Homeland by Cory Doctorow. Tor Teen (an imprint of MacMillan Publishing), 2013. 400 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 13 and older. ISBN: 9780765333698.

Homeland is a sequel to Little Brother. Marcus Yallow, still the narrator, is now 19 years old. He’s still dating Ange. His parents have lost their jobs in an economic crisis that has hit California. Marcus has had to drop out of college and is himself trying to find a job.

Marcus and Ange go to Burning Man in the Nevada desert. While there, Marcus runs into Masha, a character from Little Brother. She hands him a USB stick and tells him to release the contents of the stick onto the Internet if she is kidnapped. Shortly thereafter, Marcus sees her being forcibly led away from Burning Man by Carrie Johnstone, his arch nemesis.

There are 800,000 documents on the USB stick. Marcus and his friends try to figure out how to release those documents responsibly and in a way that can’t be traced back to them.

Marcus is offered a job by the charismatic Joe Noss, a candidate for the California State Senate running as an independent. Marcus believes in Joe. He believes California will be better off if Joe wins.

The book goes into a great detail of technical information about the Internet. It also goes into detail about the uses of the Internet. The central conundrum seems to be how to release the 800,000 documents anonymously and responsibly. It’s a conundrum Marcus didn’t ask for and doesn’t want. But the Internet is a powerful tool to disseminate information and Marcus knows how to use it. Along the way, we see the breakdown of society as we watch the way the city of San Francisco deals with peaceful protests.

The end is a little too pat for me. Besides that, the pace gets bogged down when Marcus explains technical details. Nevertheless, it deals head-on with political, economic and societal issues that are of immediate concern in this country.

The book contains two Afterwords that serve as calls to arms, one written by Jacob Appelbaum of WikiLeaks  and one written by the late Aaron Swartz. There is also an excellent bibliography by Cory Doctorow.

In the end, Marcus says “The system was people, and I was a part of it, part of its problems, and I was going to be part of the solution from now on.” This, I believe, is the take away line. In addition, the reader also takes away the memory of a fun story.

Blog Reviews:

Birth of a New Witch
A Librarian’s Take
Radish Reviews
System Overlord

Professional Reviews:

Publisher’s Weekly

Author Website:

Cory Doctorow’s Craphound.com


The Day Gogo Went to Vote

The Day Gogo Went to VoteThe Day Gogo Went to Vote. Written by Elinor Batezat Sisulu. Illustrated by Sharon Wilson. Little, Brown and Company, 1996. 32 pages. Recommended for ages 6 and older. ISBN: 9780316702713.

1997 African Studies Association Children’s Book Award

1997 Jane Addams Honor Book

1997 International Reading Association Notable Book for a Global Society

Thembi, who is six, spends most of her after-school time with her great grandmother, Gogo, who is 100. They are blacks in South Africa in 1994. Soon the first election day on which blacks can vote will arrive. No one in the family expects Gogo to vote. She hasn’t left the house for years. Gogo, however, is determined to exercise her right to vote.

Thembi asks Gogo why it is so important for her to vote. Gogo answers: “Thembi, black people in South Africa have fought for many years for the right to vote. This is the first time we have a chance to vote for our own leaders, and it might be my last. That is why I must vote, no matter how many miles I have to walk, no matter how long I have to stand in line.”

Gogo insists that Thembi accompany her to the polling place. Thembi is very proud of her role in helping her grandmother to vote. She asks many questions at the polling place. The voting officers are pleased to answer her questions so that she will be ready to vote when she becomes 18.

Afterwards there is rejoicing about the voting, and then more rejoicing when Nelson Mandela wins the presidency. But the important thing, more important than Mandela’s win, is that Gogo was able to vote.

The illustrations give a sense of the characters and the importance of what they are doing. Each two-page spread has a fair number of words. Because of that, this might work best as a book read aloud to elementary school students.

In order to keep a democracy, it is vitally important that people vote. We often forget this in the United States. This story is a beautiful lesson in the importance of voting.

Blog Reviews:

6 Elements of Social Justice Ed.
The Picture Book Pusher
Africa Access

Professional Reviews:



Crow by Barbara Wright.  Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012.  320 pages.  Publisher recommends for ages 10 and up.  ISBN: 9780375873676.Crow

The only successful coup d’état in American history occurred in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898.  In that year a white mob took control of the city by force, whisking away its democratically elected integrated government.

Crow tells the story of Wilmington in 1898 through Moses Thomas, a 12-year-old boy from a black middle-class family.  In the first half of the book Moses tells us about his day-to-day life.  We learn about Moses mother, who loves music and works as a maid. We learn about Moses grandmother, Boo Nanny, who was a slave until she was 30. And we learn about Moses father, a college educated writer at the Wilmington Daily Record, the only black daily newspaper in the South. Moses father is also an alderman in the city government. Moses tells us about his friend Lewis, and what happens when he borrows Lewis’s bicycle. We see him try to keep a job picking okra, only to lose it because he tells the truth.  We see him becoming friends with a white boy named Tommy, and watch as they explore tunnels under the city. The narrative takes over from the vignettes by the time Moses and his father take a train to Fayetteville. When they arrive in Fayetteville, they find themselves in the middle of a white supremacist rally. By the end of the narrative, the government of Wilmington has been forcibly removed by white supremacists.

Democracy is of fundamental importance to Moses father. He views the right to vote as a sacred requirement and he and Moses worked together to encourage blacks to vote. Moses’ father expounds on the value of democracy even as he and other members of the existing government in Wilmington are put on a train by the white mob and exiled from Wilmington.

We have just witnessed a presidential inauguration in this country.   An inauguration is, in a way, a symbol of our democracy. It’s a peaceful transfer of power which comes about as a result of an election. This is basic to our country. I had no idea power had ever changed hands as a result of violence in the United States. Crow is a powerful cautionary tale.

Eyewitness: Vote

Eyewitness: Vote by Philip Steele.  DK Publishing, 2008.  72 pages.  Publisher recommends for ages 8-17.  ISBN: 9780756633820.

“Eyewitness: Vote” contains a remarkable amount of information about what it means to vote.  It follows both the history of and current status of voting rights worldwide.  The book spends a good deal of time on a history of democracy.  It explains the many different way countries worldwide have chosen to implement democracy. Besides that, it starts with “Citizens Assemblies” in ancient India and Iraq, then moves to the system of government called “demokratia” which started in Greece in 508 BCE, and traces the development of democracy forward from that time.  The reader will learn about Perikles, the French revolution, the rise of fascism, Thomas Paine, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

The information is presented as topics, which each topic on a two page spread. Every spread includes an explanatory paragraph about the topic and beautiful photographs and captions related to each topic. For example, on the spread entitled “Polling Day” there’s a picture of a Nenets woman, from the Russian Arctic, placing her ballot in the ballot box.  The “Polling Day” spread includes seven other pictures and captions.

Vote invites the reader to dip into the book and become absorbed. One can start anywhere in the book and learn something about voting. It’s also possible to read the book cover to cover but because there’s no strong narrative line I found this frustrating.

At the end is a fascinating “timeline of democracy”, and an equally fascinating “A to Z of famous people.”  There’s also a very thorough index, which is a must in a book constructed as this one is.  In addition, there’s a large poster about voting and a CD of clip-art about voting.

I can imagine children pouring over this book in a classroom, in a library or in their homes.  And I can imagine children returning to it time after time.