Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange

Partridge, Elizabeth. (1998). Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange. New York, NY: Viking.

Dorothea Lange is one of America’s great photographers. She recorded the impoverished conditions that many Americans were living in during the Great Depression. Lange grew up in New York and New Jersey. Lange had a difficult childhood;

she battles with polio that left her with a limp and when she was twelve her father abandoned the family. As an adult Dorothea moved to San Francisco where she opened a portrait studio, married her first husband and had two sons. In 1934, Lange went to work with Paul Taylor, who would

later become her second husband, photographing the conditions in migrant worker camps across California.

Lange and Taylor’s reports helped obtain federal funding to help people living in poverty. Later in life Dorothea was forced to stop traveling due to poor health, but she continued photographing.

Restless Spirit is an elegantly written portrait of one of America’s greatest photographers. Lange was very devoted to the work she was doing with Taylor and had to overcome physical difficulty of her limp to photograph in the field. Lange had a passion for her work and helping the less fortunate. Lange was a truly talented photographer who had the amazing ability to put her subjects at ease and capture their souls on film.


Golden Kite Award 1999 Honor Book

Jane Addams Children's Book Award 1999 Honor Book

Orbus Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children 1999

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2000

ALA Notable Children's Book, 1999

Additional Information:




Emmanuel's Gift

Lax, L. and Stern, N. (Producer) & Lax, L and Stern, N. (Director). (2005). Emmanuel’s gift [Motion picture]. United States: First look studios, inc.

Emmanuel’s Gift is the a story of hope in the face of extreme adversity. Emmanuel Ofusa Yeboah was born in Ghana to a large family. Emmanuel was born with a deformed right leg which is the reason his father abandoned his family. Doctors predicted that Emmanuel would never walk, but he proved them wrong running and even playing soccer with the aid of crutches. Emmanuel’s mother, determined that her son would not live in poverty, begging on the street like so many disabled in Ghana, worked hard to send her son to school. When Emmanuel was thirteen his mother fell ill and he left school and home to move to the capital Accra to find and job and support the family.

Unfortunately Emmanuel’s mother did not recover and passed away. After her death Emmanuel was inspired to learn to ride a bicycle and cycle across Ghana in hopes of improving the image of the disabled. The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) granted Emmanuel a mountain bike and he went to work training.

After completing the 600 km ride across Ghana, CAF flew Emmanuel to San Diego to participate in their 56 mile bike ride. While in San Diego CAF also helped Emmanuel get surgery to have his deformed leg amputated and receive a prosthetic that would allow Emmanuel to walk without the aid of crutches for the first time in his life.

After returning to Ghana Emmanuel continued to work with CAF to help disabled athletes in Ghana. Emmanuel also campaigned for a disability bill, staging marches and protests to get government attention. Additionally Emmanuel received the Casey Martin Award which helped him set up a scholarship fund for disabled children.

Emmanuel is an inspiring athlete and human rights advocate who has overcome adversity to accomplish a lifetime of work in a few short years. Emmanuel’s Gift is a beautifully film biographical documentary which gives viewers an accurate picture of what life is like for the disabled in Ghana. Emmanuel is a true hero who is devoted to improving the lives of others.

Additional Information:


Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini

Fleischman, Sid. (2006). Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

Newberry winner author, Sid Fleischman digs into the life and myth of the great Houdini, unraveling fact from fiction. Digging into the past Fleischman discovered that Houdini was born On March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary as Ehrich Weiss, not Appleton, Wisconsin as Houdini would later claim. Despite the fact that Houdini’s father, the Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss was well educated and possessed several degrees, the Weiss family struggled to make ends meet after immigrating to the United States and settling in Houdini’s claimed birthplace of Appleton, Wisconsin. Because of his family’s struggles Houdini dropped out of school and left home to find a job at the age of 12. Houdini went to work to support his family, eventually moving to New York with his father and sending for the rest of his when they had saved enough money.

It was in New York that Houdini discovered magic and took on the name Harry Houdini which he took from his mentor the famous French magician Robert-Houdin. At age 20 Houdini met 18 year old Bess Rahner and two weeks later they were married. Houdini added Bess to his act as his assistant and they performed and traveled together for the rest of their lives. Bess and Houdini were extremely devoted to each other; she stood by him for years while he tried to make a name for himself as a magician.

