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scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source

Category results for 'African-American-history'.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom is a poetic tribute to the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, a woman who endured the brutality of slavery and knew she had to choose between liberty and death, and so she took her freedom on her own before helping hundreds of others to do the same. This book primarily focuses on her initial escape, written in a narrative that includes an ongoing dialog between her and God, as she relies on him every step of the way.

I appreciated this perspective on her faith, even though the text does not cover many details of her life. There is an author's note at the end that gives more information about Tubman's life in slavery and her work on the Underground Railroad after her escape. 

Once again, Kadir Nelson's illustrations convey so much depth of spirit here -- Harriet Tubman's courage, fear, and faith are evident in her face as well as in the text.

Scrounged From: Our local library

Format: Hardcover
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Pages: 48
Content Advisory: The text doesn't really get into Tubman's treatment while she was enslaved, but her escape is perilous at times.

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I'm a bit surprised that I managed to obtain an English degree without being assigned to read Their Eyes Were Watching God, because I can see why it's such a major American novel.

In the afterword written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., he mentions that Hurston saw her first novel (written a few years before this one) as "a manifesto against the 'arrogance' of whites assuming that 'black lives are only defensive reactions to white actions.'" This book also seems to avoid the reactionary point of view, and tries to simply capture black culture and people as they were, without requiring a "contrast" of white characters, unlike some of the other novels by black authors from the same period (a few of which I actually was assigned in college).

Hurston used vernacular speech in the dialog here, which for me meant it took a little longer to read, but sometimes that's a good thing. I loved the flow of the writing, and there were a few moments of humor as well. Toward the end of the story, the main characters are involved in a hurricane, which was a bit of deja vu to read during hurricane season last year when Florida had just been hit by Irma -- but this is one section where the descriptions are the best, and contains the title line. 

To be honest, I didn't find Janie Crawford that sympathetic of a character in the beginning of the story, although the first page or so of the novel is a gem all on its own. But as the chapters passed and Janie and the scenery around her became more developed, I appreciated more the glimpse into this particular time and place, the way the story pulled me in, and the lyrical (as it has oft been described) style that is employed in so much of the narrative. The ending of the story navigated so well between heartbreak and determination, and kept me up past my bedtime (so in other words, I expected to like it a little but ended up liking it a lot). 

Scrounged From: Our local flea market

Format: Paperback
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Pages: 237
Content Advisory: A few swear words, a violent scene at the end (involving a gun) as well as a few instances and mentions of domestic violence, and a couple non-explicit sexual scenes.

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I enjoyed Stella by Starlight -- the story of a black girl named Stella who is living in the depression-era South. Stella doesn't have a lot of power over the events that take place around her -- the segregation, the hurdles her friends and family members are forced to go through just to attempt to cast a ballot, the KKK meetings across the lake, and the arson of the house of her friends. But she learns to find her voice and rely on her family and on the close-knit community she lives in.

Stella wants to write and be a writer, which does not seem entirely uncommon in books about adolescent children written by people who are also writers. What I appreciated was that her struggles and learning seem to be portrayed realistically for the most part. When Stella's teacher announces a writing contest, I expected that Stella, being the protagonist, was probably going to win. But she doesn't. And despite that, she keeps writing. I like seeing that in books aimed at middle grade readers especially -- it's not always about winning -- sometimes it's just about being willing to make mistakes and keep on trying, and the "winning," if it comes at all, may be many years down the road still. But Stella still fights and wins a few victories on the way.

To be honest, there were a few times when it seemed to me that Stella's "voice" sounded too much like an adult trying to speak through a child. Mainly in some of the metaphors and more abstract views she comes up with that seem like they'd be beyond her actual experience.

Still, a good read for the characterizations and writing style, as well as informative about this time period.

Scrounged From: Our local library

Format: Hardcover
Author: Sharon Draper
Pages: 320
Content Advisory: As mentioned in the review, KKK activities are mentioned, as well as a scene of arson, scenes of racial discrimination/demeaning treatment, and a few characters are injured or in peril at different times.

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It's not that I'm going out of my way to select books illustrated by Kadir Nelson -- it's just that he seems to be the current master of illustrating the African American story, and so many of his books are highly acclaimed, and rightly so. His illustrations here evoke a strong sense of determination, identity, and community, among other things.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans is the stunningly illustrated story of African Americans in America -- who have been here since long before the country became independent, and have contributed so much to America's success and sense of identity ever since. 

Written in a voice that is both informative and informal, this story traces African Americans' history, from the first settlers through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the fight for Civil Rights. It also includes some lesser-known aspects of African American history, such as various inventors, and people who went west during westward expansion, including cowboys.

The narrative occasionally makes reference to grandparents and uncles, etc., but it wasn't clear to me until the end who the narrator was supposed to be. At first I thought it was simply meant to be a "collective" voice, but in the epilogue it becomes more clear that the narrator is someone who is very old, who culminates her story with a vote for Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States.

Of course, trying to fit such a large amount of history into a book this size is a challenge, and can result in gaps and lack of nuance in the treatment of some topics. Still, this is a very valuable contribution to history written for children, and would make a great addition to any US history classroom or homeschool program.

Scrounged From: Our local library

Format: Hardcover
Author/illustrator: Kadir Nelson 
Pages: 112
Content Advisory: References are made to violence in the context of slavery and war.

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I Love My Hair!  is a book that portrays a girl named Keyana getting her hair brushed by her mother. It hurts and she doesn't like it, but when her mother is done, she reminds her that her hair is beautiful and she can wear it in any style she chooses.

This is a positive celebration of African hair, and I love the visual metaphors of different styles, such as "cornrows" showing her hair blending into a cornfield -- we also see other styles such as braids with beads, and the natural style, described as letting her hair go any way it pleases. 

Toward the end, the voice changes to Keyana's: "I love my hair, because it is thick as a forest, soft as cotton candy." She says her favorite style is one ponytail on each side of her head, like wings, and that one day she might take off and fly!

Scrounged From: Our local library

Format: Paperback
Author: Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Pages: 32
Content Advisory: None

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