Saturday, September 24, 2022

EVICTED! The Struggle for the Right to Vote: A Middle Grade Picture Book Review, A Giveaway, PLUS MORE!

Every once in a while you read a book and feel the passion that the author brings to the topic. That is the way EVICTED! (Calkins Creek, 2022) struck me. This upper-level narrative nonfiction will be a welcome addition to classrooms when studying African American history and civil rights.  I have featured both the author, Alice Faye Duncan, and the illustrator, Charly Palmer, in previous posts. Click here for a review of Alice Faye's book, A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, and click here for Charly's illustrations in The Teachers March!


EVICTED! opens with a not-to-be-missed page of Acknowledgments. Ms. Duncan writes, "In 2006, Ernest Withers gifted me a photography book about the Tent City Movement. His images demanded that I write about this history for young people."

Here is one of the pictures from that album:

Now you know exactly why Ms. Duncan interviewed farmers and activists in order to bring this story to life. 

EVICTED! is bookended by the life of James Junior Jamerson.  The narrative begins with Prologue to Freedom. "This is the story of a battle, a boy, and his broken-hearted blues." Following this introduction, the reader meets the people who were important in the story of Tent City. Charly Palmer's illustrations begin the story. 

Each page is a different vignette telling what led up to the creation of Tent City and what happened afterward. Here are some highlights from those events.
  • In 1959 there were no black jurors to serve in the trial of a Black man wrongfully accused of murder. Farmer John McFerren realized that justice was in the ballot box--and Blacks needed to register to vote. 
  • After Harpman Jameson came home from serving in WWII and wasn't allowed to vote he said, "'A man and woman don't have no country if they don't have no vote.""
  • In 1959 "Entire families were forced out their homes when Black parents registered to vote in Fayette County."
  • In 1960 Mary and Earlie B. Williams were the first family to move into a tent on Papa Towles' land. As more Blacks registered to vote, more were evicted from their homes. "Tent City" was named by TV broadcasters and national newspapers.

"Their hiding place was a cross of unmerited suffering."

  • In 1962 after John Doar of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division filed a lawsuit to block white landowners from evicting Black sharecroppers, the landowners finally agreed to stop evictions. 
  • In 1964 Black voters cast their ballots while white locals stuffed the ballot boxes with illegal votes. In spite of that, the work for equality pushed forward. 
  • In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. "Black Americans voted in record numbers and won political seats."
James Junior is a grandfather now. "He says the past is the present, and it is urgent they [his grandchildren] understand, 'Every life is a battlefield and freedom is a golden prize.'"

The Epilogue concludes with, 
Despite his young age, James Junior served the freedom struggle with conquering faith and courage. He accepted the charge to rise and change history for good.  

Today--it is your turn.

                    Now is your time. 

Back matter includes photographs, a detailed timeline, resource guide, and bibliography. 

Viola McFerren talks about sharecropping and living in Tent City. 


I am drawn to this book for many reasons. When I set out to write Half-Truths I wanted to write a book that explored what led up to the civil rights period in my "own backyard"--Charlotte, NC. (Early on Harold Underdown pointed out that this was only the historical setting of my novel--not the book itself. That is another story.) In a graphic manner, EVICTED! uncovers an important part of what led up to the civil rights movement in Alice Faye's own "backyard." As a writer, I'm drawn to narrative nonfiction and enjoy learning how other authors master this genre. 


CAROL: Since you grew up in Memphis not far from Fayette County, were you aware of Tent City as a child or teenager?    


ALICE FAYE: Nope.  Not at all. Ironically, I visited Fayette County often as a child because my Great Uncle Buck and Great Aunt Boots lived in the community. They were former sharecroppers and both were dead by 1979 when I was in middle school. So, Tent City was not a discussion that I ever had with them. I was not astute enough at that time to broach such a conversation. I regret that today. Wisdom comes slowly. 


CAROL: How did you decide on the written format of narrative plus free verse poetry? 


ALICE FAYE: For children, I think that tragic and painful histories are shared best in the form of poetry and music. Poetry like blues music is optimism in the face of adversity. 


CAROL: Was that combination your vision from the beginning? 


ALICE FAYE: The combination of poetry with prose was my vision. It is a form that I originated for myself in 2018 when I wrote MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP.  I will use this form again in my new book, CORETTA'S JOURNEY--THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CORETTA SCOTT KING (Calkins Creek/ September 2023). 


