Jun 28, 2010

African American Literature

Bibliography:
Pinkney, Andrea Davis. 2002. Ella Fitzgerald: the Tale of a Vocal Virtuoso. Hyperion Books. ISBN 0786805684

Summary:
A larger than life picture book biography of the late, great Ella Fitzgerald.

Critical Analysis:
Scat Cat Monroe (a cartoon cat in a suit!)narrates the life and times of Ella Fitzgerald with a little help of 4 songs. Told in “tracks”, this biography tells how Ella went from “Hoffin’ in Harlem” to “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” Ella had no intention of becoming a singer until she performed at the Apollo Theatre in 1934. She was supposed to dance, but her “feet failed her”. Ella sang instead, and that was the beginning of her legendary music career. We travel with Scat Cat Monroe and Ella as she performs around the country and earns her “The Queen of Scat” nickname.

Andrea Davis Pinkney tells Ella’s story in a rhythmical tone and with heavy musical lingo. Songs are listened “cut to cut” and Ella “milked the back beat”. These musical references go well with a book about a legendary singer. Using Scat Cat Monroe as a narrator was a seamless way to incorporate these musical elements, and also gave license to the nonsensical improvisation that is at the root of scat. Music and dance were two major culture markers. Ella performed on street corners in Harlem and when she made it big, she gave bebop a try. The book explains that some people had never heard a black singer perform at a club - “Ella’s popularity showed them that a true star has no color, it just shines.”

While I appreciate the attempt made by Brian Pinkney, the scratch technique illustrations distracted me. The neon swirls mixed with the black canvas were too harsh. These drawings heightened the fantasy aspects, which I also found too over the top. The high fantasy elements (Ella flying on a trumpet and wings on Chick Webb) did not make sense to me. In addition, all of the characters look remarkably similar. Ella’s backup singers look like they could be her sisters, and the members of the band all appear to be the same person, but holding different instruments. Characters, side or main, do not show a variety of skin tone or other personal features. A Note from the Author gives insight to additional biographical information on Ella Fitzgerald, but a more detailed timeline would have been welcome. While the picture book is intended for children, the language and rhythm of this book will be challenging for a young reader. It would be better as a read along where an adult could explain the “grits and gravy” relationship between Ella and Chick. Recommended for ages 10+.

Awards:
NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2003
ALA Notable Children's Book, 2003

Reviews:
“Bright colors, jazzy words, and energetic artwork bring the music of scat and Fitzgerald to life. A page of biographical information is included. This beautifully rendered tribute to the "Vocal Virtuosa" will be a welcome addition in all libraries.” School Library Journal

“Brian Pinkney turns out some of his best work yet. Rendered in a pleasingly high-contrast palette of pastels, the scratchboard illustrations are invested with magical realism, complete with dancers flying off the pages and topsy-turvy musicians. A "skippity-hop-doo-dee-bop" picture book.” Publisher’s Weekly

“A great story to share with young people about the joy of music and reaching for one’s dreams….” Children’s Book Watch


Connections:
Pinkney, Andrea Davis. 2006. Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra. Hyperion Books. ISBN 978-0786814206

Raschka, Christopher. 1997. Charlie Parker Played Be Bop. Scholastic. ISBN 978-0531070956
Myers, Walter Dean. 2008. Jazz. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823421732




Bibliography:
Johnson, Angela. 2010. Sweet, Hereafter. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing. ISBN 978-0689873850

Summary:
High school student Shoogy Maple moves out of her home and into the home of Curtis, a soldier who just returned from Iraq. Shoogy and Curtis live a quiet, simple life in the woods. After reading a letter from the Army Reserve, Shoogy knows Curtis has a tough decision to make that will affect everyone.

Critical Analysis:
Shoogy Maple lives in a cabin in the woods with no TV, no radio, and no computer. It is a quiet life that she has chosen after leaving her family home at 17. Shoogy and Curtis settle in to a routine of school, work and hushed meals. Life is going at a slow and steady pace until Shoogy reads a letter, addressed to Curtis from the Army Reserve. Shoogy learns Curtis has been ordered to return to active duty. Shoogy begins to understand why Curtis has been suffering from nightmares, yelling out in the middle of the night, and waking up drenched with sweat. Curtis must make a decision to return to war or possibly go to jail. Whatever his decision, Shoogy’s life will change forever.

