It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading (#IMWAYR): The Port Chicago 50 & Nest

Visit  Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this each week.
I purchased Steve Sheinkin’s much heralded book for my classroom, and so many of my students wanted to read it that I was not able to do so myself until last week.  What an amazing read!  Here is Sheinkin himself, summarizing the story and reading an excerpt:
The struggle for civil rights is an ongoing one, and we are still made aware of the distance left to travel on this road by news events here and there across our country.  This struggle seems especially stark in our armed forces, where brave men have stepped up to fight for their country and make the ultimate sacrifice for its principles of freedom and equality for all, only to be told that their fair and just treatment is wholly dependent upon the color of their skin.
The Port Chicago 50 captured the interest of my students, and I can see why.  The first person accounts and photographs lend an immediacy to this story, which unfolds as its main characters (the young men who signed up to serve only to discover how little their patriotism was really valued) first suffer the consequences of institutionalized racism, and then fight to clear their names.  
I had not known about Thurgood Marshall’s role in this event, or of its link to the larger Civil Rights movement itself, and the strategizing that was involved was fascinating to read about. So, too, was reading about the political debate within the armed forces, as they debated and stalled integration even as the country and the service men themselves were moving forward.
The Port Chicago 50 will be an important selection in our nonfiction book clubs next year, as well a mentor text for our civil rights unit of study. I can’t wait to share it with my whole class next year.    
Esther Ehrlich’s Nest is a difficult book to describe, it certainly was an emotional roller coaster of an experience for me. Here’s the book jacket summary:
“Home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein; her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But when Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, the family struggles with tragic changes.

Chirp gets comfort from watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the road. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.”

Ehrlich is a lyrical writer, and Chirp is a character who is easy to imagine and love.  But, spoiler alertthe way Chirp’s mother handles her diagnosis of MS is  problematic for me, also a mother diagnosed with a chronic disease.  The relationship Chirp shares with her mother is achingly beautiful, as described by Ehrlich, full of the small moments and memories that parents weave together with their children from their earliest moments. This makes it all the more difficult to follow the psychological deterioration of Chirp’s mom, as she is unable to come to terms with her disease and slips away from the family into a world of guilt and fragility.  As a reader, and as a mom, I was so hoping that somehow Chirp’s mom could pull through, certainly her family was doing all it could to be brave and hopeful.  When she drowns herself (a la Virginia Woolf), I had to put the book down and cry.  
I loved Nest, and yet…  This would be a book that I would have to consider very carefully when handing out to my sixth graders, although I know they would love the story and be moved by its beautiful writing.   

9 thoughts on “It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading (#IMWAYR): The Port Chicago 50 & Nest

  1. I LOVED Port Chicago 50 (like every other Sheinkin book I’ve read). I listened to the audio, and it was great. I’m going to read Nest this summer, so I didn’t read your spoiler. 😉

  2. I loved both of these, but found it difficult to recommend Nest to any of my students, and I reviewed it positively! Although they read other books with very serious topics, this one felt like too much. I adored Port Chicago 50, think Steve Sheinkin is marvelous, and so do my students. Thanks, Tara!

  3. Thank you for your thoughts on Nest. It’s on my to read list, and I am thankful that I haven’t purchased it yet. We often talk about books as mentor texts for writing, but I think they are more importantly mentor texts for living. I will read this book, but just from your words, I’m certain I will think twice about it. Have you read The Meaning of Maggie? I really appreciated the way it portrayed living with disability. Here’s my take on it.

  4. Port Chicago 50 is one of the novels I asked our librarian to purchase for my new course elective and I am so excited to dig into it – especially now after reading your detailed review of it. I would most likely book talk this novel as well for my book club at the public library. The video of Steve Sheinkin was the clincher. 🙂 Hope you’re having a great time with your move and that you get a lot of reading done!

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