Houdini eventually achieved success and fame first in Europe and later in the United States. Crowds were mystified by Houdini’s ability to escape from virtually anything, including handcuffs, jail cells, straightjackets and more. He routinely performed publicity stunts in which challenged the local authorities to hold him in their most secure restrains, usually escaping in a matter of minutes. In this way Houdini sold out theater after theater.

Later in life Houdini launched a trade magazine for magicians and took to debunking Spiritualists who claimed they could communicate with the dead. Houdini also made ventures in aviation and in the movie industry. Houdini continued performing up until his death in 1926.

In Escape! Fleischman unravels the mysterious life of the great Houdini. Once a young magician himself Fleischman is careful to keep to the magician’s code and keep the mystery of the magic alive by refusing to reveal the secrets behind Houdini’s tricks. Fleischman’s writing is light and humorous and his book is sure to appeal to any young amateur magician.


YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007

ALA Notable Book, 2007

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, 2007 Honor Book

Additional Information:



Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Hoose, Phillip. (2009). Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice. New York, NY: Melanie Kroupa Books.

Claudette Colvin was fifteen when she was arrested for breaking the segregation laws by refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white woman. Before Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders stood up to prejudice, Colvin stood up for her Constitutional rights. Unfortunately the civil rights leaders did not this a fifteen year old made an appropriate spokesperson for a bus boycott and decided not to fight for equal rights beyond appealing Claudette’s charges.

Instead of being considered a hero by her African American peers, she was received with anger at school. Soon after her trial Colvin was kicked out of high school when she became pregnant by an older man who had taken advantage of her. Despite not being allowed to finish her education and being shunned in the community, Colvin continued to stand up for her rights, join three other women in the landmark case Browder v. Gayle, which ruled that segregation of Montgomery buses was unconstitutional.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is an inspiring story. Colvin’s story demonstrates how hard it can be to stand up for oneself. Colvin faced anger at school and within her community after her arrest. It must have been frustrating when a few months later Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person and was regaled as a hero and the spokesperson of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Colvin was extremely brave, risking her life to fight segregation in the south. Colvin’s actions prove that young people have the power to stand up for what is right and to change the world. Hoose chooses to include Claudette’s own voice in the telling of her story, giving the book authenticity.


Newberry Honor 2010

Siebert Informational Honor Book 2010

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist 2010

Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children 2010

ALA Notable Book 2010

National Book Awards 2009 winner young people’s literature

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults

Society of School Librarians International Book Award, 2009 Social Studies Honor Book

Jane Addams Children’s Book Award 2010 Honor

Carter G. Woodson Book Award, 2010

Author’s Website:


Monday, March 21, 2011

Charles and Emma:The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Heiligman, Deborah. (2009). Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Charles and Emma follows the life and marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin. The story begins after Darwin returned to England from his 5 year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. Darwin decides that he would have a fuller richer life if he married and at 30 he and his cousin Emma Wedgewood were married. Darwin’s work left him feeling very conflicted about religion and the role of a creator. Emma on the other hand was devote and believed in God as creator and in an afterlife in heaven or hell. Darwin and Emma were both exceptionally well read and intelligent and though they never did agree on the subject of religion they were able to weigh both sides of the argument and support each others beliefs. Darwin feared the uproar his theories might create and because of that spent twenty years honing his research and perfecting his argument before he published On the Origin of Species, his most famous work. Emma acted as his editor, reading all his work and helping him to strengthen his argument. Together they had 10 children, 7 growing to adulthood. Charles and Emma tells the story of an unlikely, but strong marriage full of love and respect.

Reading this book I was touched by the relationship that Darwin and Emma shared. They truly loved and respected each other. They wrote numerous letters to one another, even after they were married, that describe their marriage as a partnership of mutual love and respect. Emma worried about Darwin’s soul and whether she would see him again in heaven and Darwin worried too, he truly wanted to believe for Emma’s sake, but could not ignore the evidence presented in his work. After reading this book you really feel like you have a sense of who Charles Darwin was, he was a very thoughtful and caring husband, father, and scientist. This is an excellent book that is sure to be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.