Coretta Scott King Award winner Angela Johnson gives us the final installment of the Heaven trilogy. Told from Shoogy’s point of view (a supporting character we met in Heaven and The First Part Last), Sweet, Hereafter is a novel as quiet as the characters. There is sparse dialogue and there are no in-depth self reflections. Shoogy is a young African American female whose mother characterized her as “free” and “restless”. Shoogy moves out of her home at a young age, but we do not quite know what finally led her to leave, and we do not quite know why she turned to Curtis. We are only told, “I left home on a sunny day.” Curtis was a former neighbor, and the two had a few brief encounters in the last year or so. This adds to his mysterious quality. The reader is given no information of his background, military or family life, and we are left to assume he is an uncomplicated man haunted by war. When Shoogy mistakenly reads the Army Reserve letter intended for Curtis, they never discuss his choices. The reader is never positive whether Curtis knows that Shoogy read the letter. Although his decision is heartbreaking, it was really hard to connect with Curtis because the reader had no chance to get to know him.

This book is quite different from the others in the trilogy. Heaven and The First Last Part had a defining plotline of family. Young Heaven (Heaven) discovers her parents are not who she thought they were, and Bobby (First Last Part) is a single, teenage dad fumbling his way through fatherhood. Sweet, Hereafter is more subtle and nothing is told outright. Sure Shoogy chooses her family when she turns to Curtis, but we do not know why. Did she get kicked out? Did she leave in the middle of the night? There are no details and the story is very ambiguous. Sweet, Hereafter is more poetic and figurative than the companion novels. For instance, Shoogy refers to Alice and after a few minutes, you realize she is speaking of her truck, and not a person.

Even though the main character is African American, in my opinion, there are only subtle references to African American culture. We are told that Shoogy had a "curly ‘fro", but if the author did not come right out and say it, we might never guess that Shoogy is an African American girl. The cover art is the only evidence. Her boyfriend Curtis is only described as having “the darkest eyes”. In addition, there is no talk of religion, spirituality, celebrations, traditions or any other aspects that could be cultural markers. The language can be that of any teenager living in America today. Lingo used was something that any young person would say, and it wasn't on the heavy side. Sweet, Hereafter is a novel that blends in perfectly with other young adult fiction. Recommend for ages 13+.

Awards:
None - new publication

Reviews:
“Shoogy’s reluctance to spell everything out, though, feels deeply true to her character, and Johnson’s stripped-down, poetic prose is filled with shattering emotional truths about war’s incalculable devastation, love’s mysteries, and the bewildering, necessary search for happiness.” Booklist

“Johnson, award winning author of three Coretta Scott King Awards, as well as a Printz Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, again uses spare, gorgeous, realistically raw language to bring to life a complex teen of great depth and heart.” VOYA

“Whether in a scene at a high-school career fair with military recruiters or in the conversations between Sweet and teens readers met in the book's award-winning companions, Heaven (1998) and The First Part Last (2003), the characters and circumstances are never anything less than rich and real.” Kirkus Reviews

Connections:
Johnson, Angela. 2003. The First Part Last. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. ISBN 0689849230

Johnson, Angela. 2000. Heaven. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. ISBN 0689822901




Bibliography:
Shange, Ntozake. 1997. Whitewash. Walker & Company. ISBN 9780802784902

Summary:
An African-American girl, Helene-Angel, and her brother Mauricio are victims of a racial hate crime on their way home from school.

Critical Analysis:
Helen-Angel’s day started like any other day. She missed a math question in school and was reprimanded by her teacher in front of the class. Not until after school does her day go from bad to worse. Helen-Angel and her older brother Mauricio are walking home when a neighborhood gang of Caucasian boys, The Hawks, jump them. The thugs spray paint Helen-Angel’s face white as they shout, “[this is] how to be white, American!” Helen-Angel does not immediately realize or understand what has happened to her. After looking over her brothers bloody and bruised face, she realizes that there is white paint dripping from her face and ears. Mauricio scoops her off and they race home to their grandmother, where Helen-Angel hides in her room for a week. When she finally comes out of her room, she is met with a surprise. All of her classmates are waiting for her and ready to stand by her side.

Whitewash is not a watered down book about prejudice, and Ntozake does not shy away from the violence in this picture book. Helen-Angle and her brother Mauricio are faced with any nightmare any adult would find horrifying. The Hawks, an all white neighborhood game of boys, are hateful, hurtful, and racially motivated. This picture book will have lasting effects. Personally, I am sickened to think that this story is based on similar events from 1992 where a young African-American girl had her face painted white in the Bronx. The book is adapted by an award winning video from illustrator by Michael Sporn. For the picture book version, he paints very animated and cartoonish figures of all different shapes, sizes and shades. Helen-Angel, Mauricio, and their grandmother are all different shades of black. Also, Helen-Angel’s classmates represent several ethnicities. These details coincide with the setting of the book. The reader is led to believe that the story takes place in New York. A school building set in the middle of a busy industrial neighborhood, apartment buildings with walk ups are all evidence.

