YA – From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: the Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement

Yoo, Paula. From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement. Norton Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-00287-1. $19.95. Grades 9 and up.

Journalist Paula Yoo employs the device of Jarod Lew’s connection with the brutal murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin in 1982 Detroit to reveal the timeline and details of the landmark event. Lew discovers his mother was the grief-stricken fiancé of Chin, and Yoo uses his discovery as a way to connect the reader with the present—another time where racism against Asian-American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) has surfaced. Lew’s narrative appears intermittently while the remainder of the narrative non-fiction work lays out the altercation, aftermath, and legal ramifications between the groom-to-be Chin and Ronald Ebens, an autoworker supervisor and his adult stepson, Michael Nitz. The only son of Chinese immigrants, twenty-seven year old Vincent Chin was a go-getter out for a bachelor party with his pals before his June wedding to Vikki Wong when he encountered Ebens and Nitz at a strip bar. The two groups exchanged heated words and engaged in a brawl that got them ejected from the bar and continued into the night. Ebens retrieved a baseball bat from the trunk of his car, searched with his stepson for the group, and eventually ambushed Chin and beat him to death. Though Ebens and Nitz were arrested and tried for second-degree murder, they received the light sentence of only a $3,000 fine and probation, shocking Chin’s widowed mother, Lily Chin, the Asian American community of Detroit, and many others. Yoo recounts the original hearings, the court proceedings, the arguments of both the defense and the prosecution, and the observations of the young police officers first on the scene. Though Ebens and Nitz could not be tried a second time for the same crime, the mishandling of justice empowered the Asian-American/Pacific Islander community to form the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) and take a firm stand protesting for their civil rights to be upheld. Their efforts instigated a federal grand jury to indict the pair with interfering with Chin’s civil rights. Told in straight-forward style, Yoo maintains her objective view, balancing the outrage AAPI felt about what they perceived was a hate crime with the protestations of the accused to the contrary. The context of the murder is the fallout from a once prosperous city decaying chiefly because its main, lucrative industry—cars—has been usurped by Japanese companies. The particulars of the initial dispute between Ebens and Nitz and the victim, Chin, may never be known; but Yoo records all the iterations as the years go on and memories shift. Even the perpetrators admit it was a senseless act, fueled by drunkenness and intense anger. The author makes clear the murder and what followed was instrumental in making AAPI stand up for their rights, but whether or not the attack was racially motivated can be sorted out in the readers’ minds. Includes timeline, extensive notes, index, photographs.

THOUGHTS: Written in narrative non-fiction style, From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry. . .reads like a court drama. Yoo provides background on the major players, but is true to the script. She is even-handed giving both profiles of Chin, Ebens and Nitz, and the involved legal teams from both sides. The handling of the case from the beginning smacks of white privilege, but Yoo just lays out the facts and remains unbiased. The facts, too, shift depending on who tells them and what year they are told (the murder happened in 1982 but appeals lasted until 1987). This important book contains plenty of material for discussion; but for personal reading, the heavy topic may make the book more suited for more sophisticated readers.

305.895 Ethnic and National Groups           Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Over and Under the Rainforest

Messner, Kate. Over and Under the Rainforest. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-16940-8. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Following up Over and Under the Snow and Over and Under the Pond Messner explores the rainforest both high and low. Christopher Silas Neal’s artwork, overwhelming the pages in luscious saturated shades of green, draws the reader into the forest along with the young narrator and her guide. Above is a world of monkeys, insects, and birds. Colorful toucans, flit among the branches. Capuchin and howler monkeys and sloths move through the leafy growth. Below are critters and creatures, both cute and deadly: agoutis and crocodiles, anteaters and spiders. As the day wanes, the rainforest fades to purples, creatures of the night emerge, and the young narrator heads for home, Abuelita and supper. Messner’s informative text never overwhelms the reader. Facts are lovingly wrapped in description to evoke life in the rainforest.

THOUGHTS: Messner never disappoints, and this book will be a solid addition to any elementary collection, useful as a read-aloud or with a classroom curriculum.

Picture Book         Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Your Place in the Universe

Chin, Jason. Your Place in the Universe. Holiday House, 2020. 978-0-9234-4623-0. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 1-3.

At eight years old, some kids might feel like the center of the universe, or like everything revolves around them! It may seem true, until you change the perspective and compare some sizes of things earthly and extraterrestrial leading all the way out beyond the Milky Way! Jason Chin does an excellent job of casting some comparative scale in his newest nonfiction narrative text with stunning visuals which continuously expand to show the vastness of the universe. Then he pulls it back to those children to help them realize the universal truth that they too will make their own way and keep a sense of wonder along the way.