Michael L. Printz Honor 2010
National Book Award finalist 2009
YALSA Award for Excellence in Non-fiction 2010
Junior Library Guild Selection
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults 2010

Additional Information:

Andy Warhol : prince of pop

by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan

Sure, you may have seen his famous Campbell’s soup can painting.  Or perhaps the one he did of Marilyn Monroe.  But how much do you really know about the famous pop culture artist Andy Warhol?  Andy was born into life an artist, though he struggled to find his niche in the field.  He struggled with personal problems and his own sexuality throughout his life.  He revolutionized the pop art scene with his paintings of everyday objects.  Andy Warhol was more than just a man who took a soup can and made a career from it, he was an artistic genius who wanted to make his mark on the world.

Andy Warhol is an artist who revolutionized the art scene.  While his paintings receive mixed reviews as to their ingenuity to this day, he remains one of the great American artists of the 20th century.  In this biography, written to older tweens and teens, his life is revealed.  From early childhood to his older years, Andy is revealed to be a conflicted man who struggles with successes and failures.  This book details some of the problems he had in his life, but discusses them in a more PG fashion than biographies on the artist written for an older set.  Overall a great read about the artist, and one that even non-artists will appreciate as overall it’s the story of one man’s life and struggle for fame and success.   

Fight on! : Mary Church Terrell's battle for integration

 by Dennis Brindell Fradin & Judith Bloom Fradin

Mary Church Terrell had a privileged upbringing.  Not only did she graduate high school, but she was one of very few women who went to and graduated college.  And she wasn’t just at college to find a husband, she was there to learn!  What makes Mary’s accomplishment in this even more extraordinary, was the fact that she was African American. Mary didn’t stop her accomplishments with graduating college, she led the fight to stop segregation in Washington DC restaurants through picketing and lawsuits.  She believed that just because her skin as a different color she should not be banned from eating in certain restaurants.  She knew that it was only ignorance that led people follow segregation laws, and she was determined to show people they were wrong.

This book is an interesting read about a woman who broke a lot of barriers in her day.  The fact that she had such a privileged upbringing and was so dedicated to making life better for others is very moving.  She was well educated, which gave her arguments against segregation a lot more sway than they might have had otherwise.  She is a very strong woman, which makes a book about her a great motivational tool for tweens of both genders.  In addition, the book looks at segregation policies very frankly. It’s a great book about someone who isn’t as well known for her work during the civil rights movement, but should be. 

Good brother, bad brother : the story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth

by James Cross Giblin
What if you were born into a family of actors?  What if you were able to travel around the country performing with your famous father?  What if you, along with your brothers, were famous all over the country for your stage performances? What if one of those brothers was John Wilkes Booth?  What happens when your brother becomes the most hated man in America for assassinating President Lincoln? This is the story not of John Wilkes Booth, but of his older brother, Edwin Booth.  This is the story of how one family lived before John committed that terrible act, and how Edwin fought to keep his family together and safe after. 

This presents an interesting look at the life of the family of one of America’s greatest villains.  I think that it is especially interesting as a lot of times one tends to assume that just because one person has committed a terrible act, those around him are guilty too.  This book focuses mainly on Edwin’s life, both before and after the assassination, as well as at the events going on in America and how they affected the family and John.  Overall a really excellent book which gives a different look at such a notorious figure.

The voice that challenged a nation : Marian Anderson and the struggle for equal rights

 by Russell Freedman
Marian Anderson was one of the great singers of the mid-20th century.  She performed all over the country and across Europe, and was heralded for her beautiful voice and singing style.  She was also African American.  Marian didn’t want her race to become a factor in her singing, but when she was barred from performing in the biggest concert hall in DC because of it, it became one.  This book tells about her struggle to share the gift of her voice with any who wanted to hear it.  It tells how she broke many boundaries and was the result many segregation rules changed in DC, and other places in the country. 

