Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If You Come Softly

A. Bibliography
Woodson, Jacqueline. 1998. If You Come Softly. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0399231129

B. Plot Summary
Fifteen-year-old Jeremiah and Ellie meet at their exclusive, private high school in New York and all in love. they must convince the rest of the world that their love is real despite the differences: Jeremiah is black, Ellie is white.

C. Critical Analysis
If You Come Softly is a modern novel in that it is set in the late 1990s New York. High rise apartment, subways, Central Park, private schools are mentioned, along with the stereotypical love of basketball for young black men. Jeremiah even mentions this when thinking about playing for his new, exclusive private school, "It seemed wrong- cliche' somehow...He hated that he was gonna be playing ball for Percy Academy. No, it wasn't the game he hated, he loved that, had always loved that..."
While Woodson gives nods to cultural authenticity by describing Jeremiah's "locks" and skin color of his friends had him, "Some light-skinned, some dark-skinned..." and hair, "...nappy-headed, curly-headed, even a couple of bald-headed brothers...", but most of the novel's authenticity comes from characters' attitudes, actions, and inner voices. Jeremiah comments that in "...Fort Greene, Brooklyn- where everyone seemed to be some shade of black- he felt good walking through the neighborhood. But one step outside. Just one step and somehow the weight of his skin seemed to change. It got heavier."
The discussion when Ellie tells her sister about Jeremiah shows family values when Anne says, "I just think to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend from a different race is really hard."
Jacqueline Woodson offers opportunities for discussion with her novel. Most teens will find many instances to relate to when they read If You Come Softly.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal -Two 15 year olds, Jeremiah (Miah) who is black, and Elisha (Ellie) who is white, meet during their first year at an exclusive New York prep school and fall in love. Both teens are also dealing with difficult family situations. Miah's father has left his mother for another woman, and Ellie is trying to fight through her feelings about her mother, who twice abandoned her family for extended periods. The teenagers must also deal with the subtle and not-so-subtle bigotry that they are subject to as a mixed-race couple. Miah and Ellie go about working through their problems, both individually and together, and their relationship continues to blossom, giving readers a shared sense of contentment. Thus, the tragic climax will leave them stunned. Woodson's lyrical narrative tells the story through alternating voices, Ellie's in the first person and Miah's in the third. This fine author once again shows her gift for penning a novel that will ring true with young adults as it makes subtle comments on social situations.Tom S. Hurlburt, La Crosse Public Library, WI

E. Connections
Older teens may discuss the pros and cons of interracial dating.

Other books to research:
Jayd's Legacy by L. Devine ISBN 9780758216373
Lives of Our Own by Lorrie Hewett ISBN 9780525459590

Goin' Someplace Special

A. Bibliography
McKissak, Patricia C. 2001. Goin' Someplace Special. Ill. by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689808858

B. Plot Summary
It is the 1950s and segregation is still in place in many areas of the US. Still, that doesn't deter 'Tricia Ann form making a trip, alone for the first time, braving the ignorance of segregation, to the town's only non-segregated building: the public library.

C. Critical Analysis
Only after reading the book does the reader see a note at the end from the author explaining that the story is based upon an event in the author's own life. The story does portray painfully accurate events and attitudes of people in the 50s in the southern states. Jim Crow laws are evidenced in the story when 'Tricia Ann has to sit in the back of the bus, not sit on a bench in the town's park, or enter the front door of the movie theater. What is most disheartening is how the white girl tells her little brother that "Colored people can't come in the front door. They got to go 'round back and sit up in the Buzzard's Roost." The younger brother, only six years old, was the white person to speak kindly to 'Tricia Ann.
Cultural attitudes of the time are also voiced by the other Black characters in the book. Mama Frances tells 'Tricia Ann "...hold yo' head up and act like you b'long to somebody." Mrs. Grannell from the back of the bus told her to "Carry yo'self proud." Jimmy Lee told her "Don't let those signs steal yo' happiness."
Jerry Pinkney illustrates each page with rich colors filled with details of the 1950s. Clothing and cars are period as is 'Tricia Ann's straw hat she wears because she is going "out." African-American culture is not depicted in the illustrations beyond skin tone as most of the setting is the town's streets, transportation, and places of business.

D. Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly McKissack draws from her childhood in Nashville for this instructive picture book. "I don't know if I'm ready to turn you loose in the world," Mama Frances tells her granddaughter when she asks if she can go by herself to "Someplace Special" (the destination remains unidentified until the end of the story). 'Tricia Ann does obtain permission, and begins a bittersweet journey downtown, her pride battered by the indignities of Jim Crow laws. She's ejected from a hotel lobby and snubbed as she walks by a movie theater ("Colored people can't come in the front door," she hears a girl explaining to her brother. "They got to go 'round back and sit up in the Buzzard's Roost"). She almost gives up, but, buoyed by the encouragement of adult acquaintances ("Carry yo'self proud," one of her grandmother's friends tells her from the Colored section on the bus), she finally arrives at Someplace Special a place Mama Frances calls "a doorway to freedom" the public library. An afterword explains McKissack's connection to the tale, and by putting such a personal face on segregation she makes its injustices painfully real for her audience. Pinkney's (previously paired with McKissack for Mirandy and Brother Wind) luminescent watercolors evoke the '50s, from fashions to finned cars, and he captures every ounce of 'Tricia Ann's eagerness, humiliation and quiet triumph at the end.

E. Connections
Old teens can research the Jim Crow laws to determine when they came into effect and when they were abolished. Research to see how many laws there were and what they restricted Afro-Americans from doing.

Flower Girl Butterflies

A. Bibliography
Howard, Elizabeth Fitzgerald. 2004. Flower Girl Butterflies. Ill. by Christiane Kromer. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN 068817809X

B. Plot Summary
Little Sarah's Aunt Robin is getting married, and she has asked Sarah to be her flower girl! Sarah has never been a flower girl and is both excited and a little scared that she might mess up. However, Sarah gets all caught up in the excitement and has a much fun at the wedding as the bride and groom.

C. Critical Analysis
Mrs. Howard has written a delightful story from a young flower girls' point of view. While the illustrations depict an African-American family, no where in the story are there any true cultural markers. The story focuses on Sarah, the newly chosen flower girl and her observations about the upcoming wedding from choosing the perfect flower girl dress, to relatives coming to stay the weekend, to the " in the brown truck..." who delivers wedding presents, to the rehearsal where the little boy who is to be the ring bearer pitches a fit and refuses to perform in the ceremony, to the big day itself complete with a successful trip down the aisle for the nervous flower girl, and finally a fun-filled reception at the end.
The story is every little girls' dream of being a flower girl. The details given transcends all cultures: it is a lovely story of a little girl who gets to be her aunt's flower girl.
The illustrations by Christiane Kromer give the only hint of any culture in the book. Every page is covered with depictions of the wedding activities~only then is any culture evident in the characters hair, hair styles, facial features, and skin color.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal All of the excitement and anxiety of a wedding day are captured in this charming picture book. When young Sarah is asked to be a flower girl in her Aunt Robin's wedding, the child is consumed with doubts. She worries that she will forget to throw her flowers. She's nervous about tripping in front of everyone, getting sick, or ruining her new dress. With the loving reassurance of her African-American family, she calms her fears enough to walk down the aisle. After all, she has to be a "big girl" role model for the little ring bearer. This book is a wonderful celebration of family as the grandmothers and several uncles and cousins come to spend the night before the wedding at Sarah's house. Sarah's big moment is a perfect splash of pink background and scattered pink petals with the child's dark skin gleaming against her white flower-girl dress. The lovely bride, in a frothy white gown, follows. The collage textures added to the watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations give the book a tactile look. A warm, family-oriented story that children will love.-Janet M. Bair, Trumbull Library, CT

E. Connections
Younger readers can share stories of weddings they have attended or if they have ever been in as a flower girl or bride's maid.
Compare this text's traditional American wedding with stories of weddings in other countries.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Am A Taxi

A. Bibliography
Ellis, Deborah. 2006. I Am A Taxi. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books. ISBN 9780888997357.

B. Plot Summary
San Sebastian Woman's Prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia is not the ideal home, but it is where Diego Juarez must live after his parents are falsely accused of smuggling drugs. To help support his family, Diego works as a 'taxi', running errands for other prisoners to the outside of the prison. When an opportunity comes for a different life, Diego takes the challenge which changes his life for the worse.

