Book reviews...from picture books to adult books, as well as books-to-movie info, and other stuff I think is interesting. Note: Not all books reviewed or recommended are appropriate for all ages.
Category: Other Cultures
MAY 22, 2012
Inside Out & Back Again
I highly recommend Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai to all ages of chapter book readers, including adults. This memoir-like book in verse tells the story of Ha, a young Vietnamese refugee girl, and her family, who fled to the United States right before the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War.
Ending up in a small rural community in Alabama, Ha struggles to learn English and assimilate to a foreign culture within a sometimes hostile environment.
Written in short poems, this would be a powerful read-aloud...it is poignant and compelling in Ha's authentic and often funny voice, and gives a very unique perspective on this time in history.
This novel, which is loosely based on the author's own childhood experience is a Newbery Honor recipient, as well as a National Book Award Winner.
Every once in awhile I read a book I like so much that even when I'm finished reading, it is hard to return it...because I don't want it to be over. The novel, Tall Story, was like that for me.
A very unique story told from the alternating perspectives of Bernanrdo and Andi, a brother and sister, who get acquainted for the first time in their lives, when Bernardo finally gets his paperwork approved to move from his homeland of the Phillipines, where he has been staying with his aunt and uncle, to London with his mother, stepfather, and younger sister.
Because of his 8 feet tall staure, Bernardo is believed by the local villagers to have the powers of a legendary giant. He leaves for London secretly, as people believe he is protecting them from earthquakes and other misfortune.
Andi, who loves basketball but is very disappointed that her new school only has a boys' team, is doubly frustrated when the boys' team is thrilled to have Bernardo on their team because of his height, even though he can barely play.
Meanwhile, Bernardo and Andi's mother, a nurse, is extremely worried about Bernardo's extreme height, realizing that he likely has as serious health condition.
This story is full of heart and an interesting plot line--and you really feel like you get to know both the characters so well...with the alternating chapters from their points of view. I think this would also make a great book to read-aloud.
I have been busy reading and writing questions for Battle of the Books titles, both for the Lenihan/MACS list and the MHS list...and I recently re-read Diamond Willow by Helen Frost, which I liked just as much the second time reading it.
Diamond Willow is a fast read with much of it written in a very unique two-layered free verse poetry style. The story is told in alternating voices by Willow (a middle school girl who with native Alaskan heritage), and by her and other characters' ancestors (who are watching over them in their current animal forms.) Willow wants to be allowed to drive her family's sled dogs solo to her grandparents house, and when she finally is allowed to, there is an accident that blinds Roxy, a sled dog who Willow considers her best friend. The storyline culminates in Willow taking off to protect Roxy and getting caught in a blizzard.
This story is exciting and suspenseful, but overall very poignant when it unfolds with a surprising twist. Highly recommended for all ages, including adults.
I just finished reading Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams. It was a very fast read, as suspenseful as it is brutal and heart-breaking. The story of Deo, a 15-year-old boy from Zimbawe, who cares for his autistic older brother, the book begins when soldiers arrive in his village during a soccer game and change everything. When Deo slips away to find his brother, Innocent, in hiding, his village (including his family and friends) are massacred by the solidiers.
Reminiscent of A Long Way Gone, the true story of child soldier, Ismael Beah, the author of Now is the Time for Running keeps the story more geared toward a younger teen audience by honestly conveying the grim, violent realities, without engaging in graphic descriptions.
Managing to make it to South Africa across a crocodile-infested river and a large game preserve, Deo and Innocent find work as migrants at a tomato-farm, facing anger and resentment from locals. The boys head off to Johannesberg, where they are again left to survive in another dangerous--albeit urban--wilderness.
While a very grim portrait of continuing on after nearly incomprehensible loss, the story is ultimately one of hope and survival. Highly recommended for older readers.
After having the opportunity to spend the day with Deborah Ellis, thanks to our Marshalltown author visit in September, I have been happy to see lots of good reviews for her newest book, No Ordinary Day. Read what Deborah has to say about her book on this new blog post on the Teaching Books site: http://forum.teachingbooks.net/?p=6816
You can even click on a link to hear her read from the book. We currently have two copies of the book available for check out, as well as many titles that she talked about when she spoke about during her author visit.
Someone Named Eva is a fiction book, but it is based on the true history of what happened to the residents of a small town in the former Czechloslovakia during the Nazi regime. Both hard-to-put-down, as well as sometimes hard emotionally to read, this story is told from the viewpoint of Milagra, who is taken from her family by the Nazis and sent to a Nazi "re-education" school where the goal was to wipe out any memories or connections the students had to their past, in order to create what they viewed as the ideal German, Aryan youth.
Renamed Eva by her Nazi captors, Milagra and the other students were forbidden to speak any language other than German, and then placed with new German families, who were told they were orphans of the war.
