Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

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MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall.  Charlotte Zolotow Books, 1985.  $14.99, 58 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Patricia-MacLachlan/38022587

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Reader’s Annotation: Sarah’s visit out West will determine if she will stay on as wife for Papa and mother for Anna and Caleb.

Summary:

Papa had put in an advertisement for a wife in the newspaper.  Sarah has answered the ad and has since exchanged letters with the family.  Now Sarah is coming to visit.  Coming from Maine, things are very different in the West.  Sarah learns about farm life and shares about dunes and the sea on the East Coast.  She sings with the children, shares her sea shell collection, and cuts their hair.  Always overhanging is the question if life in the West is enough for Sarah and if she will stay.  After a particularly bad squall, Sarah asks to learn to ride a horse and go into town by herself.  Will she return?  Or is she buying a ticket to go back to Maine?

Evaluation:

Sarah, Plain and Tall is written in a style that mimics the title: plain.  The language is simple, and the plot straightforward.  But as simple as the writing style, the story is believable for the time period and the characters are endearing.  Caleb is a believable, precocious little boy, full of questions and always speaking his mind.  Pa is hard working and reserved, but his thoughts and feelings are conveyed in his actions.  Sarah is different; she is foreign, headstrong (choosing to wear overalls when Caleb tells her that women do not wear overalls), capable (helping Pa with the roof), and compassionate (crying for a dead lamb and saving her chickens in the squall).  Anna’s constant hope that Sarah will stay echos in each scene she narrates, causing the reader to cling to the hope too that Sarah will stay.  Life in the West is clearly contrasted with life on the East Coast.  Details of the historic time period are accurate and help to create the overall atmosphere.  Though simple like its namesake, the book is a charming read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: history, romance, family relationships, life in the West

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Skylark by Patricia Maclachlan
  • The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newberry Medal

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Sarah’s letters to Pa
  • Creating dunes in the barn
  • Sarah in the squall

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Would a mail-order bride work today?
  • How is the sea used in this novel?
  • Does Sarah give any hints whether she wants to go or stay?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it is one that is used in elementary schools.  I was curious about what historical time period it portrayed and how it was portrayed.

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

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Engle, Margarita.  Hurricane Dancers. Henry Holt and Company, 2011.  $17.99, 160 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.margaritaengle.com/

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Reader’s Annotation: A slave, a hostage, and a pirate find a way to survive after being shipwrecked in Cuba by a hurricane.

Summary:

Quebrado is a slave aboard Berndardino de Talavera’s pirate ship.  He translates and serves as a deckhand on the ship.  Also aboard the ship is Alonso de Ojeda, the Venezuelan governor that Talavera has taken as a hostage.  Off the coast of Cuba, Talavera’s ship is wrecked by a hurricane with only Quebrado, Talavera, and de Ojeda survive.  Quebrado befriends native Ciboney Indian fisherman Narido, who is in love with the chieftain’s daughter Caucubú, who has been promised in an arranged marriage.  He warns the Ciboney of the ill intentions of de Ojeda and Talavera, and the two are exiled from the village.  There, the two must work together to survive the crocodiles and other dangers of the land.  Meanwhile, Caucubú and Narido have run away together, and Quebrado’s part in it has caused him to be exiled as well.  When he comes upon de Ojeda and Talavera, he must decide what to do to eliminate the threat and to earn his freedom once and for all.

Evaluation:

This historical story was an engaging read.  Written in verse from the point of view of Quebrado, de Ojeda, and Talavera, as well as Narido and Caucubú, the story moves quickly and captures the readers attention.  The poems make the subject matter easier to access, as it is a simpler read.  The poems also infuse the story with rich imagery and rhythm.  Understanding the historical relevance of all of the characters (except for the fictional Quebrado) would help readers understand better the context of the story.  However, readers can get into the story even without the historical background.  Engle offers an insight into the dregs of piracy as well as a glimpse into the lives and culture of the Ciboney Indian natives.  Being told from multiple points of view, a wealth of emotion is conveyed by the characters.  Intense pain, joy, hope, anger, hatred, disappointment, and determination is felt by the characters and empathized by the reader.  The reader whole-heartedly roots for Quebrado as he discovers his identity and freedom through his adventures abroad the pirate ship and then stranded on the island.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction, adventure

Appeal Factors: pirates, adventure, history, poems

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Rdley Pearon
  • Blackbeard and the Pirates of the Caribbean by Jon Malam

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Pura Belpre honor
  • Children’s Notable Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Quebrado on surviving the hurricane
  • de Ojeda’s arrogant portrayal of himself
  • Talavera on being a pirate

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Has Talavera changed by the end of the novel?
  • How has Quebrado set himself free?  Literally and figuratively?
  • Why does Quebrado chose the name “Yacuyo” or “Far Light” as his name?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because it was about pirates!  I also really love reading books in verse.  The figurative language and imagery of these types of books are so rich and so lovely to read.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

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Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2008.  $16.95, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://us.macmillan.com/author/urishulevitz

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Reader’s Annotation: Hard times as an immigrant are escaped through reading and learning geography.

Summary:

After fleeing his wartorn homeland of Poland, a young boy finds himself and his family in a foreign land, poor and hungry.  When his father triumphantly returns from the bazaar with a map instead of bread for dinner, the boy and his mother are angry.  But soon the boy finds himself fascinated with the map.  Not only does it bring color to their dingy living space, but it transports the boy to wonderful places.  He learns names of exotic place, traces and redraws the map on any paper he can find.  He imagines what it is like on these foreign beaches, in deserts, snowy mountains, steamy jungles, elaborate temples, and cosmopolitan cities.  Taken away from his hunger and unhappiness, the boy realizes his father made a wise decision after all.

Evaluation:

This semi-biographical picture book portrays one small aspect of the immigrant experience.  The hardships of poverty and lack of food take a backdrop to the glories of reading the map and learning geography.  The book actually speaks more about the power of reading as an escape than the immigrant experience.  The language is simple and easy to understand.  The watercolors that accompany the text tell the story almost as well as the text.  The colors add to the tone of the story.  The picture that accompanies the text about war is washed with reds and blacks, with the people washed out and devoid of color.  The busy bazaar pops with color and details.  The worried and hungry narrator and his mother wait for his father in muted blues and browns as night falls.  The imagined travels are highlighted with bright colors.  More so than the physical trials of immigration, this story tells of the inner conflict and the relationship the boy has with his father.  This is reconciled when the boy understands why his father has chosen the map, thus the boy can end the story that he forgives his father.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: illustration, immigrant experience, joy of reading, family relationship

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
  • Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne
  • The Little Refugee by Ahn Do

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Notable Children’s Book
  • Charlotte Zolotow Award
  • Calecott Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The narrator’s home
  • His worry about his father coming home late
  • Places he visited through the map

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Do you think the narrator’s father made a good choice in buying the map?
  • What would you have said if it were your father?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because of the title.  I was curious to see how the immigrant experience played into learning geography.  Initially I thought it was because the author had to travel to a lot places.