Alice Faye is the author expert in the fall issue of Talking Story on Voting Rights. She also provided a classroom activity. Leave one comment here and you'll be entered once to win EVICTED! Leave a second comment through the newsletter and you'll be entered a second time. To subscribe to the newsletter, click here. Educators and librarians automatically have their name entered twice. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NAME AND EMAIL ADDRESS IF YOU ARE NEW TO MY BLOG. If you prefer, you can email me. Giveaway ends October 8. U.S. addresses only. 

Congratulations to Terri Michels who won the four-book set of Jalen's Big City Life.


Click on over to Greg Pattridge's awesome Always in the Middle blog post on Monday for a new list of great MG books.

Monday, September 19, 2022

JALEN'S BIG CITY LIFE: Four Chapter Books, an Author Interview, and a Giveaway

 Dorothy Price and I go way back. We were members of the Charlotte SCBWI critique group I don't know how many years ago! I was delighted to share her debut picture book, Nana's Favorite Things, and today I'm happy to share her new chapter book series, JALEN'S BIG CITY LIFE (Capstone: August 2022). The bright, lively illustrations are by Shiane Salabie

Each three-chapter book begins by introducing 7-year-old Jalen, his family, friends, and his city apartment. Every book shows Jalen on an adventure in which he has a problem to solve. Written for K-2 readers, there is a glossary, activity, and two pages titled "Let's Talk" and "Let's Write." Teachers will love how these pages can be used to build on their students' reading experience.


Jalen's got a problem. He wants to go with his grandparents to the Flower Festival but he also wants to go to the zoo with his friends. He decides he can do both until delays make him nervous. He finds a way to resolve the situation and in the end, gets to share a special flower with his friends. 

BONUS: Nana is a botanist and Pop-Pop changes baby Maya's diaper.


Responsible kid that he is, J.C. volunteers to help his mother with the laundry. But, when there's only one unoccupied machine he doesn't quite follow her instructions. He loads all of the dirty clothes into the machine and since there are extra clothes...that calls for extra detergent, right? Wrong! When the washing machine overflows, J.C. finds the maintenance man. Between the two of them, they suck up the suds and J.C. learns an important lesson. 

BONUS: Without preaching to the reader, J.C. learns there are consequences to not following directions.

J.C. and his classmates are excited about going to the Famous Black Americans Museum. He's doubly excited because his artist father is one of the chaperones. But things get tricky when J.C.'s group gets separated from the other students. Fortunately, J.C. had studied a map and was able to lead his group through the museum. The kids are inspired by the men and women they learn about and J.C. saves the day.

BONUS: The fun page at the end when J.C.'s father can't find his way home.


Since baseball used to be J.C's favorite sport in his old neighborhood, he signs up to be on a community team--expecting he'll impress his friends with his skills. But things don't turn out as he plans. After he strikes out and doesn't get to show off his pitching talents, he feels bad. In the end, he gets a home run but tells his friends that the best part was playing with his friends.

BONUS: I loved it when J.C. gave up his goal of being the best and decided to play in order to have fun. YAY, J.C!  (And YAY for Dorothy who wrote that line.😀)


CAROLWhat was your inspiration for Jalen and his adventures? 

DOROTHY: The inspiration for this series came from personal experience visiting my grandmother, aunts, and cousin in New York City growing up. I spent many weekends in their apartment building and had tons of wonderful memories to lean on.

CAROL: How did you find Capstone? Did you query them or find their call for submissions through Twitter? 

DOROTHY: Jalen's Big City Life was the result of my former agent submitting a picture book I wrote, that the editors passed on. But since the setting was similar to a series they were looking to publish, they asked me if I was interested in writing it. And of course, I said, yes!

CAROL: I know Capstone publishes for the school/library market. Did you write these as work-for-hire? Were there specific guidelines you had to follow in terms of vocabulary or Lexile level? 

DOROTHY: Yes, the series was a work-for-hire. But I doubt I would have been selected, had it not been for my agent. And yes, there were specific vocabulary, sentence lengths, and Lexile levels specifically for grades K-2. That was new for me, but I always wanted to write chapter books, so I enjoyed learning the process since it is different from writing picture books.

CAROLDid you pick the subject matter for each book or did Capstone?

DOROTHY Capstone wanted a Black boy joy chapter book series (set in a big city) and that's pretty much all they gave me to go on. So I created a list of story ideas, and they selected the four they liked best. Those ideas became the four that are now published!

CAROL: How did winning the We Need Diverse Mentorship program further your writing career?

DOROTHY Winning the mentorship was the confirmation I needed to keep writing after years of rejection. Had I not entered the mentorship program, I never would've won, which may have been the end of my writing career. So I have to give a huge thank you to Tara Cattie for nudging me to apply!

