The Importance of Perspective: Stories Told through Multiple Voices
Appreciating that every story may be seen from a variety of perspectives and lead to a variety of interpretations is an important step towards empathy, tolerance, and respect—crucial for our students to learn to broaden their limited points of view. It is vital that our students understand that there is never just one story; there are not even two sides to a story—a right side and a wrong side. There can be numerous versions of a story or multiple voices that need to tell each part of a story.
Consider this famous visual. Which images you see determines your perspective.
Stories Told through Alternating Narrator
“Elizabeth turns again to look at me, her face slightly shocked. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything much in class before. She gives me a thumbs up. Raising my hand in class, making friends with Elizabeth and Micah; I’m very different from the girl I was at the start of sixth grade.” (211)
“I have to talk to you. About what happened at the mall.… Sara is my friend. You shouldn’t have spoken to her like that. And I heard what you said to Ahsan yesterday…. There’s a difference between being mean and being racist, Mads.” (223-224)
Sixth grade is challenging. Sara had to leave her small Muslim school and enter a large middle school where the kids know each other and there are very few Muslim students. And to make matters worse, her mother runs the cooking club, teaching them to cook South Asian food from her native Pakistan.
The year becomes equally challenging for Elizabeth. She is the child of a British mother who has been depressed since her own mother’s death and a Jewish American father who travels all the time for his job. “Why can’t I have normal parents? A mom who remembers things like cookies for synagogue. A dad who’s home and can remind her.” (165) And her best friend Maddy becomes friends with Stephanie and begins spouting her parents’ racist remarks at Sara.
When Sara and Elizabeth become cooking partners and then friends, they both undergo change. Sara learns she doesn’t have to stay invisible, and Elizabeth learns to stand up for what she feels is right, especially for friends. “If we’re going to be real friends, not just cooking partners, that means we stick up for each other.” (149) Sara and Elizabeth may come from different cultures but they have much in common, such as mothers who are both studying to take their citizenship test. Children of immigrants in neighborhoods where the Christmas lights cover houses, they both feel different from those in their community, other than Micah, their Jewish half-Latino friend.
Through cooking and combining cultures for a cooking contest recipe, they discover friendship and that others, such as Maddy and Stephanie, are not always what they assumed.
Written in alternating chapters by two authors who mirror their characters, Sara and Elizabeth will help readers build conversations about friendships, prejudice, and following passions.
Becoming Muhammad Ali relates the story of boxer Cassius Clay from the time he began training as an amateur boxer at age 12 until he won the Chicago Golden Gloves on March 25, 1959—with glimpses forward to his 1960 Olympic gold medal and his transformation to Muhammad Ali.
The novel is creatively co-written by two authors in the voices of two narrator-characters: James Patterson writes as Cassius’ childhood best friend Lucius “Lucky” in prose and Kwame Alexander writes in verse, sometimes rhyming, most times not, as Cassius Clay. Dawud Anyabwile drew the wonderful illustrations.
Cassius Clay’s grandaddy always advised him, “Know who you are, Cassius. And whose you are. Know where you going and where you from.” (25) and he did. From Louisville, Kentucky, from Bird and Clay, and (in his own “I Am From” poem) from “slavery to freedom,…from the unfulfilled dreams of my father to the hallelujah hopes of my momma.” (28-29)
Readers learn WHY Cassius Cassius fought,
“for my name
for my life
for Papa Cash
and Momma Bird
for my grandaddy
and his grandaddy…
for my chance
for my children
for their children
for a chance
at something better
at something way
As Lucky tells the reader, “He was loud. He was proud. He called himself the Greatest. Even when he wasn’t. Yet. But deep down, where it mattered, he could be very humble. It was another part of him that he didn’t let most people see.” (231) “He was also a true and loyal friend.” (305)
Throughout the novel, readers also learn boxing moves, information about famous boxers, such as Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano, and matches, and even more about the person who was Cassius Clay and became Muhammad Ali.
One plane crash. One father’s death. Two families’ loss.
“Papi boards the same flight every year.” (18) This year when her father leaves for his annual 3 months in his homeland, Yahaira knows the secret he has kept for 17 years. But she is unaware of who else knows. Not Camino, the other daughter who is practically Yahaira’s twin. Camino only knows she has a Papi who lives and works in New York City nine months a year to support her and the aunt who has raised her since her mother died.
When Papi’s plane crashes on its way from New York to the Dominican Republic, all passengers lose their lives and many families are left grieving. But none are more affected than the two daughters who loved their Papi, the two daughters whose mothers he had married.
Sixteen year old Yahaira lives in NYC, a high school chess champion until she discovered her father’s secret second marriage certificate and stopped speaking to him and stopped competing, and has a girlfriend who is an environmentalist and a deep sense of what’s right. “This girl felt about me/how I felt about her.” (77) Growing up in NYC, Yahaira was raised Dominican.
Sixteen year old Camino’s mother died quite suddenly when she was young, and she and her aunt, the community spiritual healer, are dependent on the money her father sends. Not wealthy by any means, they are the considered well-off in the barrio where Papi was raised; Camino goes to a private school and her father pays the local sex trafficker to leave her alone. And then the plane crash occurs.
Camino’s goal has always been to move to New York, live with her father, and study to become a doctor at Columbia University. Finding out about her father’s family in New York, she makes a plan with her share of the insurance money from the airlines. But Yahaira has her own plan—to go to her father’s Dominican burial despite the wishes of her mother, meet this sister, and explore her culture.
When they all show up, readers see just how powerfully a family can form.
An article about Flight AA587: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/remembering-americas-second-deadliest-plane-crash/248313/
In Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison’s new MG novel Every Shiny Thing readers follow the journey of two new friends from different types of lives as they discover themselves and how they can navigate their lives.
Lauren is a wealthy teen who goes to a Quaker school. She is very close to her brother Ryan but when he is sent to a boarding school for teens on the autism spectrum, Lauren is sure that he isn’t happy, that the school is not meeting his needs, and that her parents sent him away. She then realizes that all teens who need it can’t afford the help Ryan is getting and she designs a scheme to raise money, selling the “shiny things” that she feels her affluent family and friends don’t really need. Her scheme spirals out of control as she begins stealing items from stores, family, and friends, selling them on line, and the thrill of stealing takes over. She even involves her new friend Sierra.
Sierra’s father, a drug addict, is in jail; her mother, an alcoholic, who Sierra has cared for for years in a life of poverty, is also in jail. What she wants is her family; what she needs is a stable loving family—and a friend, but not a friend who gets her involved with her own addiction.
Sierra moves in next door to Lauren with her foster parents Carl and Anne, an interracial Quaker couple who are surviving the trauma of losing their own child. She pushes them away, anxious to get back to her old life, but “In the end, he [Carl] had me find the proof/ before the statement./ A new way to think.” (p 235) Sierra and Lauren’s friendship guides them in finding a new way of thinking. Sierra realizes she can love her mother but she can’t help her, and she can let Carl and Anne help her. “I know I can’t be your mom, Sierra,/ but I can be your Anne.” (p. 333) Lauren realizes that she can stop worrying about Ryan who is happy in his new environment and she can’t save the world, but “I do know this: I’m not going to forget about Hailey or zone out when I walk past someone asking for money on the street. I won’t. Because someday, maybe, I’ll be able to do something more.” (p. 353)
Lauren’s and Sierra’s narrations are written by each of the authors in their own unique style: Lauren’s narratives in prose and Sierra’s in free verse, styles which fit their lives and personalities. Their lives are populated by culturally diverse friends and their families as they traverse the Philadelphia I know so well.
Seventh grade is hard to navigate, even when you are not different.
Jinsong is the president of student body, and even though he has faced prejudice in his past, he is now one of the popular seventh graders. When Calliope June moves in next door, with her weird clothing and tics, he immediately likes her. But does he like her enough to risk his standing with his "friends," who are bullying Callie and some of whom have turned on him in the past?
Callie has moved ten times during her life—every time her mother finds and breaks up with a new boyfriend. Diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, it is hard enough to fit in and make friends, especially since her doctor told her it would be better not to tell anyone.
So Callie dresses to draw attention to her clothes and tries to hide her Tourette's (which only backfires) as she desperately tries to make friends—until she meets Jinsong and Ms. Baumgartner, the school counselor. Callie moves for an 11th time, leaving a legacy of tolerance and acceptance, at least between Beatriz and Jinsong—and ready to share her whole self with her new friends. "Because wouldn't/ talking/ about something/ make it better understood?"
The reader learns about Callie, her past, her present, her future dreams, through her free-verse chapters and about Jinsong through his short prose. This is a perfect novel for reluctant readers as it is very short but leaves much to discuss (and contains both a male and female main character). Author Ellie Askeroth Terry's shares her own experience in this debut novel.
When 16-year-old Katina is assaulted in the stairwell by the popular star basketball player, her jujitsu skills let her defend herself. But when she reports the attack, it is she who is made so uncomfortable she has to leave school. Her confidence shattered, she wonders if she will ever be able to trust men again.
Robin was born in Kolkata, abandoned by his mother, and adopted by loving, wealthy, supportive American parents at age three, but he has never stopped thinking about his first mother and his life seems to have no direction.
When Kat is sent to Boston to be homeschooled by a family friend’s aunt, Grandma Vee, she becomes a part of a teen church group. When Pastor Gregory takes Robin, Katina, and Gracie to Kolkata to work with female human trafficking survivors, with the help of her new support system and some of the young survivors themselves, Katina learns to trust again; Robin, now Ravi, finds purpose in his life; and Gracie, who was the major support system for both of them, finally gets Ravi to realize his love for her.
Told through very short chapters that alternate between Kat and Robin and simply written, Mitali Perkins’ novel is a valuable read that is accessible to, and appropriate for, all adolescent readers.
Confusing feelings, complex relationships, and speculative blame develop from a simple plot in Hidden—even though both girls were there.
When she was eight, a man ran from a botched burglary and stole Wren’s mother’s car. Wren was in the back, hidden. West didn’t know she was there until he hid the car in his garage and heard on the news that a child who was in a stolen car was missing. West’s wife and daughter, although threatened and hit by West, tried to find her, and eight-year old Darra leaves food in the garage just in case the girl is there. Wren escapes, and West is caught and sentenced to a jail term, and Darra grows up with ambivalent feelings for the girl who took her “Dad” away.
Six years later the two girls meet at camp. They aren’t sure how they feel about each other, but they agree to avoid each other and not discuss the incident. Until one day they are placed together for a life-saving class event and finally realize that they are the only ones that can discuss the past, and they begin to listen to each other’s side of the story “and put the pieces into place” (124). Darra reflects, “Does she think you can’t love a dad who yells at you and even hits you?”(120). When Wren reveals that she wasn’t the one who turned West in, Darra thinks, “Everything is turning upside down.” And reassures Wren “None of what happened was your fault” (124). Together, they become “stronger than we knew.” (138)
Hidden is written in different styles of free verse. Wren recount her past and present stories in the more traditional style of short lines and meaningful line breaks in combination with meaning word and line spacing. Darra’s narration is crafted in a unique style of long lines and shorter lines, the words at the end of each long line, read vertically, tell Darra’s past memories of her father and explain her love for him. I am glad I happened to read the author’s “Notes on Form” at the end of the story that explained the format or I might have missed the effectiveness of this creative format, although the reader could return to the text for the message.
Loving vs Virgina is the story behind the unanimous landmark decision of June 1967. Told in free verse through alternating narrations by Richard and Mildred, the story begins in Fall 1952 when 13-year old Mildred notices that her desk in the colored school is “ sad excuse for a desk” and her reader “reeks of grime and mildew and has been in the hands of many boys,” but she also relates also the closeness of family and friends in her summer vacation essay. This closeness is also expressed in the family’s Saturday dinner where “folks drop by,” one of them being the boy who catches Mildred’s ball during the kickball game and “Because of him I don’t get home.” That boy is her neighbor, nineteen-year-old Richard Loving, and that phrase becomes truer than Mildred could have guessed.
On June 2, 1958, Richard who is white and Mildred marry in Washington, D.C., and on July 11, 1958 they are arrested at her parents’ house in Virginia. The couple spends the next ten years living in D.C., sneaking into Virginia, and finally contacting the American Civil Liberties Union who brings their case through the courts to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The documentary novel brings the story behind the case alive, interspersed with quotes, news headlines and news reports, maps, timelines, and information on the various court cases, and the players involved, as the case made its way to the Supreme Court. Students can learn history from textbooks, from lectures, or more effectively and affectively, through the stories of the people involved. Novels are where readers learn empathy, vicariously living the lives of others.
Tam (Redwood) and Kate (Ponytail) come from two different worlds.
Kate’s mom puts helicopter parents to shame. She has orchestrated Kate’s entire life so that in 7th grade she will become cheer captain and she will follow her mother’s life—unlike her much older sister who joined the Navy at 18. She lives in the perfect house, which is always being perfected, and her daughter certainly isn’t gay.
Tam’s mother is the opposite. Open and accepting and prone to trying out the adolescent lingo (and providing many of the laughs in reading this book). Tam is also looked after by neighbor Frankie and her wife. Frankie, it appears, is full of advice, based on experience trying to fit the stereotype. Tam is an athlete, tall as a redwood, ace volleyball player, who everyone high-five’s in the hallway, but she realizes she only has one good friend, Levy.
