The Plot in Five Sentences Or Less: In the 1940’s, America was at war, but its military was still segregated. Against this backdrop, fresh recruits arrive at Port Chicago outside of San Francisco. They are black men and, because of this, they are given the highly dangerous job of loading ammunition onto the ships with little to no safety training. On the evening of July 17, 1944 a huge explosion rips through the port, killing over 300 people. In the weeks following, 50 of the men refuse to load any more ammunition and are therefore put on trial for mutiny.
My Take: The Port Chicago 50 is not Steve Sheinkin’s most exciting book, but it is his most poignant. I found that the narrative slows down some during the trial portion of the story, but the final chapters more than make up for this. By the end of the book, I found that I had a knot in my throat as I considered the sacrifice that these black sailors made, really until the ends of their lives. The Port Chicago 50 is another example of Sheinkin’s gift of making history interesting and relevant. Highly recommended for ages 12+ looking for a non-fiction read concerning civil rights.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Steve’s brother-in-law Eric Person was the first to bring the story of the Port Chicago 50 to his attention. Eric mentioned the theory that the first atomic bomb was exploded not in the New Mexico desert in 1945, but rather a year earlier at Port Chicago. Intrigued, Steve dug deeper and unearthed the story of the Port Chicago 50.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Standish Treadwell tries to fade into the background by giving a blank stare from the back of the class. But when his friend Hector climbs the wall behind the house and discovers what’s on the other side, Standish can no longer be inconspicuous. Now he’s being hauled into the principal’s office, interrogated by the leather coats, and beaten by his new stooge of a teacher Mr. Gunnell. After Hector and his family disappear and a strange visitor appears at his house, Standish seeks an opportunity to strike a blow against the heart of a diseased system.
My Take: This is excellent dystopian YA literature. Gardener drops the reader into the middle of Standish’s life with no explanation or exposition, allowing us to slowly piece together the story. What starts as a typical tale about a middle-schooler being sent to the principal’s office, turns into so much more. Gardener slowly develops the nightmare world, until the reader is fully invested in cheering for Standish to subvert it. Great writing and a great book by Sally Gardner! Parents and librarians should be aware that the language in the book is not for younger readers. Ages 15+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Much like Standish, Sally Gardner is dyslexic. As a student, she was branded “unteachable” and expelled from various schools. She is now a spokesperson for dyslexia.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: While playing basketball in Belgium as a young man, Will Allen discovers the joys of digging in the dirt. When he moves to Milwaukee, he pursues this passion by buying some vacant greenhouses in the city and converting them to farms. The process is slow because the soil is filled with pollution, but over the years Will’s urban farm revolution spreads around the world.
My Take: I found this to be an inspiring read. Jacqueline Briggs Martin does an excellent job of conveying plenty of information about Will and his farming movement without slowing down the story. Eric-Shabazz Larkin’s bright illustrations conveys the excitement and enthusiasm of Will Allen’s urban farming. Notes in the back point to other sources of information about Will. Many readers will no doubt want to start planting seeds on their windowsills after reading this wonderful book.
One Interesting Thing About the Author Or Illustrator: Jacqueline Briggs Martin is also the author of the book Snowflake Bentley, which won the Caldecott award in 1999.