on November 8, 2006
Esmé Raji Codell's "Vive la Paris" is a book that sneaks up on you. What I mean by this is that "Vive la Paris" reads likes a nice, polite, upper Middle Grade novel until two-thirds of way through and then: slam! An unexpected philosophical point--one kids will understand through the protagonist's behavior and its aftermath--takes "Vive la Paris" in surprising directions.
Paris McCray is one busy fifth grader. She heads up a reading program at her school, complete with mimeographed newsletters. She has lots of friends and four older brothers. Music is an important part of her family's life and she takes up piano, studying with an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Rosen. And, of course, Paris has an enemy. Another fifth grader, Tanaeja, likes to beat up Paris' older brother, Michael, which is embarrassing to say the least.
Michael is a charming kid who prefers baking to sports. He's charged with accompanying Paris to her piano lessons and before long he's singing to her music. Both children become close to Mrs. Rosen, a lonely Holocaust survivor who really takes to her young students. When she learns Paris knows nothing, and I mean nothing, of the Holocaust, she feels inspired to show Paris her tattoo and share with her artifacts from her history, including the yellow star.
This is where the novel takes a turn I found so surprising and really new. Paris is a strong narrator. As the youngest child with four older brothers, she's a smart, tough, popular girl. She knows what she wants and says just about anything without fear of retribution. So, when she shows up to school wearing Mrs. Rosen's yellow star on her sleeve, other kids in her class mimeograph yellow stars. Then they write in the names of relatives who've died or the names of brothers serving in Iraq and pin those yellow stars on their clothing. Needless to say, Paris is finally, publicly, very, very wrong.
When she's called into the principal's office and her parents summoned, the principal tells her "ignorance is not a defense." When Paris doesn't understand what this means, Mom reads her the riot act:
"'Didn't you hear that teacher? There comes a time when ignorance is no longer an excuse. Ignorance is the fire that burns the cross. Your ignorance.' Mama whirled around. 'People died, Paris. People wore that star and died, the way people wore our skin and died.'"
I like to be surprised, and "Vive la Paris" surprised me. "Vive la Paris" is highly recommended for kids ages 9-14.
on June 5, 2007
"VIVE . . . !" is a Salute to 5th grader Paris McCray who enjoys that 'only daughter status' in a black family with four older brothers. Paris is very 'with it' in her Chicago environment but has frequent altercations with a classmate who harasses her, & bullies her brother Michael. He is committed to non-violent responses & "the living is easy" - - NOT !
Challenges, school projects and a fascination with (italicized) words sum up Paris' top interests - - these aren't too different from my own interests when a very naive 5th grader at age 9. Don't most girls wear rose-colored glasses at some point during those pre-teen years? Paris has a new piano teacher who is a Holocaust survivor. Slowly their acquaintance grows into a respectful relationship which includes brother Michael who must endure being 'looked after'. As Paris learns more about Mrs. Rosen's adventures & suffering during WW II she reacts to the former member of the Resistance by wearing a yellow star.
I find this not surprising but a natural response of the generous-spirited girl. She didn't do it as a lark but in innocence, and encouraged her classmates to follow her example. Later, when 'punishment' was meted out, Paris AND her classmates were challenged to learn as much as possible about the victims of the Nazi regime. As Paris learns more about the crushing of Jews in Europe she & her classmates become aware of similarities to our own national history of mean-spirited segregation and racial atrocities. Perhaps I read something into this thought-provoking story that wasn't there but I found it a moving story and a book to own & share.
Esme Raji Codell is a stand-out author for middle-schoolers to 'track'. Was my ignorance at age 9 inexcusable? It wasn't until 9th grade when this reviewer was 13, that a classmate who summered in Europe (this was 1939) explained to me that war was imminent. The world 'out there' suddenly became relevant & I focused more on my college-age sibs. How much true empathy do 5th graders feel today toward those suffering in Afghanistan? Darfur? Iraq?
Yes, no one has to read each book in this series to find Sahara and Paris very special & individual personalities, and to happily anticipate a book about Luz. But I feel closer to the young Paris who had some experiences like my own: growing up with several sibs & the consequent stresses, reacting anxiously to injustices, trying to adjust when considered different in some way, and thinking everything should revolve around my desires & activities. HUMOR is a universal need and there is a healthy dollop of that, AND warmth and compassion. Don't miss searching for links to other writings of Esme Raji Codell and perhaps you'll discover her own valuable thoughts about that yellow star.
