Author: petermarino

Peter is an English professor at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, New York where he teaches writing, speech, and the occasional literature class. He won the SUNY Chancellor's Award in 2006 for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activity. His first young adult novel, Dough Boy, about a fat and self-conscious but very funny high school sophomore, was published by Holiday House in October 2005 and is now available in paperback. It was nominated for the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults in 2006. His latest young adult novel, also with Holiday House, is Magic and Misery, about a teenage girl trying to balance her life with her best gay friend and her new boyfriend. It has been nominated for the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults in 2009 and is on Booklist’s Top 10 Romance Fiction for Youth and was placed on the ALA Round Table Rainbow Books Bibliography.. He is finishing up three (yes three) new novels for young readers. Peter’s full-length play, The Grandma Show, co-authored with Tom Ecobelli, has had productions all over the country. His ten-minute play “Ralph Smith of Schenectady, New York...” has been produced in the 9th Annual New York City 15 Minute Play Festival, the Samuel French 2003 Short Play Festival, and SlamBoston! 2005. Another one-act, “The Good Samaritan,” won first place in SlamBoston! 2006.

Marching with Aunt Susan

Marching with Aunt Susan, written by Claire Rudolf Murphy and illustrated by Stacey Schuett, makes a parallel between the great civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony and a girl living in the late 19th century named Bessie. Her brothers and…

The Freedom Maze

The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman, will make a good companion for a social studies class, evincing the old adage that “history tells you what happened, historical fiction tells you how it felt.” (If you want a chance at a free copy–two are being offered–contact the publisher, Small Beer Press, for details.)

Presuming that the issue of slavery is addressed in any depth in American classrooms, it will be useful for middle schoolers to see the system in action. It was certainly educational for me. Slavery–historical and contemporary–is an easy subject to not want to think about, so I knew very little about what slave culture was like on a plantation, just assumed the general horror. It was terrible, but the era covered in this novel was also rich in language, food, spirituality, and nurturance.

Set in 1960, not exactly an era we associate with complete emancipation for African Americans, Sophie, who is white, is not only dealing with the emotional gyrations of adolescence, but in a time where divorce wasn’t as common place, she suffers the stigma of having a single mother and an absentee father. Her mother, embittered by the experience and needing to work as a secretary, leaves Sophie with her aunt and grandmother on what’s left of the family’s plantation. Bored and lonely, she spends most of the day outdoors, getting darker in the sun and playing in the natural world around her. She discovers a run-down maze on the property where decay disguises a magical element: An otherworldly being that she calls the Creature transports her back in time one hundred years where Sophie has to face the grisly realities of her slave-owning ancestry. Mistaken for the biracial bastard child of one of the wayfaring plantation owners, she is thrust onto the opposite side of the slave/owner dichotomy that had benefited her ancestors. Unable to convince the Creature to return her to the present, she learns she has a purpose in traveling back, which is to save a slave girl from a violation for which there was no vocabulary in 1860, and help her escape to New York. (I was reading the escape scenes on the elliptical trainer at the gym and was so engrossed by the complications that I didn’t notice an irritated patron waiting for me to get off when my time was up.)

Though the reading age target is listed as ten and up, teachers will need to be clever in getting around some of the thorny issues. What has come to be called the N-word is used in context, though not liberally, and there is the issue of the potential rape of a young girl, which illustrates the utter powerlessness of the enslaved population.

While heartache thrums throughout the book–children have been sold away from their parents, bodies are worked like machines and beaten liberally, living conditions are despicable–there is the clear bell of hope, that sound in children’s literature that is too tough to destroy.

Ellen’s Broom

This is the first book I’ve been able to review before its actual publication. I guess that means The Pirate Tree is starting to get noticed! (The local librarians on the children’s floor in town will be relieved to have…

The Sandwich Swap

It’s nice to see children resolve their differences so quickly, and without the baggage buffers that adults put up. In The Sandwich Swap, Salma and Lily have a squabble over something dumb, which I’d guess could be the basis for…

Planting the Wild Garden

An unexpected and delightful calm eased over me after reading Planting the Wild Garden, so much so that I read it a few times for the addictive hit. (I had just seen the documentary If a Tree Falls, about the…

The Listeners

  The Listeners is a picture book that gave me a picture of a culture I perhaps had not heretofore wanted to think about, that of slave families in the antebellum South. It is ultimately about hope because it is…

Ruth and the Green Book

  This book is a good primer about Jim Crow for young readers. Probably many of us who were alive at any point during the span of that apartheid can hardly believe such a system existed during our lifetimes. For…