Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
I am so grateful that there are some truly great writers out there writing books for children. Many are celebrated adult authors such as Alexander McCall Smith and Ursula LeGuin (I love Catwings, sigh). But now my new favorite children’s author is Laurie Halse Anderson. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making great literature for my children to read.
I just finished her Newberry Award winning book Chains. And, while the book is fantastic, it has also left me contemplating what is the right age for my daughters to read it. Having read Ms. Anderson’s Vet Volunteer series, my 3rd grade daughter is eager to read Chains. However, my protective side is hesitant to let her see some of the truly horrific things that happened to slaves during the founding of this country.
The irony of a people simultaneously fighting to be free while enslaving others is the central theme of this story. However, ‘irony’ is really a much too gentle word, as the story graphically portrays the painful injustice and violence that was inflicted on slaves. Isabel, a 13 year-old orphan, is sold off to a cruel couple who not only abuses her, but also separates her from her disabled toddler sister. The book is also quite explicit in illustrating the uglier sides of war, including the painful starvation of many prisoners of war.
Ultimately, I turned to my neighbor for advice who wisely told me that this is exactly the kind of book to read with your child. While the writing is smooth and relatively easy (a 4th grade reading level), the themes are complex and perfect for discussion. While I would say this still is not a book for a sensitive child, it is a great book to read with your children to help them understand how far this country has come.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
If there was a list on GoodReads.com entitled “Historical Fiction Girl Power Books for Middle Schoolers”, The True Confession of Charlotte Doyle would be at the top of the list. I started reading this to my daughters at bedtime, and my older daughter quickly stole it so she could read the rest to find out what happens. I, of course, then snuck into her room in the middle of the night to get it back so I could find out what happens. This is my first Avi book, and I’m looking forward to reading some more of his nearly 60 books. You can learn more about his work at http://avi-writer.com/.
The story is about a prim and proper girl in the 1830’s who finds herself in the middle of a mutiny on a cross-Atlantic journey. She is transformed by her experiences, and realizes that while her strong morals are true some of her assumptions about people are not. There is violence and more than one murder in this tale, but it is not graphic and is totally appropriate for the story. I would recommend this to any 3rd grader who is a good reader (it ranks at 6th-7th grade reading level). This is also a great book to read aloud to your kids, as the whole family will be entertained.
Right Behind You by Gail Giles
Can a person make a bad mistake that hurts others irrevocably all in one irrational moment and go on to live as he would have if he hadn’t made that mistake? Can he if that mistake kills someone? Can he if he is only ten years old and he still has a childhood to navigate? Not very easily, and author Gail Giles, a grandmother, deftly explores that journey in this story told from the point of view of the ten-year-old boy, following him up through high school. Ms. Giles forces self reflection on her adolescent readers: if there can be no forgiveness, if there can be no forgetting, what are the qualities a person must have in order to live as a whole human being?
I read this book because a few of the boys in my seventh grade class asked me to. These boys could not get into the Twilight series that so many girls in the class had found romantic and thought Right Behind You did address their ideas of romance (they didn’t put it quite this way). The romance in Right Behind You is more about whether a girl can love a boy even though he is deeply flawed; whereas the romance in Twilight is more about a girl feeling very, very special to a boy. Who says being a reading teacher isn’t interesting…
Middle school and high school boys have liked this book because it is told from their perspective. However, since it is the kind of book that explores how individuals use compassion and courage to cope with the unthinkable, it is a good story for any young reader to add to their memory bank. One of the many great things about being a reader is that a reader will have company on life’s long bumpy road. Right Behind You is a good book to have packed for the ride.