Adult (Gr. 7 and up)
Sandra. McKendree. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
262 pp. ISBN 0-688-15950-8, $15.95.
1948, and Tilara Haynes is a young, chocolate-colored, African-American
girl living in a society that cherishes light skin. While visiting
her aunt in West Virginia, she learns important life lessons
about judging by appearances and self-esteem, the folly of one
and the need for the other. While working with her aunt in a
nursing home called McKendree, Tilara meets a group of others
her own age. Unbeknownst to her, one of the group, March, a
light-skinned and honey-eyed boy, develops a crush on her. She
shies away from him in general, thinking someone like him could
never be interested in someone like her. Instead, she fixes
her eyes on Braxton, a dark-skinned "African Prince." Unfortunately,
he has his eye on the cream-colored Georgia, a fact that breaks
angst and insecurity come to a head at an end-of-summer party
when March finally shows his affection for her. She is shocked
and not interested, having dismissed any possibilities between
them. At the same party, Braxton makes his intentions known
to Georgia. Unfortunately, Georgia’s hooked on March.
is a well-written book exploring a subject about which African
Americans are all too familiar. It points out the folly of prejudice
and the need for self-esteem. The way the story unfolds against
the backdrop of the nursing home is especially delightful. While
the young people are working things out within themselves, they
are adding life and love to the aged folks at McKendree. This
is a story of redemption that is well worth reading.
(N.Y.) Public Library
Joseph. Sacagawea: The Story of Bird Woman and the Lewis
and Clark Expedition. San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. 200
pp. ISBN 0-15-202234-1, $17.00.
you see, boy, York is a slave. Fine a man as he is, he will
never have the same chance as a white man. It is not that
he is any less strong or brave or even smart. When we had
to decide our course of action that hard winter on the Pacific
coast, and we called for a vote amongst all present on our
journey, York’s vote counted as much as that of any man—or
woman, for your mother’s vote was tallied right along with
that of everyone else in our company."
passage espouses much of the strength and spirit of Bruchac’s
chronicle of the Lewis and Clark expedition, told alternately
by Sacagawea and William Clark to Sacagawea’s son, Pomp. History
is woven into the narrative through the telling of the tale
itself, excerpts from the journals of Lewis and Clark, and Native
American legends. Men and women of different ages and races
stand side by side in this adventure, a starkly different perspective
from the accounts delivered by many texts that yield prominence
to the two famous explorers and to Thomas Jefferson.
drawback to this approach is that distinct voices are not established
for Sacagawea and Clark; in fact, a great deal of the book reads
more as exposition than narrative. Breathing life into people
and circumstances past, considering their universality as well
as their unique cultural position, is a continual challenge
for readers of history. This book’s excellence as carefully
researched historical text is somewhat diminished by its burial
of story and character under the weight of the facts it presents.
It is still extremely worthwhile for use in educational settings,
however, as a model of viewing history from the vantage point
of the present and of merging historic fact with authorial imagination.
County (Va.) Public Schools
Judith. Praying to A.L. New York: HarperCollins,
2000. 180 pp. ISBN 0-688-15934-6, $15.95.
Goodman, of Jewish and Cuban heritage, has just experienced
the death of her father after a long battle with heart failure.
In the days and weeks after his death, she finds comfort in
the story of Abraham Lincoln, who lost his mother at a young
age. Sierra and her father shared an interest in Lincoln, his
ideas, and his heroic life.
feels anything but heroic. Her mother and her best friend, Eli
Dash, seem to be pulling away, and her five-year-old brother,
Cooper, has yet to realize his father will not be coming back.
When Sierra discovers a story Eli has written about her father,
she comes to believe her father was the only thing holding everyone
and her world together.
offers a sensitive portrayal of a bicultural family coming to
terms with grief. Her father’s Jewish relatives and her mother’s
Cuban-American siblings (one of whom describes how their father
died while waiting to emigrate and rejoin the family after the
revolution) react differently to the death and relate differently
to Sierra afterward. While the myriad characters (including
schoolmates and friends as well as the large family) lack fullness
and some of the dialogue seems wooden, designed to convey a
message, the vignettes of Sierra’s life with her father successfully
recapture the joy and sweetness that memories provide. Despite
its flaws, this poignant novel for middle school readers will
appeal to youngsters coping with loss in their own lives.