On the first day of school, Tam and Kate meet and, as they quickly, mysteriously, develop deep feelings for each other, they find each not only different from the stereotypes everyone assumes, but, opposite though they seem, opposite though their lives and families may be they each discover they may be a little different than they thought they were and more alike than they thought. Does Kate actually want to be cheer captain or would she rather run free in the team’s mascot’s costume? Does she really want to have lunch at her same old table or would she rather sit with Tam and Levy which is much more fun? Does Tam really want to beat Kate for the school presidency? Or is she punishing Kate for not being able to admit what their friendship may be?
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that autism affects one in 59 children.
Ryan Elizabeth Peete and RJ Peete’s novel Same But Different is based on their lives. Characters Charlie and Callie are twins; Charlie has autism, and Callie feels that she needs to be his guide, support, rule-maker, and the person who is always there to stand up for him against bullies and those who try to take advantage of his naiveté. This year Callie is starting tenth grade, and Charlie is repeating ninth, but she is still there for him.
In alternating chapters Charlie (RJ) and Callie (Ryan) discuss their lives on the “Autism Express.” Charlie takes us into his world where he “may have autism, but autism doesn’t have [him].” Ryan takes us into her world where it seems that autism may have her a little more than she wants. Ryan does focus on how Charlie affects her life and her relationships with family and peers. It is clear that she loves Charlie and willingly takes responsibility for helping him, but she does stress the negative aspects. I was left wishing that she felt more positive at times and found a few more advantages to having a brother with whom she is so close.
Although every child affected by autism is at a different point of the spectrum and is affected in different ways, a book explaining at least one family’s journey is a valuable addition to the classroom library, as a catalyst for generating important discussions among adolescents. Even though the characters are in high school, the book is appropriate for even young adolescents.
Parent-author Holly Robinson Peete provides an insightful introduction, “A Letter from Mom,” and conclusion, “A Mother’s Hope,” as well as a valuable Resource Guide. A very important point she makes is her worry how RJ's future may be affected as a man of color with autism, a person who doesn't necessarily read the signals of our world.
All students and teachers should read Save Me a Seat, a novel about bullies, victims, and bullying. In this novel, Joe, a student with APD or Auditory Processing Disorder, is bullied by his fellow fifth graders, especially Dillon Samreen. When Ravi moves from India to America, he assumes that the other fifth graders will be impressed by his intelligence and athleticism, but all they notice is his accent and other ways he is different. Ravi assumes that DIllion, being Indian American, will be his friend, but finds himself also the target of his bullying and his classmates laughter.
There are many novels that focus on bullying, but what I found most important about Save Me a Seat is that Ravi does not realize that in his school in India where he is was a member of the popular crowd, if not a bully himself, he was unkind to other students and stood by, laughing, when students were bullied by others. In “10 Realities about Bullying at School and Online” (www.kqed.org/mindshift/44772/10-realities-about-bullying-at-school-and-online) writer
Linda Flanagan shares that many bullies and also victims of bullying do not recognize that bullying is occurring. “What the Olweus survey identifies as the top three types of bullying—verbal abuse, exclusion, and spreading rumors—kids can see as normal and essentially harmless behavior.”
In the novel when Ravi finally sees that "There is more to [Joe] than meets the eye" and he is the victim of bullying; he comes to the conclusion, “I don’t need to show off anymore. I’m not like Dillon Samreen and I never will be,” and he stands up for Joe. A study conducted by The Youth Voice Project, the first known large-scale research project that solicited students’ perceptions about strategy effectiveness to reduce peer mistreatment in our schools, found, “Our students report that asking for and getting emotional support and a sense of connection has helped them the most among all the strategies we compared” and conversely, “Peers were reported as being able to have a significant negative effect by blaming or making fun of mistreated youth.” (Roessing, No More “Us” and “Them”: Classroom Lessons & Activities to Promote Peer Respect).
The characters are fifth graders. According to research, most bullying occurs in grades 6-8; perhaps if enough students read and discuss this novel in fifth grade, those statistics will change.
“But something else is pulling at me, knocking around in my insides, starting out like a whisper, like a song I sang all the time, but now I forget the words.
‘Do you remember those times I was happy?’
‘I do.’” (146)
Joy and Lukas met in second grade when, celebrating those with summer birthdays, they discovered their August birthdays were two days apart. And they became best friends for five years. They even knew they would always be best friends, “Keepers of Secrets, Wizards of Clues, Growers of Gardens, King and Queen of Summer Birthdays, Holders of Hearts” (193)
But “there are some moments that change everything…” (157)
When Lukas died on Joy’s twelfth birthday, she lives through a year of pain and grief. On her thirteenth birthday, she decides to follow the clues that, as was their tradition, Lukas had left for her birthday the previous year.
This captivating novel which grabbed my heart and squeezed it, as I wanted to keep reading but couldn’t face ending and leaving these characters, is written in alternating chapters narrated by Joy and Lukas. Readers follow Lukas though the day before Joy’s birthday as he hides the clues leading to her present and wrestles with giving her the heart necklace that will declare his new feelings, fearful that she will not feel the same. Readers shadow Joy as she escapes the house and follows the clues around town. “I don’t think I’ve been on my own, unaccounted for, this long in my whole life. But it feels good. Kind of like being let out after being hidden away—even if I did the hiding myself—like the sky clearing, and the air smells so fresh.” (133) We experience the depth of their friendship through memories and the commitment to the birthday clues. We also meet the family and townspeople who loved them.
There are moments that change everything and books that change everything. Seven Clues will be that book for many readers, especially those experiencing loss.
A powerful read, Some Boys features an adolescent who has been raped and shamed by the students—male and female—of her school because the rapist, Zac, was a popular member of the community. But Grace is strong and speaks up and stands up for herself, even again the rapist’s best friend, Ian.
In this provocative novel on an important topic, Grace and Ian narrate alternating chapters. Many issues about rape and disrespect are brought to the surface, such as, when Ian questions the way she dresses, Grace asks why her clothing choices should matter or be assumed to send a message. “Being noticed isn't an open invitation to guys to do whatever they want to me.” Ian eventually sees that he is letting things continue as they are, not as they should be.
This story exposes slut shaming and victim blaming and bystanders who think they are not also at fault. It also is a story of family and peer relationships.
Mikayla comes from a family of wrestlers. Her two older brothers are wrestlers, and wrestling is one way she can connect with her father who moved out. In sixth grade, under her wrestling name of Mickey, she joins the Gladiators travel team after the coach of the Eagles refuses to include a girl on the team. Her best girlfriend whom she has wrestled with for years decides that wrestling is no longer for her; in fact, it may never have been. And Mickey becomes the only girl on the team where she has to prove she belongs. There she meets Lev and his friends and becomes part of the Fearsome Foursome.
