The Night Diary

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The Night Diary (hardcover)

by Veera Hiranandani

 

The Night Diary is about a Hindu girl in India who writes a diary to her late mother (who died during childbirth).  Nisha is the twin to her brother Amil, and their father is a doctor.  They live with their Dadi (grandmother) and have a Muslim cook named Kazi who is like family.  When Britain sets India free, the Muslims and Hindus do not get along, and Pakistan is created for the Muslims, while the Hindus, Sikhs, and people of other religions get the rest of India.  Nisha and her family have to leave their village amid violence and protest as refugees to create a new life amongst strangers on the other side of the border.  Throughout their journey, Nisha keeps writing in her journal to her mother, hoping her mother can hear her from beyond.

What I liked about this book was that I learned so much!  I can honestly say I know very little about India’s more recent history other than it was colonized by the British.  I know The Secret Garden and The Jungle Book both spotlighted British rule, but that’s about all I knew before reading this book.  I also appreciated Nisha’s character, and the detail she gave us so we could feel her pain and loneliness.

What I didn’t like about this book was the ending.  I think I expected something bigger.  I’m not saying it wasn’t a reasonably happy ending, but I think I expected a bigger climax or something.  I enjoyed the story, though, and the ending would not deter me from recommending it to others!

Book 6 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 52 of 2018)

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Betty Before X

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Betty Before X (hardcover)

by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson

 

Betty Before X is a semi-fictional biography of Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X.  Before she became his wife, she was born to a young, unwed mother in Alabama.  She was raised by her aunt before moving back with her mother in Detroit during the 1940’s.  In the story, Betty’s mother Ollie Mae is a harsh woman who has no patience for Betty.  Betty feels unloved and ends up moving in with a loving couple from their church.  There, Betty is able to thrive as a young woman, joining the Housewive’s League to raise awareness of the mistreatment of black people in Detroit.  While they are not living with the Jim Crow laws, they still experience violence and discrimination, and have progress to make.  Betty remembers to count her blessings and work hard to move her community forward.

What I liked about this book is that I learned about a period of time I might not have known about otherwise.  It showed several sides of the story- while Betty and the Housewive’s League tried to get people to boycott stores they couldn’t be hired at (don’t give money to a store if they aren’t willing to hire black people), others felt like they had to do what they had to do to survive (if Sears is having a sale, that’s where people would go).  We teach that you can make a difference, no matter how small, but Betty and other characters felt hopeless at times, not seeing the difference they were trying to make.  I like that it’s based on a true story, and gives students perspective.

What I didn’t like about this book was how cruel Ollie Mae was to Betty.  As an adult, I can understand that she was probably resentful of Betty, and angry with herself for not being a good mother, so it was easier for her to be mean to Betty rather than admit that she made mistakes herself.  It was just hard for me to read as a mother, the way she was so awful to her.

Book 61 of 40

(Book 27 of 2018)

Cloud and Wallfish

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Cloud and Wallfish (hardcover)

by Anne Nesbet

AR Level 5.8, 12 points

 

Cloud and Wallfish is about a boy named Noah who had to forget everything he thought he knew about himself when his parents pick him up from school and move to East Germany during the Cold War, right before the Berlin Wall was torn down.  Noah is given a new name (Jonah), a new birthday, and a new identity, including a book of class pictures that aren’t really of him.  He is given a set of rules that require him to be seen and not heard, lest he give away their true identities.  Noah is told it is so his mother can study children with stutters (like himself), but he later finds that may not be the complete truth.  Noah, lonely and confused, makes friends with a girl named Claudia whose parents died in a car accident and is being raised by her frightening grandmother.  Claudia (Cloud) and Noah/Jonah (Wallfish, which sounds like the german word for whale) become friends and create a bond that cannot be broken by time.

