Book Review: Dear America: With the Might of Angels, The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson (Hadley, Virginia 1954) by Andrea Davis Pinkney

with-the-might-of-angels-by-andrea-davis-pinkney-on-bookdragon-800x1135Meet Dawnie Rae, “Dear America”‘s first 20th century African American heroine, a vibrant and indestructible girl. Dawnie is bright and dreams of becoming a doctor, but she lives in the midst of Jim Crow Virginia in the 1950s, where blacks are segregated from whites, given a much poorer education than in white schools, and have very few opportunities for progress and equality in the South. When Dawnie tests at the top of her class at the African American kids’ school, Bethune, she is eligible to integrate into the white school, Prettyman Coburn, given the recent rulings of Brown v. Board of Education, which deems segregation unconstitutional. As the only black girl in a white school in a town steeped in racism and segregation, she and her family are met with much hatred, prejudice, and violence, not only from white segregationists, teachers and classmates, but even from fellow African American parishioners at her church, who now consider her “uppity” and “too good for the rest of us.”

Dawnie’s narration is among the most animated and humorous of the series. She is every shade of proud, dignified, sarcastic, emotional, fearless, sharp, and kind-hearted; her three-dimensional personality tangibly leaps from the pages. Another refreshing aspect about Dawnie is that she is the first “DA” narrator who is described as having “meat on the bones” or “gristle,” and being “sturdy” and “big-boned;” I am glad the series finally chose to incorporate a bigger girl into its circle of narrators. Along with Dawnie are her loving and supportive parents, who run a laundry business, and her autistic brother who has a fondness for peanuts, causing the family to affectionately call him “Goober.” Much later in the story, we also meet Dawnie’s first white friend, an unforgettably funny, vivacious, and splendid Jewish girl named Gertie. This book is an excellent addition to the series and was a joy to read.

Book Review: Dear America: The Fences Between Us, The Diary of Piper Davis (Seattle, Washington 1941) by Kirby Larson

0-545-22418-7This is one of my favorite DA reading experiences. Piper lives with her father, a preacher, and her brother and sister. There are many Japanese Americans in her neighborhood and school, and her church is mostly Japanese. But after Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, life begins to change for Piper, as now she is considered suspicious and a traitor for associating with her Japanese friends and her father’s congregation, even though they are American citizens. And then, to her horror, her beloved Japanese American friends and neighbors are unjustly forced from their homes into internment facilities.

Meanwhile, Piper’s brother joins the military and each day she worries for him and waits for a letter from him. Her older sister, a grown woman engaged to be married and busy with pharmaceutical school, soon falls out of the picture as Piper relocates with her father to live near the place where their Japanese friends have been relocated, so that her father can continue to minister to them, bring them food and goods, and to do what he knew to be right even in the face of adversity. One memorably frightening scene includes a man in their new neighborhood who knows they are ministering to the confined Japanese, and who stalks them and threatens them for a time, believing them to be traitors.

This book contains much dramatic character development, more than in most DA books. Piper starts out as a schoolgirl with a crush on a boy, resenting being a “PK” (Preacher’s Kid), and absorbed in school dances and the like… but she eventually abandons her childishness, realizes what is really important– helping her Japanese friends and doing what is right, despite what others think–, and she learns to respect and appreciate her father’s noble actions and character, despite what it cost her socially, materially, and emotionally. Also evident in this book are other subplots, such as Piper’s love for photography. I was saddened only slightly by the epilogue, because she did not marry whom I would have preferred her to, but above all, this is a wonderful new addition to the DA series.

Book Review: Dear America: Color Me Dark, The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, The Great Migration North (Chicago, Illinois 1919) by Patricia McKissack

colormeNellie Lee Love lives with her family at their undertaking business in the Corners of Tennessee. The Loves are a close-knit family, and Nellie is especially close with her sister, who is the same age as her most of the year, Erma Jean. One interesting character aspect in this book is that Erma Jean loves words and poetry, and Nellie prefers numbers, often fittingly filling her diary with number games. All seems to be going well until the girls’ Uncle Pace dies a brutal, mysterious death. Erma Jean stops speaking, and their father decides to relocate the girls, their mother, and his undertaking business to Chicago, where it was believed African Americans would be safer from the racist crimes and killings, and from groups like the KKK, down South. However, the family arrives to Chicago only to find that there is just as much racism– murders, rioting– and a new form of classism between blacks, up North.

Many of twelve-year-old Nellie’s entries were about her parents’ activism, politics, historical crimes and riots that occurred, and references to many famous African American activists, writers, and historical figures and their works. The historical note in the back was the longest and most extensive I’ve seen yet, complete with detailed bios of the many notable African American figures throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries mentioned in the dairy. I found Nellie and her family to be lovable characters.

Book Review: Dear America: The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, A Navajo Girl (New Mexico, 1864) by Ann Turner

sorrowThis is a sad story about the forced relocation and concentration of the Navajo people, who were forced to leave their homes and walk hundreds of miles in the snow, many dying on the way. The book is sad from start to finish. I do remember one scene in which a soldier takes a liking to the main character. Like all of the DA books, it is hard to put down. This was a particularly tragic chapter in American history.