Happy New Year! It’s time for some new books. Following Mrs. Bishop’s schedule, we will be reading a biography (due February 11th), followed by Nonfiction (due March 25th). Because we want to get started on our biography right away, we will vote from the following four books today:
The Poet Slave of Cuba
Booklist starred (February 15, 2006 (Vol. 102, No. 12))
Gr. 7-10. In plain, stirring free verse, Engle dramatizes the boyhood of the nineteenth-century Cuban slave Juan Francisco Manzano, who secretly learned to read and wrote poetry about beauty and courage in his world of unspeakable brutality. His present-tense narrative begins when he is six, when his parents are set free. He remains behind with a mistress who treats him like a pet, making him perform for guests. When she dies, five years later, he is given to a cruel, crazy woman, who has him beaten and locked up at whim. He doesn’t escape until he is nearly 16. Side-by-side with Juan’s anguished voice are the narratives of other characters, including his mother, his demonic owners, and the white child who secretly tries to help. Qualls’occasional black-and-white sketches express Juan’s suffering and strength, and a brief afterword fills in historical background. Related in fast-moving poetry, the cruelty is vivid, as is the boy’s amazing inner power: tied, gagged, and beaten, Juan knows his owner “can’t hear the stories I tell myself.”Today’s readers will hear the stories, though–and never forget them.
Horn Book (July/August, 2006)
In the opening poem of this biography in verse, the enslaved Juan Francisco Manzano bitterly calls himself his owner’s “pet, a new kind of poodle.” As a young boy, Juan impressed his owner and her friends with his prodigious memory, reciting Homer, opera, entire Latin sermons-and his own precociously lovely poetry. Engle alternates between Juan’s perspective and those of his owners and his parents. Although she bases her work on Manzano’s autobiographical notes, this is a work of literary imagination. The slaveholder’s conflicted longings, the parents’ anguish, and especially the boy poet’s determination to preserve his inner life paint an unusually complex and forceful picture of growing up in bondage. When Juan is eleven years old, his owner dies. He becomes the property of a madwoman whose abuses Engle chronicles at length and in grisly detail. The story ends with Juan’s triumphant escape, though, and a historical note adds that both he and his writing later flourished. Engle’s skillful portrait will spark readers’ interest in Manzano’s own poetry, some of which is excerpted in the last few pages. His verse outshines Engle’s a little-as perhaps it should.
Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2006)
A work born out of love for the man and his poetry, this biography-in-verse pays tribute to Juan Francisco Manzano, who lived between 1797 and 1853. Like many verse novels, the biography is told through alternating points of view, including Juan’s as he grows from childhood to adulthood. Separated from his mother and father, Juan is reared by a slaveholder who adores his genius with words. When he is 11, she passes away. Even though she promised him his freedom upon her death, he remains enslaved, this time to a mentally unbalanced woman who abuses him unmercifully. Amazingly, Juan sustains himself through the tiny kindnesses of others, brief opportunities to make art of any kind and an endless reservoir of hope. This powerful and accessible biography may significantly engage adolescent learners but it could be too brutal for sensitive elementary-school readers. Simple charcoal drawings accompany the text and capture its emotional and geographical atmosphere. (Biography. 10-14)
Library Media Connection (November/December 2006)
Both biographical and poetic, this wonderful book introduces, in poetic verse, the slave poet Juan Francisco Manzano. Torn between two mothers, his birth mother and the “master” who claims him as her own, he must live in both worlds as a much-loved son of his birth mother and a “pet” of his “master mother.” He likewise must keep hidden, to all but a few, his talents with words and art. The life story of Manzano is told through several voices: the poet’s, his birth mother, his “master mother,” his father, and a close friend. The cruelty and prejudice he had to endure as an enslaved person in the late 1700s and early 1800s is described in detail. The reader gets a good view of what slavery was like in Cuba during this time. The book is well illustrated with b&w paintings throughout. This will be a sure hit for students who like biographical poetry, and for classroom poetry units and cross-curricular units on slavery. Highly Recommended. Douglas K. Dillon, Ph.D., Library/Media Specialist, Lakota Plains Junior School, Liberty Township, Ohio
