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Book Reviews of Literature for Children and Young Adults

History, Biography, and Nonfiction

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David Shannon, Author
Author Study - Louis Sachar

White Lilacs
The River Between Us
Hole in My Life
Weapons & Warfare

Meyer, Carolyn.  1993.  White Lilacs.  San Diego:  Gulliver Books.  ISBN:  0152006119.

 

     Based on a true story, "White Lilacs" has a concrete sense of time and place that will transport readers so effectively that their view of the present may be forever altered” (Booklist). Meyer wrote this story after learning about a true event that took place in Denton, Texas when the city decided to move the African American community called Quakertown to make room for a park.  Her tale based on this event is historically accurate but the characters are fictional.

     White Lilacs is set in the historical period of the early 1920s when African Americans did not have equal rights in the United States and especially the south.  This story takes place in a fictional north Texas town called Dillon.  Dillon was a typical community during this time of inequality.  White people controlled everything. Freedomtown was in the middle of Dillon and was a thriving community where the African American people lived. Many of the African American people from Freedomtown worked for the white people in many capacities such as servants and gardeners.

     In 1921 the city of Dillon decided to take Freedomtown and make it into a city park.  All African-Americans have to move or relocate to the Flats.  Rose Lee tells of the events that lead up to this and sketches a record of the town before it disappears.

     ALAN Review writes, “This is a realistic portrayal of the precarious existence of African-Americans in the South and how their sense of community and faith helps them survive. Varying attitudes towards segregation are reflected in the actions of both segments of the town, and unlikely heroes emerge. Meyer gives us believable characters and a good story which will give middle school and high school readers a greater understanding of the human drama in American history.”

     Meyer creates characters and events that reflect the lives of people in the 1920s.  Booklist says, “Characterizations and relationships ring true as Meyer depicts the black community chillingly intimidated by a silent Ku Klux Klan march; the tarring and feathering of Henry, Rose Lee's brother, a World War I veteran who refuses to buckle under to a rich white man's son; and Rose Lee's enlisting the aid of the daughter of the same rich white man to smuggle Henry to safety.”  These references to well-known events like World War I, Jim Crow laws, and situations like Ku Klux Klan marches help the reader to place the story in its historical period.

     The theme of injustice in the treatment of the African Americans, their feelings of helplessness because of their lack of power, and the attitudes and actions of the white community to preserve their status resonates through this story.  It also shows that strength of character of the community to make the best of everything as when Rose Lee’s grandfather is able to create beauty in the midst of ugliness with his garden.

     This story is a fascinating work of historical fiction from an author who has won numerous awards for her writing and will evoke a local interest for young adults in north Texas.  After this readers will be delighted to find there is a sequel, Jubilee Journey.

 

Peck, Richard.  2003.  The River Between Us.  New York:  Dial Books. 

     ISBN:0803727356.

 

     Winner of the 2004 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, The River Between Us is a story framed within a story.  It is first told by young Howard Leland Hutchings as he and his father along with his two twin brothers take a trip to Grand Tower from St. Louis by car in 1916.  The narrative then shifts to the dawning of the Civil War, as Howard's grandmother recounts to him the family's history. A then-15-year-old Tilly brings images of a divided state and country to life as she tells of the arrival of a Southern belle, Delphine, traveling by ship with the woman they presume to be her slave, Calinda, in April 1861. Delphine causes a stir in town with her fancy airs and extraordinary sense of fashion. Acting more charitably than most of her neighbors, Tilly's mother opens her home to the stranded New Orleans natives” (Publisher’s Weekly).  This placing the characters during the time of the Civil War provides for events where Tilly and Delphine show their inner strength.

     The River Between Us has all the elements of a good historical novel.  VOYA says,   Mixing vibrant characters, a gripping plot, and historical facts, Peck cooks a literary gumbo worthy of New Orleans' finest chefs.” In the beginning of the story Peck supplies some interesting facts about early automobiles. He tells these through Howard, “You had to crank the car a good ten minutes to get it going.” “Dad broke a fresh egg into the radiator so that it would hard-boil and seal the leaks.”

     Publisher’s Weekly says of the characters, “Peck crafts his characters impeccably and threads together their fates in surprising ways that not only shed light on them but also on the complicated events and conflicts in America at that time.”  He reveals the relationships and character of the people in the story are not always what it first appear.  "Peck's spare writing has never been more eloquent than in this powerful mystery in which personal secrets drive the plot and reveal the history," wrote Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman. Horn Book reviewer Peter D. Sieruta described this as a "powerful novel" with a "stunning conclusion"(Gale Literary Database, 2004). Delphine first appears to be a pampered person who could not handle hard work.  She later reveals her inner strength and fortitude when nursing the soldiers.  Calinda appears to be a maidservant or possibly a slave but later is revealed as Delphine’s sister.  Delphine is assumed to be an aunt of Howard’s father but turns out to be his mother. With this story, Peck reveals a piece of history of New Orleans and the Les Sirenes or quadroon society that ended with the Civil War.

