A Blog of Children's Literature

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection April 18, 2011

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic CollectionTrickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection by Matt Dembicki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembiki (2010)

Graphic Book, 231 pages

In a compilation of work from over 40 storytellers and artists, Trickster shares a diverse collection of trickster tales from various Native American cultures and regions. In some the crafty coyote plays the trickster who ends up being taught a lesson, in others it is the sly raven who gets away, while in some it is the rabbit or the raccoon, depending on the cultural origin. Many of the tales share a reason behind a natural landform (“Moshup’s Bridge”) or an animal’s appearance/ways (“How the Alligator Got His Brown, Scaly Skin”), while others teach a lesson about behavior to learn from (“The Wolf and the Mink”). The novel’s true success draws from its diverse collection of tales and the art that captures them. Each tale highlights a different artist’s style that sets the tone of the story. Specifically, the composition in “Coyote and the Pebbles” is to be lauded with its strong storyline by Dayton Edmonds and amazing illustrations by Micah Farritor. Trickster not only creates an anthology of trickster tales but creates an anthology of artist’s interpretations of the cultural stories, a unique gem in both Native American and graphic novel publications. This book could add so much to various units of study within folklore, illustrations, and cultural anthologies, as well as provide plenty of stories for anyone looking to read about wily characters. I would recommend Trickster to anyone ages 11 and up, especially those drawn to graphic novels.


Sweetgrass Basket

Sweetgrass BasketSweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell (2005)

Novel in Verse, 243 pages

In heart-wrenching dual free-verse narratives, Carvell crafts the voices of two Mohawk sisters, Mattie and Sarah, who are sent to an off-reservation school after their mother dies. Doing what he thinks is best, their father sends his children away to go to school, where they have lessons, march, and do domestic work. In their alternating voices similar to diary entries, the girls share their stories of leaving home on a long train ride and receiving a slap in the face by the head mistress, Mrs. Dwyer, because they are too afraid to let go of one another on their first day at the school. While the girls soon find a few friends and kindness in some of the school’s employees, both just want to return to the land and culture they call home. While Sarah cries all the time from homesickness, Mattie begins to be more headstrong and refuses to cower like the other girls under Mrs. Dwyer’s strict hand. When Mattie is wrongfully accused of stealing Mrs. Dwyer’s silver brooch, she refuses to admit she is guilty and attempts to escape the school. Carvell’s poetry embodies the broken souls of both sisters and does not skip a beat when the narration switches voices. Painting a painful but often true story of misunderstood culture and emotional child abuse, Sweetgrass Basket portrays the experiences of many Native American children who went to the boarding schools so far away from their homes, their families, and themselves. I would highly recommend this book to ages 11 and up.


All the Broken Pieces

All the Broken PiecesAll the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg (2009)

Novel in Verse, 218 pages

In brilliant verse, Ann Burg shares the experiences of Matt Pin, a Vietnamese refugee who was adopted by an American family. Airlifted out of war-stricken Vietnam when he was 10, he still remembers it all, and the memories haunt him: the mother who made him leave her to come to America, his younger brother’s limbs lost to war, the American father who never returned for him or his mother. Now in seventh grade, Matt has a loving new little brother and has become the star pitcher for his baseball team; however, some teammates refuse to accept him, taking out their pain from the war on Matt (“My brother died / because of you”). Matt’s adoptive parents decide to take him to a Vietnam vet support group to hear their stories and find a way to help him let go of some of the broken pieces that cut into his soul like shards of glass. Matt’s poetic narration shows the reflection of a child who is learning to grow up with post-traumatic stress and who does not yet understand the causes of war or its destruction. Heartbreakingly, Matt must learn to stop blaming himself for his brother’s injuries, the Vietnam vets’ pain, and the numerous shattered lives in order to shed his fear and embrace his life, both past and present. While Burg touches on many heavy issues within the book (the nightmares of PTSD, the destruction of war, the guilty feeling of loving a new family, the sting of racism, and the need to belong as a child), her simple prose poetry allows YA readers to relate and understand a life that might be very different from their own. Burg’s beautiful metaphor of the game of baseball and life winds itself through the story as Matt and his teammates accept each other and help one another grieve. While an amazing stand alone read, All the Broken Pieces would be an excellent supplement to a unit on war and its effects on soldiers and civilians.


Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary March 21, 2011

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.


They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist GroupThey Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti(2010)

Information, 176 pages

In one of the more comprehensive and objective accounts in young adult literature on the topic, Susan Campbell Bartoletti shares the history and creation of the Ku Klux Klan. Bartoletti does a stellar job building the background of the story and the Reconstruction time period to understand why six men were triggered to form such a club and how it grossly grew out of control, even for the founders and their chosen leader, former Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Quotes and pictures of former slaves are included at the end of many chapters to offset the primary source caricatures and KKK published notices, delivering a balanced portrayal of social sentiment and viewpoints. Bartoletti is careful not to tell a biased story that ignores the actions or responses of the parties involved, including violent retaliation from blacks, passive acceptance of KKK violence by white ministers, and northern tactics to keep blacks in the south. However, the author does include inspirational accounts of people of both races who went against the grain, showing that things were not so clearly black and white. In her best neutral tone, Bartoletti shares the chaotic nature of racism in the 19th century in the south, by allowing primary sources to speak for themselves, dialect and all. I would particularly recommend this book to sixth grade students and up who are doing research or are clearly interested in race relations and law in America’s history.