Africa is My Home: A Child of the Amistad

Africa is My HomeAfrica is My Home: A Child of the Amistad. Written by Monica Edinger. Illustrated by Robert Byrd. Candlewick Press, 2013. 64 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 10 and older. ISBN:  9780763650384.

The character who tells this story has three names. She was named Magulu by her parents in Mendeland (modern day Sierra Leone). At nine years old she was sold into slavery, taken to Cuba where she boarded the Amistad. The Africans on the Amistad ended up in New Haven, Connecticut.  In New Haven she was renamed Margru because the Americans misunderstood her pronunciation of her name. After two years of legal battles, the Africans on the Amistad were freed from jail. Before returning home to Africa, Margru was renamed Sarah Kinson, a name she chose, in a church ceremony.

The voice telling the story seems to be the voice of Sarah Kinson. It’s the voice of an adult or young adult but she tells the story through the eyes of her childhood self. There are times when the voice is poetic. The events she experienced had both legal and political implications, however her focus is not on these implications but on what she was aware of as a child.

Margru was very aware of abolitionists in Connecticut, particularly Lewis Tappan. He arranged for Margru and her friends to be taught to read, a skill she loved. The abolitionists helped free the Africans. They also introduced the Africans to Christianity. Margru found Christianity helped her through the rough times. Once the Africans were freed the abolitionists helped them earn money to pay for their trip home to Africa. Sarah returned to the United States when she was 16 and Lewis Tappan arranged for her to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. After Oberlin, she went home to Africa.

It’s amazing to me that Edinger was able to provide such a solid historical underpinning to the story. Researching the life of one African child on the Amistad cannot have been an easy task. The book is essentially nonfiction. The only fiction is the imagining of Margru’s feelings as a child and imaginings of some of the dialogue.

The illustrations are detailed and colorful. I have never seen such effective illustrations of dreams. Circles intertwine with other circles and inside each is a different image of Africa. It’s as if one image moves into another image the way images move in dreams.

The book never bogs down. It’s very well paced.

I graduated from Oberlin in 1980. Tappan Square is central to the town and the school, yet I never knew who the square was named for until I read this book. Lewis Tappan and his brother were instrumental in founding the school in the 1830s. In the late 1970s Oberlin was still true to the social justice emphasis present at its founding.  I’ve just learned something new about Oberlin and thus something new about an institution that’s been profoundly influential in my life.  I thank Monica Edinger for that knowledge!

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For Those About to Mock
A Fuse #8 Production
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The New York Times
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The Brothers Kennedy: John, Robert, Edward

The Brothers KennedyThe Brothers Kennedy: John, Robert, Edward. Written by Kathleen Krull. Illustrated by Amy June Bates. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010. 40 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 4-8. ISBN: 9781416991588.

The Brothers Kennedy captures the magic and tragedy of Joseph Kennedy’s sons. The first part of the book features a chapter each on the childhood and young adulthood of Joe, John, Robert and Edward. Each brother is different, but each has a strong sense of competitiveness, of the importance of public service, of compassion and of fairness.

The second part of the book addresses the hope represented by John and Robert and Edward, and the tragic loss of hope with the deaths of Joe and John and Robert. It also looks at Edward’s the long career in the Senate, carrying forward the vision of the Kennedy’s. John and Robert both work for civil rights for African-Americans. Edward was present when Barack Obama was nominated by the Democratic Party to be its presidential candidate.

The book doesn’t present a complete picture of the Kennedy brothers. There is no mention of Chappaquiddick or of the famous womanizing of the Kennedy men. It doesn’t address the intricacies of John’s policies as president. There’s no need for a complete picture in this book, in fact it would be inappropriate for the target age group. This is a book that presents the magic of the Kennedys to a new generation.

The illustrations are outstanding. My favorite is an illustration of John as he wins the presidency and is inaugurated. All but one of the illustrations contain boys and young men full of energy. Towards the end of the book is an illustration of Edward sitting on the stage as Barack Obama accepts the Democratic presidential nomination. He is old and ill in this illustration, an elder statesman who has lived see what he worked so hard to bring about.

There are extensive notes at the end of the book, as well as a timeline and a list of sources.

I worry that kids in school today don’t have the same feeling about the Kennedys that I do. It’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words, but Kathleen Krull and Amy June Bates capture it in their words and illustrations.

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My Grandma’s the Mayor

My Grandmas the MayorMy Grandma’s the Mayor. Written by Marjorie White Pellegrino. Illustrated by John Lund. Magination Press (part of the American Psychological Association), 2000. 32 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 6-12. ISBN: 9781557986085.

