A Great Migration novella with a vivid, believable protagonist.
When Langston’s mother dies in 1946, his father feels that Alabama has nothing left for him and moves himself and Langston to Chicago, where Negroes could make a living wage and avoid the severe discrimination so prevalent in the South. A sensitive boy who loved his mother deeply, Langston has spent so little time with his father that he doesn’t really know him. When he becomes the target of schoolyard bullies who call him “country boy,” his loneliness sends him to the George Cleveland Hall branch of the Chicago Public Library, where he learns that African-Americans are welcome, which is different from Alabama. A kind librarian helps him find books—including poetry by Langston Hughes, for whom she assumes he has been named. From snooping into letters his dad has saved, he realizes that his mother loved the poetry of Langston Hughes, which inspires him to read everything Hughes has written. Cline-Ransome creates a poignant, bittersweet story of a young black boy who comes to accept his new home while gaining newfound knowledge of the African-American literary tradition. Langston’s heartfelt, present-tense narration, which assumes a black default, gathers readers so close they’ll be sad to see his story conclude.
A fascinating work of historical fiction that showcases a well-developed, likable protagonist and presents Cline-Ransome at her best.
(Historical fiction. 9-13)
A white sharecroppers’ son finds himself on a mission to recapture a family that has escaped slavery.
A few weeks after the death of Little Charlie Bobo’s father, Cap’n Buck, the overseer of the plantation on which they farm, tells the 12-year-old and his ma that the elder Charlie Bobo had taken a down payment on a job to recover lost property. In this way, Charlie becomes a partner with a man known for his cruelty on a mission to track enslaved people. When Cap’n Buck finds the family he is looking for, he discovers the son of the family, Sylvanus Demarest, is attending school in Canada, and their mission becomes an international kidnapping. Newbery winner Curtis once again successfully draws on the stories about enslaved people who found freedom in Canada; the pursuit of Sylvanus Demarest is based on an actual incident. By seeing the story through the eyes of a poor white boy and a white overseer, readers confront how so many were connected by slavery. Curtis demonstrates in dramatic fashion how much the formerly enslaved valued their freedom and what they were willing to do to help one of their own remain free. The narrative is briskly paced, and both Little Charlie and Sylvanus are compelling characters. The Southern whites speak in dialect, and they refer to black people with the offensive term “darkie,” both authentic to the 1858 setting.
A characteristically lively and complex addition to the historical fiction of the era from Curtis.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
Life on an island for those with Hansen’s disease is all Amihan has ever known. Now she must face the outside world, ostracized for living among the lepers.
In 1906, Amihan’s mother was taken from her home to live on Culion, an island leper colony in the Philippines. Isolated from the rest of the world, Amihan loves life on Culion, and caring for her mother and watching for butterflies is all she wants to do. Then an unexpected visitor from the department of health arrives and declares that healthy children will be taken to live in an orphanage on a nearby island, away from the disease but also separated from their families. There Amihan meets Mariposa, a girl named for the butterflies, and they become fast friends. When alarming news reaches her, Amihan is in dire need to see her mother, and together the girls journey to find their way back to Culion. Narrated in the present tense from Amihan’s point of view, the writing, laced with Tagalog, is simple, but the themes and topics are heavy, such as being seen as less than human. For her second novel, Hargrave (The Cartographer’s Daughter, 2016) researched the history of the real island of Culion, and in it she captures the raw feelings of stigma, exile, and loss that came with Hansen’s disease at that time.
A heartbreaking and heartwarming must-read about love, loss, friendship, and determination in times of desperation.
(glossary, author’s note)
(Historical fiction. 9-12)
In 1947, Nisha’s beloved country is being torn apart—and so is her family.
Nisha and her twin brother, Amil, celebrate their 12th birthday in their beloved town of Mirpur Khas, India, a month before their country receives independence from the British and splits into India and Pakistan. Painfully shy, Nisha, who lost her mother in childbirth and feels distant from her stern father and her elderly grandmother, is only able to speak freely with the family cook, a Muslim man named Kazi. Although Nisha’s mother was Muslim, her family is Hindu, and the riots surrounding Partition soon make it impossible for them to live in their home safely despite their mixed faith. They are forced to leave their town—and Kazi. As Nisha and her family make their way across the brand-new border, Nisha learns about her family history, not to mention her own strength. Hiranandani (The Whole Story of Half a Girl, 2013) compassionately portrays one of the bloodiest periods in world history through diary entries Nisha writes to her deceased mother. Nisha’s voice is the right mix of innocence and strength, and her transformation is both believable and heartbreaking. Nisha’s unflinching critiques of Gandhi, Nehru, and Jinnah are particularly refreshing in their honesty.
A gripping, nuanced story of the human cost of conflict appropriate for both children and adults.
(Historical fiction. 11-adult)
Katy’s such a good pitcher that she is accepted as one of the boys on the local sandlot in 1957 San Francisco.
She calls herself Casey and tries out for Little League as a boy. She makes the team, but her ruse is discovered, and she is ruled ineligible. But Katy is from a family of strong, highly educated women, and she will not give up. In a reply to her letter to Little League headquarters, she is informed that the game had always been solely for males. Determined to find proof that girls have played baseball, Katy meticulously begins her research, enlarging her parameters to dovetail it with an assigned fifth-grade project. Her first discovery is of Jackie Mitchell, the girl who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1931. She delves deeper and discovers that “girl’s baseball had a lot of history, but not a lot of now.” Klages seamlessly interweaves Katy’s research with the world-changing events of 1957, from Sputnik to Little Rock, allowing readers to access the information with Katy. She is Jewish, and her friends are Jewish, Japanese, African-American, white, and more—both ethnicity and race play important roles in the tale. Katy can’t win the battle, but readers with be enthralled by both her spirit and the stories of the real women of baseball, thumbnail bios of whom appear in the backmatter.
A grand slam in every way.
(author’s notes, glossary, recommended reading, acknowledgements)
(Historical fiction. 8-12)