THOUGHTS: There are other titles that could partner with this book to show “our place in space” and lead to size and distance lessons galore. Curious minds will also read the endnotes and captions to go further and wonder more. Recommended.

530 Space          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – The Superpower Field Guide

Poliquin, Rachel. The Superpower Field Guide. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018-2020. $13.76 ea. $55.04 set of 4. 95 p. Grades 3-6.

Beavers. 978-1-725-48225-8.
Eels. 978-1-725-48226-5.
Moles. 978-1-725-48227-2.
Ostriches. 978-1-725-48228-9.

What the average reader does not know about freshwater eels could fill volumes, and luckily there exists just the volume to educate us all. At a scant 96 pages, Eels, part of The Superpower Field Guide series, uses illustrations by Nicholas John Frith, diagrams, timelines, and more to accompany the story of Olenka, a freshwater eel living in a river in Russia. Readers will learn of the eel’s 10 superpowers, including wall crawling, double invisibility, and globe-spanning grit. Sections are short but high-interest and fact-filled, and the entire book could easily be read in one sitting.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to an elementary or middle school library where nonfiction circulates well.

597  Cold Blooded Vertebrates, Fishes          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – Great Races (Series NF)

Great Races. Momentum, The Child’s World, 2020. $20.95 ea. $167.70 set of 8. 32 p. Grades 3-6.

Ford, Jeanne Marie. Race Around the World. 978-1-503-83219-0.
Havemeyer, Janie. Race to Mount Everest. 978-1-503-83223-7.
Hutchinson, Patricia. Race to Space. 978-1-503-83220-6.
Maurer, Gretchen. Race to the Bottom of the Ocean. 978-1-503-83224-4.
Perdew, Laura. Race to Discover Energy Independence. 978-1-503-83222-0.
—. Race to Renewable Energy. 978-1-503-83226-8.
Rea, Amy C. Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb. 978-1-503-83225-1.
—. Race to the Poles. 978-1-503-83221-3.

Author Amy C. Rea taps into touchstones of world history in these concise overviews. Race to the Atomic Bomb provides the highlights of the creation of the atomic bomb, starting with brief background of founding scientists and ending with a mention of the post World War II proliferation of nuclear weapons. Aimed at a young audience, the thirty-two page book traces the development of the atom bomb from the British James Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron in 1935 to Albert Einstein’s prodding Franklin Delano Roosevelt to form the Manhattan Project to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Black and white photographs of major scientists and scenes give context for young readers. The book concludes with probing critical thinking questions. Includes contents, glossary, resources, index.

THOUGHTS: Young readers who need some knowledge of these topics may benefit from this series. Though the facts are true, they just skim the surface. For example, Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atom bomb merits a few lines. Relaying the number of deaths and including Truman’s reflection on the dreadfulness of the atom bomb does not convey the impact of such devastation. This series seems directed at a younger audience who are just learning about these events.

355.8 History          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – When They Call You a Terrorist : A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World

Khan-Cullors, Patrisse & Asha Bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-19498-5. 272 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.           

Part memoir, part call to action, Khan-Cullors craftily tells her story of growing up during the drug war in LA, her personal experiences with police, untreated mental illness, and cold-hearted racism in the country she calls home. This puts the reader in such a position to question who else possibly could have created a movement as powerful as Black Lives Matter. Broken into two parts, Khan-Cullors’ family story and the reality of her childhood culminate into the first seven chapters, while a focus on the civil rights movement starting with her brother’s experience with the law and lack of access to mental health treatment resources follow during the last seven chapters. Complete with quotes from well known authors, activists, and politicians, photos, and reader questions in each chapter, this is more than the story of how Black Lives Matter came to be the movement of the century and more than Khan-Cullors own journey–this is a call to action and creates space for difficult thoughts and conversations to begin.

THOUGHTS: Buy it now and thank yourself later. This book should be on the shelves of all high school libraries for students to learn more about BLM’s beginnings and the pilgrimage of one individual discovering who she truly is. The reader questions and recommended reading and viewing alone could serve as guideposts for teachers, students, parents, and more to start the work.

323 Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

MG – Close Calls: How Eleven US Presidents Escaped from the Brink of Death

Spradlin, Michael P. Close Calls: How Eleven US Presidents Escaped from the Brink of Death. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-5476-0023-6. 116 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

While many authors have told the stories of the untimely deaths of American Presidents, author Michael Spradlin has chosen to focus on the lesser known tales of Presidents who narrowly escaped death during their lifetimes in Close Calls. Each action-packed chapter focuses on an event when a President (or future President) nearly lost his life. Some examples of near misses include: George H.W. Bush being shot down and nearly captured during WWII, Andrew Jackson avoiding death when both(!) pistols an assassin shot at him misfired, and Theodore Roosevelt narrowly escaping death when an assassin shot him, only to have the bullet stopped by a folded speech Roosevelt was carrying. The text is supplemented by the inclusion of sidebars explaining historical events of the time(s) or biographical sketches of persons involved in the story. 

