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Firebirds and Night Witches – a fiction/non-fiction pairing

26 Aug

I have a list of fiction/non-fiction pairings and have an idea for a project I would like my students to do someday. When I finally get it together, it will involve some sort of compare and contrast and maybe even a little fiction writing. The devil is, as always, in the details.

I am always on the lookout for good fiction/non-fiction pairings and recently found one in We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett and A Thousand Sisters  by Elizabeth Wein.

Wein’s book is a non-fiction book about Soviet women pilots during WWII. Bartlett’s book is a fantasy novel inspired by the Soviet women pilots of WWII, but her pilots use magic as the Union battles the Elda. Both have strong female characters that find a way to use their talents.

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Publisher’s Summary: Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.

We Rule the Night is a fiercely compelling story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival against impossible odds.

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Publisher’s Summary: In the early years of World War II, Josef Stalin issued an order that made the Soviet Union the first country in the world to allow female pilots to fly in combat. Led by Marina Raskova, these three regiments, including the 588th Night Bomber Regiment—nicknamed the “night witches”—faced intense pressure and obstacles both in the sky and on the ground. Some of these young women perished in flames. Many of them were in their teens when they went to war.

This is the story of Raskova’s three regiments, women who enlisted and were deployed on the front lines of battle as navigators, pilots, and mechanics. It is the story of a thousand young women who wanted to take flight to defend their country, and the woman who brought them together in the sky.

Packed with black-and-white photographs, fascinating sidebars, and thoroughly researched details, A Thousand Sisters is the inspiring true story of a group of women who set out to change the world, and the sisterhood they formed even amid the destruction of war.

 

Aftermath

27 Sep

We had a lockdown drill on Tuesday. They always make me sad. Sadder still is what happened in Nigeria four years ago.

The world was shocked when, on the night of 14–15 April 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town of  Chibok, Nigeria. They made news for a long time, then, as these things do, their story seemed to just drift away.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani brings their story back to us in her novel,  Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree.  it gives us some insight into the aftermath of the abduction, to what the gorls had to go through.

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Publisher’s Summary: Based on interviews with young women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, this poignant novel by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani tells the timely story of one girl who was taken from her home in Nigeria and her harrowing fight for survival. Includes an afterword by award-winning journalist Viviana Mazza.

A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told.

Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

I picked up an ARC in New Orleans, hoping it would be a book I could use in my class. I think it is just a little too mature for 6th graders. I hope some of my students read it when they get to high school.

House Sparrows

13 Aug

At my old house, I had a little house sparrow that visited me. It would hop on my front porch and, if my front door was open to catch a breeze, she would hop onto the threshold and peek in. An elderly friend of mine told me it meant the bird had something important to tell me. I never found out what that was, but I think about that little bird from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot while I read The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill.

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Publisher’s Summary:Behold the most despised bird in human history!

So begins Jan Thornhill’s riveting, beautifully illustrated story of the House Sparrow. She traces the history of this perky little bird, one of the most adaptable creatures on Earth, from its beginnings in the Middle East to its spread with the growth of agriculture into India, North Africa and Europe. Everywhere the House Sparrow went, it competed with humans for grain, becoming such a pest that in some places “sparrow catcher” became an actual job and bounties were paid to those who got rid of it.

But not everyone hated the House Sparrow, and in 1852, fifty pairs were released in New York City. In no time at all, the bird had spread from coast to coast. Then suddenly, at the turn of the century, as cars took over from horses and there was less grain to be found, its numbers began to decline. As our homes, gardens, cities and farmland have changed, providing fewer nesting and feeding opportunities, the House Sparrow’s numbers have begun to decline again — though in England and Holland this decline appears to be slowing. Perhaps this clever little bird is simply adapting once more.

This fascinating book includes the life history of the House Sparrow and descriptions of how the Ancient Egyptians fed it to the animals they later mummified, how it traveled to Great Britain as a stowaway on ships carrying Roman soldiers, and how its cousin, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, was almost eradicated in China when Mao declared war on it. A wealth of back matter material is also supplied.

The narrative text is augmented by Thornhill’s realistic illustrations that help the reader picture the truly remarkable history of the house sparrow.

 

Nikki Grimes’ Golden Shovel

6 Aug

Poet Terrance Hayes is credited with inventing Golden Shovel poetry. When you write a Golden shovel poem, you take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire, and, maintaining their order, use each word as an end word in your poem.

Poet Nikki Grimes has taken this strategy and written a beautiful homage to the Harlem Renaissance in One Last Word. 

