Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color

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Poems by Elizabeth Alexander & Marilyn Nelson. Pictures by Floyd Cooper.

Wordsong, 2007.

In 1831 Prudence Crandall opened a boarding school for young ladies at the request of the people of the town of Canterbury Connecticut. As a Quaker, she saw no problem with inviting the African American maid of the school to take part in classes once her work was done. Soon after, the first African American student enrolled. Unfortunately, the white residents of Canterbury took exception to African American students learning with their daughters. By 1833 the white students had been withdrawn and an entirely African American student body enrolled. The people in this very white town in the most homogenous state in the nation were in an uproar.

The poems in this beautiful book tell the story of this exceptional school, of its students, of their wish to better themselves and their communities, of the sacrifices they made to learn and of the trials they endured in a place where they were legally free but societally constrained.

The poems in this book and the beautiful illustrations evoke these brave students, their wonder at the fears of the residents of Canterbury, their hunger for learning. All sonnets, they tell a tale of the sacrifice made to get the girls to school and the troubles they face when the town turns against them, fouling the well, and making laws in attempts to drive them away.

I can see a myriad of uses for this book in the classroom. The story illuminates the tensions in the northeast in the mid-nineteenth century. It is easy to believe that all the racism and trouble in this period was in the south; however, Miss Crandall’s School clearly shows that tensions there between white and African American residents were very real and very dangerous.

The poems all take the form of sonnets and could be studied simply as poems or for their form. The details of the story provide avenues for critical thinking. How would you do your laundry, exercise, plant potatoes if the only way to stay safe was to remain within the walls of the school? What case could the students build against new laws made to evict them from the town and the state? Can one group of people restrict the education of another?

Highly recommended.

Steel Trapp: The Academy by Ridley Pearson

Steel Trapp the Academy Disney Hyperion Books, 2010.

Steven “Steel” Trapp has it — a mind like a steel trap, that is. His mind has gotten him into a fancy private boarding school, but it’s also getting him into trouble. On move-in day at school his prodigious memory is helping him navigate the campus when Steel happens onto a shady lesson. Steel just thinks it’s cool — a school where you get taught to use blow guns? Bring it on! But he finds out pretty quickly that this was a secret lesson when the students and instructor attempt to chase him down. When Steel discovers that his good friend Kaileigh is also a new student, they set out to solve the mystery of the school that isn’t what it seems. Before they know it they’re embroiled in international espionage.

I went looking for a kid spy novel at the library and I found it in Steel Trapp: The Academy! It’s actually the second book in a two book series, but unlike some series I’ve started in the middle, I had no difficulty catching up with the story. This story has enough suspense going to keep even reluctant readers reading and enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing. It’s a very fun read and exactly what I was looking for. This book would be a great addition to classroom and school library shelves.

I’m a Boston native and found that the author changed the geography of the city in a few significant ways. That was puzzling as I tried to link my own knowledge with the story and some things were just physically impossible. Also, the author had the kids pull the cord to signal a stop request on the bus. I had to chuckle. I loved the detail, but it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve ridden on a bus here that had pull cords for stop requests. Despite these curious changes, it was fun to read a book that featured Boston. I’ll be looking for Steel Trapp: The Challenge so that I can read about Steel and Kaileigh’s first adventure.