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

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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

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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)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Boxcar Children

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The Boxcar Children(1942) by Gertrude Chandler Warner barely made it onto the Top 100 Chapter Books list at number 99. That’s likely because it is a very simple chapter book but is also the start of a very big series. It doesn’t have the weight of a lot of the other books on the list but the characters probably stuck with many readers as they grew up.

What it’s about: Simply, four siblings become orphans and go on the run because they are afraid that their Grandfather is a cruel man. They end up setting up a home in an old abandoned boxcar by a stream.

Age level: Grades 2-3

Best part: The ending is incredibly sweet and the kids are hard workers and are quite brave.

Worst part: I can’t think of anything I really disliked except for the mean people at the beginning who basically want to make the three older kids their slaves. Rude!

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

I’m only saying Borrow because this is such a simple book that not all kids will want to reread it. But it’s definitely a great starter chapter book with big print, a small vocabulary, and a quickly-moving plot. I really don’t know what my problem was years ago when I tried to read this book but couldn’t get past the first couple of pages. Maybe it’s because I had a little guy at home and couldn’t imagine a group of kids just setting off on their own. I should have kept going though!

My next read is one that I’m super torn on and we’ll probably have to have a real discussion about it. The Cricket in Times Square was a childhood favorite of mine and I truly love parts of it. But, on reread a few years ago, I also found parts that were quite awful. Sigh.

*****
Schedule – October through January
October 31 – #82 The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (1960)
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)