Thursday, April 22, 2010

FDR's Alphabet Soup

FDR's Alphabet Soup: New Deal America 1932-1939
by Tonya Bolden
published by Knopf
144 pages

Publisher's description:

FDR’S New Deal, which followed the 1929 stock market crash, was a hugely influential moment in the history of the United States, encompassing everything from the arts to finance, labor to legislation, and some think it helped bring the country out of the Great Depression. Here, Tonya Bolden, writing in her trademark accessible style, creates a portrait of a time that changed American history both then and now.

FDR’s First 100 Days and how the United States was changed by it then are closely examined, especially now. The 2009 financial situation is eerily mirrored by that of the late 1920s, and this is a perfect book to help teens understand history and its lasting impact on current events.

My Comments:

It has taken me much longer than expected to get through this book. I love the idea of it, and the design. To me, though, it reads too much like a social studies textbook. Ironically, I feel this way despite the fact that Bolden uses a lot of informal language that you'd think might spice it up a bit. There's so much information about so many different things and people that I have trouble remembering the details, and also I'm not finding a cohesive story to follow. That's how I felt when I had to read social studies textbooks in junior high and high school.

There are some positives to this book, too. There are a lot of great images from the New Deal period in it, and lots of interesting facts and quotes scattered throughout. This book may be better for browsing than straight reading. The glossary is great for keeping up with all of the New Deal acronyms (AAA, WPA, FERA, FDIC, etc., etc.). The list of selected sources is extensive and would be very useful for students doing research.

I had a thirteen-year old volunteer look at several nonfiction books recently, and evaluate which ones she would like to read. This is one that she was especially interested in, based on the subject matter (she's studied it in school) and the overall design. Once she has a chance to read the book and give me her thoughts on it, I will add them to this post.

Your comments?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Time You Let Me In

Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25
selected by Naomi Shihab Nye

236 pages
published by HarperCollins

Publisher's Description:

They are inspiring talented stunning remarkable wise

They are also fearless depressed hilarious impatient in love out of love pissed off

And they want you to let them in.

My Comments:

There are actually works by 26 poets included in this anthology. In the notes section at the end, Nye said that she is bad with numbers, and after notifying all 26 poets that they'd been accepted she couldn't omit any of them. From her introduction and notes, I get the impression that Nye invested a lot of time and love into putting this collection together; soliciting entries from potential contributors and choosing the final set to be included.

I don't know for sure if an anthology like this is eligible for the YALSA award, or even who would receive the award (all 26 authors plus Nye?) if it won. Judging anthologies of any kind is a challenge, because writing styles vary so much from one writer to another. There are bound to be some stronger and some weaker works in any collection. Poetry seems especially difficult to me, because judging good vs. great poetry seems to me largely a matter of personal taste. I've helped to judge a local poetry contest for the past four years, and there's never been unanimous agreement on first place versus second.

I felt that many of the strongest poets were featured toward the middle of the book. Works by Lauren Stacks, Jonah Ogles, and Lauren Eriks stood out for me, partially because I could connect with the experiences they were writing about. I'm sure that there are other readers who would connect with other poems. There are a lot of emotions gathered here, many of them so raw that I have to believe that they are recordings of the poets personal experiences.

I think that, overall, this collection is successful in that the poems all seem to belong together. There are different viewpoints expressed throughout the collection, but similar themes and topics run throughout. Things like bittersweet childhood memories, failed romance, deaths of loved ones, coming of age and general angst crop up consistently.

It seems that there are a lot of book covers featuring keys out there (Incarceron and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life are the ones that jump immediately to mind) and I wonder whether that was a factor in choosing the cover image. The key does work with the title, which comes from one of the poems. Even before I discovered the title's origin, I thought that it fit - young poets wanting to be heard.

The notes at the end include photographs and playful biographical blurbs about each poet. The photographs never fail to surprise me; the faces in the photos never match up with the faces I imagined would go with the names

Your comments?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Borrowed Names

Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madame C.J. Walker, Marie Curie and their Daughters
by Jeannine Atkins
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
224 pages

Publisher's Description:

As a child, Laura Ingalls Wilder traveled across the prairie in a covered wagon. Her daughter, Rose, thought those stories might make a good book, and the two created the beloved Little House series. Sara Breedlove, the daughter of former slaves, wanted everything to be different for her own daughter, A’Lelia. Together they built a million-dollar beauty empire for women of color. Marie Curie became the first person in history to win two Nobel prizes in science. Inspired by her mother, Irène too became a scientist and Nobel prize winner. Borrowed Names is the story of these extraordinary mothers and daughters.

My Comments:

Who knew that Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker and Marie Curie were all born in the same year (1867) and all had daughters who helped them gain a place in history? I wasn't aware of this connection before picking up the book, and so I thought the premise behind it (free verse biographies of all six women) a little odd until reading about the common birth year in the introduction. Then, as I got into the book and discovered how closely the three daughters worked with their mothers I thought, "A-ha!" and the book made perfect sense to me.

The stories of all three mother-daughter pairs were fascinating in their own right, and their lives also overlapped in interesting ways. For instance, Ingalls and her daughter Rose may have walked right past Walker and her daughter A'Lelia at the International Exhibition in San Francisco, and Rose and the Walkers later lived in New York during the Great War. (I love that it is referred to as The Great War and not World War I; it's easy to forget, now, that there was a time between the world wars). A'Lelia and Irene both attend to wounded soldiers during the war. Rose and Irene Curie may have also walked on common ground in Europe after the war. I also love how feminist each of the women are in their own ways. Laura Ingalls insisted on finding a preacher who would remove the word "obey" from her wedding vows, Madam C.J. Walker used her savings to build her own company from the ground up, and Marie Curie won a nobel prize for physics before women were even allowed to speak at the awards ceremony.

I learned a lot about each of the women, and also think that the poems work well as poetry. Although written in free verse (which doesn't conform to conventional rhyme or meter) the poems didn't read like regular sentences that have just been broken up by an editor. The verses gave me just enough detail to leave me with an impression of what was going on; leaving me room to interpret what was happening with the women's lives. This, to me, is how poetry should read.

The design is charmingly old-fashioned. I wasn't enamored with the cover when I first saw pictures of it online, but it looks more appealing in-person. Black and white photographs of each of the women appear at the beginning of their section. Atkins doesn't refer to exact years in her verse, but instead speaks in generalities like the beginning of the Great War, second summer of the war, etc. I liked this, because I could focus on the stories without feeling that I would need to remember any dates for later. "Legacies" sections at the end of each mother-daughter biography and a time line at the very end are helpful in tying everything together. Atkins also includes a selected bibliography at the end. Some of the selected titles have been written for younger readers, and are marked as such. I was disappointed to see only three books listed for the Walkers.

Your Comments?