Marian Anderson was above all else a performer.  She wasn’t political in nature, but later in life became so.  This book tells her story and about how above all else she wanted to sing.  It is not a book strictly on the civil rights movement, but discusses how one woman who was fairly removed from it due to her growing up in the Northern states and living in non-segregated areas became a fairly prominent example of someone who had risen above a racial stereotype.  It’s a well written book which will interest tweens who are interested in civil rights of personal achievement. 

Betsy Ross

Just about everyone knows that Betsy Ross made the first American flag, but do you know how she came to be the person asked by George Washington himself to sew that flag?  Betsy’s life was full of both happiness and tragedy, successes and failures.  She lived to be 84, but few of us know much more about her than her great contribution to our history.  Check out this website to learn more about the woman who’s mark on America’s history would always be remembered. http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/

This is an interactive website with information both on Betsy Ross herself, as well as information about the American flag itself. One interesting part of the site has a list of flag rules as well as times when those rules have been broken.  It’s a great site written for tweens which incorporates interactive elements, like a quiz about flag trivia and instructions for cutting out the perfect star in one cut, with facts and a narrative on Betsy’s life.

Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist

Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist. Museum of Science, Boston. URL: http://www.mos.org/leonardo/

Leonardo Da Vinci Leonardo Da Vinci Biography
This fun and informative website is an ideal resource for tweens hoping to learn more about the life and work of one of the world’s most influential thinkers, Leonardo da Vinci. The site was created by the Museum of Science, Boston following their 1997 exhibit, “Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist.” The site states that nothing can compare to seeing the exhibit in real-life, but the museum sought to preserve some of the magic by creating a website dedicated all things da Vinci.

The site is divided from the homepage into four main sections: “Leonardo @ the Museum,” “Renaissance Man,” “Exploring Leonardo,” and “Multimedia Zone.” Each section contains a bevy of information to educate viewers on da Vinci’s amazing life. Various subpages have interactive quizzes, maps and other activities, as well as many images of da Vinci’s art and inventions.

What makes the site so welcoming for tweens is the light-hearted nature of the wording, images and overall set-up. For example, the center of the homepage features a very famous picture of Leonardo, but as the mouse moves around the screen, so do his eyes. The link to reach the “Multimedia Zone” is a picture of the Mona Lisa wearing a futuristic visor that snaps over her eyes as the mouse rolls over the link. The fun feeling of the site, however, does not detract from the fact that it contains quite a bit of useful information.


By now, nearly everyone must know of Anne Frank and her diary. It is taught extensively in schools, students must often watch the various films made about the Frank Family in the Secret Annex, and her diary is required reading.

Visitors to Amsterdam by the thousands visit the Anne Frank Museum daily to see how Anne and her family and lived, along with their cohorts the the van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer.

Clearly, not everyone in the United States, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, can just hop over to Amsterdam to visit the museum- thus an interactive website that allows us, from far away, to tour the Secred Annex and see just how they all lived while they were in hiding, and just what Anne was writing about in her diary.

The website gives us a great view into how everyone lived and got along (or didn't) in such a small space. For instance- Anne shared her room with the middle-aged dentist, Fritz Pfeffer. Not exactly the dream of every teenage girl, to be sharing space with a middle-aged man.

Another link on the site brings us to "who's who" of the attic- and we learn everyone's relationship to Anne (her romance with Peter, her annoyance with his mother...).

Yet another link brings us to the outcome of the residents of the Secret Annex. We learn that of the residents of the attic, only Otto survives. Also, we learn about the helpers and we learn about Otto Frank's life and the decision to publish Anne's diary after her death in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.

