Monday, September 17, 2018

Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl-- An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Nancy Frederick who won SHE STARTED IT ALL on last week's blog.


PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL (Amulet Books, 2017) written by John Demos and narrated by Christina Moore, is based on the true story of Eunice Kanenstewnhawi Williams who was kidnapped (along with her family) by the Mohawks when she was seven and taken to Canada. The attack on Deerfield Village, where she lived with her Puritan minister father, John Williams, her mother Eunice, and siblings, was in 1704. This attack was part of a series of raids and conflicts between the English and French as part of Queen Anne's War. As Demos notes in the prologue, different Native Americans tribes allied with both countries. 

Like Sandra Warren whose book, SHE STARTED IT ALL, was reviewed last week, John Demos wrote this work of fiction after researching and writing a nonfiction account The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America which was published in 1995. 

I presume that the author used John Williams book, The Redeemed Captive, his account of being kidnapped and returned to Massachusetts. (The hard copy of PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL includes substantial author's notes on the historical documentation along with details filled in by the author's knowledge of French Canadian, Puritan, and Mohawk customs and beliefs. Unfortunately these were not a part of the audio recording.)

The story graphically depicts Eunice's capture, the death of her mother and younger sister, and her abduction by the Mohawks. She is adopted by a woman who has lost her daughter. One year later, John Williams travels to try and get her back but is rebuffed by the chief who says that she belongs to them now. He leaves with the image of Eunice begging him to take her back home. 

Eunice receives a Mohawk name (Waongote), learns the language, and the history of the tribe. Two years later when a trader comes to the village and tries to convince her to come home, she has no desire to leave her Mohawk family and has totally forgotten the English language. When her father hears of this, it is a source of great grief and sorrow and he never truly gives up hope that she will return. 

When she is a teen of marriageable age, she receives the name Kanenstewnhawi and marries a Mohawk man who has already converted to Catholicism. The priests didn’t want to marry them in the church knowing how her father and the English will be upset that she was married as a Catholic Mohawk. They also didn’t want them to live in sin, so they're faced with a political and spiritual dilemma. The couple ends up getting married in a very small ceremony in the church. The priests want to keep it secret, but news gets back to her father through traders. Reverand Williams was shocked. How could she become Catholic and marry a savage?

As an adult, memories finally return to her of her former life and the raid; she blames her father for her mother's death. Long after her father dies, she returns to Massachusetts to see her brothers. Despite her family's prayers and petitions, she remains a Mohawk until her death. She is interested in receiving her share of her father's estate but is unable to receive it as a Mohawk. 

John Demos certainly dug deep to write this story, but the book reads more like an historical narrative than a work of fiction. The reader will gain a lot of information about the French Mohawks as well as the conflict between the Puritans and Catholics during colonial times, but the narrator tells the story, rather than Eunice herself. This distant storytelling technique make the novel less immersive. Other book reviewers mention this problem likening it more to a biography than a work of historical fiction.

Although I can't dispute Mr. Demos's research, it feels like a bit of a stretch that Eunice is so immersed in the Mohawk culture that she totally forgets who she is. She is Caucasian with light hair and obviously looked very different than the people around her. Wouldn’t she have questioned that?  

These concerns aside, I still think PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL would be an interesting curriculum resource that will spark considerable classroom discussion.

Here is a snippet from the book, courtesy of Recorded Books


If you are interested in entering this giveaway, please leave me a comment along with your email address if you are new to this blog. I will be giving it away in mid-October in conjunction with the fall issue of TALKING STORY on Colonial America. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

She Started it All- A Review and Giveaway

Some of you may remember my review of Sandra Warren's book, We Bought a WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber and The Blue Ridge Parkway. After she wrote and published it, I challenged her to use her research to write an historical novel. She knew the story inside and out--so she had half the work done!

