children's fiction · middle grade

The Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson


I started reading The Seeds of America Trilogy during the Thanksgiving holiday, and although I’m not done with this series, I had to share because it’s beautifully written and passionately explores the irony of a country trying to free itself while at the same time denying freedom to so many.

Chains is the first book in Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Seeds of America Trilogy. Chains begins when the protagonist, Isabel Finch, an African American slave, and her sister are wrongfully sold by her late-master’s brother to a wealthy Loyalist couple, Eluhi Lockton and his cruel wife, Anne. The novel is predominantly set in New York City and due to Isabel’s rebel sympathies and her loyalist home, the reader is purview to a wide range of information and scenery from both sides of the revolutionary war. Isabel befriends a young slave, Curzon, who works for a patriot and enters the rebel army in place of his master with the hopes of earning his freedom.

Curzon is the narrator of the second story, Forge, which is set in Valley Forge and explores the difficulties faced there by the Revolutionary Army as well as the difficulties specific to Curzon, a young black man. There’s a passage in Forge where Curzon is trying to explain to his friend and fellow soldier, Eben, the mistreatment of black people and slaves in America which I found particularly relevant to the way that systemic racism is pervasive in modern day America.

“Let me ask you something. We’re fighting for freedom, right?” I picked my words carefully. “So why is that man allowed to own Baumfree and Bett?”

“Well,” he said slowly, “we’re fighting for our freedom. Not theirs.” He crossed his arms, uncrossed them, put his hands on his belt and crossed his arms again. “Nobody in my family owns slaves, you know.”

“That is not the point. Do you think only white people can be free?”

“Of course not. There are plenty of free blacks, like you and those other fellows in Saratoga and Albany. We had a family two villages over from mine, they were all free black people.”

“But the colonel’s slaves are not allowed to be free.”

He frowned. “They can’t be free, Curzon. They’re slaves. Their master decides for them.”

“What if they ran away?”

“Then they’d be breaking the law.”

“Bad laws deserve to be broken.”

“Don’t talk like that!” He kicked a rock deep into the field. “You want to get in trouble? Laws have to be followed or else you go to the jail.”

“What if a king made bad laws; laws so unnatural that a country broke them by declaring its freedom?”

He threw his arms in the air. “Now you are spouting nonsense. Two slaves running away from their rightful master is not the same as America wanting to be free of England. Not the same at all.”

[. . . . ]

“If you were that tall fellow back there,” I asked, “wouldn’t you want to be free to live your own life?”

“I don’t like talking about this,” he said. “But since you ask, no. If I were that fellow, I’d be happy for the food and clothes and good care my master gave me. I would know that God wanted me to be in bondage and I would not question His will.”

The wind blew down the narrow strip of dirt between us, sending dust into the air and giving me the answer I needed.

“You’re not my friend,” I said.

(Anderson, Forge, 65-67)

The third and final book, Ashes, was released earlier this year. I hope you find the series at your local independent bookstore, or Powell’s, or your local library. It’s a remarkable work of historical fiction by Laurie Halse Anderson.

children's fiction

Where’s the Elephant?


Barroux’s Where’s the Elephant? begins innocently enough as an image-search picture book— looking on each page for an elephant, a snake, and a bird. They’re camouflaged in the forest and initially pretty hard to find, but when parts of the forest are cut down it becomes easier to find the animals on the page as more of their forest is cleared.

Man-made structures: homes, roads, and larger buildings begin to creep into the cleared land until little wildlife is left.

Where’s the Elephant? is told primarily through vibrant images and with dramatic effect. Young readers can understand the images and the story being told. It’s an excellent example of deforestation and the consequences of urbanization for even the youngest reader.

You can find a copy of Where’s the Elephant? here, here, and here, or from your local library.

children's fiction

The Journey


The Journey by Italian author-illustrator Francesca Sanna, is an emotional and poignant picture book about a family forced to leave their war-torn home. Francesca Sanna does a beautiful job in telling and illustrating a story that shares so much of the refugee crisis that is currently reshaping western and world politics.

In her author’s note she says, “The Journey is actually a story about many journeys, and it began with the story of two girls I met in a refugee center in Italy. After meeting them I realized that behind their journey lay something very powerful. So I began collecting more stories of migration and interviewing many people from many different countries. A few months later, in September 2014, when I started studying a Master of Arts in Illustration at the Academy of Lucerne, I knew I wanted to create a book about these true stories. Almost every day on the news we hear the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ but we rarely ever speak to or hear the personal journeys that they have had to take. This book is a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.”

It is difficult to understand the complexities of politics and wars, but it is not difficult to understand basic human rights, which children so frequently excel at—understanding right from wrong, recognizing kindness or the absence of. The Journey is a testament to the physical and emotional hardships that come with fleeing your home. It provides an opportunity to share and discuss with children the complexities of the world, home and safety, and a reminder that we are all human.

You can find a copy of The Journey here and here, and your local library.

children's fiction

Let’s Talk About Race

letstalkaboutraceIf you’re black, brown, color of any kind then you’ve probably talked to your children about race already. It is part of living, but I think it’s something that is uncomfortable for white people to address, or figure out how to talk about, or something forever postponed to be taught by a teacher.

Am I generalizing? Of course. This picture book, Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester, provides an excellent framework for having that conversation, not only what race is and means, but also that there’s more to a person beyond that.

Just as I am a story and you are a story

and countries tell stories

about themselves, race is a story, too.

Whether you’re black like me or Asian, Hispanic

or white, each race has a story about itself.

And that story is almost always the same:


Some stories are true. Some are not.

Those who say


are telling a story that is not true.

I’m having a hard time holding myself accountable to the kind of person I want my children to be. I’m very angry and frustrated with the political climate and feel like every new appointment is a slap in the face. The message in this book is one of empathy and peace.

Do I look at you and think I know your story

when I don’t even know your name?

Or, do I look at you and wonder:

What’s your name?

When were you born?

Where were you born?

Where do you live?

What do you like?

What don’t you like?

Gee, maybe we like and dislike

some of the same things.

You can find a copy of Let’s Talk About Race here, here, and from your library here.

children's fiction

The Chickens Build a Wall

The Chickens Build a WallHave you ever had the pleasure of watching chickens strut around? They scratch and dig in the dirt. They eat literally everything trying to grow. And if there’s a strange noise or anything out of the ordinary, those poor little chickens freeze or find a bush to hide under immediately. They’re fearful little biddies, and the perfect animals to build a wall when a strange looking hedgehog shows up in the hen yard.

Jean-François Dumont is the author and illustrator of this gem of a book. The book comes together very cleanly, but it gives our children hope, and maybe hope is what they need when we try to explain why on earth someone would want to build a wall to shut people out. When we take the time to look at our similarities rather than our differences there is arguably less to fear. And so many of the issues we face and the lies that have been told rely on fear. Let’s move beyond fear. Let’s show our children the way.

Check your local library for a copy, your local bookstore, Powell’s, or Amazon.