THOUGHTS: This engaging title is sure to be a hit with biography and history readers, as well as readers who enjoy action-packed, adventure-type stories. Highly recommended.

973 American History            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem

Messner, Kate. Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press, 2020. 64 p. $24.04 978-1-541-55706-2 Grades 4-8.

Once native only to Asia, Burmese pythons have invaded Florida!  Researchers speculate that animals kept as pets were released and quietly flourished undetected in the lush, protected swamps of Florida. Native animals such as alligators and mink, herons, deer, possums and more, are being affected by the insatiable appetite of the pythons. “People will ask me what pythons eat. The question should be, What don’t they eat?” says Bartoszek (44). Kate Messner follows researchers Ian Bartoszek and his colleagues from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida as they explain the scope of the problem and their efforts to control it. Scientists can respond to an invasive species in four ways: prevention, eradication, containment, or control. The burmese python population in Florida, estimated to be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands, is well beyond the first three responses, and even controlling the population is proving difficult.  Bartoszek and colleagues track the pythons using radio telemetry, capture them for analysis and transmitter implantation, and try to better control the population. “Another big goal is to advance snake science in general. We kind of owe it to the pythons. We have tremendous respect for this animal, so we try to gather as much scientific information as possible” (44).  Each chapter includes segments on “How to Catch a Python” (some surprising stories and methods) as Messner shares lessons learned, “python CSI,” and the wonder of the undetectable python, even when standing atop one! The book includes QR codes showing python releases and telemetry flights, and extensive back matter.

THOUGHTS: A compelling look at an amazing animal and its effects on an ecosystem, this book will engage readers with an interest in animals, the environment, and scientific careers.  A top example of narrative nonfiction.

597.96 Burmese Pythons        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

Kolker, Robert. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. Doubleday, 2020. 978-0-385-54376-7. 377 pp. $29.99. Gr. 10+.

From the outside looking in, the Galvin family embodied the American Dream. After serving in World War II, Don Galvin took a job at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. There he and his wife Mimi began a family that would grow to include ten boys and two girls, spanning the Baby Boom generation. But deep within the minds of six of their children, something was terribly wrong. One by one, six of the boys fell ill with schizophrenia, most late in adolescence; they suffered from hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and an array of debilitating symptoms. As the boys cycled between mental institutions and the family home on Hidden Valley Road, Don and especially Mimi did their best to both care for their sick children and maintain outward appearances. The life of every child, well and sick alike, was touched by mental illness, particularly the two youngest, Margaret and Mary. Author Robert Kolker deftly blends the heart-wrenching story of the Galvin family with chapters on the medical side of the story: could a “multiplex” family like the Galvins, with so many cases of the disease, help scientists resolve the nature versus nurture debate that had always dominated schizophrenia research?

THOUGHTS: This is not a quick or easy read, but it is a propulsive one. Kolker’s ability to stitch extensive research into such a personal story, complete with details cementing the Galvins’ lives in a distinctive place and time, is a master class in nonfiction writing. Note the presence of scenes of abuse and trauma, which are very sensitively depicted.

616.89 Schizophrenia          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA Nonfiction – Shadow of Liberty; Rad Women; March Bk 3; This Land is Our Land

shadowofliberty

Davis, Kenneth C. In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2016. 978-162779-3117. $17.99 286 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Davis shines light on five lesser-known individuals of American history in In the Shadow of Liberty.  They were five enslaved persons (Davis explains the preference for enslaved person rather than slave) who were owned by four presidents who espoused liberty for all.  Billy Lee served as George Washington’s valet.  Ona Judge worked as Martha Washington’s maid and successfully escaped.  Isaac Granger served at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello all his life.  Paul Jennings worked at both James Madison’s Montpelier and the White House. Finally, Alfred Jackson served Andrew Jackson’s household.  Davis gives a succinct history of slavery and its profitability before detailing each person’s story.  Between chapters, he skillfully places timelines to explain national events and how slavery was affected.  The research is thorough and though Davis could be judgmental, he opts instead for a factual perspective.  “It would be…simple to condemn them…and to call them hypocrites and negate all they did…But history is never a simple tale.  The story…is a complicated one.  At times, some of them agonized…some of their views and behavior changed, though never enough to make a difference.  We must take these hard, cold facts into account” (261-262).  This is a finely written history of interesting people in difficult, at times horrifying, circumstances.  Davis’ writing pulls in the reader and gives life to these five little-mentioned people.  THOUGHTS:  This history gives fuller understanding of the times and (often contradictory) views held by early American leaders.  Social studies courses could include the entire text or portions of it (consider chapter one, with its succinct history of slavery) to better understand the wide impact of slavery on individuals and a nation’s psyche.  This is accessible reading for middle and high school to give another view of colonial life and the abolitionist fight.  It serves as a fantastic example of biography and narrative nonfiction.  This could also be paired with Albert Marrin’s A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery (2014).