Many may feel the story needed to have consequences for the young men who victimized young Helen-Angel and Mauricio. However, no such event takes place. Helen-Angel returns to school with her friends that missed her and vow to stick together. Although this book has a somewhat happy ending, it may be too violent for early readers. Despite a few issues (Helen-Angel is in preschool, but working on multiplication problems), Whitewash can be a valuable tool for older children discussing prejudice, hate crimes, and other cruel moments in life. Recommended for ages 8+

Awards:
None

Reviews:
“The book's a shocker, and it means to be.” Kirkus Reviews

“The full-length award-winning video is probably the better medium for this story, but the book will be available to a wider audience.” School Library Journal

Connections:
Coleman, Evelyn. 1996. White Socks Only. Albert Whitman & Company. ISBN 978-0807589564

Sporn, Michael. 1994. The Films of Michael Sporn Volume 1 (Whitewash/Champagne. First Run Features. ASIN B0000AZT68

Have children discuss racial hate crimes they have read about or seen on TV.

Jun 19, 2010

Multicultural - International Literature Book Reviews:

Bibliography:
Stolz, Joelle. 2004. The Shadows of Ghadames. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0385731043

Summary:
At the end of 19th century, an eleven-year-old Libyan girl named Malika is readying herself for adulthood with the other women who are confined to the rooftops. An unexpected house guest begins to challenge Malika’s traditional values that were instilled by her very traditional parents.

Critical Analysis:
Malika is like any other young girl growing up. She has an annoying brother whom she argues with daily, she has an overprotective mother who keeps secrets from her, and she has a father who is the head of the household. Malika is beginning to learn that her role as a daughter and young lady will be changing. She is almost of marrying age, and soon she will be confined to the rooftops with the other women. The rooftops are where the women trade their goods and trade gossip. The men are confined to the streets for their business and for only a few hours a day do the women and men co-mingle. When her father is away on a business trip, Malika’s mother and her father’s other wife find an injured man in a nearby alley. The women decide to bring the man back to health in their home even though they are forbidden to have guests while their husband is away. The guest, Abdelkarim, is confined to the pantry as daily lives on the rooftops continue. After a few weeks, Abdelkarim heals and asks if he can teach young Malika to read and write in Arabic. This practice is usually not permitted because Malika is a young girl. Malika’s mother agrees. After a few days pass, it is decided the man must flee before Malika’s father returns from his business trip. The only escape for Abdelkarim is to dress in a woman’s veil and flee during a festival. Although Abdelkarim protests for a moment, he realizes it is the only way to escape unnoticed.

Life in 19th century Libya was uncomplicated. The women live on the rooftops taking care of the children, hosting other guests, and going about their daily business. The men are down below trading and bartering goods. Malika’s household is very traditional, and only when the injured man arrives, are those traditions being tested. Malika’s mother believes helping an injured person is above the strict laws of her household. Over time, Malika begins to wonder about other parts of the world and the role women play. Do women move to the side in alleys when a man approaches? Do women remove and hide all of their jewelry when the man is away on a trip? Do families eat only what is necessary and never indulging when the man is absent from the home? Malika asks herself questions that other girls around the world ask. The true question is: how would my life be different if I lived somewhere else?

The Shadow of Ghadamas gives insight into a world full of customs and a traditional Muslim household. Although I enjoyed the story overall, there were a few issues. When Malika’s father returns from his trip, he gives Malika a telescope to look at the stars. For me, this symbolizes Malika’s curiosity to other parts of the world. This is a strange gift from a man that was described as a very unwavering man. I think it was too coincidental that as the women care for a man who should not be in the house, the father is realizing that times are changing, and possibly women’s roles. It seems too nicely packaged for me. Also, the reader is led to believe that Malika could possibly have a crush on the man Abdelkarim. We do not learn of Abdelkarim’s age and have no idea if these thoughts are appropriate. After all, Malika is eleven and Abdelkarim was described as a fully bearded man. Finally, as soon as Malika begins to take Arabic lessons from Abdelkarim, the story suddenly ends. For me, the conclusion of the story was rushed and more time should have been spent with Malika and Abdelkarim. Although there are a few issues, this book offers an insightful look into a part of the world that is making national news. Hopefully, young adults will compare their lives with young Malika and possibly see that there are more similarities than differences. Recommended for ages 12+.

Awards:
Mildred L. Batchelder Award, 2005
ALA Notable Children's Book, 2005

Reviews:
“Setting her tale at the end of the 19th century, Stolz not only weaves the sights, sounds, and daily rhythms of life in Ghadames into a vivid tapestry, she creates a cast of distinct characters, each of which displays a unique blend of strengths and weaknesses, as well as sometimes unexpected intelligence and compassion.” Kirkus Reviews

“The story of an outsider who unsettles a household and helps a young person to grow is certainly nothing new, and some of the lessons here are purposeful. But Stolz invigorates her tale with elegant prose and a deft portrayal of a girl verging on adolescence.” Booklist

Connections:
Abdel-Fattah, Randa. 2008. Does My Head Look Big in This? Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 043992233X

Have children place Ghadames on a map? What is nearby? Estimate how long it would take to travel by land and foot to the neighboring towns.



