An immersive and thoughtful historical novel that explores West Africa in 1807.

WE ARE AKAN

OUR PEOPLE AND OUR KINGDOM IN THE RAINFOREST — GHANA, 1807 —

A trip to the capital helps three boys from the Asante Kingdom learn more about themselves, their culture, and the wider world in this debut historical novel for middle graders.

In 1807, the Asante Kingdom (roughly corresponding to modern-day Ghana) is the most powerful nation in West Africa. The dominant ethnic group is the Akan, who enslave prisoners of war, called nnonko. Two Akan boys—Kwaku, 11, and Kwame, 12—and Baako, 13, an enslaved Gurunsi boy, live in the town of Tanoso, where Kwame’s father is chief. It’s time to learn adult skills: throwing a spear, trading in the marketplace, figuring out how taxes work, repairing a roof, thinking and speaking with care, and more. In their matrilineal society, Kwaku—the chief’s elder sister’s son—could become chief if he proves his worth, and Baako’s hard work could earn him his freedom through being adopted. As part of their leadership education, the boys are invited to make the eight-day trip to the Asante capital, Kumasi, for an important festival. It’s an exciting crossroads where the boys see many new sights, including horses and the written word. When Kwame and Baako are kidnapped to be sold into slavery, they face a frightening ordeal that confronts them with their complicated world. With her novel, Soper makes the rich Akan culture come alive through the boys’ need for an education, a natural way to present captivating details. The morality of slavery is considered from several angles. For example, what happens to enslaved people who are sold to Whites is a question dismissed as unknowable. But the book is slowed down by much repetition, such as reiterating the fact that ceremonial stools are painted black to indicate the owners’ deaths. Cloutier provides numerous, well-composed monochrome illustrations that give useful context for unfamiliar elements. Helpful resources are included.

An immersive and thoughtful historical novel that explores West Africa in 1807. (glossary, bibliography)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64388-068-6

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Luminare Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

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It’s not the first time old Ben has paid our times a call, but it’s funny and free-spirited, with an informational load that...

BEN FRANKLIN'S IN MY BATHROOM!

Antics both instructive and embarrassing ensue after a mysterious package left on their doorstep brings a Founding Father into the lives of two modern children.

Summoned somehow by what looks for all the world like an old-time crystal radio set, Ben Franklin turns out to be an amiable sort. He is immediately taken in hand by 7-year-old Olive for a tour of modern wonders—early versions of which many, from electrical appliances in the kitchen to the Illinois town’s public library and fire department, he justly lays claim to inventing. Meanwhile big brother Nolan, 10, tags along, frantic to return him to his own era before either their divorced mom or snoopy classmate Tommy Tuttle sees him. Fleming, author of Ben Franklin’s Almanac (2003) (and also, not uncoincidentally considering the final scene of this outing, Our Eleanor, 2005), mixes history with humor as the great man dispenses aphorisms and reminiscences through diverse misadventures, all of which end well, before vanishing at last. Following a closing, sequel-cueing kicker (see above) she then separates facts from fancies in closing notes, with print and online leads to more of the former. To go with spot illustrations of the evidently all-white cast throughout the narrative, Fearing incorporates change-of-pace sets of sequential panels for Franklin’s biographical and scientific anecdotes. Final illustrations not seen.

It’s not the first time old Ben has paid our times a call, but it’s funny and free-spirited, with an informational load that adds flavor without weight. (Graphic/fantasy hybrid. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-93406-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs.

WAYSIDE SCHOOL BENEATH THE CLOUD OF DOOM

Rejoice! 25 years later, Wayside School is still in session, and the children in Mrs. Jewls’ 30th-floor classroom haven’t changed a bit.

The surreal yet oddly educational nature of their misadventures hasn’t either. There are out-and-out rib ticklers, such as a spelling lesson featuring made-up words and a determined class effort to collect 1 million nail clippings. Additionally, mean queen Kathy steps through a mirror that turns her weirdly nice and she discovers that she likes it, a four-way friendship survives a dumpster dive after lost homework, and Mrs. Jewls makes sure that a long-threatened “Ultimate Test” allows every student to show off a special talent. Episodic though the 30 new chapters are, there are continuing elements that bind them—even to previous outings, such as the note to an elusive teacher Calvin has been carrying since Sideways Stories From Wayside School (1978) and finally delivers. Add to that plenty of deadpan dialogue (“Arithmetic makes my brain numb,” complains Dameon. “That’s why they’re called ‘numb-ers,’ ” explains D.J.) and a wild storm from the titular cloud that shuffles the school’s contents “like a deck of cards,” and Sachar once again dishes up a confection as scrambled and delicious as lunch lady Miss Mush’s improvised “Rainbow Stew.” Diversity is primarily conveyed in the illustrations.

Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296538-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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