I highly recommend this site to students, as well as people who have a personal interest in World War II and what it was like to go into hiding. I think it is good for ages 12 up- because we know that nearly everyone who lived in the attic died.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

by Adeline Yen Mah
New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 1999
Audience:  Grades 5-10
This autobiography tells the story of Yen Mah, a young girl living in China during World War II. Shortly after she is born, Yen Mah’s mother dies from labor complications. Her family immediately views her as “cursed” or “unlucky,” and her siblings blame her for her mother’s death for most of her childhood. To make matters worse, her father remarries a cruel woman, Niang, who neglects Adeline and her four siblings in favor of her own children. When the family moves to Shanghai during the war, Yen Mah and her siblings are hardly fed and treated like servants.
Struggling with her family’s disgust, Yen Mah finds some comfort in her grandfather, Ye Ye, and her unmarried Aunt Baba. She also finds solace in school, where she excels academically, especially with writing and studying literature. At the age of fourteen, Yen wins a play-writing competition and convinces her father to allow her to travel to England to study. Despite the abuse she experienced in her childhood and her father’s neglect, Adeline goes on to become a successful doctor and writer.
Adeline Yen Mah, 2004
This tragic and heart-wrenching story about perseverance and overcoming hardship will appeal to tweens, especially girls. Although Adeline Yen Mah describes the tale as a “Cinderella story,” there is no Prince Charming who rescues Adeline from her fate. Using her own skills, intelligence and personal strength, Yen Mah evades her “evil stepmother” and realizes her dreams. Tweens will find this story inspiring, though, at times, difficult to read. One portion in particular might be too intense for younger readers. One of Adeline’s relatives gives her and her siblings ducklings as a present, and Adeline decides to keep her’s as a pet. Naming her duckling “Precious Little Treasure,” she cares for her pet, lovingly finding her food and training her. The family’s ferocious dog, however, gets hold of Precious Little Treasure and the duckling does not survive. Young tweens might have trouble reading about this, particularly since one of Yen Mah’s siblings selects Precious Little Treasure to act as bait for training the dog. This and other acts of cruelty Yen Mah experiences should be discussed with a teacher or parent following reading the novel.

The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing but the Seuss

by Charles D. Cohen
New York: Random House Children’s Books, 2004
Audience: Grade 6 +

Cover image for The Seuss, the whole Seuss, an...This illustrated look into the life of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, was written by lifetime fan and collector of “Seussiana,” Charles D. Cohen. Beginning with his early writing at Central High School in Springfield, Massachusetts, Cohen discusses “Ted’s” rise from editor-in-chief of the Dartmouth College Dartmouth Jack-o-Lantern to one of the most celebrated children’s authors in history. Cohen presents not only the life of Ted Geisel, but also the workings of Dr. Seuss artistic mind. Cohen’s collection of Seussiana is included on almost every page of the book, giving readers a chance to experience some of Dr. Seuss’s early sketches of such favorites as Horton and the Cat in the Hat.
Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss
This biography will appeal to tweens for many reasons. Not only is it well-written and easily understandable for young audiences, the text is, at times, quite fun and “Seussian.” Tweens will enjoy seeing drawings and memorabilia of some of the most treasured Dr. Seuss characters. The life of Theodor Geisel is also quite interesting outside of his famous stories. Geisel was a lifelong opponent of anti-Semitism, discrimination and racism in America. At a time when not many would speak out, Geisel included these sentiments in his work. Many tweens will enjoy discovering that the beloved author and illustrator was also a role model as well.

I Have Lived a Thousand Years

By Livia Bitton-Jackson

This book begins with a Foreward, 50 years after the events portrayed. Livia Bitton-Jackson is returning to Seeshaupt, a Bavarian town in Germany, to tell her story.

The story: Livia, called Elli, is a clumsy 12 year old girl, she does not think she is pretty, and she is gangly. Her mother is unsentimental- and while Livia as a child thinks this is because her mother doesn't love her, it's really because she wants Elli to be self-sufficient. Her brother, Bubi, is handsome and smart and goes off to study in a Jewish seminary.

Elli's father tells her not to take the things that Hitler says on the radio seriously- he insists it's not literal, but the situation becomes so tense that he wants to travel to Budapest to bring Bubi home. Bubi comes home of his own accord, however- luckily, because other people who had gone to Budapest did not return.

On March 19th, 1944, Hitler's army took Budapest- but now, this means that everyone is chanting "Heil Hitler" and yelling at Elli- taunting, "Hey, Jew Girl!"-- on the 27th of March, all Jews must register with the town hall. Elli is forced to give up her bicycle. The town crier, whose announcements formerly amused her, now fill her with dread, because they announce one more thing Jews must do, or one more thing they are not allowed to do. Elli becomes depressed, but still receives honors in school.

