3 important books to add to your library! | Mentoring in the Middle

3 important books to add to your library!


poster with three book covers on it that are reviewed in this post

"So, we're going to treat the Revolutionary War like a football game, okay?  Because that's what it was like, one team advancing or being pushed back by the other."

In the past year, I have heard about places and people I'd never been aware of.  Greenwood, OK, and Rosewood and Ocoee, FL, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Toussaint Louverture.  I drew a blank on all of them. 

 Maybe because, I kid you not, in my 9th-grade American History class we learned everything from the perspective of football games.  

Even with the best history teachers, I wonder if I would have heard any of those names.  

But this is 2021, so how do we expose our students to events and people they need to know about?  One of my favorite ways is by expanding on books that belong in classroom libraries.  Here are some books that I think are worth having in yours.

book cover of Dreamland Burning
This book is part mystery and part historical fiction.  Rowan, a biracial 17-year old living in Tulsa today, unearths a buried skeleton in her back yard.  She and her friend, James, are determined to learn more about it.  Jump back to 1921, and you meet Will, also living in Tulsa. Jim Crow laws reign and the KKK is stirring up trouble.  Will's chapters lead the reader to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, when white mobs attacked black residents and businesses in the Greenwood district, killing around 300 people and burning almost all buildings down to the ground.  The more you read, the more you see how Rowan and Will's lives are intertwined, and how both of them aren't immune from racism.

This compelling book will whet your curiosity to learn about an event that took place 100 years ago that most of us know little or nothing about.

Here's a FREE nonfiction passage you can download that I wrote about the Greenwood Race Massacre with comprehension questions.

book cover of Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge
This was an interesting read for me, and I suspect it will be for your students as well.  I read the "adult version" first and was fascinated to learn about free black communities in major cities in the North. I hadn't thought about free and enslaved blacks living in the same cities, and what that might mean to each group. 

Ona Judge was a slave belonging to Martha Washington and she traveled with the family, living in New York, Philadelphia, and Mt. Vernon with them.  Even though you know she ran away from the front cover, the story still manages to be suspenseful.  The authors, using letters, court documents, census records, etc., tell a compelling story by asking you to imagine what Ona might have been feeling.  I found their reminders about how times were different then and imagining what she was going through, a way to better identify with her.  It's fascinating to see how the Washingtons thought they were kind to their slaves, but for Ona Judge, it wasn't about kindness.  It was about being owned.  This is a worthwhile read for your students!
book cover of Punching the Air
This fiction book is based on an event that is newer in our history (1990) but desperately needs to be heard.  Told in powerful verse, this is a story about Amal, a talented artist and poet.

Based in part on Yusef Salaam's of being wrongly convicted, at the age of 15, along with four other boys in the "Central Park Jogger" case, the reader experiences the aching devastation of being wrongly accused of a crime you didn't commit. 

Jason Reynolds describes the book as a "necessary exploration of anger and a radical reflection of love, which ultimately makes for an honest depiction of what it means to be young and Black in America."

I hope you get the chance to read these and to share them with your students!

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