My Grandma’s the Mayor is a nice introduction to what it means to be a Mayor. Annie’s grandmother must first run for mayor. Annie helps by handing out flyers and putting up signs. Once Annie’s grandmother is elected, she becomes responsible for the problems of every person who is unhappy with the town. She needs to listen to those problems and try to find solutions.

My Grandma’s the Mayor is also a wonderful picture of how hard it is for Annie to share her grandmother with the town. Her grandmother no longer has the time she used to have to spend with Annie. Annie misses her grandmother and is jealous of the time the townspeople demand of her grandmother.

Finally, My Grandma’s the Mayor is a great testimonial to helping people. When tragedy strikes right across the street from Annie’s grandmother’s house, Annie notices how her grandmother cares for those who have been traumatized. After watching her grandmother, Annie thinks of a way that she can help. By helping she comes to understand why her grandmother enjoys being Mayor. She understands that helping people makes the helper feel better. She still wishes for more alone time with her grandmother, but she’s also proud of her grandmother.

The text is very straightforward and the illustrations are, according to the back cover of the book, in the “classic American storybook style.”

As I watch volunteers from Habitat for Humanity build a house in back of my house, I realize how this book resonates even with adults. Helping people brings with it a powerful reward.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Lincolns Gettysburg AddressLincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Written by Abraham Lincoln. Illustrated by James Daugherty. New introduction by Gabor S. Borritt. Albert Whitman & Company, 2013 (originally published in 1947). 48 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 6 to 18. ISBN: 9780807545508.

This larger than life book was originally published in 1947. It’s been re-released in this 150th anniversary year of the Gettysburg Address. The original book included a forward by James Daugherty, the Gettysburg Address written on a single page, and then 15 two-page spreads. Each spread includes a phrase from the Gettysburg Address as well as a painting that resembles a WPA mural. The new book includes these elements plus an afterword by Gabor Boritt, an emeritus professor of civil war studies at Gettysburg College and Daugherty’s notes on each of his paintings.

The words themselves are, of course, remarkable. They are part of our heritage. The paintings, with their deep, rich, colors are awe-inspiring. I have spent at least an hour looking at them. Each time I go back to a spread, I see things I missed on previous viewings. And I still wonder about what’s included in some of the spreads, even after reading Daugherty’s comments. I can imagine two or three children gathered around a copy of this book trying to puzzle out what’s meant by elements of the paintings.

The paintings are a product of their time. They reference the first and second world wars as well as the Civil War. I am disappointed that the people in the paintings are overwhelmingly white. On the spread where the words “and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” not one single nonwhite person is included in the painting. On the last spread, where the words “and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth,” there are several blacks and even one Asian-looking man. These spreads could be used to discuss how far we’ve come in thinking about race and diversity since 1947.

For all their drawbacks, the paintings are amazing and make the book well worth having in a library, a classroom or a personal collection.

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Dad of Divas’ Reviews
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Teen Ink
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Publisher’s Weekly

Interesting Articles:

Serendipitous Discovery Leads to Timely Reissue at Albert Whitman by Claire Kirch. Publisher’s Weekly, January 10, 2013.

Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President

Heart on FireHeart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President. Written by Ann Malaspina. IIlustrated by Steve James. Albert Whitman & Company, 2012. 32 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 6-9. ISBN: 9780807531884.

Susan B. Anthony thought that the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, gave her and every other woman who was a citizen of the United States the right to vote. She registered to vote in 1872 and four days later she voted for president of the United States. Two weeks after that she was arrested for “voting without having the lawful right to vote.” All of her female friends who voted were also arrested. She was tried, convicted, and fined $100 which she refused to pay.

This story is much more accessible than a biography of Susan B. Anthony would be. It captures her outrage at not being able to vote. Like a refrain in a song, the writer uses the words “Outrageous. Unbelievable. True.” The words appear throughout the story.

There’s a nice history of Susan B. Anthony’s struggle to win the right to vote at the end of the book. It points out that she died in 1906 and the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920. There’s also a selected bibliography. On the last page there is a photograph of Susan B. Anthony.

The deeply colored illustrations focus primarily on the upper torso and heads of their subjects. This gives the reader a chance to see the character faces up close, and thus to see a bit of the feelings and motivations expressed in their faces.

Heart on Fire could be used anytime by a child interested in writing a report about Susan B. Anthony. It would also be a great read aloud choice both for election season and for women’s history month.

