Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Black Brother, Black Brother and Show Me a Sign

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Black Brother, Black Brother
March 3rd 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Donte goes to the exclusive Middlefield Prep school because his parents want him to get a good education, but he has trouble fitting in to the school. The teachers and other students are prejudiced against him because of his dark skin, so he is always blamed for anything that happens. To make matters worse, his brother Trey looks white, and other students taunt him with the name "black brother", especially Alan, whose parents have given a lot of money to the school. When he is sent to the office for throwing a pencil he did not throw, he politely stands up to the principal, which ends up with him being escorted out of the school by the police with his hands bound and is suspended for a week. His father (who is white) and his mother (who is black)  believe him, and his lawyer mother plans a class action law suit against the school. During his suspension, Donte hunts down a former Olympic fencer  who works at a boys and girls club in the city to ask for lessons. He knows that Alan fences, and thinks that beating him at his own sport would be good revenge. Donte finds the man, and gets him to reluctantly agree to coach him. Trey also decides to pick up the sport, and the two get heavily involved with the competition. The club eventually faces off against Middlefield Prep, and Donte learns more about his coach.
Strengths: Mixing a sport in with any social issues topic makes it more appealing to middle grade readers, and Rhodes knows the formula for a good middle grade novel; sympathetic characters, short length, quickly moving plot with timely topics. I especially appreciated that the parents were involved and caring, and that the main character is biracial; this is such a large portion of the population at my school now.
Weaknesses: This doesn't make me have any kinder feelings for private schools. I taught in one, and while the school where I taught was definitely looking to enroll and keep minority students, there also wasn't a great system of checks and balances, so I could see a similar situation arising.
What I really think: I've always loved Sundee T. Frazier's The Other Half of My Heart (2010), and this addresses the issue of siblings who are treated differently because of how they look in a very current way. Will purchase, and will recommend the high school look into this for a couple of my readers who were always looking for more social justice and sports books.

LeZotte, Ann Clare. Show Me a Sign
March 3rd 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mary Lambert lives on Martha's Vineyard in the community of Chilmark, where 1 in 25 of the population were deaf in the 1800s. Her father is deaf, but her mother and brother George are not. Since a sizable portion of the population is deaf, most of the community can use a local version of sign language and lip read, so Mary does not feel limited in her activities or her future. Her brother has recently been killed in a road accident, hit by a carriage driven by the uncle of her best friend, Nancy. The uncle goes to Boston, and the Lambert family tries to move on. The descendants of the English settlers are taking more and more land, to the anger of the local Wampanoag people, who feel that they are being taken advantage of. When a scientist comes to Chilmark to study the reasons why there are so many people affected by deafness, the local people think he is a bit strange, especially in how he views deaf citizens as less intelligent. Wanting to study a "live specimen", the scientist kidnaps Mary and takes her to Boston, where his co researcher at least concludes that Mary is remarkably smart despite her challenges. Luckily, a sailor is sent to try to find Mary and returns her to Chilmark.
Strengths: I always appreciate historical fiction that covers topics I have never heard about, and this has plenty of interesting details about everyday life, treatment of native populations, and varying views of the deaf community at this time. (The publisher information does not capitalize deaf in the description, so I am following that example.) I appreciated that LeZotte mentions a variety of sensitivity readers in her notes. The interactions of the community members and family, and Mary's friends, are all interesting.
Weaknesses: The cover is a bit dark and unappealing. It would have been nice to see an illustrated cover reminiscent of the primitive paintings of this time period.
What I really think: This was a great book, but I fear it might meet the same fate of other interesting historical fiction like Preuss' Heart of a Samurai. (No one ever checks it out. ) Debating purchase, although I do have this author's T4: A Novel in Verse (2008). That title is about the Holocaust, which is a period of history more frequently studied in my school.

Ms. Yingling

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