The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults
Historical Fiction & Biography
Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Cleopatra by Diane Stanley & Peter Vennema
The Cookcamp by Gary Paulsen
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Curtis, Christopher Parks. 1999. Bud, Not Buddy. New
York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0385323069
Christopher Parks Curtis, author
of the award winning The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 scores another hit
with Bud, Not Buddy, a heart warming adventure of a young boy’s search for
his father during the depression. Bud, Not Buddy was awarded the Newbery Medal
as well as being named a Coretta Scott King Award Winner.
Set during the 1930’s during the
Great Depression in Flint, Michigan, Bud is a ten year old boy that has bounced back and forth between the orphanage and various
foster homes since the unexpected death of his mother four years prior. After a particularly cruel foster home, Bud sets out
in search of his father with only a few clues that his mother left him. These items are a couple of flyers about a band leader
and some rocks with dates and cities written on them. The dates are long before Bud was born and cities he has never been
to. Bud sets out on foot for Grand Rapids, Michigan, home
of jazz band leader Herman E. Calloway, convinced this man is his absentee father.
Historically accurate, the book contains
many interesting side stories that could be used as segues into other learning experiences. For example, when Bud begins his
journey he stays at Hooverville, a shantytown by the railroad. Hooverville is full of people and families in desperate need
of work. Many of the men and boys ride the rails out west to pick fruit while their families exist in cardboard shacks eating
possum, rabbit and dandelion greens.
Bud is later helped by Lefty Lewis, a Pullman
porter who is also secretly organizing a union for rail workers. He eventually finds the man he is looking for and discovers
that he is actually his grandfather not his father. Eleven years earlier his mother had run off with a drummer from the band
and had never reconciled with her father.
Bud’s arrival and proof of family
(the stones Calloway had written on for his daughter) is tinged with sadness as the father mourns the loss of his long lost
daughter but tentatively begins to celebrate the addition of a grandson.
The author maintains the accuracy
of these characters not only by extensively researching the time period but also by drawing on events and family members from
his personal history. In the afterword, Curtis explains how he chose the characters
and includes family photos of his own grandfathers Lefty Lewis, a Pullman porter and redcap and Herman
E. Curtis, band leader for Herman E. Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression.
The theme throughout the book is Bud’s
Momma’s advice, “When one door closes, look for another to open.”
As Bud makes his way through one disastrous (yet humorous) adventure after another, instead of giving up, he always looks
for the next door to open, knowing that things will work out if he keeps trying.
Kathleen Isaacs of School Library
Journal states that “Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home
story that would be a crackerjack read-a-loud.”
Christopher Paul Curtis closes with
the following advice to his young readers, “Go talk to Grandma and Grandpa, Mom
and Dad and other relatives and friends. Discover and remember what they have to say about what they learned growing up. By
keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal.”
Recommended for grades three and
up, the books is an excellent well structured example of United States
history from the 1930’s and also subtly infuses the reader with lessons on not giving up and maintaining a sense of
humor through difficult life events.
Curtis, Christopher Parks. 1999. Bud, Not Buddy. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0385323069
Curtis, Christopher Parks. 1995.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963. New York: Delacorte Press. 0385321759
Isaacs, Kathleen. 1999. Bud, Not Buddy. (book review). School Library Journal. September 1, 1999.
Paulsen, Gary. 1991. The Cookcamp. New
York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439523575
Drawing from his childhood,
Gary Paulsen, award winning author of more than a hundred books, tells a heartwarming story of a grandmother’s love
from the perspective of a five year old boy. The story is set first in Chicago
then in Minnesota during World War II. The boy, who is never identified by name,
is sent by his mother to live with his grandmother at a cookcamp for a logging crew creating roads in the woods of northern
Paulsen’s own father
was a soldier during World War II and his mother worked in a munitions factory. Paulsen was sent to live with his grandmother
when life became difficult for the family. He calls his grandmother’s warm support during this time “his safety
net” and utilizes this theme in The Cookcamp.
This book covers the adult
themes of loneliness, boredom, rejection and infidelity all the while staying true to the voice of a small boy trying to make
sense of the grownups around him. The boy’s mother is lonely and bored while her husband is away serving in the military
during WWII. She is tired of listening to the radio and subsequently takes a job at a local factory. “Uncle” Casey
begins to be a frequent occurrence in their small family taking them on outings to the zoo and visiting his mother, finally
culminating in “Uncle” Casey moving in with them.
of course he was not an uncle at all, and that first night the boy came out of the bedroom in their small apartment and saw
his mother with Casey on the couch making sounds he did not understand but did not like”
pushed Casey away…held the boy and cried. And the next day she pinned a note to his jacket and put him a train, and
he rode alone a day and a night… and part of another day to meet his grandmother.”