Publishers Weekly (April 17, 2006)
Engle (Skywriting, for adults) achieves an impressive synergy between poetry and biography as she illuminates the tortured life of the 19th-century Cuban poet. Born a slave, Juan is kept like “a poodle, her pet/ with my curly dark hair/ and small child’s brown skin,” by his “godmother” and owner, Beatriz. She grants his birth parents manumission (for a price), while refusing to free Juan until her own death. Juan shows talent for memorization, and recites literature for Beatriz’s amusement. Despite his mother’s payment, Juan is transferred, at Beatriz’s death, to another owner, the Marquesa de Prado Ameno, who punishes Juan cruelly. There he also secretly learns to read and write-posing a threat to the Marquesa and the social order. Engle’s compelling poems shift in viewpoint among seven people, and the technique works beautifully: readers thus draw their own conclusions from Juan, his desperate parents, brutal owners, the Marquesa’s sympathetic son and the conflicted Overseer. Juan’s poems articulate both his enduring pain and dream of release (“I sit tied and gagged./ She is there, behind the curtain./ …/ She can’t hear the stories I tell myself in secret”), while recurring bird imagery signifies elusive freedom. Quall’s (The Baby on the Way) expressionistic half-tone illustrations extend Engle’s exploration of race as a cornerstone of the social caste in Spanish colonial Cuba. (Juan and his family are dark-skinned; the women who own him use a powder of crushed eggshells and rice to lighten their complexion.) An author’s note and excerpts from Manzano’s own poetry round out this sophisticated volume. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal (April 1, 2006)
Gr 7 Up-This is an absolutely lovely book about the unlovely subject of slavery. It is the biography of an extraordinary young man, with extraordinary intellectual powers, who was born into slavery in Cuba in 1797. Told in verse, it recounts the sufferings and trials of Manzano. As a boy, he was capable of memorizing and reciting poetic verses in many different languages. He could recount epic tales read to him, and in this way served as the entertainment for his mistress and her many guests. Later, when he became the property of a crueler mistress, his talents helped him endure numerous beatings and confinements. It is amazing that he was able to survive, and even more astonishing that he was able to maintain his humanity and his sensitive poetic nature. Manzano’s sufferings are almost too painful to read about, but the experience is made bearable by Engle’s skillful use of verse. Qualls’s drawings are suitably stark and compelling, wonderfully complementing the text. This is an exceptional book on two levels. First, it introduces Manzano to an American public. Second, it introduces readers to slavery as it was practiced in a country other than the United States. Both are noteworthy. This is a book that should be read by young and old, black and white, Anglo and Latino.-Carol Jones Collins, Columbia High School, Maplewood, NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Rachel Carson: A Twentieth Century Life
Booklist starred (February 15, 2007 (Vol. 103, No. 12))
Direct, eloquent, and precise, this biography in the Up Close series offers an intimate portrait of environmental pioneer Rachel Carson. In well-paced chapters filled with relevant quotes, Levine traces how Carson’s passion for the science of living things, which began during her rural youth, developed into an astonishing career that helped make careful stewardship of Earth a national issue. Throughout, Levine emphasizes the prevailing attitudes toward women’s roles and how Carson was able to overcome those limiting expectations to break ground and become such an effective voice for environmental concerns. A few of the scattered black-and-white photos and drawings show Carson in the field; source notes and a bibliography close. A balanced, thoroughly researched introduction to an original scientist whose work remains of urgent importance today.
Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2007)
The combination of Rachel Carson’s gift for writing with her passion for science and understanding the natural world catapulted her into prominence with the publication of Silent Spring, truly one of those books that changed the world. Levine shares much of the facts of her personal life in a way that makes obvious how family challenges and difficulties were always a priority. She conveys Carson’s influence when she relates the professional events, but most vivid are the quotes from her public and personal writing, revealing a powerful intelligence, wit and beauty. There is humor and deprecation of herself as Carson remains modestly unconvinced of her power to change the world, even as she fought cancer while trying to advocate for a new awareness of the interdependence of man and nature. The contrast between the liveliness and elegance of Carson’s words with Levine’s respectful and honest reportage amplifies the reader’s admiration for a woman who cared for her friends and family, yet dedicated her life to making the world a better place. (Biography. 10+)
School Library Journal (April 1, 2007)
Gr 6-9-Levine describes how Carson’s childhood, strong relationship with a supportive mother, and lifelong love of nature influenced her decision to become a biologist and later made her an environmental pioneer. The author draws on numerous primary sources to document the scientist’s life and provides considerable information about her education and early career as well as the work that made her famous. She details how Carson’s determination helped her overcome many obstacles, including financial struggles, gender discrimination, and family crises, and describes her long and courageous battle with the cancer that ended her life. Levine also analyzes how the woman’s work contributed to a greater public understanding of the dangers of pollutants and became the impetus for the environmental movement and related federal laws. Levine is admiring of her subject; she includes a quote comparing the impact of Carson’s work with that of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which President Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War. Average-quality black-and-white photos supplement the text and there are extensive notes and an annotated bibliography with a wide variety of sources. This book provides more detail about Carson’s personal life than George Shea’s Rachel Carson: Founder of the Environmental Movement (Gale, 2005), which is shorter and more focused on her career and impact on environmentalism. This is an excellent choice for those who want to learn more about the woman behind the legend.-Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher: They say Bethany Hamilton has saltwater in her veins. How else could one explain the passion that drives her to surf? How else could one explain that nothing—not even the loss of her arm—could come between her and the waves? That Halloween morning in Kauai, Hawaii, Bethany responded to the shark’s stealth attack with the calm of a girl with God on her side. Pushing pain and panic aside, she began to paddle with one arm, focusing on a single thought: “Get to the beach….” And when the first thing Bethany wanted to know after surgery was “When can I surf again?” it became clear that her spirit and determination were part of a greater story—a tale of courage and faith that this soft-spoken girl would come to share with the world. Soul Surfer is a moving account of Bethany’s life as a young surfer, her recovery after the attack, the adjustments she’s made to her unique surfing style, her unprecedented bid for a top showing in the World Surfing Championships, and, most fundamentally, her belief in God. It is a story of girl power and spiritual grit that shows the body is no more essential to surfing—perhaps even less so—than the soul.
From Book List Gr. 6-9. Readers may not recall the name Bethany Hamilton, but after a glance at the cover photo, they’ll recognize her as the girl who lost her arm to a shark while surfing. Hamilton tells her own story, though in many places the narrative sounds more like it’s from an adult’s perspective–perhaps from an adult coauthor. It begins with the moment a giant white shark chomps off her arm. She then goes back to discuss the events leading up to the attack and to describe what her life was like before the tragedy–home-schooling in a strong Christian household and lots of competitive surfing. Hamilton’s account is suffused with her feelings for God and His impact in her life. Perhaps because of this relationship, she never seems depressed about her situation; in fact, she is surfing again. The inset of color photos offers further insight into Hamilton’s life. Although this may quickly date, it has automatic appeal for a wide range of readers
Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different
Booklist starred (February 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 12))
Grades 7-10. Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography, bolstered by 40 interviews with its subject, is the current gold standard for books about Steve Jobs, but Blumenthal’s in-depth look at the innovator’s life makes a close runner-up and a winner for younger audiences. Blumenthal, a former business reporter, uses a speech Jobs made to a graduating class at Stanford as an inviting hook to draw readers in. He told his audience stories about the most important incidents in his life, beginning with his adoption, and how the dots of his life connected in mysterious ways. His adoptive father was skilled with his hands and a perfectionist, a trait Jobs carried on, sometimes to extremes. The worst moments in Jobs’ life, like being fired from Apple, the company he built, led him to bigger and better moments, and an eventual return to Apple, where he would give the world iPods, iPhones, and iPads. His final story was about his cancer, and his message was to “follow your heart and intuition.” Through original interviews, a smart use of source material, and a wonderfully easy-going style, Blumenthal gives a full portrait of Jobs, with his many well-documented flaws (which here might be a tad underplayed), his original and far-sighted aesthetic, and his willingness to push himself and others to achieve the best—as he perceived it. One advantage this has over Isaacson’s book is the well-placed sidebars that explain everything from how computer memory works to Jobs’ distinctive wardrobe. This is a smart book about a smart subject by a smart writer. To be illustrated with photographs. Glossaries and sources are appended.
