Young Adult Books In Review
Recently Published Titles
Lawrence Baines, Editor
Max the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Point Signature Scholastic, Inc., 1998. 166pages. $3.99
Reviewed by H. Edward Deluzain, Panama City, Florida
This is an adventure story about two kids, fourteen-year-old Maxwell Kane (Max the Mighty) and eleven-year-old Rachael (the Worm), and their flight across the country. Both come from dysfunctional families: Max's father is in prison for murdering his mother, and Rachael reads constantly as an emotional escape from abuse by her stepfather, the Undertaker. After the Undertaker falsely accuses Max of beating Rachael's mother and kidnapping the girl, they take off hitchhiking to find Rachael's real father in Chivalry, Montana.
Along the way they are helped by Dippy Hippie, a retired teacher who travels the country in a psychedelic school bus, and Hobo Joe, who knows his way around the country on freight trains. When they arrive in Chivalry, they discover the town deserted and Rachael's father dead from a mining accident. After a exciting chase through the killer mine by Sheriff Goodman and the Undertaker, the kids emerge on the other side of the mountain into the waiting arms of Dippy Hippie and Max's grandfather, Grim. This deus ex machina ending aside, the novel offers fast-paced entertainment but little insight into the human condition. It has been made as a major motion picture called, The Mighty.
The True Adventures of Grizzly Adams by Robert M. McClung
Beech Tree, 1998. 200 pages. $4.95.
Reviewed by Ted Hipple, University of Tennessee
This reissued 1985 biography will appeal to readers who like the western novels of Will Hobbs and the outdoor stories of Gary Paulsen. Grizzly Adams, in later life a popular animal act with P. T. Barnum's circus (albeit for but one year), had earlier had wild adventures in California, where he went to make and then lose several fortunes related to the gold rush of 1849. These often involved hunting and killing grizzly bears and in some of those endeavors Grizzly himself was almost killed. Part of the charm of this work is its reliance on Adams' many autobiographical accounts in pamphlets and newspaper columns, some of them perhaps heroically hyperbolic but exciting nonetheless. Not for everyone this book, but many will keep turning its pages and dreaming of bygone frontiers.
The Journal of William Thomas Emerson: A Revolutionary War Patriot by Barry Denenberg
Scholastic, 1998. 156 pages. $9.95
Reviewed by Chris Crowe, Brigham Young University
A part of the "My Name is America" series, this is the "journal" of a 12-year-old orphan who has run away to Boston in 1774 to escape the overbearing family that took him in when his parents died. While in Boston, Will finds a job in a tavern/boarding house where American patriots meet clandestinely to plot against the occupying British. Will soon gains their confidence and accepts small assignments to gather intelligence about British strategies. His journal ends in the spring of 1775, shortly before the Battle of Bunker Hill.
This fictional journal is sprinkled generously with specific historical detail which when combined with Will's first-person account of events in Boston will give young readers a sense of "being there" in a part of American history. Will's voice remains consistent throughout the story, reporting the feelings and observation from the perspective of a 12-year-old. Will's journal is followed by an epilogue, a helpful historical note, and seven pages of engravings that illustrate historical events or items referred to in Will's journal. Students who enjoyed Catherine Called Birdy or other books in the "My Name is America" series are sure to like this one.
Susannah by Janet Hickman
Greenwillow, 1998. 140 pages. $15.00
Reviewed by Joan Nist, Auburn University
After the death of her mother, fourteen-year-old Susannah is taken by her father to a devout, yet cult-like town of Shakers in 1810 Ohio. Among these "Believers," men, women, and children live not as families but separately, a "godly distance apart." Susannah is lonely and unhappy, remembering the laughter and love of her mother. She befriends six-year-old Mary, pawn in a parental custody quarrel, and helps the little girl escape to her mother among the "world's people."