Lev’s best friend Bryan knows they won’t spend much time together during wrestling season and starts pursuing other interests. But Lev comes from a sports family where they spend their weekends and holidays at matches and his sister’s field hockey games. However, he finds he is writing poetry to calm himself down and getting headaches and missing the old family dinners and cultural traditions, and now he is even questioning the sport he used to love.
When Lev and Mickey are paired at practice, he is afraid she might get in the way of his training for States. But as their friendship grows, he finds that as he stands up for her goals, his just might have changed.
As an author on a sports fiction panel once said, sports is the setting, not the story. And even though the reader learns quite a lot about wrestling and the world of adolescent wrestlers through alternating narratives by Mikayla and Lev, Laura Shovan's new novel is a story about family, friendships, resilience, and finding identity.
The first 9/11 novel I read, The Memory of Things is lovely story about the effects of the events of 9/11. Another reason we read is to understand events we have not experienced and the effect of those events on others who may be like ourselves. After witnessing the fall of the first Twin Towers on 9-11 and evacuating his school, teenager Kyle Donahue, a student at Stuyvesant High School, discovers a girl who is covered in ash on the Brooklyn Bridge; she has no memory of who she is. The son of a detective, he takes her home to help her rediscover who she is, why she was where she was, what she was doing there, and her connection to the events.
The events in the novel are related in alternating narratives—Kyle's in prose, the girl writes in free verse—the two characters sharing their stories and perspectives, introducing adolescent readers, many of whom had were not alive during 9/11, to the effects of this tragedy in their own ways.
Former best friends, the twelve-year-olds became estranged the previous November 11th when Porter, Quinn’s older brother, killed Cora’s sister Mabel in a school shooting. Cora is consumed with grief as Quinn becomes consumed with guilt.
Cora mother left when she was a toddler, and she and Mabel were raised by their Lebanese father and maternal grandmother. Cora and Quinn were best friends from age two. Cora was always there to help Quinn when her brain had a “Freeze-Up” and she had trouble getting words out; Quinn was there to make the serious Cora laugh.
Mabel was the perfect sister until she started high school and started acting like a “big sister”; Porter was the typical big brother—one of Quinn’s memories was when he helped her climb down from a very tall tree—until he changed and became mean, spending most of his time in his room on the Internet. “I know it’s in this room that he decided to become the type of person who did the horrible things that he did. It’s in this room that he decided to become full of hate. I glance all around, looking for the clues of what led him to it, but I don’t find any.”(96) And then came the day he took his father’s gun to the high school and shot Mabel and two others. Was it because Mabel was Muslim? Why were the other two—a student and a teacher—shot?
It is almost a year from the killings when Quinn reads that some scientists believe in the possibility of time travel, and she hatches a plan for Cora and her to travel back in time to save Mabel and maybe even save Porter. Even though Cora blames Quinn for her brother’s actions and refuses to have anything to do with her, Quinn realizes that Cora, a collector of facts and research, will be hooked by the idea of time travel. “Her mind is like a treasure chest of mid-blowing facts. And when she shares them with you, it makes you start to believe that the world is actually a pretty amazing place. It makes you see everything a little differently.”(62) As Quinn hopes, Cora is intrigued and desperate to save Mabel.
As the two girls work together to locate a wormhole, I, not usually a fan of novels about magic or fantasy, started praying for magic to happen. “And the thing I know about magic is that you have to look for it,” Quinn says. (123) Through their alternating-narrator story, my heart broke equally for each of them. I looked for magic and found it in this novel.
Bett and Avery couldn’t be more different. Bett is a California girl and loves sports—especially water sports, animals, and taking risks. Avery, a New Yorker, plans to become a writer and suffers from anxiety and worries about germs, drowning, and whatever else she reads or hears about—and she is a planner. Bett is African American, and Avery is Jewish. The two meet through email when Bett discovers their single parents—both fathers—have been dating and are sending the twelve-year-olds to the same summer camp, hoping to form a family. The girls do not want to meet or become friends or especially a family, and they strategize to sabotage their fathers’ plan.
What follows is a year and a half of emails and letters, even though the girls do meet at camp, get themselves thrown out, become friends, and even each the support system of the other. The fathers’ relationship does not fare as well and that becomes another challenge for these two who now view themselves as sisters in an extended family that spanned the country but appears to have become centered in NYC and now includes a mother and grandmother.
The novel was mesmerizing as the plot twisted and turned, personalities were revealed, new characters entered and sent their own missives to each other and to the girls, and I actually feel that there might have been more character and plot development in this well-written offering.
The novel reminded me of the novel, Two Naomis [see below], but in that novel when their divorced parents plan to marry and plot for the ten-year-olds to meet and become a family, the girls find that even though resistant, they are more alike than different and they actually do like each other. Conversely, in To Dogfish and Night Owl, Bett and Avery find that, even though they are nothing alike, they complement each other, and whether their fathers become a family or not, they have already done so.
Divorce can be complicated and messy, but the parents of the two Naomis’ have made the transition as smooth as possible for their children. Naomi Marie’s dad lives nearby and even though Naomi E’s mother lives across the country in California, they Skype every week and she is coming back for a month in the summer.
What isn’t as simple is divorced parents dating. When Tom and Vivian’s relationship becomes “very serious,” they want their two families—and their two ten-year-old Naomis—to meet and become friends. Less excited about this are the two Naomis, especially when they find out their parents want one of them to alter her name because there can’t be two “Naomis,” and they can’t call them White Naomi and Black Naomi as Naomi Marie’s little sister Bri sometimes does.
As they resist their parents’ dinners, family meet-ups, and then a girls’ coding club where the girls will be partners in a project, they find that they just actually might like each other—a little, and, even through somewhat different, they are more alike. “’I’m realizing something,’ I [Naomi E.] tell Annie, ‘I actually like her. I was so mad at Dad about everything that I was almost refusing to let her be my friend, you know?’” (166)
When Naomi Marie worries about Tom trying to take her father’s place, and things changing, Dad says, “We can each shine our own light without dimming anyone else’s…. Sometimes there’s more room in our lives than we realize.” (149)
This delightful novel, narrated in alternating chapters by Naomi Marie and Naomi E is about navigating family, change, divorce-dating-remarriage, friendship, and acceptance.
- Eleanor & Park by Raven Rowell
- Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
- Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott
- So Done by Paula Chase
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- What Is Goodbye? (verse) by Nikki Grimes
Narratives Told through Multiple Voices
According to a 2017 CNN report, in response to a Facebook post by Geno Auriemma, coach of the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, where Auriemma said that recruiting "enthusiastic kids is harder than it's ever been," plenty of people spoke about how parents are causing a lot of the problems in the game. "Parents living vicariously through their kids, pushing them too hard, too soon. Too many games, too much pressure and not enough fun," one commenter on Facebook said.
Nora Raleigh Baskin’s novel is about basketball, parents, coaches, pressure to play, pressure to not play, but most of all it is about friendship.
