Monday, January 7, 2013

2013 Second Takes: We've Got a Job, by Cynthia Levinson

We've Got a Job was a late addition to our Mock Newbery reading list. Actually, it wasn't on our list of semifinalists at all, but after Sam and I read all of the nominees, we found ourselves at an impasse. We wanted a nonfiction title to be part of the discussion, but I vetoed Moonbird and he wasn't keen on Titanic. I hadn't read We've Got a Job, but Sam said it was not only one of the best nonfiction books of the year, but one of the best of the many books published this year on the topic of civil rights.

And, of course, it is. I'm most impressed by the original research and the meticulous documentation. Copious source notes, an index, a discussion of the language of race, and numerous primary documents all help to paint a rich, nuanced picture of a time and place many of us know only through headlines and sound bites. Levinson does an excellent job, too, of getting out of the way of her sources and letting the reader see the events through the eyes of the children themselves.

I have to disagree with Sam about organization, though. Since (after a brief prologue), the book begins with profiles of the four young people, it ends up jumping back and forth chronologically, which I found disorienting. It could really have benefited from a longer introduction to set the historical stage and establish a steady pace before it starts to meander. 

That's a relatively minor point in the overall evaluation of the book, but it's enough to sink it as a serious Newbery contender for me. Staying just within the realm of nonfiction, I felt that both Titanic and Temple Grandin were better organized and more evenly paced, and that's leaving out Bomb, which I have not yet read. A highly impressive piece of research and writing, but not a title I'll be looking for on Newbery Day.

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