Author Janet Hickman maintains the dramatic suspense while describing the rigid strictures of an early Quaker society. Susannah's struggle for identity beyond the group--which sees all earthly affection as evil--will appeal to girls and is timely in our pre-millennium era. A two-page post-note gives historical background to Susannah's vivid first-person narration of her status among the Shakers.
Muscles, Our Muscular System by Seymour Simon
Morrow Junior Books, 1998. $16.00.
Reviewed by Charles R. Duke, Appalachian State University
Seymour Simon is gradually working his way through the human body, having in prior books described the functions of the brain, the heart and bones. In this colorfully illustrated account of the human muscular system, he offers a straightforward discussion of how our muscles function. Although Simon uses basic anatomical terms, readers at the junior high level and above should have little difficulty comprehending his explanations. Accompanying the text are stunning photographs which, by themselves, offer a unique and fascinating view into the muscular activity of the human. Of particular interest is an MIR scan and a CAT scan which add vivid color, as well as a unique perspective. Students will find this book an enjoyable and informative supplement to their science books which may address some of the same material, but not with this amount of vividness.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
Scholastic Press, 1998. 309 pages. $16.95.
Reviewed by Bill Mollineaux, West Hartford, Connecticut.
When one-year-old Harry Potter's parents--a witch and a wizard--were killed by the evil Voldemort, Harry was sent to live with his "normal" aunt, uncle, and spoiled cousin. After spending eleven miserable years with this family, in which Harry was forced to sleep in a closet and was the brunt of his cousin's bullying, he learns that he is a wizard when he is unexpectedly accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At Hogwarts, Harry makes many fine friends as well as a few dreaded enemies. While at school, Harry discovers that the Sorcerer's Stone is hidden there, the stone that will enable Voldemort to create a body of his own and gain immortality.
Rowling has created a fast-moving, magical tale replete with humor, adventure, suspense, mystery, and unforgettable characters that will enchant middle schoolers.
Outrageously Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Aladdin Paperbacks, 1998. 133 pages. $3.99.
Reviewed by Wendy Bell, Buncombe County Schools
When I first opened my reviewer's copy of this novel, I groaned. A first-time reader of an Alice book, I was sure it would contain some of the features of the YA genre at its worst: trite plot, one dimensional characters, inane dialogue. Was I ever totally wrong and wonderfully surprised!
I thoroughly enjoyed Alice's attempts to be different as much as I sympathized with her father's single parent difficulties in raising a daughter. Thanks to Naylor's sense of humor and obvious affection for her characters, both boys and girls will recognize themselves in this wise, funny, realistic, and easy to read novel. Even though I don't fit into the ages 9-13 suggested readership, I want to read more. Needless to say, confirmed Alice fans will welcome the latest addition to this popular series.
Thomas Harriot: Science Pioneer by Ralph C. Staiger.
Clarion Books, 1998. 128 pages. $19.00
Reviewed by Gerry McBroom, Albuquerque TVI Community College
Many have heard of Descartes and Galileo, common names associated with science and mathematics, during the Renaissance, but few have heard of Thomas Harriot (1560-1621). This book chronicles the life of Harriot, a scholar of navigational science, optics, astronomy, chemistry, and physics as well as the man who introduced elementary algebra as we know it today, worked with a binary number system, and invented a phonetic representation of the Algonquin language. In addition to presenting interesting information about Harriot's experiments and research, this book is an excellent resource on Elizabethan England for younger readers (fifth through seventh-grade levels). Staiger integrates historical events, the educational system, and explorations of Virginia. Whether the book is read for pleasure or used as a resource tool, it reveals "a most studious searcher after truth," Thomas Harriot, a Renaissance man whose name we should remember.
Perloo the Bold by Avi
Scholastic, 1998. 225 pages. $16.95.
