Dash

Dash9780545416351_p0_v1_s260x420Dash

Kirby Larson, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Aug, 26, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Japanese-American Children, Evacuation, Relocation, Concentration Camps,  Dogs, WW II

Synopsis: After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, friends, schoolmates, community and her beloved dog, Dash. There is a lot of fear in America. Because Mitsi is of American-Japanese descent, she and her family are forced to pack their suitcases and are evacuated from their home.  They are relocated to two different concentration camps that are overcrowded, unhealthy, and surrounded by tall fences. Mitsi is forced to leave her dog, Dash, with Mrs. Bowker, an older neighbor who cares for him. Mrs. Bowker sends Mitsi weekly letters from Dash. Mitsi’s strong family ties and her letters from Dash give her hope that one day she will be reunited with her pet.

Why I like this book: Kirby Larson has created a strong heart-felt connection for her readers with Mitsi’s attachment to Dash. Dash adds an authentic touch to this deeply emotional story about a dark period in America’s history. Larson shows Mitsi going to school, playing with her two best friends until the attack occurs on Pearl Harbor occurs. Mitsi feels the prejudice from her best friends who begin to bully her with facial expressions, racial slurs and nasty notes. Larson’s characters are well-developed. Mitsi’s voice remains determined  and strong even when she’s struggling and balancing so many issues. She finds solace in her artwork and writing.  Larson’s depiction of life at the internment camps is very realistic with over-crowded living conditions, long lines, heat, dirt, fleas, smelly latrines,  and minimal food (oatmeal and Vienna Sausages). The plot is engaging, heartbreaking, and packed with adventure. Larson’s powerful story is based on the true story of Mitsue “Mitsi” Shiraishi, who loved her dog, Chubby and left him behind with a neighbor, who wrote the real “Mitsi” letters from Chubby. I highly recommend this important story about the resilience of the human spirit.

Kirby Larson is the acclaimed author of the 2007 Newbury Honor book Hattie Big Sky; its sequel, Hattie Ever After; The Friendship Doll; Dear America: The Fences Between Us; and Duke.  Visit Kirby Larson at her website.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming9780399252518_p0_v2_s260x420Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Memoir, Aug. 28, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes:  Jacqueline Woodson, Childhood, Family relationships, Living in the north and south, Finding one’s voice, From girl to author

Pages: 366

Opening“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital/Columbus, Ohio./USA– a country caught/ between Black and White.”

Synopsis: Jacqueline Woodson shares what it is like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both Brooklyn, NY and Greenville, SC.  The south is home for Jacqueline and her brother and sister as they spend the summers with their grandparents. Children tease Jacqueline and her siblings about their northern accents. She struggles with the subtle prejudices in the South as her  awareness of the civil rights movement grows. In Greenville there are loving grandparents, friends, and a lot of love. In Brooklyn she’s teased about being a Jehovah Witness and having to follow rules that her  friends don’t understand. And living in the shadow of her sister’s academic performance in school presents another challenge. Jacqueline has difficulty with schoolwork. It is through her poetry and storytelling that a teacher tells  her “You’re a writer.” Jacqueline’s voice begins to grow stronger with each word she pens because she wants to believe.  Readers will find Jacqueline Woodson’s journey to become an author engaging and inspiring.

Every dandelion blown

each Star light, star bright,

The first star I see tonight.

My wish is always the same.

Every fallen eyelash

and first firefly of summer…

The dream remains.

What did you wish for?

To be a writer.”

What I like about this book: Brown Girl Dreaming is a deeply personal and authentic memoir for teens struggling with race, prejudice, absent fathers, and finding their place in the world. Jacqueline Woodson’s determined and uplifting voice is eloquent. Her use of free verse compliments the theme in her memoir.  Her story is lyrical, emotional, and powerful. Each page is a clever, lively or soulful poem about a growing girl’s identity; her struggle with reading, a love of stories, and a desire to become a writer. She gives her readers hope and the sweet taste of what it’s like to follow your dreams.

Jacqueline Woodson is the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, the recipient of three Newberry Honors for After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers and Show Way, and a two-time finalist for the National Book Award for Locomotion and Hush.  Other awards include the Coretta Scott King Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Miracle’s Boys. Visit Jacqueline Woodson at her website.

Rachel’s Hope

Rachel's Hope9781927583425_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Hope (The Rachel Trilogy)

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, September 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Russian Jews, Persecution, Separation, Immigration. Family, Love, Hope

Synopsis: Rachel Paskar flees the antisemitic violence and persecution against Jews in her Russian village and makes the long journey by train across Siberia with her family to a refugee camp in Shanghai. Rachel makes a name for herself as a journalist. After her mother dies in Shanghai, she and her surviving family members save enough money to sail to San Francisco in 1905. Rachel also leaves behind her boyfriend, Sergei, in St. Petersburg. He becomes involved in the revolution against the Tsarist Russians.

Rachel and her family find freedom from persecution in San Francisco, but are challenged with learning a new language and strange American customs, while trying to hang on to their family’s Russian traditions. Rachel works as a maid, meets a group of women’s voter activists, and makes friends with a female journalist who encourages her writing and introduces her to newspaper editors. She meets a student, Alexander, who she cares about, but Sergei remains in her thoughts. What has happened to him and will she ever see him again? Then the great San Francisco earthquake strikes and Rachel and her family lose everything.  Starting over is hard, yet this determined young woman never loses sight of her dream to attend the university.

