100 Chapter Books Project: Number the Stars

numberthestars

Number the Stars (1989) by Lois Lowry is another of the Top 100 Chapter Books that I’ve happened to read at the perfect time — now, when it is more important than ever that we remember the past in order to (hopefully) avoid reliving it.

What it’s about: Annemarie Johansen lives with her mother, father, and younger sister in an apartment building in Copenhagen in 1943. The German soldiers stand on every corner after the occupation of Denmark three years earlier. So far, everyone has suffered equally but now the eye of the Nazis has turned to the Danish Jews and they are all in danger of being “relocated”. The Johansens immediately begin working to save Annemarie’s neighbor and best friend Ellen Rosen and her family and help them get to unoccupied Sweden.

Age level: Grades 5+

I’ve taken out the “best/worst” part of the post again because this book contains exactly what it needs to be honest in its representation of history. It is not always easy to read but is beautifully written and full of essential truths. Lowry explains that the story is based on the stories she heard from a childhood friend who actually lived in occupied Denmark during World War II. She uses historical facts to frame the story of the Johansens and the Rosens and she did a lot of research for this novella-length chapter book. She says in the Afterword:

“In reading of the Resistance leaders in Denmark, I came across an account of a young man … who was eventually captured and executed by the Nazis when he was only twenty-one years old. … I would like to end this with a paragraph written by that young man, in a letter to his mother, the night before he was put to death.

… and I want you all to remember — that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for …

Surely that gift — the gift of a world of human decency — is the one that all countries hunger for still.”

Verdict: Buy

It breaks my heart that I needed to read Number the Stars and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry because of the current political and social climate in the United States and beyond. Though both books illustrated some of the worst that humans have done to each other in recent history, they also gave me hope because the characters in them endured and survived. I have come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t simply wait out these hard times but, instead, build our own Resistance forces now, before the abuse and discrimination escalates. I strongly believe that education is necessary for any successful resistance and fiction is a great tool for educating. Simply getting these books into the hands of children could make a world of difference. As a wise woman once said, the children are our future.

Whew. These last two posts have been heavy. Next, I’ll be escaping into fantasy again while reading The Horse and His Boy, the fifth published Narnia book. I’m looking forward to reading about Narnians rather than Pevensies.

*****
Schedule – December through March
December 15 – #96 The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (1954)
December 31 – Winter Break
January 15 – #52 Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940)
January 31 – #51 The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2003)
February 15 – #91 Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1950)
February 28 – #8 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908)
March 15 – #1 Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
March 31 – Project Wrap-Up!

100 Chapter Books Project: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

rollofthunder1

There have only been a handful of books on the Top 100 Chapter Books list that have been tough to read, books with real substance and weight. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1975) by Mildred D. Taylor was by far the hardest but I am so thankful that this was the book that was in my hands after this unexpected election.

What it’s about: The African-American Logan family live in Mississippi during the Great Depression. They own their own farm and so are better off than many of their black friends. Still, this is no insulation from the abuse that they will inevitably suffer from their white neighbors. And ten-year-old Cassie learns about the reality of life as a person of color both from the way she is treated by the white folks and also from the strength and wisdom of her parents and grandmother.

Age level: Grades 6+

I’ve taken out the “best/worst” part this time because this book is amazing and difficult. This is from Taylor’s foreward:

    From Song of the Trees, my first book, to The Land, my current work, I have attempted to give a true picture of life in America as older members of my family described it, and as I remember it in the days before the Civil Rights Movement. In all of the books, I have recounted not only the joy of growing up in a large and supportive family, but my own feelings of being faced with segregation and bigotry. … unfortunately, as we all know, racism still exists.

    In my books I have tried to present a history of my family as well as the effects of racism, not only on the victims of racism, but also on the racists themselves. I have recounted events that were painful to write and painful to be read, but I had hoped they brought more understanding. Now, however, there are those who think that perhaps my narrations are too painful and there are those who seek to remove books such as mine from school reading lists. There are some who say the books should be removed because the “n” word is used. … There are those who do not want to remember the past, or who do not want their children to know the past, and who would whitewash history.

    In recent years, because of my concern about our “politically correct” society, I have found myself hesitating about using words that would have been spoken during the period my books are set. But just as I have had to be honest with myself in the telling of all my stories, I realized I must be true to the feelings of the people about whom I write, and I must be true to the stories told. … My stories will not be “politically correct,” so there will be those who will be offended by them, but as we all know, racism is offensive.

    It is not polite, and it is full of pain.

Verdict: Buy

I was not offended in the slightest by this book but my heart was broken over and over again. The use of hateful language, the images of a scarred man who had been set on fire, and all of the other realities of life in 1930s Mississippi for a black family are not easy to stomach. This is an America that was not better or great. It was horrific for a large number people in our country. It was tempting to copy out a dozen or so of the most painful and educational parts of the book to share with you all but, instead, I ask that each of you find a copy of this book and read it for yourselves and with your children and students. It will inspire you to never let America move backwards, regardless of the backwards thinking of some of its citizens.

Now, moving forward, I’m making an executive decision. I’m not going to read The Long Winter due to its depiction of Native Americans and the series’ general dismissal of their plight. I know these books are favorites for many readers but I’ve now read two of them and, frankly, can’t stomach another, especially in light of what is currently happening in North Dakota and around the country. I’m also not going to reread Peter Pan, again because of the horrible “red man” stereotypes. Instead, I’m going to move up Number the Stars and have another tough but I’m sure educational and fulfilling read.

*****
Schedule – November through March
November 30- #50 Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1989)
December 15 – #96 The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (1954)
December 31 – Winter Break
January 15 – #52 Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940)
January 31 – #51 The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2003)
February 15 – #91 Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1950)
February 28 – #8 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908)
March 15 – #1 Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
March 31 – Project Wrap-Up!

100 Chapter Books Project: The Cricket in Times Square

cricket

One of the books that I was least looking forward to reading from the Top 100 Chapter Books list was actually one of the ones I enjoyed as a child — The Cricket in Times Square (1960) by George Selden. I loved it until I read it aloud to my kiddo a few years back.

What it’s about: A cricket from Connecticut accidentally ends up in the Times Square subway station where he is found by a boy whose family owns a newspaper stand.

Age level: Grades 2-4

Best part: The sweet relationships between the people, the animals, and a combination of the two. A boy that is kind to an insect, a cat and mouse that are best friends — these are the kinds of things kids need to be internalizing right now.

Worst part: The dated racial (Chinese and Italian immigrant) stereotypes.

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

I have to admit that the racial stereotyping is much easier to handle when you’re just reading the book to yourself versus trying to read it out loud to a kiddo. I actually sold our copy after I read it to Z as a bedtime story when he was a preschooler. I just couldn’t bring myself to do the broken English of the Chinese man or the boy’s Italian mother. So, I’m giving this one a mixed buy/borrow recommendation because I think it’s a great story but I also think that kids would be best served by pairing a reading with a discussion of stereotyping.

The next book up is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which is actually the sequel to the novella Song of the Trees. I have decided to read both to get the full story and also because they were only written a year apart from each other so it seems that they are meant to be a single story.

*****
Schedule – November through February
November 15 – #32 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1976)
November 30 – #84 The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1940)
December 15 – #96 The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (1954)
December 31 – break
January 15 – #50 Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1989)
January 31 – #52 Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940)
February 15 – #51 The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2003)