1/9/2016 ** As I've read today, I've wondered about books that were moving, but seemed so far beyond the realm of my students' experiences that I wasn't sure if they'd be able to connect.
I think children will be able to connect with this one, in unexpected ways. Diva lives a privileged life in a lovely, safe apartment; Flea wanders and is self-sufficient. Diva doesn't wonder where her next meal will come from, but is fearful of new things. Flea relishes new things, but doesn't know what it is to eat without looking over his shoulder for a swinging broom.
Though the world of Paris and the language of French are unfamiliar to the majority of my students, and though the book has an antiquated look, the themes of friendship, courage, and the fear of the unknown will resonate with all readers. Through friendship, we learn new things. Through empathy and respect for others we can develop loyalty and face our fears.
Find it, read it. It will touch your heart.
I’m trying to remember where I first heard about Bomb by Steve Sheinkin mentioned. Perhaps it was in list of 2013 Newbery Award Honor Books, or perhaps in the Nerdy Book Club review of The Green Glass Sea, which mentioned that Bomb would make a good companion book.
One might hope that a book about the creation of the first atomic bomb would be a bit explosive, instead Bomb is a painstaking narrative with lots of interlocking characters. Sheinkin obviously did extensive research, and then does a stellar/solid job of framing and transmitting a complex story without having either the science or the personalities overpower the story. Written for middle and high-school students, Bomb would also hold the interest of an adult new to the material. While I was familiar with the broad outlines of the Manhattan Project and the Los Alamos story, the details of Soviet spying and the destruction of the heavy water plant in Norway were new to me.
My husband, a historian by training, took a quick look at Bomb and deemed it a legitimate work of history. He thought that Mr. Sheinkin had done a proper job of balancing 3rd party descriptions, recollections, quotes, and facts while being conscious of the intended audience. My 7th grader who gravitates to non-fiction had Bomb on frequent rotation for at least a month and spent quite a bit of time talking/working through the distressing parts of the story. My 5th grader also read Bomb, stored the details into his prodigious memory, and then moved on – but requested that we get the other books written by Steven Sheinkin. Both boys have since devoured Mr. Sheinkin’s more recent book The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights along with the older works available in our public library.
As a sidenote, I read and reviewed The Green Glass Sea in May 2013. My reaction to Green Glass Sea stated in part “Part of the charm of the book was having famous people, like Enrico Fermi, just showing up as dinner companions and other incidental scenes. But if you don't know who they are, then some of the interest is gone.” Reading Bomb in parallel would give context to the people portrayed in The Green Glass Sea. I agree that these two books make a good fiction/non-fiction pairing, such as becoming beloved by teachers trying to adapt to the Common Core requirements.
Recently featured on the Nerdy Book Club as part of a round-up of brave, adventuresome heroines that elementary aged readers might want to meet before diving into YA dystopias such as the Hunger Games (link) One Crazy Summer follows sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern as they travel from their home with their father and Big Ma in Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother Cecile in Oakland, CA. But it’s the summer of 1968 and their mother doesn’t go by Cecile any more, she says her name is NZILA and she writes poetry and prints flyers for the Black Panthers. We follow the sisters as they go to a Black Panther’s camp, and as thanks to 11 (almost 12) year old Delphine pretty much take care of themselves in the face of their mother’s preoccupation.
While Delphine and her sisters were charming, and the interplay between them and their peers well done, I kept wondering about the intended target audience. Reading as an adult, I found myself goggling at children left to fend for themselves the way Delphine and her sisters were. I found the denouement with Cecile’s abrupt confession for why she’d left in the first place and her excuses for why she treated her children the way she had problematic (and hoping that my opinion wasn’t unreasonably biased by my own ethnic and economic privilege). Historical fiction can be a hard sell, and I wonder whether One Crazy Summer would appeal widely to middle-grade readers and recommend pairing it with informational texts to help students understand where history starts and fiction begins. Other adult readers found One Crazy Summer worthy of praise and it was a National Book Award Finalist and mentioned by the folks at #weneeddiversebooks
I seem to be on a Nerdy Book Club streak, as this selection (and the next I am likely to review) was inspired by having seen a review for I am J in early October and also saw it mentioned in the recent roundup of books for teens addressing issues of love and abuse.
I don’t know why I have recently been attracted to books about LBGTQ youth. I am a confirmedly cis-gendered heterosexual female, though I spent much of my teen-hood oblivious (today we might say identified as an asexual person) and hanging out with a batch of slightly older folks who were definitely in the experimenting and questioning stage (I remember long, involved negotiations of who could sleep next to whom as large numbers jammed into the king-sized beds of shared hotel rooms at SF cons – I usually stayed out of the fray in favor of a sleeping bag on the floor or if lucky literally in the closet!).
I can say that I am not the intended audience for this book, and can appreciate how I am J could be just the right thing for a young person to grab onto and say “There are other kids out there like me! Here is someone who feels the way I do.” To me as an adult, I am J read just a bit too much like someone studied the research on transboys and tried to novelize the “typical” experience. In the author’s afterword, Cris Beam mentioned that the genesis of I am J was her research that became the non-fiction book Transparent, and that J started as an amalgam of several of the transboys she knew. I am J had some sweet moments, but in the end Chris Beam’s first foray from journalism to fiction felt a little flat.
While “coming of age” stories are a core part of YA literature, I look forward to the day where there are more diverse stories available, and where a character can be a transboy or a transgirl without the entire book being a study of their struggle for identity.