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Children's and Young Adult Literature
Genre 5 - Historical Fiction

Paulsen, Gary.  1997.  SARNY  A LIFE REMEMBERED.  New York:  Random House, Inc.  ISBN:  0440219736.
     SARNY  A LIFE REMEMBERED continues the story of Sarny who was introduced in Paulsen's book NIGHTJOHN.  Nightjohn was a slave who taught Sarny to read and this book describes Sarny's life as the Civil War is ending until her last days in the 1930s.  After Union troops arrive at the plantation Sarny lives on and kills her master, Sarny s ets out for New Orleans to find her two children that have been sold.  On her way she meets Miss Laura who is also going to New Orleans and offers Sarny a job and help in finding her children.  After Sarny succeeds in regaining her children she continues to work for Miss Laura, remarries, teaches other black people how to read, and inherits Miss Laura's wealth after she dies.
     I found the book enjoyable to read and Sarny was a believable, strong character.  She shows her strength in her determination to get to New Orleans to regain her children.  On the way to New Orleans with another former slave she comes across a small skirmish (though to her it is a battle) and stays to comfort four men who have been left behind because they have gut wounds, and tends them until they die.  This shows both her strength and compassion.  In the Afterward, Mr. Paulsen states that while Sarny is a fictional character, the events that happened to her were based on events that happened to real people.  Most of these events were believable such as when Sarny encountered the battle, found a small child in a house with his parents dead, having her children sold away from her plantation, and having her husband lynched after he beat up a white man.  Other events were not as believable.  I found it hard to believe how easily Sarny found and got her children back and that Sarny inherited all of Miss Laura's wealth after her death.  I thought this was sugar coating since most African Americans had a much more difficult time after emancipation and endured hardships that Sarny never encountered in this book.  'In the fairy-tale ending, Miss Laura offers Sarny and Lucy "passes on."' (Publishers Weekly, 1997.)  The book aslo concludes very quickly once Sarny inherited Miss Laura's money.  Sarny still has two teenage children at home and Mr. Paulsen could have written much more than what he did about Sarny's life after her inheritance.  I would have liked to have known more about Sarny's plans for her inheritance.  I know she spent some of the money on starting schools for African Americans, but I felt more details about this could and should have been included.  This would have made for some interesting reading by explaining what difficulties and successes she had in her endeavors.
     Mr. Paulsen uses some of the dialect and expressions from the time period and the characters sound natural when talking.  The dialect has been modernized for young adults to understand more easily without detracting too much from the characters. 
     One of the major themes of the novel is that people can accomplish what they need to do under trying circumstances and succeed.  Sarny demonstrates this several times:  searching for her children, finding employment, finding her children, and teaching African Americans to read.  She manages to accomplish all of this, not through force, but with a quiet determination that models how to accomplish goals that you set for yourself.
Publishers Weekly.  11 August, 1997.  Books in Print.  [database online].  From:  Accessed 31 March, 2005.
Stanley, Diane.  2000.  MICHELANGELO.  New York:  Harper Collins Publishers.  ISBN:  0688150853.
     MICHELANGELO is a complete biography of the life of Michelangelo di Locovico di Lionardo Buonarroti Simoni in a picture book format.  The text is evenly balanced with full color illustrations that were prepared using watercolors, colored pencil, and gouache on Arches watercolor paper.  The illustrations have beautiful colors and are full of detail that illustrates what is being described in the accompanying text.  The dustjacket/cover of the book is one large illustration depicting Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.  The colors are rich and vibrant drawing your eyes in to focus on the details in the illustrations.  The overall layout of the book is very appropriate to the subject matter.  The picture book style enables the reader to more easily picture and imagine what is mentioned in the text.  The illustrations and format will appeal to younger readers as well as adults.  I greatly enjoyed reading the book and found the illustrations add greatly to its visual appeal.
     Diane Stanley has written several biographies on her own and with her husband and mother.  In this biography, Stanley chronicles Michelangelo's birth, childhood, education, apprenticeship, career, and death.  Her facts seem to be current and accurate and she obtained them from a variety of sources which she has included in a bibliography.  Stanley focuses the attention of the book on the more famous works from Michelangelo's career.  I found it interesting to read the events surrounding the creation of the Pieta.  When Michelangelo overheard someone saying that the sculpture was the work of another artist from Milan, Michelangelo went in at night and carved his name on the band that runs across the Virgin Mary's chest.  I thought this was interesting because it demonstrates the human side of Michelangelo.  He wanted the credit for the work he had done.  Stanley clearly distinguishes her facts from theory and refrains from using stereotypes and anthropomorphism.  Any item that could be considered a stereotype is clearly distinguished as being the prevailing attitude from the time period.
     The layout of the book is very logical, beginning with Michelangelo's birth and concluding with his death.  The book does not contain chapters, but information flows clearly and interestingly from one topic to the next.  This provides a clear framework for the information presented in the book.  Stanley did not include a Table of Contents, as this is in picture book format.  She has included an Author's Note which describes the Renaissance and famous artists from this time period.  Stanley has also included a beautifully illustrated map of Italy showing the location of a few of the cities mentioned and the independent states that existed at the time that later formed the modern country of Italy.  A bibliography is located at the end of the book for those who wish to read more about Michelangelo.
     The writing is clear and interesting through the use of quotations sprinkled throughout the text.  Stanley includes descriptions of Michelangelo's childhood and how he came to live with the Medici's, one of the most influential families of the time.  What I found interesting was Stanley made Michelangelo seem more like a real person.  I learned that he did not make friends easily and envied and disliked Leonardo da Vinci.  He was more comfortable with sculpting and did not really want to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  I also learned that, contrary to popular myth, Michelangelo did not paint the Sistine Chapel lying down, but standing in an uncomfortable position.  Michelangelo had written a poem about it and illustrated it with a small sketch.  Stanley has included quote from the poem and Michelangelo's sketch of the position he used to paint has been inset within the text on that page.  I had fun reading this book about Michelangelo.  Stanley's text flows smoothly without using words that would confuse younger readers or writing in such a way that would make older readers feel they were being "talked down" to.  An example of Stanley's writing is as follows:  "While the workers set up the scaffolding in the chapel and plastered over the existing decoration, Michelangelo began planning his general design." (unpaged.)  The sentences are not short and choppy, but flow smoothly as someone would actually say this.  Overall, I feel Stanley will arouse the reader's curiosity to find out more about Michelangelo or other artists and the Renaissance.  I found myself wishing to more about the rivalry that existed between Michelangelo and some of the artists mentioned such as da Vinci and Bramante. 
     Adults will enjoy this book every bit as much as younger readers.  The illustrations are rich, colorful, and detailed and enrich the text.  The text is lively and entertaining with events from Michelangelo's life and descriptions of his works. 

Park, Linda Sue.  2001.  A SINGLE SHARD.  New York:  Scholastic (by arrangement with Clarion Books.)  ISBN:  0439445469.
     A SINGLE SHARD is a story about a young orphan, Tree-ear, set in twelfth century Korea.  Tree-ear lives under a bridge with his friend, Crane-man.  Crane-man is crippled and Tree-ear forages in rubbish heaps for a living, but this is not enough for Tree-ear.  Tree-ear is fascinated by the work of master potter, Min, and secretly watches the master at work.  Tree-ear dreams of someday making pottery like Min.  Tree-ear takes the opportunity to closely inspect Min's work one day when Min is not nearby.  Tree-ear accidently breaks one of Min's works when Min returns and suprises him,thinking Tree-ear is trying to steal.  Tree-ear becomes Min's apprentice after he works off his debt to Min.  Min is in need of an apprentice at this time because Min has the chance to gain a royal commission.  When Tree-ear is sent to the capital with two examples of Min's best work, he meets with hazards and rewards beyond his imagining.
     The story is set in a twelfth century Korean village known for its pottery, expecially its celadon pottery.  Park makes this culture and time period come alive in her writing.  The profound respect that people had for each other at that time is clearly demonstrated in the character of Tree-ear through his actions.  Tree-ear always bows before individuals to show respect and is careful to show his thanks and appreciation for anything that is done for him.  This helps the reader to understand the Asian culture from this time period.
     A SINGLE SHARD lets the reader feel what it was like to live in a twelfth-century Korean village through the eyes of Tree-ear.  Tree-ear is approximately twelve or thirteen years old and is learning much about himself as he becomes a young man.  Park gives the reader important insights into the character as he develops from a child to a young man.  I though it was interesting that Park has Tree-ear asking himself important questions as he is maturing, such as:  "Was it stealing, to wait as Tree-ear had for more rice to fall before alerting the man that his rice bag was leaking?  Did a good deed balance a bad one? (p.6)  Tree-ear comments that following his friend's advice wasn't always easy.  These situations show how the character, Tree-ear, is growing and developing as an individual, which other young people can relate to.  They may have the same type of questions.
     Tree-ear must deal with themes that young people may struggle with today.  The situation in which Tree-ear wondered if it was stealing to wait before alerting the farmer that he was losing rice and when he asked his friend if it was stealing an idea before the idea was made public are issues that young people may deal with today. 
     Park's style of writing is very clear and interesting.  She does a wonderful job of making the reader feel they are in Tree-ear's shoes in a twelfth-century Korean village.  The reader feels Tree-ear's pain when he learns of Crane-man's death.  You feel his bittersweet joy when he is adopted by Min and his wife.  Park makes the reader feel how difficult Tree-ear's chores were as an apprentice:  chopping wood, digging the clay, and his disappointment when Min refuses to show Tree-ear how to throw a pot on the wheel.
     A SINGLE SHARD is a very well-written novel that makes the reader feel intimately what it would be like to live in a twelfth-century Korean village.  After reading the novel, it is easy to understand why this book won the Newbery Medal in 2002.
Taylor, Mildred D.  2001.  THE LAND.  New York:  Scholastic (by arrangement with Phyllis Fogelman Books.)  ISBN:  0439434165.
     Mildred Taylor's book THE LAND takes place shortly after the end of the Civil War during the Reconstruction and is a prequel to ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY.  Paul Logan is a young man who fits into neither the white or African-American world.  His father, Edward Logan, is a white plantation owner and his mother is the former slave of his father.  Paul's father acknowledges Paul and his sister, Cassie, and raises them with his three white sons, providing them with advantages many African-American children of the time would not have had.  Paul struggles throughout the book to find his place in the world.  Many whites despise Paul because he is "of color" and many blacks despise him and refer to him as a "white nigger."
     The book describes Paul's life as he grows up and the title, THE LAND, refers to Paul's goal of acquiring land as good as his father's that he grew up on.  Paul succeeds in acquiring the land of his dreams, and in the process goes through pain and sacrifice to do so.
     The characters in THE LAND were based on Taylor's family which is explained in "A Note to the Reader."  "All of my books are based on stories told by my family, and on the history of the United States."  Taylor does a very good job making the reader fee what it was like to be a person of color living with descrimination that occurred during the Reconstruction.  One example of Paul facing discrimination occurred while he was working in the logging camps.  His white boss required Paul to work on Sunday with no pay.  "And don't think  you gettin' paid for any Sunday workin' neither.  You gonna put this day in for my satisfaction, and if you don't, I'll make you the same promise I made you this mornin'.  I'll call the sheriff on you.  You hear me?
     My blood shot hot, but I didn't say the words that were boiling up inside me.  All I said was "I hear."" (p. 133.)
     I found Taylor's use of the local dialect very powerful in making the characters believable and come to life.  This helps make the characters more interesting.  She also does not "sugar coat" how white and African-Americans used language back then.  She uses the words that were spoken at the time that are not politcally correct today.  Taylor has addressed this issue in her "A Note to the Reader" as well.  "I have included characters, incidents, and language that present life as it was in many parts of the United States before the Civil Rights Movement.  Although there are those who wish to ban my books because I have used language that is painful, I have chosen to use the language that was spoken during the period, for I refuse to white-wash history."
     The plot of the book grows out of Paul's desire to acquire land as good as his father's.  This is very difficult to accomplish during the time for many view Paul's dream as a "man of color" wanting to achieve something that is for white men only.  He is stepping above himself.  The story is clearly laid out and organized, from Paul's childhood until he achieves his dream of acquiring land as an adult.
     The setting of the story takes place throughout the South, beginning in Georgia and ending in Mississippi.  Taylor accurately reflects the attitudes and beliefs from both races prevalent during the time period.  When Paul was thirteen, his father drove home the fact that he was "colored" in a very physical way.  Paul and his brother, Robert, who was white, got into a fight and Paul hit Robert's white friends who also got involved in the fight.  Paul's father whipped Paul in front Robert's white friends to drive home the fact that Paul could not strike anyone who was white.  There would be serious consequences in the future if Paul doesn't learn to get his temper under control.
     I enjoyed how this book makes the reader think about what it would have been like to have lived through this time period as a person of color.  It made me wonder what choices I would have made and how I would have handled the discrimination.  It also has several themes that young people should be able to relate to:  relationship between a parent and child, coming to know oneself, the power of friendship and love.
     I greatly enjoyed reading this prequel to ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY.  I have read all of Taylor's books about the Logan family, and this has been my favorite because you find out in this book how the family acquired their land and the sacrifices Paul made to accomplish his goal.  I admired Paul's determination and intelligence to achieve his dream.


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Last updated 01/15/2006