I did have time to do a LITTLE reading while I was gone (ok, on the plane ride home) and wow, were there some good ones. The first one is non-fiction, a biography about Paul Laurence Dunbar, who I'm sorry to say, I'd never heard of before. It's called "Jump Back, Paul: The life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar" by Sally Derby. This book is so terrific, that no one should have to wallow in ignorance as long as I have. Paul Laurence Dunbar was a poet who lived during the Civil War Reconstruction. Like other poets during his time, some of his poetry was full of beautiful rhythm, imagery and flowery language. However, unlike most of the poets during his time, Paul Laurence Dunbar was African American and so he also wrote poems in the African American dialect, still full of that same strong rhythm and beautiful imagery, but in a way that was accessible to a completely different group of people. The way this book is structured is by a storyteller telling you about Paul Dunbar's life and then using poetry to illustrate points, so in addition to his life story, you also get to read several of his poems. The storyteller's voice is so strong, you could easily use this book for a lesson in author's voice, but you'd be missing the main point, which is that Paul Laurence Dunbar was a terrific poet. It would be great in an African American studies unit, a poetry unit, or a discussion on dialect. DO NOT miss this one.
I had also been eagerly awaiting Katherine Applegate's new book, "Crenshaw". I so loved "The One and Only Ivan", I was a bit worried that it wouldn't stack up. Happily, my worrying was for naught. "Crenshaw" is in a completely different direction from Ivan and in a good way. It's about a boy named Jackson who lives with his loving family, his dad, his mom, and his little sister. He has good friends and is working hard in school. But suddenly, Jackson's imaginary friend, Crenshaw, shows up and Jackson can't really understand why. As the story progresses, you come to understand that Jackson is really struggling with a lot of things. Jackson's dad is sick and hasn't been able to work. Jackson's mom has also lost her job and is working low paying jobs but it's not enough to pay the rent. There are flashbacks to a time when the family was homeless and Jackson feels really helpless and unhappy about what's happening. It's a really nice story about what it's like to be homeless and how being honest with yourself and with the people you love can help in a lot of ways. It would be great paired up with "Hold Fast" by Blue Balliett or maybe with Dan Santat's book "The Adventures of Beekle".
The last one is probably my least favorite one. Not because it wasn't well written or interesting, it's just that when I read it, it felt like I was watching a train accident and I kept wanting to yell "No! Stop!". This one was "The Trouble in Me" by Jack Gantos and it recounts the summer when the author was 14, had just moved to a new neighborhood, was feeling less than confident in his own skin, and found a role model in his next door neighbor, a wildly creative juvenile delinquent. You can totally see how it was easy to fall for the charms of someone so dangerous and reckless and yet you keep thinking, "Really? You're going to agree to THAT?" This would be an awesome one to read in middle school or higher to talk about actions and consequences and the luck that the author had for surviving some of the things that happen in the book but it's too big for my elementary school library.