What I liked about this book was that I learned a lot about what life was like for East Germans during the Cold War.  It is a time period I was never really interested in, so I don’t have a lot of knowledge about it, and I appreciated that this book broke it down through both narrative and “fact files” so I could have a background.  That was a clever strategy the author used.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I was disappointed.  I had high hopes for this book and REALLY thought I’d love it.  It is well-written, but it was a little slow for me.  I actually had to renew this book from the library, because I couldn’t finish it in the time I had it.  I also have questions that have yet to be answered.  There were things that either weren’t explained or weren’t clear, possibly because I rushed through the ending to finally see the finish.

Book 7 of 40

Wolf Hollow

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Wolf Hollow (audiobook)

by Lauren Wolk

AR Level 4.9, 9 points

 

Wolf Hollow is the second book I’ve read by Lauren Wolk, although I liked Beyond the Bright Sea better.  Both are mysteries, but this one seemed to have less action.  It follows Annabelle, an almost 12 year old girl living in a farming town during World War II.  Annabelle is an average girl, but is full of grit and compassion, except for when it comes to Betty, the school bully.  Betty is relentless when it comes to bullying Annabelle and her brothers, but when she throws a rock that hits Annabelle’s friend in the eye (causing her to lose the eye), Annabelle can’t stay quiet, especially when Betty blames a local strange homeless man, Toby.  Toby soon has to go into hiding when Betty goes missing, but Annabelle is certain Toby didn’t take Betty.  She has to prove Toby’s innocence while protecting him from being found.

What I liked about this book was that it got me emotionally involved.  First of all, I really had a lot of questions that needed to be answered.  I needed to know where Betty was, and I was anxious to find out what would happen with Toby.  I had to see this story through to the end, even if there were slow parts.

What I didn’t like about this book was how many slow parts there were.  Oh my goodness… If I had been reading and not listening to the audiobook, I might have put this book down.  While it is really well-written and a great example of small moments, it is like an Oscar movie, where I can see why it won an award (Newbery Honor), but it didn’t keep me entertained.  It was almost artsy.

Book 18 of summer 2017!

Refugee

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Refugee (hardcover)

by Alan Gratz

 

It isn’t often that I preorder books.  Okay, that was a lie.  It isn’t often that I preorder books for ME to read.  I usually get them because they’re by popular authors (like Stuart Gibbs or Kwame Alexander) or because my daughter loves the book (like The Owl Diaries series).  I preordered Refugee, because it was in my Twitter feed for several solid months straight, meaning before it was even out, people were reading it and raving about it.  In my quest to read every single Newbery contender, I figured I’d order it before I forgot about it.  Oh my gosh, you guys.  You have to read this.  I’m not sure if it’s a Newbery contender (those tend to be like Oscar movies where you finish and you aren’t sure if you liked it or not, or you’re not sure if they were written for children or adults), but this is a must-read if you live on planet Earth.

Refugee follows the stories of 3 refugee children, all 11-13 years old, during different time periods.  Josef is a Jewish child living in Germany, when his father is taken by the Nazis and put into a concentration camp.  He is released, and the family reunites to board the St. Louis and said across the Atlantic in hopes of gaining entrance to Cuba as refugees.  Fast forward to 1994, and you’ll meet Isabel, a Cuban girl living in poverty under Fidel Castro’s reign.  She, with her family and neighbors, set out in a homemade “boat” to get to Miami after Castro says they are free to leave without being put into jail.  They face sharks, weather, a cargo ship, and several health issues that put their trip in jeopardy.  Our third story is Mahmoud, a Syrian boy living in Aleppo.  He leaves Syria and travels across the Mediterranean Sea to try to reach Germany with his parents, younger brother, and baby sister.  Each of these three refugee children have a long, tough journey, and lose a loved one along the way.  We find out later that their three stories are connected, and that although they’re living during different times, their struggles are similar, and their goals are the same- to find a new, safe place to live without fear of living in terror.

What I liked about this book… when I first started it, I thought it was interesting learning about their backgrounds and living conditions.  I enjoy historical fiction.  But I was quickly sucked into their stories, and I was rooting for them.  When Isabel was just yards away from the shore, the tears began, and continued through the end of the story.  It is a very emotional, powerful, and REAL book that needs to be in the hands of my students.  The refugee crisis isn’t something we’re hearing about on tv with the war in Syria.  It has been going on all throughout history, and this book brings that to the reader’s attention.  He could write Refugee part 2 and include refugees from Vietnam or Cambodia, Korea, the Kurds, the Christians in Muslim countries, etc.  There will always be refugees as long as there are wars.

