Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

Gifted versus Non-Gifted in a Class War: Gilded Cage February 21, 2017

gilded-cageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, Book One), by Vic James, (Feb. 2017, Random House/Del Rey), $26, ISBN: 9780425284155

Recommended for ages 13+

In an alternate United Kingdom, aristocrats are born with special magical gifts… powers that give them control over the “commoners”, who must serve them as slaves for 10 years. The commoners are free to decide when they will serve, but they will serve. The running comment is, “serve young and never get over it, serve older and never survive it”. Abi, an 18 year-old with a promising future as a doctor, decides to take her family’s future into her hands and procures a deal that will allow them all to serve at Kyneston Estate, home of one of the most powerful families, the Jardines. But on the day they are picked up for transport, her younger brother, Luke, is sent to a Millmoor, horrible slavetown to labor under inhumane conditions. While Abi learns that the Jardines have some pretty big secrets of their own, Luke finds strength in numbers and bands with a group in the slavetown to resist. With an abolition referendum on the line, things are tense in the government and at the camp, and one of the Jardine heirs is keeping his loyalties close to the vest.

Gilded Cage is the first in the Dark Gifts series, and has some promising intrigue and world-building. The story is told in character POV chapters – about six or seven – and spends a great deal of time on laying out what I hope are future plot details. The Jardine family are fascinating – we get a nice background on this leading family, including some internal conflict and outside rivalries. Silyen Jardine is easily the most interesting character, playing his own game, but doesn’t get enough print time – yet. I hope to spend more time with him in future books. Abi’s younger brother, Luke, takes much of the center stage in this first book; he is on a hero’s journey that teaches him about himself and the world around him.

I had a few problems with the book, most notably, the very slow build-up. Being able to choose your 10 years of slavery being another – what’s to stop you from just not serving? Why serve when you’re young? Why not live a full life and go in when you’re on your deathbed? The women in the novel seem to be either hand-wringing damsels in distress or cruel harpies (with one or two exceptions), and the men are calling many of the shots here. Still, I’m interested to find out what Vic James has in store for us in her next installment.

Gilded Cage received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was designated Debut of the Month by Library Journal.

 

Black History Month: Shackles from the Deep, by Michael Cottman February 10, 2017

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.

 

Women in the Old West: Frontier Grit October 18, 2016

frontier-gritFrontier Grit, by Marianne Monson, (Sept. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $19.99, ISBN: 9781629722276

Recommended for ages 12+

Monson profiles 12 pioneer women who lived life on the frontier as America expanded into the West. From a freed slave who watched her husband and children sold in front of her to a woman who rescued Chinese girls from human trafficking, every woman profiled in this book withstood hardships, overcame obstacles, and thumbed their noses at nay-sayers to change the world. There are entrepreneurs, doctors, politicans, and activists, all here to inform and inspire a new generation.

Frontier Grit gives us a new batch of women in history that many of us would otherwise never have heard of; while the research is well done and comprehensive, the writing is simplified, more for a middle school audience than the 18+ age group suggested by the publisher. An author summary at end of each profile relates what each woman personally means to the author, detracting from the scholarship of the overall book and relegating it to the territory of history report. Each woman’s impact could more effectively be communicated by making it less personal, more definitive; the lasting impact of each woman on all women.

Each profile includes photos (or drawings, where applicable), notes and sources. A reasonable purchase if you need additional women’s biographies, particularly as they relate to the American frontier or women’s suffrage.

 

My Name is Not Friday is a younger generation’s Twelve Years a Slave April 27, 2016

fridayMy Name is Not Friday, by Jon Walter (Jan. 2016, David Fickling Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780545855228

Recommended for ages 12-18

Living in an orphanage in the South at the end of the Civil War, Samuel is always trying to keep his younger brother, Joshua, out of trouble. The latest prank to be laid at Joshua’s feet is a big one; Samuel takes the blame to keep his brother safe, and finds himself sold into slavery as a consequence. He’s stripped of his given name, renamed Friday, and threatened to keep his true origin – that he’s a freeborn black boy – a secret. Told in the first person through Samuel’s eyes, readers get an often brutal, heart-breaking account of slavery in the last days of the Civil War.

My Name is Not Friday is a powerful book, at times difficult to read. The characters aren’t always likable, and they’re not always loathsome – that’s part of the struggle. It’s easy to hate the mustache-twirling, top hat-wearing villain, but when it’s a child who struggles with wanting to do the right thing – even when he doesn’t really fully understand the right thing – it’s not as easy. Friday is a sympathetic character, and the frustration of his situation comes across so strongly, that I had to put the book down a few times.

An important addition to shelves, My Name is Not Friday has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Suggested for middle school and high school readers for overall content. Put this on your shelves next to Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years A Slave and Alex Haley’s Roots, which returns as a mini-series on History Channel at the end of May.

From SLJ: An author’s note references historical documents, including Harriet Jacobs’s classic Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

 

Walking Home to Rosie Lee: A boy’s search for him mother, post-Civil War July 11, 2015

rosie leeWalking Home to Rosie Lee, by A. LaFaye, illus. by Keith D. Shepherd (Sept. 2015, Cinco Puntos Press), $7.95, ISBN: 9781941026052

Recommended for ages 6-10

The Civil War is finally over. The slaves have been freed. Young Gabe is searching for his mother, Rosie, who was sold before the war’s end. Told in the first person through Gabe’s perspective, Walking Home to Rosie Lee chronicles Gabe’s search for his mother.

This is a 2-hankie book, everyone. I’ve got three sons, and reading Gabe’s earnest voice describing his mother’s appearance, his potential joy and disappointment, his fear, just struck me right in the heart. It’s a beautiful story about the love of a son for his mother, and a small story within the larger story of the struggle that freed slaves went through, post-Civil War, to find their families and start their lives. We learn about the Freedman’s Bureaus, where freed slaves could go to find pictures and news of their relatives, and the importance of word of mouth – and sheer luck.

Keith D. Shepherd’s artwork is beautiful, truly enhancing the story with striking images like young Gabe, sleeping next to a woman he discovered on the search for his mother. Gabe, the focus for the book, is striking, with his huge, loving eyes. You want this boy to find his mother, you want everyone on that trail, that search, to be reunited with their families. The artwork gives this story a deeper pathos than words alone can reach.

rosie lee_6

Walking Home to Rosie Lee is a beautiful story of love and reunion. Put this one on your shelves, parents and educators, and read it often. Talk about it often.

Walking Home to Rosie Lee was a Stepping Stones Honor book, a 2012 IRA Teachers Choice Selection, 2012 Bank Street School of Education Best Books of the Year Selection, and a Nominee for the 2012 Kentucky Bluegrass Award. It will be published through Cinco Puntos Press in September 2015. There is an educator’s guide on the author’s website.

Take a look at a few more pictures from the book:

rosie lee_2     rosie lee_3     rosie lee_5

 

 

Book Review: Capt. Hook, by J.V. Hart (illus. by Brett Helquist) (HarperCollins, 2005) December 4, 2011

Recommended for ages 12+

Did you ever wonder what Captain Hook was like as a teenager, before he became Peter Pan’s nemesis? If so, this may be the book for you. Hook Screenwriter J.V. Hart adds to the Peter Pan mythology by giving readers the story of 15-year old James “Jas” Matthews’ eventful stint at the prestigious Eton College.

The bastard of a British lord and an unidentified mother and raised by a Shakespearean actress, James arrives at Eton with the odds against him. Colleger Arthur Darling targets him for bullying, but James is no shrinking violet. He defiantly pushes back against the bullies and in doing so empowers the other young Oppidans. He befriends fellow student “Jolly” Roger Davies and rises to the top of his class, aggravating Darling all the way. Dreaming of a place where he can be free that he calls “Neverland”, he plots the creation of his future. He also adopts a poisonous spider he names Electra, captures the heart of a Sultana and challenges Darling to a duel. Escaping Eton, James destroys all records of his existence in a fire; his father answers this by sending him out to sea – and that’s where the adventures really begin.

Hart was inspired to write this story based on Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie’s Eton speech, “Hook at Eton” and sprinkles homages to Barrie and Peter Pan throughout the book. A Series of Unfortunate Events illustrator Brett Helquist’s artwork is on display here at the chapter heads and some illustrations throughout the book.

My main problem with Capt. Hook is this – there is a lot of story to be contained in these pages and I found the pacing off at some points, the storytelling lags and at others, speeds by. On two occasions, Hart begins wrapping up the story rather than just that portion of the story, which threw me off as a reader. Jas himself is a well-drawn character and it was interesting to see him drawn as an antihero; I would be interested in seeing what led him to make the jump from the noncomformist antihero to the villain he ultimately becomes.

This book was suggested for ages 10 and up, but the violence, language and overall density of the material suggests a more mature reader – 12 and up – should pick this up and be his or her own judge.