Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Vive La Paris by Esme Raji Codell

I have been wanting to get my hands on Vive La Paris by Esme Raji Codell since it came out, but for some reason I kept forgetting. You know when you are thinking of doing something and 20 other things happen in the "in-betweens" (a la Moxy). That was the case here.
I have long since loved Esme Codell since she first wrote Educating Esme. That book came around at just the right time for me, I was beginning teaching (well sorta) and I thought it was the best medicine ever! Whenever I went into a book store I would look for something she had written. I couldn't get enough. I loved Sahara Special and this is a companion to that book. (Which to be very honest I didn't know until I picked up the book from the library.)
This book has so many layers. Yes, it has Codell's humor, but it is speckled with sadness and seriousness. There are many topics that I feel may be lost on a fifth grader, but are still very central to the book and honestly, you never know what is going on in a fifth grade student's life. They may find it right-on and understand everything the book is trying to say. When I say topics, I mean the least of which is the comparison of segregation and the Jewish Holocaust. If that tells you how serious this book can get. One of the most poignant themes in the story is "ignorance is no defense." Boy! is that a good lesson in itself.
My favorite thing about this book is the fact that the main character, Paris, is African American. I have never read a book that had so much to do with the the Holocaust and then related back to segregation. (Two of my favorite topics in history) This book even won a Sydney Taylor Award for an outstanding contribution to the field of Jewish Literature for Children. (Click on Sydney Taylor Award to read a blog from Esme Raji Codell)
My second favorite part about this book is the French and Paris references. My grandmother was a French teacher and her first and only love was Paris. She passed away last summer so it is always fun to have a little remembrance for her every once in awhile.
You do not have to read Sahara Special to understand what is going on in this book, but if you want to know more about the characters, that would be helpful. One thing I did not like about this book is the way Codell's character Paris, uses large words, usually in italics. I do not think Codell needed to have her use that large vocabulary for us to understand Paris was a smart girl. It almost seemed too contrived and obvious. Just my opinion...

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