This book, for older students through teens/adults, is a powerful example of just one of the horrors that took place during the Holocaust and Nazi reign in Europe. This is a book geared toward young people, and therefore does not include the kinds of graphic details that some adult Holocaust stories might include. However, the pain that Milagra and the other students experience at being taken from their families, as well as plot elements that touch lightly upon, while not glossing over, some of the most horrific actions of the Nazis make the story difficult to forget.
I just finished reading the novel in verse, The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle, based on the history of Cuba's wars for independence, and on the real life of Rosa la Bayamesa, a healer who used her gifts to heal rebels, as well as (her enemy) Spanish soldiers.
Engle is really masterful at using this writing style to pull you into the history, as she did in a similar historical novel in verse, The Poet Slave of Cuba, that I read last year. The story in Surrender Tree is very suspenseful, and you learn a lot about the history of Cuba, including that Spain was responsible for the first modern use of "reconcentration" (or internment) camps in warfare during their fight against the Cuban people. The book ends showing the origin of the rocky relationship between US and Cuba, that continues to this day.
I would strongly recommend this book...and because of the poetry format, it is a very fast read. This book was also awarded the Pura Belpre honor award in 2009.
I just finished reading Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff, which is on this year's Battle of the Books list for Lenihan/MACS and thought it was really a great book.
The novel tells the story of a spirited girl, Lidie, who is finally moving to the United States from a small farm in Brazil, to join her father and her older brother. Lidie was left behind to live with her aunt and uncle, while her father worked in the horse training and racing industry to build a life after Lidie's mother died.
Lidie is so excited to finally be united with Pai (her father), and her brother Rafael, but the transition is harder than she imagined. Much like the filly, Wild Girl, Lidie has been taken away from everything she'd ever known and thrust into a strange world.
While there is a horse on the cover of this book, and life on a horse ranch is part of the plotline, the real story here is how Lidie begins to know her father and brother again and find her place in her new world. I think people of all ages would enjoy this story.
OLDER TEENS/ADULTS: City of Thieves by David Benioff
I am almost done reading City of Thieves by David Benioff for my high school book club group, LOL @ MHS meeting tomorrow. Here is my "six word book review":
"Funny moments, in between the horrors."
This is an interesting--although graphic and mature-- account of two young men on a strange "military mission" in Russia during World War II (after Germans have invaded.) The characters are very likeable as they alternatively banter about girls and life, and experience harrowing, deeply disturbing things that, unfortunately, are likely realistic facts of war.
This short but simply profound book reminds me how much I love Sharon Creech. Narrated by an angel who lives in a tower in Casa Rosa, Italy, the story is not only funny, but really poignant.
The angel speaks in a really endearing way--with confused words and grammar telling of all kinds of observations about "peoples." A favorite quote of mine would be the angel's comment on people's obsession with time: "Listen. You hear any ticking? No. You hear the world just being the world . You see any clocks in the sky? You see calendars on the trees?" (p. 84)
The angel--who is a little unsure of purpose or mission--is befriended by Zola, a girl who, for some reason, can see the angel when others can't and is often imploring, "Do something, angel." Together, Angel and Zola help the "hungry childrens" and revitalize and bond the aging community they live in.
This would make a great read-aloud--as would probably every book Sharon Creech has written. What great storyteller for all ages.
At LOL last week, the high school students who read A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a boy solider by Ishamel Beah had the opportunity to discuss this book with visitor Karen Jennings-Boland, who has traveled several times to Sierra Leone.
Students expressed having to pace themselves in reading this painful, yet very engrossing account of Beah growing up at the height of a time of extremely violent conflict between rebels and the standing government in his country, with both sides showing utter disregard for civilian life.
Beah leads you down the rapid path where he, in his words "lost his humanity," then the much slower road of re-gaining it, in a story that ultimately speaks to the power of forgiveness, and triumph of the human spirit.
This is not an easy book to read, nor does it provide easy answers to the issues of war, responsibility, or healing...rather it gives a genuine voice to children and youth affected by war and violence that deserves to be heard.
Colibrí is a fiction novel about Rosa, who was taken from her parents in Guatemala City at the age of four, and has been living with "Uncle" who makes his living by running scams ever since.
Rosa, whose real name is Tzunún--and whose mother used to call her the nickname "Colibrí" which means "hummingbird" in Spanish--hates participating in the dishonest schemes of Uncle, but knows no other way to survive.
When she meets Doña Celestina, who tells Uncle's fortune, Rosa begins to think that it might be possible to choose a different path for her life...a path that leads her back to her true name and her own true nature.
When Uncle makes a plan with his opportunist friend Raimundo, Rosa makes a harrowing decision to be true to herself and what she knows is right.
This book has some great writing, and gives a taste of the culture of Guatemala. The theme of this book is summed up by the symbology of the Colibrí --a beautiful fragile hummingbird, but a species known as a fierce fighter for survival.