THE JOURNAL OF BIDDY OWENS

THE NEGRO LEAGUES

Biddy Owens, 17, “equipment manager, scorekeeper, errand boy, and sometimes right fielder” for the Birmingham Black Barons, narrates in diary form the twilight time of the Negro Leagues. This solid entry in the “My Name Is America” series must cover a lot of ground—Jim Crow laws, the beginnings of civil-rights unrest, the integration of the major leagues, adolescent yearnings (soft-pedaled), and baseball, baseball, baseball—but Myers (Bad Boy, above, etc.) handles it all with relative ease. There is rather more exposition of life in the South than would likely have appeared in a contemporary journal, but this is not too intrusive and is quickly overshadowed by Biddy’s agreeable voice as he weighs a baseball career (unlikely, given his admittedly limited ability) against going to college. Biddy’s family comes to life as honestly as the historical figures he works with on a day-to-day basis. Baseball legends Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron all make cameo appearances, but the characters who dominate are those whose careers largely ended with the Negro Leagues: the 1948 Black Barons, led by second baseman and manager Piper Davis, whose fierce determination to win carries the team—and the reader—through a grueling pennant race to what was to become the last Negro League World Series. The tale is suffused with pride and affection for these first-class ballplayers who labored as second-class citizens, and with a real wistfulness at the passing of an era. Rich historical context, fully realized characters, great baseball action, and trademark Myers humor combine to make this one a homerun. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-09503-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A voyage both singular and universal, marked by sharply felt risks and rewards and deep waters beneath.

NORTHWIND

A solitary young traveler paddles through an archipelago of natural, often dangerous, wonders, learning as he goes.

Though the metaphorical layer lies barely beneath the surface in this short novel, Paulsen’s spare prose and legendary knowledge of the challenges and techniques of wilderness survival make the journey through a landscape that evokes historical Scandinavia compelling reading. Sole survivor—and that just barely—of the gruesomely depicted cholera that sweeps through his camp, 12-year-old Leif comes away with a dugout canoe, a few basic outdoor skills, and the command from a dying, respected elder to head north. Subsisting largely on blackberries and salmon, he travels a winding route through fjords and a seemingly endless string of islets and inlets where he finds both danger and delight in searching for food and shelter, literally coming face to face with bears and whales, struggling to survive a deadly tidal whirlpool, and coming to understand the importance of seeing and learning from the ways and rhythms of “this place and all places that will come to me.” Calling on memories, Paulsen writes in an autobiographical afterword of his Norwegian immigrant grandmother’s tales. References to Odin and whalers give the setting a timelessly folkloric feeling. Final art not seen.

A voyage both singular and universal, marked by sharply felt risks and rewards and deep waters beneath. (Historical adventure. 9-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-31420-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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