Eventually, all of the Jews in her town are rounded up and sent to the ghetto in a town 14 miles away and her father was sent, along with other men, to Komaron, a forced labor camp, and Elli, her mother, and brother were sent to Auschwitz. They go back and forth between Auschwitz and other labor camps, but the arrival of allied soldiers is imminent. That does not mean that they will not still be tortured by the nazis, however, and Bubi is shot in the head. He survives, but only with a lot of care. Ultimately, in their immediate family, Elli's father is the only one who dies- but the experience is devastating and harrowing.

I think that this book gives added perspective to the holocaust- that it happened to many different people, and in many different ways. The holocaust biography is a very popular subject, but this book is very well-written and literate, as well as honest. I think it is good for older tweens- from 12 up.

Publisher's Weekly gave this book a starred review.


by Elie Wiesel
New York: Hill and Wang, 1972 (originally published in the United States in 1958)
Audience:  Grade 7+
Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel is a 15-year-old Orthodox Jew living in Sighet, Hungary in 1943. Elie spends most of his time studying the Talmud and discussing life and religion with his synagogue’s caretaker, Moshe the Beadle. Soon, the government begins to take a new stance on Jews living in Hungary. Moshe the Beadle is forced onto a cattle train and taken to Poland, only to escape, returning to Sighet to warn the Jews of the horrors he witnessed at the hands of the Gestapo.
Over the following months, Elie and his family are forced by the German SS to move to a ghetto adjacent to their town. There they live, unsure of their fate, until May 1944 when they are told they are being relocated. Elie and his family board a crowded cattle train and are taken to the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arriving at Auschwitz, Elie and his father, Shlomo, are separated from his mother and sisters, who are immediately killed. Elie and Shlomo struggle to survive in the horrifying conditions of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the eventual death march they are forced to undertake as their captors evade the Allied forces.
File:Buchenwald Slave Laborers Liberation.jpg
Buchenwald Liberation
This beautifully written and heart-wrenching story is a must-read for anyone wishing to come to a better understanding of the horrors of the holocaust. Wiesel’s experiences are unimaginable, particularly because he was just a teenager while battling for his life. Night also manages to express the terrible events in the story without graphic language or gore, making it appropriate for younger audiences.
An appropriate continuation for students interested in learning more about Elie Wiesel and his incredible life would be to read the “sequels” to Night, Dawn (1961) and Day (1962). Students can also learn more about Wiesel by visiting his website http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org .

My Brother, My Sister, and I

By Yoko Kawashima Watkins

Balancing Farewell to Manzanar with a book about what it was like to be in Japan post-war is My Brother, My Sister, and I. It is actually a sequel to So Far from the Bamboo Grove, about a Japanese family's attempt to escape from Korea as World War II comes to an end. I selected My Brother, My Sister, and I because it deals with re-integration into Japanese society after having grown up in Korea, as foreigners in what ought to be their homeland.

Yoko, still called Little One, at 14, is the youngest of three siblings. Her sister, Ko, is a student at Seian University, and her oldest sibling, Hideyo, 21, is a guard because of his Martial Arts skills. They are living in poverty- their mother passed away suddenly one day in a train station, and their father is nowhere to be found. They keep up hope that he is alive, and their filial piety is strong- they hang onto their family heirlooms and have an altar devoted to their mother.

Having befriended an elderly couple (The Masudas) who own a large clog factory, they have a shelter over their head, albeit in a very small room, which is measured in Tatami (rectangular woven grass mats). A single tatami measures 3 feet by 6 feet, so this room is very small. When someone lights fire to the clog factory, the Kawashimas must escape- but Ko runs back into the fire to get a bundle of family heirlooms and their mothers ashes. She injures herself very badly and ends up in the hospital for a few months. Ko is restless, but as the narrator, Yoko has to endure bullies at school and prejudice from strangers.

Yoko cannot afford basic school supplies like paper, so she has to salvage what she can from other students trash, and she also helps the janitor, who has a speech impediment but is a very kind man. The other students are nasty- she is called trash and ragdoll and more; she is accused of thievery, and while she hates school immensely and wants to drop out (can't really blame her with bullies like those), because her siblings are adamant that she stays, she does.

