Monday, October 27, 2014

National Book Award

This week I've been reading some of the young people's books that are on the list for possibilities for the National Book Award.  I find that I'm not such a good judge of great literature because I sometimes don't care for the award winners (like last year's pick-That Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, which I didn't really like) but I like to read (a lot) and so when someone smarts says "Wow, that's a really great book" it feels like I OUGHT to pay attention.

Of the five that are on the short list for the book award, I've read three of them and believe it or not, I really liked all three.  The other two I've never heard of so I guess I need to get to the library (or more likely, to Amazon!).  Even more surprising, two of the selections this year are non fiction and one of the non fiction one is also poetry.  Holy cow, what diversity!  So here are the three I've read.

"Revolution" by Debroah Wiles is a story about three kids living in Alabama in the summer of 1964.  Two of the kids are step siblings and one is another boy who lives in their town.  Their town is in the middle of some pretty big changes, including having a group of civil rights activists come to town to try to help register black voters.  One of the things I liked best about this book is the graphical elements that Wiles weaves into the story... there are Civil Rights era photographs, cartoons, song lyrics, and quotes from notable people.  For me, I found that when the song lyrics were mentioned, I would keep singing for several pages as I read, almost without really trying and what a different experience that made for reading the books.  I really liked this one.

The second one is called "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson.  It's a memoir (non-fiction!) written in free verse (and it's poetry!) about Woodson's life.  She starts off being born in Ohio, moving to South Carolina with her mother's parents and then moving to NY for her mother to be more independent.  There's some beautiful imagery and descriptive language as well as some depictions of what it was like trying to be from two places-South Carolina where they were safe and well loved but mostly segregated to New York where people made fun of the way they talked but created deep friendships with people that were very different as well as tragedies along the way.  This one is going to be an excellent reading and writing mentor text.

The third one is "Port Chicago 50" by Steve Sheinikin.  It's non fiction (yay!) about a group of African American sailors during World War 2 that are accused of mutiny.  It has a lot of background information about what the racial situation was like at that time (before the big Civil Rights movement) and how people tried to fight against injustice and what the outcomes were.  It was a fascinating story with lots of photographs of the real people involved.  I also liked the extensive bibliography in the back of the book which will be a great teachable opportunity to show kids how people get information to use in their writing.  I liked this one a lot.   Here's a book trailer about it.

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