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 alert, the 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.