She took my challenge seriously and the result is her first foray into middle grade historical fiction, SHE STARTED IT ALL


Told in two points of view, SHE STARTED IT ALL brings the story of the "forgotten" bomber- a plane purchased with money raised by Michigan students during WWII--into Joe Gerrard and Sandi Howard's eighth grade classroom. 

Of course, when the two students receive their history assignments they don't know what lies in wait for them. All they know is that they receive topics they don't like. Sandi wants to cover the music of the time period and instead is asked to report on WWII aircraft; Joe wants to do a project on the bombers he's passionate about, but instead he's required to research United States War Bonds and War Loan Stamps. Their teacher, Mrs. Bradley, says, "As you work through your projects, maybe you'll discover something that will make history itself." A statement that proves to be true in unexpected ways.

If you add to this set-up the fact that Sandi is a shy "Brainiac" with a secret crush on Joe and that he is the popular jock at school--then you have a recipe for conflict. In fact, their constant misperceptions of each other and the cliff-hanger endings to each chapter make the book a page-turner. 

The author does a good job of including historical facts so that the reader learns about WWII without feeling overwhelmed with information. The contemporary setting of a modern middle school and authentic language also makes the book accessible to today's readers. 

I'm a huge fan of using facts in fiction (including real people when possible) as well as inter-generational stories. Both of these are present in this novel. Both Sandi and Joe receive help from elderly primary sources which adds further authenticity to the story.

As for the ending? Well, let's just say it's perfect.


If you'd like to receive a personally autographed copy of SHE STARTED IT ALL, please enter my giveaway! Leave me a comment by September 13 along with your email address if you are new to my blog. Share this on social media (and tell me what you did) and I'll enter your name twice!


Monday, September 3, 2018

Triple Play @ ALA!

Earlier this summer three of my friends attended the American Library Association's Annual Conference in New Orleans. I asked Jo Hackl, Rebecca Petruck, and Linda Phillips to share their perspective on presenting their books to thousands of librarians.

I found this picture on Facebook. A writer just happened to be
in New Orleans during the conference and shared this photo.
Isn't it terrific?

I asked them the following questions: 
1. What was the highlight of your experience? 
2. What did you learn? 
3. What would you pass on to other authors?

Jo Hackl

Librarians and educators are my favorite kinds of people and the highlight of my experience was connecting with school media specialists interested in exploring ways to engage students in reading. I also loved connecting with other authors. And seeing my book in the Random House booth was a thrill.  All in all, an amazing experience.

I learned more about the incredible array of resources the ALA offers. I thoroughly enjoyed each session and made some great connections with librarians and media specialists.

My top pieces of advice:
     * Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll do a LOT of walking. At one point my “voice to text” wrote “exhausted all” instead of “exhibit hall.”  I don’t think that was that far off. The convention center was over a mile long.
      * Bring business cards and small swag.
The ALA community is the best in the world. Where else can you connect with thousands of librarians passionate about getting books in the hands of readers?

You can read my review of Jo Hackl's debut novel, SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBEhere

Rebecca Petruck

The highlight of ALA is always the librarians. Not only because it's ALWAYS fun to meet librarians and geek out talking books, but also because I love to hear what kids are REALLY reading and why.

It's not so much what I learned as what I was reminded to remember and cherish: Librarians LOVE books, and they love SHARING books. They are classic "Connector" personality types, and that's a lucky thing for all us readers!

Because today's authors generally have to do a lot of self-promotion, we can get overwhelmed and start behaving like newsboys, shouting, "Read all about it! Read my book!" For me, this happens when I've worked myself into a panic state that I'm not doing "enough." Attending ALA reminded me to LISTEN. Connection is a two-way experience, and listening filled me with inspiration and renewed energy to write. 

ALA typically chooses "cold" locations for the winter conference and "hot" locations for the summer conference because they are less-expensive times for the convention center and hotels. Talking with an author at ALA, he was genuinely taken aback to learn this information and admitted he thought organizers were sadists. Ha! We all love librarians, but I think many of us have a memory of that ONE librarian who terrified us about being quiet and not damaging the books. :) 

You can read my review of Rebecca Petruck's book, BOY BITES BUG here.

