February 24, 2018

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History—and a Dash of Poetry | Nonfiction Notes, January 2014

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The nonfiction titles highlighted this month feature individuals, events, and policies germane to our nation’s history—and a dash of poetry.

sarahBolden, Tonya. Searching for Sarah Rector. (Abrams, 2014; Gr 6 Up).
Sarah Rector’s story began long before she was born with the event that came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Along with members of the five Native American tribes who were forcibly removed from the American South in the 1830s, were the people of African descent that they enslaved. Those who survived that dangerous journey were relocated to “Indian Country” west of the Mississippi River. In 1866, under pressure from the U.S. government, the Five Tribes made the blacks among them citizens of their nations. As such, these individuals and their children were able to apply for the land allotments that were being carved up in the 1890s—some of which held oil, creating fortunes for a landowners, including an 11-year-old girl. See our interview with the author in today’s issue of Curriculum Connections for more on Sarah Rector’s fascinating story.

stageHopkins, Lee Bennett. All the World’s A Stage. (Creative Editions, 2013; Gr 4 Up) Illus. by Guy Billout.
Shakespeare turns 450 this year, and readers can expect more books published on him and his oeuvre than usual. Here Hopkins takes a unique approach to the Bard’s work by showcasing a selection of poems by a variety of poets, grouped under categories outlined in the “Seven Ages of Man” monologue from As You Like It. Along with the monologue, 21 selections are featured in sections from “Entrances” to “Exits.” Works include a traditional Nigerian lullaby, and poems penned by both classic and contemporary poets (Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, X.J. Kennedy, Janet Wong, etc.). Art by Guy Billout features stark, almost surrealistic stage settings, highlighting the ultimately solitary journey of individuals through life.

Angel IslandFreedman, Russell. Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain. (Clarion, 2014. Gr 5-9).
In May 1970, just before the building was scheduled for demolition, a California state park ranger came across walls of handwritten poetry in what was an abandoned barracks on Angel Island. The poems and Freedman’s book tell the story of the hundreds of thousands of people who traveled through the Angel Island Immigration Station from 1910-1940. As School Library Journal’s reviewer noted it “was a bleak, unwelcoming introduction to the new land, and for many immigrants, primarily those from China, it was also a detention center” where they experienced “lengthy interviews and invasive medical exams.” In addition to detailing the immigration process for these recent arrivals, Freedman discusses U.S. immigration policies and what life was like for these individuals once they cleared the station. Support material includes numerous black-and white archival  photos, artwork, and reproductions.

jeffersonKalman, Maira. Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything. (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks., 2014; Gr 3-6).
Kalman follows her picture-book biography of Abraham Lincoln, Looking at Lincoln, with one on the third president of the United States. As she did in Lincoln, the personal details she offers about Jefferson (red hair, freckles) and his life and enthusiasms (his love of his garden, his insatiable reading, and quirky habits), draw a picture of a man that young readers will be able to relate to, but whose “monumental flaws” are also acknowledged. Painterly images in bold colors depict Jefferson, his possessions, and his scenes from his life. Endnotes supply additional details on Monticello, the Declaration of Independence, Sally Hemings, the Revolutionary War, etc. For more on Thomas Jefferson and other recent titles on presidents, see Presidents’ Day in today’s issue of Curriculum Connections.

castleMacauley, David. Castle. (Houghton Mifflin, 2013; Gr 4-8).
Cathedral. (Houghton Mifflin, 2013; Gr 4-8).
As Macauley notes in his preface to each title, both Castle and Cathedral had been in print for more than 30 years when he was approached by his publisher to “refresh” them. Instead of adding color to his earlier pen-and-ink sketches, Macauley embarked on a year-and-a-half project to rework the original images of the step-by-step construction of these magnificent structures “from scratch.” In addition to color, some cross-sections have been replaced with 3-D views, visual sequences “clarified,” and information updated where possible. As the author notes, “Stories about architecture are stories about people. And these two structures remind us that when people work together in the pursuit of some grand scheme, extraordinary things are possible.”

portSheinkin, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. (Roaring Brook, 2014; Gr 6 Up).
In his latest title, master storyteller Sheinkin relates the events of July 17, 1944 at a port in San Francisco Bay. On that day a massive explosion killed 320 servicemen, many of them African Americans assigned to loading ammunition onto ships—one of the few jobs outside of a laundry room or a kitchen that black sailors were assigned during that period. The men had never been trained to handle ammunition and it was common knowledge that officers would often race their “teams” to see which could load a ship faster. Later, when the survivors of the blast realized they were being sent back to the ships to load ammunition again, many refused. Incorporating quotes from the sailors stationed at the port, excerpts from the transcript of the trial of the 50 charged with mutiny, and information on government policies toward African American servicemen, Sheinkin examines both the blatant injustices surrounding the event and the trial and their impact. Detailed source notes and bibliographies are included. Introduce this title to students along with Tanya Lee Stone’s Courage Has No Color: the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers (Candlewick, 2013; Gr 6 Up).

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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