Reviewed by Nicholas J. Karolides, UW-River Falls
Perloo, a reclusive scholar, is ensnared in the intrigue of Granter Jolene's death when she names him as her successor. Dubbed "Perloo the Unwilling" when he resists this honor, he is forced by the situation to act despite his fears and trepidation. Berwig, the self-proclaimed granter, jails Perloo while planning a war to gain glory and promote his claim to the succession. Perloo, however, escapes with Lubcabra, Jolene's first assistant; they are captured by the enemy. A satisfactory resolution is achieved many twists, travails, and surprises later, after which Perloo receives his new appellation. Within this adventure among anthropomorphic creatures, issues of greed/power and freedom/personal identity are explored. Interspersed in the text are pithy statements attributed to the great teacher Mogwat, such as, "Of all challenges, the greatest is to be yourself." This engaging fantasy will ensnare young readers immediately; Perloo, atypically devoid of heroics, will captivate them.
At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England by Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic Press, 1999. 160 pages. $15.95.
Reviewed by Alan Perry, Summerville, Georgia
Walter Dean Myers' poignant biography of Sarah Forbes Bonetta is the riveting story of an African princess who witnessed the murder of her parents by enemy warriors. Held in captivity for two years until she was rescued by an English naval officer on the very day she was to be sacrificed, Sarah was taken to England as a "gift" for Queen Victoria.
Sarah quickly became a favorite of the Queen, who arranged for her new protŽgŽe to have a foster family and a generous allowance for her care. A frequent visitor to the Queen's court, Sarah became a cherished friend of the entire royal family and remained in close contact with the royals for the rest of her life.
Despite numerous hardships and obstacles throughout her life, Sarah managed to adapt to, endure, and enjoy life. A curiosity among British, the African princess was just as much an oddity among natives of the homeland to which she returned as a teacher. Sarah's story is pieced together from letters and journal entries, resulting in gaps which must be filled with surmise, but Myers tells an extraordinary tale which will intrigue young readers from middle or high school grades.
A fascinating narrative of a little-known facet of Victorian history, this book is rich with illustrations, including photographs, sketches, portraits, and maps. Sarah's story will be eagerly read by students who enjoy African or English history, biography, or multicultural literature.
Elena of the Stars by C. P. Rosenthal
St. Martin's Press, 1995. 179 pages. $10.95.
Reviewed by Katherine J. Barr, Florida State University
How can Elena escape herself, her parents' never-ending advice and "everything she does not want to become" (p3)? Her journey begins when she decides to stay with her grandfather beyond the week long visit her parents planned. The lack of modern convenience and the isolation in his Wyoming cabin seem unimportant contrasted with getting to know him. She wants to understand: why he ran away from civilization all those years ago; after her grandmother died, why he stayed there; and why her grandmother was buried on the high chaparral? Elena answers these questions and learns the story of her grandmother, the cowgirl, while her grandfather teaches her to ride, rope, and barrel race. She discovers her own strength while battling the forces of man and nature; two young misfits nearly rape her before her grandfather comes to the rescue and then a huge flood rips across the chaparral destroying the cabin.
Rosenthal's description of Wyoming, the clear star-studded nights, wild horses running free and the crazy-making isolation, provides the backdrop to this action. Elena's search for identity appeals to adolescents and adults alike.
A Line in the Sand: The Alamo Diary of Lucinda Lawrence by Sherry Garland
Scholastic, Inc., 1998. 180 pages. $9.95.
Reviewed by Marjorie M. Kaiser, University of Louisville
In this the latest of the Dear America Series, thirteen-year-old Lucinda Lawrence struggles to help her family survive the isolation and deprivation of colonial life in Texas. Covering a time period of about a year before the battle at the Alamo, 10 years before Texas becomes a state in 1845, Garland pictures the families in one Texan colony as they battle Santa Anna and his Mexican army to save their property, possessions, and rights.
In short diary entries Lucinda gives her readers a biased yet touching view of what it means to grow up early, to endure great hardships, to suffer the loss of family members to war, and most important, to see more than one side of the moral/political situations inherent in American colonialism. Despite the occasional lapse of credibility in Lucinda's voice and vocabulary, in general, Garland delivers a story that is at once believable, instructive, and moving. Accompanied by a chapter of Texas history and assorted photographs and maps, this historical novel seems ideal for grades 7-10, but older teens may find this book charming, too.