Linda Phillips

Rebecca and Linda found each other
in the miles of books!

This was my first ALA experience, and you’re going to laugh, but I didn’t realize it was one huge giveaway (duh). Somehow I thought we would be selling books, and honestly, that put a huge pit in my stomach.  What if I was in the next booth over from Kwame?  My line would never compare!  First of all, my booth was a safe distance from Kwame as it turns out, and secondly, even I had a line.  Statistics aside, no bookstore experience will ever compare to the exhilaration of seeing your books evaporate in less than a half hour.  

Back to Kwame.  Four years ago, when my first book (Crazy) came out, verse novels were at best a hard sell.  But I was elated to hear from librarians and young folks who were excited and eager to read a novel in verse.  You know that feeling about being in the right place at the right time?  So as soon as my signings were done I hightailed it to Kwame’s line to personally shake his hand (and subtly drop one of my books on his table) and thank him for what he has done for verse novels.  I may be wrong, but I think his influence has made a big difference.  Even middle school boys, for heaven’s sake.  

I’m a small fish in a very big pond. The first half day I spent wandering around the maze of thousands of books and hundreds of publishers in a daze, wondering where to start and how to take it all in. At first, admittedly, I felt like I was swimming upstream against a swiftly moving current full of overwhelmingly big fish. But in between all the wandering, I got to hear some really big fish who, amazingly, made me feel so connected to the human stream and so proud to be in the pond at all.  Michelle Obama, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Salley Field, Gayle Donley—each shared her wisdom, told down-to-earth, heartwarming parts of her story, assured all of us that telling the story IS a big thing to be doing no matter who you are.  

Don’t worry about where you are in the scheme of things in this world, in this industry, in this line of authors and potential authors.  If you have a story that is burning inside of you, don’t hold it back, don’t hide it under a bushel, and don’t let the tide of others overwhelm you.  Your story is important, otherwise it wouldn’t be pushing to get out.  Take it one step at a time, and don’t try to do it alone.  Get into a critique group, go to conferences, read as much as time allows, and write every day.  I’m sure some of you have heard this before, but maybe you needed to hear it one more time?

You can read my review of Linda Phillips second novel in verse, BEHIND THESE HANDS, here

Monday, August 27, 2018

Fundamental STEPS to Writing Historical Fiction-- Highlights 2018

Congratulations to Joyce Hostetter who won THE HERO TWO DOORS DOWN and to Clara Gillow Clark who won PACO'S PAINTBRUSH. Clara Gillow Clark is the blogger from whom I won FOOD FIGHT FIESTA. (And no, I didn't rig the contest. always picks my winners!)

Several weeks ago when I blogged about teaching at Write 2 Ignite, I mentioned that I have another opportunity to teach this fall. I'm thrilled to share that I'll be part of the faculty for Highlights Foundation's Historical Fiction Workshop led by my friend and mentor, Joyce Hostetter

Following the acronym STEPS, this is what Joyce and her team will cover:

STORY: Finding stories embedded in history and embedding history into our stories.

TIME: Allowing the historical era to shape characters, dialogue, actions, and more. Lila Weaver will present a talk on going from an eyewitness to a story teller.

EXPERTS: Seeking insight from archivists, specialists, eyewitnesses, and survivors. This is MY talk!! (I guess Joyce decided that after hearing my excitement over finding each new expert for Half-Truths, she would have me share my experience with others.)

PLACE: Infusing the story with a sense of locality and culture. This talk is by Julie Chibbaro.

SOURCES: Researching history and documenting resources.


Check the schedule and you'll see that besides talks on these subjects, participants will meet one on one with Joyce. They will have time to work on their manuscript and receive input from the faculty and other attendees. Carolyn Yoder, Joyce's editor, will also join the group for a question and answer session. 