Horn Book (May/June, 2012)
“On a warm June day in 2005, Steve Jobs went to his first college graduation — as the commencement speaker.” In his brief address to the Stanford graduates, Jobs shared three personal stories from his life, and Blumenthal uses these stories as a template for his biography. Jobs co-founded Apple, becoming a pioneer of the personal computer industry, but a mid-career renaissance also saw him leave an indelible mark on three additional fields: movies (Pixar), music (iPod), and cell phones (iPhone). His remarkable business acumen was not without some notable failures, however, and Blumenthal notes that these were matched by quirks (not to mention shortcomings) in his personal life. Even as he led Apple to ever-greater heights, Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, finally succumbing to the disease late in 2011 at age fifty-six. Blumenthal’s journalistic style suits the subject, and she uses the words of Jobs and his closest associates to paint an engaging and intimate portrait. Few biographies for young readers feel as relevant and current as this one does. Black-and-white photographs are interspersed throughout the narrative, and some interesting tangents are unobtrusively placed in sidebars. Source notes, a bibliography, a glossary, and an index are appended. jonathan hunt
Horn Book starred (Fall 2012)
Blumenthal’s journalistic style suits the subject, and she uses the words of Jobs and his closest associates to paint an engaging and intimate portrait. Few biographies for young adults feel as relevant and current as this one does. Black-and-white photographs are interspersed throughout the narrative, and some interesting tangents are unobtrusively placed in sidebars. Bib., glos., ind.
Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2012)
An admiring though not entirely adulatory view of our era’s greatest technology celebrity, rightly dubbed (by U2’s Bono) “the hardware software Elvis.” Blumenthal weaves her portrait on the thematic frame used by Jobs himself in his autobiographical 2005 Stanford commencement address. She “connects the dots” that led him from his adoption as an infant through his “phone phreaking” days to a spectacular rise and just as meteoric fall from corporate grace in the 1980s. Following a decade of diminished fortunes and largely self-inflicted complications in personal relationships, he returned to Apple for a spectacular second act that also turned out to be his final one. Despite getting bogged down occasionally in detail, the author tells a cohesive tale, infused with dry wit (“He also considered going into politics, but he had never actually voted, which would have been a drawback”) The book is thoroughly researched and clear on the subject’s foibles as well as his genius. A perceptive, well-wrought picture of an iconic figure well worth admiring–from a distance. (endnotes, photos, time line) (Biography. 11-14)
Publishers Weekly (March 5, 2012)
Framing her work around the themes of a lauded commencement speech that “technology rock star” Jobs delivered to Stanford University’s class of 2005, Blumenthal crafts an insightful, balanced portrait of the enigmatic man whose life was cut short by illness in 2011. The book chronicles Jobs’s boyhood passions for technology, simplicity, and design that led to his rocky tenures with the technology company he helped create, was fired from, and returned to and led to the heights of its success. Readers receive a primer in technological advances, including the mathematics of animation, as well as Jobs’s vision for product design and marketing innovation. Blumenthal relates accounts of Jobs’s eccentric hygiene and eating habits, his infamous tantrums and tirades in the workplace, and his harsh treatment of colleagues, loved ones, and friends. However, his charisma often won the day, and commentary from Jobs and his wife, given near the end of his life, help soften the picture. Numerous b&w photographs and sidebars appear, and an author’s note, technology time line, glossary, index, and bibliography give this volume extra polish. Ages 12-up. Agent: Ken Wright, Writers House. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.