The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas and Floyd Cooper

Captain’s Log: Module 4

Port of Call: Thomas, J.C. (2008). The blacker the berry. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

First Lines: Colors, without black,

couldn’t sparkle quite so bright…

Cover of The Blacker the Berry

Summary:

This book is a collection of poems about skin color but truly are also about embracing who we are and what heritage has made us. Each poem speaks of our skin in vocabulary overflowing with  colors and tastes and smells. The poems are tied to a common theme of fruit/food as in, “I am red raspberries stirred in to blackberries”. And the ultimate message is that we are so much more than just the color of our skin, eyes and hair.

The poems are of medium length, and are accompanied by a full page illustration that portrays the character who is the topic of each poem. I thought every poem was lovely, skillfully crafted so that the book was interesting, vibrant, easy to read and full of sensory language that really made you feel the essence of each poem/person.

First Impressions: I’m not a big fan of reading poetry, so this book intimidated me a bit before I opened it. However, I was sucked in with the first few lines and flew through the poems in one sitting. I also loved the illustrations and spent time looking at each picture and picking out the elements that were representative of the poems they accompanied.

Suggestions for use: This is a book about celebration. This book’s message will most likely resonate loudest with African American children, but truly its message of acceptance and individuality can be a powerful message to all ethnic groups. I liked that this book taught the beauty that exists within all of us, and how we can wear our skin proudly and feel comfortable in who we are. Read this book to children who may feel they are not beautiful, and help them to point out the ways in which they are incredibly wonderful and special.

Reviews:

School Library Journal:

“Grade 1–4—The varieties of African-American ethnic heritage are often rendered invisible by the rigid construction of racial identity that insists on polarities. This collection of 12 poems makes the complexities of a layered heritage visible and the many skin shades celebrated. Read-aloud-sized spreads offer luminous artwork that complements the verses in which children speak of their various hues: “I am midnight and berries…” a child says in the title poem. In another selection, a boy recalls his Seminole grandmother who has given him the color of “red raspberries stirred into blackberries.” In “Cranberry Red,” a child asserts that “it’s my Irish ancestors/Who reddened the Africa in my face,” understanding that “When we measure who we are/We don’t leave anybody out.” The large illustrations match the lyrical poetry’s emotional range. Cooper’s method includes “pulling” the drawing out from a background of oil paint and glazes. With his subtractive method, he captures the joy of these children—the sparkle of an eye, the width of a grin, the lovely depths of their skin, and the light that radiates from within. This book complements titles that explore identity, such as Katie Kissinger’s All the Colors We Are (Redleaf, 1994).”

Pfeifer, T. (2008) School Library Journal Review for The Blacker the Berry. Retrieved September 9th, 2010 from http://www.amazon.com/Blacker-Notable-Childrens-Books-Readers/dp/0060253754.

Golem by David Wisniewski

Captain’s Log: Module 3

Port of Call: Wisniewski, D. (1996). Golem. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

First Lines: Within the beautiful city of Prague, fierce hatreds have raged for a thousand years. People of differing beliefs in God and nation have clashed violently here: Czech against German, Protestant against Catholic, Christian against Jew.

The cover of Golem

Summary:

During a time when the Prague Jews are being persecuted by others a Jewish rabbi, Judah Loew ben Bezalel is searching for a way to bring relief to his people. He is given a dream in which a hand appears and writes the word ‘GOLEM’, a creature made from clay and brought to life with mystical Jewish words. Seeing this as a sign of an answer from God, Rabbi Loew sets out to make such a creature. He successfully brings the golem to life and charges it with protecting the Jews of the city from those who want to harm them. The golem is incredibly good at this task, and fiercely defends the Jews and destroys the attacking enemies. However, the golem is also a tragic figure, wistfully he just wants to watch the sunrise, and when the Jews are safe and the Rabbi prepares to disable the spell keeping the golem alive, the golem does not want to be turned back into clay. Nonetheless, he is dismantled with the promise that he will be brought back when the Jews need him once more.

First Impressions: Immediately I liked the heavy and dramatic illustration style of Golem. I also found the story to be intriguing as I had heard stories related to the myth of golems in other books. I did find parts of the book to be a bit scary or even depressing, so I wouldn’t recommend this book for very young children.

Other notes: The end of the book has a very informative section on the historical information this book was based on. This is a great resource for parents and children alike who want more information about the scenario described in Golem.

Suggestions for use: In addition to being a historical story, this book can also teach about the preciousness of life, the benefits and detriments of using another being as a ‘protector’, and the responsibility we have for the people in our care and our creations. This story could easily be a cautionary tale for anyone being persecuted or persecuting others.

Reviews:

Publishers Weekly:

“Elaborately composed cut-paper spreads give a 3D, puppet-show-like quality to a retelling of a Jewish legend. Rabbi Loew has a prophetic vision in 1580 when the Jews of Prague are accused of mixing the blood of Christian children into matzoh: he must create a Golem, “a giant of living clay, animated by Cabala, mystical teachings of unknown power.” Brought to life with apocalyptic explosions of steam and rain, the Golem seeks out the perpetrators of the Blood Lie and turns them over to the authorities. Thwarted, the enraged enemies of the Jews storm the gates of the ghetto, but the Golem grows to enormous height and violently defeats them with their own battering ram. Once his work is done, he pitifully (and futilely) begs the Rabbi: “Please let me live! I did all that you asked of me! Life is so… precious… to me!” Wisniewski (The Wave of the Sea Wolf) emphasizes the Golem’s humanity and the problems with his existence; instead of reducing the legend to a tale of a magical rescuer, the author allows for its historical and emotional complexity. The fiery, crisply layered paper illustrations, portraying with equal drama and precision the ornamental architecture of Prague and the unearthly career of the Golem, match the specificity and splendor of the storytelling. An endnote about the history and influence of the legend is particularly comprehensive. Ages 6-10. ”

Publishers Weekly (2006) Review of Golem retrieved September 9th, 2010 from http://www.amazon.com/Golem-Caldecott-Medal-David-Wisniewski/dp/0395726182.