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Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Bradley, K. B. (2011). Jefferson’s sons: A founding father’s secret children. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780803734999

Annotation: It’s an open secret at Monticello that Beverly, Maddy, Harriet and Eston are Master Thomas Jefferson’s children by his slave Sally. How does this family deal with knowing their father is a great, influential man who owns them?

Reaction: Bradley tells her story over the course of 22 years through three slaves owned by Thomas Jefferson, using the 3rd person limited point of view. By switching narrators, she is able to cover the full history of her chosen time period while keeping the narrator a child. The first narrator shift was a little jarring for me, as I was really invested in Beverly’s story and wanted to continue with him, but by the second shift, it was expected and smooth reading. I enjoyed how she was able to show the reader how each previous narrator grew and matured through the eyes of the new narrator.

This book was a really fascinating look at a man who is generally idolized by the American History. While the story centers on the slaves who narrate the story, two of whom were Jefferson’s illegitimate children, their feelings about “Master Jefferson” color the narrative and give the reader a different perspective of the man. By the end, I found myself having a hard time reconciling the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and was an integral part of creating this country with the man who not only owned slaves, but had children with one of them and ran up ridiculous amounts of debt. Whenever I start feeling bad about my school loans again, I’ll console myself with the knowledge that at least I owe less than Thomas Jefferson did.

I would use this book as part of a 4th or 5th grade history unit to provide students with a different perspective than a typical history book has. I think an important part of history is to teach children about the good and the bad, giving them a rounded view of the world. I would even recommend this for adults, as I feel I learned a lot from reading this book. It has challenged my thinking about Thomas Jefferson, which I always think is the mark of a successful book. Bradley pushes her readers towards new ideas and forces us to rethink what we were taught.

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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Image from Goodreads.com

Bray, L. (2011). Beauty queens. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780439895972

Annotation: When a plane full of teenaged beauty queens crashes on a deserted island, the surviving fifteen girls have to band together to survive life on the island and a plot to make sure they never get home again.

Reaction: Man, I love the way Bray tackles so many tough subjects in this book. One could probably argue that she’s taking on too many issues: gender roles, sexual orientation, race, the corporationization of the US, the entertainment industry that caters to the lowest common denominator, plus all the usual “figuring out who you are” YA novel stuff, but I think she handles it really well. I especially love the commentary on the societal expectations for women, and while it may not be subtle, it is powerful and gets to the heart of so many ridiculous expectations that people have for girls: be quiet, pretty and do what you’re told. Don’t make waves, don’t cause trouble, don’t ask too many questions, don’t be a “wild girl.” If you don’t fit in a predetermined mold, hide your true self until you do.

Gosh, I love the way she takes a fairly stereotypical group of beauty queens, exposes their secret selves and gives them the strength to be the women they are. She has built a great ensemble cast of fully realized characters each with her own voice and personality.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, and it was just so wonderful. She gave each girl a unique literal voice, and her inflection really added an extra boost of humor to the book. I love the way she portrayed each different girl, and I really think Bray’s narration made this book even more enjoyable than if I had just been reading it. Hers is the type of dialogue that works best when spoken aloud, though I’m sure reading the book is also a great experience. I just highly recommend the audiobook.

This book is totally on my Top Ten Favorites, and is, I think, one of the best books I read in 2012. Smart, funny, great characters, great dialogue, fast paced plot, utterly delightful.

A 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist in Young Adult Literature

2012 Audie Award Winner for Best Narration by the Author

2012 Audie Award Nomination for Best Teen Audiobook

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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Wein, E. (2012). Code name Verity. New York: Hyperion. ISBN: 9781405258210

Annotation: A female English spy is arrested by the Nazis in France, and in order to end her torture, she agrees to write a full confession of everything she knows about wartime England.

Reaction: I don’t remember when I first heard about Code Name Verity, but I remember that I KEPT hearing about it. It was on many “Best of 2012” lists and many people were recommending it, which meant that I needed to read it. It’s finally due at the library while Feller and I are on vacation, finding me madly reading to finish before we leave.

As ever, I didn’t know much going into the book, but the story, while a bit confusing at first trying to figure out just what is going on, is engrossing, and hearing Queenie (to use the name by which we first know her) tell about Maddie’s career and experiences and their friendship is a delight. In fact, I really love that we find out the most about each girl from the other. We get honest depictions of their personalities and their strengths and weaknesses from a person who loves them, and the admiration each girl has for the other comes across very clearly.

I love that Wein wrote about a female pilot and spy in England during WWII. She created characters and an atmosphere that is totally believable and compelling. These girls live exciting, dangerous lives, and they’re helping their country during a terrifying time in England’s history. Queenie’s account of her torture is awful to read, and her bravery in the face of her dismal odds is inspiring. Maddie’s account is just as heartbreaking as she finishes the story Queenie begins.

I think this book would be great in conjunction with a middle school unit about WWII. Wein includes information about her some of her research in the Acknowledgements as well as a bibliography for readers interested in learning more about female pilots or spies during this time period. I always feel super inspired to read more about the subject matter after wonderful historical books like this, and I think this is the kind of book that could really inspire kids to read more on their own as well. This book has some mature themes: violence, torture and some mild swearing, so I wouldn’t give it to anyone under 13.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was moving, heartbreaking, inspiring, beautiful, exciting, suspenseful and tragic. This is a great book to finish off 2012 and start 2013, and I’m so glad I made the effort to read this. This book has made My Top Ten Favorites.

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012
School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year 2012
Booklist Books for Youth Editors’ Choice
Library Journal’s Best YA Books for Adults
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year 2012
Goodreads 2012 Choice Awards Nominee

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Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey

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Image from Goodreads.com

Corey, S., & Gibbon, R. (ill.) (2003). Players in pigtails. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780439183055

Annotation: Katie Casey LOVES baseball, and when all the male players get drafted for WWII, she finally gets her chance to play for real, in front of huge crowds.

Reaction: I LOVE A League of Their Own (“There’s no CRYING in BASEBALL!”). I watched it so many times as a kid, and I still find myself quoting it in my daily life. It’s a great, funny movie, featuring strong women who kick butt and don’t let men tell them what to do.

I also loved Shana Corey’s other books that I’ve read, so I knew I wanted to check this out and finding out that she was inspired by A League of Their Own made me more excited about it. Corey includes the 1908 lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and surprisingly, the verses that no one knows are how much a girl loves baseball! Corey’s fictionalized account of Katie Casey who ends up playing for the girl’s baseball league during WWII is a fun introduction to this part of our US history.

Gibbon’s illustrations are a great accompaniment to the story. The art is cute, colors bright and eye-catching. Gibbon really captures the awesome, liberating feeling of all these girls getting a chance to live their dreams.

I would give this book to girls who love sports and need to see women involved in professional sports. It’s also a great book for to use in a classroom as part of a WWII unit to highlight women’s roles at home during the war, and it shows boys that girls can be just as talented in sports.

Media Used: Watercolor and colored pencil

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website: None