Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson Mod. 2


Google Images


Nelson, Kadir. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Balzer + Bray: New York, 2011. ISBN 9780061730764

Plot Summary:

This book goes through the history of African Americans in America from slavery to the civil rights movement lead by Dr. King Jr.

Critical Analysis:

This book was wonderful to read through. It has a very light, conversational tone that will keep young readers engaged. The chapters are short and broken up by full page watercolor illustrations.

The book flows really smoothly, thanks to the light tone, so kids will have no trouble getting through it.

The whole book is told in a narrative from the point of view of a person in relation to their family history, and how the things that African Americans went through affected their family.

“Most folks my age and complexion don’t speak much about the past. Sometimes it’s just too hard to talk about- nothing we like to share with you young folk… Many of us are getting up in age and feel it’s time to make some things known before they are gone for good. So it’s important that you pay attention, honey, because I”m only gong to tell you this story but once.” (pg. 7)

I really enjoyed this and I learned a little more about events that had a dramatic effect on our country, and the people who helped make equality a reality (such as Adam Powell, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Medgar Evers.)

What is so significant about this work is that it is written through a personal lens. Four hundred years of African American history is told through an African American voice. The casual narration with “honey”  and “chile” thrown in gives a sense of sitting on the living room floor, listening to an elder in the family tell you stories.

“You might wonder, ‘Why didn’t they fight back?’ Chile, believe me when I tell you that they did, every step of the way; but unlike their fellow Africans who captured them, they didn’t have any guns to fight back with, so they fought with their fists and died.” (pg. 21)

The illustrations really bring the book to life. The burning cross is especially harrowing and chilling.

“It was their way of keeping us ‘in our place,’ wherever that was supposed to be. They couldn’t stand us trying to be equal to whites.” (pg. 45)

The truthfulness in the book is in the perspective of the African Americans and the historical content it covers. It’s heartbreaking, but instills pride in those in the African American community. It’s their history, their wars, their birthright.

“Our centuries-long struggle for freedom and equal rights had helped make the American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness a reality for all Americans. We have come a might long way, honey, and we still have a good ways to go, but that promise and the right to fight for it is worth ever ounce of its weight in gold. It is our nation’s heart and soul.”  (pg. 99)

Ending with a personable Author’s Note and a Timeline of Events, this book was a great read, one that was easy and educational.

Review Excerpts:

From Publishers Weekly:

“As in WE ARE THE SHIP, Nelson knits together the nation’s proudest moments with its most shameful, taking on the whole of African-American history. He handles this vast subject with easy grace. [Nelson’s] jaw-dropping portraits radiate determination and strength. A tremendous achievement.”

From Kirkus Review:

“The dramatic oil paintings heighten the dignity of this story, whether they are of well-known historical figures, common folk or landscape…This intimate narrative makes the stories accessible to young readers and powerfully conveys how personal this history feels for many African-Americans.”

From Booklist:

“Nelson…adds to his notable titles with this powerful view of African American history. Illustrated with 44 full-page paintings, this handsome volume is told in the fictionalized, informal voice of an African American senior looking back on her life and remembering what her elders told her.”


Other books by Kadir Nelson:

We Are the Ship ISBN 978-1437969535

Henry’s Freedom Box ISBN 978-0439777339

If You Plant a Seed ISBN 978-0062298898

Similar books:

What Color is My World? by Kareen Abdul-Jabbar ISBN 978-0763664428

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford ISBN 978-0786851751

Let it Shine by Andrea Davis Pinkney ISBN 978-0547906041

Journal Exercise:

Choose one of the events from the book and write a story from the point of view of someone your age going through it.


The Boys’ War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil War by Jim Murphy (Unit 8)


Google Images


Murphy, Jim. The Boys’ War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil War. Clarion Books: New York, 1990. ISBN 0899198937.

Plot Summary:

This book is the account of the children who fought in the Civil War. Some boys were as young as twelve years old.

Critical Analysis:

This book is very informative. I actually learned a few things about the Civil War that I didn’t know (for example, the boys being as young as twelve.)

The writing is okay. I wasn’t captured throughout the whole book, but it was well written. It was slow to read, but interesting. I’m sure it is easier for those who are civil war buffs.

The one thing I would’ve liked to see was citing and footnotes. I understand children don’t usually pay attention to those things, but they are important, and it’s important that children know that they should be used.

The strengths of this book are the use of primary sources and the sepia photographs. It makes it feel more real than just reading about it.

Review Excerpts: 

From Publishers Weekly:

“From first chapter (“So I Became a Soldier”) to last (“We’re Going Home”), this wrenching look at our nation’s bloodiest conflict through the eyes of its youthful participants serves up history both heartbreaking and enlightening.”

From School Library Journal:

“Their accounts bring to life, as no other versions can, the Civil War and all of its glories and horrors. An excellent selection of more than 45 sepia-toned contemporary photographs augment the text of this informative, moving work.”

From Kirkus Review:

“A survey of experiences of youths, 16 and under, fighting in the Civil War. Basing his chronological text on diaries and letters, Murphy covers battle experiences, training, camp life, medical treatment, and prison camps; a brief afterword provides a broader context of boys fighting in other wars and notes that the Civil War was the last one in which American boys were allowed to join the armed forces. The use of quotes from primary sources and the apt choice of well-reproduced photos (in sepia tones) are the strengths here. There’s a lot of information on soldiers’ daily lives, but little on the specific roles the boys played. Undistinguished writing, but useful.”

Received The Golden Kite Award Book from the Society of Children’s Book Writers 1991.


Other books on the Civil War:

Gettysburg: The True Account of Two Young Heroes in the Greatest Battle of the Civil War by Iain C. Martin ASIN: B00F21VXSU

A House Divided: The Lives of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee by Jules Archer ISBN 9781632207654

When Brother Fought Brother: The American Civil War by Carole Marsh ISBN 9780635023469

Other books by Jim Murphy:

Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting ISBN 9780545130493

Blizzard: The Storm that Changed America ISBN  9780590673099

The Giant and How He Humbugged America ISBN 9780439691840

Audacity by Melanie Crowder (Mod 3)


Google Images


Crowder, Melanie. Audacity. Speak: New York, 2015. ISBN 9780147512499

Plot Summary:

Clara Lemlich is a Russian Jewish immigrant living in New York City. She is forced to work in the garment factory to help support her family. When Clara realizes how horrendous the working conditions are, she works tirelessly to fight for women’s rights in the workplace. Inspired by a true story, this novel is about girl power and spirit.

Critical Analysis:

This is a beautiful and powerful novel of strength, determination, will, and fighting for justice. Insanely vivid and at times, heart breaking, this novel is a must read, especially for young women and men. Starting off in Russia, this novel makes you understand what it is like to be an immigrant. They travel across the world, facing the most heartbreaking changes on their way, only to realize that dreams are impossible, no matter where you live. Clara refuses to accept that as her reality. When she begins to understand the conditions they are placed in, she fights with courage to change things for the better.

The book flows beautifully. It is well paced and really touches its readers.

At the end of the book, there is a historical note for readers, explaining the real story of Clara Lemlich. I think that’s very important to include in historical novels. Knowing that it was real gives us faith and hope that we too can change the world.

Example Poem: 

(the man on the soapbox explains)
means no one is better than anyone else
everyone shares

the same rights
the same protection
the same opportunity

no matter their station
no matter their religion
no matter their gender.

At last!
I have a name for the ideas in my head.

He gives me pamphlets
invites me to lectures
asks questions
I do not yet
have answers for.

At last!
There is work for my mind in England.”

This excerpt is on page 87. I chose this passage, not because it’s particularly beautiful or rhythmic. I chose it because it is applicable to society, then, now, and forever. While we no longer have little girls working in unsuitable conditions in factories that are incredibly dangerous and get paid next to nothing with no benefits and no breaks, we have a lot of injustice in this world still. When I was trying to figure out who I was politically, socialist seemed to be the right term. A term that means justice. A term that means diversity. A term that means equality. You may or may not be a socialist, and that’s okay. The reason why this passage struck out at me, especially with the events of the past few months, we need the reminder that this is how it used to be, so it shouldn’t still be this way. And while the text may not be particularly poetic, the meaning is beautifully poetic.

Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L Holm Historical Fiction Book Review


Holm, Jennifer L. Our Only May Amelia. HarperCollins Children’s Books. New York, NY. 1999.

Plot Summary

May Amelia Jackson is considered a miracle. She is the first female born into her family. With seven older brothers, May Amelia grows up forgetting most of the time that she’s even a girl. She ends up being in a lot of trouble. To the point that her family starts putting pressure on her to become a Proper Young Lady.  She starts to realize that she is treated differently than her brothers. While May Amelia loves it, she hopes that her mother, who is pregnant again, will give birth to another girl so she’s not the only one.

Critical Analysis

 This book was really good. It was a fast paced book. There’s some wonky capitalization that I realize is the character’s voice, but is distracting as a reader. There’s also no quotations around dialogue, which is very annoying. I’m not sure if that was done on purpose (and if so, what purpose it served) or if it’s bad editing.

It’s historically accurate in that families were large, there were typically more males born than females, and children died often and frequently.

I do like the character May. I like her free spirit and her can do attitude. She can do anything a boy can, and shows it. I think it’s a great book for little girls to read. They could always do with more girl power.

Review Excerpts

Newbery Honor 2000

From Publishers Weekly: “Readers will fall in love with May Amelia’s spirited nature; when she saves her brothers from a cougar, she tells them, “I reckon it’s a Darn Good Thing I’m not a Proper Young Lady or you’d be a cougar’s supper right about now.” This novel is not to be missed.”

From Booklist: “The author bases her story on her aunt’s real diary, so the everyday details of life among Finnish immigrants add a nice specificity to the background, and May is appealingly vivacious. However, the lack of quotation marks, the overuse of certain expressions (among them, “indeed”), the length, and sometimes slow pacing may make this a secondary purchase.”


Other books by Jennifer L Holm:

Sunny Side Up ISBN 0545741661

Penny from Heaven ISBN 0375836896

Turtle in Paradise ISBN 037583690X

Other Historical Fiction books:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ISBN 0375842209

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys ISBN 014242059X

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Majorie Agosin ISBN 1416994025