For more information about Dorothy, visit her website or read this interview on the Capstone website.  You can also find her on Twitter


To celebrate Dorothy's debut chapter books, I'm going to give you lots of chances to win this four-book set. Make sure you leave your name and email address in the comments if you are new to my blog. Every week folks leave anonymous entries (or just a first name) and these won't qualify. You can also email me if you don't want to share your email publicly.

1. If you follow my blog and leave a comment I'll count your name twice.

2. If you become a new follower I'll count your name three times.

3. If you share this post on social media, I'll give you an extra chance. Make sure you tell me what you do!

4. If you are a teacher, media specialist, or home school educator I'll give you another extra chance. 

GIVEAWAY ENDS 8 PM on September 21st. So get, moving!

Saturday, September 10, 2022

DAUGHTER OF THE DEEP and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA: Book Comparisons by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta


        Rick Riordan’s latest middle-school adaptation of mythology, Daughter of the Deep is a fast-paced, ocean-spanning tale, featuring protagonist Ana Dakkar. Taking inspiration from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the novel features many of Captain Nemo’s inventions while still remaining engaging to a modern audience.

            Daughter of the Deep’s strong point—the witty dialogue accentuated by a diverse and vivid cast—addresses 20,000 Leagues’ weaknesses. Although 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a perfect adventure novel, backed with such thorough explanations that it seems believable, the story remains superficially interesting. Pierre Aronnax’s descriptions of his adventures are certainly thrilling, but the book ultimately fails to invest the readers personally in the ongoing story. A small cast of characters adds to these detriments. The only characters in the story are Aronnax, a scientist of marine biology; Conseil, Aronnax’s companion; Ned Land, a short-tempered harpoonist; and Captain Nemo, the withdrawn and sullen commander of the Nautilus.

            But what 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea lacks in characterization, it makes up for with a series of wild explorations. From ancient volcanoes and submerged cities to underwater hunting expeditions and glacial exploration, the novel doesn’t hesitate to describe adventures that remain fantastical even over a hundred and fifty years later. Daughter of the Deep, however, stays true to Rick Riordan’s conflict-centric writing style, moving quickly between each of the challenges Ana faces. There’s no shortage to the trouble she finds herself in, ranging from breaking a code of whale song to outwitting a hostile submarine in a marine battle.

            If anything, Daughter of the Deep only showcases the versatility of Rick Riordan’s writing. The story manages to feature several elements from The Mysterious Island, which explores in-depth Captain Nemo’s past. Even so, the story is in no way reliant on Verne’s earlier storytelling, even going so far as to adapt Nemo’s technology to modern-day equivalents. But even so, comprehensive explanations accompany every mention of futuristic technology, as seen in this excerpt from page 189:

            “Super-cavitation…?” … I start to hum “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in my head, but I’m pretty sure that’s a different concept.


            “Cav-drive is next level propulsion,” Nelinha explains. “The world’s best navies are researching it now, but no one has gotten it to work yet. You create a sheath of air around the nose of the sub, so you have zero water resistance. Then BANG. You hit the engine and… well, in theory you could shoot across the ocean at any depth at extreme velocity, more like a bullet than a boat.”

            Even though the book does an excellent job of keeping readers engaged and entertained throughout each of the short chapters, the occasional bout of odd phrasing often throws off the rhythm of the book. Missed contractions are present every few chapters, just often enough that most readers will notice the issue as it continues to recur.

            Overall, both books have their flaws and areas where they set themselves apart. 20,000 Leagues may be hard to follow due to overly complicated phrasing, but it makes up for it with unique, if impersonal descriptions of exotic locations. Daughter of the Deep is better suited for middle-schoolers, with a wry main character and non-stop action. And while neither book is superior, both are most definitely worth reading.

Elliott is a prolific reader of various genres 
who is more than happy to share his opinions on books.
 In his free time, he enjoys writing, reading, and running. 
He is a 9th-grade student in Charlotte, NC. 


The title, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, was originally mistranslated. Since then, it’s been discovered that 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas refers to the fact that Captain Nemo travels a total of 20,000 leagues, or 60,000 miles, through the world’s oceans over the course of the eponymous book. If Captain Nemo had indeed dived to a depth of 60,000 miles, as the book seems to suggest, he would have broken through the other side of the earth after the first 8,000 miles, passed the Karman line after another 62, and then found himself in deep space, roughly 52,000 miles above the earth.


Congratulations to Virginia Dennison who won The Black Hole Debacle and to Marci Whitehurst who won There Was A Hole from last week's blog post. Thanks to everyone who entered. More giveaways coming up soon!

