The story of the struggles and achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen is told in vivid informational poetry.
Pre–World War II efforts aimed at improving the opportunities for African-Americans in the military faced strong opposition, but flight programs such as Tuskegee’s had a strong advocate in Eleanor Roosevelt, and she convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support them. The preparation was vigorous, under the direction of white officers who were also affected by the racism of the time: “For them, choosing Tuskegee / means never making general, / but making history instead.” The poems explore all aspects of the time spent in training, including the restrictions of a small Southern town as well as outside news. After the U.S. entered the war, the pilots were eventually allowed to participate and served with great distinction. Carole Boston Weatherford does a masterful job of portraying the era and the prevailing attitude among African-Americans, who believed they could overcome racism with excellence. Her skill with language provides clear voices for the trainees, and cultural specifics provide additional texture and deepen understanding of the young men. Even African-American military nurses make an appearance. The epilogue places the Tuskegee Airmen in context with other, defeated legal racial barriers. This excellent treatment is enhanced with useful backmatter: author’s note, timeline, and list of additional resources. Jeffery Boston Weatherford's scratchboard illustrations complement the text.
A masterful, inspiring evocation of an era.
(Informational poetry. 9-12)
In 21 poems, Orgill introduces Art Kane’s iconic 1958 Harlem photograph to young readers, spotlighting many of the 57 jazz musicians pictured.
Orgill’s introduction provides background. Kane, a rising graphic designer, had a big idea—gathering as many jazz musicians as possible, at the tender hour of 10 a.m., for an unpaid photo shoot on 126th Street. The inexperienced Kane borrowed cameras to accomplish his goal. Musicians arrived, socialized, laughed—ignoring Kane. Free verse evokes the scene: “camera guy’s sweeping / jazzmen like bundles / toward number 17 / … / no one listens / musicians / don’t hear / words of instruction / only music.” Some poems riff on appearance—appropriate for this group of fastidious dressers. “How to Make a Porkpie Hat” provides instructions from Lester Young himself, then segues to the saxophonist’s iconic sound, "soft as butter." Others muse on the day’s events, both documented and imagined. The crowning glory: a gatefold reproduction of Kane’s photograph; a key’s provided for the musicians’ identities. Vallejo’s acrylic-and-pastel paintings vividly capture the shoot’s vignettes and the skittish excitement of neighborhood kids. Pulling details from a 1995 documentary film and other resources, Orgill and Vallejo offer a dynamic, multifaceted work that deftly juxtaposes biography with praise poem, information with imagination.
Teachers, librarians, jazz-loving families: take note.
(author’s note, thumbnail bios, note on the photograph’s influence, source notes, bibliography)
Poet and storyteller Harrington offers a verse novel about a girl named Katharen, nicknamed Keet for the parakeetlike chattiness that her family loves, particularly her grandpa, an avid fisherman.
When Keet's family moves from Alabama and the "brown arms" and "brown legs" of her friends to Illinois and the classmates with "faces like sour grapefruits" and "eyes like measuring tape" who tell her that she "sounds funny," she silences her storytelling voice. She slowly befriends Allegra, a Spanish-speaking girl who lives in the neighborhood, with whom she bonds after telling Allegra where her cockatoo escaped. Through this emerging friendship, her grandfather's encouraging love and life lessons imparted while they wait to catch Ol' Muddy Joe the legendary Fish, and an Appalachian storyteller who visits her school, Keet finds her voice again—and with heartwarmingly victorious results. Harrington announces Keet’s race as subtly as she develops her characters and in details such as the simple, almost-missable mention of the number of braids Allegra draws in her rendering of Keet. A poetry glossary concludes the book, explaining the various forms used, including blues poems, contrapuntal poems, and pantoums.
A gentle-spirited book about a black girl who almost gives up her gift but for love and friendship.
(Verse novel. 8-12)
Two Dominican children, one in the Dominican Republic and one in the United States, find their lives intertwined following the 9/11 attacks.
Elizabeth, a 12-year-old girl living in the Dominican Republic, seizes each of life’s moments and milks all the joy she can find out of them. Then her life and family as she knows them are brought to a halt after the terrible events of Sept. 11, never to be the same again. Thousands of miles away lives 8-year-old Brandt, who finds his life and family also torn apart by the destruction of the twin towers. Following the attack, Brandt and his 13 year-old brother, Jared, move to Elizabeth’s island to escape the sadness that has consumed their lives since the tragedy. Brandt and Elizabeth find an immediate kindred connection with each other, and they go on to try to heal themselves and their families. Alternating chapters in Elizabeth’s and Brandt’s voices describe how the fall of the twin towers affects two Caribbean families so deeply, making readers feel it too. Beautifully placing moments of loss and grief on the page, Joseph turns tragedy into poetry and gives hope even in the darkest parts of these stories, linking the lives of the characters with almost musical orchestration.
This book will break readers’ hearts and then put them back together, in the best way.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
Written in poignantly poetic tanka verse, Grimes’ newest follows a young black boy searching for his own unique voice, lost among his father’s wishes and society’s mischaracterizations.
This compassionate, courageous, and hopeful novel explores the constraints placed on black male identity and the corresponding pains and struggles that follow when a young black boy must confront these realities both at home and in school. Garvey has a complicated yet caring relationship with his family: “Mom’s got a talent / for origami, but she / can’t fold me into / the jock Dad wants me to be.” Garvey copes with his father’s disappointment by binge eating and, more positively, escaping into science fiction. Readers see the deep, loving friendship Garvey shares with classmate Joe, the only one with whom he can share his secrets. Through his father’s lament that Garvey isn’t “normal” and other clues, Grimes leaves the possibility open for readers to see Garvey as a young gay boy, which reinforces the connection the novel establishes between him and Luther Vandross, who struggled with both body image and being closeted. Garvey eventually finds himself in the school chorus. “I feel unwritten / like that song says… / I can’t wait to sing my song, / croon my own untold story.”
This graceful novel risks stretching beyond easy, reductive constructions of black male coming-of-age stories and delivers a sincere, authentic story of resilience and finding one’s voice.
(Verse novel. 8-13)
Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class.
Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer—and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable.