was, the German-born physicist named Klaus Fuchs was working with British scientists in England when his assistance was requested in America, prompting him to spy for the Russian Communist Party. When he is arrested and finally being tried in 1950, his lawyer emphasizes the fact that at the time he was passing secrets to the Soviet Union during World War II, the country and Britain were allies. This made the difference between a maximum 14 years in prison for passing secrets to allies and the death penalty if the two countries had been enemies at the time the crime was committed. Fuchs got out early for good behavior, later moving back to East Germany.

Especially interesting is a peak, however brief, into the political rational of Japan not surrendering after the first bomb was dropped. I would have liked to have read more about the bombs’ effects on the country, but sticking to the facts and not trying to sensationalize the country or its population I feel made a greater impact. The simple statement “Fat Man exploded over the city of Nagasaki with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. At least 40,000 people were instantly killed, and tens of thousands more fatally wounded or poisoned with radiation.” leaves a power impression. I hope readers considered these stark statistics and allowed them the full attention they deserved. This is not a fast read, but you’ll feel immeasurably rewarded once you get through this dense text that presents the making of the bomb and it’s after effects from all sides.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Sue Heavenrich over at Sally’s Bookshelf.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Dead End in Norvelt

Title: Dead End in Norvelt
Author: Jack Gantos
ISBN: 9780374379933
Pages: 341 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2011.

BLAM! The rifle fired off and violently kicked out of my grip. It flipped into the air before clattering down across the picnic table and sliding onto the ground. “Oh sweet cheeze-us!” I wailed, and dropped butt-first onto the table. “Ohhh! Cheeze-us-crust!” I didn’t know the rifle was loaded. I hadn’t put a shell in the chamber. My ears were ringing like air raid warnings. I tried to stand but was too dizzy and flopped over. “This is bad. This is bad,” I whispered over and over as I desperately gripped the tabletop.
“Jaaaack!” I heard my mother shriek and then the screen door slammed behind her.
“If I’m not already dead I soon will be,” I said to myself. (10-11)

After playing with his father’s war souvenirs when he wasn’t supposed to and mowing down his mother’s corn when his dad told him to, Jack gets grounded for the rest of the summer. Stuck in his house, the only time he’s allowed out is to either dig the bomb shelter his dad is intent on making, or help the neighbor Miss Volker. Helping Miss Volker doesn’t involve the usual things like painting the house or raking leaves. Instead, Jack drives the elderly medical examiner around and types the obituaries as she dictates them to him. The job is much easier than digging in the heat a hole the size of a swimming pool. But when the elderly residents start dying out one after another, suspicion is cast on Miss Volker. Is Jack unwittingly helping a murderer?

This book has garnered a lot of love over the past year, winning the Newbery Award and the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction. Now I’m not saying that it’s a bad book by any means, but I’m not sure I can whole heartedly agree with the committee’s decision like I did with When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I had a hard time getting engaged and engrossed by it, and I think I’m going to have a hard time convincing kids to read it. The biggest draw is I think the growing number of dead bodies, but although there are some suspicions, it’s not brought up until almost the end of the story, and even then quite suddenly. There is little suspense, if any, and the resolution of this mystery is accomplished quite suddenly, with not even a glimpse into the police work involved in “solving” the “crime” and no real rationale behind it. I found the obituaries that Miss Volker writes somewhat humorous, but I’m not sure how much humor tweens would get out of them.

The best way I can describe this book is odd. Jack does all sorts of “odd” things during his two month sentence, from driving a car and examining dead bodies (his sort-of friend’s dad owns the funeral home) to buying rat poison and digging a bomb shelter. His dad is odd, insisting that Jack mow down his mother’s corn to make room for a runway for an old airplane that Jack’s dad bought at a surplus auction. The chief of police chases people in a tricycle, a Hell’s Angel drops dead from dancing, and the old houses are being bought up and transported to another town. Even the cover of the book is “odd”, with Jack’s missing head behind the sign giving no inclination of the deaths in the book. The whole town is odd, but not in the Gilmore Girls series kind of kooky, just a collection of oddities.

The other thing I would have liked to have seen is an author’s note in the back separating fact from fiction. Obviously it’s semi-autobiographical since the main character shares a name with the author and grows up in a town where the author grew up. An accounting of what is fact and what is fiction would have been much appreciated and could have allowed for a strong connection for readers.

I’m sorry to say that this one fell flat for me.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose

cover imageTitle: Breaking Stalin’s Nose
Author/Illustrator: Eugene Yelchin
ISBN: 9780805092165
Pages: 154 pages
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, c2011.
Awards: Newbery Honor, 2012

“Why does Vovka call you Amerikanets?”
I shouldn’t tell him. “My mom was American. Don’t tell anyone.”
He squints at me. “And she was arrested and shot?”
“What do you mean? Of course not. She came from America to help us build Communism.”
He nods. “They think all foreigners are spies.”
“She wasn’t a spy! She was a real Communist.”
“My mom and dad are real Communists, too,” Four-Eyes says. “They are in Lubyanka prison now–enemies of the people.” […]
“My aunt took me there last week,” says Four-Eyes. We stood in line for two days, but when we got to the door, they wouldn’t let us see them. No visitation rights, they said. My aunt tells me they always say this when the prisoners have been shot already, but I know she’s lying. They’re alive and I’m going to see them.” (63-64)