The Hork-Bajir Chronicles (ANIMORPHS SERIES) by K. A. Applegate
Scholastic Inc., 1998. 206 pages, $12.95.
Reviewed by C. Anne Webb, St. Louis, Missouri
A fun read? It is. Great literature? It ain't. Yet, it has all the elements. Conflict: Alien vs. Alien, Good guys: not very bright Hork-Bajir, Bad guys: evil, blind, slug-like Yeerks, Two strong saviors: once in a generation Hork-Bajir seer Dak Hamee; and flying in from outer space, Andalite princess Aldrea. The Hork-Bajir are simple creatures, thus its easy enough for the evil Yeerks to crawl into an ear and take over the brain and brawn of these tree eating creatures with blades on arms, legs, and tail. Aldrea has four legs and four eyes (two on stalks--the better to follow you with). What follows is fast paced action to catch those JH/M schoolers with just a hint of romance for the girls. Aldrea can morph herself into a Hork-Bajir, making full blown love a possibility, and because the good guys lose but survive a sequel is a possibility.
Here There Be Ghosts by Jane Yolen
Stories and Poems of the Supernatural
Harcourt Brace & Co., 1998. 122 pages. $19.00.
Reviewed by Nancy A. Verhook-Miller, Mississippi State University
Well-crafted examples of prose and poetry are intricately meshed together in Jane Yolen's Here There Be Ghosts. Dealing with the timeless appeal of the traditional ghost story bordered with the popularity of recurring urban legend motifs. Yolen presents the adolescent reader with stories and poems that evoke shivers and touch the heart.
Melancholia threads itself throughout the collection, but hope is also evident. The adolescent protagonist is empowered. In "Prom Ghost," the young sister of the popular captain of the football team works through her grief at his death on prom night and at her own senior prom comes to terms with her brother's mortality. Very real teen issues are evident in the story.
Yolen's literary collection demonstrates a writer's reflection upon the past, present, and future. When literary works connect the writer's and reader's reflections, they are worthy of sharing.
The Pirate's Son by Geraldine McCaughrean
Scholastic Press, 1998. 294 pages. $16.95
Reviewed by Mary E. Outlaw, Berry College
Set in England in the early 1700's, the story begins with Nathan, 14, being kicked out of the austere Graylake School because his father died without having paid the necessary school fees. As Nathan worries about how he will care for his younger sister Maud, one of his classmates comes to his rescue. Tamo, son of a pirate, takes Nathan and Maud to a ship captained by one of Tamo's guardians and they set sail for Madagascar, the place of Tamo's earliest years. Once there they quickly escape the heavy hand of the guardian and settle in a small village where they begin to learn the ways of the local people. The adventure heightens with the coming of the villainous pirate, King Sampson, the return of the guardian, and the appearance of Tamo's mother.
McCaughrean's skillful writing captivates the reader in the first few lines and maintains the magnetic appeal throughout the book. The imagery used as the characters experience the clashing of cultures allows the reader to see the events and feel the frustration and fear that beset Nathan, Maud, and Tamo as they try to outwit the pirates. McCaughrean's award winning style is clearly evident in The Pirate's Son, a "must read" for students who like adventure.
No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War by Anita Lobel
Greenwillow Books, 1998. 190 pages. $16.00.
Reviewed by Bonnie Ericson, California State University, Northridge
Highly regarded children's book illustrator and author Anita Lobel departs from her work with picture books to write this searing story of her childhood as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust. Although Hanka (Anita) and her brother are kept safe for much of the war by their Catholic nanny, they also survive the terror and humiliation of the concentration camps. After the war ends, Hanka and her brother recover from tuberculosis in a sanitarium in Sweden, are reunited with their parents, and eventually emigrate to the United States. An epilogue explains events Lobel was unable to understand as a child and gives perspective to the fifty years between the war and the writing of the book.