Accused of murdering the Masudas, Yoko and her brother set out to find the real culprit with the help of the police- and they ultimately find the culprits with cunning and clever tactics. Unfortunately, this is not the end of Yoko's trouble, since she is now the enemy of the rich girls at school after boldly exposing one as a liar and getting her expelled.

The second portion of the book deals with the search for their father. Unfortunately, nobody has heard from him, and in post-war Japan, the infrastructure is weak and there is little help other than mailing a postcard with a lost person's name on it to their home city. Yoko puts up cards for her father in Aomori, but rumor has it that all high-ranking officers who were trapped in Korea had been killed, so there is very little hope.

Yoko is still attending her horrid school, and learning crafts like how to make silk and how to sew lovely toys for children, so she is learning to make money. Eventually, she goes to stay with the Minato family who are better able to provide for her, but she receives a telegram that her sister is very ill and needs surgery on her knee.

Finally, their search for their father comes to an end, and their long journey is resolved- but only after much struggle and being disheartened time after time.

I recommend this book as a companion piece to Farewell to Manzanar because shines a light on Japanese culture, and what it might have been like after the war for Japanese people outside of the United States. Yuko and her siblings have a very strong familial bond and keep it together, even when the going becomes extremely tough.

Ages 11 up.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

By Peter Sis

I can admit I almost didn't read The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain because it's size and shape is exactly like many hardcover picture books. Plus, it has a baby on the cover and it is filled with drawings. When I began to read, I realized that this book is a great introduction into the world of Graphic Novels- it's sort of a pre-MAUS book- slightly (but not much) lighter with its subject.

I am glad, however, that I took the time to look through it and realize that it wasn't your average picture book, so I selected it. It is a Caldecott Honor book, and it was awarded a Kirkus Star.

Upon opening the book, the things that instantly draw the eye are the intricate drawings- of a little boy with a single curl down his forehead who loves to draw. Also, there are images of Prague and the people around Peter- Peter was born after the end of World War II, in what is now called the Czech Republic. Back in those days, however, it was part of the much larger conglomerate known as the United Soviet Socialist Republic.

When Peter enters school, there are a lot of things that he must do, things that would be voluntary in western nations. Russian Language classes were compulsory; Joining the Young Pioneers was compulsory; collecting scrap metal was; when he is older, joining the military was compulsory. When at school, Peter draws what he is told, when at home, he draws what he wants.

The secret police are everywhere. Parents learn not to be overly opinionated about political matters around their kids, for fear that their kids will report them. Western radio is banned, but somehow, the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones is pervasive popular. Kids build their own instruments and make clothes and shoes in the latest fashions to keep up. There are excerpts from Peter's diary- for instance, his father's cousin is imprisoned because he was on a national volleyball team and the secret police discover that the whole team intends to defect upon attending a tournament in another country.

Eventually, things seem like they are getting better with Alexander Dubcek as the new head of the Czech Communist government. Peter begins writing to a magazine in Britain called Record Mirror and he even gets his passport and books a trip to England. The USSR, however, has other things in mind and squashes everything- Peter and his parents were all out of the country when Russian tanks rolled into Prague, but they decided to go back to Prague, thinking it would be safe. The Beach Boys are allowed to come play a concert, but the police are waiting outside with dogs, and violence erupts. One of his friends dies from injuries to his head from a police baton.

Peter has a rock band and many of his friends are musicians- some of these people end up in prison. He thinks this is excessively harsh.

Peter grows up and finds a job as an animator- he has to turn one job down, however, since it requires he join the Communist Party. But finally, in 1989, the Berlin Wall collapses. By this time, Peter is an adult and has been living in the United States since 1984, but he is beyond thrilled.

The youngest person I would recommend this book to would be an 8 year old. Even that, I feel, may be too young. The format this book is in makes it look deceptively simple- but the subject and some of the vocabulary is simply too much for younger children- some examples of words that show up: dissident; Ideological; . Ultimately, I would suggest this for children between 9 and 11, but even as an adult, I thought it was very interesting and would recommend it to other adults, particularly those interested in art.