Barbara. Willa’s New World. Toronto, Ont.: Coteau
Books, 2000. 192 pp. ISBN 1-55050-150-X, $6.95 (pb).
describes the settling of North America from the point of view
of a young English girl, Willa, sent to Canada by an uncle unwilling
to care for his orphaned niece. It is 1795 and British and French
traders maintain an uneasy peace with each other and with the
Native people of the area. Willa is first taken by Digger and
Dyer, "white slavers" who prey on newcomers, but is soon liberated
by Master George, the Commander of York Factory, a Hudson’s
Bay Company. Master George recognizes Willa’s ability to read
and write and employs her as a clerk, eventually offering to
marry her. She refuses his offer, preferring to keep her limited
is befriended by Amelia, a Native woman who works as a cook
for the Company. Willa soon becomes close to Amelia and her
family, and when she is given the opportunity to travel to another
fort to train an apprentice clerk, she agrees, traveling with
her Native friends through a variety of landscapes, learning
about the natural world and about Native cultures. She also
must learn to deal with death when her friend Amelia is mortally
wounded while trying to save a younger sister from Dyer. The
story ends with Willa, now a seasoned survivor, confidently
facing an uncertain future.
New World is an excellent book for young readers, particularly
girls, who will enjoy reading about the brave and resourceful
heroine. The book is notable for its realistic portrayal of
life in eighteenth-century Canada and for the author’s strong
characterization and attention to detail.
Dennis Brindell and Fradin, Judith Bloom. Ida B. Wells:
Mother of the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Clarion,
2000. 178 pp. ISBN 0-395-89898-6, $18.00.
and Judith Fradin have written a book chronicling the life and
achievements of Ida B. Wells, lifelong activist against lynching
and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People. This biography focuses on Wells’s rise from
slavery to a life of outspoken campaigning for the basic human
rights of post–Civil War African Americans. In the same vein
as Harriet Tubman and other celebrated activist women, Wells
was very instrumental in reducing lynching in the United States
to virtual nonexistence by the time of her death.
this book is well researched and presented, there are some problems
regarding the placement of this title in an elementary or middle
school library or giving it to better readers in this age group
who read young adult books. The nature of what Wells railed
against was part of arguably the ugliest chapter in our country’s
history, but the authors often make the ugliness itself the
core of the book. This biography contains racially charged,
inflammatory language, including a chapter entitled, "I Saw
Them Burn the N——, Didn’t I, Mama?" Also included are pictures
of actual lynching victims, still hanging or burned beyond recognition.
their credit, the Fradins have written for young readers a comprehensive
biography of a vitally important African-American woman. The
intensity of the content, however, necessary though it may be,
may hinder chances for the book’s circulation among its intended
audience. I would recommend this book only for the high school
level and up.
Community College, Greenville, N.C.
Gaye. Smiling for Strangers. New York: Farrar,
Straus & Giroux, 2000. 152 pp. ISBN 0-374-37081-8, $16.00.
tells the story of a 14-year-old Yugoslav girl named Nina Topic,
who is forced to flee Sarajevo during the recent brutal war.
Cut off from her family and betrayed by people she turns to,
the feisty young girl, driven to survive, decides to make her
way to England, relying on some discovered letters from an old
friend of her mother. She is a stowaway, experiencing fear,
betrayal, and confusion, traveling in the company of people
she cannot fully trust. But she makes it to England. Once there,
she locates the old friend, only to discover a painful secret
of her mother’s illicit past. The long, arduous journey seems
to have a bitter ending.
novel, intended for young adult readers, tells a compelling
story, although the movement is slow, methodical, and a little
tedious. What is most lacking from the narration—and this is
a serious omission—is the sense of authentic local color. Nina
could be any lost and wandering child, a refugee from any war.
This may be the intended symbolic purpose, but the reader longs
for the verisimilitude of a Sarajevo landscape, a Slavic kitchen,
a feeling of custom and heritage. They are there, in meager
amount, but never sufficient to suggest a real flesh-and-blood
tale of authentic origins. There is also little sense of her
Slavic ethnicity—how does she fit into the ethnic madness of
the region? Essentially she is Everygirl looking for a home,
but the reader does not believe it. We are left with an incomplete
tale, a bittersweet story of survival, but one that could be
so much more.
Dave, ed. Movin’: Teen Poets Take Voice. New York:
Orchard Books, 2000. 64 pp. ISBN 0-531-30258-X, $14.95 (cl);
0-531-07171-5, $6.95 (pb).
this slender volume, containing 36 poems by 35 young poets,
exists at all is a major tribute to the New York Public Library
and to Poets House. These two organizations, along with young
adult librarians and established poets, make the Poetry-in-the-Branches
project work. The project, begun in 1994, is "designed to help
community libraries become centers for the discovery of poetry"
and "combines readings, writing workshops and discussions for
adults and young adults."
poets included in the collection are as diverse ethnically,
racially, and linguistically as New Yorkers in general. Their
subject matter includes issues of concern to today’s teens—family
relationships, school, friendship, romance, sexuality, cultural
difference, turbulent emotions, nostalgia for childhood—issues
that are remarkably similar to the concerns of previous generations.
these students explore language and the power of words, they
expand their worlds and create new universes. In "Shoes," Ben
Zeitlin writes, "the tales of the world,/in elegant calligraphy,/are
written on their soles." John Taglialatela ponders existence
in his Yeatsian "Are We": "Are we the dreams of the dreamer/or
are we the dreamer that dreams?" In "Leaving," Anny Vanegas
contemplates the past: "I had to leave everything—/the empty
swing set of childhood,/swaying in the breeze." Toni Ann Fischetti,
Eva Lou, Seung-Min Lee, and Kellyn Bardeen are among other strong
voices in this collection. I suspect that we will be hearing
lots more from these poets as they continue movin’ and take
not only voice but also flight.