 If you don't know Joyce, then here's the link to the Highlights blog where she talks about her journey as an historical fiction novelist. It's always fun to hear how she wrote BLUE without a thought that it would turn into a series. DRIVE is coming out this fall and Joyce is now writing her fifth book in the Bakers Mountain Series!

If you want to make history come alive to middle grade or young adult readers, then this is the workshop for you. To read more about the workshop and enter the great giveaways that Joyce is offering, click here for the special newsletter on the workshop. 

Hurry! The workshop is limited to eight students and is filling up--but Joyce and I would love to see you there too!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Paintbrush for Paco: Backstory, Picture Book Review, and Giveaway

I'm getting ready to fly up to Philadelphia to visit my new grandson and want to give away another book before I do. This is a short giveaway--I'm drawing the winner on Saturday so the book can be mailed out the following Monday. Get your comments to me ASAP!

Two years ago I was fortunate to attend Highlights Summer Camp and met a number of great writers who are now publishing their books. YEAH! A PAINTBRUSH FOR PACO is by one of my fellow campers, Tracey Kyle. (little bee books, 2018).


Here's a word from Tracey on her journey:

I was totally unprepared when I switched from teaching high school Spanish to teaching middle school.  I quickly found out that I needed to mix up my instruction by assigning more creative projects and doing less traditional testing to assess their skills. 
That was the seed for A PAINTBRUSH FOR PACO: a book that celebrates kids’ creativity and honors their need for movement and activity.  My students began asking me, “When’s the next project?” They welcomed the chance to draw, design and color. They were calmer in class and happier overall.

A PAINTBRUSH FOR PACO underwent countless revisions over a two-year period, but the main theme of the book never changed. I worked on it for two years in between grading papers and preparing lessons, sometimes getting up at 4:00 a.m. so I could think before the chaos of the day.  I brought it to two summer camps at the Highlights Foundation, and revised it with their insightful and talented faculty.  I sent it out to my critique partners. Even after my awesome agent, Jennifer Unter, sold it to little bee, I continued revising until the editors were happy. I grew so attached to PACO that he felt like one of my students. When I saw Joshua Heinsz’s brilliant illustrations, I knew PACO was (finally!) ready.


Paco has a problem. In school, he would rather be outside pretending he is a matador,

or drawing a picture.

Fortunately for him, his Profesor is very understanding.

Paco is thrilled to discover the art classroom where he can paint and create as much as he wants. 
Azul. the blue in a beautiful sky. Blanco. the white in the clouds floating by. Amarillo, the rays of the sun shine bright. 

After being complimented by his teacher, Paco realizes he is a painter. 

Later that night, Paco crawled into bed, a palette of colors swirling in his head. Negro y blanco, azul y rosado. Rojo y verde y anaranjado.

The book is told in lovely rhyme and the bright, bold illustrations by Joshua Henisz will make the story stick in a reader's mind. The book includes an author's note on the importance of encouraging creativity in children, and a glossary. This book is perfect for a K-first grade classroom. 


To enter, please leave me a comment by Saturday August 25. DON'T FORGET: Leave your email address if you don't think I have it. 


PACO'S PAINTBRUSH is Tracey's third book. I won FOOD FIGHT FIESTA from Clara Gillow Clark's blog and it's packed in my suitcase for my grandson's big sister and her mother who is also a Spanish teacher.  I hope you'll hop on over to Clara's blog to check out this fun book too. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Hero Two Doors Down: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Jo Lyn Worden who won JUNK and to Dorothy Price who won BULLY.


The Hero Two Doors Down is perfectly titled. Written by Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson's daughter, this fictionalized account of eight-year-old Steven Satlo's friendship with his hero, is a book that elementary age boys and girls will enjoy.