The images Lobel creates with words in this book rival the power of the pictures she has created as an artist. Among the many memorable images two stand out in my mind: the wondrous gluttony when she and her brother are given an entire box of caned foods -- beans, meat, sardines, chocolate, milk -- after months of watery cabbage soup, and the pristine and peaceful whiteness of the sanitarium's bedding, walls, nurses' uniforms, milk, and food. Appropriate for individual or group reading, and a fine addition to Holocaust literature, No Pretty Pictures is both a compelling story and powerful testimony.
Papa Tembo by Eric Campbell
Africa/Elephants/Heroic Young Woman
Harcourt Brace, 1998. 270 pages. $16.00.
Reviewed by John S. Mayher, New York University
An exciting adventure among elephants on the plains of Africa complete with a dastardly villain, and two heroes: an aging bull elephant (the title character) and a spirited young woman whose willingness to risk her life for the elephant saves the day in the end. Fifteen year old Alison Blake, fresh from school in England, is helping her naturalist father and older brother track an elephant herd. When one of the elephants is caught in a poacher's trap, Papa Tembo hears his cry and comes from miles away to try to help out. So too, do Alison and her family. And, eventually, both the poacher who has vowed revenge on Papa Tembo for an ancient injury, and a guide who is determined to stop poaching converge on the herd. The spirit of the land and the spirit of the elephants is deeply connected to the intuitive understandings that Alison brings to her observations and which enable her to act so bravely.
Campbell's years of living near Mt. Kilimanjaro lets him capture the majesty of elephants and of the African savanna in the context of a plot which starts somewhat slowly but builds to a shattering, cliff-hanging ending. Readers concerned with ecology will find this is a satisfying way of deepening their understanding of the complex forces at play in Africa. While reading does not fully substitute for the experience of watching an elephant herd cross a river in Kenya, Campbell certainly has been there and evokes it very powerfully.
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1998. 153 pages. $16.00
Reviewed by Betty Carter, Texas Woman's University
Returning to the younger middle school audience she addressed in Running Out of Time, Haddix thrusts readers into a world of too many people, not enough food. The Population Police dictate two children per family. Luke is an illegal "third," forced to stay hidden in the shadows of his family farm. When rich government employees build a housing development on adjacent land, Luke's parents confine him to an attic room. Bored, he spends his days watching the neighborhood. He soon discovers an odd pattern in one house: the family leaves, but activity continues. Luke sneaks over and meets Jen, another "third." Luke, mirroring his disenfranchised family, fears the totalitarian government; Jen using all the resources of her privileged background, challenges it. Although the denouement is swift and tidy, the fully realized setting, honest characters, and fast paced plot combine for a suspenseful tale of two youngsters fighting for their very existence.
Albertina the Practically Perfect by Susi Gregg Fowler
Greenwillow Books, 1998. 80 pp. $15.00
Reviewed by Lisa A. Wroble, Plymouth, Michigan
Molly dreads moving across town and going to a new school, especially when she's "welcomed" by the neighborhood bully, Violet. When she meets Albertina all her qualms subside. Albertina is the perfect friend, except for remaining friendly with Violet. Molly and Albertina's friendship grows as they build a tree house together in Molly's yardÐan idea they had and expressed at "the very same time." Albertina's perfection fails, though, when she tells Violet about Molly's fear of the dark.
Albertina the Practically Perfect is geared to younger readers, however, reluctant readers in the early middle school grades will find it a fulfilling tale of true friendship. It is well written, with a simple and uncomplicated plot. Students emotionally lagging behind their peers will also find growth and fulfillment in this story.
Prisoner of Time by Caroline B. Cooney
Delacorte Press, 1998. 200 pages. $15.95.
