George Sullivan. Abraham Lincoln. Scholastic, 2001. ISBN 978-0439095549 pp. $
“More books have been written about Lincoln than any other American,” says Sullivan in his biography of our sixteenth President. Not all of them are well done–but this one is excellent and deserves a place on the shelf next to Freedman’s Caldecott award-wining Lincoln: A Photobiography (Houghton Mifflin, 1987).
Sullivan defines primary and secondary sources, then describes the life and times of Lincoln with a liberal sprinkling of quotes from the President and those who knew him. Excerpts from Lincoln’s speeches, letters, and other writings are included, explained, and set into context. The Gettysburg address is reproduced in its brief but effective entirety. The book also gives relates the major events of the Civil War.
The writing is simple and uncluttered, and the oversized text and well-spaced lines make for easy reading. Photos and illustrations add to the narrative without distracting. Chapters are tight and concise, and the design (a mix of contemporary borders with Lincoln’s handwriting gracing new chapters) is the perfect blend of old and new.
The book meets the usual 100 page requirement for biographies for middle school reports; teachers who may be turned off by the large print and compact size will appreciate the attention to detail as well as the scholarly chronology, bibliography, further reading, photo credits, and index. Pair this fine example of citing sources, acknowledging other points of view and relaying research from primary sources with Holzer’s Abraham Lincoln the Writer (Boyds Mill Press 2000).
Russell, Ching Yeung, illus. by Jonathan T. Russell. Child Bride. Boyd’s Mill Press, 1999. ISBN 978-1563977480 32 pp. $
The culture of China in the mid-twentieth century China is vibrantly portrayed in this sequel to First Apple. Ying, sent away from her Au Pah (maternal grandmother) to live with her Ah Mah (paternal grandmother) who has arranged a fine–and undesired–marriage for her. Torn between missing her Ah Pau and enjoying the luxury of being a rich young lady, Ying is determined not be a child bride. She pleads to return home, escapes and is recaptured, and then is deceived into a release that brings her face to face with her intended. Will Ying be allowed to follow a destiny of her own choosing, or will Ah Mah bend Ying to her will?
Every child can relate to the generation gap and conflict with their elders. Ying is an easy character to sympathize with. The writing is simple and graceful, but the plot seems a bit weak; I was expecting more adventure and conflict. Subplots include Ying’s friendship with a wild mixed race child who lives near her Ah Mah and briefly takes her under his wing, and a gambling aunt. The historical context is briefly explained in an introduction. A glossary is appended, although no pronunciations are included, only definitions. A map at the beginning shows cities related to Ying’s journey. The text, peppered with Chinese, brings the novel to life. Detailed descriptions of furnishings, clothing, makeup and food inform the reader while delighting the senses. Decorations by Jonathan T. Russell of typical foods and ornaments enhance the text.
Overall the work is average. It will serve a purpose where historical or multicultural fiction on this time period is needed, but it is neither a necessity for purchase nor a dazzling piece of literature. Wait for the paperback, and in the meantime, try Bound Feet and Western Dress by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang for slighter older students.
McCafferty, Megan. Second Helpings. Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishers, New York: 2021 (reprint). 368 pp.
Jessica Darling, Class Brainiac and Most Likely to Succeed, journals away her senior year from her attendance in a pre-college arts camp in July to her uncharacteristically optimistic graduation address in June. Her caustic commentary includes her superficial classmates, her horribleness as a first-time girlfriend, her agonizing over her virginity, her college decision, and her obsession with He Who Shall Remain Nameless. When she is suspected of authoring a slanderous e-zine that pops up in a select group of inboxes, she wishes she’d come up with something so clever since quitting the school newspaper. As in Sloppy Firsts (Crown, 2001), monthly letters to Hope, the best friend that moved away, are interspersed as reflective summaries.
Set in 2001, September 11 inevitably flavors some of the book, but this is not a “September 11th book.” Carefully selected pop culture references are meaningful, especially since 80’s kitsch is in vogue again.
Second Helpings delivers just as many snort-out-loud moments as the prequel. Jessica is a more fully realized character who believably matures, and the reader is presented with another side of Marcus, the poet nonconformist every girl would love to sin with. McCafferty takes many pages to provide her readers with what we wanted from the first book, but the wait is well worth it.
Jessica’s one-time experimentation with ecstasy and self-admitted crude language may concern staid librarians or clueless parents; hide in the adult section if you must, the right readers will find–and appreciate–this gem.
Review of the other books in the series: