Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Black History Month: Shackles from the Deep, by Michael Cottman

shackles-from-the-deepShackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy, by Michael Cottman, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic Society), $17.99, ISBN: 9781426326639

Recommended for ages 10-13

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Cottman investigates the wreck of a 17-century slave ship, the Henrietta Marie, and goes on a journey that will take him from the Caribbean islands, where the Henrietta Marie docked to unload hundreds of kidnapped Africans to be sold into slavery, to Africa, to see Goree Island – location of the Maison des Esclaves; House of the Slaves, and the Door of No Return; the last glimpse enslaved Africans would have of their homeland – with his own eyes.

Cottman’s journey is as personal as it is professional. He struggles with anger at the slavers themselves, and with the manufacturers of the shackles, discovered by African-American diver Captain Demostenes “Moe” Molinar, in 1972. Cottman discovers that many of the men behind the Henrietta Marie were members of their parishes, even philanthropists in their own communities, and yet turned a blind eye to the suffering of countless men, women, and children caught up in the slave trade. He wonders if the spouses and children of these men knew that their comfortable lifestyle came at the expense of human misery, and he agonizes as he tries to understand, and forgive.

Adapted for younger readers from Michael Cottman’s 1999 book, The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, Shackles from the Deep introduces readers to the aftereffects of slavery, centuries later. Entire families have been lost to history; people feel unrooted, to some degree, to this day. Imagine wondering your ancestors endured the brutal conditions of slavery, and never being able to find out the answer? By personalizing his story, Michael Cottman makes this already important book vital reading for middle school students and above.

We are still dealing with the fallout from centuries of slavery. It is personal, and by adding his story to the story of the Henrietta Marie, Michael Cottman invites readers to look at events that may seem so long past through different eyes. What we also get, unexpectedly, is a call to action for young divers of color to continue exploring the waters of our planet to learn more about our collective past, and our future.

An important book for libraries and nonfiction collections, Shackles from the Deep has received a starred review from Booklist. There are four pages of full-color photos; an index, and further resources on deep-water exploration, shipwrecks, and slave ships.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History has a comprehensive booklet on the Henrietta Marie, from their 2000 expedition at the West Virginia State Museum. It would be an excellent companion to any social studies unit on slavery and an accompaniment to Shackles From the Deep.

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Posted in Preschool Reads

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens is a beautiful biography for young readers

mahaliaMahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens, by Nina Nolan/illus. by John Holyfield (2015, Amistad/HarperCollins),$17.99, ISBN: 978-0-06-087944-0

Recommended for ages 6-10

Mahalia Jackson had a voice that could make the world stop. I’m only familiar with her through my mom’s records and Ms. Jackson’s enduring performance as a choir soloist in the movie Imitation of Life, but once you’ve heard her sing, her voice is with you forever.

Walking with Kings and Queens is Mahalia’s story, from her New Orleans childhood to her performance at the March on Washington. It’s a story of determination and endurance, of her faith, and her talent. Orphaned at a young age, she lived with her aunts, forced to drop in and out of school as other duties made themselves known. She always had her singing, though. As a child, it made her feel like a peacock, spreading his feathers, and as she grew, it was a source of strength and comfort to her. She drove to churches that would pay her to sing, and was finally noticed by someone from Decca Records. From there, her gospel was heard far and wide. Her aunt once told her she would “walk with kings and queens” one day, but she never counted on being a queen herself – the queen of gospel.

This book is gorgeous, with beautiful acrylic paintings bringing out the true joy that singing brought Mahalia Jackson. Her face is always tilted upward, illustrating her relationship with God and her music, a beatific smile lighting up her face. The story emphasizes Mahalia’s determination not only to keep singing, but her determination to continue her education. There are positive messages to be found through this whole story, and I’m hoping it finds a place on library and classroom shelves to introduce a new generation of listeners to Mahalia Jackson and her amazing voice.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction – A Few Reviews

Hey there!

I’m working hard, getting through my Cybils Middle Grade nominees – there’s so much good fiction out there! – so I thought I’d give a quick update on a few I’ve read so far.

red pencilThe Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, (Sept. 2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17, ISBN: 978-0316247801

Recommended for ages 8-14

Amira is a 12 year-old girl living in Darfur. She dreams of going to school, something her mother will not hear. She will marry a husband who can read for her, her mother tells her. That all changes when the Janjaweed come.

When her village is attacked by the Sudanese militia, her life is changed forever. She, and the survivors of her village, make their way to a refugee camp, where she grieves and learns how to start life anew.

Written¬†in verse, The Red Pencil is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It’s about time we see fiction about this time and place in history hitting our bookshelves. Children need to read this book, and teachers need to discuss it with them. If you don’t have access to this book yet, PLEASE – find it, read it,¬†and share it.

 

crossoverThe Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, (March 2014, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0544107717

Recommended for ages 8-14

Josh and his twin brother, Jordan, are lightning on the basketball court. The sons of a basketball player whose pro career was derailed by an injury and the assistant principal of their school, they have a strong family background that emphasizes teamwork and schoolwork.

Josh loves to rhyme, cranking out beats in his head as he plays. Jordan has other things in mind these days, though – namely, a girlfriend. Josh has a hard time with accepting this third party in his and Jordan’s relationship. Throw in their father’s health problems that he refuses to seek help for, and you’ve got a compelling read that will appeal to all readers, male and female, sports fans or not. There’s a flow and pacing to this novel, also written in verse, that just moves the pages on its own. Josh is a likable kid, and readers will see themselves in his shoes as he talks about his fears and frustrations.

The Crossover has been designated as a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2014, one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2014, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.