County (N.J.) Community College
Julius. Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt.
San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. 192 pp. ISBN 0-15-201826-3, $17.00.
Bible tells us little, while contemporary Egyptian records and
modern archaeology reveal nothing, of the Hebrews’ sojourn in
Egypt, supposedly during the thirteenth-century-B.C. reign of
Ramses II. Nonetheless, the author has imaginatively reconstructed
a long-forgotten city, which must have been the most splendid
of its day, as the setting for his imaginative retelling of
the youth of Moses. The novel follows the familiar story of
how Moses was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter—although a different
sister, Almah, accompanies the child to the palace, rather than
Miriam of the Biblical account.
inversions of tradition are what give this novel particular
interest. A simplistic dichotomy between downtrodden Hebrews
and wicked Egyptians is avoided. Ramses II is, in fact, a sympathetic
character. Almah becomes a high priestess in the Egyptian religion;
the princess is drawn to the Hebrews’ monotheism; and young
Moses is torn in his loyalties, religious beliefs, and sense
of identity. Different religions meet different individuals’
spiritual and emotional needs, the author—himself a convert
to Judaism—appears to be saying.
might question a few points of accuracy. Did priestesses really
dance naked in public ceremonies, and did ancient Egyptians
talk about "keeping a low profile"? On the whole, however, this
novel provides an unusual and well-balanced view of an episode
central to Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as a worthy addition
to the ever-popular literature about ancient Egypt.
Randall Beth. The Likes of Me. New York: Delacorte,
2000. 245 pp. ISBN 0-385-32692-0, $15.95.
collection of odd characters converges in a remote logging community
in the Pacific Northwest to form the intriguing story of young
Cordelia Lu Hankins. From her own physical appearance as a half-Caucasian,
half-Chinese albino to her relationship with a stepmother whose
nickname is Babe for her hugeness, Cordelia’s life is anything
life begins at a time of rapid Asian immigration to the United
States, in the early years of the twentieth century. Her mother’s
family came from China, and her mother was eventually sold as
an indentured laundry girl. Cordelia’s father "bought" her in
order to marry her, and Cordelia was born in 1903. Unfortunately,
her mother dies and Cordelia is flabbergasted to find herself
with an oversized stepmother who everyone fears.
summer Babe joins the family brings Cordelia together with another
character, Squirl. She falls madly in love with him and begins
to learn about the seedy side of life, complete with secrets
coming-of-age novel immediately grabs the reader’s attention
because of the unique setting and cast of oddballs. Her ability
to communicate Cordelia’s innermost thoughts and reconstruct
the whims of a young teen give this book wide appeal. Anyone
who has felt like an outcast can identify with young Cordelia,
and those simply looking for a good book to read will not be
Dori Jones. The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang. Middleton,
Wis.: Pleasant Company, 2000. 218 pp. ISBN 1-58485-199-6, $5.95
would you do if you were a stranger in a strange land and didn’t
know the language, and everyone expected you to be eager, outgoing,
and enthusiastic, but you only felt shy and awkward? Jinna (later
known as Gina) has just come from China. She has never learned
another language, and it seems impossible to learn English.
Meeting new people has always been difficult for her. Going
to a new school by herself is terrifying. No matter how hard
she tries to raise her voice and speak, nothing comes out. She
thinks of the cormorants, the fishing birds, with the metal
band around their throats to prevent their swallowing the fish.
She has a metal band around her throat that prevents the words
from coming out.
the austere and silent presentation to the outside world is
no indication at all of the flourishing and abundant world of
imagination within. We see Jinna’s indignant response to the
patronizing and frustrated voices of her teachers and parents.
We can see her own imaginative inner world telling the story
of the princess who was captured by a crow and taken against
her will to a land far away. Only one person, fat Priscilla,
whom nobody likes because she talks too much, is willing to
befriend Jinna, unconditionally accepting her silent outward
demeanor. Priscilla talks, and Jinna listens, and after a while
Jinna begins to know more English than she knew before. But
when Priscilla comees in on Jinna while she is telling a story
to herself, Jinna is at first angry that her secret world has
been discovered. But patient and understanding Priscilla enters
that world on Jinna’s own terms, with tender and finally successful
results. How many shy children, strangers in a strange land
or not, are living in an elaborate world of their own and long
for a way to enter the "normal" world around them? This is a
profound and moving novel that will be enjoyed by readers from
the upper elementary level to high school.