What I didn’t like about this book… I can’t really think of anything.  It was engaging from beginning to end, and while heartbreaking, it is necessary.

Book 17 of summer 2017!

Beyond the Bright Sea

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Beyond the Bright Sea (ebook)

by Lauren Wolk

No AR quiz yet

 

I was a little cynical about this book, because I read a lot about Wolf Hollow by the same author, and I heard it was a children’s book written for adults.  I have yet to read Wolf Hollow (I brought it home to read this summer), but I let it taint my initial feelings.  Luckily, I read the book and developed a better opinion of Beyond the Bright Sea.

Crow washed up on the shore on one of the Elizabeth Islands near New Bedford, Massachusetts.  She was only a few hours old and in a tiny leaking boat, but luckily, Osh found her and raised her like he would his own, although she always knew he was not her real father.  It was rumored that she was born on Penikese Island, where there was a leprosy colony, so Crow was shunned by the townspeople, except for Miss Maggie, who isn’t afraid to touch her.  One day, Crow discovers she has roots on Penikese, and she discovers who her parents were, as well as what they left behind for her.  This is a story with a good mystery, but it it is also sad and humorous, and you will grow to like Crow, Osh, and Miss Maggie.

What I liked about this book was the way it kept me going.  I started to figure out parts of the mystery, and I was frustrated that I would have to read the entire book for Crow to figure it out, but the author knew better- Crow figured it out shortly after I did as the reader, and I looked forward to unexpected twists after that.

What I didn’t like about this book was that Osh was so sad and hurt by Crow wanting to know about her real family.  Osh, a tough, quiet man, was the stand in for Crow’s family, and he realized that she might not need him now that she learned who her family was.  That made me sad, because I can imagine that my own (step) dad would feel the same if I wanted to spend more time with my biological father.  I could relate to the situation.

Book 9 of summer 2017!

Full of Beans

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Full of Beans (hardcover)

by Jennifer L. Holm

AR level 3.8, 4 points

 

Full of Beans is Jennifer L. Holm’s latest novel.  I wasn’t sure if it would be a graphic novel since she co-wrote Sunny Side Up, or a novel like The 14th Goldfish.  It is more like the latter. I was also happy to see that there’s a novel I haven’t heard of, called Turtle in Paradise, which earned a Newbery Honor.  Sometimes books get past me.  It seems like a prequel since the main character is a cousin of Beans, the main character of Full of Beans.  I’ll have to look into it!

Beans is a boy living in Key West on a small island that has basically gone bankrupt during the Great Depression (historical fiction).  He and his brother find ways to earn money, like collecting cans, babysitting, and sometimes doing things that aren’t quite legal, and which Beans regrets.  When New Dealers sent by Roosevelt start beautifying the island for tourist season, Beans and his friends aren’t all that happy with the changes, but they soon start pitching in, seeing the benefits of the plan.  Beans also makes some new friends and changes his mind about people he already knew.

What I like about this book is that it is historical fiction and readers can learn a bit about history without having to read a text book or heavy historical fiction novel.  Beans is a funny kid who gets into sticky situations, but we learn about what it was like during the time of the Great Depression through the eyes of a kid, which are pretty clear and insightful.  Beans shows us the struggles of living during that time, as well as what it was like to be a kid.

What I don’t like about this book is that it is really easy reading.  It is likely in the fourth grade range, which is great for students looking for a read they can easily comprehend, but it’s tough for me as a more mature reader, because I’m looking for more depth to characters and situations.  That can be a plus for many readers, and The 14th Goldfish has been quite popular in my class, so I anticipate this being the same.

I also have to say that Jennifer Holm is such a nice woman.  She’s active on Twitter, and after meeting her in person, I feel like I have more of a connection with her books.

Book 8 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)