THE JOURNAL OF JESSE SMOKE

A CHEROKEE BOY

Sixteen-year-old Jesse narrates in journal form the events leading up to the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation from its ancestral (and treaty-granted) territory to Indian Country in 1838. Jesse is a thoughtful boy who has had to give up his mission schooling in order to take care of the family farm after the murder of his father at the hands of white thugs three years earlier. Earnestly he informs his journal of the internal politics of the Cherokee Republic, the cultural history of his people, the economics of ethnic cleansing, and the appalling conditions of the forced march of 17,000 men, women, and children across 800 to 1,200 miles of unforgiving terrain. As with all of the My Name Is America entries, the need to tell a story vies with the imperative to educate, all within a patently artificial format. The text here becomes acutely self-conscious: when asked for whom he is writing the journal, Jesse stumbles for a moment and then says, “Anyone”—which excuses a lot of the exposition that would not likely occur in an actual journal. The writing is mostly formal, but by and large a real and likable character emerges, and Bruchac (How the Chipmunk Got His Stripes, 2000, etc.) packs in an extraordinary amount of information about a painful (and shameful) chapter of American history that rarely rates more than a paragraph in history books. Lengthy notes at the end describe the author’s research methods and his approach to writing the book. The requisite appendices include a historical note, archival photographs, and a tear-stained pullout map of the Trail of Tears. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0439121973

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

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The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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