The novel focuses on 4 sixth graders:
- Hank wishes his parents would “stop talking about basketball or baseball or whatever season and whatever sport they felt Hank should be getting more playing time in, playing a better position” (p. 2);
- Nathan wants to play basketball even though his parents do not want him to play because of what basketball did to his uncle and even though he is not the good player everyone assumes, being black, is would be;
- Jeremy is the new kid who came to live with his grandmother after being abandoned at his father’s his latest ex-girlfriend’s. Jeremy is used to street basketball, poverty, and making plans to leave; and
- Anabel is not a basketball player. Actually, Anabel is quite a good basketball player, practicing with, and being dragged to, games with her brother. In her family “Basketball came before everything” (p.11)—at least for her brother and father.
These young adolescents become part of a world where adults determine if they play, when they play, and how they play until they bond and take their fates into their own hands. The final act of heroism isn’t a feat of basketball prowess but an act of friendship.
Four rising 7th graders. Video Gamers. Divergent thinkers assigned to a summer school class. And a teacher who needs to teach them to read well enough to pass the FART (Florida Rigorous Academic Assessment Test), a teacher who is willing to meet her students half way, a teacher who shifts from a Teacher Griefer to a Gaming Legend, a teacher who learns that mastering Human Being Assessment Test skills is more important than Reading and Writing Assessment skills.
•Benjamin Bellows aka Sandbox Gamer Ben Bee whose weak writing skills are overcome with a 504 Plan and a typewriter. “”I’ve been thinking: finally something to help me do better, not Why now, not what’s wrong.” (206)
•Benita Ybarra aka Sandbox Gamer ObenwhY who is struggling with grief and loss. “But when you crash your car, you don’t have extra lives saved, stored up, hoarded. You have nothing that can blink you back to life.” (189) but who learns to trust and heal “I look up at her, as I pull this moment even tighter, a soft blanket of now becoming a bandage holding together the crack in my heart.” (191)
•Jordan Jackson aka Sandbox Gamer JORJORDANJMAGEDDON, diagnosed with ADHD, friendly, funny, and obsessed with a television dance contest show—and with Spartacus.
•New student Javier Jimenez aka Sandbox Gamer jajajavier who has a secret as to why he hides behind a hoodie and refuses to read aloud. “I think I finally have friends” (266)
•Teacher Jordan Jackson (no relation) aka Sandbox Gamer JJ11347 whose job is in jeopardy after she allows the students to read a book based on Sandbox instead of Oliver Twist, a divergent teacher. “you’re right, though she’s a divergent teacher she teaches differently she, like, listens to us.” (247)
Four kids who become “Not besties. But not nothings.” (211) Four children who I fell in love with as they discover their strengths individually and together through the willingness of a teacher to become a learner.
Written in the students’ four voices in free verse, stream-of-consciousness, and drawings, and through game chats, the story will appeal to divergent upper elementary and middle-grade readers.
It takes a village to build a town and maintain a town and its citizens, and Kate Messner, all by herself, is that village as she provides all the voices, drawings, and artifacts of a town.
Breakout is the story of Wolf Creek and three weeks in the life of its citizens: 7th grader Nora Tucker and her best friend Lizzie Bruno, Elidee Jones who moves to this almost-all-white town (except for one family) for the last two weeks of the school year, Nora’s brothers Sean and Owen, and a variety of family members, store employees, school personnel, church women, and the officers and inmates of the prison, one of which is Troy, Elidee’s brother.
As students finish school, write letters for the time capsule for the future citizens of Wolf Creek, and plan for Field Day, two prisoners escape, and for the next three weeks the life of the town is “different.” Police and reporters invade the town; fear is in control, Nora, as a time capsule reporter, notices that life is more complex—or maybe she is becoming aware of the complexities. For example Nora notices that there has always been a sign to leave backpacks behind the counter at Mountain Market, but it isn’t enforced until Elidee enters the store. She also learns the power of civil disobedience but also that there is a price to pay. As she states in a June 12 letter, “But I guess you can get used to almost anything.” (190)
Nora writes at the end of the summer, “…sometimes you need to hear a lots of points of view to get the whole story.” (1). And that’s what author Messner provides—lots of points of view. And that is what amazes me most about this delightful novel. I am floored at how the author writes in the voices of all these difference characters. Now you might be thinking, “But all authors write all their character’s voices,” but this novel stands above. It is multi-genre, and there are letters, recorded conversations, text messages, news articles, the school’s morning announcements, and student petitions. And they all are so realistic; it is difficult to believe that one person crafted all.
Stretching her genius even farther, as character Lizzie, Messner writes hilarious parodies of the news, such as the “Frankfurter Face-Off,” the town’s council’s debate on the type of hot dogs to be served at the July 4 Cookout. Owen draws cartoons of his evil plots and plans to capture the escaped inmates, and we see the signs that are posted on the market and the church. The most astounding is Elidee who begins writing poems inspired by her favorite poets: Nikki Giovanni, Nikki Grimes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Laurence, Jacqueline Woodson, and finally Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics of Hamilton, my favorite being the student council vice president’s rap battle with the principal, based on “Cabinet Battle #1.”
Even though I laughed harder than I have for a long time and plastered my ARC with sticky notes for places I wanted to read over and share, there were lessons to be learned: Elidee finds her voice, Lizzie learns about forgiveness; and Nora learns about the complications of life, that “even good guys do bad things sometimes. And I think people who do bad things—no matter how bad—have to be more than the awful things they did.” (127)
“A potato plant. Leaves up top, potatoes down below. All those stems and roots joining the two—like veins and arteries. His father always said that families were the same.” (371)
Some stories I read quickly for the story, floating through the feelings. And some stories I read slowly, to think about ideas, concepts, revelations. Amy Sarig King’s Dig I read “progressively” to think about what I was feeling and to feel what I was thinking. The story and writing is complex, mesmerizing, and most of all intricately designed and structured. I am an admirer of complexity in story structure.
In Dig readers have the stories of multiple characters, characters who we come to know and care about through their individual stories—The Freak, The Ringmaster, The Shoveler, CanIHelpYou, and Malcolm, and their parents, and Marla and Gottfried, all descendants of potato farmers. And like the roots and stems of the potato plant, they become entwined, sometimes in mysterious ways.
“I wanted a family, not another mystery. But maybe all families are mysteries. Maybe all families have secrets.” (372)
Dig is the winner of the Michael L. Printz Medal.
On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam collapsed. Twenty million tons of water from Lake Conemaugh poured into Johnstown [Pennsylvania] and neighboring communities. More than 2,200 people died, including 99 entire families and 396 children. [Author’s Note] The flood still stands as the second or third deadliest day in U.S. history resulting from a natural calamity.
Richard Peck wrote, “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write.” And author Ann E. Burg
introduces readers to individual residents of the town.