on October 17, 2006
Vive La Paris by Esmé Raji Codell is one book every MG classroom across the USA should own by the thirty-pack! It's a perfect companion novel to Sahara Special and a definite must read! Part bullying love story, part history lesson about the Holocaust, it's fully contemporary for the girl who wore the star. Readers wonder if Paris will digest her termoil with heart or resort to bullying her brother's bully when they discover something culminating in the kitchen that earns Codell a standing ovation! Kudos.
on September 20, 2006
Codell manages to deal with some painful things as Paris takes piano lessons from a Holocaust survivor. Paris is fairly young, and hurts at the bullying her brother receives, but she definitely doesn't understand the seriousness of what she's doing when she wears a gold star as a decoration. How can this be funny? It isn't, but the human condition of learning and atoning for mistakes can be hilarious and Codell mines it with tenderness and care.
on January 27, 2007
Paris McCray is a fifth-grade African-American girl living in Chicago with her parents and four older brothers. She reluctantly attends piano lessons at the home of Mrs. Rosen, an elderly Holocaust survivor, and ends up coming away with more than just an appreciation for music. Their student-teacher relationship evolves into a special bond as Mrs. Rosen helps Paris apply the lessons of the Holocaust to her own life, giving her the tools to stand up to the class bully, and to accept her brother Michael's individuality and unique spirit. With plenty of charm and spunk, and an overdoes of urban attitude, Codell creates a warm, touching, and humorous story of one girl's journey to finding a balance between wearing rose-colored glasses and facing the world with eyes wide open. While billed as a companion novel to Sahara Special (Sahara appears as one of Paris's classmates), the books stands strong on its own.
on April 18, 2007
Remember "Sahara Special?" Well, her mysterious library friend, Paris, now stars in her own novel! Paris is fun for children and adult readers alike, always trying her hardest to be polite, but admitting when she isn't, and always trying to use the exact right word, even if she isn't sure what it is. Paris narrates through her life at school, where she leads the Extreme Readers Club, and mimeographs weekly newsletters, at home, with her 4 older brothers all named after jazz musicians, and piano lessons with her unexpected mentor, Mrs. Rosen, who Paris eventually understands is a Holocaust survivor. Many poignant but subtle parallels between contemporary African American life and WWII Jewish European life are alluded to, which helps Paris to understand Mrs. Rosen, the world, and her philosophy on life. What a beautiful, strong novel, appropriate and accessible for kids. Ms. Codell has cemented her place in my heart!
on February 19, 2012
Esme Raji Codell's writing makes you feel good. She has the ear of a teacher who has sat in the back of the classroom and really listened to what matters to young people. She shows the heart in all of her characters, including the ones that you really want to write off.
Vive Le Paris is the companion novel to Sahara Special, which I loved so much. It's fun to check back in on the characters in Miss Pointy's class and see how they've grown under her care. For the most part, though, Paris' story takes place outside of the classroom. She's got a fun, loving family with four older brothers and takes piano lessons from Mrs. Rosen, an elderly Holocaust survivor. Over the course of a few months, she learns about bullying, ignorance, nonviolence, and seeing the world through 'rose-colored glasses'.
There is so much to love here, as a reader and as a teacher.I remember that middle school was when we really delved into learning about World War II. Vive La Paris is geared towards a younger age group, so could be used as an introduction to the Holocaust. It could be read independently over the summer, and then referred back to during the year. This is a novel that kids will love to read, with lots of lessons tucked in.
Vive La Paris is also really funny. In describing her brother's friend, Paris says, "He wears button-down shirts and has glasses like Malcolm X, but he's white, and believe me, on a white boy those glasses got a whole different effect." At first I wanted to say that there are so many humorous throwaway lines, but the reality is that all of the lines are beautifully crafted and intentional.
Finally, I appreciate that the cover actually reflects what happens in the book. There are a lot of details that show the illustrator (whose name I couldn't find) read the novel. She probably loved it too!
on June 12, 2008
In Vive La Paris, a precocious fifth grader named Paris is frustrated and angry that her older brother is being bullied by a girl from Paris's class. Paris can't understand why her brother doesn't hit her back. With the help of her elderly piano teacher, Mrs. Rosen, and her fifth grade teacher, Miss Pointy, Paris learns some very important life lessons about tolerance, the dangers of ignorance, and how we each play an important role when it comes to facing and addressing the injustices we see in the world. This is a powerful story that is beautifully written. I highly recommend it!
on November 7, 2006
I adored this book so much that I called Esme Raji Codell and asked for an interview for my podcast, The Book of Life, a show about Jewish books and music. She had such interesting and insightful things to say about the creation of this remarkable book! Listen to her at [...] -- click on the November 2006 episode.
on May 5, 2009
great book for kids of all ages. it teaches kids a kids point of view in lifes situations , like divorce from a kids view.