On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman

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on the run

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City
Author: Alice Goffman
Published: May 1, 2014 by University Of Chicago Press

Summary: Forty years in, the War on Drugs has done almost nothing to prevent drugs from being sold or used, but it has nonetheless created a little-known surveillance state in America’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance techniques criminalize entire blocks, and transform the very associations that should stabilize young lives—family, relationships, jobs—into liabilities, as the police use such relationships to track down suspects, demand information, and threaten consequences.

Alice Goffman spent six years living in one such neighborhood in Philadelphia, and her close observations and often harrowing stories reveal the pernicious effects of this pervasive policing. Goffman introduces us to an unforgettable cast of young African American men who are caught up in this web of warrants and surveillance—some of them small-time drug dealers, others just ordinary guys dealing with limited choices. All find the web of presumed criminality, built as it is on the very associations and friendships that make up a life, nearly impossible to escape. We watch as the pleasures of summer-evening stoop-sitting are shattered by the arrival of a carful of cops looking to serve a warrant; we watch—and can’t help but be shocked—as teenagers teach their younger siblings and cousins how to run from the police (and, crucially, to keep away from friends and family so they can stay hidden); and we see, over and over, the relentless toll that the presumption of criminality takes on families—and futures.

While not denying the problems of the drug trade, and the violence that often accompanies it, through her gripping accounts of daily life in the forgotten neighborhoods of America’s cities, Goffman makes it impossible for us to ignore the very real human costs of our failed response—the blighting of entire neighborhoods, and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.

Review: Inspired by a college course in her sophomore year, Alice Goffman seeks an ethnographic experience in inner-city Philadelphia. She gets a part-time job tutoring an African American girl, Aisha, and soon befriends the boys of 6th Street (pseudonym). Mike adopts her as a younger sister, and she comes to live with these boys—studying their every move. This quality piece of ethnographic research is a page turner. While it reads a bit more like a book than a scholarly publication, readers can glean her methodological approach through the footnotes. Goffman’s mission is clear. She wants readers to understand the inequities these African American boys of 6th Street face, and she shows how the criminal justice system (both law enforcement and the justice/prison system) are not working. I was ashamed at the actions of the police, specifically, and think this is very educational to readers of all ages, particularly in the wake of the racially based crimes that we consistently see in the news.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book is written for adults, but I think it would be very educational for high school students. I would use excerpts of this text to show students the realities of life on 6th Street in Philadelphia. It could be used to better understand crimes in the news, to teach inequity, to examine class issues, to understand the drug trade, and to fight racism. It would be eye-opening for students. While teaching this, I would also consider pairing it with Malcolm Gladwell’s review.

Discussion Questions: What can we do to stop the injustice of the court system? How is it flawed?; What role does race play in this text?; Was Goffman too close to the subjects of her ethnography? Do you think this affected her portrayal of 6th Street? What are the positives and negatives of this approach of qualitative study?

We Flagged: “To be on the run is a strange phrase for legally compromised people, because to be on the run is also to be at a standstill.”

“Thus, the great paradox of a highly punitive approach to crime control is that it winds up criminalizing so much of daily life as to foster widespread illegality as people work to circumvent it. Intensive policing and the crime it intends to control become mutually reinforcing. The extent to which crime elicits harsh policing, or policing itself contributes to a climate of violence and illegality, becomes impossible to sort out.”

Read This If You Loved: Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor M. Rios; The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander 

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Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles (Ricki’s Review)

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Freedom Summer
Author: Deborah Wiles; Illustrator: Jerome Lagarrigue
Published: January 1, 2005 by Aladdin

Summary: 

John Henry swims better than anyone I know.
He crawls like a catfish,
blows bubbles like a swamp monster,
but he doesn’t swim in the town pool with me.
He’s not allowed. 

Joe and John Henry are a lot alike. They both like shooting marbles, they both want to be firemen, and they both love to swim. But there’s one important way they’re different: Joe is white and John Henry is black, and in the South in 1964, that means John Henry isn’t allowed to do everything his best friend is. Then a law is passed that forbids segregation and opens the town pool to everyone. Joe and John Henry are so excited they race each other there…only to discover that it takes more than a new law to change people’s hearts.

Review: I rarely review picture books or texts that weren’t published recently. For me, the blog is a place for me to highlight newer books (whenever possible). I love picture books, but Kellee often reviews them, and I love young adult literature, so those are often the titles I review. After I read this book, I couldn’t wait to blog about it because it is easily one of the best picture books I have ever read and is worthy of the praise it receives. Set in the 1960s South, this moving, lyrical text depicts the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of a child who just wants to adventure with his friend. The messages are powerful, and I plan to purchase it to read again and again with my son. After we read this as a family, my husband and I wondered if it was a work of nonfiction because it felt so very real to us. 

You can view Kellee’s review of Freedom Summer here.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The most obvious choice would be to use this text to teach about diversity, discrimination or the Civil Rights Movement. I would also love to pair this with The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. Students would find great value in comparing and contrasting the imagery and messages of these two texts. I could also see it being paired with texts like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. More than anything, this is a book about the power of friendship.