Reviewed by Jennifer Moreland, Grand Junction, Colorado
In this third title in the Time Travel Trilogy, sixteen-year old Devonney Stratton, a headstrong girl, finds herself a pawn in her Victorian father's plot to gain power by marrying her off to a shallow and conveniently impoverished English lord. At the very threshold of the church, however, she is rescued by the unlikely appearance of Tod, a visitor from the twentieth century, who whisks her away to his world of computers, automobiles, and fast food restaurants. While Devonney admires the independence of women in the 1990's, she misses the elegance, charm, and security of her own century. In spite of Tod's attempts to make her feel at home, Devonney feels like a prisoner of time.
Readers who enjoyed the first two books of the trilogy will be eager to read the conclusion of the saga of the 19th-century Strattons and their 20th-century counterparts, the Lockwoods. Devonney's revulsion towards a lifestyle that today's youngsters take for granted points out that, while great strides have been made in our time, perhaps some of the finer things of life have been lost along the way. Middle school readers will relish the conflict as "Titanic" meets "Hackers."
Just Juice by Karen Hesse
Scholastic Press, 1998. 138 pages. $14.95.
ISBN: 0-590-03382-4 (hbk.)
Reviewed by Mike Angelotti, University of Oklahoma
Juice is an intelligent eleven-year-old with a reading problem. Because of the miseries it creates within her own mind and the embarrassments it causes her with her peers, she seldom finds the motivation to attend school. Her family is close, but very poor, and already threatened by the loss of their home due to nonpayment of taxes. Juice spends most of her days encouraging her unemployed father and helping him start a family business to solve the tax problem.
Meanwhile, the school district is pressuring Juice's pregnant mother to ensure that Juice will attend classes regularly or face heavy fines. As intriguing as the family subplots are, the main story is Juice and her internal conflicts related first to her reading disability and second to her responsibility to family. Because of Karen Hesse's sensitive treatment of her characters and obvious storytelling skill, she is able to provide her readers opportunities to understand at a personal level the lives of peers beset with learning or economic difficulties, or both. It is the old story of the beauty within told one more time. And well worth the read.
Star Wars Journal: The Fight for Justice by John Peel
Star Wars Journal: Hero for Hire by Donna Tauscher
Star Wars Journal: Captive to Evil by Jude Watson
Reviewed by Tom A. Stewart, Morgantown, Kentucky
The Star Wars franchise is amazing in its endurance. A phenomenon some twenty years ago, it now continues to rate high on lists of favorite movies, toys, books, and even furnishings. The mythology of the films Ñ especially the first one, retold in each of the "journals" by a different character who gets author billing on the front cover (The Fight for Justice by "Luke Skywalker"; Captive to Evil by "Princess Leia Organa"; Hero for Hire by "Hans Solo," with running commentary by "Chewbacca") Ñ has permeated the collective consciousness, so the story will be familiar to young readers. The adventures of members of a rebel society in a "galaxy far, far away" who fight the oppression of the evil Empire and its dark leader, Darth Vader, has already secured an eager audience for these books.
Unfamiliar, though, is the inventive way in which this story is told. While reinforcing the idea that the first-person journals are valid forms of writing, the three books read in succession will show young readers the importance of varying points of view. The style in which these books are written clearly illustrates the unique quality that three different narrators can bring to the same story, and might even provide stepping stones to such novels as Treasure Island and A Gathering of Old Men.
Second Cousins by Virginia Hamilton
The Blue Sky Press, 1998. 168 pages. $14.95
Reviewed by Amy Beth Maupin, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
At twelve years old, Cammy Coleman is still trying to cope with her cousin Patty Ann's tragic death. Cammy and her other cousin Elodie witnessed the drowning, and ever since have been the closest of friends. Their friendship is interrupted, however, when the family reunion brings two cousins from New York City to town. With them comes shocking family secrets and a clash of cultures.
Cammy, Elodie, Fractal, and Gigi learn not only about each other, but about some of life's most difficult issues. Virginia Hamilton masterfully portrays a world that is both believable and engaging. Her readers will identify with Second Cousins, and they will most certainly learn from them as well. Cammy Coleman and her family were first introduced in Hamilton's Cousins, published in 1990.
