My Seneca Village

MySenecaVillage

Image Credit: Namelos, Marilyn Nelson

 

My Seneca Village is a mighty work. Marilyn Nelson, as she describes in the introduction, connected to the people of Seneca Village while spending years researching the community and this is very evident in how heartfelt and moving this collection of poems is. Seneca Village was a community in New York City located where Central Park now is. It was a community of mostly African American families, with Irish, German, Jewish and some Native Amerian residents. It existed from 1825 to 1857; in 1857 all residents were forced to move out by the city in order to build the park. With this forced removal came the end of a rich, vibrant and thriving community.

What My Seneca Village does so beautifully is bring Seneca Village back to life. Through original poems, Nelson honors and creates a voice for its residents. We learn their stories, we see young dreamers, young love, life, death, gossips, mischievous children, racism and strength. Some of the residents we meet are real people who lived in Seneca Village, others are fiction and we also meet huge historical figures, like Frederick Douglass, who stop through the village to give moving speeches. It’s hard to narrow this book into one category because it does so much. Nelson’s poetry is powerful. One of my favorite stanzas is from the village’s Reverend Rush during an anti-abolition riot:

 

                                      “I asked everyone to bow their heads and pray.

                                        Pray for this nation’s struggle to be free

                                        for ALL Americans. Equality

                                        must be bitter, if you’ve always been on top,

                                        and you’re slapped awake out of a lifelong sleep.

                                        Pray we’ll pull together toward a common hope.”

 

Over a hundred years later and we’re still struggling for the same thing. I’m glad for this story. I’m glad to know about Seneca Village, I’m glad that this novel is being read nationwide and I encourage you to read this book and travel to Seneca Village.

 

P.S. Just wanted to note how nice this book is. Namelos is a small publisher and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book with such nicely inked letters.

Also, here’s an interesting NPR article about the play The People Before the Park.

 

Recommended for: 12 and up
Great for: Poetry, Everyday Life, Community, History, Seneca Village, American History, African American, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Racism, Family, Love, Friendship, Relationships, New York, Eminent Domain, Injustice, Central Park
Book Info: My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson, 2015 Namelos, ISBN: 9781608981960

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Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

DrownedCity

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Don Brown


Drowned City
is a tough but very important read. The graphic novel element makes this story accessible to reluctant readers and Brown does a great job of recounting and documenting this part of history. It’s easy to pick up the book and learn the history, facts, heroism and the incompetency. The writing of Drowned City reads like an extended newspaper article; fact after fact with the addition of speech bubbles. The moments of dialogue help connect readers to the tragic events and the people who suffered through them.

As I read the book, I’d stare at the words and then the illustrations and I’d shake my head, memories of television news reports coming back to me. Brown’s illustrations are powerful. He uses a palette of of browns, blues, grays and purples to depict the stagnant water, stormy skies, and hopeless expressions of the people of New Orleans.

DrownedCity2

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Don Brown

One criticism I have of this book is that in the summary, Brown writes “The suffering hit the African American community hardest; a weather disaster became a race disaster” but he never addresses this in the book. Brown skin is visually noticeable in the illustrations but he doesn’t discuss the issue of race in the lack of response to the hurricane victims, or even acknowledge that most of the victims were African American. This is something I’d encourage parents and teachers to discuss.

Published in 2015, just in time for the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Drowned City is a worthy and moving read that will provoke much discussion in your home or classroom. This book can be even more powerful when used in conjunction with real life accounts and stories from the victims themselves. A while back I compiled a group of excellent books about Hurricane Katrina for a display at my bookstore. Check out my post here for those books and be sure to pick up a copy of this graphic novel.

 

Recommended for: Ages 12 and up
Great for: History, Modern History, Hope, Community, Determination, Discrimination, Discussion, Economic Inequality, Incompetency, Hurricane Katrina, Inner Strength, Lack of Leadership, Leadership, Social Issues, Struggle, We Need Diverse Books, Non-Fiction, African American
Book Info: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown, 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544157774

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Image Credit: Bloomsbury USA, Sarah J. Maas

Image Credit: Bloomsbury USA, Sarah J. Maas

I can’t resist a good Beauty and the Beast inspired story. I also can’t resist a well-written romance, especially one with powerful a heroine. Sarah J. Maas’ lush writing will pull you into her complex, romantic world of dark magic and Faeries. If you already love her bestselling Throne of Glass series, you won’t be disappointed. Maas is marketing this novel as “New Adult” though it is sectioned in Young Adult as well. This book is definitely for the upper age range of teen due to violence and some sexual situations.

A Court of Thorns and Roses opens on a cold wintry evening with huntress Feyre tracking a deer. Her family is depending on her for a kill. She kills an abnormally large wolf that turns out to be more than a wolf; it’s a shape-shifting High Faerie of the realm Prythian. A few hours later another beastly wolf bursts through her door and takes her to his realm as punishment. A life for a life he says. As Feyre is trapped in his realm and in his house, she learns more about Tamlin, her captor and immortal Faerie. Their strong personalities clash but slowly, they start to respect and fall for each other. He needs her and she must fight for him as darkness threatens to change his world forever.

Feyre and Tamlin don’t give up on each other and the most enjoyable aspect of the novel for me was seeing the development of their relationship and the sacrifices they make. Feyre is a strong woman! She doesn’t let him push her around and loves him fiercely. Teens (and adults) who value excellent storytelling with a healthy dose of romance, fantasy and action will enjoy the first novel in this new series.

Recommended for: Older Teens to Adult
Great for: Girl Power, Action/Adventure, Romance, Fantasy, Love, Inner-Strength
Book Info: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, 2015 Bloomsbury USA, ISBN: 9781619634442

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Harper Teen, Patrick Ness

Image Credit: Harper Teen, Patrick Ness

Warm fuzzy socks. That’s how The Rest of Us Just Live Here made me feel when I finished it. It left me with a comfy feeling because Ness does an amazing job of characterization. I love his characters so much! Onion. That’s how I’d describe this novel due to its layers. On the surface, it’s an action-packed/end of the world thriller but more importantly it’s a coming of age novel. Their world is coming to an end and the “Indie Kids” (they fight the bad guys, are hipster and antisocial) are running around fighting evil while the normal kids try to make sense of everything that’s happening. They just want to graduate high school before the Indie Kids blow up the school…again.

The four main characters Mikey, Jared, Mel and Henna become wrapped up in the middle of all the disturbing events going on in their town, but as they learn more about what’s going on, they learn more about themselves, their relationships and how powerful they are. This novel is really about friendship. Sure we follow the action-packed scenes of the near apocalypse and wonder if another Indie Kid will die, but the heart of the story is how close the friends are and how real their love for each other is. Ness really delves into questions about first love, infatuation, sexuality, mental health, family life, trust and forgiveness. This one will stay with you.

P.S. The U.S. cover glows in the dark…Say What??  😉

Recommended for: Teens aged 14 and up
Great for: Friendship, Mental Health, Diversity, Coming of Age, Sci-fi, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Community, Family
Book Info: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, 2015 Harper Teen, ISBN: 9780062403162