The year is 1948 and baseball is king. In New York, you are either a Yankees or Dodgers fan and Steve and his father share a great passion for the Dodgers. The author paints an authentic picture of the time period: neighbors sitting out on their front stoops listening to the game on the radio, going to an opening game as a huge occasion for a young boy, and school chums playing stickball together. Although Sharon Robinson says this is a work of fiction, it is based on the stories which Sharon heard her mother and Steve's mother tell. 

Central to the book is Steve's excitement when he hears that Jackie Robinson, his hero, is moving onto his street  Although this section of Brooklyn had been primarily a Jewish neighborhood, the Robinson family is one of the first black families to integrate the area. When some neighbors protest, Steve learns valuable lessons about prejudice from his father. 

Steve is thrilled when Jackie accompanies him to the school yard and teaches his peers how to slide home, provides tickets to a game for his class, as well as when he is invited to decorate the Robinson's Christmas tree. Since he's Jewish, this was a first time experience for Steve. A misunderstanding ensues when Jackie and his wife Rachel buy the Satlow's a Christmas tree--not knowing their friends are Jewish. 

In many ways Jackie Robinson was a role model and inspiration to Steve. Jackie had a rough childhood and encouraged Steve to solve problems peaceably and not with force. The two were lifetime friends and Jackie comforted and encouraged Steve after his father died. 

Chris Andrew Cuilla and Lisa Renee' Pitts both did a great job as narrators. This book would be a good classroom resource for third and fourth graders. 

To entice you, here is an audio snippet of the book and the trailer, narrated by Sharon Robinson.

Younger children will like the picture book Jackie's Gift: A Baseball Tale for the Holidays also by Sharon Robinson.


Leave me a comment by August 23 and your email address if you are new to my blog. If you share this on social media or become a new follower of my blog I'll enter your name in the giveaway twice. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Two New Picture Books--Two Giveaways!

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press, I receive their new picture books. This is good news for all of you--more picture books to give away!


What kid (or adult, for that matter) wouldn't be drawn to a book with the title of Junk

Where most people see trash, Sylvia Samantha Wright sees possibilities. But even she doesn't always see what the trash can be turned into--she just knows it's something. She collects leaky tires, a pack of gum with a few sticks left, empty paint cans, discarded pipes and motors. Each time, she's questioned what she's going to do with the discarded trash she answers, "I'm working on something."

But she really has no idea what she's going to do with her stuff. An encounter with Ezekiel Mather changes everything. He reassures her that she will indeed, discover what she needs to know. 

When the community's water tower springs a leak, the mayor finds herself with a serious problem.

A problem, that only Sylvia--and her junk--can fix. 

Written by Nicholas Day with whimsical illustrations by Tom Disbury, this adorable picture book will entertain and educate kids and adults. With a positive slant on creative recycling, this book is a great curriculum resource for ages 4-8.


A bullfrog named BULLY. Why didn't I think of that? I guess because author illustrator Jennifer Sattler did! 

True to his name, Bully takes over a pond full of lovely lilies. He commanders everything from the lily's beautiful fragrance to the blossoms themselves. When a bee comes along and informs him that he's squashing the last remaining flower and Bully dismisses him, the bee has an idea. 

Suddenly, the bee, along with his insect friends, out-maneuver Bully. 

He's forced to leave his precious lily pad

and find a new home. 

In a humorous manner Sattler shows what happens when people bully others. Kids--and adults--will get the message.

Sattler closes this book, another great classroom resource for pre-school through second graders, with several suggestions on how children can exercise kindness.

Here's a lily pond that Bully would love!
(Although he might have to share it with a few gators)
The Villages, Florida 

Please leave a comment by August 16 with your email address if you are new to my blog and let me know which book you prefer to win. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Coming Up on Write 2 Ignite!

Congratulations to Deb Allmand who won the Audio book of Between the Lines on last week's blog.

