Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes

dyamonde-daniel“Dyamonde liked even numbers. In fact, Dyamonde liked numbers, period.  Math made sense to her…Math was something you could always count on.  Well, mostly.

For a long time after her mom and dad got divorced, Dyamonde hated math because all she could see was subtraction.  Mom’s voice minus Dad’s.  Two for breakfast instead of three.  Monday night TV minus the football.  It just didn’t feel right, at first.  But things were a little better now.  Dyamonde plus her mom equaled two, and two was a nice even number and even numbers rule.”

Y’all, you are going to love Dyamonde Daniel.  She’s new in town, living in a different neighborhood than she did before her parents divorced, but she’s settling in lickety-split. She knows everybody in the neighborhood already!  Her big concern is Free, the new kid.  Why is he so grumpy?  Why does he say he can’t read when she knows very well that he can-in fact, she saw him reading on the playground?

Dyamonde’s determined to figure out Free.  She knows the little kids are scared of him, ’cause he seems so crabby, but she suspects that he’s not as grumpy as he looks.  They might even be friends!

Nikki Grimes has done it again-given us loveable, relatable, real-feeling characters with positive solutions to troubles they encounter.  Fans of Clementine, Junie B. Jones, and Babymouse should find a friend in Dyamonde.

If you liked this, why not try:

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs series by Crystal Allen

Ruby and the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes

Sunny Holiday by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

Nikki and Deja by Karen English

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson


Photographs locomotion

There’s two of me and Lili.

We were little them, dressed up at Easter time

Big smiles-me with two front teeth missing

and my head shaved Easter clean.

Here’s Mama and Daddy dancing,

Mama’s blurry foot lifted up in the air.

Look how she’s laughing.

When I look at the picture I can hear it.

Here’s the four of us

Everybody smiling at the camera but

me. I’m looking away from it

frowning

Like I see something coming

that ain’t good.”

Lonnie’s parents died when he was seven, and now he and his sister live in different foster homes. He gets to see his sister, though, and his foster mom turns out to be a really nice lady, even if he was afraid of her at first.  Still, he longs for his life back before the fire that killed his mom and dad.  However, he’s learning a new way to cope.  Now Lonnie is eleven, and he’s learning about poetry in school.  His teacher says it helps people sort out their feelings.  He writes so many poems, the good kind of poems-those natural, thoughtful poems that feel like breathing-that it fills up a book.  Lonnie’s story.  You’ll love it even if you don’t love poetry, I promise.

Teachers will love the book’s natural fit for teaching forms of the poem: students will be introduced to the sonnet, haiku, and free verse as Lonnie learns them.  Students will love the book because it is a concise 100 pages, and of verse, at that: it’s an easy triumph for young readers who are exhausted by marathon reads. I love it because the poems are just right: accessible, full of concentrated emotion, and well-written.  I also love it because of Lonnie’s capacity for rejoicing in a world that hurt him badly.  If you’ve got a bit of time, I invite you to see what the world of an eleven-year-old poet in foster care looks like.

Happy reading!

Author’s website

Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion. New York: Speak, 2003. 100 pp. Ages 11-14.

If you liked this book, you’re in luck! There’s another, called Peace, Locomotion, and it looks great.  Actually, here is Jacqueline Woodson’s whole long list of books, just in case you’d like to see what other things she’s been up to.  If you are really into the poetry novels, try Make Lemonade.  I just reviewed the second one in the trilogy!

 

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

“The TV says the governor has asked the president to declare a state of emergency.  The National Guard has been called up.  Now the breathless weatherman is saying the hurricane will hit Mississippi and Louisiana. Both.

I’m feeling ANXIOUS: FULL OF ANXIETY. GREATLY CONCERNED, ESPECIALLY ABOUT SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE OR UNKNOWN.

I’m feeling more anxious because I looked up unfathomable in my pocket dictionary.  UNFATHOMABLE: BEYOND UNDERSTANDING, IMPOSSIBLE TO MEASURE.

In math, I learned everything can be measured.  Air, water, wind. Volume. Velocity. Depth.

So why not a hurricane? There, I’ve said it.”

Lanesha lives with her adoptive grandmother, Mama Ya-Ya, in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.  The pair may not be blood relatives, but are closer than any family-they are all each other has in the world.  Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya also share powers: Lanesha can see ghosts, and Mama Ya-Ya gets visions about the future.   When Mama Ya-Ya’s dream visions predict a hurricane, Lanesha tries hard to prepare for the coming storm.  She’s nervous, though; Mama Ya-Ya can’t fully understand the end of her visions about the storm, and the news anchors say it will be the worst they’ve had in decades.  When Hurricane Katrina finally hits the city, Lanesha has to be brave in order to protect everything that she loves.