Before reading this book I knew that Susan B. Anthony worked tirelessly to win American women the right to vote. I did not realize that she had, in effect, committed civil disobedience by testing her right to vote. My admiration of her and my gratitude to her have increased by reading Heart of Fire.

This week Nonfiction Monday is being hosted by Wrapped in Foil

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Blog Reviews:

3rd Grade Reading
Gender Equality Bookstore
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My Book Addiction Reviews
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Youth Services Book Review

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Barbed Wire Baseball

Barbed Wire BaseballBarbed Wire Baseball. Written by Marissa Moss. Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. Abrams Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Abrams), 2013. 48 pages. Recommended for ages 6-10. ISBN: 9781419705212.

At eight years old, Zeni saw his first baseball game. From then on, all he wanted to do was play baseball.  He built a successful career for himself playing and coaching baseball in two Japanese leagues in Fresno, California. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the Second World War, all people of Japanese descent on the west coast, whether or not they were citizens of the United States, were sent to internment camps. Zeni, his wife and two teenage sons were sent to a camp at Gila River, Arizona. Barbed wire prevented those interned at the camp from leaving. They lived in barracks that were essentially rows and rows of cots. Zeni felt himself shrinking and realized that if he were ever to feel at home in the camp he had to play baseball. That’s exactly what he did; he built a baseball field and played baseball.

The book focuses on Zeni’s drive to play baseball. This makes the book a good way to introduce kids to the Japanese internment camps in the second world war. The book shows how spirit crushing the camps were for Japanese-Americans. And in one paragraph it indicates that the Japanese-Americans were sent to the camps because they might be spies; the government didn’t produce evidence that they were spies nor did they put any Japanese-Americans on trial before sending them to the internment camps. Yet, because the book doesn’t focus primarily on the camps, it’s possible for kids to take in the information without being hit over the head with the unfairness of the camps. It’s also possible to use the book as a way to open a discussion about whether or not United States should have treated its own citizens of Japanese descent in such a way.

The illustrations do a beautiful job of adding detail to the story. At the back of the book there is a one page biography of Kenichi Zenimura, the real life Zeni. There’s also an author’s note and artists note and a helpful bibliography as well as an index.

This is a great book both for kids interested in baseball and for kids interested in the Japanese American experience during World War II.

Blog Reviews:

Cattail Chronicles
The Children’s War
Kid Lit Frenzy

Professional Reviews:

Publisher’s Weekly


Gandhi: A March to the Sea

Gandhi A March to the SeaGandhi: A March to the Sea. Written by Alice B. McGinty. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Two Lions (an imprint of Amazon Children’s Publishing), 2013. 42 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 8 and over. ISBN: 9781477816448.

On the first page of this book, we learn that Gandhi thought using violence to solve problems was wrong. We also learns that Gandhi thought British rule of India was wrong.  Among other things, the British made it illegal for Indians to use seawater to make salt. The British also placed a tax on the salt they sold Indians, so the Indians were paying a premium for something that, but for the British law, they could have for free. In 1930 Gandhi began a march to the sea to break the British law and make salt.

“Gandhi: A March to the Sea” walks along with Gandhi on his 24 day, 240 mile walk to the sea to make salt. Sometimes people walk with him, sometimes he appears to walk alone. When he arrives in a village, he seeks out the Untouchables, the lowest people in the Hindu caste system. He wants to make it clear that all Indians, Hindu, Muslim and even Hindu Untouchables must work together if they are to accomplish their goal of independence from Britain. And they must work in a nonviolent way.

The illustrations in this book add a great deal to the words. Gandhi is shown in every spread. Sometimes we see his face, with eyes almost unbearably gentle and thoughtful. Sometimes we see his back, as in the spread where he is talking with a number of villagers. Sometimes we see his legs as he walks. The skies in each spread are also beautiful. At the end of the book, there’s a spread in which Gandhi is much larger than life talking with villagers. I suspect Gandhi himself would shrink away from this view. Throughout the rest of the book, we have seen Gandhi as a humble man.

The last two pages of the book give a background of the Salt March and the subsequent 17 year long quest for freedom from Britain.

Although this book touches on only one incident in Gandhi’s life, it gives a sense of how he approached civil disobedience, nonviolence, and inclusiveness. In this way, it is as thorough as a biography.

Blog Reviews: Candace’s Book Blog; Kid Lit Frenzy; Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers; Waking Brain Cells

This week Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Ms. Yingling Reads.

Nonfiction Monday