I'm excited about several upcoming teaching opportunities. In September I'll be presenting three workshops at the Write2Ignite ConferenceGeared towards Christian writers who want to write for the children's and young adult market, as well as to teen writers, Write2Ignite is a day and a half of learning, networking and encouragement. 

I hope these teasers will inspire you--or a writer you know--to register for the conference.

Strangers in a Strange Land

In Exodus 2:22. Moses named his son Gershom because he was a stranger in a strange land. As Christians, in some ways, we are also "strangers" in the secular publishing world. 

How do we honor Christ as writers in a largely non-Christian domain? What is our calling as Christian writers? What is our privilege?  How do we fit in--or don't fit in--to the secular publishing world? There are no easy answers. But in this interactive workshop we’ll examine ourselves, what this "strange" land is, the ways we can integrate our faith into our writing, and our presence in the secular world.

Fiction Writing (Teen Track)

I love teaching teens--they have out-of-this-world ideas for their characters and plots. True, sometimes their lack of inhibition has to be tempered by plausibility--but their enthusiasm is contagious and inspirational! 

For my part, I'll teach them to,
  • Exercise their muscle words (all groans aside, this does involve actual EXERCISE!).
  • How and why writers need to use mentor texts.
  • How the red pencil is their best friend.
  • How to jazz up their writing through "Show, Don’t Tell."
  • How details make the difference when crafting genre fiction.

Writing Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction almost as much as I love teaching teens! 😁

This hands-on workshop will include: 

  • RResearch. Should you read newspapers? Magazines? Books? Fiction or nonfiction? Microfilm? How do you know when your research is done? 
  • EExperts. How to find experts for your story? What do you ask? How do you use your expert's story to inform yours?
  • AArrange. Create a system to keep track of notes, interviews, and photos. 
  • DDetails and Drafts. What details do you need to create an authentic story? How do you move from rough drafts to honing on your story?

If you plan to attend this workshop, please bring your favorite historical novel. If you're working on a project, bring one or two pages of your work.


Please share this post with a writer or teen who might be interested in attending the conference. And stay tuned. In a few weeks I'll share my other teaching opportunity coming up in October!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Between The Lines: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Behind These Hands from last week's blog.


Nikki Grimes' sequel to Bronx Masquerade, BETWEEN THE LINES (Penguin Random House, 2018), combines narrative and free verse in a moving book about teens whose lives are changed through poetry. The audio book published by Recorded Books is narrated by different actors; each eloquently expresses a different character. Listen or read this book and you'll reach the same conclusion that I did: Grimes masterfully created authentic voices and personalities for the six different point of view characters. 


For various reasons ranging from a desire to write poetry to attendance only because of a guidance counselor's suggestion--the students in Mr. Ward's poetry class are thrown together. The universal theme of wanting to belong weaves the students and their poems together. This commonality provides the reader a window into the the personal and interpersonal struggles and triumphs they face.

The reader first hears about Darian, a Puerto Rican teen who sees himself as a newspaper man, not a poet. He lost his mother to breast cancer and by the end of the book his poetry gives him a way to express his grief. 

Private Pain

Numb, I sit on the edge
of the bed
Mami y Papi share.
I feel light as the ghost
my mother has become.
Her picture 
on the bedside table
looks blurry until
I wipe my eyes.
"Pobrecito," she would say.
If she were here,
if she were anywhere
in this world.
"Mijo," she would whisper
and touch my cheek,
and I would answer,
But this time,
The word never leaves
my throat.
And what difference
does that make?
When I wasn't looking
Mama's heart stopped
like a broken clock.
Half past 36,
the final tick,
the final tock.
Explain to me
exactly how 
I'm supposed to
tell time now. (pp. 130-1)


Li Cheng is "all Chinese and all American." Her poetry is full of "contradictions which squeeze into one small body."