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Publisher’s Summary: In this collection of poetry, Nikki Grimes looks afresh at the poets of the Harlem Renaissance — including voices like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many more writers of importance and resonance from this era — by combining their work with her own original poetry. Using “The Golden Shovel” poetic method, Grimes has written a collection of poetry that is as gorgeous as it is thought-provoking.

This special book also includes original artwork in full-color from some of today’s most exciting African-American illustrators, who have created pieces of art based on Nikki’s original poems. Featuring art by: Cozbi Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E. B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

A foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, poet biographies, and index makes this not only a book to cherish, but a wonderful resource and reference as well.

Books of poetry rarely win Newbery medals, but this one is certainly in the running, although I wonder of the presence of the Harlem Renaissance poems disqualifies it. regardless, Grimes’ book bring artists and writers of the period to a new audience and addresses tough issues that persist.

More riveting than Rosie

8 Jun

I stayed up a little later than I should have last night. I just had to finish Silver Stars by Michael Grant, the second in his Front Lines  series.

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Goodreads Summary: The summer of 1943, World War II. The Germans have been bloodied, but Germany is very far from beaten. The North African campaign was only the beginning of the long journey for Frangie, Rainy, Rio, and the millions of other Allies.

Now the American army is moving on to their next target: the Italian island of Sicily. Frangie, Rainy, and Rio now know firsthand what each of them is willing to do to save herself—and the consequences. With their heavy memories of combat, they will find this operation to be even tougher.

Frangie, Rainy, and Rio also know what is at stake. The women are not heroes for fighting alongside their brothers—they are soldiers. But the millions of brave females fighting for their country have become a symbol in the fight for equality. In this war, endless blood has been spilled and millions of lives have been lost, but there could be so much more to gain.

The women won’t conquer Italy alone. But they will brave terrible conditions in an endless siege; they will fight to find themselves on the front lines of World War II; and they will come face-to-face with the brutality of war until they win or die.

I wrote about the first book, Front Linesback in May. I was riveted to the stories of these women, fighting in WW2.  Michael Grant manages to maintain the momentum of the story and my interest in the story of these three women. Sometimes the second book in a series can seem repetitive, or drag, but this one doesn’t. And, Grant’s characters are so well written, you can;t help but fall in love with them, warts and all.

Unfortunately, I have to wait until January 30, 2018 for book three, Purple Hearts, to find out how the war ends for Frangie, Rio and Rainy. Fortunately, Grant has written two digital novellas that accompany the series. Alas, my library doesn’t seem to have them…yet.

The Great Antonio

5 Jan

I haven’t written about picture books much, mostly because, as a middle school teacher now, they don’t really fall into my purview. Many titles come across my book feeds and a few have captured my interest, either because of the subject or because someone thinks they seem Caldecott worthy. The end of a year brings out many “best”  book lists and there are only 18 days until ALA’s Youth Media Awards.

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A picture book that can’t win the Caldecott (because the author/illustrator is Canadian) is Elise Gravel’s The Great Antonio.

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Publisher’s Summary: What made the Great Antonio so great? He weighed as much as a horse; he once wrestled a bear; he could devour twenty-five roast chickens at one sitting. In this whimsical book, beloved author and illustrator Elise Gravel tells the story of Antonio Barichievich, the larger-than-life strongman who had muscles as big as his heart.

The Great Antonio was a real person, who lived in Montreal. Gravel’s biography reads like a tall tale and celebrates Antonio’s quirkiness. The type style and illustrations bear witness to real feats he accomplished.

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The Great Antonio is published by Toon books, who specialize in beginning readers. Their website for the book offers a teacher’s guide that teaches young readers about biographies and autobiographies and shows students how to examine the boundaries between fact and fantasy and create an autobiographical world of their own!

A great addition to beginning biography unit.

Coping with Portland’s Snowmageddon

16 Dec

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Yes, Portland was brought to its knees by two inches of snow. I will save the recounting of my 7.5 hour trip home until Tuesday’s Slice of Life post. Suffice it to say, I am reveling in two extra days of Winter Break, knitting the Cooped Up sweater

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while listening to And I Darken  by Kiersten White.

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Publisher’s Summary: No one expects a princess to be brutal.

And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

This is a Dracula story my reading friends, with Vlad the Impaler reimagined as a young woman!  Lada is the ugly daughterr of Vlad Dracul. As characters and events appear in the boo, I have enjoyed looking at what really happened in history and White has done an excellent job taking the realities f history and using them to create this enthralling, dark tale.

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