Turning Fifteen on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery is an engaging and accessible memoir. I knew that young people were involved starting very early on in the Civil Rights movement, but I was shocked to hear exactly to what degree. Teens put their beliefs out in in front and their lives on the line so that their parents could go to work and the marches could continue. In fact, Lowery was arrested nine times before the age of 15, and while her descriptions of the prison conditions are chilling, her perseverance is inspiring. This book is extremely accessible to all ages–from middle grade to adult readers, as Lowery’s writing style makes it seem as if one is sitting down to share a cup of tea with her and listening to her memories of those volatile times. Photographs and graphic-novel-style illustrations further add to the impact of the text, and the slim look and feel has the potential to draw in even the most reluctant of readers. This Sibert Medal Honor book has already touched the hearts and minds of many of my students and it is likely to have a lasting impact.
Interested in extending the conversation about this book?
Jennifer L. Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish is a quick and enjoyable middle grade novel. Ellie begins sixth grade with some apprehension–she is not a big fan of change and her best friend has almost abandoned her for the volleyball team. And then…her mom brings home a strangely familiar 13-year-old boy who turns out to be Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin! It seems he has been working with an anti-aging drug derived from a rare jellyfish and tried it on himself. Melvin, Ellie, and Ellie’s new friend,Raj, get into a few scrapes trying to break into Melvin’s old lab. And by the book’s end, Ellie helps her grandfather realize that perhaps the world is not ready for his discovery. A strength of this book is that it is a gentle introduction to the science fiction genre, challenging readers to think about the implications of tampering with the aging process without overwhelming them. Readers could then go on to books like Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Turnabout or Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies (more YA than middle grade).
Check out this great trailer/introduction from Jennifer L. Holm.
The challenge here is to think of what to say that has not already been said about The Crossover, winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal. It is a delicious novel in verse that’s chock full of beautiful language, basketball scenes that spring to life, and rich family dynamics. It has captured the hearts of both reluctant and voracious middle grade readers. It allows teachers and librarians to hook kids just by reading the first few pages. (all of which has already been said, but is also worth repeating)
It has also given the kid lit world an amazing ambassador in author Kwame Alexander. If you haven’t already, you should really follow him on Twitter. And you should listen to him read from The Crossover here and watch his interview with Time for Kids Magazine. And then put the book in some kids’ hands and watch the magic.
Stella by Starlight is an excellent work of historical fiction for middle graders. Set in 1932 in Bumblebee, North Carolina, it tells Stella’s experiences growing up in the segregated South. Recent Ku Klux Klan activity in the area both frightens and challenges the African American community, but it doesn’t keep Stella’s father and two other men from registering to vote, despite the obstacles and threats they face. The support for the community supports and augments the courage of these men.
Stella is also struggling with a challenge of her own. She feels she is a poor writer who needs lots of practice, but the pieces she writes for her teacher and self-published newsletter show otherwise, and middle graders will pick up on that right away. Draper has once again given readers the gift of an engaging and meaty story, and one that is expertly told.
Now, a little about the book covers:
The cover above was the one for the original release of the book in January 2015.
The cover to the left is the one used by Scholastic for both hardcover and paperback copies of the book. To me, Stella looks like a modern girl, not one from the 1930s. In fact, there is nothing about this cover that leads me to believe this is a work of historical fiction.
I know that covers are changed for a variety of reasons, but I wonder about Scholastic’s choice here and can’t find any information about it (not that cover choices are widely discussed by publishers). It is certainly an attractive cover, but one that conveys much less of the story and setting than the original, with its powerful burning cross image. Perhaps Scholastic felt young readers might be more inclined to pick up a book with a more “realistic fiction” feel to the cover. Perhaps the burning cross was the motivation for the change. Whatever the reason, I have to say that I much prefer the original cover, and the more I think about it the more I wish I had made sure to purchase all of my copies with that cover. I will make this a “teachable moment” for myself and try to consider variations of book covers when making purchasing decisions in the future.
Anyone else have an example to share?
Tim Tingle’s How I Became a Ghost is a work of historical fiction, set in 1830 in Choctaw Nation, Mississippi. The story is narrated by Isaac, a boy whose family is forced by the U.S. government to relocate and trek the Trail of Tears. From the beginning, readers know Isaac is to die, as he keeps referring to times both before and after he is a ghost. Tim Tingle is a member of the Choctaw Nation and a researcher and teacher of his culture, and so the narrative includes not only accurate (yet fictionalized) accounts of what life was like on the Trail of Tears, but also of Choctaw spiritual beliefs, particularly surrounding the ghosts of ancestors that assist Isaac and then welcome him into their ranks when it is his time. There are grand adventures in the book, too, especially when Isaac and his friend rescue a girl who was taken away from her family and forced to serve as cook for some of the soldiers. Readers should note that this is the first book of a planned trilogy.
It is obvious from the beautiful flow of the narrative of How I Became a Ghost that Tim Tingle is a great storyteller. Here is a wonderful video of Tingle telling the story of “How Rabbit Got His Short Tail” from Choctaw Days 2013 at the National Museum of the American Indian. It is filled with audience participation.