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While the author is otherwise quite respectful toward this beloved black poet, as many grandmas of various races and...

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s words serve as a cornerstone for much of black literature and everyday lit-dropping conversations among black folks. But when they cross the color line….

Veteran author Derby has her heart in the right place. She states that she wanted to write a biography about Dunbar, with whom she shares the hometown of Dayton, Ohio, “for years.” Giving her narrator a “grandma voice,” the author molds the poet’s life story around his allusive verses. She explains his understanding why the caged bird sings when he takes a job as an elevator operator because the Dayton Herald refused to hire him due to their racist employment practices and Dunbar’s racial “mask” after working as Frederick Douglass’ personal assistant, and she covers his rising popularity as a correspondent and poet. What’s unfortunate is that the narrator’s affectation—from using variations of “jump back,” “honey,” and “ ’bout” to “scoot back,” “mama,” and “hmph”—makes readers wonder how the author envisioned the grandmother, specifically her race. Dialect is tricky, and well-intended voice can backfire, especially for parents of black children seeking books for them.

While the author is otherwise quite respectful toward this beloved black poet, as many grandmas of various races and ethnicities would say, it’s not what’s said but how it’s said. (timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, index) (Biography. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6070-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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“He called on me. / My answer’s wrong. / Caught like a squirrel / on an open lawn. / Standing alone, / twiddling my paws, / frozen in place, / working my jaws. / I’d like to bolt, / but where? / I moan. / Could anyone / be more / alone?” Poet, educator and storyteller Holbrook returns with a collection of 41 poems about school worries and classroom problems. Here readers find substitutes and pop quizzes, bullies and homework storms. Nearly half of the poems have appeared in previous collections, but here the white space around each poem is filled with poetry facts, definitions and challenges to get young poets writing. Some entries are more successful than others; a few have odd rhymes, others a jangle in the rhythm. The title, too, is quite misleading: There is only one zombie poem. However, the subjects will resonate, and the hints and tips will excite young writers whether they currently love poetry or not. Sandstrom’s serviceable pen, ink and faded watercolor spot illustrations are as hit-and-miss as the poems. This is good classroom poetry, though, if not verse for the ages. (Poetry. 9-11)



Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59078-820-2

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Wordsong/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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In no particular order and using no set criteria for his selections, veteran sportscaster Berman pays tribute to an arbitrary gallery of baseball stars—all familiar names and, except for the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, retired from play for decades. Repeatedly taking the stance that statistics are just numbers but then reeling off batting averages, home-run totals, wins (for pitchers) and other data as evidence of greatness, he offers career highlights in a folksy narrative surrounded by photos, side comments and baseball-card–style notes in side boxes. Readers had best come to this with some prior knowledge, since he casually drops terms like “slugging percentage,” “dead ball era” and “barnstorming” without explanation and also presents a notably superficial picture of baseball’s history—placing the sport’s “first half-century” almost entirely in the 1900s, for instance, and condescendingly noting that Jackie Robinson’s skill led Branch Rickey to decide that he “was worthy of becoming the first black player to play in the majors.” The awesome feats of Ruth, Mantle, the Gibsons Bob and Josh, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb and the rest are always worth a recap—but this one’s strictly minor league. (Nonfiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4022-3886-4

Page Count: 138

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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