Walk Two Moons – Sharon Creech

walktwomoonsReading level: 4.9

Genre: Realistic fiction, mystery

ELL-Friendly: Mostly

Library recommendation: Middle school

This book was read to my 3rd grade class many years ago, so as I re-read it, bits and pieces of plots and characters came back to me. Yet the ending caught me off guard; I really didn’t see it coming (which I suppose was kind of obvious for someone who hadn’t even read the book), and then crying ensued.

It’s quite a beautiful story of loss, friendship, love, and family. As Salamanca narrates her story as well as her friend Phoebe’s, she comes to understand herself. I really disliked Phoebe because she was just not a likeable character, but Sal likes her because Sal knows what’s it’s like to be in her shoes. That’s a good lesson for anyone: don’t judge a man till you have walked two moons in his moccasins.

The “love” between Sal and Ben is just precious – awkward, beautiful, teenage love. And nothing too graphic to¬† keep the book off the school shelves! Yay! Or, as Gram would say, “Huzza, huzza.”

Sal is part Native American/Indian and there are bits throughout the book about various Native American controversies. At once point, Sal mentions that if a Native were to demand that the land they were on was his, she would give it back…because it belonged to the Natives. At one tourist town, she explains how the Natives prefer to be called Indians and how a place with the word “Injun” was crossed out and re-written to say “Indian.”

Sal gleams over these bits because she is young and it’s not something she’s focused on, but there is much that students could discuss and write about. Walk Two Moons could also be an excellent mentor text because there are two stories happening at once that are separate yet come together at the end.

The book is basically ELL-friendly except there’s quite a bit of colloquialisms like “catching fish in the air.” If the book were read as a class, those phrases could be explained. I would worry about ELLs reading the book without some oversight. Perhaps the teacher could tell the student to write down any phrase she didn’t understand (give some examples) and turn it into a mini-assignment about guessing and researching what those phrases mean. Gramps pronounces words in interesting ways (carburetor becomes car-burn-ator or something) which might also through off some ELLs. But there’s not enough of those to hang students up and make them miss meaning.

I might recommend the book to a student who has moved or will move, or a student who has lost a family member. While the book is sad at the end, it’s all about Sal coping with the losses.

Starfish – James Crowley

starfish

Reading level: 6.9

Genre: Historical fiction

ELL-Friendly: Yes

Library recommendation: Middle school, although I’m keeping it off my shelves (see below)

I read this book about a year ago, and I don’t remember much except for being bored. Upon reading other reviews, I found that other people found it quite dull while others loved it. What concerns me isn’t whether the book is exciting (students can always stop reading and find another book) but the historical inaccuracies that it apparently has. Not many reviewers commented on the book being factually inaccurate, but some people did, and that’s enough to get my attention. I mean, the book is published by Disney (which publishes books, now?), and we all know how well Disney does with historical facts.

The story follows the adventures (using “adventures” very loosely here) of two Blackfoot Natives (Lionel and Beatrice, brother and sister) as they flee their boarding school/reservation. The story opens with a frozen, drunken Native. While alcoholism among Natives is “epidemic” as Sherman Alexie has said, it is also rather insensitive to open the book with this image. But that’s up for debate.

What I don’t want is Native students reading the book and being upset due to inaccuracies. And I don’t want parents being mad at me, either. What are the lies in this story? I don’t know. I really have no clue, and I doubt many students will know, either. This lady goes into detail in her blog, if you are so inclined.

I think I’ll be donating this book to the library so that it doesn’t find its way into my classroom. It doesn’t sound like this book has the endorsements from any Native community or any Native reader I could find on the Internet. It also has a scene where the young kids get drunk. Again with the “drunken Indian” stereotypes. Okay, that’s enough. Not in my classroom. Lastly, according to my vague memory and several online reviewers, the plot just stops after a while. Not problem = no plot = not interesting.

Here is a link to a list of age-appropriate books about American Natives (I avoid using the word “Indians” unless it is in reference to people from India). Or search the Internet for “American Indians in Children’s Literature.”