Title of book: One Came Home
Author: Amy Timberlake
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Publisher, place & date of publication: Alred A Knopf (Random House Children’s Books); New York, 2013
Themes/Topics: grief/loss, guilt, bravery, family, respect for nature
Summary: Georgie is a thirteen year old girl who is the best shot in her small town in Wisconsin. However, that didn’t save her sister from being murdered and left for animals on the side of the road. What’s worse is that it was all Georgie’s fault. But something tells her that it is not her sister’s body that came home with the sheriff, the problem is that nobody will believe her. Now Georgie must find out what really happened to Agatha that day she ran off with the pigeon hunters and wasn’t seen or heard from again!
Response: The time period that this book was set in was the early 1870s. I learned that girls weren’t expected to continue school after their 6th year and that college was out of the question for females. I also learned about the Chicago and other Great Lake-region firestorms that left many without homes. This was also set in the right after the Civil War ended, but the Northwest wasn’t as involved in the battle as the eastern states. The characters knew of people who fought in the war, but they weren’t sided with the South or the North as much as the eastern states.
Title of book: Paperboy
Author: Vince Vawter
Genre: realistic fiction
Publisher, place & date of publication: Delacorte Press; New York; 2013
Themes/Topics: segregation, coming-of-age, disabilities/challenges
Summary: In this book, we don’t even know the main characters name, because it is his least favorite thing to say, because the sounds just won’t come out. He is a young boy who stutters, but is brave enough to take on his friend’s paper route over the summer, which includes talking to a lot of people who don’t know him or his speech difficulties. Along the way, he learns secrets about his neighbors, himself, and his best friend (and nanny). Throwing papers will do a lot more than strengthening his arm that summer.
Response: The author made this story believable through revealing the innermost thoughts and emotions of the main character in this book. He was angry, sad, confused, and anxious over all the same reasons that any eleven-year-old would. He would often withdraw within himself when he recognized that no one would understand or want to understand what he was thinking, which I can relate to when I was that age. He also felt guilty or responsible for things that were beyond his control, which is also believable. The author really captured the awkward, in-between workings of the adolescent who wasn’t yet an adult, but too old to be considered a child.
Title of book: Flora & Ulysses
Author and Illustrator: Kate DiCamillo; K.G Campbell
Publisher, place & date of publication: Candlewick Press; Somerville, MA; 2013
Themes/Topics: superheroes, family, hope, friendship and belonging
Summary: Flora is a cynic who is lives with her crazy, writer-mother who has more love for a ridiculous lamp than her own daughter. She escapes her misunderstood life through reader her favorite comics about superheroes and life-or-death situations. However, once her neighbor’s vacuum sucks up a squirrel just looking for something to eat, Flora’s life becomes even more exciting than the lives she reads about. The squirrel, born anew to the name “Ulysses,” has gained superhero powers through his traumatic experience. Flora and Ulysses must now be on the lookout for villains and crime at every turn, including the least likely of places!
Response: The main problem that Flora faces is that she feels as if she is too “strange” to fit into the world around her. She feels ignored by her mother, abandoned by her father, and too weird to have any friends her own age. Her insecurities have driven her to become a self-proclaimed “cynic” who should’t hope for or expect anything greater or more idealistic than what she has experienced. Many elementary students can relate to this feeling of not fitting in and feeling overlooked by those around them. Just like Flora, they develop coping mechanisms to hide their low self-worth or try to show others that they don’t care about what they are being perceived as. These negative feelings can come from interactions with peers, parents, or any other person who is in their lives.
Title of book: Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life
Author: Ashley Bryan
Genre: picture books, historical fiction
Publisher, place & date of publication: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; New York, NY; 2016
Summary: 11 slaves all living on the Fairfield plantation. Some biologically related, but all in one big family, sharing their dreams, memories of Africa, and talents with one another. Their special skills bring money to their owners, but they are still regarded as property with no history or rights to call their own. Now Mr. Fairchild has died, and his wife if afraid of them coming against her. She has her whole estate appraised and places a dollar value on each of her slaves head. Will they ever reach the freedom they’ve been dreaming of, or will families once again be split up?
Response: I would use this book in social studies to help students learn about the slavery industry (how slaves were brought to the United States, their roles in homes, the cruel treatment of them, etc.). The format of the book is also easy to follow, having a description and story of each slave as well as their dreams. After students had learned about slavery, I would have them write their own pages to make a class book similar to this one. That would be an authentic assessment of what they had learned about slavery, because they would have to deeply interact with the content to create a fictional slave profile.