How can I explain
the duality of Li?
The muffled sounds
of mah-jong tiles touching,
clicking together,
flips a switch in me
as my parents follow
the ritual 
of the ancient game.
The Mandarin calligraphy
clinging to our walls
sends my soul sailing 
to rice paddies
oceans away,
to the land of silk,
red sunrises,
and the jade mountain peaks
my parents
often speak of.
China whispers 
through their blood,
You are part mine.
And I nod, silent
and ashamed
that my untrained
American lips
are unfamiliar 
with my ancestors'
local lingo. (pp. 26-7)


Jenesis has been placed in thirteen foster homes and is worried about aging out of the system and having nowhere to live. Here is some of her story. 

Blue Eyes Squared

I see you staring at me.
You be boring a hole in my soul
as if the alchemy
of your curiosity
could somehow turn
these blue eyes brown,
but you might as well forget it.
You frown at my blond curls,
even though girls with hair
the color of sun
the color of spun gold
are supposed to have more fun.
At least, that's the story
they try to sell on TV.
Yeah, I'm different, but
don't call me freak
or assume I'm the only one.
There are bound to be
other brown beauties
with pale blue eyes
eerily like mine,
wearing smiles crooked
in exactly the same way,
noses that scream
matched set.
Are there more like me?
Yeah, you bet.
When I find them,
I'll fit in without question,
never mind that
the world thinks
I'm odd as H-E-
well, you get it. (pp. 33-34)


Val feels the pain of the prejudice her father faces as an Argentinian immigrant.

What You Don't Know

Mi padre, Ignacio,
is a book you haven't read.
It's filled with poetry
that can curl its fingers
around your corazón 
and squeeze out joy.
Pero you've never
cracked the cover.
You scribble crítica  
that questions
the measure of the man,
but you've never
 peeled back the pages
of his biografía.   
You toss el libro
onto the trash heap
marked "Immigrant"
y ustedes dicen it has no value.
But, of course,
you are categorically incorrect,
which you would know
if only you could read
las palabras.
If only you, too,
were blessed
to be bilingual. (p. 51)


Marcel has been labeled a troublemaker. His past includes his father's unjust imprisonment and how that demoralized him and shattered their family.

Troubled (partial)

What is it
with people and their labels,
as if the way they mark me
makes them able
to understand who I am
or why?
"Troubled kid"
tells you exactly nothing
about the trouble
my pops has seen 
or Moms
or me.
We stare from windows 
caged in iron,
in state prisons
or rented rooms,
which are only better
by degree.
We are forced
to survive outside
the neatly mowed landscapes
of your imagination.
Our stop on the train station
is worlds away
from your manicured lawns
and lives
and the lies you tell
about the days
of racial discrimination
being in the past.
Quit asking
why I'm angry
or I'll tell you. (pp. 39-40)


Freddie takes care of her eight-year-old niece and her alcoholic mother. This is a portion of one of her poems.

School Rules

Stage right,
the lights fade on a daily life
of tiptoeing around
my niece's feelings about the mom
who traded time with her
for time spent cozying up to crank.
The truth is too rank
for her tender little-girl ears.
And so, until she's fast asleep,
I keep bitter thoughts
under my tongue's lock and key.
Have I mentioned how it hurts me?
That neither my niece nor I
manage to have a mother
worthy of the name?
Oh, mine is present,
in an alcoholic-fog kind of way,
which is to say, hardly at all. (p. 148)


Nikki Grimes stitches a story together so real and touching that after the boys vs. girls poetry slam which produces outstanding poetry on both sides--I want to know what happens to each character. This would be a great curriculum resource for teens: some readers will resonate and identify, others will be informed by stories much different than their own. Read it out loud in reader's theater. Let it inspire you and your student to write poetry. The results may surprise you.  


I am giving away my audio book, courtesy Recorded Books. Leave me a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog. will pick a winner on August 3.

Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl-- An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Nancy Frederick who won SHE STARTED IT ALL on last week's blog. REVIEW PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL (Amulet B...