C. Critical Analysis
I Am A Taxi gives descriptions of two frightening worlds. The women's prison is aptly described with its noise, bare walls, dingy light bulbs, and no fresh air. The description of the Bolivian jungle with its thick growth of trees and scary animals and insects is distinctly uncomfortable, especially when one character tells Diego, "Remember, lad, there's nothing in this jungle that you can't eat, or that won't eat you."
Authenticity is given with the language and description of various foods and common elements of daily life. Ellis provides a glossary at the end of the novel even while giving descriptions of some words within the writing. Chupe is described as "...thick with grains and tomatoes...[and] bits of meat among the potatoes..."
Bolivian traditions are not explained in the novel as it focuses on life in the prison and life in the jungle creating cocaine.
I Am A Taxi is an unsettling and unnerving novel in how it shows a young boy whose life has been destroyed by an illegal substance highly prized for its ability to make one forget.
Ellis adds an author's note at the end of the novel explaining the drug trafficking trade in Bolivia and attempts to put an end to it.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal: Ellis's novel attempts to expose the strains that cocaine production and trade and the U.S War on Drugs have placed on Bolivians. Diego's parents have been wrongfully incarcerated for drug smuggling. While they serve their 16-year sentences, the 12-year-old, who would otherwise be homeless, lives in the women's prison with his mother and younger sister. He earns money as a taxi, running errands in the city for the prisoners. One day his friend convinces him that they can make easier money working for men who turn out to be involved in cocaine manufacturing. The boys are enslaved in the jungle, Diego's friend dies, and Diego barely escapes with his life. This harrowing part of the narrative is somewhat rushed and is less convincing than the rest. Nonetheless, because of its unusual setting and subject matter, and Ellis's efforts to explicate complex social, political, and economic issues, this book should find a place in larger collections.–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY.

Booklist: Diego, 12, lives in prison in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, stuck there with his parents, who have been falsely arrested for smuggling drugs. He attends school and works as a "taxi," running errands for the inmates in the great street market. Then his friend, Mando, persuades him to make big money, and the boys find themselves stomping coca leaves in cocaine pits in the jungle, with local gangsters and a smooth boss who supplies "hungry noses" in America. Readers will be caught up by the nonstop action in the prison, and also in the jungle survival adventure, where escape is tempered by the specter of death. The connection between medicinal coca leaves, sacred to the indigenous people, and their exploitation by the global drug runners is not entirely clear, but, as in The Breadwinner (2001) and many of her previous books, Ellis tells a bold story of contemporary kids in crisis and brutally exploited far away. Hazel Rochman.

E. Connections
Older teens could research cocaine and its consequences and investigate US government programs to stop the trafficking of illegal drugs and the abuse of children being made to create the drugs.

A sequel from Deborah Ellis might interest students who found Diego's story moving: Sacred Leaf ISBN 9780888997517.

A Particular Cow

A. Bibliography
Fox, Mem. 2006. A Particular Cow. Ill. by Terry Denton. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 9780152002503.

B. Plot Summary
One particular Saturday morning a particular cow goes for walk as is her habit. But on this particular morning, several things happen that are particularly unusual.

C. Critical Analysis
Mem Fox has given children's literature another enjoyable story sure to delight the younger set. Illustrator Terry Denton has drawn this particular cow and other characters with perpetual smiles even while becoming entangled in several mishaps with the particular cow. Children will appreciate the cartoon-like drawings with each page full of color.
In addition to the story's text are the extra comments spoken by each character in a cartoon dialog "balloon". Mem Fox's Australian language surfaces a little here with underwear being called "bloomers", but most phrases are easily understood as Australia's chief language is English. "Blimey!" spoken by the sailors could be left open to interpretation.
Children of all cultures can enjoy the antics of Fox's clumsy bovine.

D. Review Excerpts

School Library Journal –When a cow decides to take her usual Saturday constitutional, she accidentally steps through a clothesline and ends up with a pair of bloomers covering her head. Unable to see and running off in a panic, the poor bovine wreaks havoc as she falls into a postman's cart that heads down a long hill, followed by all the characters whose lives shes disrupted: the underwear's owner, the postman, some children, and a few yapping dogs. The chaos reaches a spectacularly hilarious conclusion when she crashes (literally) a wedding and flies off the end of a dock, landing in a passing boat, and the underwear blows back into its owners hands. The cow calmly steps ashore and goes about her usual business. The story is told with a dry wit and an economy of words, and the illustrations interpret the action with panache. Denton uses the spreads to distinct advantage as his bovine heroine careens and caroms from one potential disaster to the next. The cartoon illustrations bounce with energy and are suffused with warm colors. Udders and undies combine to make this funny read-aloud a sure hit.–Marge Loch-Wouters, Menasha Public Library, WI.

