Sunday, January 22, 2006
Catch a Tiger by the Toe
Levine, Ellen. 2005. CATCH A TIGER BY THE TOE. New York: Viking. ISBN 0670884618 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-8]
Ellen Levine’s historical novel takes young readers into a time period not often addressed in juvenile literature: the McCarthy era. Jamie, the thirteen-year-old protagonist, identifies herself on the first page of her first-person account as a world champion liar. At school she does her best to blend in “because you don’t want to stand out when you’ve got secrets.” Her secrets are her family’s less-than-politically-correct ideas in an oppressively conservative political climate. She lies about everything from her family’s reading habits to their church affiliation until her father loses his job as a math teacher. He is accused of being a member of the communist party, and soon after she suffers the related injustice of losing her job on the school’s newspaper staff.
Teen readers will empathize with Janie’s desire to be accepted by her peers and the conflicted feelings she has for her family. As the page-turning plot unfolds they’ll also get a glimpse of a dramatic and disturbing time in our country’s history. Levine’s “Note to the Reader” provides three pages of helpful historical context, and her thorough list of “Suggested Reading” will prove helpful to children and teens that want to know more. The book concludes with the somber news that Janie’s dad will be tried for contempt of Congress and eventually face prison. Simultaneously, her family celebrates his courage and honesty—ideals that even Janie knows are worth defending.
Invite children to use databases to learn more about the events of the 1950s. They may want to assemble a timeline of the period or created an annotated “Who’s Who” listing of notable historical figures.
Historical fiction related to communism:
Dell, Pamela. GAVILAN: A STORY OF HOLLYWOOD DURING THE MCCARTHY ERA. ISBN 1591870410
Durbin, William. THE DARKEST EVENING. ISBN 0439373077
A nonfictions resource:
Zienert, Karen. MCCARTHY AND THE FEAR OF COMMUNISM IN AMERICAN HISTORY. ISBN 0894909878
By Suzy Parchman