While traveling on the train,
the boy is looked after by a Pullman porter that went out of his way to make sure the boy felt cared
for. The porter checked on him frequently, brought him dinner and even carried him asleep wrapped in a blanket when he had
to change trains during the night. The theme of the kindness of strangers is strong and is reminiscent of the strangers that
helped the young protagonist in Christopher Parks Curtis’, Bud, Not Buddy (1999).
That story also included a kind Pullman porter named Lefty Lewis.
Upon reaching the cookcamp
the boy finds his grandmother to be full of love and acceptance for him. The writing is clear and realistic, portraying accurately
the both the time period and the loggers. Huge but gentle men, far from their families, the loggers enjoy taking the small
boy under their wings. The detailed descriptions of their road crew and their equipment lends to the feeling of the reader
being in the woods of Minnesota during the early 1940s. The boy is integrated
into the workings of the camp, goes out in the trucks, eats meals with them and learns to play the card game whist.
Although safe and cared for
the boy misses his mother, and shares his feelings with his grandmother. A letter is sent to the mother, the reader infers
that it concerns “Uncle” Casey and soon the boy is back on a train to see his mother. She greets him enthusiastically
sans the boyfriend.
was crying and laughing at the same time, kneeling on the platform so he could let go of the conductor’s hand and run
into her arms.”
The boy does not see his grandmother
again until he is much older and takes his young son to visit her. The time honored lessons of hard work, honesty and love
of family absorbed by the boy during his visit to his grandmother serve the boy well as he matured into a man.
the boy is very young, his experiences are universal, making this a superb book for readers just old enough to look back and
remember their childhoolds and grandparents with a feeling of nostalgia.” Susan M. Harding, reviewer for the School
Paulsen, Gary. 1991. The Cookcamp. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439523575
Harding, Susan M. 1991. The Cookcamp (book review). School Library Journal. February 1, 1991.
Website, available at www.randomhouse.com/features/garypaulsen/
Website, available at www.trelease-on-reading.com/paulsen.html
Stanley, Diane, & Peter Vennema. 1994.
Cleopatra. New York: Morrow Junior Books. ISBN 0688104142
Written by noted author Diane Stanley with
her husband Peter Vennema, Cleopatra is an outstanding biography of a fascinating
woman and leader who lived from 69 – 30 B.C. in Egypt.
The book was created for children in the new trend of 32 page picture book style and illustrated by Stanley
in full-color gouache artwork and beautiful vivid mosaic designs.
In the preface, Stanley
points out that many of the commonly known facts about Cleopatra are based on the writings of her enemies, the earliest are
written by Plutarch, 100 years after her death. No paintings or portraits exist of her, the only know likenesses to remain
are on coins from that period bearing her profile. The clear and easy to read writing combined with the vivid artwork and
maps allow the reader to visualize the time period and feel present during this turbulent period in Roman and Egyptian history.
Booklist reviewer, Carolyn Phelan,
writes, “Taken simply as a story, the book has a sumptuous setting, heroic characters,
name recognition, high drama, and a tragic ending. An intriguing portrait.”
Cleopatra VII became Queen of Egypt in
the year 51 B.C. at the age of 18. Ambitious for power, Cleopatra lost her political fight to return Egypt
to the glory of its magnificent years under Pharaoh Thutmose III, 1400 years prior. By the of age of 20, she had been driven
from her country and was living in exile in Syria where she
raised an army to go to war against her brother, the current leader of Egypt.
At this time Julius Caesar, arrived from
Rome and attempted to broker peace between the warring siblings. Cleopatra not
only won Caesar’s mind, convincing him of her need to rule Egypt
but his heart as well. After a six month war, and with the aid of Caesar’s army, Cleopatra was again on the throne with
Caesar by her side.
soon revolted against Caesar’s grasp for power and he was assassinated. His position as the most powerful Roman was
succeeded by Mark Antony, a great general and statesman.
Mark Antony succeeded Caesar as Cleopatra’s
love interest and partner in ruling Egypt. They planned an
empire together. Unfortunately, this was a threat to the Roman Empire and after a total of 21 years
on the throne, Cleopatra’s dream was over. She and Mark Antony were buried in the same tomb and immortalized by the
Greek historian Plutarch.
Carolyn Noah of the School Library
Journal states, “Finally Cleopatra emerges as a savvy, astute, and complex leader
who followed both her heart and mind.”
dramatic illustrations are eye-catching with large, well-composed images executed in the flat Greek technique. The endpapers
simulate period mosaics; the text is set against a faux-tile backdrop that reinforces the book's design, illustrations, and
A prologue, epilogue, pronunciation guide
and bibliography are all included in the layout of the book making the archaic topic fresh and easier to understand, research
Diane Stanley is the recipient of
the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children, and the 2000 Washington Post/Children's Book Guild Nonfiction
Award for the body of her work. Stanley and her husband, Vennema, have worked together on other books in Stanley’s
award-winning biography series, including Shaka: King Of The Zulus, Bard Of Avon: The Story Of William Shakespeare,
and Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations.
