Friday, February 17, 2017

Two more books for black history month

The Underground Railroad: navigate the journey from slavery to freedom
by Judy Dodge Cummings; illus. by Tom Casteel
128 pages; ages 9-12
Nomad Press, 2017

This book opens with an explanation of what slavery is and what the abolitionist movement was. It will help readers glimpse what life was like for enslaved people, and how they fought the system that shackled them.

The cool thing about this book: it's like going on a field trip into the past. As with any expedition, you'll want to grab your notebook and pencil to record ideas, observations, and reactions as you work through the activities.

There are 20 activities, starting with how to interpret statistics. Though graphs and statistics help put huge numbers into perspective (11.3 million enslaved men, women, and children brought to the Americas) they are impersonal. So how do you put a human face on the people who suffered?

Other activities include making a hoe cake, creating your own abolitionist broadside, writing coded messages, and learning navigation skills. Through the reading, we get to know Frederick Douglass, Isaac Hopper and his society of abolitionists, black businessmen who put themselves in danger to help fugitives, and Harriet Tubman. Excerpts of primary sources and links to online primary sources help connect readers to historic events.

 Shackles From the Deep: tracing the path of a sunken slave ship
by Michael Cottman
128 pages; ages 10 & up
National Geographic Children's Books, 2017

Michael Cottman is an African-American journalist and deep sea diver. So when he learns of artifacts found in a shipwreck off the coast of Key West, artifacts from a slave ship, he wants to dive right in and learn more. His curiosity takes him on an excellent adventure to uncover the mystery surrounding the ship, Henrietta Marie.

The ship sank in the early 1700s, but it wasn't until 1972 that anyone had found it. And that discovery came about when a treasure hunter was seeking a different wreck. Instead of gold, he found shackles small enough to imprison a child.

When Cottman was invited to help with the underwater memorial at the site of the slave ship, he decided he wanted to learn more: who owned this ship? Who made the shackles and cannons? Who was the captain? The crew?

He wanted to retrace the route the Henrietta Marie took from London down to the west coast of Africa, and then to the Americas. He came to realize that slavery, for a ship captain back in the 1600s - 1700s was simply a business. African people weren't referred to as humans but as cargo. Not only is this a great adventure and mystery - it's a true story.

On Monday we'll join the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copies provided by publishers.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Garvey's Choice

Garvey's Choice
by Nikki Grimes
120 pages; ages 8-12
WordSong (Highlights), 2016

Garvey is a jokester, a bookworm, the loyalist of friends. He loves reading about space and listening to blues. (extra credit for loving Mr. Spock of Star Trek)

Garvey's dad wants to toss a football with his son. Or a basketball. Or even just spend time talkin' sports. He'd rather see Garvey running out for a pass - or just running around the block - than head in a book. Why can't Garvey be an athlete like his sister?

Garvey's mom understands; when things are quiet she pulls out the chess set and teaches him moves that will "make his brain strong". Joe understands - they've been buddies since they were little kids. Even the new kid, Manny, understands.

So when Garvey discovers his voice, will his family come to the concert?

This is a sweet story of growing up. It's told in a verse form that is short and sweet: tanka. Five lines, 31 syllables, like this: 5/7/5/7/7. Here's one that I particularly like:
Stories are breadcrumbs.
Just follow the trail of books
and you will find me
lost among the galaxies
of scorched stars and ships to Mars.
Photo credit: Aaron Lemen

Nikki Grimes is a poet and artist; she's written so many books that if you wrote down all their titles it would take nearly five pages! She was recently awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her body of work which has, over a period of years, made a lasting contribution to children's literature.

Check out her gallery of artwork at her website. And definitely check out some of her books from your library.

We'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.
Review copy provided by the publisher.


Friday, February 3, 2017

A Spy Called James - Black History and the American Revolution

A Spy Called James: the true story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War double agent
by Anne Rockwell; illus. by Floyd Cooper
32 pages; ages 7-11
Carolrhoda Books, 2016

We know the names of those leaders who led our emerging country through the Revolutionary War: Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Franklin, Jefferson... But, as Anne Rockwell writes, "America would not have won independence without the courage of thousands of people whose names never became famous."

One of those people was James, enslaved by a farmer named William Armistead. James had heard that an enslaved man could win freedom by fighting for the colonies, so Armistead allowed him to join Lafayette's army. Under orders, he dressed in tattered clothing and presented himself to Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold as a runaway slave. He would gather information and sneak it back to Lafayette.

James was so good at "serving" Cornwallis that the British general asked him to spy on the Americans. And so James began the dangerous job of being a double agent.

The war officially ended in 1783, but for James there was no victory. While blacks who served as soldiers were granted freedom, James's work as a spy didn't earn him that reward. Eventually Lafayette heard about this gross injustice and wrote a letter to the US government. James adopted the last name Lafayette and became a farmer.

There is great back matter, including a note in which Rockwell mentions that, as a free black man, James bought slaves to work his farm. I wanted to know more...

A thicker, heavier volume includes stories of more black men and women who played a role in America's Revolution:

Answering the Cry for Freedom
by Gretchen Woelfle; illus. by R. Gregory Christie
240 pages; ages 9-12
Calkins Creek, 2016

Gretchen Woelfle has gathered 13 stories of little-known African American preachers, writers, soldiers, organizers, and enslaved workers. Some escaped to freedom with the British; others fought for freedom at home.

Stories include James (the spy), poet Phyllis Wheatley, Ona Judge who was owned by Martha Washington, and John Kizelle who escaped to Nova Scotia and later worked to end the slave trade in Africa. After reading these stories you'll ask: Why haven't we heard about these courageous people before?

On Monday we'll join the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copies provided by publishers.