Readers read the stories of fifteen-year-old Joe Dixon who wants to run his own newsstand and marry his Maggie; Gertrude Quinn who tells us about her brother, three sisters, Aunt Abbie, and her father who owns the general store. We come to know Daniel and Monica Fagan. Daniel’s friend Willy, the poet, encouraged by his teacher to write, and George with 3 brothers and 4 sisters who wants to leave school and help support them. We watch the town prepare for the Decoration Day ceremony honoring the war dead.
After the flood, readers hear from Red Cross nurse Clara Barton, and Ann Jenkins and Nancy Little who brought law suits that found no justice, and a few of the 700 unidentified victims of the flood.
And there are the members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club—Andrew Carnegie, Charles J. Clarke, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, Cyrus Elder, and Elias Unger, the wealthy of Pittsburgh who ignored repeated warnings that the dam holding their private lake needed to be repaired so it wouldn't give way. “They don’t care a whit about the likes of us.” (57)
This is a story of class and privilege and those who work tirelessly to make ends meet. As Monica says, “People who have money, who shop at fancy stores and buy pretty things, shouldn’t think they’re better than folks who scrabble and scrounge and go to sleep tired and hungry.” (111)
In free-verse narrative monologues, readers experience the lives of a town and its hard-working, family-oriented inhabitants—people we come to know and love, reluctant to turn the pages leading towards the disaster we know they will encounter. We bear witness to the events as we read and empathy for the plights of the people affected by those events.
This is a book that could be shared across middle grade and high school ELA, social studies, and science classes.
I am not usually an advocate of whole class novels, but Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down would be a perfect novel to discuss perspective, interpretation, news bias, and the unreliability of eye witness accounts.
What everyone can agree on was that Tariq Johnson, a black teen, was fatally shot by Jack Franklin, a white man. Was T holding a gun or a Snickers bar? Was he wearing gang colors or did have a red rag in his pocket? Was he being chased for stealing or was the clerk returning his change? It depends on who controls the narrative.
Since there are so many people (each having a different agenda) sharing their accounts—about the shooting and about the victim—this book would work well with large groups of readers. Since each account is very short, the book would entice reluctant readers. However the inclusion of realistic profanity might make it more difficult for some classroom use.
This novel wasn't only the narrative of Tariq Johnson and the shooting; it was the collective stories of his community—Tyrell, Jannica, Will, Kimberly—and those who came in contact with T, before and after his death.
“With any story, with any life, with any event whether joyous or tragic, there is so much more to know than the established, inadequate norm: There will be as many versions of the truth as there are persons who lived it.” (Author’s Note, 121)
Deborah Wiles’ historical verse novel Kent State does just that. It tells the story of the Vietnam War protest held on the campus of Kent State University and the students who were wounded and killed when the Ohio National Guard opened fire, students who may or may not have been actively involved in the demonstration. The novel chronicles the four days from Friday, May 1 to Monday, May 4, 1970.
But what is unique is that this is the story told by all the voices those involved, in whatever way—those readers may agree with, and those they may not. Author Salman Rushdie has told audiences that anyone who values freedom of expression should recognize that it must apply also to expression of which they disapprove. In Kent State we hear from protestors, faculty, and students, and friends of the four who were killed—Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandy Scheuer, and Bill Schroeder. We also observe the perspectives of the National Guardsmen, the people of the community of Kent, Ohio; and the Black United Students at Kent State. The readers themselves are addressed at times.
October 12, 1998
“Somebody entered this world with a cry;
Somebody left without saying goodbye.” (35)
On the night of October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old college student was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young homophobic men, brutally beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. October Mourning is Lesléa Newman’s tribute in the form of a collection of sixty-eight poems about Matthew Shepard and his murder.
Newman recreates the events of the night, the following days, and the court case and reimagines thoughts and conversations through a variety of perspectives: those of Matthew Shepard himself, the people of the town—the bartender, a doctor, the patrol officers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney and their girlfriends—as well as inanimate objects, notably beginning and ending with the fence to which Shepard was tied. Many of the poems are introduced with a quote from a person involved in the events.
A range of emotions is shared through a variety of poetic styles: free verse, haiku, pantoum, concrete, rhymed, list, alphabet, villanelle, acrostic, and poems modeled after the poetry of other poets.
The poetry of October Mourning serves to let the reader bear witness to Matthew Shepard and his death but also to the power of poetry to express loss and grief and as a response to injustice. Heartbreaking and moving, but emotional and a call to action, this is a story that should be shared with all adolescents.
"Only if each of us imagines that what happened to Matthew Shepard could happen to any one of us will we be motivated to do something. And something must be done." (Imagine, 90)
From “Then and Now”:
“Then I was a son
Now I am a symbol
Then a was a person.
Now I am a memory.
Then I was a student.
Now I am a lesson.” (40)
When their teacher explains the Butterfly Effect, “It’s the idea that a small change in one thing can lead to big changes in other things…Anything and everything we do—positive or negative, big or small—can influence other people and the world.” (153, 155) and tasks her 5th graders to think about what they could do within their social-issues projects to make a difference, they do—with repercussions they did not imagine.
Told through their daily journals, readers learn about the lives and feelings of the eight students in Mrs. Graham’s classroom:
- Emily, whose two best friends have “outgrown” her, struggles through the year wondering if she will have friends again; when she is left to team with other students, she is upset but may have found newer, truer friends.
- Kayley is honest to a fault since she always knows best; she tells everyone, even the teacher, what is best and what to do, not afraid to burn bridges since she will be attending a private middle school next year.
- Aviva is caught in the middle. She still wants to be friends with Emily and do what’s right but is manipulated by what Kayley thinks.
- Sharon writes her journal in free verse; a typical loner, she hopes for letters in her desk mailbox as she slowly becomes part of a group of friends.
- Cecilia was born in America but addresses her journal entries to her Abuelita in Mexico, her mother coming to America for a better life for her child.
- Blake, who loses his home, draws his entries and turns out to be a tech whiz.
- Henry writes his journal as scenes and makes jokes, slowly tearing down Kayley’s defenses.
- Kai, the Taiwanese son of professors, is a voracious reader and wants to “be the kind of person who does something.” (230)
- And Mrs. Graham is the teacher who forces them to think.
When Mrs. Graham tells her students that their first-day seats are their teams for the year, some students rebel, but they slowly begin to perform and feel like teams, even friends. When Sharon has the idea that her team should experience a night of homelessness as “full immersion” in their social-issues project, serious consequences result, and it is up to the class to fix them—to make the big changes and influence their community. Named “Operation Frog Effect” in honor of the class frog they saved, the students learn to be part of a team and of a classroom community.
