Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jackie Robinson: Strong Inside and Out

This biography introduces children to an amazing man, who was not only a phenomenal baseball player, but who also had the inner strength to endure heaps of abuse as he single-handedly broke the color barrier of professional sports. The story of Jackie Robinson's life is set amidst the historical backdrop of racial segregation. When Jackie was a young boy, his family encountered discrimination when they moved to a recently integrated neighborhood in California. Jackie dropped out of college because he wouldn't have any realistic job prospects, even with a college degree. And the racial discrimination continued as Jackie served as a soldier in WWII. Although true to the history of racism and race based discrimination in the United States, it is Jackie's inner strength, his unbelievable ability to play great baseball in the midst of such hatred, that become this book's focus and also became Jackie Robinson's most important legacy. Jackie Robinson was not the best African American baseball player in 1947; there were more experienced and more skilled players in the Negro Leagues. But, just as the Brooklyn Dodger's manager Branch Rickey bet, Jackie Robinson was an athlete who also had the strength of character to "not fight back".

The pacing of this book, along with plenty of pictures, both historical and contemporary, kept my fourth and fifth grade readers very engaged. The book's baseball lingo and its historical context required that several of my students be given additional background information to support their comprehension. Sidebars tell the story of Roberto Clemento, the first Latino player to be elected to the hall of fame, and the story of Satchel Paige, a hall of fame pitcher who spent most of his career in the Negro Leagues. The final pages are a recent interview with Jackie's daughter Sharon, which makes immediate the fact that this story may be accompanied by many black and white photos, but it was only two or three generations back that countless sports fans watched in admiration as Jackie Robinson played major league baseball.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Harry Sue

Harry Sue is one of the best books I've read in 2006. Super tender, super funny, and very engaging. I don't think I'll ever assign it or use it with elementary aged kids (drugs and violence), but I've given up worrying about that all the time--it was worth the read for my own sweet pleasure. I certainly hope many of my former students, now middle-schoolers, however, will find it on their own.

Harry Sue is planning to become a con so she can join her mom in prison. She speaks con-speak, has a repitoire of con-looks, and has a crew she runs with, including a best friend who is also serving "hard time." She lives with an extremely abusive guardian and is all set for her life of crime--but try as she might, Harry Sue can't quite turn her tender heart evil.

The interacial couple composed of a 30 year old Sudanese man who cooks and his wife, a wild-spirited white woman was only icing on the cake of this wonderful story. Harry Sue's love of the book even made me want to read the original Wizard of Oz. Thank you Madame Esme, for the rec. Posted by Picasa

Mr. Chickee's Funny Money

This is the first of Chirtopher Paul Curtis' books that I predict my nine and ten year old students could handle on their own. The themes aren't as heavy as his other novels, and the content is totally appropriate for late elementary school kids. The voice of the narrator, though, is very reminiscent of Bud (not Buddy) and Kenny (from the Watsons go to Birmingham). Phrases like "crying like a kindergarten baby" made me fondly remember those other two narrators.

In this story old, blind Mr. Chickee gives young Steven a very large bill that looks like genuine US mint. The ensuing cascade of events take Steven, his family, and his friends on a wild adventure that ends in tragic comedy. The plot could be a comic book for all its wild turns and exaggerated characters, including a talking dictionary. There's also some very fascinating clues centered on true information about James Brown, The Godfather of Soul.

Can't wait for the paperback edition so I can assign it to reading groups! Posted by Picasa