I’d been wanting to read this book for so long, and it was even better than I expected!  Jewell Parker Rhodes’ depiction of the love inherent in Lanesha’s assembled family is so tender.  Mama Ya-Ya, Lanesha, and later, a stray dog and TaShon, Lanesha’s first real friend, are warmly devoted to each other, despite the stresses of their lives. Lanesha herself is a brilliant young woman; she’s compassionate, inquisitive, and wants to grow up to become an engineer.  I especially loved her passion for science and mathematics; she’s advanced enough that a teacher of hers gives her the teacher’s edition of a pre-algebra textbook for her to work through independently. It’s great to see a female character excelling in math, especially when presented in such a natural way.  Way to defy a stereotype!

And really, that is what this book is about-we all were exposed to so much press about the violence and poverty in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that an untrue and unfair depiction of the city’s poor developed.  Jewell Parker Rhodes gently dismantles this image.  For example, Lanesha has the ability to see ghosts. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a ghost story, and the ghosts are benign or helpful, so younger readers are still good to go with this story.)  At school, she sees the ghost of an older classmate, one who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time during a gas station robbery-a subtle reminder that assuming all shooting deaths are gang-related, and that poor people are violent is just that, an assumption, and not true.  The inhabitants of Lanesha’s poverty-stricken neighborhood are humanized in this story; they look after each other and share their few resources.  This Ninth Ward isn’t ridden with senseless violence, neither before, nor after the hurricane.

The magical realism in this story (Mama Ya-Ya’s visions and Lanesha’s ghosts) is seamlessly integrated with the actual events of the hurricane, and it gave it another layer of appeal.  It also kept the book from being just a recounting of the storm.  I loved how it was used to connect Lanesha with her mother, who died in childbirth. This is just a lovely book, on so many levels.  Not only does it give some good perspective on the hurricane’s devastation, appropriate for a younger audience, it also demonstrates the legitimacy of non-traditional families and deconstructs stereotypes about young women and poor minorities. Rhodes tells us a story about the strength of love, even amidst destruction, and it is absolutely beautiful!

Happy Reading!

Rhodes, Jewell Parker.  Ninth Ward. Little, Brown: New York, 2010. 217 pp. Ages 10-14.

Author’s website: http://jewellparkerrhodes.com

Normally, when I’m reading, recommendations just come to me and I feel what books would be similar.  However, I don’t know of others so much like this, though I wish I did, and I’m getting ready to explore.  Zora and Me, is a wonderful one that I have read, a former winner of the  Coretta Scott King award.  It has the same feel of warmth and family-love, but it is set in the deep south during the Jim Crow era, so it is more historical.  We could also try Turtle in Paradise or Three Times Lucky.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

“Rules and Things Number 29: When You Wake Up and Don’t Know for Sure Where You’re At and There’s a Bunch of People Standing Around You, It’s Best to Pretend You’re Still Asleep Until You Can Figure Out What’s Going On and What You Should Do”

Bud (not Buddy, never Buddy) is an orphan, or so he thinks.  His mom died, and she never talked about his dad.  In the middle of the Great Depression, life isn’t easy for anyone, much less for orphans.  When Bud’s prank gets him in trouble at the group home, and he get sent back to the orphanage, he decides it’s best for him to set out on his own.  He tries his hand at train-hopping, eats out of a can in a hobo camp, and is tricked by a mustard sandwich into accepting a car ride that will change his life forever.  See, he’s trying to find the legendary bandleader, H. E. Calloway, the man he believes to be his father, and all he knows is that he has to get to Grand Rapids.  After that, he figures, things will work themselves out.

This book has been on my to-read list since a classmate gave a book talk on it last year, and I’m so pleased to finally have read it.  It’s hilarious! You wouldn’t think that the plight of an orphan runaway during the Great Depression would allow for much levity, but Bud’s constant inner narrative is insightful and droll.  My favorite was his long list of  “Rules and Things”, which are all quite true, and you’ll be happy to read things that you’ve thought, but never been brave enough to say.  Honestly, in setting and resolution, it reminded me of Wonderstruck, which was a really pleasant surprise for me; it would be nice to read these two books right after one another.

This book is written for upper elementary and middle schoolers; it is a quick, funny read with substance.  I enjoyed it a lot!  I think it would be a great read-aloud classroom book: interesting to both male and female students, and set in a historical time period that would be fun to study.

Happy Reading!

Website: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/christopherpaulcurtis

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud, Not Buddy. Random House: New York, 1999. 243 pp.

If you like this, please, please try Wonderstruck!

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

“Miss O’Brien looked at me-I didn’t see her looking at me but I knew she was.  She wanted to know who I was.  Who was Steve Harmon?  I wanted to open my shirt and tell her to look into my heart to see who I really was, who the real Steve Harmon was.

That was what I was thinking, about what was in my heart and what that made me.  I’m just not a bad person.  I know that in my heart I am not a bad person.”

Hi from library school in Montreal, friends! Look what I have for you: a fast read, an incredible story, written by an author you should definitely get to know, if you don’t already. You are going to go crazy about this one!

