Sunday, February 24, 2008

Do The Math, Secrets, Lies, and Algebra, by Wendy Lichtman

Tess loves math. She likes the way it is predictable and leads to single, correct answers. She maps her friendships with Venn diagrams and she thinks through problems with her peers by considering what makes someone's power over another person less than, greater than, or equal to.

When her mom discloses some suspicions about the death of her coworker's wife, Tess is sure that the single, correct answer to this situation is to inform the police. Her mother and father disagree with this solution and Tess has promised not to talk to anyone about it. She is trapped in a problem with an answer that is "D.N.E."--"does not exist".

The characters in this novel were thoughtfully developed and even though Tess has a particular, mathematical way of viewing the world, she still has many universal middle-schoolish struggles. She's trying to define her own morals and she relies on her best friends to help her figure things out.

The resolution was a surprise and the situations that push Tess to make difficult choices keep the plot moving right along. Even though some of the math references are beyond sixth grade, I think many of my students will enjoy this book.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

We Are the Ship, by Kadir Nelson

I love Kadir Nelson as an artist, and in this book the man proves he's got some writing talent as well.

This is a non-fiction account of the Negro Baseball Leagues, and black baseball players from the 1800s on.

You know how some topics can be mildly boring when you first consider them, but when someone who is super passionate pulls up a chair and talks to you, it's impossible not to develop your own interest and appreciation. Okay. That's how this book was for me. It's not as if I have zero interest in black baseball history, but Nelson is so enthralled by his subject and so loving in his writing and art that it's impossible not to get swept up in the story and carried along by the husky, fierce energy. They loved the game. They were ballplayers. And theirs is a rich and complex story. They were privileged, relative to many black folks of their time, but they were victims of a racist country that wouldn't let them play and get paid with their white peers.

The text is told with a collective voice, with lots of "we" and "our" pronouns, as if one of the ballplayers is telling the story. It was a little awkward, this point of view, but I liked it a lot better than a third person, dry, "objective" voice. I imagined sitting on a porch, next to the rocking chair of one of these players now in his nineties, as he slowly told me this amazing swath of American history. My dad is a sports fan and history buff and it was because of him that Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were not completely unfamiliar names to me. Today, at Sunday dinner, I'm going to loan him my just-finished library copy of this fine book.