Monday, March 30, 2009

Recent Reads

Growing Up in Revolution and the New Nation

Some of my favorite children's nonfiction books are centered around the history of childhood, so it was no surprise to me that I enjoyed my first read in the Our America series. Revolutionary-era childhood was quite solemn and frightening at times, what with nearby battles and the dread of fatal illnesses surrounding families. However, readers also learn of popular games and toys favored by children of this time, as well as their schooling, clothing, etc.

Everybody's Revolution: A New Look at the People Who Won America's Freedom

If you think that only Americans of British descent fought the Revolution, then you need to pick up this book! Thomas Fleming introduces us to Spaniards (I was happy to see a mini-essay on Louisiana governor Bernardo de Galvez) , French, Irish, Italian, women, Native Americans, Jews, young people, and African Americans who fought valiantly for American independence. As a young second-generation American of Irish descent, Thomas Fleming felt little connection to the American Revolution, as he thought it was simply a war between Englishmen on both sides. It wasn't until he became a historian that he discovered that it just wasn't true! The Washington Post named this as one of the top books of the year, and I have to agree!

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

I read the majority of this last night and finished it this morning-it was that good. Although friendship across racial lines isn't something that's new to children's fiction, it makes for an engrossing and fresh story when it's done well, as Kristin Levine (who lives in Alexandria) does in this book. This is Levine's first novel, and it's already received very positive press, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

As this deals with a friendship between a Caucasian boy and African-American boy set in early twentieth century Alabama, there are ugly racial episodes in the book. However, it's not as black and white (no pun intended) as it is in other children's novels set in the South. The reaction to the new postmaster's family runs the gamut from welcoming (although there are clear separations and thoughtless remarks said to the family) to outright hatred. As the family is from Boston, there are also subtle differences between them and the rural Southern African-Americans with whom they worship and go to school. The friendship between Dit and Emma is beautifully portrayed and rings true. It's quite a memorable read.

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