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
Interracial dating/ family life
Putnam, 1998. $15.95
Reviewed by Diana Mitchell, Williamson, MI
15-year-old Jeremiah usually deals with the constant pressure of choosing which of his separated parents to spend time with by losing himself in basketball. But this year is different. His father insists on sending him to a private school so Jeremiah has to deal with being one of only a handful of black students there and one of a few black players on the team. Then he meets Ellie, a Jewish girl at his school. They lock eyes and feel an instant affinity for each other. Told in alternating chapters by Ellie and Jeremiah, this is a gently told story of two teens in a biracial relationship and what happens to them and their families because of the assumptions made about black males in our society. The language is so beautiful and the attention to detail so focused that I felt I had been dropped into their lives and knew them and their families. The tragic ending makes a very strong statement about what its like to be a black male in America and what can happen when stereotypes are the basis for behavior towards others. The powerful message is haunting and I find myself turning the events of the book over and over again in my mind.
Beyond the Mango Tree by Amy Bronwen Zemser
Greenwillow Books, 1998 165 pp. $15.00
Reviewed by Susanne L. Johnston, University of Wisconsin-Stout
Eight months ago Sarina and her parents moved to Liberia. Her father is rarely home and expects twelve-year-old Sarina to care for her diabetic mother, whose illness has been aggravated by the move. Her once loving mother is now incapable of tenderness and nurturing. She demands Sarina's constant attention and doesn't allow her to play with native Liberian children. Deprived of a normal childhood, Sarina feels isolated and leads an empty and lonely life. Only through a forbidden friendship with a Liberian boy named Boima does Sarina experience family love and support.
Amy Bronwen Zemser's first novel counters racism by showing wisdom and love from native Liberians, rather than from Sarina's own parents. While an interesting book for young readers, it does touch on the super natural, and the dialect may be difficult for some.
Sensational Trials of the 20th Century by Betsy Harvey Kraft
Scholastic Press, 1998. 216 pages. $16.95.
Reviewed by Alan Perry, Summerville, Georgia
The complicated quest for justice comes to life in this well-written account of eight of the most famous American trials of the twentieth century. Included in this history of courtroom drama are accounts of the Sacco-Vanzetti Trial, the Scopes "Monkey" Trial, the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping Trial, the Julius and Ethel Rosenburg Spy Trial, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, the Watergate trials, the John Hinckley, Jr. Trial, and the O. J. Simpson Trial.
These engaging stories bring to light some of the most difficult questions with which Americans have struggled for decades: civil rights, religion, immigration, censorship, crime. Several of these trials may be vaguely familiar to students from history or even literature classes, and many will recall the most recent of these cases, the Simpson trial.
Richly illustrated with photographs of key participants in the trials, this book makes a good research source. Kraft's narrative style will be appealing to young readers from middle to secondary grades. Students interested in history, biography, courtroom drama, civics, and law will enjoy reading about these "trials of the century."
Women of Hope: African Americans Who Made a Difference by Joyce Hansen Scholastic Press, 1998. 32 pages. $16.99. ISBN: 0-590-93973-4 Reviewed by Liz Strehle, Berry College
Twelve inspirational narratives of African-American women that chronicle the struggle of gender and race from the mid 1800's until the present. Designed in a picture book format, the black and white photographs captures each woman's image while each narrative reflects the passionate story of a struggle of courage and hope in finding a way to contribute to a society that is not ready to recognize African American women. Ida Wells-Barrett refused to be silenced and used her pen to speak out against racial injustices such as lynching. Septima Poinsette Clark fought for equal pay of African American teachers. Marian Wright Eldman, the first black woman to pass the bar in Mississippi and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, made Americans aware of the problems and issues that affect children. These are just three of the twelve women portrayed in this picture book. A bibliography of additional passionate and courageous black women who made a difference to their families and community is listed in the appendix of the book.