Sasha Zaichik has dreamed about becoming a Soviet Young Pioneer for as long as he can remember. His father works for the secret police force, unmasking enemies of Stalin’s Communist regime, and is scheduled to attend the ceremony taking place tomorrow as a guest of honor. In the middle of the night, Sasha’s father is taken by the same police force and Sasha is forced out of his home by opportunistic neighbors. He hopes that this is all a big misunderstanding and that his father will be waiting for him at school. With enemies at every turn, both imagined and real, Sasha must be careful that no one finds out about the “mistake” that has occurred. But compounding events and accusations during the school day lead Sasha to see the world in a whole new light. What if it wasn’t a mistake that his father was taken?

Velchin writes in a succinct and appropriate manner, placing events strictly from the viewpoint of Sasha. Sasha, for all the information he thinks he knows, is naive about what the government is doing and how people feel about it. Readers see this in his letter that he writes to Stalin in the opening pages, filling it with the propaganda that he’s been fed his whole life. Part of that is due to his father shielding him from his environment. We never really find out what happened to his mother, or what role anyone had in her death, which Sasha can’t even confirm for us since he never saw a body or funeral.

Readers witness the fear and greed that arise from the Communist life style through Sasha’s eyes, even though Sasha himself doesn’t recognize it. He mentions how his room that he shares with his father is bigger then the one the family of six down the hall have, and is “embarrassed that we live in luxury”. (14) His father gave that same family their ring on the large iron stove that the twelve families share when they added a stove to their room. But Sasha tells readers that “My dad and I oppose personal property on principle. Personal property will disappear when Communism comes.” (32) American readers will be exposed to a lifestyle and government system that they have no knowledge or experience with, and witness the horror.

Stalin’s rule reminds me of Hitler, the way innocent people who believed in something different were secretly whisked away. In an author’s note, Velchin talks about his own experience with the secret police and provides important background information. During Stalin’s 30 years in power, over twenty million people were executed, imprisoned, or exiled. To put it in perspective, that’s more than the commonly accepted number of people who perished in the Holocaust. I personally think it might be the residual bad feelings regarding the Cold War and the USSR/Rusia that might be preventing students from getting information about these events. There is so little literature about Communism available for students that this book is a necessary addition just for the subject matter alone. The fact that it won a Newbery Honor only stresses the book’s importance.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Narrator: Natalie Ross
ISBN: 9781441802422
Discs/CDs: 8 CDs, 9 hours and 6 minutes
Pages: 349 pages
Publisher/Date: Brillance Audio, Henry Holt and Co., 2009.

Being the only girl in the family, falling smack in the middle of six older and younger brothers, Calpurnia Virginia Tate is her mother’s only hope of raising a proper girl. Callie however despises knitting and darning and all those other homely crafts, and would much rather spend time recording her observations of the world around her in her notebook. This pursuit for knowledge leads her to finally approach her reclusive grandfather, who is an amateur scientist trying to make his own mark on society. Forging a friendship that no one ever expected to succeed, Callie and her grandfather work tirelessly in the fields and surrounding forest, hoping to stumble upon a discovery of scientific significance. Will Callie’s mother’s plans for her derail their investigations, or will her big plans for the new century come to fruition?

Personally I really enjoyed this book, although there were some parts that I liked more than others. Callie is a very precocious twelve-year-old, wise beyond her years. She does appear slightly over-emotional towards the end, which I think is out of character for someone with so much intuition about the scientific and societal world around her. While she was very well-developed, her brothers weren’t delineated very well, as the only one who I was ever able to keep straight was Henry, the oldest and the one Callie got along with the best.

Another quibble is the language, but I guess it’s really not that huge of a quibble to begin with. Kelly’s word choices and Ross’s prim and proper narration makes Callie sound older than eleven/twelve (she has a birthday within the book). It was a refreshing change of pace, considering how many books are trying to capture the tone and speech patterns of today’s teens. I do wonder how accurate the portrayal was and how modern-day readers would react to someone who responds to their parents with “Yes, Ma’am” and “No sir” and considers “darn” a swear word. If the shoe was on the other foot, I have to wonder how Callie would react to today’s teens.

Otherwise, it’s a fascinating and unobtrusive way to teach and study Darwin, and it most certainly puts it in cultural context. Callie is not allowed to check out Darwin’s book from the library without a note from her mother, and has never seen a microscope. The one and only telephone is installed in the town, for which they hire *gasp* a woman to serve as the operator. Calpurnia and her family see their very first automobile at the fair, and Coca-Cola has just come on the market for a nickel. The details put things in perspective of how new this concept of Darwin’s theory was when it was first published.

Overall verdict is a detailed account of life at the turn of the century, which I think is why it received the Newbery Honor. While it might be a difficult sell for adventurous boys, I think one reviewer was correct in saying that it would appeal to girls who enjoyed the Little House on the Praire series. The cover might just draw others in who enjoy tomboy stories and are looking for a younger version of Jo from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

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