"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Black History Month... Book reviews

February is two things around here: Black History Month and the beginning of the library inventory. Unfortunately, neither of these activities really engage the students. For Black History Month I highlight books written by and about issues related to blacks in America. Sadly few of these books ever circulate. I created what I thought was quite a fetching display for my book case on this theme. It drew a little attention, but by teachers, not students.  Sigh.

The task of doing library inventory forces me to touch every book at least once a year. This year when passing through the Civil Rights section (Dewey 323.4) I found myself lingering over several of the books and determined that I would read as many of them as I could in February.

Linda Brown, You are Not Alone: the Brown v. Board of Education Decision edited by Joyce Carol Thomas. Eleven authors contribute a story, a poem, or an essay on the Brown v. Board of Education decision and how it affected their life. Jerry Spinelli, Lois Lowry, and Michael Cart were three of these authors. Some of the stories were autobiographical, the authors recalling a time in their life when they had to confront racism in their life or their community. The essays were more general focusing on aspects of Brown v Board of Education one might not have thought about before. One such thought was presented by Ishmael Reed in the collection. He argued that Brown v Board of Education has had many good outcomes but it has also had many bad outcomes for African-Americans. One of the bad outcomes, according to Reed, has been the disintegration of the black communities and businesses. I have never heard this argument before and it gave me pause to think.

As much as I wanted to like this collection, and I did like a few of the stories, I generally found the collection, as a whole, to be wanting. First of all I had no idea who the intended audience was for the book. Lowry ad Spinelli generally write for middle grade students and it felt like their stories were targeted toward that population. Some of the essays, though written at a lower level, clearly seemed to target adult readers. I found myself to be more perplexed than enlightened by the book with one exception. The essay by Michael Cart called "Mike and Me" was about Mr. Cart's friendship with the librarian Michael Printz. Mr. Pritz was such a great guy the American Library Association named a book award in his honor, the Printz Award. I enjoyed reading about the friendship between Cart and Printz, but it wasn't really the point of the story or the book. Skip this one.

Scottsboro Alabama: a Story in Linoleum Cuts by Lin Shi Khan and Tony Perez, edited by Andrew Lee. Back in the mid-1930s nine black boys were arrested for raping two white women. Even though one of the women recanted her story, all but one of the boys, the thirteen-year-old, were found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence of these 'Scottsboro Boys' is widely viewed as a form of "legal" lynching, meaning that even though due process was followed, justice was not served. While this case brought international attention, two artists, Khan and Perez created artwork in the form of linoleum cuts in an effort to help sway the political powers to free the Scottsboro boys.
"The work is clearly intended to arouse not only sympathy for the nine Scottsboro Boys also a sense of outrage about the legal system in which they were enmeshed. Simultaneously, the artists were determined to outline the context, causes, and potential cures of racism and exploitation (Lee).
Little is known about the artists who created the linoleum cuts but the art they created evokes powerful emotions. They have immortalized the Scottsboro Boys and shined a light on a very shameful time in American history. Check this one out.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman. Marian Anderson loved to sing. "Her deep, rich voice thrilled audiences the world over. By the mid-1930s she was a famed vocalist who had been applauded by European royalty, welcomed to the while house, and adored by listeners in concert halls across the United States. But because of her race she was not allowed to sing at Constitution Hall, Washington's largest and finest auditorium." Instead, Marian Anderson, with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, gave a free concert for 75,000 standing in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. Though not an activist herself, her response to injustice "catapulted her into the center of the civil rights movement of the time and hastened the end of segregation in the arts." (From the book jacket.)

The Voice that Challenged a Nation won two awards the year it was published, a Newbery Honor and the Siebert Medal. I consumed it very fast yet enjoyed it thoroughly.  I finally understand what made Marian Anderson such a special person and a true American treasure. Highly recommended.

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