Books & More from the Teen Scene

Book reviews and other reflections from one of Oregon's young adult librarians

“The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia” by Candace Fleming February 26, 2015

Filed under: Books,History,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:10 am
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The Family Romanov cover

Images courtesy of Goodreads.com

The Facts

304 pages; published July 2014

The Basics

The history of the fall of Tsarist Russia and how the stage was set for a Stalinist Communist take-over is told through an intimate look at the family of Russia’s final Tsar, Nicholas II, and through the stories of the beaten-down peasants and workers who toiled to survive under his cruel reign.

Review

In this excellently researched and written book, history is told in a style that combines informative with riveting and emotionally wrenching. The personal life of Tsar Nicholas II is laid bare. Pathetically unsuited for the task, the Tsar wanders between dangerous inaction and ill-advised, brutal crackdowns that fuel the flame of the Russian revolution. His family is insulated, spoiled, out-of-touch, and just weird. The misery of the Russian workers and peasants knows no bounds. Their stories are interwoven, told in stark terms in the words of those who manage to survive the horror. The arc of the Russian revolution and the mess that led to the country being passed from cruel royalty to vicious dictator becomes disturbingly clear. More fascinating that most novels, this history book should be an easy sell to teen and adult readers alike.

Random Thoughts

  • I cannot even get my mind around the numbing desperation of Russian peasant life. I don’t ever want to be a Russian peasant. Or deposed royalty for that matter.
  • Nicholas II was certainly prone to monstrous behavior, but this book also – to my great fascination – makes him quite the object of pity. It seems like he could have been a fairly decent, somewhat peculiar guy if he has been born a modern middle class American, allowed to have a little job and dote on his wife and family.

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Readers with any amount of interest in history, World War II, or Russia
  • Anyone looking for a fast, high-interest read
  • People who like real, sad stories with lots of pictures of the real, sad people
  • Students who teachers allow them to explore the possibility that there is value to knowing history outside of American history
  • Fans of narrative non-fiction
 

“Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice” by Phillip Hoose March 1, 2013

Claudette Colvin cover

Images courtesy of GoodRead.com

The Facts

133 pages; published January 2009

The Basics

Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin, a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama angry about the systematic mistreatment of blacks. One day, she just plain refused to give her up seat on a bus to a white passenger. She was arrested and hauled bodily off the bus, all the while screaming, “It’s my constitutional right!” Her actions sparked the flame that eventually led to Rosa Parks’ more famous bus stand-off and to the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott that rocketed Martin Luther King Jr. to a national civil rights platform.

Booktalk

Have you ever been so sure you’re right that you would be willing to be hurt – maybe even die – for an idea? Claudette Colvin was only 15 years old when she took a stand. You see, in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, if you were black and riding a bus, there was an expectation. That expectation was that you would never sit in any of the first 10 seats on the bus and that – if those 10 seats were already full of white people and another white person got on – well, you and all the other black people sitting in the row they wanted would have to give up your seats. That was how they did things under Jim Crow in the South, when they tried to keep black people separated from white people and give black people less at every turn.

So, there was Claudette Colvin – 15 years old – sure it was wrong. So, one day, a white lady got on her bus and Claudette didn’t give up her seat. It was a big deal. She was hauled off the bus, arrested, mistreated, called names, threatened – even some of the people in her own community were against her.

A while later, Rosa Parks did the same thing and got herself in trouble in order to spark the Bus Boycott that led to the Civil Rights Movement and changed a lot of things in the South. But there was Claudette Colvin again. In order to end that bus boycott, a lawyer filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who had been arrested on Montgomery buses. Although she knew people might want to hurt – or even kill – her for it, Claudette Colvin put herself on the line again for what was right and agreed to testify.

Would you have the courage to do what she did?

Random Thoughts

Phillip Hoose does an excellent job of exploring Claudette Colvin’s story and placing in context for readers who may have little experience with bald racism and segregationist policies. Colvin is not a saintly or perfect subject. She had some rough times and awkward elements that had nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement, but he doesn’t pull punches and handles the material very well.

In Her Words …

“Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adult around here just say something? Say it so they know we don’t accept segregation? I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’ And I did.”

Awards and Honors (from http://www.GoodReads.com)

  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2009)
  • Newbery Honor (2010)
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2009)
  • Cybils Award Nominee for Middle Grade/Young Adult Non-Fiction (2009)
  • Sibert Honor (2010)
  • An ALA Notable Children’s Book for Older Readers (2010)
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2011)
  • YALSA Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults Nominee (2010)
 

“Stolen Into Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northup” by Judith and Dennis Fradin January 16, 2013

Filed under: History,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 4:00 pm
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Stolen into Slavery cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

120 pages; published January 2012

The Basics

Solomon Northup was born a free black in New York and lived as a free black man for 33 years. In 1841, he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold to a slave trader. He survived 12 years of slavery in Louisiana before finding a way back to his wife and 3 children in New York state.

Booktalk

Humans of capable of doing terrible, terrible things. Solomon Northup was a husband, a father, and a free black man. In 1841, he was looking for work and made a connection to two white men who said they wanted to hire him to play his violin – an instrument he played with great skill – for a circus down the road. They traveled with him, ate with him, and gained his trust. They even helped him obtain papers proving he was a free man before the trio crossed into slave territory – Washington D.C. But the two men were just scheming. When they arrived in the nation’s capital, they carried out their real plan. They drugged Solomon and sold him to a slave trader for $650.

Solomon was not alone. Thousands of free blacks were stolen and illegally sold as slaves in the years before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. There were laws against this, but as Solomon found, once he was in the hands of the slavers, he had no rights and no way of accessing the legal system. Solomon’s story – unlike the stories of many of these stolen lives – is known because after 12 years of living in slavery, he found a way to make contact and return to his home. In 1853, he published a book about his ordeal. That book is the basis for this story, which lays in out a simple narrative how it happened, how he survived, and all that Solomon had to endure.

It is the story of one man’s experience that increases understanding about the depth of the legacy of shame left by our nation’s slave past.