973; American History      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

radwomen

Schatz, Kate, and Miriam Klein Stahl (illustrator). Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2016. 978-0-399-57886-1. 104 pp. $15.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Rad Women Worldwide contains forty mini-biographies, representing all seven continents and describing the achievements of truly radical women in lively, conversational profiles. The very helpful map on the book’s front endpapers will orient readers to this journey through time and around the globe. Rad Women Worldwide covers contemporary women such as Malala Yousafzai, Venus and Serena Williams, and primatologist Biruté Mary Galdikas. There are also plentiful entries on historical figures: Enheduanna (the world’s oldest known author), Hypatia (the first known female mathematician and scientist), Queen Lil’uokalani of Hawaii, and many more. Each chapter is accompanied by an iconic papercut portrait, created by illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl using paper, pencil, and an X-Acto knife. “The Stateless,” a poetic ode to the world’s 60 million displaced people (almost 80% of whom are women and children) is a fitting conclusion to this excellent collective biography. One small complaint: if the map and Table of Contents included keywords such as Educator, Environmentalist, or Musician next to each woman’s name, Rad Women Worldwide would be even more accessible to browsers and student researchers. THOUGHTS: It’s a must-have for every teen library and a strong companion read to Schatz and Stahl’s 2015 collection Rad American Women A-Z.

920; Collective Biography       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

 

marchbook3

Lewis, John and Andrew Aydin. March Book 3. Art by Nate Powell. San Diego, Top Shelf Productions, 2016. 978-1603094023. 256 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

March Book 3 is a powerful conclusion to Congressman John Lewis’s graphic memoir of his experiences during the Civil Rights movement. Books One and Two focused on the lunch counter sit-ins and the March on Washington, respectively. The plot of the third book centers around the events and marches in Selma, Alabama.  Lewis also shares his experiences traveling to Africa and meeting Malcolm X, and the struggles within the different groups pushing for change at that time. The art, drawn in careful detail by Nate Powell, propels the story forward at a fast clip and engages the audience with stark black and white scenes. This series should be required reading in all high schools, not only because it is engaging in a way that textbooks generally are not, but also because the themes and events are, sadly, exceptionally relatable to the events occurring in our world today. THOUGHTS: Students and educators alike will be fascinated by Lewis’s story and experiences. This series should be in all high school libraries.

Graphic Novel; Memoir      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I have eagerly awaited the final installment of this series, and it did not at all disappoint. Reading John Lewis’s graphic memoir has opened my eyes to the power of this form of literature, and how it can be used to engage readers and teach about different eras in history. I also had the opportunity to attend an event with Congressman Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. The Congressman gave one of the most powerful speeches I have ever witnessed. Hearing his story in person, and the story behind the graphic novel, made me appreciate the venture even more than before. I hope that more famous and influential individuals will use this genre to tell their stories in order to reach a whole new audience and generation.

 

land

Osborne, Linda Barrett. This Land is Our Land: A History of American Immigration. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-1-4197-1660-7. 124p. $24.95. Gr. 7 and up.

Focusing on American immigration from the 19th century to the present, this title presents the experiences of immigrants who came to America to start new lives and examines the way Americans have responded to these immigrants over time.  Surprisingly, attitudes towards immigrants have remained remarkably similar and consistent throughout the history of America.  Osborne offers context and reasons for these attitudes while at the same time highlighting the benefits that immigrants have brought to our country and encouraging fairness and compassion towards all.  Numerous period photographs and quotes from immigrants themselves adds a personal touch to the work.  A timeline of immigration history, source notes, bibliography, and index are also included.  Overall, this is a very thorough and objective account of American immigration throughout history.  THOUGHTS: With the upcoming presidential election, immigration is a very timely topic.  This title provides a wonderful introduction to the topic and could spark excellent discussions about attitudes and responses towards immigration.  Another option would be to pair this title with fictional accounts of the immigrant experience, such as Melanie Crowder’s Audacity or Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Uprising.

304.8; Immigration      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School