“Bread and Roses, Too” by Katherine Paterson

June 20, 2012

 like historical fiction.  Sometimes children like it too.  But often, I find, children’s historical fiction reads as if it were written according to some curricular checklist, to fit a particular set of standards in the most careful and efficient fashion possible.

“Bread and Roses, Too” by Katherine Paterson seems just such a novel.  Here’s the checklist I envisioned.

  1. Will it appeal to both boys and girls?  Yes, it will, because it uses Rosa and Jake as protagonists.
  2. Does it convey important ideas about a specific historical event?  Yes, it is about the 1912 Lawrence Textile strikes.
  3. Does it address important social issues of the day?  Yes, it explores immigration, ethnicity, poverty, education, alcoholism, child labor, labor unions, becoming orphans, etc.
  4. Does good ultimately win over evil?  Yes, the union wins concessions from the factory owners and Jake’s abusive alcoholic father dies.
  5. Does it have a happy ending?  Yes, Rosa is reunited with her mother and siblings, and Jake gets a new home, family, and career.

Now, I confess that these issues have been important to me as a teacher.  I can understand why an author might work to fit a story into these “needs.”  Sometimes, though, my cynicism grows to the point where I step back and evaluate my reaction.

Ultimately, if the book resonates, the formula doesn’t matter so much.  Other historical novels, such as “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” or “Bud, Not Buddy,” work because they feel authentic.  Readers care about the characters and learn about the history as a result.  By that standard, “Bread and Roses, Too” falls short.  The characters simply felt too much as if they had been designed by committee.  I didn’t believe in them, and as a result, I didn’t find the book that compelling.

Cross-posted at Camp Read-A-Lot
 

“Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word” by Bob Raczka

June 19, 2012


Like Marilyn Singer’s “Mirror, Mirror” before it, Bob Raczka’s “Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word” uses a special, somewhat gimmicky hook to interest reader in poetry.  Singer uses the form of the reverso (see my review here), while Raczka creates poems out of single words.  In each case, the poet’s self-imposed restrictions provide a special challenge to making meaning and art.

Raczka’s technique inherently limits the poem’s topic, length, and depth. ...


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"America Is Under Attack" by Don Brown

June 15, 2012

Don Brown's "America Is Under Attack" provides an important resource for students in this age group.  I taught 5th grade Language Arts this past year (I am usually primarily a Library / Media teacher), and I didn't realize just how little students know about the actual events of September 11, 2011.  Of course, this should not be a surprise, since many of them were either infants or not even born yet.

As adults we often have a personal link to historic even...


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"Itamar Makes Friends" by Josh Hasten

February 5, 2012

This picture book, "Itamar Makes Friends: A Children's Story of Jewish Brotherhood" by Josh Hasten and Illustrated by S. Kim Glassman, is innocuous enough, but I wish it had attempted more. The protagonist, Itamar, is an eight-year-old Israeli, who lives in the country. When he goes to visit his cousins in the city, he has an unpleasant encounter with some city boys, who refuse to return his soccer ball. After Itamar falls and hurts his knee, one of the city boys, Eitan, remembers a time...
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Rosemary Well's On the Blue Comet

August 12, 2011

I'm going to start with a disclaimer:  Rosemary Well's On the Blue Comet is exactly the kind of book I loved as a child.  It reminds of some of my favorites by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which had an enchanting blend of realism and whimsy. But I also think that much about the book would be hard for modern children to understand.

Our protagonist, Oscar Ogilvie Junior, is obsessed by the world of Lionel trains.  Set at the beginnings of the Great Depre...


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Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beckie Prange

August 7, 2011

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beckie Prange is quite engaging and difficult to categorize.  Or, perhaps, this book is engaging BECAUSE it is hard to categorize.  Whatever it is, I like it.

Sidman's poems laud the thriving world of "survivors" that populate the world.  Ranging from the microscopic bacteria and diatoms to the larger sharks, from plants and animals as well as humans, these poems and ...


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For Good Measure: The Ways we say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big , How Old

August 2, 2011

Ken Robbins has done something with this book that I often despair of finding -- he has created an entertaining, truly informative, well-written non-fiction book for kids in middle grades.  I found this book to have information I didn't know, which is an added plus.

"For Good Measure" looks at one of those topics that people of all ages often obsess about -- how do we measure what we see or experience and why do we do it the ways we do.  (If you don't think we obsess about it, just try t...


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"Meanwhile" by Jason Shiga

July 30, 2011

Okay, I am SOOOO an English major.  On my first couple of attempts to read this book, I (literally) whined and complained to anyone and everyone within ear shot.  The book is too hard to follow, it is boring, it doesn’t make sense, etc.  So I handed it to my more mathematically-inclined family members who looked at me like I was crazy and implied I was too lazy to figure out how it works.

So, with some grumpiness, I picked it up the next day. And, much to my dismay, they were right.  ...


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A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata

July 27, 2011

The novel A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata is a thoughtful and compelling book, but I think it would work better with middle-school or high school students.  The book tells the story of Y’Tin, a boy who achieves his dream of becoming an elephant handler.  The story is set in Vietnam, mostly in 1975, after the US troops have left.

Some of the subject matter of this novel would captivate and charm students in the age range of 4th and...


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"I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird" by Robert B. Haas

July 26, 2011

Robert B. Haas artfully and clearly explains how and why he uses aerial photography to capture his subjects in the wild.  Hass introduces some of the basic terminology of photography, and he makes clear just how dependent he is on the skills of the pilots he works with.

The photographs in this book are stunning.  Haas explains how he takes the photos and how often he is dependent on luck to get the best image.  The sidebar explanations about th...


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About Me


Lydia Schultz I am a school librarian and part-time college English teacher. I hope to review many of the books I read, both in the context of my research about children's books as well as in my pursuit of recreational reading. I want to share what I read--so what else is new?


Please feel free to contact me.  I welcome hearing feedback and advice.  If you would like to comment on a particular post, click on the title of the post and a comment box will appear after the post when the page reloads.

Thanks!

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