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 5 sentences or less): Set in 1959 Memphis, Tennessee, an 11 year old takes over a friend’s paper route for a few weeks during the summer. The young man suffers from stuttering and it colors his entire life. As he slowly makes his rounds, he becomes involved in the lives of his customers which opens up greater questions. What should he do, for example, about the possible domestic abuse suffered by one lady or the riddles scribbled on a dollar bill given to him by one erudite man? Events come to a violent head when his housekeeper confronts the local homeless man about some items stolen from the household.
My Take: Credit should be given to Mr. Vawter for using a protagonist with a speech impediment. Any teen with a stuttering challenge should absolutely read this book. The author does an excellent job of showing the reader what it is like to live daily with this problem.
Vawter has a restrained writing style that allows him to slowly construct the characters and the plot. Because of this, Paperboy may be too slowly plotted for some young readers. Much of the book is committed to the narrator’s cautious approach to building relationships with adults in his life. Still, towards the end of the book, I did get some goosebumps, that visceral test of any work of art.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Vince Vawter’s first memory of his stutter is just before the age of 5. Despite his stutter, he has had a rewarding career in newspapers. As he tell it in the author’s note, “have I been cured of my stutter? No. Have I overcome it? Yes.”
The Plot (in 5 sentences or less): Father Groppi was a leader in the civil rights movement in the 1960’s in Wisconsin. While he attended seminary as a young man, James Groppi worked in youth centers in underprivileged areas in segregated Milwaukee where he learned about the travails of the African American population. After becoming ordained, he traveled the south during the 1950’s and early 60’s where he witnessed first hand the violent racism of the south. Deciding to bring the civil rights movement to Milwaukee, Father Groppi began organizing marches demanding treatment in equal housing and public education. His most famous moments came when he marched a group of blacks over the Sixteenth Street Viaduct into the working class white enclaves.
My Take: This is a straightforward book that will not only introduce young readers to Father Groppi’s struggles in Milwaukee, but also to the broader struggle of civil rights. Throughout the book, the author defines and explains terms and concepts such as “boycotts” and “civil disobedience” that may seem unfamiliar to younger minds. If you are looking for a biography on a lesser known civil rights advocate, this would be an excellent choice. ages 10+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Stuart Stotts is not only an author, but also a dynamic speaker, performer, and early childhood educator trainer! Check out more about him at his website: stuartstotts.com