E. Connections

Compare Terry Denton's illustrations with photos of real cows.

Read Mem Fox's book Koala Lou to compare how another book by this Australian author describes another animal from Australia.

Other children's picture books about cows:

Weis, Carol: When the Cows Got Loose ISBN 0689851669

McNaughton, Colin: What Now, Cushie Butterfield? ISBN 0007154682

Korchek, Lori: Adventures of Cow ISBN 1582461392

The Shadows of Ghadames

A. Bibliography
Stolz, Joelle. 1999. The Shadows of Ghadames. New York: Delacourt Press. ISBN 0385731043.

B. Plot Summary
The Shadows of Ghadames illuminates the lives of women in late 1800s Libya, demonstrating the customs of the harem and the man-dominated world. Coming of age in this culture is eleven-year-old Malika, who, with the help of a stranger, begins to dream of a possible life loosened from the centuries-old constraints on women.

C. Critical Analysis
The Shadows of Ghadames was written by the French author Joelle Stolz, who traveled to this ancient city to research for her novel. From the knowledge gained, Stolz gives a realistic account of late 19th century life for women in the harems of Ghadames.
Traditional names are used, language depicting everyday life and activities is used, such as the description of a kerna, "...the wide, hard base of a palm tree branch..." used to beat "...the stalks to separate the grain..." or the malafa, "...the rectangle of embroidered wool tied under the chin with laces that girls wear on their heads until marriage."
Many traditions are brought out in the novel along with vivid descriptions of how women live out their lives on the rooftops of the city, visiting only other women, a world where men do not enter.
All the characters in the novel are authentic. The men and women all follow the traditions, yet changes are being discerned by the protagonist Malika and is actually encouraged by her father's second wife to think beyond the walls of her home.
The Shadows of Ghadames is well-written and thought provoking. It allows one into the secret world of Libya's Muslim women while also portraying universal themes of jealousy, anger, and rebellion as Malika prepares to enter adolescence.

D. Review Excerpt
School Library Journal: In Libya at the end of the 19th century, upper-class women were confined to their homes and rooftops, leading a quiet life filled with household tasks. Nearly 12, Malika is about to enter that world, although not without regret for the loss of freedom and the education her brother has. Her father's two wives offer her good models: her upper-class mother, the "wife from home," who calmly runs the household, and her brother's mother, the "wife from the journey," who moves more freely about the city, still veiled and hiding in dark alleys when a man appears. In spite of their upbringing and their husband's departure on business, the two women rescue a man injured outside their home. Abdelkarim remains hidden with them while they nurse his wounds, and as he recovers, he and Malika come to see that the world of women is richer than they thought. He teaches Malika her alphabet before he is smuggled away, and her mother, admitting that times are changing, finally agrees to let her learn to read.
Booklist: In the Libyan city of Ghadames at the end of the nineteenth century, Malika is dreading her twelfth birthday. That is the time when, according to her family's Berber customs, she will be close to marriageable age and confined to the world of women. In Ghadames that means restriction to the rooftops, "a city above the city, an open sunny town for women only, where . . . they never talk to men." Malika longs to live beyond the segregated city and travel, like her father, a trader. But the wider world comes to Malika after her father's two wives agree to harbor, in secret, a wounded stranger. The story of an outsider who unsettles a household and helps a young person to grow is certainly nothing new, and some of the lessons here are purposeful. But Stolz invigorates her tale with elegant prose and a deft portrayal of a girl verging on adolescence. The vivid backdrop is intoxicating, but the story's universal concerns will touch readers most: sibling jealously, confusion about adult customs, and a growing interest in a world beyond family.

E. Connections
This novel could be useful in comparing and contrasting other ancient cultures' expectations for women.
Debate could be utilized to discuss the merits of a world dominated by men vs. one where women are more equal.

Multicultural Literature

I will be posting several book reviews for my Multicultural Literature class through Texas Woman's University during the summer.

This blog is a work in progress.