Discussion Questions: How do these boys view their world differently from the adults around them?; Why might the author have chosen to end the text the way she does? What message does it send?; How do the illustrations support the readers’ understanding of the text?

We Flagged: 

“John Henry’s skin is the color of

browned butter.

He smells like pine needles after a

good rain.

My skin is the color of the pale

moths that dance around the porch

light at night.

John Henry says I smell like a just-washed sock.

‘This means war!’ I shout.”

Read This If You Loved: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack

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brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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brown girl dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Published: August 28, 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. 
 
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
 
Praise for Jacqueline Woodson:
Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.”—The New York Times Book Review

Ricki’s Review: This beautifully poignant book in verse captured my heart. I was swept away in the beauty of Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical memories. This is a book that will embrace readers, wrapping them in Woodson’s childhood in the stormy 1960s. I couldn’t help but read and reread portions of the text–for every few pages that I read, I needed to flip back and relive the beauty of the previous verses. I will cherish this book, reading it again and again, for every word feels intentional and every memory vivid. brown girl dreaming is timeless, and it is universal. Above all, this book will give readers insight–unfolding the experiences of a “brown” child living during the heat of the civil rights movement; a young girl growing up in a house that identifies as Jehovah’s Witnesses; and a young writer, struggling to find the perfect words to reveal the truth. It will touch the hearts of readers of all backgrounds and ages in its messages of family, friendship, strength, and hope.

Kellee’s Review: Wow. I often worry about reading a book that has a lot of hype around it because I fear that I will not love it as much as others do. I should not have been worried about this book. It is beautiful. As Ricki said, I found myself rereading portions of the text just because of how well the verse flowed. By the end of this book, you will wish that you were Woodson’s friend and that you you could write as well as she does. The stories she tells are so true and heartfelt that you live her life along with her through the pages. You experience with her the hardship of growing up in the 1960s and 70s during the Civil Rights movement; the challenge of religion and finding the truth in it; the loss, addition, and conflict of family and everything that comes with these changes; and trying to find an identity as a person, sister, daughter, student and a writer. It is only a truly powerful, well-written book that can make you feel all of these elements.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Writers will feel inspired by Woodson’s verse, and it would make an excellent mentor text for students to learn more about themselves and their own childhoods. We would suggest pairing passages with “I Am From” poems for students to be inspired to write verse memoirs of their own experiences. The figurative language and detail of this text make it a phenomenal resource for teachers, and we would find great value in close readings of Woodson’s intentional use of words and phrasing.

Discussion Questions: How does Jacqueline Woodson come to find herself? What are the strongest influences on her identity?; In what ways does Woodson show the power of family? How do Woodson’s siblings impact her decisions?; What role does history play in this book?; In what ways does Woodson manipulate words, phrasing, and white space? How does this influence your reading?

We Flagged: 

“Then I let the stories live
inside my head, again and again
until the real world fades back
into cricket lullabies
and my own dreams.” (p. 99)

“Sometimes, she pulls a chair to the window, looks
down over the yard.

The promise of glittering sidewalks feels a long time
behind us now, no diamonds anywhere to be found.

But some days, just after snow falls,
the sun comes out, shines down on the promise
of that tree from back home joining us here.

Shines down over the bright white ground.

And on those days, so much light and warmth fills
the room
that it’s hard not to believe
in a  little bit

of everything.”  (p. 285)

Please Note: The above excerpts are from advanced reader copies. The wording and punctuation may be different in the published text. Our blog interface does not allow us to accurately capture the indentions, but we wanted you to see the beauty of Woodson’s language.

Read This If You Loved: Other books by Jacqueline Woodson, The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon, Sold by Patricia McCormick, Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis, Gaither Sisters (series) by Rita Williams- Garcia, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, The Silence of our Friends by Mark Long

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Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

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Title: Rose under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Expected Publication: September 10th, 2013 by Miramax (Disney)

Summary: While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Review: Out of the thousands of books I’ve read, this one is going to sit among my all-time favorites. There is a phenomenal balance of history and narrative that will engage readers while offering harrowing lessons in history. I am not an air and space girl. My husband loves planes, and he was giddy when we went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. As much as I want to love planes, I don’t find them to be interesting. This book changed my outlook.

Rose under Fire has many similarities with Wein’s Code Name Verity. They are both written in an epistolary format, involve pilots/airplanes, and are set during World War II. Both offer wonderfully complex themes about friendship, loyalty, and the strength of women. However, Rose under Fire focuses more on concentration camps, while Code Name Verity dealt more with the interrogation techniques used during World War II. Neither of these two elements drove the novels, but they are two plot features that make the texts quite different from one other. I found CNV to be a bit slow in the beginning (which isn’t the case with all readers), but I was hooked to Rose under Fire from the very first page. Wein writes characters so vividly that I still feel their presence in my life, long after I finish the books. I recommend this book to everyone. It will appeal to readers of all ages, backgrounds, genders, and interest levels.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Teachers, this is a MUST-HAVE book. It is phenomenally written and shows the truly complexity of young adult literature. It can be used to teach elements like setting, character, dialogue, the epistolary format, imagery, voice, and theme. Students might write letters back to Rose, or they could analyze one of the many well-developed characters in this story. It would also make for a great research unit of topics like the Nuremberg Trials, female WWII pilots, flying bombs, or the experimentation on Holocaust prisoners. History teachers will also find this text to be invaluable.