Starting School by Johanna Hurwitz, Illustrated by Karen Dugan
Morrow Junior Books, 1998. 102 pages. $15.00
Reviewed by Judy A. Abbott, West Virginia University
The identical twins, Marcus and Marius, first introduced in Hurwitz's earlier book, Class Clown, are beginning their schooling. Unlike their older brother, Lucas, the twins aren't trying to be the class clowns. Yet, neither of the twins' teachers, Mrs. Greenstein with 20 years of experience and Ms. Boscobel with two years of experience, can be convinced. Exasperated, the two teachers decide to trade classes for a morning to determine which of the twins is the greatest challenge. But the twins have a plan, too, for each is convinced that his teacher is the best. As you might guess, the great exchange occurs on the same day, creating even more havoc. The two teachers and the twins emerge from the exchange experience confident that each has the better situation. Pencil sketches accompanies each of the nine chapters in this easy-to-read, slim volume.
Our Country's Founders edited by William Bennett
Simon & Schuster, 1998. 314 pages. $17.00.
Reviewed by Alan M. McLeod, Virginia Commonwealth University
In this adaptation from Our Sacred Honor, Bennett provides for middle school-aged readers a sense of many of the people who played significant roles in the founding of the United States. How did these men and women view the Revolutionary War era? How were their lives affected? What did they determine individually it meant to be an American?
The Book's subtitle is apt: "A Book of Advice for Young People." Through letters from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, among others, to their wives and children; from speeches, essays, and poems Ñ including one by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, to his wife on their 36th anniversary Ñ organized in groupings around such themes as "Patriotism and Courage," "Love and Courtship," and "Justice," Bennett provides compelling insights into the late 18th and early 19th centuries as this country was establishing and building its independence. Included also are copies of such documents as The Bill of Rights, a time line of the American Revolution, and brief biographies of those personages who artifacts are quoted.
Trapped by George Sullivan
Scholastic, Inc, 1998. 110 pages. $3.99.
Reviewed by Merrill Davies, Armuchee High School, Georgia
Trapped is a collection of six stories ranging from the story of baby Jessica who was trapped in a well for more than two days in 1987 to the account of more than 50 sailors trapped on the sunken submarine Squalus in 1939. Photographs accompany each of the stories, and readers are given details beyond the headline news. These stories have a certain power because they relate the courage and bravery of both the rescuer and the rescued. They are similar to the well-known "Drama in Real Life" articles in Reader's Digest. This book could be read by upper elementary school children, and would also fit into the "high interest, low reading level" category for slow readers in middle or high school.
Crazy Fish by Norma Fox Mazer
Morrow Junior Books, 1998. 184 pages. $15.00.
Reviewed by Jeanne McGlinn, University of North Carolina, Asheville
In this reissue of Mazer's 1980, Mrs. Fish, Ape, and Me, the Dump Queen, Joyce Adams, lives with her uncle, Old Dad, who runs the town dump, and endures ridicule and isolation at school. She dreads the start of a new school year, until she meets Mrs. Fish, the new custodian, who invites her to lunch and listens to her problems. When Old Dad has a stroke, Mrs. Fish helps them out at the dump and Joyce begins to feel that together they make a family.
This is a touching story, appropriate for fourth through sixth graders, which could lead to discussions about accepting people who are different and how everyone needs and deserves love, and how we have to take risks to love another person. Middle grade children may see themselves in Joyce or her tormentors and understand the cost of peer pressure that demands everyone fit a certain image. Mazer's writing is pared down which makes it easy to read, but her descriptions are almost poetic. Joyce describes Mrs. Fish, kissing her: "Swiftly, like a bird flying into a next, she darted down and kissed me. 'Dear one,' she said. 'Dear one.'" Mrs. Fish's love helps Joyce to reach out to others because she feels different, "as if sparks were flying off me...as if I could do anything."
Reference Citation: Baines, Lawrence. (1999). "Young Adult Books in Review Recently Published Titles Clip and Save." The ALAN Review, Volume 26, Number 2.