The Scopes “Monkey” Trial has always intrigued me; the culturally-significant arguments involved have captured the interest of many—whether it be about science vs religion, Darwinism vs fundamentalism, evolution vs creation, William Jennings Bryan vs Clarence Darrow, text book and curriculum decisions, or the role of law and government in education.
Most of us know the Who, What, Where, When, and believe we know the Why – but do we? How often do we know the true story of historic events—and the stories behind the story and the different perspectives on the story. Jen Bryant’s historical novel grants us the chance to observe the events of the Scopes Trial up close and personally.
Through this novel, written in the voices of those who had a ringside seat to this trial, readers also secure a front row seat to the trial, the people who participated in it, and the town that hosted it.
As the reader views the controversy and the trial from the point of view of nine fictitious, diverse characters (plus quotes from the real participants), each character develops more as the story progresses. My favorite are the teenagers of Dayton, Tennessee, because, through meeting those on both sides of the issue and closely observing them and the trial, it affects them, their relationships, and their futures. Peter and Jimmy Lee are best friends who become divided by their beliefs, finding a way to reconcile those differences so that they do not affect a lasting relationship; Marybeth is a young lady who finds the strength and support to stand up to her father’s traditional view of the role of women in society; and, my favorite character, Willy Amos meets Clarence Darrow and dares to believe what he can attempt to achieve. “’Well,’ I pointed out, ‘there ain’t no such thing as a colored lawyer.’”…”Do you plan to let that stop you?” (210)
The novel is powerfully written in multiple formats—free verse in a variety of stanza configurations and spacing decisions, a few rhyming lines here and there, and some prose. And the messages are powerful: Peter Sykes—“Why should a bigger mind need a smaller God.” (11); Marybeth Dodd—“I think some people can look at a thing a lot of different ways at once and they can all be partly right.” (131); and Constable Fraybel—“[Darrow] claims [his witnesses] are anxious to explain the difference between science and religious faith and how they made places in their heart and minds for both.” (143)
An epilogue shares the aftermath and the lasting effects of this small, short trial. Every American History/Social Justice teacher and ELA teacher should have copies of this novel.
In Runt, author Nora Raleigh Baskin gets inside the head of members of class of sixth graders, kids who two years prior invited everyone to their parties. The reader follows the ongoing individual stories of these students and their intersecting lives. In this novel Baskin draws parallels between sixth grade behaviors and the behaviors of dogs, specifically the dogs boarded by one of the students, Elizabeth.
This is not a story with an ending but an ongoing saga that plays itself out in middle schools across the country. As Freida concludes in her report on crimes and punishments in ancient times, “And in modern times, of course, there are all sorts of safe and creative punishments for people who try to step out of their ascribed social standing. No one, however—not Moses, not Hammurabi—could have predicted middle school.” (15)
In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education defined bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has a high likelihood of repetition. According to stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are two modes of bullying: direct and indirect (spreading rumors), and there are four types of bullying: physical, verbal, relational, and damage to property. The newest type of bullying is electronic bullying or cyberbullying. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, 28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying. In surveys, 30% of young people admit to bullying others. It is imperative that students, especially middle grade students, read novels about bullying to open conversations about this important topic and to discuss bullies, victims, bystanders, and upstanders, and the ongoing shifts among these roles.
As the students in this novel’s middle school bully each other, are aghast or sometimes proud of their attempts, become bullies and are bullied, they each deal with bullies and the effects of bullying. Elizabeth ruminates on the effect of her unintended bullying of a scared little dog who now shakes at her approach, “There are some kids of hurt that are just too much to feel.” (95) But middle school bullying as outlined above takes many forms; in general boys are more physical and girls employ relationship bullying, exclusion. In both genders, bullies seek out the weak. “In the wild mountain lions have been known to attack their own leader when he appears weak and unable to protect his pride.” (171) Apparently no one is safe.
The dog who narrates the Afterword says, “I want to know where I belong.” (194) These characters and their stories will help generate discussions that may help readers clarify not only where they belong but where they want to belong, how they want to be treated and how they want to treat others.
Emerson Elementary is closing at the end of the year. Readers live through that last year with the eighteen diverse fifth graders and experience their changing peer and family relationships through their poetry. Their individual poems about the school and their past and present in the school show who is for and who is against the upcoming change as these fifth graders find their voices.
Each student has his or her unique poetry style—free verse, rhyming, haiku, list poetry, sonnet, concrete, acrostic, tanka, Fibonacci poetry, limerick, ode, diamante, and rap. One poem is written as a script. Poems are written in stanzas, in quatrains, in tercets, and blank verse. A few poems are written in Spanish and in translation as Gaby Vargas and Mark Fernandez collaborate. Some are rhythmic; some are humorous; some light, some serious, and others are sad, but each shows the voice of the writer.
Ben writes a “percussion poem” that includes lots of onomatopoeia. Rennie writes a poem “Speaking My Mind” as a letter to the teacher. Poets write about their cultures—“Hijab,” “Espanol, and “Marvelous Matzoh,” about having Asperger’s, being the new kid, being an immigrant, and being left out.
Readers truly experience the diversity of poetry and poetic devices and one lovable class whose poems move the year along.
Our students can learn more about history from novels than textbooks, and, more importantly, stories help them understand history and its effects on the people involved. Familiar with aviator Charles Lindbergh, I was not as knowledgeable about the 1932 kidnapping of his son and the resulting trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, but the most effective way to learn about it was through the eyes, and words, of seventh-grader Katie Leigh Flynn.
Katie is a resident of Flemington, New Jersey, a town where “nothing ever happens.” (5). Katie’s father left her and her mother years ago, and both Katie and her mother are compassionate about the plight of others. The Great Depression has begun; Katie donates food and clothing for less-fortunate children and, when the hotel’s assistant chef is caught putting food in his pockets, her mother says she will “find him an apron with larger pockets.” Katie supports her best friend Mike who “is not like / the other boys I know…he’s not / stuck-up or loudmouthed or silly” (10) and lives with his father, a drunk.
Katie, nicknamed “Word Girl” by the local newspaper editor, plans to become a reporter and keeps a scrapbook of news clippings and headlines, especially about Colonel Lindbergh and the kidnapping. When the Hauptmann is arrested and the trial comes to the local courthouse, her reporter uncle needs a secretary to take notes, and she takes six weeks off school to help. Thus, readers experience the 1935 trial through Katie.
During the trial, readers meet the Lindbergs; the judge; the defendant; the alcoholic defense lawyer who hasn’t won a case in years; prosecutor Wilentz; Anna Hauptmann who swears her husband was at home with her and their baby that night; a witness (paid by the prosecution); and Walter Winchell and other celebrities who come to town for the trial.
The story reminds us that at this time Hitler is in power and discrimination and his persecution has begun in Europe. But Americans are just as prone to prejudice and discrimination. The German bakery changes its sign to “Good American-Baked Bread and Desserts.” [Katie’s] “Mother shrugs, ‘Everything German is suspicious these days.’” (96) And Hauptmann is a German immigrant.
