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African American
Multicultural, Poetry and Literature for Young Adults

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Culture 2 - African American Literature

Read one novel of novella by Mildred Taylor (e.g., The Land)

Taylor, Mildred D. 1990. The road to memphis. New York, NY: Puffin Books. ISBN: 0-14-036-077-8.

In the third of the trilogy saga of the Logan family which centers around Cassie, the reader experiences the family and friends dealing with many issues. We deal with dreams that are lost in the problems of the day, premarital pregnancy, racial discrimination being passed from one generation to the next, painful vigilante injustices and the ignorance of men. Throughout this story we are reminded of the harsh reality that surrounds the community of hatred, bigotry, and violence. The joint effort of the group of young adults saves Moe but the constant decision making by the group and the situations of racial discrimination throughout their travels remind us of how cruel human beings can be to each other.

The reality of Mildred Taylor's writing is absolutely astonishing. It is, as usual, difficult for me to accept the harsh realities African American people had to deal with in these times yet it is accurate and must not be forgotten. Jeremy thinks himself to be less discriminatory as he has been friends with the Logan children and gone hunting with them in past years. However, his silence is as frightening as the Aames family as a whole. When one combines bullying with racial discrimination and add to the recipe the endorsement and encouragement of the father, violence is the only possible result. This is portrayed throughout and correctly submerges the reader into the time period. The entire saga is totally believable and the reader sees it clearly through the eyes of Cassie Logan. The description of each character shows diversity in the looks as well as the internal self of each. The actions of each person are also accurate within the character as it is developed. Throughout the story Mildred maintains the love and nurturing nature of the family and the importance of the church. I particularly enjoyed the strength and decisiveness of the women in the story when the father of Sissy is in question. The jealousy of the white men portrayed in this book reminds me of the same in Mississippi Bridge. This book will long be a classic which accurately depicts the time in our history when such discrimination was open and blatant. This book also is able to hold the reader spell bound clear to the end. The purpose in my mind of this book is to record a time in American history with such clarity that the reader will come away with the goal of never having any culture suffer the indignities and physical suffering that were visited on the Logan family and others throughout our country.

Read one picture book illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.

Anderson, Hans Christian. 1999. The ugly duckling. Adap. and Illus. by Jerry Pinkney. New York, NY: Morrow Junior Books. ISBN: 0-688-15933-8.

This is a retelling of the story about a swan hatched by a duck. The adventures of the swan take us through the actions of others that are cruel and cause much pain for the baby swan. However, after many trials the swan finally finds other swans and discovers that he has grown into a beautiful and graceful swan.

The illustrations in this adaptation by Jerry Pinkney are phenomenal. They are done in watercolor throughout the cover, end pages and text. The cover itself invites the reader to take it off the shelf. The end papers lead toward a discussion with a group about ducks and life in a pond. This ability to use the art to lead the listeners into the story based on previous knowledge is excellent. The text itself flows from picture to picture and the words fit into the picture rather than covering up the picture or parts of it. This book can actually be discussed one page at a time from picture to story line. The use of watercolor as a medium even helps to deliver the essence of the main character being at home around water. The colors show markings of the animals accurately and the pictures also show emotions that are occurring on that pair of pages. By giving two pages to each illustration and text section, the illustrator again has taken the time to develop this book into a read-aloud book as well as one where parents and children can curl up and read together or the child can read alone. The book is definitely versatile and captivating as you turn from one illustration to the next. The story itself is told in the pictures without a bit of text being written.

Read one novel by Jacqueline Woodson.

Woodson, Jacqueline. 1992. Maizon at blue hill. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. ISBN: 0-385-30796-9.

Maizon is the main character who lives on Madison Street with her grandmother. In order for her to begin to experience the world, she has been interviewed and accepted to receive a scholarship to Blue Hill, an exclusive boarding school. Upon leaving her best friend Margaret, her grandmother and her neighbors, Maizon experiences an aloneness she has never felt before and has to deal with such issues as racism, true friendship, elitism on her own.

This book takes the reader on the journey with Maizon into a strange world filled with the beauty of Connecticut but with its own set of thorns. Maizon tries to make friends at first but finds that a quiet underlying racism exists as she tries to join in with the debate club. She also finds safety with four would-be friends and yet again is hit with the racism from the other side of the coin. The elitism of the boarding school itself is portrayed in a realistic manner without belaboring the point. It seems everyone knows who is on scholarship and who is from the elite. As Maizon struggles through daily existence the reader faces this new world with her. We watch and experience her as she is forced to slowly withdraw into herself and her studies as she turns away from those who use snobbery or those who are in the majority. Slowly we are led down the path of feeling out of place or disconnected. Being a part of "them" is accurately portrayed in the character and those she comes in contact with through the book. The author helps the reader understand this overwhelming feeling of being disconnected and as a result sensitizes us to be aware of this feeling in others in our lives. It is with relief and a sense of I wish it weren't so that we come with Maizon to the decision to not return after Thanksgiving break. While one might tend to think that seventh grade is too young to go through this feeling, one must also realize that the feeling of being disconnected should not happen to anyone at any age. The warmth and love of the grandmother is universal as well as the best friend. The situation is portrayed in a feeling and caring manner that is transferred to the reader. The author has helped every child who reads this book apply the experience of Maizon with situations the reader has experienced of feeling disconnected. I found the book disturbing due to the underlying racism that is so hard to eliminate in society. I am reminded of the saying "Run silent, run deep". That thought brings this book into a more universal purpose. Through awareness all children can begin to eliminate such racism, and elitism in their daily lives.

Read one children's or YA book of your choice by an African American author.

Grimes, Nikki. 1998. Jazmin's notebook. New York, NY: Puffin Books. ISBN:0-8037-2224-9.

Jazmin keeps a notebook to put down the thoughts, feelings and her own story. Jazmin uses both poetry and narrative form to let the reader know her. As we progress through the book we find out about her alcoholic mother, her father who died in a car crash, and her sister, Cece. Jazmin also lets us know about her school and friends. This is a look into the workings of a mind in today's world.

Grimes has a way of dealing with the serious in such a way as to help us understand and to laugh along with the character. Everything is written from the mind and thoughts of Jazmin who is a realistic dreamer. Her books take her around the world, her writing is her future goal and her poetry lets her express some of the deepest thoughts or feelings. The combination of the two forms is believable and comfortable. One feels the determination of the main character as she works toward her goal of being a successful writer. One doesn't know if this is achieved but Jazmin makes us believe that she will succeed. The underlying theme of the relationship between her mom and herself is tactfully handled. The end of the story leaves us with this not being totally resolved either but we are left with hope for the fairy story ending. By choosing a journal the writer has used another tool to make us feel like we are Jazmin and the relationship between the reader and Jazmin develops as a result. The situation is a universal plot and this makes the book interesting to all young adults. Unfortunately many teens are dealing with single parents who are not well, whether it is alcohol, drugs or mental illness. Jazmin's ability to deal with fears, fights, etc. cannot help but give the reader hope for Jazmin as well as themselves. This book could be used for an example of a diary/journal unit. It also can be used for listening even though it would be hard to stop each day at only one entry.

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