A Blog of Children's Literature

The Breadwinner April 13, 2011

The BreadwinnerThe Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (2001)

Adventure, 170 pages

In this heart-wrenching story, Deborah Ellis creates the life of Parvana, a Afghan girl whose father has been arrested and whose family now depends on her to provide for them because of the strict laws forbidding women to leave home without a chaperone. Parvana’s own more restricted life as a young girl soon changes as she cuts her hair and dons a deceased brother’s clothes to become a boy street merchant to make a living for her family. Ellis’ writing style shares the truth and hardship inflicted by the Taliban and a brave young girl who works around their laws to survive. Parvana’s life is full of sacrifice as she gives up her childhood to become the breadwinner for her family. At only age 11, her life has been full of bombs, beatings, and war, and yet she fights to be brave like Malali, a historical young girl who tore off her veil and spirited Afghanistan’s troops into a battle against the British who invaded the country. Ellis does a fine job writing material that is accessible to younger readers, yet does not paint a perfect picture of an Afghan woman’s world or its culture. She dances a fine line through Parvana’s experiences, celebrating family and instances of women’s rights, while shining light on the harsh reality of many. Similar to Persepolis and The Shadows of Ghadames, The Breadwinner questions the roles of young women in a changing world, providing a protagonist that attempts to overcome a cruel social system and does not live a fairytale existence.


Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka March 21, 2011

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up ScieszkaKnucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow WearyMarching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.


Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward JusticeClaudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Sir Charlie ChaplinSir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.


After Tupac and D Foster March 7, 2011

After Tupac and D FosterAfter Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (2008)

Contemporary Realism, 160 pages

Jacqueline Woodson masterfully winds this fictional tale of friendship and loss around the last years of life for rap phenom Tupac. D Foster walks into the lives of two best friends at age 11, before Tupac is shot for the first time. D is immediately one of the girls, and over the next two years, around the block they are referred to as Three the Hard Way. As a foster child, D has seen beyond her share of tragedy and stolen hope and yet clings to the possibility of her mother returning for her one day. As many others have, D relates to Tupac’s lyrics of hardship and injustice and finds him a beacon of light in a dark time. Somewhat sheltered from the world beyond their block, the other two girls begin to understand the world at a more developed level through D’s eyes. Without being overbearing, Woodson threads Tupac’s impact through the story, really capturing why he was so successful: when many listened to his music they saw themselves and their neighborhoods reflected in his social commentary. Woodson is also not afraid to address some weighty themes, such as homosexuality and its treatment in the hood, jail, dreams of pro-ball, throwaways, and single parents, but does so in an interwoven pattern that is never overwhelming or destructive to the girls’ story, but instead creates a backdrop for their maturity and greater understanding of the way the world works. While the narrator is never named, her first-person narration pulls the reader into the story, really connecting with her life, thoughts, and experiences with D. Mirroring the impact of Tupac’s death and everlasting influence, D’s companionship is lost as her mother returns for her and takes her away, leaving the girls a bit wiser and forever remembering what they learned from D Foster. After Tupac & D Foster would be a great read for a young adult admirer of Tupac or an urban fiction fan who can handle some of the more philosophical explorations of life.


What Happened on Fox Street

What Happened on Fox StreetWhat Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb (2010)

Contemporary Realism, 218 pages

Fox Street is a block full of families, best friends, and a dead-end that really is the beginning of a ravine and a Green Kingdom, overflowing with secrets and nature. For Mo Wren, Fox street is the best place on earth, even during the worst draught of her lifetime and without her mother whose memory still lives on in Mo’s surroundings. With her mother gone, Mo becomes responsible for many of her family’s needs and is shocked to hear that her hardworking father wants to sell their home to a business man who desires to take down all of Fox street, one house at a time. Fox Street is a story that unravels a great mystery of family, confirms young crushes, and reinforces the magic of hope. Springstubb’s language will speak to an 8 to 12-year-old reader while sharing a taste of beautiful metaphors and imagery describing family, friendships, and growing up. While the book does not have an abundance of action similar to that of the survival tactics in The Hunger Games, Springstubb’s plot development builds on age-relatable issues that touch on surviving life’s dilemmas day-to-day and the thought processes behind important actions and decisions. A great find for a longer chapter book reader who has the patience to let a story unfold like life’s small epiphanies!