Review: 42 Is Not Just a Number

by Doreen Rappaport
Candlewick Press, 2017

42 Is Not Just a Number is a compelling sports biography for upper elementary and junior high readers. Drawing on a range of sources, it recounts the life of Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the major leagues of baseball. The text deals with Robinson’s childhood quickly, setting a context for the discrimination Robinson experienced, and then concentrates on his years playing ball and the struggles he faced despite his obvious gifts. Robinson’s story wraps up with a brief denouement: his induction into the Major League Hall of Fame, his death in 1972, and a celebration in 1997 that acknowledged his courage in daring to play ball in an openly racist setting.

This book doesn’t pull punches. It includes examples of the language Robinson encountered (although offensive, what’s captured in the book is much milder than what Robinson would have lived with virtually every day of his life), and describes the violence and hatred that characterized the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. Many adults would like to think things are better now, and in some respects they are; but many students — particularly black students — will recognize the complex racism that persists today. This book is, sadly, still timely and relevant, but it arrives at a moment when it may perform valuable work for young readers of all backgrounds.

The book is thoughtfully constructed for a range of readers. The chapters are short and cleanly presented, the author has provided notes and a bibliography, and the text is supported by an index. All in all, this compact biography is a smart, accessible resource for both research and independent reading.

Many young people today have a hunger for social justice, and 42 Is Not Just A Number speaks with hope to the human potential for change. This vital book should be in every school and public library, especially in areas where librarians believe their patrons won’t read a book about race issues. This is exactly the kind of strong book for a trusted adult to recommend to make a positive difference in a reader’s life.

This review was originally published in Resource Links, February 2018.

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Review: Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things

by Sheree Fitch and Anne Hunt, eds.
Nimbus Publishing, 2017

Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things is a fresh collection of children’s poetry from and about English Atlantic Canada. It includes more than one hundred poems, not all of them written specifically for children. The collection has considerable reach, spanning from late nineteenth-century poetry to poems written just a few years ago. It is particularly well organized for teaching. The poems are organized by theme, and the book includes short biographies of the contributors. There are poems here to complement many standard Language Arts units and to demonstrate a breadth of literary forms and techniques. All in all, it’s a smart, compact, versatile collection, wrapped in a delightful, appealingly designed package.

If you’re looking for a book that will be greatly enjoyed and cherished, check out Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things. It’s an essential addition to public children’s libraries and a worthwhile extension to school and classroom libraries. It would also make a wonderful gift for any young reader who shows an aptitude or appreciation for writing and poetry.

This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2017.

 

Review: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women

by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds.
Annick Press, 2017

#NotYourPrincess makes a strong, specific claim: that Indigenous women must assert their right to represent themselves on their own terms. This means rejecting imagery like “sexy Pocahontas” and narratives of helpless victimhood, without ignoring the complex reality of Indigenous girls’ and women’s lives. Canadian statistics, for instance, show that Indigenous women are some of the most economically and socially vulnerable people in Canada. The texts in #NotYourPrincess acknowledge that reality and speak back with empowerment, strength, and hope.

This colourful, spacious volume brings together illustrated art and photography, comic-style storytelling, personal commentary about current events such as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry and the Dakota Access Pipeline, and a range of creative writing. Girls and women talk about dealing with and overcoming difficult childhoods, institutional discrimination, and casual racism. They identify and thank women who have led the fight for greater recognition and inclusion. Some imagery is drawn from social media and historical or contemporary photography. Readers encounter representations of strong, accomplished Indigenous women, but also eye-opening discussions of what it means to present oneself physically as an Indigenous woman. The presentation, while openly political, is finely balanced: readers are invited to find their own space in the discourse.

#NotYourPrincess is an important and valuable book. Transcending the colonially imposed border between the United States and Canada, the collection includes perspectives from north and south, west and east; contributors are identified by their Indigenous affiliation. Although the book is explicitly “a love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way,” it is also important for non-Indigenous readers to understand how destructive stereotypical representation and cultural silencing can be and have been. This book needs to be widely read and discussed because the changing representation of Indigenous girls and women is a central and urgent element of reconciliation and healing. #NotYourPrincess can help readers find the resilience and courage to make positive changes. Librarians, teachers, parents: please put this book into girls’ and teens’ hands.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2017.