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YA Lit Reviews
African - American Lit

Every story in this group comes from the perspective of insiders who tell their stories directly from the truths that they know. The works are truthful to African American culture and done with great authenticity. They all also go far beyond African American issues, covering ideas and themes that speak to everyone.


Taylor, Mildred. The Land.   Phyllis Fogelman Books. 2001.


ISBN: 0803719507


This  2002 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner is a prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Taylor creates African American characters caught up in American History. Her lessons are lessons for us all from a perspective that has been all too rare. Paul Edward Logan lives between many worlds and finds himself rarely welcome in any of those worlds. The life lessons he learns and how he reacts to those lessons are connected to those characters who make up his personal world; from his biological families to his enemy / friend / brother of the heart Mitchell, to Mitchells wife and Her family.


Paul Edward and his white family including his closest brother Robert are caught up in post civil war deep southern beliefs and the beginnings of Jim Crow. The harshness of this world was both shielded from him and cruelly taught to him by his father. Mitchell, Caroline (Mitchells wife, who both men love), and a host of people on his life path are there to support him in his moments of need. But life doesnt always work out simply because you work hard, or because you respect others, or because you are lucky. There are grids in the way that keep life from working out for a lot of people in the world and Taylor allows them to exist within the story and to speak for their own reality.


I really loved this book, and the entire world of life that is packed into it. I wonder though if the world today with its emphasis on a fast pace was instrumental in sometimes feeling that this story seemed to go on forever. I loved everything in the book yet there were still moments that I found myself wondering if the story was going to end at all.  Even so, this is a story that deserves the time it takes to read and take it all in. Dont miss this one.

Amazon Link  to The Land with Review by Publishers Weekly.

Bio and information / Reviews of a number of her works.

Voices From the Gap information on Mildred Taylor.


Flournoy, Valerie. Ill. By Jerry Pinkney. 1985.  The Patchwork Quilt. New York. Dial Books For Young Readers.


ISBN: 0803700970

Ages 4-8. Listed in New York Times on best books for children list.


This is the story of Tanya and her family. Tanya connects with her grandmother and begins her fascination with a quilt her grandmother is making. She helps her grandmother with her masterpiece, and at the same time, listens to her grandmothers stories and begins to understand how those stories are all connected to the quilt. And those stories connect her to her family.  Throughout the story, we are reminded that the events that make up our  life can sometimes make us a little less aware of those around us, even those we live with or near who are very much a part of our world. Fournoy reminds us that sometimes we need to stop what we are so busy doing and think about what is going on, who we are, and what is most important to us.


A look at quilting as an  act of a  storytelling, history recording, and art form is an underlying message that runs through the story.  Pinkney s  Watercolor Illustrations are an added visual layer that bring the characters and that history to life. While the words of the story speak for themselves, Pinkney adds in a visual that enhances the story and retells the story in its own way, highlighting all the points in Fournoys story. His focus on family reminds us all of at least two things: the issue of family and the importance of that family connection; and the larger issue of history hidden in quiltmaking by African-Americans.


Pinkney uses the same light flesh / brown tone as a background to every illustration in the book. His work features one family within every aspect of their lives, from Mother and daughter to grandmother grandchildren and parental connections, in everyday aspects of one familys life. These brief images include: Mother and daughter in the kitchen sharing a moment, Grand daughter and grandmother sharing time; playing outside in the snow; a family at Christmas; and the quilt that tells their connected story. His art comes from an insiders perspective done with great love.

Amazons notes on The Patchwork Quilt. It includes Ingrams brief not on the book and personal reader reviews.

Brief synopsis of the story

Lesson plans for use of this book in your classes.

Another set of activities possible using this work.


Valerie Fournoy

Brief Bio on Fournoy


Jerry Pinkney

Bio of Jerry Pinkney

Bio information on Jerry Pinkney and his art.

Words and Images: The Narrative works of the Pinkneys.

Interview with Gloria and Jerry Pinkney.


Woodson, Jacqueline.  Ill. by Earl B. Lewis.  2001. The Other Side. G. P. Putnam and Sons.


