Amina’s Voice

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Amina’s Voice (hardcover)

by Hena Khan

 

Amina’s Voice is about a Pakistani-American girl named Amina.  She lives with her traditional parents and older brother, who is more Americanized.  Her best friend is Korean, on her way to becoming an American citizen, and they are befriended by a former bully, but Amina is unsure about this new friendship, and makes several mistakes she has to apologize for later.  She has an ultra-traditional uncle who comes to stay with them in Minnesota, and Amina questions whether her love of music is against her family’s Muslim beliefs.  When their mosque is vandalized, Amina learns about community and her own bravery.

What I liked about this book was that it teaches a lot about a culture most of us don’t know a whole lot about.  I understand the general teachings of Islam, I have a student whose family is from Pakistan, and I like to think I am a tolerant person who pushes education about diverse populations.  However, my immediate family has always lived in America and we aren’t discriminated against due to our religious beliefs.  This book educated me and helped me to understand where others are coming from.  I will definitely book talk this one, and hope that my students will respond as positively as I did.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was simple and didn’t have a complex storyline, so it didn’t engage me and challenge me as much as I like to be challenged, but it is a book that will go over very well with students in my class, so that is definitely a positive thing!

Book 35 of 40

(Book 1 of 2018)

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Orphan Island

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Orphan Island (hardcover)

by Laurel Snyder

 

Orphan Island is a mysterious setting where 9 kids live without adult supervision.  Each year (?… time is slightly ambiguous, seasons are virtually non-existent, and days are marked by rocks and slashes inconsistently), a young child is sent to the island in a green boat.  The boat knows where to go and moves on it’s own, although it is its own entity.  When the new Care arrives, the Elder (oldest orphan) gets into the boat and goes off to… well, we don’t know where, but it is assumed some sort of civilization.  The 9 orphans learn to care for themselves, and the Elder teaches his/her Care (youngest arrival) how to survive on the island.  It is very Peter Pan-like, an island where kids are free from adult supervision, and live happily without cares in the world.

When Jinny says goodbye to her best friend, Deen, she is the new Elder.   She takes Ess, her new Care, under her wing, but Jinny has several character flaws.  She is inherently selfish without realizing it, because she isn’t thinking of the greater good, but her own feelings.  She fails to teach Ess to swim or read, and doesn’t show Ben how to take over when she’s gone, her most important jobs as Elder.  Jinny is left with a huge decision once it’s her time to get into the green boat, and we are left wondering whether we’d make that same decision.

What I liked about this book was that it was very well thought out.  It’s clear that Snyder has a backstory for the island, and she did a good job of asking questions through the story that makes me as the reader wonder what I would do.  Think of when you were 12… If you were ever angry at your parents, confused about what you were feeling of what was happening to your body, you will be able to relate to Jinny.  That can be a good and a bad thing…

What I didn’t like about this book was Jinny’s character.  It’s hard reading a story where you don’t really care for the protagonist.  Normally, you’re rooting for the protagonist in the story, but as an adult, I wasn’t agreeing with Jinny’s decisions.  As a 12 year old, I might really be able to relate to her selfishness, and the way she felt about the others on the island.  She was looking for someone to relate to, and found solace in a letter written by a previous resident, Abigail.  Although it bugged me, I can see why this is a well-received novel.  I look forward to the reactions by my students.

Book 32 of 40

See You in the Cosmos

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See You in the Cosmos (ebook)

by Jack Cheng

AR Level 

 

See You in the Cosmos is about Alex, an 11 year old rocket enthusiast who has made it his mission to send his golden iPod into space for intelligent life.  He has recorded himself speaking on the iPod so aliens can learn more about planet Earth.  Alex has a mother who is missing most of the story (but we later find out is mentally ill), an older brother who lives in LA, and a dog named after his hero, Carl Sagan.  Alex goes to a rocket festival where he plans to launch his rocket, and he meets several men who take him to Las Vegas and then Los Angeles to help him find a missing dad and catch up with his brother.  Along the way, Alex discovers he has a Terra, who becomes very important to him.  This story is a series of events that leave you feeling sad, stressed, and confused, but only because it is told through an ongoing narrative mostly by Alex, who is naive and young, and doesn’t see things as clearly we as the readers see them.

What I liked about this book was the idea that family isn’t necessarily who created you or who you’re blood-related to.  Alex had a group of people who loved and cared for him, who took on the roles of mom and dad, older siblings, grandparents, etc., even if they weren’t those people.  It puts things in perspective when students are upset about not having a dad, for example, but they have a great step parent or uncle or family friend who love and care the same way a dad might.

What I didn’t like about the book (or I should say, YOU  might not like about the book, it didn’t bother me so much) was the voice.  It is a series of recordings by Alex, and written exactly as he would say them.  That means there are missing periods, tons of run-on sentences, and there are so many things that were missing (because Alex didn’t know) that I wanted to know.  It requires a bit of patience, and you have to get used to it, but I felt that added to the charm of the book.  I can see my students getting frustrated with the writing, though.

Book 11 of summer 2017!

Pax

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Pax (hardcover)

by Sara Pennypacker

AR Level 5.3, 8 points

 

I bought this book, because I’d stalked it at the bookstore, and the illustrator (Jon Klassen) happened to be signing copies at the Book Fest in April.  He happens to be a really warm, kind man, and not fake like so many other authors or illustrators who come out to meet fans in mass.  I also saw that this is a book on the Mock Newbery list, so I figured it would be a good one to try out.

Pax is a red fox and Peter is his boy.  Peter is forced to give up his fox, even though he raised Pax from a tiny kit and Pax has never lived in the wild (except for the short time before Peter found him).  Peter is angry, which we find out is a family trait, and he sets out to find Pax after his father leaves for war.  (Sidenote: I’m really confused about this war.  It is a war over water, and apparently in the United States, so I’m guessing it’s totally fictional, but I couldn’t figure out if it’s also symbolic of some other “war.”)  With Peter and Pax both on their own in the wilderness and left to fend for themselves, both become wilder, tougher, and are forced into survival mode.  Peter runs into a woman named Vola, who not only teaches Peter survival skills, but also helps him come to terms with himself (while he helps her do the same).  Pax runs into several foxes, including Bristle and Runt, who teach him how to survive in the wild and be part of the animal world.  In the end, both Peter and Pax learn who they are and what is important to them.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it is heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time.

What I liked about this book was the multiple perspectives.  I always like books that show the world from a meaningful perspective.  Pax and Peter alternated chapters, and their lives seemed to parallel each other’s, which I found clever and easy to follow.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was sad at times, and very frustrating!  You can feel Pax’s and Peter’s frustrations through the multiple perspectives.  I also want to say it was slow, but I think I was the slow one, with it being the last month of school and all.  May is never a good time to start a new book when you’re a teacher!

Book 1 of 10 (summer reading challenge!)

Sidenote: have you heard of the Mock Newbery awards?  The reading list changes, depending on which website you’re reading, but Pax is on most, as well as Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo.  Last year, I read as many of the potential candidates as I could, and almost none of them ended up mentioned.  I’m open to your ideas.