After the Wall: Confessions from an East German Childhood and the Life that Came Next

by Jana Hensel
New York: Public Affairs, 2004
Audience: Grade 7 +
Jana Hensel was born in Leipzig, East Germany in 1976. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall falls and Germany is reunified. Thirteen-year-old Jana and her friends are excited about the new things that western culture brings: magazines, trendy clothes, American music. Her high-school class is even the first to follow a new western curriculum. But how far will Jana and her friends and family go to “fit in” to their new lives? As Jana becomes more assimilated into western culture, she reflects upon what was lost by East Germans after the wall fell.
One of the most interesting aspects of this memoir, apart from Jana’s own experiences, are the observations of her parents and grandparents. Having lived so rigidly under such an oppressive rule for almost 60 years, these generations experience a high degree of culture shock when suddenly thrust into western life. Jana and her family have almost an immigration experience, even though they did not leave their country.
Berlin Wall, Germany 1986
Originally published under the title Zonenkinder (2002), After the Wall achieved huge success in Jana’s native Germany where the memories of East and West are still strong. Many tweens will identify with Jana’s experiences at age thirteen, an already confusing time for adolescents, when her world was turned upside down.

Farewell to Manzanar

By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston used to be just Jeanne Wakatsuki, a Japanese-American girl in California, who, because of her Japanese ancestry was sent with her family in 1942 to live in the internment camp Manzanar in Owens Valley, California. Jean was American through-and-through, but because of her Japanese family name and Japanese looks, she and her family, along with thousands of other Japanese-American people were illegally imprisoned because wartime hysteria trumped reason and law.

Jeanne is the youngest child. When the book begins, she is seven- she has two older brothers, Bill, Woody, and Ray, sisters Lillian, May and Kiyo. One night, her father comes home and begins to burn the keepsakes he had brought with him from Japan as a young man- she can’t understand why, but she is aware that the FBI is ransacking the homes of her neighbors and will ransack hers, too. When they finally come, Jeanne’s father is arrested and is not seen again by the family for a year.

Later, when Jeanne goes to school, she realizes that her teacher is outwardly hostile toward her, and while she can’t quite understand the reason behind it, she knows it’s because she looks like the enemy- it’s almost, but not quite, a relief to be sent away. They are bussed inland to Manzanar, where they are to live in Block 16- a pine building lined

with tarpaper. Jeanne’s mother takes a job as a dietician and makes a little extra money, her brother Woody a job as a carpenter. Jeanne plays and goes to school.

Jeanne’s father is imprisoned and sends letters just a few times a month, with words and phrases redacted by censors. Jeanne remembers him negatively- as a braggart, somewhat abusive, and certainly an alcoholic. Others saw him differently, though- he was skilled with his hands, knew many crafts, and unlike many Issei (Native-born Japanese immigrants), he spoke English as fluently as Japanese (Jeanne is nissei- i.e. second generation, and any children of hers are sansei).

Farewell to Manzanar culminates with Jeanne’s post-war experiences. When she leaves the camp, by this time, in her own right a “tween” she knows that she is different, and that people will continue to see her as an enemy. The result is that she has cripplingly low self-esteem and while she maintains good grades and has friends, in the back of her mind is the constant memory of her youthful imprisonment and the nagging feeling that people disapprove of her because she is of Japanese descent. Finally, as an adult, she comes to term with who she is and eventually visits Manzanar to come to terms with it.

Here's a photo of Manzanar for Perspective:

Farewell to Manzanar was writte

n in 1973 during a time when the United States was still fairly culturally insular, so for culturally sensitive adult readers, the book explains issues in too much depth, but for tween readers who may be completely unaware that there was a time in American history when people were imprisoned in camps, the explanations are helpful. This book is a good choice for introducing to young readers that the United States has not always been as equal as purported. I highly recommend this for older tweens.

I chose this book in spite of a lack of awards- I chose it because it is widely used in schools, particularly on the west coast. As I was reading it, a senior in high school told me she had read it for school.