Stanley, Diane, & Peter Vennema. 1994.
Cleopatra. New York: Morrow Junior
Books. ISBN 0688104142
Noah, Carolyn. 1991. Cleopatra. (book review). School Library Journal. October 1, 1994.
Park, Linda Sue. 2002. A Single Shard. Maryland:
Random House. ISBN 0807207020
Audio Edition – Read by Graeme Malcolm
Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park is an unabridged audiobook on three cassettes, produced by Listening Library, a division
of Random House. This is an excellent audio version of the printed text. Park brings personal knowledge to the story as she
is a first generation Korean-American and the setting is in 12th Century Korea.
book will engage both individual readers and discussion; the audio version makes it accessible to a broader audience, while
giving style and substance to those who have read the print version,” states Francisca Goldsmith, reviewer for School
The story of a 12 year old protagonist
named Tree-ear. An orphan, he is raised by Crane-man, a homeless man who resides under a bridge in the summer and in a kimchee
pit in the winter. Crane-man was not always homeless, but lost his home and possessions after his family died and he had to
sell them to survive. His name evokes thoughts of a crane standing on one leg because Crane-man was born with a crippled leg.
Tree-ear at age two was given by a monk
to Crane-man to watch over until a fever epidemic subsided. When the monk returned in a couple months, Tree-ear would not
leave his new guardian. This is a heartfelt story of values, ethics, loyalty, honor and hard work.
gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away.” are the words Crane-man raises Tree-ear with. Although the two rarely
have enough to eat, they live with dignity, foraging in the woods and rubbish heaps, gathering fallen grain in the fall. “…these are honorable ways to garner a meal, requiring time and work. But stealing
and begging, Crane-man said, make a man no better than a dog.”
Tree-ear (named by Crane-man for the fungus
that grows on a tree sans a parent), is soon tested on these values. By accident, Tree-ear breaks a clay box of a local artisan
potter and offers his labor free of charge to cover the cost. After working for nine days, Tree-ear stays on as a laborer,
secretly hoping to become an apprentice.
When an emissary from the king requests
Min’s work to be brought to him to be reviewed for a possible consignment order Tree-ear offers to undertake the treacherous
journey. Beset upon by robbers, Tree-ear loses his entire basket of pottery to
the angry robbers. They throw the beautiful vases off the cliff when they discover it is not food or money.
Tree-ear briefly contemplates leaping
off the cliff after the vases but hears the wise Crane-man’s words, “Leaping
into death is not the only way to show courage.” He pulls himself together, scrambles down the cliff and finds the
largest shard left from the shattered vases. It shows the workmanship of the master potter. Tree-ear then walks for three
days to the palace, pausing only to eat and sleep. With the bravery of the truly desperate, he firmly demands an audience
with the royal emissary and receives it. The shard is examined, deemed worthy and Min is awarded a royal commission.
Read by noted British actor Graeme Malcolm,
his accent is wonderful to listen to but it did seem a bit disconcerting when describing traditional Korean pottery and food.
The sound quality is excellent, clear with chapters defined and author and publisher mentioned. The beginning and end of the
audiobook are highlighted with traditional Korean string music setting the mood for the reader to mentally travel to a small
seaside village in 12th century Korea.
Malcolm provides all the voices, varying
his voice to become a young boy, a very convincing grouchy older potter (Min) and several other men. When Malcolm reads Ajima,
Min’s wife, his voice does ascend in pitch though he really doesn’t sound like a middle aged woman.
The listening experience was very absorbing,
I read the book first, and then listened to the audiobook. I found myself leaning toward the tape player caught up in details,
I didn’t remember reading. When I rose to turn the tape over, I discovered my two teenagers were also sitting in the
room listening, having entered the room to speak to me, they sat down to listen and became engrossed in the story.
Highly recommended for grades three and
up, the believable story of courage despite adversity is uplifting.
the society has its own conventions, the hearts and minds and stomachs of the characters are not so far removed from those
of people today. Readers will feel the hunger and cold that Tree-ear experiences, as well as his shame, fear, gratitude, and
love. A well-crafted novel with an unusual setting.” Carolyn Phelan
of Booklist, 2001.
Park, Linda Sue. 2002. A Single Shard. Maryland: Random House. ISBN 0807207020
Audio Edition – Read by Graeme Malcolm
Park, Linda Sue. 2002. A Single Shard. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0395978270
Goldsmith, Francisca. 2001. A Single Shard. (audiobook review). School Library Journal. June 1, 2002.
Phelan, Carolyn. 2001. A Single Shard. (book review). Booklist. April 1, 2001.
Website, available at www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/clarion/
Website, available at www.imdb.com/name/nm0539102/