Choices for Change

Sometimes, writing really is a form of art. When I first scouted out the book, Garvey’s Choice, I thought it sounded like a good free-verse story. But I was wrong. It isn’t a no-rules format at all.  Nikki Grimes, the author, wrote the entire story following a Japanese form of poetry called Tanka.  Written in 5-line stanzas, following a five, seven, five, seven, seven pattern of syllables in each line, Tanka is at once a poem and a vehicle to tell Garvey’s story.  To follow a strict pattern, while choosing words that capture the characters and their interactions, is amazing!

The story is short, impactful and touching.

Garvey is a boy who not only loves rhythm and music, but has a soulful singing voice, too. He’s sure his talents would be lost on his father though, who expects Garvey to play football.  As a result, Garvey decides to hide his musical ability and elects to overeat to stuff down his unhappiness. Being taunted at school for his weight only makes matters worse  Yet, Joe, his devoted friend, shores Garvey up and encourages him to try out for choir. With the pressures of football from dad, the unkind remarks from classmates and the insensitive teasing of his own family, Garvey doesn’t know if he has the strength to handle the possible repercussions if he makes the choice to share his voice.

The story is one of deep pain, intense longing and, ultimately,  Garvey’s’ discovery that mustering the courage to make a choice can change his entire world.

By Nikki Grimes

Accelerated Reader Level: 3.6, but with the social issues and self-esteem struggles of Garvey, higher readers should not pass this one up.

Copyright 2016

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Two Langstons and Poetry

After the loss of his mama, eleven-year-old Langston is uprooted from his home in Alabama.  His father needs to escape the painful memories of the death of his wife and to seize the opportunity in Chicago to earn a better living. For Langston, being transplanted only exacerbates his grief. Not only is he in mourning, but he deeply misses all of what Alabama means to him: a loving grandma, aunt, cousins, friends, rural life, kind folks and southern cooking. In Chicago, Langston is bullied by three boys, only one neighbor speaks to him, people, trash, even buildings are tightly stacked and his dad’s cooking is awful. Respite comes when Langston stumbles upon a library.  In 1946 Alabama, libraries are not accessible to blacks. But, in this Chicago branch, all residents are welcome. A librarian guides Langston to the poetry section and the works of Langston Hughes. The writing of Hughes connects on a soul level with Langston and launches events that help young Langston understand more about the people in his life from bullies, to family to himself. A well-crafted story of love, loss and compassion. Lesa Cline Ransome  has designed a chapter book short in length, but long on complex characters and powerful messages.

Lesa Cline-Ransome follows her novel with an Author’s Note. In it, she provides background on the time period, from the 1940’s through the 1970′,s during which a steady stream of blacks relocated from the South to the North in search of increased liberties and the ability to financially prosper. The author also expands on the library central to the story, a Chicago landmark, conceived by and named after Dr. Hall, an influential black doctor and community leader. The Hall Library showcased the lives and work of successful black writers and was the actual spot where Langston Hughes spent time drafting his own life story.

This would make a great read-aloud, particularly as part of celebrating Black History Month!

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Copyright 2018. Accelerated Reader Level 4.5

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Hardback book

          Audio Book or Kindle