I saw this book displayed in our library and was immediately curious:
but when I read the quote on the inside jacket copy, I knew I would have to read it: “You don’t have to be six foot and male to have a brain and know how to use it.” As my sixth graders would say, “Duh!”
In Count on Us: American Women in the Military, Amy Nathan chronicles all the women who have served in our armed forces, from Revolutionary times to today – and her book is a treasure trove of stories about brave women who have served as soldiers-in-disguise, spies, pilots, engineers and in so many other capacities.
Divided by time period, Nathan’s narrative is filled with anecdotes about specific women and their contributions as well as a more general view of women’s roles in the armed forces in wartime America.
I especially enjoyed reading about the unexpected – Susie King Taylor, for example, who won her freedom from slavery in 1862 when Union troops took over Georgia. Only 14, she signed on as a laundress in the Union Army then taught black soldiers how to rad cleaned and test fired their rifles and nursed their wounds. Or Commander Susan Fink, who persevered in her dream to drive a battleship, and saw it come true during the Persian Gulf War. Filled with photographs, this is a wonderful addition to our nonfiction library.
This stunning biography, Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey by Gary Golio is another picture book must for our biography section:
Coltrane’s journey from his shy boyhood days in North Carolina to musical apprenticeship and success in his own right is beautifully told. Golio allows the reader to experience Coltrane’s lonely adolescence, when much in his life changed, which helps us understand what drove this musical genius to alcohol and drug addiction later in his life. As the title suggests, Coltrane was a truth seeker, and his saxophomne became the medium through which to explore his own sadness and search for spiritual meaning. Rudy Gutierrez’s stunning illustrations bring Coltrane’s story alive – they are hopeful, moody, bereft and joyful: they capture the various phases in Coltrane’s life. This is definitely a book for our biography section.
In the same vein, Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, is a wonderful resource for our biography genre study. The jacket copy reads:
Hand in Hand presents the stories of ten bold men, each one a strong link in a chain that spans American history. ..each man is brought to life through his childhood influences, the time and places in which he lived, his motivations and accomplishments, and the legacy he left for the next link in the freedom chain. When woven together, the individual profiles of these men tell one inspiring story – the story of triumph.
Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B DuBois, A. Philip Randolph Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama are written about in a moist engaging way. The narrative is rich in details both important and interesting, with a poem to serve as an introduction to each of these great men, and Brian Pinkney’s beautiful paintings add much to the experience of this book.
I also read two YA chapter books, first True Colors by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
Ten year-old Blue lives in northern Vermont with Hannah – who found her wrapped in a quilt on her doorstep on the very same day as Pearl Harbor. All her life, Blue has longed to find the story of her mama, and how she came to be left in the care of Hannah, who she loves. One summer, she begins to piece together the mystery and it leads her to discoveries about herself and the town she thought she knew like the back of her hand. Told from Blue’s perspective, this funny, heart warming story is genuinely enjoyable. My sixth graders will love the characters, the scrappy rural Vermont setting, and the mystery at the center of the story. As did I.
The second chapter book I finished was Gordon Korman’s Ungifted.
This book has much in common with Korman’s Schooled – which my kids have loved year after year. It is also told in many perspectives, in Korman’s witty, irreverent style. The jacket synoposis reads:
The word gifted has never been applied to a kid like Donovan Curtis. It’s usually more like Don’t try this at home. So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he’s finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students.
It wasn’t exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn’t be a more perfect hideout for someone like him. That is, if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level. And that becomes harder and harder as the students and teachers of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything). But after an ongoing experiment with a live human (sister), an unforgettably dramatic middle-school dance, and the most astonishing come-from-behind robot victory ever, Donovan shows that his gifts might be exactly what the ASD students never knew they needed.
Donovan is a wonderful character, as are some of the kids he meets in his new school. But the mix up scenario feels forced, and the story just did not hang together for me. The multiple perspectives proved to be a distraction, and the inclusion of Donovan’s pregnant sister as a stand-in health teacher just did not work for me as a reader. So…I was, all in all, rather disappointed.