     For young adults looking for an excellent historical novel, VOYA says, “Peck spices up his stew with showboats, apparitions, romance, battle, and twists around every corner in this great read, even for those who dislike historical fiction.” Publisher’s Weekly says,  “Readers will find themselves turning back to the beginning of the novel to uncover how seamlessly he has laid the foundation for the connections between people and across generations.” Peck keeps his reader interested to the end!

 

Source: Peck, Richard.  Gale Literary Database.  Contemporary Authors.

                   Accessed 20 November 2004.

 

Gantos, Jack.  2002.  Hole in My Life.  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  ISBN: 

     037439883.

 

     What an apt title! A Hole in My Life is an autobiography of a period in Jack Gantos’ life leading up to and including a time when as a young man he smuggled hashish into the United States and then spent fifteen months in a federal prison after he got caught. The book includes a mug shot of nineteen-year-old Jack with his prisoner numbers displayed across his chest. Gantos’ style of writing tells the story in an interesting way. Booklist says, “Gantos' spare narrative style and straightforward revelation of the truth have, together, a cumulative power that will capture not only a reader's attention but also empathy and imagination.”

     Gantos shows the mindset of a young man who is struggling to find his way as a writer when he feels he has nothing worth writing about.  He discovered, “In prison I got a second chance to realize I did have something to write about.  I found plenty of serious subjects.”  He felt, “My struggle as a writer was a lot like my life.” “I made up rules for myself and broke them and made others until I got it right.” This lack of thinking about the consequences led to his disastrous decision to smuggle drugs.

     As a young man Gantos was a voracious reader.  Gantos uses his love of books and words in this autobiography.  Booklist says, “Particularly fascinating is his generous use of literary allusions to everything from Baudelaire to Billy Budd, which subtly yet richly dramatize how he evolved from a reader who became a character in the books he was reading to a writer and a character in his own life story.”

     A concern over autobiographies is that they may present illegal activities.  This story does this in a way that does not glorify but simply presents the events.  Publisher’s Weekly said, "It will leave readers emotionally exhausted and a little wiser."  The violence of prison life chronicled in this story is fairly graphic.  School Library Journal says, “The explicit descriptions of drug use and prison violence make this a work for older readers. Not the usual "How I Became A Writer" treatise, it is an honest, utterly compelling, and life-affirming chronicle of a personal journey for older teens and adults.”

     This story will appeal to an audience from young adult to adult.  Young adults will appreciate reading a story of a young man who made a serious mistake but was able to turn his life around and become an award-winning author.

 

 

Meltzer, Milton.  1996.  Weapons and Warfare:  From the Stone Age to

     the Space Age.  Illustrated by Sergio Martinez.  New York: HarperCollins

     Publishers.  ISBN: 0060248750.

 

 

     Milton Meltzer, winner of many awards including the 2001 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his contributions to children’s literature, writes an interesting nonfiction book giving an overview of weapons and warfare in chronological order from the past to the present.  Each subject is covered briefly. He begins with the primitive weapons like the club, spear, sling, and bow and continues to the present day atomic bomb.  Since this book has a copyright date before 2001, it does not include the history changing events of September 11 and how warfare has changed with this event.  Kirkus Review says, “Meltzer's discussion is more than just a rehashing, and readers will enjoy the intriguing connections the author makes, e.g., between modern ballistic missiles and ancient slingshots and stones. His recitation of statistics regarding current handgun sales within the US and his subsequent appeal to the basic humanity of young readers are the book's best lessons of all.” Interestingly Meltzer explains how changes in weapons changed the way humanity fights wars.  This connection provides an insight to this deadly subject. He shows how warfare evolved into a very deadly and costly practice to the combatants.

     David Lindsey for School Library Journal writes, “If the book can be faulted at all, it is for the sketch book like, black-and-white pencil drawings; they are well done, but lack the kind of detail that middle schoolers like to see.”  Meltzer uses a table of contents to organize and assist the reader in finding the fifty-nine subjects that he included in this book. Many of subjects are only one page long, sometimes less.  The book also contains a bibliography of his sources of information, an index, and a page about the author. Not all subjects are about weapons.  Meltzer explores the idea of the sense of warfare and where it will lead us. He looks at the question of whether killing is natural for mankind in subject number fifty-eight.  He tells that over the years soldiers have been trained to desensitize them to overcome their natural resistance to killing. “Meltzer does not hesitate to intersperse the history that he is presenting with his personal view. Most often found in his closing chapters, remarks such as "If each of us accepts the responsibility for the earth's survival, we can make a difference" are ubiquitous. Meltzer does not offer passive accounts of history for the sake of archival interest alone; his body of work presents the past with the intention of influencing the future” (Gale Literary Database, 2004).

 Afterward, readers may ponder over these ideas.  All will enjoy this well-written and thought provoking book. 

 

Source: Meltzer, Milton. Gale Literary Database.  Contemporary Authors

                   Accessed 10 November 2004.

 

 

 

 

This page completed as a requirement for
LS 5623 Advanced Literature for Young Adults
Texas Woman's University
Denton, TX
 by
J. Ketola
November 24, 2004