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“Wheels of Change” Book Reviews, Part 2

 | Jan 25, 2012

The International Reading Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) continues its celebration of life in motion in the second installment of the “Wheels of Change” series of reviews of books for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Grades K-3

Watkins, Angela F. (2011). My Uncle Martin’s words for America. New York: Abrams. Illus. by Eric Velasquez.

My Uncle Martin's Words for America book cover imageThe niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. provides an insider’s perspective with her version of how he used words to change the world. Watkins provides perspective on how far-reaching those changes have been by beginning with accomplishments that many of us are likely to take for granted such as the election of an African American president and the appointment of a Supreme Court justice as well as African-American film makers and television hosts. How much progress toward social justice and civil rights and just how far the nation has actually have come since the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation are made clearer because of the examples. The text highlights the words that mattered to King and those that comprised his message, including love, nonviolence, justice, freedom, brotherhood, and equality, while describing the protesting, marching, speaking, and writing that would make a change in practices and laws, effectively insuring that civil rights would be protected by law. The illustrations are appealing and eye-catching, showing the human side to this famous figure. Back matter includes notes from the author and illustrator as well as a timeline showing how these important words and the protests they inspired resulted in changes in the nation’s law. A glossary and additional references add to the appeal of this picture book which would fit well with a text set using Doreen Rappaport's Martin's Big Words or Watkins’s earlier title about the human side of her uncle, My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart (2010).
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grades 4-7

Katz, Susan. (2012). The president’s stuck in the bathtub: Poems about the presidents. Illus. by Robert Neubecker. New York: Clarion Books.

For historical perspective on the changes that have swept this country since its founding fathers first wrote the Declaration of Independence, readers may want to turn to this poetry anthology dedicated to the nation’s Presidents. Savvy teachers will quickly regard this collection as having many possibilities for integrating social studies and language arts. The 43 poems are short, informative, and often humorous. There is a poem for every man who has assumed the nation’s highest office, insuring political parity since every President gets his just desserts with a send-off or two. The poems are accompanied by some little-known fact or quirk with which kids will love regaling others, such as Abe Lincoln's proclivity for storing notes in his stovepipe hat, Ulysses S. Grant's distaste for hunting or, in the title poem, William H. Taft's need for a much larger bathtub than the White House provided. These footnotes often make connections from one President to another as well. The India ink and digital color illustrations are vivid and depict the human side of the Presidents as effectively as the poetry. Back matter includes brief notes and a quotation from each President. A quick refresher course for adults who may have slept through their American history class, this volume might kindle an interest in history young readers especially during this election year.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Touga, Shelley. (2012). Little Rock Girl 1957: How a photograph changed the fight for integration. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books.

Little Rock Girl 1957 book cover imageUsing the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Will Counts on the cover, this book brings the school integration movement to readers of all ages although the author started this book with the intention of bringing the civil rights era to middle grade readers. On September 4, 1947, nine African American students took the first steps into their Little Rock, Arkansas high school as part of court-ordered school integration. They were met by an angry mob intent on stopping them from entering the building and the Arkansas National Guard whose job it was to insure that they could do so. The author has used interviews and photographs to capture that first day of school for these brave teens and the days following to show how America crept forward to create equality in the nation’s public schools. These stalwart students came to be known as The Little Rock Nine—Elizabeth Eckford is shown on the book’s cover trying to enter the school alone—and changed the color of the faces inside the public schools of those days.
- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Grades 8-12

Edwardson, Debby Dahl. (2011). My Name is Not Easy. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

My Name is Not Easy book cover imageOne of the finalists for the National Book Award this year, My Name Is Not Easy tells the story of native Alaskan brothers as they are sent to the Sacred Heart Catholic boarding school from 1960 to 1965. Although this story is a novel, Edwardson bases her story on actual experiences from the Inupiaq culture as they sent their children to be educated. Readers will sense the dramatic contrast and similarities in cultures as boys and girls from Eskimo, Indian, and white families are displaced from their homes and must share their new living arrangements at the boarding school, which is sometimes abusive. Set in the era of burgeoning civil rights in the lower forty-eight states, the author’s story provides insight into the rights of indigenous people in Alaska. Feelings of loneliness, displacement, confusion, isolation and occasionally a bit of fun are shared by these young people. Hear the author read from her book during the National Book Award ceremony: http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2011_ypl_edwardson.html
- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Whitaker, Alecia. (2012). The queen of Kentucky. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

The Queen of Kentucky book cover imageLike so many freshmen, Ricki Jo Winstead, 14, decides to take advantage of the fresh start high school offers. She changes her name to the more worldly Ericka, buys a new wardrobe, and studies fashion magazines to achieve a new look. Additionally, she attaches herself to four attractive, popular freshmen girls, and tries out for the cheerleading squad. Before she knows it, she’s crushing on the aptly named Wolf, the flirtatious basketball star in her Spanish class. He teases her a lot, but sometime the teasing contains barbs that hurt her feelings. Even though her parents are supportive and Luke, her next door neighbor and best friend, insists that she doesn’t need to change, Ericka gives in to her own insecurities and trades off her self-identity for a place among her new friends. Social pressure causes her to behave in ways Ricki Jo never would have, and Ericka comes dangerously close to losing the good parts of herself. Although this book offers important lessons, it also contains many hilarious scenes including one night spent drinking that ends in a cow pattie. Clearly, you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. At least in the case of Ericka, readers will say, “Thank goodness.” Whether she goes by Ricki Jo or Ericka, this is one delightful heroine who will touch readers’ hearts and remind them to be true to themselves.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University

 

 


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