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!

 

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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.

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.