Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick

ImageThe Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Shad is a young man living with his older brother Jeremiah and their mother on the outside of Richmond, Virginia in the years just after the Civil War.  Their father has died during the conflict and the family is trying to adjust to a post-war reality where Yankee soldiers roam the streets and carpetbaggers and free blacks compete for jobs.   Shad, longing for security and fellowship,  soon follows Jeremiah and joins up with the KKK.  This allegiance is tested, however, when he begins taking classes at Ms. Perkinson’s, a transplanted Yankee that runs a negro school.  When Jeremiah and the rest of the clan begin to threaten the Perkinson’s, Shad must decide where his true obligations lie.

My Take:  As a native Richmonder, I very much enjoyed this book.  As I read about the characters wandering down, say, Broad Street, I could see clearly in my mind the area through which they were traveling.  I give credit to Westrick because, by focusing on the years just after the war, she has given us a Civil War book that stands out for its examination of post conflict adjustment.  I felt that the characters and situations were sufficiently complex and, even at the end, there was upheld a good deal of ambiguity which evaded easy answers.  Ages 12+

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to her website, A.B. Westrick was born in Pennsylvania, but now lives in Mechanicsville, Virginia.  This, of course, still makes her a Yankee! 😉

Etched in Clay: the Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng

etched-in-clay-andrea-chengThe Story (in 5 sentences or less):  Dave is a slave purchased by Harvey Drake in Augusta, Georgia in 1815.  Harvey takes him to Pottersville, South Carolina and not only teaches him pottery, but also how to read.  Over the span of years, Dave suffers greatly as his loved ones (including two wives) are sold away.  Dave begins carving words and poems into some of his pottery, a small act of sedition and outlet for his grief.

My Take:  I wondered if this book would be able to measure up to the quality of the Caldecott Honor book “Dave the Potter;” I believe that it does.  Written in short chapters of verse in 1st person, the poetry is never intrusive or self conscious, but rather breathes real life into the characters.  The poems are lean and spare, but sketch out the characters enough so that we grieve at the tragedies in Dave’s life.  I’d recommend this book to readers ages 11+ who are interested in knowing what being a slave feels like.  An appendix explains the life and times of Dave from an historical perspective.

One Interesting Note about the Author:  Andrea Cheng’s interest in Civil Right’s issues began at an early age when, growing up in Cincinnati, she remembers “sitting in the front yard with [her] friends, most of whom were African American, and hearing the sounds of the 1968 race riots just a few blocks away.”