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Bitter-Sweet Knowledge

If you don't have time to read, skip down to The Quick and Dirty

 

Chocolate. Seriously who doesn't love it? If you don't, keep it to yourself. I have no time for haters.

 

I do have a deep, abiding love for chocolate. Its siren song calls to me at all times of the day in all manner of tempting voice. The fact that I've been wearing elastic waistbands exclusively since New Year's (thank goodness for LuLaRoe) testifies to my insatiable craving for the stuff.

 

That is, until I read The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan.

 

At the beginning of this year, I printed out the American Library Association's Notable Books for 2017 (and 2016 - I'm a little behind on my reading). Curious to see what our nation's librarians were calling the best of the best, I decided to dive into the list and try reading through each book. 

 

Because I live two blocks from my local library (you can find yours here) I simply picked the first book off the list available at my library.

 

So began my journey into the jungles of the Ivory Coast. Tara Sullivan paints a vivid, albeit terrifying, picture of life for a child-slave on a cacao plantation. 

 

Her novel chronicles three children trying desperately to escape captivity.

You guys. Really. This book is nothing short of haunting.

 

My Take

 

Now before I go too much further, I want to say this: my book reviews on this blog will NOT  be summaries of the entire book. I mean, what's the point of reading a book if someone else is going to tell you everything that happens? If you want a book summary, head on over to GradeSaver or some other site like Cliffs Notes. They'll hook you up. ;) 

 

Nope, I just want to tell you if a book is worth your time...and you can take my little, old opinion with a grain of salt - I have a thick skin. 

 

But this one, my fair Trekkers, this is a must-read for you and any other kiddos over whom you have any influence. 

 

Far too often, we shelter ourselves, and our kids, from the harsh reality of the world. Admittedly, I do it with my own kids. But I do think the time has come to inform the next generation about injustice. It is time to give our children the tools they will need to make a difference in the world they inherit. And one of the most historically powerful tools we can give them is knowledge. This book serves up heaping bowls full of knowledge.

 

 The Bitter Side of Sweet cracks open the door to a world of injustice so our kids can begin to get a "safe" peek inside. It's like when you were little, and a scary part of the movie came up, you hid your face behind your hands but left just the tiniest space in between your fingers so you could still kind of see what was going on. We did that because we knew that knowing was important, even if we couldn't face it in its entirety.

 

In her book, Sullivan somehow reveals the atrocious nature of modern-day slavery through "slits in the fingers." Her characters demonstrate an unwavering devotion to one another as well as a super-human resilience against violence, oppression, and fear - and that somehow seems to tamp down ugliness. At times, I had to cover my own eyes while reading the book - its naked truth about the secret suffering of these aggrieved children a world away felt too raw in my comfortable, secure life. But I read on.

 

Sullivan masterfully paced the book, offering tempting hints or tragic cliffhangers to keep readers on the edge. Rich, relatable characters dug into my heart. I completely cared about Amadou, despite his cynicism. I adored Seydou because of his open innocence. And the "wild cat" Khadija...I could actually see the fire in her eyes.

 

Teacher Take-Away

 

While this book is written for kids in 6-8 grade, I think it would work best for more mature students. Eighth graders may be able to handle it, but high school kids would probably get more out of it.

 

This book would be amazing in a World Cultures class or put in a history context. Additionally, there are some other non-fiction titles what would pair nicely with this novel: Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World  by Kevin Bales is an excellent resource that uncovers the slave-driven origins of many products we use today. Sullivan herself recommends Carol Off's work, Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet 

 

I've also created some teaching resources for those who want to use the novel in an English or reading class. You can find my Reading Road Map for the novel at Story Trekker on the Teachers Pay Teachers website. The Reading Road Map is specially designed to help kids engage as they read and model strong comprehension strategies. This allows kids to become more independent readers. 

 

I've also created a Enrichment Pack for this particular book. This resource provides activities for discussion, character analysis, story sequencing, and research. It enables teachers to build on the novel and gets kids to a dig a little deeper into the story. You can purchase a bundle as well - this just lumps the two resources together at a discounted price - I love a good bargain! 

 

 

The Quick and Dirty

 

OK Trekkers...Here's the Quick and Dirty on this novel:

 

TITLE: The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

 

READING LEVEL: Grades 6-8

 

READER LEVEL: Grades 8+

 

HIGHLIGHTS: Characters demonstrate deep commitment to one another, often at the cost of their own safety; books offers authentic insight into the root causes of modern slavery and how the system perpetuates itself; Sullivan is a masterful story teller and deals with a tricky subject with sensitivity and compassion

 

BE AWARE:The violence is real and harsh; the children receive brutal beatings on a regular basis; one character becomes irreversibly injured. NOTE: there is a scene in which Khadija is raped. This scene is not explicit - younger kids may not even realize that is what happened - but it is still there and the effect on Khadija and Amadou (who witnesses the event) is lasting. 

 

Thanks so much for trekking with me today! I'd love to hear from you and know what you think about this post and the book and anything else you want to tell me! To suclick here.bscribe to Story Trekker,

 

 

 

 

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