For ages 4-8.  But dont stop there. This is a great book for any age group.  

ISBN:  0399231161


This story about race issues is for everyone, young and old.  The children in the story tell the truth about history and what life has been like in the U. S. for African Americans. One major character in the story: the fence physically reminds us of the reality of the separation of races, and what some people have always felt about that. Two children, one black and one white grapple with adult issues that they dont quite understand. Both are warned of the dangers of crossing the other side of the fence, but both are too curious about each other and about why one shouldnt move over the fence to leave the possibility alone. Their compromise is to sit on the fence, perhaps until the day that the fence itself can be torn down.


This incredible story is illustrated by Earl B. Lewis. Hes done the realistic scenes in watercolor, from the opening pictures of houses divided by a fence line, to the final wonderful scene of children lined up along the top of the fence. The illustrations begin with a young black girl in a tire swing on one side of the fence and a white girl with red hair on the other side of the fence just watching. The girls watch each other but dont approach. Another scene has the two girls pass by each other while they are both in town. They stop to stare at each other and both are told by their mothers that its not polite to stare, but neither child gets the opportunity to talk to the other. It is very clear that they are both fascinated by each other and would like to talk, to get to know one another.  Finally, after one rainy day both girls venture close enough to the fence to talk to each other. The white girl (Annie) has always been willing to lean on or climb up on the fence but until this moment Clover has not. As they talk they discover that they have both been warned not to go to the other side, but neither has been told not to sit on the fence. On this day Clover and Annie sit on top of the fence together while Clovers friends play beyond the fence. Clovers mother sees them sitting on the fence, but does not tell Clover she cant sit up there with her new friend.


One day Clover finally asks her friends if she and Annie can play with them, and the illustrations show all the children playing together. The next to the last two-page spread is a full illustration rather than the page illustrations Lewis has been using throughout the story. This scene is a drawing of all of the children seated together on top of the fence. The last conversation that goes with the illustration is an exchange between Clover and Annie: Annie says: Someday somebodys going to come along and knock this old fence down.---Clover says: Yeah, Someday!  Perhaps leaving us all with a hopeful possibility of the future.

Amazons link with reviews from publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and a number of individual readers.

Amazons Link to The Other Side with Reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.


Woodson, Jacqueline. 1997.  The House You Pass On the Way. New York: Delacorte Press.


ISBN:  0142501913


In The House You Pass On The way, Woodson weaves an intricate story  in simple  clear sometimes poetic language about complex  issues. In the House you pass on the way she focuses on a teenage girl named Evangeline who goes by the name Staggerlee. By virtue of her birth to interracial parents her life is full of complications. But this story focuses on a brief summer of growth and change. While dealing with not fitting fully into all the worlds she has a foot in, she finds out that she has a cousin she hasnt met. In an attempt at re-uniting family members she is instrumental in getting her cousin to come for a visit. During their time together, Staggerlee begins to consider her sexuality, and deal with her attraction to her cousin.


In Staggerlee, Woodson captures that sense of aloneness that everyone faces at some point in time. She gives Staggerlee the personal space to grapple with the issues of her life, and her realizations about her sexuality, then gives her Trout: a person who is both like her, and not like her. Trout gives Staggerlee permission to explore tough issues like her attraction to Hazel, and her growing attraction to what her cousin represents, that perfect person just like us to talk to. Trout is someone who does not judge Staggerlee, perhaps because she is in a similar place herself. Staggerlee is finally able to share her feelings, even if only for one moment in time. There is no happy ending, but there is a very real and somewhat hopeful ending to the story.


By the end of the story many events have occurred in Staggerlees life. She has begun a path to reconnection with family. She also learns something else about herself: she may have been just as responsible for putting people off as others in the town were for leaving her out of things. With this new realization, Staggerlee, may be returning to school with a new attitude about her connections to other classmates, and a new understanding of the need to work on those relationships from her end as well.




Amazons Link with reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.
First review is of The House You Pass On the Way

Reviews of THYPOTW from Booklist, Kirkus and Horn Book.

biography of Jacqueline Woodson

Interview done by Scholastic students.

lesson plans and activities