Friday, June 29, 2012

The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy

Series:  My Name Is America (Dear America)
Title:  The Journal of Joshua Loper:  A Black Cowboy
Setting:  The Chisholm Trail, 1871
Main Character:  Joshua Loper, a 16-year-old black cowboy

Summary:  Joshua is a cowboy and has just been told he will be helping drive his boss' cows up the Chisholm Trail to be sold.  He is black at a time shortly after the Civil War, when this is an important distinction.  His diary covers his journey from Mr. Muhlen's ranch in Texas to Abilene, Kansas as he deals with stampedes, the excitement of his first time on the trail, tricks played on him by other members of the cattle drive, and even a great loss.  His first entry is April 30, and he describes his journey until the group arrives in Abilene July 15.  Mr. Muhlen has also arrived for the sale of his cattle, and tells Joshua, along with some of the other trail hands, that he wants them to return to the ranch and bring back another herd of cattle.  Joshua arrives home, but doesn't have much time to spend with his mother before heading back out on the trail as the book closes.

Review:  I think the diary format makes these books interesting.  The author includes a "Historical Note" at the end of the book with a description of "Life in America in 1871" and pictures of the towns and people who inspired Joshua's story.  A fold-out map of the Chisholm Trail is also included as the last page.  There are some grammatical errors, but they are accurate to how an individual like Joshua would have talked and written.  Joshua makes several references to church and prayer.  I have enjoyed reading this book more than once, and will read it again.
**** Four stars

Keep reading,

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dear America: A Picture of Freedom

Title:  Dear America:  A Picture of Freedom (The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl
Author:  Patricia C. McKissack
Setting:  Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859
Target Audience:  Upper Elementary--Middle

Summary:  The book is written in diary format, from the perspective of a 12-year-old slave girl who works in the kitchen on a Virginia plantation.  She taught herself to read and write while fanning the Master's son William during his lessons.  This act could earn her a severe beating if her Master finds out, as well as result in her being sold to another Master in the "Deep South"--both scary ideas.  So, she must keep her learning--and her diary--a secret from everyone.  Even the other slaves might tell on her if it means some benefit for them.  In the book, Clotee writes about her life for about 13 months.  She learns about abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, and the dangers of learning too much.

Review:  I think this book is very well-written.  There is a clear difference in Clotee's writing over the course of the book as she learns more.  The book does include some incidents which, though historically accurate, may be considered problematic, such as beatings of slaves. A few spots may be difficult to understand, due to poor English and historical words or phrasing, but I believe most readers will be able to figure out what is meant by the context.  I think reading the book may be helpful in understanding what slaves went through in early America.  A "Historical Note" at the end of the book explains how slavery ended and some important people involved, such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. 
**** Four stars

Friday, June 15, 2012

My America: Five Smooth Stones

Title:  My America:  Five Smooth Stones (Hope's Diary--Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1776)
Author:  Kristiana Gregory
Target Audience:  Elementary
Approximate reading level:  4th

Summary:  The author writes as Hope, a nine-year-old girl living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the start of America's history as a new country.  The book is written as her journal.  Entries are short and not daily, but mostly dated (a few are marked as something like "the next morning"). The author includes a "Historical Note" at the end of the book to put some of the details from the book in historical context.

Review:  A few words may be unfamiliar due to the historical usage of words and language ('twas, 'tis, arithmetick, dost, for example).  I enjoy this type of book because it can make history more interesting because the story is told from the point of view of an average person.  The book mainly covers daily life, but also mentions historical events such as the writing of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington's Christmas night attack on the British soldiers. 
**** Four stars

Saturday, June 9, 2012


A note to parents:  The book reviewed below covers difficult topics.  I believe these topics are important because many teens today are dealing with them, even if the parents don't know about it.  Please carefully read the summary and review, and if you have any more questions, feel free to e-mail me at and I will do my best to answer.  You may want to read this book with your teen or before he or she reads it.  Or, you may at least want to discuss it with him or her after he or she reads it.  This is not a light reading book.

Author:  Jay Asher
Target Audience:  High school
Approximate reading level: 8th

Main characters:
-Hannah Baker, a high school student who recently committed suicide and has left behind a series of tapes explaining why
-Clay Jensen, the narrator, from whose point of view we hear Hannah's story

Summary:  When Hannah Baker decides to take her own life, she also decides to leave behind 7 audio cassette tapes explaining why she made this decision and telling her story, along with the stories of several others in the school--those who affected her decision.  We learn her story through Clay, as he listens to the tapes.  The author also gives Clay's reactions alongside Hannah's story.  At times, Hannah's story, and Clay's reaction to it, are interrupted as Clay wanders through town visiting places where the stories that impacted Hannah's decision happened, meeting and talking to others.

Review:  Because Clay's story is told directly alongside Hannah's, rather than the book being divided into two parts or even divided by chapters, the impact of the story is stronger.  Many controversial topics are covered, or at least referenced:  bullying, teen suicide, teenage drinking/drunkenness, sexual assault, and drunk driving.  But it also shows that you have an impact on those around you, even when you don't realize it.  Something that seems small and unimportant to one person may be devastating to another.  Your actions have consequences.  Unfortunately, these topics are influencing teens today, and even "Christian school kids" are not totally exempt.  Bullying was present in my Christian school, and I think at least one of these other topics was as well.  Even the teen that has never had to deal with any of these topics (which I believe most, if not all teens have had some experience with bullying in some form) can be reminded that the little things are important, and that we should treat others with the kindness that Christ showed us. 
This book is not Christian in nature.  The only reference to religion at all is when Hannah says, "And you, lucky number thirteen, you can take the tapes straight to hell.  Depending on your religion, maybe I'll see you there."  However, some Christian principles can be taken from it, such as treating others how you would want to be treated and with love.
I would like to suggest discussing this book with your teen if he or she reads it.  You may find out that your teen knows someone in Hannah's position (or even in some other problem situations in the book). 
I'm not sure I can say I enjoyed reading this book, because it is a sad, somewhat heartbreaking story.  But it is definitely a page-turner.  When I needed to stop reading, I couldn't wait to get back to Hannah's story and see what happened to make her believe she had no other choice, as well as seeing what Clay learned from her story.
**** Four stars

Matthew 7:12a "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them;"

Love in Christ,