Monday, December 01, 2014

MMGM- Diamond Boy and Biographies

20839546Williams, Michael. Diamond Boy
2 December 2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Patson's father is a school teacher in Zimbabwe, but the school has been paying him in worthless cash, and Patson's stepmother is unhappy. When his father gets a job offer at a school near Marange, the family makes the perilous journey there with the help of Boubacar, a driver. Eventually, they end up at the home of the Banda clan, and the stepmother moves into the house while Patson, his father, and his younger sister Grace move into a tobacco shed. Patson misses his old life, his mother, and the girl from his school with whom he would run. The job at the school falls through, and soon both Patson and his father are working in the diamond mines. Patson makes some friends, and they tell him how to smuggle out smaller diamonds to sell on the black market to get US dollars. Things are going fairly well until the mine is taken over by soldiers under President Mugabe. His father is presumed dead, and Patson is kicked out and eventually loses his leg to a land mine. Patson wants to escape and take Grace with him, but his injury slows him down. With the continued help of Boubacar, he does manage to escape and eventually reconnect with his sister.
Strengths: Like Now is the Time for Running, Diamond Boy takes us right into the problems of South Africa from the point of view of a young person who is struggling to survive. Williams' writing is brisk and evocative, and unsparing with the details of life in this troubled country. I think it's important for students in the US to realize how lucky they are to be able to go to school every day and live, for the most part, in relative safety. I especially liked the twist in the end, even though I knew that Patson's life turned out far better than most children's would.
Weaknesses: Debating whether or not this is really for middle school students. It's gripping, definitely, but includes (discretely written) scenes with prostitutes, a child who was born with HIV, and an f-bomb which, while not gratuitous at all, is there. (Patson, a cross country runner, falls while trying to learn to walk with crutches after losing his leg, hence the justifiable swearing.)

20708750Rubin, Susan Goldman. Stand There! She Shouted: The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron

September 9th 2014 by Candlewick Press

This was an interesting book about a woman who was born in 1815 and became interested in photography when it was a very new art form and she was almost 50! It was interesting to read her biography and realize that while some of her life was typical (she was English, but lived much of her life in India and Ceylon), a lot of her ideas and actions were unique. It was also fascinating to see that she had many friends who were famous at the time for their writing or art (Thackery, Tennyson). Since this was in picture book format, there were nice illustrations from Bagram Ibatoulline, but there were also a fair number of Cameron's photographs. That's where the book failed for me. The jacket flap claims that Cameron "has been revealed as one of the greatest and most original portraitists in the history of photography", but I found the photographs to be rather similar and... creepy. I know that sitting for photographs at this time was excruciatingly boring and long, but everyone in her pictures has the same glazed, pained expression.

So, trouble with the subject of the book, not the way the book was written or formulated at all.

20759551Denenberg, Barry. Ali: An American Champion
September 23rd 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Using a lot of primary source newspaper articles, pictures and letters, Denenberg has created a scrapbook of Ali set against the events of his time. This makes for an interesting read, although for research, this would be a harder book to use than a traditional biography. Letting Ali speak for himself on topics like the Nation of Islam and the draft makes it possible to show that he was not always an admirable person without saying so! My feeling about Ali at the end of this book was that he was a rather horrible, not very intelligent person, (at least in his younger days) which was an unusual feeling to have after reading a biography! I will probably purchase this, since students are still interested in him and the book was very well done, but it was a bit unsettling.


  1. Thanks for the heads-up on all three titles. I may need to disappear into the storage closet in the basement if I'm ever going to reduce the size of my TBR list. I will definitely read all before recommending starting with the very intriguing DIAMOND BOY. Have a happy December!

  2. I especially like the sound of Diamond Boy. I agree that these types of books are great for making kids realize how good we have it here in North America. I particularly liked BOYS WITH NO NAMES for that reason. Stand There! sounds intriguing, especially with the Indian setting.

  3. Very interesting choices this week. I'm not sure any of these interests me, but it's good to know about them. Thanks for the reviews.