Friday, July 09, 2010

Too hot to do anything but read!

McNees, Kelly O'Connor. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.
How did Alcott write romances if she didn't experience any herself? This question was the impetus for this excellent fictional account of a summer in Alcott's life. When her family moves to a house in the country because they can't afford anywhere else, Louisa is reluctant to stay. She would rather run off to Boston, where she plans to get a place to live and sell her stories. Once she meets Joseph Singer (not a real person) and realizes that he finds independent women not only laudable but attractive, she briefly reconsiders her idea of not marrying. Circumstances, of course, prevent them from being together, but this book offers a well researched and plausible romance for a woman who did buck the mores of her times and never married. As for the question of how she could write romances-- she could probably have written happier ones if she did not in fact have any real romances! This would be appropriate for grades 7 and up if you have a strong Alcott fan base. I unfortunately have not been able to revive an interest in this author at my school, but as a huge Alcott fan myself (my elder daughter's middle name is Louisa), I enjoyed this tremendously.

Flood, Nancy Bo. Warriors in the Crossfire.
Definitely add this to the list of Books About War for another unique perspective on World War II. Joseph and his cousin Kento are trying to survive on the island of Saipan. The Japanese have been occupying the island for a number of years, which has caused problems between the boys, since Joseph is a native, and Kento has a Japanese father. When the US troops arrive and fighting commences, the two don't know whom to trust, but do their best to protect their families. After Joseph's father is killed, he gets his family to a cave and does his best to keep them safe and fed, but as the fighting escalates, this becomes much more difficult. The end of the book becomes even more harrowing-- based on historical events, Flood depicts the scene of the Japanese inhabitants of the island throwing themselves off a cliff into the sea rather than being taken prisoner. This book is a good length, well-researched, and balances the adventure and suspense of war (that the boys want) with a clear understanding of the futility of war (that I like to see). My only complaint is that some of the language is overly poetic and philosophical, which is something that the population that will read this book is not quite looking for. That, and I found myself turning to the back to look for a map that was not there. Still, this will be a popular choice and well as a good addition to a collection of World War II fiction.

Jones, Traci L. Finding My Place.
This author's Standing Against the Wind is a popular choice with my students. In fact, I am surprised that in 2007 I questioned whether there would be an audience for it-- multicultural books, and especially books with African American characters, have been circulating very well, possibly because I have been trying to show them cover out.

Finding My Place takes us back to 1975, where Tiphanie (Tiffany, just spelled like Stephanie) and her parents move from inner city Denver, Colorado to the suburbs because her parents jobs have made them more affluent. The problem? Tiphanie is only the second Black person in the school. While many students don't want anything to do with her, Jackie Sue befriends her, addressing a wide variety of racial concerns with refreshing honesty. While Tiphanie struggles with teacher and parent expectations, loneliness, and racial tensions, Jackie Sue struggles with an alcoholic mother, and the two help each other out as best they can. As hard as it is for me to admit, this is a historical novel. I strongly suspect that this book reflects, in part, Jones' own experiences in high school. I am looking forward to having my students read this, because it does show that there have been some advances in racial harmony! The community where I teach is similar to the one where I grew up-- but when I grew up (shortly after this book is set), there were very few African American students in the school (5 out of a class of 501. The overwhelming preponderence of white faces in my year book seemed odd to me given the make up of the school now!) I enjoyed the characters, the setting-- a really great book! And the cover is fun as well.

My only complaint? Would a 14 year old in 1975 have been born on a commune and named Lovelystar? The most exotic name I encountered in my years in school was Dawn, and her parents were much younger than most! That's just my ongoing complaint that hippies in literature seem to have a much wider time frame than they did in real life and does not really detract from the book at all.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a thoughtful review! I appreciate your statement that you wished there was a map. I argued with both editor and publisher - please put in a map - my request was ignored. I know how much kids love maps and for most readers, there want to know, "where in the world is Saipan!"

I am beginning a blog with several writer-teacher friends: which will look at middleschool books, activities, and authors who write for this readership. May I include your blog site as a place to learn more? Nancy Bo Flood, author of WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE

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