Wiles, Deborah. Revolution
May 27th 2014
by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
In a follow up to her book about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Countdown, Wiles uses the same mix of primary source documents and narrative to tell about the events in Greenwood, Mississippi in the summer of 1964 from the perspective of several characters. Sunny is a twelve year old girl who is dealing with a lot-- her mother left when she was very young, which catapulted her father into a lot of poor choices. He has reformed, and is now remarried to Annabelle, who left her abusive husband in Philadelphia, and who has two children of her own. Sunny likes her stepbrother Gillette, and the two get swept up in the arrival of the "Freedom Righters" who come to Greenwood to help African Americans register to vote. Raymond is the same age as these children, but he is black and therefore can't go to the pool, the library, or anywhere that is not specifically for black people. This changes with the Civil Rights Act, but as Raymond finds out, even if he can get into the movie theater, the law still doesn't cover the reaction of people in Greenwood. Sunny's family gets involved in the movement in a variety of levels, and this helps her to connect with her family on a variety of levels.
Strengths: Sunny is a good character, as are others in this book. The story has lots of details. This is very thoroughly researched, and the inclusion of primary source documents, photos, etc. lend an immediacy to this that I appreciated. I wish more books would include such information in them, like the Dear America series books do. Sure, it's great for Common Core, but also very useful to the reader to see what the world looked like in a historical book, or to have things explained. Would Will Hobbs' Leaving Protection be better if there were an appendix about salmon fishing in Alaska? Absolutely.
Weaknesses: Historical fiction is a hard, hard sell, and many times the only reason students are reading it is because they have to. At 544 pages, this was long even for me to read, and I love historical fiction. This could have had a good 200 pages edited out of it and been a much more interesting book. For example, we could do without the extended back story (for which I still felt like I was missing something) about the blended family wasn't necessary-- the real story was the members learning to be a family. Some of the additional information could have been trimmed as well. Instead of an 8 page mini bio on Lyndon Johnson, two would have sufficed.
This year I desperately needed fiction set in the 1960s, and this is brilliant, but I'm afraid only my most dedicated readers will be able to get through this. A shorter books would have been easy to give to all of my readers, some of whom have third grade reading levels and take two weeks to struggle through a 120 page book.
Stoudemire, Amar'e. Most Valuable. (S.T.A.T. #5)
January 7th 2014
by Scholastic Paperbacks
Amar'e and his friends are looking forward to the tournament that their mentor, Overtime Tanner, holds every year, but when Overtime hurts his leg, he doesn't feel that he can put the tournament together. In addition to trying to round up and train a team for the event, Amar'e manages to secure a venue and pull things together with a little help from his family, showing that perseverance can lead to success both on and off the basketball court.
Strengths: These books are SO popular in my library, but people keep losing them. Really, I just need to break down and get about four copies of each! There's enough description of basketball that I don't really follow them (Community basketball tournaments? Is this a thing?), but enough of a plot to move the book along quickly. Always a positive message. I read this after Revolution, and I wish I could reproduce some of the interior illustrations of Amar'e and his friends on the school bus-- we don't even blink at seeing black and white kids together in school, so we have made a little progress in Civil Rights!
Weaknesses: This didn't seem as interesting as the other books, but I could have been burnt out from slogging through Revolution. My students will love it.