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Karen's Book Reviews

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Historical Fiction/Biography

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Paulsen, Gary. 1993. Nightjohn. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN: 0385308388.
 

Nightjohn is a novel written about the 1850s when slaves were still owned in the south. Slaves were bought and sold as owners saw fit. Some were field workers and some were kept for breeding. The main character, Sarny, meets John who is sold to the Waller plantation. John came to the plantation with many scars from the beatings he had received from previous owners for disobedience.  John believed that slaves would be free someday and needed an education to read and write. Owners of the slaves disagreed and often punished those who learned to read and write or taught others to read and write.

 

Slaves often traded each other for better things. John claimed he had letters to trade, and Sarny became curious. She had the tobacco. As she talked to John, she grew curious about reading and writing. She was so excited about learning words from letters that Mr. Waller caught her writing in the sand. She refused to tell where she learned the word. Because she would not tell who taught her, Mr. Waller was going to punish her guardian. John came forward and was punished. A toe was cut from each foot. Before the toes healed, he ran from the plantation. His mission was to teach the children how to read and write at night without the owners knowing. That is how he became know as Nightjohn.

 

This book captures the reader’s attention more toward the end of the book to find out if Sarny gets away with learning the alphabet and to read. It makes the reader wonder if she will tell the truth to keep her guardian from being punished. The reader sees Sarny as strong and independent because she sees John as a role model and wants to have what he is offering for her future no matter what the cost. The reader cannot help but sympathize with John after he is punished severely and before he heals, he is off again to help his culture survive for the future.

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Park, Linda Sue. 2001. A Single Shard. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0395978270.
 

Tree-ear is an orphan who is left with a disabled man to live homeless underneath a bridge.  He freely moves throughout the village and watches those who create pottery. He and Crane-man often have to gather food from the leftovers to survive.

 

Tree-ear visits Min while he makes pottery. He asks for work. Min says he will not train him in the work of pottery because that trade passes from father to son. His only son had died. He does allow Tree-ear to work for him by bringing in clay and wood for firing the pottery.

 

Eventually, a man comes to the village to look at all the local potter's work to find one to be commissioned for work for the King. Min was asked to bring new work to the emissary for review but suggested he was too old to make a trip. Tree-ear offers to make the trip. Along the way, he is accosted by robbers, who destroy Min's work while looking for food and money. Tree-ear does not want to fail, and takes one single shard of the pottery showing Min's eccentric work to the emissary who awards the commission to Min.

 

Upon return to the village with the news, Tree-ear learns that Crane-man has died of injuries from an accident. Min and his wife agree to let Tree-ear stay with them.

 

This book captures the reader's attention because Tree-ear is an orphan and he learns how to survive in the world. He is very independent and learns by watching others. He wants so badly to learn the trade of the potter. Even though Min does not allow him to actually work with the pottery, Tree-ear is determined to learn by himself. He makes an intricate flower, much like Min is making for his pottery, and slips the piece in with Min's. He is a very determined character as he leaves on the errand to help Min win the commission he so rightly deserves. Even though robbers destroy Min's pottery, Tree-ear learns to solve the problem.

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Curtis, Christopher Paul. 1995. The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963. New York: Delcorte Press.  ISBN: 0385321759.

 

Ten year old Kenny has problems at home and at school. He experiences the prejudices that others have for those that see others with imperfections. He is picked on at school and at home by his older brother. The family decides to take a vacation to Alabama from Michigan to deliver the older brother, who cannot adhere to his parents’ wishes and stay out of trouble, to his grandmother. Tragedies and near tragedies happen as the family begins their stay in Alabama which draws them closer together.

 

The reader sympathizes with Kenny because he tends to run into problems everywhere that he turns. He learns to cope with the lazy eye that he has no matter how others treat him. This book takes a slow pace in the beginning but picks up when the family begins their trip across the country. Some of the things that take place in the car along the way make the reader reminisce about such trips. The near tragedy that Kenny faces and the tragedy that he sees take place makes the reader's heart ache for him. In the end, the family draws closer because of the tragedies and the reader rejoices with them.

 

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Stanley, Diane. 1996. Leonardo da Vinci. William Morrow and Co., Inc. ISBN:068810438X.
 

Leonardo da Vinci was born an illegitimate child. Therefore, he was often shunned by society. His mother later married and he went to live with his father. He found a friend in his uncle, Francesco. They later spent much time together. Society would never allow him to become a doctor, pharmacist, or banker, and because of this, his father thought education would be wasted on Leonardo.

 

Since he had a talent for drawing, he was apprenticed to Verrochio. Leonardo not only became an artist, he also was a noted musician. He dissected animals and humans in order to draw them correctly. He also invented many items. Some of the items include: post hole diggers, a door that closed automatically, a submarine, pliers, and a self-closing toilet lid. He invented weapons that led to modern equipment for World War I. He drew plans for a flying machine much like a helicopter.

 

Two of his most famous paintings are the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.  No one knows for sure who modeled for the potrait.  Leonardo kept notebooks of sketches and notes. Because he never married, when he died the notebooks went to Francesco Melzi, a pupil of Leonardo's, who tried to organize them. At Melzi's death, the notes were given to his son who did not value them. He sold them or gave them away. The result of Melzi's work was never published until 1651, and some of the notes were missing. Some notes of Leonardo have shown up as late as 1965.

 

This book is an Orbus Pictus 1997 Award winner. The reader is drawn into Leonardo's life because he was not only a painter as everyone would think, but also an inventor. The various things that he was credited for inventing would make one wonder.  This man was much more intelligent than the reader would have thought. The vivid illustrations add to the story depicting the life and times of Leonardo da Vinci. Because he was an illegitimate child, he was not accepted well in society, and he died not ever having had a wife and children which leaves the reader feeling very sympathetic with him. He was a very interesting man.