Steve Harmon got mixed up in some bad business.  Felony business.  He’s a 16-year-old who grew up in Harlem, and he agreed to be the lookout for a friend who was planning to rob a drugstore.  The robbery went south, the owner was shot and killed, and Steve finds himself looking at 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted.   The story follows his trial, from his own perspective.  He talks about prison, and his deepest fear: everyone looks at his brown face and hears about the crime, and thinks he is a monster.  Deep inside, he’s afraid that everyone might be right.

See all those shiny medals on the cover?  Those are the biggies: Printz, National Book Award Finalist,  and Coretta Scott King award.  Plus, Walter Dean Myers has been awarded the Margaret Edwards Award, the one given to honor lifetime achievement.  That’s only handed out to one author, once a year.  Big stuff, guys!  Of course, there are amazing books and authors that go unrewarded out there, too, but the awards are a great guide if you’re not sure what you want to read.

So, awards aside, the beauty of this book is its gritty story, simpler language, and unconventional format (a pastiche of journal entries and film script).  The format makes it especially appealing to ELLs, or older students who may need a really good hook and a fast-paced read, as well as anyone not looking for a straight-up, novel-style read. ( However, while it may be a quick read, Myers definitely does not sacrifice emotional impact or plot.) I finished it over the course of a week, but that was because I was interrupted by an international move, and after the furniture-assembling, apartment-cleaning, grocery-st0re-finding-missions, and hours-long Skype phone calls, all I could do was read for a few minutes and fall asleep with my cheek smashed into the pages.  Thanks for being patient-I really did want to get this finished and share it with you!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website :http://www.walterdeanmyers.net

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. 281 pp (but it reads quickly!). Ages 13 and up.

Yummy by G. Neri

“I tried to figure out who the real Yummy was.  The one who stole my lunch money? Or the one who smiled when I shared my candy with him?  I wondered if I grew up like him, would I have turned out the same?”

Yummy is based on a true story, which makes it even more tragic.  Yummy, an eleven year old boy in a rough Chicago neighborhood,starts running with a gang.  While trying to impress older gang members and develop a reputation, he accidentally shoots and kills a fourteen-year-old girl.  This graphic novel, told from the perspective of an acquaintance of Yummy’s, examines the “why?” of the events.  Stark black and white illustrations give the novel a gritty feel.  I thought it was incredible! It won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award-richly deserved.

Author’s website:

http://www.gregneri.com/

Illustrator’s website:

http://www.randyduburke.com/

Neri, G. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. New York: Lee and Low Books, 2010. 94 pp.

Happy Reading!

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

“We were up against a force more powerful than white folks and more lethal than a gator king. The color of a person’s skin alone could make one woman worth protecting, while it made another man fit to die.”

Before I took my African-American Literature course this semester, I had never heard of Zora Neale Hurston.  But, soon after I read one of her pieces, she appeared in another class-my Literary Criticism class.  And then, one of the students who took my reading interest survey mentioned Their Eyes Were Watching God, another book by Hurston.  Finally, here she is, in fiction form, in this beautiful book by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon.  It’s not a biography, but it’s been approved by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust, which means they gave the storyline and details the thumbs-up, and it’s the only book about Hurston that has ever gotten it before.

Zora Neale Hurston was heavily involved in the Harlem Renaissance, a writer who was very interested in the lives of African-Americans after the Reconstruction.  She wrote fiction, anthropological papers, a travelogue from her times in Haiti and Jamaica, and collected folk-tales from African-Americans at the turn of the 20th century.  This book, Zora and Me, isn’t written by her, but instead, it is a fictional story about her as a young child, growing up in Eatonville, Florida.

I know I picked a really serious quote from the story, and I don’t want you to be misled: there are very light and tender moments in the text, too.  Well, it’s pretty hard to categorize this book.  Let’s start with the mystery part:  Zora is a fantastic storyteller,  and her best friends Teddy and Carrie (as well as everyone else in town) get pulled into her stories.  Zora is convinced that a reclusive local is actual the Gator King, haunting the swimming hole and transforming back and forth from vicious alligator to human.  When an elderly woman falls while fishing at the hole, Zora sees it as proof of the monster’s existence.  Shortly afterwards, a man turns up dead, and Zora is convinced.

It gets dark at this point in the story, and we start untangling the gator mystery and instead find nothing but pure racism and hate.  I almost wished it was a horrible alligator monster, because the prejudice in the story hits the children hard, shattering their innocence.

That said, the story has these mellow and tender overtones, especially when describing the friendships and family of the main characters.  I really liked that part, and it lends a dreamy feel to the novel.  The book seems lit up with fireflies (I’m really having trouble describing the atmosphere–maybe one of you will read it, too, and help me out!)-a little magical, a little creepy, a lot of complexities centered around race, family, home, and growing up.  The book seems tailored to reading out loud, and is sure to spark a discussion on racism and hatred.

Happy Reading!

Book website: http://www.zoraandme.com

Bond, Victoria, and T.R. Simon.  Zora and Me. Candlewick: MA, 2010. 170 pp. Ages 12 and up.

If you liked this book, try One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, or Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm.