The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis (2007)
Biography, 56 pages
In this historical memoir, Peter Sis shares a boy’s colorful view of the world in a black and Communist red society. With an introduction that deftly shapes Czechoslovakia’s past, Sis describes how eastern Europe came under Soviet control and how the Cold War began, drawing the setting for his fortified childhood behind the Iron Curtain for readers who didn’t experience this time in world history. In his comic-like style, Sis draws his life in artistic representation that emphasizes the red totalitarian regime and its compulsory demands and restrictions in side captions. Secret police are cast as pigs always nosing through the lives and business of everyday people who were often prohibited from finding joy and solace in artistic expression. Sis’ metaphorical portrayal of himself, as a black and white character always holding the only images of color other than red, shows he was different, learning to want more than Soviet rule could provide or keep from him. Interspersed within the historical black and red accounts, Sis shares journal entries, art work, and primary documents from his childhood that show an ever-growing awareness of a colorful world past the wall. In beautiful detail, Sis draws the history and evokes the emotions that encouraged him to rebel and become an artist, rock ’n’ roll lover, and film creator. With an excellent autobiographical spin, The Wall is a great read for middle school or high school students studying the Cold War and world history through the later half of the 20th century.
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain March 21, 2011
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis (2007)
Knucklehead by Jon Sciesczka (2008)
Biography, 106 pages
In this hilarious memoir Jon Scieszka shares his childhood growing up with 5 brothers and getting into lots of mischief. As second oldest, he tells the advantages of being older: not being too close to the toilet when playing swords, charging your friends to watch your little brother eat cigarette butts, tying another brother into bed with all your dad’s ties, and so on. He also discusses all the adventures the brothers shared during summers in the wilderness, dealing with nuns at Catholic school, and joining the Cub Scouts. In the uproarious and witty style that is uniquely Scieszka, the author leads readers through the memories of brotherly prankhood, toy soldiers, and a raucous good time that will “darn near kill ‘em.” Reminiscent of the tomfoolery in films and TV like The Sandlot, Stand By Me, and The Wonder Years, Scieszka’s family pictures and personal accounts bring back the 1960’s in an All-American boy version, full of tricks and laughter in compact chapters of individual stories or themes. Knucklehead is a great read for any boy or anyone 8 and up, looking for a little trouble and a lot of laughs.
Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge (2009)
Information, 80 pages
Marching for Freedom captures the tale of the African Americans in Selma, Alabama who struggled for the right to vote in the civil rights movement in 1965. Elizabeth Partridge shares the events in Selma leading up to the march to Montgomery which eventually involved over 30,000 African Americans and other civil rights activists. Using storytelling to reawaken the time period and events, Partridge creates an emotional story full of fear, hope, and the belief in standing up for what is right. Her narration is particularly moving because it shares the experiences of the children and teenagers who defied authorities, were jailed, risked their lives, and cut school to help their parents get the right to vote. An entire community came together in Selma to carry out the existing law that allowed all to vote. In this rendition, legends like Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, and President Johnson are equals to the average citizens who risked being beaten, shot with teargas, fired from their jobs, arrested, visited from the KKK, and killed. Adding to the narrative’s impact are the vivid black and white images, sometimes full spreads, capturing the up-close and immense terror and hardship of racism. Through all this pain, come the personal quotes from marchers and the freedom songs’ lyrics, scattered throughout the book eliciting promise and pride within the reader. While the book only covers a short amount of time, Partridge drives home the importance of change in the face of adversity through unification for a righteous cause. One closes this book reflecting on this amazing time in American history and the courageous people who were brave enough to stand for justice.
Truce by Jim Murphy (2009)
Information, 144 pages
Through a well-explained backdrop, Murphy sets the scene of World War I and what became known as the Great War, for its trench warfare with modernized weaponry and lack of defensive measures that led to millions of casualties. In Truce, Murphy shares an objective view that shows all parties’ men honored to go to war, somewhat naively, before realizing that this would not be a simple fight or an easy win. After months of muddy and unsanitary conditions, soldiers found that war was not the glorious image they had in mind. While generals and commanders on both sides of the line ordered their men not to fraternize with the enemy, Christmas approached and a miracle occurred: soldiers defied orders and offered a temporary truce to celebrate the holiday and bury the dead. While the truce did not occur completely down the line, hundreds of thousands of men postponed fighting. Many found themselves in No Man’s Land, wishing their enemies peace and realizing that neither group of soldiers wanted war any longer, but the war would continue until politicians and reigning leaders brought it to an end. With sepia toned photographs and illustrations, Murphy drives home the hardship of the war and beauty in the short respite as enemies socialized and shook hands on Christmas of 1914. In larger print, the narrative captivatingly draws the reader into that December miracle and uses soldiers’ quotes from journals and letters on both sides, showing the wonder of peace. In the epilogue, Murphy makes a modern connection between WWI and the Iraq War, urging future generations to consider negotiations of peace and prohibition of propaganda use in order to avoid risking many innocent lives. With its timeline, easy to follow prose, and recommended further reading, Truce offers younger readers the opportunity to explore war through a different lens, examining “The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est, / Pro patria mori”.
Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum est” 1917
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Philip Hoose (2009)
Biography, 144 pages
Lauded by history legends Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice tells the tale of an unsung teenage hero who risked it all twice to fight the unconstitutional segregation on Montgomery, Alabama buses. At only 15, Claudette refused to give up her seat in the “colored” section of the bus for a white woman who wanted it. Colvin argued it was her constitutional right and was arrested and removed from the bus in a physically and mentally abusive manner. While Rosa Parks was eventually chosen to represent the movement because of her age, quiet demeanor, activist status, and background that crossed classes, Colvin was actually the first to refuse to move in Montgomery and jailed for her actions. Civil rights leaders hesitated to put their faith in the image of a working-class teenager who supposedly fought back and was too emotional. Many in the black community disowned Colvin and blamed her for her legal troubles, saying she should have known what happened. However, Colvin lit the fire that eventually sparked hope and bravery in the adults in her community, which led to the bus boycott in 1956. Interspersed narration from Phillip Hoose and Claudette helps paint the historical picture for the reader, while quoted dialogue allows the reader to be in the courtroom as witnesses are questioned. Side bars and primary source pictures and documents help acclimate the reader to the volatile time period. Books like Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice provide realistic role models for young adult readers and encourage them to make a difference at any age.
Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman (2010)
Biography, 288 pages
In this page-turning biography of Chaplin, Sid Fleischman tells the story of how the speechless Little Tramp was born and stole the hearts of all moviegoers during the great silent film era. The writer captures Charlie’s perilous beginnings in the Kennington slums as a poor Cockney and how his life took him to the trademark slapstick skits that thrilled audiences and left them in uproarious laughter. Fleischman takes the reader on a joy ride, showing how the king of comedy created the hackneyed techniques with banana peels, beautiful ladies, and silent antics, as well as how his perfectionist nature as a director led Marlon Brando to call him “a fearsomely cruel man.” While not holding back the unflattering reality of Chaplin’s demeanor, Fleischman shows the genius in Chaplin’s work and his ability to play on pathos (The Kid), combine farce with tragedy (The Great Dictator), and make social commentary (Modern Times), mostly within the beautifully silent pantomime style that was iconically Chaplinesque. Fleischman’s unique writing style also develops the building narrative with witty one-liners that end paragraphs or chapters and keep the reader enthralled. The design of the book, with its vintage script, unobtrusive elegant flair, and brilliant picture placement, allows the text to flow seamlessly back into the days of silent Hollywood. I would most certainly recommend this book to readers 10 and up who are attracted to the lives of stars, the limelight, and comedy.
Nic Bishop Lizards by Nic Bishop (2010)
Information, 48 pages
Nic Bishop vividly captures the ins and outs of the lizard world in his self-titled book, Nic Bishop Lizards. The design of the book will appeal to reptile and photography lovers alike with its mostly double-page spreads full of close-ups and very detailed images of colorful lizards. A feature of the book is a double fold-out midway through the book with a sequence of shots that capture a basilisk using its larger flapped feet to run across water. The visual presentation is captivating as Bishop does a fabulous job catching the most minute details at the right moments, from drops of water spraying off a fleeing lizard’s foot, to a chameleon’s bright orange and green coloring he uses to try and get a date, to the veiled chameleon’s lightening fast tongue that stretches almost twelve inches to grab a quick cricket bite. The photography is nicely complemented with well-written explanations and examples of specific lizard characteristics, including the main idea of the page in a larger, bolded, and different color font. Captions below the pictures connect the text and images to create one seamless presentation on the life and habitats of lizards, also informing the reader of the actual size of each pictured lizard. With a doctorate in biological sciences and the patience of a saint, Nic Bishop patiently waited for the right moment to get the perfect shot of each lizard. A reader will never guess that most of these shots were taken in his studio because of his meticulous eye for detail, knowledge of proper lighting and lenses, and love of learning about animals and nature. His passion is clearly present throughout the entire book and will make an avid lizard admirer out of anyone who reads his books. I would highly recommend this book to second graders and up doing research or just interested in the topic. With further reading, a glossary, and the link to Bishop’s website, the book is a great jumping point for reptile and biological exploration.