American Ace by Marilyn Nelson

Published by Dial Books 

Summary: When Connor’s grandmother Lucia dies, she leaves a letter for his father, revealing that Connor’s grandfather wasn’t the Italian man his father grew up with; instead, he was an American pilot who was in Italy during World War II. Connor’s father was raised in a tight-knit Italian family, and the news is devastating to him at first.  Along with the letter, Lucia left a school ring that belonged to the pilot.  Connor uses the ring to research his grandfather.  Eventually, he learns that this man was African American, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.  Just as the mystery is about to be solved, Dad has a stroke and is hospitalized.  Connor helps him heal, both physically and emotionally, by learning and sharing more and more of the courageous history of the Airmen.  117 pages; grades 7-10.

Pros:  In an author’s note, Marilyn Nelson writes how she wanted to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, and eventually had the idea to write a book in which the main character gradually learns their history.  She achieves this brilliantly in just 45 poems told in Connor’s voice.  The history is fascinating, and so is the story of this family who must rethink their entire identity in the light of revelations about their cultural heritage.

Cons:  The structure of Part 7, in which Connor tells his father the story of the Tuskegee Airmen while his dad is convalescing in the hospital, is a little bit confusing.

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