Prejudice is not limited to Germans. People talk about Katie’s friend Mike. “They say: ‘Kids like Mike / never amount to much.’” (24) He is accused of vandalism but when Katie wants to tell who really was responsible, he tells her,
“I’m a drunkard’s son.
You’re a dancer’s daughter.
Bobby Fenwick is a surgeon’s son.
His mother is on
the School Board,
the Women’s League,
the Hospital Auxiliary,
the Town Council,
If you were Mrs, McTavish,
[who is a member of
the School Board,
the Women’s League,
the Hospital Auxiliary,
the Town Council, (110)]
Who would you believe?” (112)
Truth moves to center stage for Katie (if not for anyone else). Thinking about the conflicting testimonies and absence of evidence, she reflects, “Truth must be … like a lizard that’s too quick to catch and turns a different color to match whatever rock it sits upon.” (126) She is careful to write down every word of testimony. “I say, ‘But when a man’s on trial for his life / isn’t every word important?’” (84)
The search for truth is the heart of Jen Bryant’s novel told in free verse. After her experiences, Katie is disillusioned with the American Justice System and says that “…everything used to lay out so neatly, / everything seemed / pretty clear and straight. / Now all the streets run slantwise / and even the steeples look crooked.” (151)
The novel ends with an epilogue and a reflection on “reasonable doubt,” media, and “the complexities of human behavior” and will lead to important classroom conversations, not about the trial, but about justice.
Considering history through novels lets the reader experience, and make sense of, history through the perspective of those most affected by historic events. When I studied history through a textbook, I learned dates, names—at least the names those in publishing the textbooks thought important, and events. I never understood what that information meant or appreciated what the persons involved experienced; I felt that I never got to know them as real people—their hopes, desires, ambitions.
Ann Burg’s verse novel Unbound does just that. The story invites the reader into the hearts and thoughts of the characters, especially the main character, Grace, a young slave in the 1860’s. Grace, who has light skin and blue eyes, lives with her Mama, her two young half-brothers and their father Uncle Jim, and old Aunt Sara who helped raise her. When she is called to work in the Big House, her Mama warns her to keep her eyes down, ”to always be good, to listen to the Missus, n never talk back…n not to speak less spoken to first,” (3)
Observing the heartless Master and hateful Missus, Grace can’t help but question why they can’t do anything for themselves “Why do grown folks / need help getting dressed?” (91) She wonders why Aunt Tempie silently ignores the unfairness and abuse, “Things’ll change, Grace / maybe even sooner’n later / but till thy do—‘ (91) and why Anna and Jordon have to bear beatings and mistreatment. Reading the Missus’ words and threats is more chilling than reading about the treatment by slaveowners in textbooks.
Eventually Grace angers the Missus, “You are nothing but a slave / who needs to learn her place.” (204), and when Jordan runs away and the Master needs the money to replace him, the Missus suggests selling Grace’s family. Grace recognizes that they also need to run away (“Not sure where my place is / but I know it’s not / the Big House.” (204), and they leave in the middle of the night. Helped by OleGeorgeCooper and others, they have to decide whether to go north or go deep. And even though Grace has a chance for passing as white and “a chance / of escaping for real / of livin like the good Lord / intended folks to live. / [She] has a chance to own herself…”(212-3), the family decides to stay together.
They travel through the treacherous swamp, but as OleGeorgeCooper tells them, “There’s nothing in the swamp / what’s worse’n / the stink / of bein a slave.” (261), and as they move through, “[Grace] feels part / of another world, / a beautiful world, / A world / what whispers ‘ Freedom.” (271)
Safe (relatively) and free in a settlement in the Great Daniel Swamp, Grace explains to her new friend and family member Brooklyn, another runaway, ”Everyone’s got a way of mattering. / The only thing / what doesn’t matter / is what color / the good Lord paints us.” (336)
Well-research and written in dialect, this is an inspiring story of the maroons, enslaved people seeking freedom in the wilderness.
- Jump Ball: A Basketball Season in Poems (verse) by Mel Glenn
- The Taking of Room 114 (verse) by Mel Glenn
- Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? (verse) by Mel Glenn
- Out of the Dust (verse) by Karen Hesse
- Witness (verse) by Karen Hesse
A middle and high school teacher for twenty years, Lesley Roessing was the Founding Director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project at Georgia Southern University (formerly Armstrong State University) where she was also a Senior Lecturer in the College of Education. In 2018-19 she served as a Literacy Consultant with a K-8 school. Lesley served as past editor of Connections, the award-winning journal of the Georgia Council of Teachers of English. As a columnist for AMLE Magazine, she shared before, during, and after-reading response strategies across the curriculum through ten “Writing to Learn” columns. She has written articles on literacy for NWP Quarterly, English Journal, Voices from the Middle, The ALAN Review, AMLE Magazine, and Middle School Journal. She now works independently—writing, providing professional development in literacy to schools, visiting classrooms to facilitate book club reading activities and lessons, and posting Facebook strategies, lessons, and book reviews to support educators on https://www.facebook.com/lesley.roessing.
- Bridging the Gap: Reading Critically & Writing Meaningfully to Get to the Core
- Comma Quest: The Rules They Followed. The Sentences They Saved
- No More “Us” & “Them: Classroom Lessons and Activities to Promote Peer Respect
- The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension
- Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum
- Young Adult Literature in a Digital World: Textual Engagement though Visual Literacy
- Queer Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the English Language Arts Curriculum
- Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning through the Power of Storytelling
- Fostering Mental Health Literacy through Young Adult Literature [in press]
Lesley Roessing’s Guest-Blogs for Dr. Bickmore's YA Wednesday
10+ More Verse Novels (2018)
The New Nancy Drew: Strong Girls in MG/YA Literature
Hiding in Plain Sight: A Different Diversity
Books to Begin Conversations about Bullying, Part 1
Books to Begin Conversations about Bullying, Part 2
Learning History through Story
20 Plus 1-To-Grow-On Novel Recommendations for my July 20 Birthday
50 More Strong Girls in MG/YA Literature, Part A
50 More Strong Girls in MG/YA Literature, Part B
25 Strong Boys (and 5 Boy-Girl Partnerships) in MG/YA Literature
Short Readings: 25 MG/YA Short Story/Personal Essay Anthologies
Memoirs for Reading and Writing
Stories of Surviving Loss & Abandonment
Eleven Novels for Nine/Eleven: Studying & Discussing 9/11 through Different Perspectives
15 Novels to Generate Important Conversations about the Events & Effects of Nine Eleven
Examining the Events of September 11th through MG/YA Novels
I Read Canadian
Verse Novels to Engage Readers: An Update on 20 New Novels-in-Verse