Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sad books

Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Dear America: With the Might of Angels
Nominated for the Cybils by Tanita

In 1954, Dawnie Rae doesn't like the school she goes to because everything is worn out and old. The schools that the white students attend, however, are much different, which is why when the NAACP is looking for students to enroll in Prettyman High, Dawnie's parents sign her up. it takes a long time for her even to be allowed to go to school, and when she finally does, the town com pains. Her father loses his job at the town dairy, which starts a boycott of the company by the blacks in town. Some of Dawnie's teachers are supportive, but some are not. Going to an all white school is difficult, but with the help of family and friends, Dawnie is able to persevere.
Strengths: Better written than some books in this series, in that they tend to have a lot of whining and details about daily life that don't necessarily strengthen the plot. The redesigned covers are attractive, and the historical information at the back of the books is always helpful.
Weaknesses: Horrible binding. I didn't care much for some of the overly Southern turns of phrase (" I worry Bethune will melt right into the ground, like syrup on a pancake.") because they seemed out of place with the general writing style.

Russell, Krista. Chasing the Nightbird.
Nominated for the Cybils by Lesley.

Lucky is Happy with his job on a whaling ship in 1851, but when he is docked in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he is shanghaied... by his long lost brother who thinks that their father owes him money. Fortuna, the brother, deposits Lucky at a boarding house, where a sympathetic woman who knew him as a baby takes good care of him, but also makes him work in a mill. There, he meets Daniel, a runaway slave, whose fortunes entwine with his own when Lucky (who is from Cape Verde and therefore free) is targeted by slave runners. Fortunately, he has also meets Emmeline, a young Quaker girl whose father is a sea captain. She tries to help Lucky, and is instrumental in freeing him not only from the slavers but also his evil brother.
Strengths: Lots of action and adventure, and a topic that is always in demand for our 8th grade curriculum.
Weaknesses: Despite the number of really evil characters opposing him, I never particularly liked Lucky.

Yep, Lawrence. Dragons of Silk.
Nominated for the Cybils by Natasha Maw.

Following four generations of a Chinese family, two of whom live in China and two in the US, Yep tells the story of how the silk industry ties them all together. In 1835, a family oaf two daughters and a mother struggle to keep their silk worm business alive after the father returns after having been addicted to opium. Despite their efforts, things do not end well. In 1881, the family is involved with a local realigns factory that is suffering the effects of the war, and the daughter meets young man who was born in the US and decides to escape her life in China for one with the young man, even though things are very difficult for the Chinese there as well. In 1932, it is again the women in the family who have been abandoned by the patriarchs when there is a reversal of financial fortune. While the mother proves unsuited for a difficult life the grandmother and granddaughters take in piece work, tighten their belts, and do what they can to stay safe and happy. Later, in 1962, one young woman tries to get into the designing end of fashion work; the end of the book follows her success and also ties her family in with the family of the sister who did not leave China.
Strengths: Interesting use of the myth of the Weaving Maid and her festival to set all of the stories,and good details about what daily life would have been like during each of the eras.
Weaknesses: There is more discussion of the silk making process than will interest many students; Parks's Project Mulberry is one that I can't get students to read. I was hoping for something more like Dragon Road.

Christopher, Lucy. Flyaway.
nominated for the Cybils by Kelly Jensen. (Who, by the way, is sort of like the person running directly in front of me in a 5 k. Every time I read three books, she reads four. I know, I know; the Cybils is not a contest to see who can read the most, but Kelly is reading way more than I am!)

Isla and her father love to watch the swans near their home, but are very disturbed when new power towers cause the death of three swans and the grave injury of another. Isle wants to nurse the other back to health, but runs into trouble because her father is suffering from a heart condition that is becoming more and more serious. Beset by dreams about the plight of the swan, Isla decides that for a school project she will try to get the lone swan to try to migrate, going so far as to take apart a stuffed swan and try to fly with it's wings. Her family is brought closer together as her father's condition worsens, even though her grandfather hates hospitals because her grandmother died in hospital, and tries to take hope from the progress of the swan.
Strengths: Lyrical writing is very effective and sad.
Weaknesses: Again, probably more about swans than the average reader cares to know.

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