Discussion Questions: What loyalties did the Holocaust prisoners have for each other? What are some examples of incidents that showed this loyalty?; Why were the Rabbits so important to the concentration camp? What did they add to the story as a whole?; How does Maddie’s friendship with Rose differ from her friendship with Julie?; Why was Nick’s character important throughout the story? How does his level of importance change, and why?; Rose has very different friendships with many of the characters. Describe how three of these friendships differ from one another.; Does the novel end in a hopeful way? Why or why not?

We Flagged: I marked so many passages that it is hard to choose just a few, so I selected two longer quotes that show the quality of Wein’s writing.

Incredible Imagery:

“…and the reason everyone in there was trying to get out in the rain was because they were dying of thirst.

Really dying of it, I think.

Hands and arms and heads stuck out anywhere there was a gap—cupped hands collecting rainwater, some holding bowls or even just a piece of cloth to collect moisture—I saw one woman lying on her back with her hair in the black cinder mud at the tent’s edge, her mouth open, letting a rivulet of water stream down the canvas and into her mouth.”

And Beautiful Figurative Language:

“Hope—you think of hope as a bright thing, a strong thing, sustaining. But it’s not. It’s the opposite. It’s simply this: lumps of stale bread stuck down your shirt. Stale gray bread eked out with ground fish bones, which you won’t eat because you’re going to give it away, and maybe you’ll get a message through to your friend. That’s all you need.

God, I was hungry.”

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. The e-book (a galley) did not provide page or chapter numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, Night by Elie Wiesel

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Thank you to NetGalley and Disney for sending me the Advanced Reader Copy!

Real Justice: Convicted for Being Mi’kmaq: The Story of Donald Marshall Jr. by Bill Swan

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NF PB 2013

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book). Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

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Real Justice: Convicted for being Mi’kmaq: The Story of Donald Marshall Jr.
Author: Bill Swan
Expected Publication: September 1st, 2013 by James Lorimer & Company

Summary: This book is part of the Real Justice series by James Lorimer & Company that shed light on young people who are wrongfully convicted of crimes. Donald Marshall Jr. spent eleven years in prison for a crime he never committed. He was the eldest son of the Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaw Nation, and racism certainly played a role in his conviction. It was a late night in Wentworth Park when Sandy Seale, a black teen, and Donald Marshall Jr. are waved over by two drunk men wanting cigarettes. One of the men stabs Sandy Seale in the side, and Donald Marshall Jr. runs for help. What he doesn’t know is that the police won’t believe his story, and they will do anything they can to convict him of the Seale’s death.

Review: I enjoyed the journalistic format of this book. Swan does an excellent job researching and depicting the facts of the case. He goes into depth when in his description of each witness’s story, and the reader gets a comprehensive background of the crime scene, investigation, and trial. As a Micmac Indian (the American version of this tribe), I was very interested in this story. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed that aside from the comments about racism and a brief note toward the end of the book, there wasn’t much information about the Mi’kmaq Indians. I completely understand this, as the author chose to focus more on the investigation and trial, but I was secretly craving more information about Donald Marshall Jr.’s life background and customs. This text would make for a great nonfiction text to use in the classroom.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I love teaching nonfiction units because there is so much variety. Teachers can offer myriad choices of memoirs and informational nonfiction for students to do research. After reading this story, students might research more about the case (if any other information is available) or they could compare and contrast this case with another example of injustice, particularly one that was impacted by racism. I have a feeling that students, like me, will want to research more about Marshall’s culture or the racial imbalance that existed at the time of the crime. I could also see this being paired with Black and White by Paul Volponi, an example of realistic fiction that also deals with injustice due to racism.

Discussion Questions: Does racism still exist today? In what ways did it impact the crime, investigation, and trial? What injustices did you see?; Do you think Marshall should have been compensated more for his eleven years in jail?; How does Marshall show incredible strength throughout his ordeal?

We Flagged: “‘Know what I think?’ MacIntyre added, as though on cue. ‘I think Marshall’s description of some old guy is a crock. The whole thing likely happened when that Indian, fueled up with fire water, got in an argument with the black kid'” (Chapter 5).

“When the reality hit [Donald Marshall Jr.], he cried the tears of childhood” (Chapter 15).

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. Chapter numbers are included instead of page numbers because the e-reader did not provide page numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos, Black and White by Paul Volponi, other books in the Real Justice series, other books about Law and Order

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