Bibliography:
Fox, Mem. 2004. Where Is the Green Sheep? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 015204907X

Summary:
The search is on for a missing sheep.

Critical Analysis:
We are introduced to the blue sheep and the red sheep, but the question remains: Where is the green sheep? We meet all sorts of sheep, but there is still no green sheep. Sheep are presented in a wide variety of activities; swinging, sliding, clowning, and sunning. Still, there is no green sheep. While all the other sheep are busy we find the green sheep sleeping.

With the use of fuzzy sheep, international writer Fox presents a (mostly) rhyming book of opposites. Although not every activity is an exact opposite or exact rhyme(train vs car), the reader will understand the relationship. Seeing sheep playing in a band and being shot out of a cannon will keep young readers engaged as the search for the missing sheep continues. Rhymes come easy and illustrations by Judy Horacek portray the happy-go-lucky attitude of the sheep. Judy also incorporates a Gene Kelly reference for the rain sheep. Although children will miss this classic movie spoof, adults will easily recognize the reference. This book would be great for a read along and storytime. The reader can move the book closer to the audience for the ‘near sheep’ and raise the book high for the ‘up sheep’. Recommended for ages 3 -6.

Awards:
Children's Book Council of Australia Awards, Book of the Year Winner, 2005
Speech Pathology Australia Winner, 2005
Crichton Award for Children Book Illustration, 2005
ALA Notable Children's Book for Younger Readers, 2005
Kids Own Australian Literature Award (KOALA) Winner - Picture Book, 2006
Young Australian Best Book Award (YABBA) Winner - Picture Book, 2006
SA Kanga Awards Winner, 2006
Hornbook Fun Fair List

Reviews:
“In this neat and satisfying wedding of text and art, the squat, square format uses wool-white backgrounds to display much of the amusing pen-and-watercolor pictures.” Booklist

“Parents intrigued by Fox's ideas about early literacy (as expounded in Reading Magic, for example) will find this book a useful vehicle for putting her suggestions into practice.” Publisher’s Weekly

“A welcome addition to the year's flock of easy-readers.” School Library Journal

Connections:
Fox, Mem. 2008. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 015206057X

Craft: have children glue colored cotton balls onto sheep-shaped paper.

Activity: have children read the story with their sheep from the craft and act out (if possible) the actions of the sheep. Up, down, near, far, etc….



Bibliography:
Fox, Lee. 2010. Ella Kazoo Will Not Brush Her Hair. Walker Books for Young Readers. ISBN 080278836X

Summary:
Ella Kazoo refuses to brush her curls. Before she knows it, her long locks have taken over!

Critical Analysis:
Ella Kazoo is in a battle of wills with her mother concerning her hair. Ella likes her hair wild and natural, but her mother prefers it neat and tidy. Ella likes it frizzy and big, but her mother prefers it sleek and pulled back. Ella begins to hide when her mother tries to brush her hair. Ella would rather skip in the rain and dance in the sunshine than brush her hair. She even goes as far as to hide her hairbrush in a drawer and bury it in the garden. All the while her mother is begging for her to take care of that hair! Over time, Ella begins to notice that her hair is beginning to have a mind of its own. Her hair is so long and unmanageable that clothes, toys, and even trash are caught in her hair! Ella is sent into a panic and decides that something needs to be done about her long locks.

Originally published in Australia, Ella Kazoo is a timeless story of a mother and a stubborn daughter. The mother wants the daughter to do something, and the daughter refuses. This occurrence can be found in any household, in probably every country. Young children will respond to the wild exaggeration of Ella's hair (her hair is as long as the page), and parents will appreciate that Ella's mother was right along; Ella needed to brush her hair. Illustrations by Jennifer Plecas add to the comedy of a frustrating situation. Ella’s hair gets wilder as the story unfolds, and Ella’s mother grows more and more exasperated. Recommended for ages 3-6.

Awards:
Children's Book Council of Australia Award Winner

Reviews:
“Young readers just might get the message that holding their ground in a battle with mom may not always be in their own best interest.” School Library Journal

“Many families will relate to a stubborn child who refuses to brush her hair; Ella Kazoo offers a humorous take with a fine solution.” Kirkus Reviews

Connections:
Palatini, Margi. 2003. Bedhead. Simon & Schuster Children's. ISBN 0689860021

Hirschman, Jessica Elin. 2006. Tangle Tower. Cookie Bear Press. ISBN 0970115563

Jun 16, 2010

the EVERAFTER Book Trailer

I created this book trailer for my YA Literature class at TWU. Enjoy!