Don't forget to check out Greg Pattridge's great Always in the Middle blog for more Middle Grade reviews.

Monday, September 5, 2022

I Read Two "Hole" Books: 2 Picture Book Reviews, 2 Giveaways, and 1 Mini-Author Interview

I have received so many picture books from Sleeping Bear Press that I decided to double up on some of my reviews. I went through my pile and found these two with the word "Hole" in the title. They're as different as a fantasy/science book can be from a friendship/grief title. But as you'll see, either one would be an excellent addition to your home or school library.


This book, written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon is a fun combination of fantasy (the main character finds a black hole in her backpack) and science (two pages of back matter provide "real" information about black holes).

(By the way, both Keri and Deborah are not new to my blog. I reviewed Keri's fun book, Otis P. Oliver Protests, and showcased Deborah's art in Letters from My Tooth Fairy.)

The opening page spread shows what type of girl Jordie is,

as well as her main conflict.

That is only the beginning to Jordie's problems. On the bus the black hole snarfed down her water bottle, library books, and her friend's softball glove. At home, the black hole "gorged on her soccer ball, sheet shirt, unicorn underwear, and favorite pom-pom hat. It did, however, spit back the unicorn underwear."

The next thing she knew, her dog Neptune was gone!

She had no choice. She had to get her dog back. She opened her door, stepped to the black hole's edge, and leaped--finding herself in a world without sound so she couldn't even call her dog!

When her softball glove, homework, and dog floated by, she snatched them all up. And smart girl that she was, she also guessed that the black hole would spit out her underwear and..

she ended back at home. Unfortunately, her cosmic friend followed her home. Jodie knew "that black holes needed space. They were meant to graze galaxies and slurp stars, not dine on dogs." (Catch the pun and the alliteration?)

The next day at school Jordie found everything that had gone missing. Everything except her library books and magazines.

Jordie knew something that no other astronomer knew...
It turns out, black holes are ravenous readers. 
Awesome space/STEM book!


Now, get ready for a serious--yet beautiful--book about friendship, grief, and loss. Although the words are sparse, the marriage of Adam Lehrhaput's works and Carrie O'Neill's art, couldn't be better.

Here is the opening, poignant page.

Her daddy noticed that she was angry and tried to make her happy by giving her toys or taking her to fun places. But nothing fixed the hole. 

She ate lunch by herself and didn't join the kids in playing her favorite game. 

When Thomas asked what was wrong, Lily admitted that she had a hole. He shared his secret, "I have a hole, too."

Thomas shows her how to repair the hole by making patches representing the things Lily enjoyed and was grateful for. She made patches that represented her father, their home, and flowers. Gradually, 

"The patches didn't fix everything.
But they were a start."

The back matter addresses the idea of loss in kid-friendly language and gives directions on how to make a patch. As the author states, "I know, you don't have an actual hole. But that's okay. It's the process of making patches where the real magic happens."

AUTHOR INTERVIEW with Adam Lehrhaupt

CarolTo be honest, it took two readings for me to get the message. I kept thinking, why is there only a father in the illustrations? Then, I realized that the hole was the person who was missing in Lily's life. The "magic" of this book is how you and the illustrator show, but don't tell, the effects of loss in a person's life.

AdamIt was very important to me that I didn’t force a particular reason for the hole into the story. I wanted readers to be able to place themselves in Lily’s position no matter what caused their hole. Savvy readers needed a concrete reason for Lily and her father’s holes.  

Carol: I know authors and illustrators don’t usually communicate much during book creation. But the idea of your book depends on the illustrations showing your text. Did you include illustrator notes?

Adam: I had a few art notes in my original manuscript. The most important was at the end of the first line of text:

"Lily had a hole. (In her chest where her heart would be.)"

Carol: That was all?

Adam: Other than that, the other notes were more about explaining the patches and activities going on around Lily. I really try to give my illustrators as much freedom to express their talents as possible. So far, I’ve never been let down by the results. In fact, I am most often in love with the results.  

The treatment of the hole, the wonderful emotional subtext expressed by the dog, and the look and feel of the patches all came from my amazing illustrator. She really hit this out of the park. I couldn’t be more thrilled. 


If you are interested in winning either of these two books, please leave me a comment with the title preference, your name, and your email address. If you are a teacher/librarian/home educator or decide to follow my blog, I'll put your name in twice. If you prefer to contact me through email, click here. U.S. addresses only. The giveaway ends on Thursday September 8. 

Congratulations to Marci Whitehurst who won HURRICAMP from the last blog.


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