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Have You Heard of Purple PasturesHave You Heard of Purple Pastures : Raymon Reed and Esther Arce-Reed ~ Illustrated by Chad Thompson

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Children's Books - Social Issues 

Space by Jesse Lee Kercheval. Paperback - 278 pages (February 1999) Novelist Jesse Lee Kercheval's sentences are so precise, her portrait of her troubled family so compelling, her description of children's complex social maneuvering so astute, that it takes a while to realize that her tender memoir of growing up in Cocoa, Florida, is also a masterful snapshot of America in the late 1960s. The family moved from Washington, D.C., to Florida in 1966 because Kercheval's father had accepted a position as business manager of the local junior college, his ticket to a decent civilian career after 30 years in the army. The author's mother, who loved her job at the Treasury Department, was less enthusiastic; during their years in Cocoa she drifted deeper and deeper into depression. Without writing a dogmatic word, Kercheval paints a painful picture of a woman agonizingly frustrated by being denied the employment opportunities her intelligence merited. Older sister Carol responded by becoming the responsible one, trying to make everything better; Jesse dreamed of going "far enough and fast enough to become a new and better person." So why is the book entitled Space? Well, Cape Canaveral was only miles from Cocoa, but to appreciate the superbly woven web of fact, metaphor, and dreams that makes the space program so central here, you'll have to read Kercheval's beautiful book.
Stop Pretending : What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones. Reading level: Young Adult Hardcover - 128 pages (October 1999) The subtitle of Stop Pretending says it all: "What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy." In a sequence of short, intense poems based on the author's own experiences, a 13-year-old girl suffers through her shifting feelings about her sibling's mental illness. She recalls the terror of the Christmas Eve when Sister was suddenly transformed into a stranger; the horror of visiting Sister in the hospital and finding her rocking on all fours; the fear that her friends will find out; her own worry that she, too, may lose her mind; and her wistful memories of Sister as she was before. More complex emotions are also explored, such as her irrational suspicion that Sister may be deliberately acting crazy, as poignantly expressed in the title poem: "Stop pretending./ Right this minute./ Don't you tell me/ you don't know me./ Stop this crazy act/ and show me/ that you haven't changed./ Stop pretending/ you're deranged." Gradually, as Sister begins to recover, the girl is able to find hope and again take pleasure in her own life. Blank verse is perfect for a story with such heightened emotion, and is a format that has been used with great success in other fine novels for teens, notably the Newbery-award winning Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, and Robert Cormier's boyhood memoir, Frenchtown Summer. Teen readers may even be so inspired as to try their own hand at this challenging but satisfying form. (Ages 10 and older)
Other Titles:
The Skin I'm in by Sharon G. Flake
The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg
Bud, Not Buddy (Newbery Medal Book) by Christopher Paul Curtis
Walk Two Moons (Trophy Newbery) by Sharon Creech
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Heaven by Angela Johnson
Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia
Strays Like Us by Richard Peck
145th Street by Walter Dean Myers
The Beetle and Me by Karen Romano Young
Holes by Louis Sachar. Reading level: Ages 9-12. Paperback - 233 pages Reprint edition (May 9, 2000) Other Editions: Hardcover, Audio Cassette (Unabridged), Audio CD (Unabridged), Large Print. "If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy." Such is the reigning philosophy at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility where there is no lake, and there are no happy campers. In place of what used to be "the largest lake in Texas" is now a dry, flat, sunburned wasteland, pocked with countless identical holes dug by boys improving their character. Stanley Yelnats, of palindromic name and ill-fated pedigree, has landed at Camp Green Lake because it seemed a better option than jail. No matter that his conviction was all a case of mistaken identity, the Yelnats family has become accustomed to a long history of bad luck, thanks to their "no-good- dirty-rotten- pig-stealing- great-great-grandfather!" Despite his innocence, Stanley is quickly enmeshed in the Camp Green Lake routine: rising before dawn to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet in diameter; learning how to get along with the Lord of the Flies-styled pack of boys in Group D; and fearing the warden, who paints her fingernails with rattlesnake venom. But when Stanley realizes that the boys may not just be digging to build character--that in fact the warden is seeking something specific--the plot gets as thick as the irony.
Jazmin's Notebook by Nikki Grimes. Reading level: Ages 9-12. Paperback - 112 pages Reprint edition (February 2000) Other Editions: Hardcover. From Booklist: Gr. 6^-10. "There are days when laughter hides in the shadows, days when food is low . . . or we have no heat"; but 14-year-old Jazmin was "born with clenched fists," and her journal entries and occasional poems about her life in Harlem in the 1960s are funny, tender, angry, and tough. Mom's back in the hospital with a breakdown, and Daddy's dead; but after years of being sent "postage paid" to many relatives and foster homes, Jazmin at last has a place to stay with her strong, older sister. Jazmin loves school, even though she's picked on for her Coke-bottle glasses; an A student, she stands up to the counselor, who tries to steer her away from academics. Her journal is chatty and informal, but never cute (one anachronism, though: "ya-da, ya-da, ya-da" in the 1960s?). The brief poems are as direct and touching as the narrative. Many teens will relate to Jazmin, whether she is talking about the power of religion, friendship, or laughter, or about her attraction to a luscious guy, a "six-foot-four chocolate drop," who then tries to rape her. Jazmin's trouble with her mother is always there: anger that her distant mother never loved her and guilt that she just can't make herself visit the hospital. Then Jazmin does visit, and she finds her mother changed. Jazmin describes the heartbreaking scene: Mom "took my face in her hands, and let me see her tears." There is nothing idyllic in this realistic story, no talk of Heaven, but there is hope. We share Jazmin's laughter and tears as she writes about her struggle to find community and her own space.

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