Why I  like this book:  Rachel’s Hope marks the culmination of the The Rachel Trilogy. You can read my reviews of  Rachel’s Secret and Rachel’s Promise here. Shelly Sanders’ fictionalized trilogy is based on a true story about her courageous grandmother who faces persecution as a Russian Jew, escapes from Russia and journeys to America, where she becomes the first Jewish woman accepted into the University of California, Berkeley’s science program.  Sanders masterfully reconstructs life in early 20th century Russia, Shanghai and America, weaving the personal with the historical into a compelling story that creates a rich reading experience. She is fastidious in her research of different cultural customs and details of every day life (i.e. food, clothing, dwellings, and work conditions). Her heroine is a strong and courageous character.  Her plot is moving as she brilliantly writes two parallel stories — Rachel’s changing life in America and Sergei’s hard life in revolutionary Russia — and gives the reader a clear and realistic portrayal of a period in history that few people know. Yet, Rachel’s Hope brings a positive conclusion to the story of a Russian family immigrating to America where possibilities are limitless. I highly recommend this important series to teachers for use in the classroom. Resources: Visit Sanders’ website for teachers guides on the trilogy and more information.

Shelly Sanders has worked as a freelance writer for almost 20 years. The Rachel Trilogy was an “intense three-year journey” for her. She learned about her grandmother’s story when she was 16 years old, after her grandmother had died. It wasn’t until after Sanders had a family, that she felt a compulsion to get to know her grandmother.

Lost Girl Found

Lost Girl Found9781554984169_p0_v1_s260x420Lost Girl Found

Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca, Authors

Groundwood Books, Fiction, March 2014

Suitable for Ages: 13-17

Themes: Lost Girls, Education, Persecution, Refugees, Sudan, War, Survival, Courage, Hope

Pages: 192

Synopsis:  Poni lives in Chukudum, a small village in South Sudan. Poni wants an education and is encouraged by her mama. She is smart and has no interest in marriage. She beats away the boys who show her any attention. She will not be forced into a marriage like her best friend, Nadai. Instead she watches the boys, becomes a fast runner and swims in the forbidden Kinyeti River. One night the bombs start falling over her village and Poni flees for her life. She can’t find her family and journeys with other refugees to a camp in Kenya, where conditions are deplorable. She escapes from the camp for a chance to pursue her dreams.

Why I like this book: Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca have written a very powerful and gripping novel about a strong-willed girl, Zenitra Lujana Paul Poni, who against all odds, survives the trauma and atrocities of the Sudanese war to pursue her dream of getting an education.  Poni is one of the Lost Girls of Sudan. Unlike the Lost Boys, the stories of the Lost Girls are rarely told. Poni narrates the story and her voice is smooth, strong and determined, no matter the challenges she faces. You can’t help but cheer for her. This is the first book I have read about the Lost Girls of Sudan, so I was particularly interested in the story behind this story. Poni is actually a compilation of many resilient girls and women who survive, receive the education, and give back to their country. A lot of research went into telling Poni’s remarkable story. Bassoff and DeLuca met at a conference for Southern Sudanese Women. DeLuca, an anthropologist, knew the Sudanese people, the language  and the culture. She helped Bassoff with the details and accuracy. Their collaboration results in a realistic portrayal  that honors these incredibly resilient women so that students will learn about what child refugees, mostly orphans, endure in war-torn parts of the world. Lost Girl Found is a page-turner and belongs in every middle and high school library.

Resources: The authors have listed films, documentaries and books about the lost children at the end of the book. There also is a beautiful author’s note, information on the Lost Children of Sudan, a map and a brief timeline of Sudan from 1955 to 2011, when the Republic of South Sudan gains independence and is founded. Visit Leah Bassoff at her website.

All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Africare, a charitable organization that works with local populations to improve the quality of life for people in Africa.

A Time fo Dance

A Time to Dance9780399257100_p0_v2_s260x420A time to Dance

Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 2014

Suitable for ages: 12-16

Themes: Dance, India, Amputee, Disabilities, Abilities

Book Jacket Synopsis: Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance–so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown up used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Why I like this book: This inspirational novel is lyrically written in verse. Padma Venkatraman has woven together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Bharatanatyam.  This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause. “For my invisible audience of the One I begin to dance./ Colors blur into whiteness and a lilting tune that is and is not of the world resonates within and without me./ My body feels whole./In the beat of my heart I hear again the eternal rhythm of Shiva’s feet.” Reading Venkatraman’s novel is an experience of India in all its beauty, cultural traditions, senses and sounds. If you listen closely you can hear the faint echo of a dancing rhythm.  Thaiya thai. Thaiya thai.  I highly recommend this beautiful novel for tweens and teens who have faced challenges in their lives. This book is a treasure on my bookshelf.

Padma Venkatraman is an oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. She is the author of Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, both multi-award winners.  Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen. Visit Padma at her website. It has discussion questions and teaching resources.

Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World

International Day of the Girl – Declared by the United Nations — October 11

Because I Am a Girl9781927583449_p0_v2_s260x420Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World

Rosemary McCarney, with Jen Albaugh and Plan International, Authors

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 11, 2014

Themes: Girls in developing countries, Poverty, Girls uniting to change the world, Social conditions, Educating Girls, Promoting girls’ rights

Suitable for Ages: 8 – 14

Pages: 96

Book Synopsis: Meet some amazing girls! They are from all over the world and tell stories of their lives that are sometimes hard to imagine. In Because I am a Girl we hear of the barriers and dangers that they, and millions of girls like them face every day. Despite the hardships, they have great hope for the future. All are willing to do whatever they can to make their lives and those of their families and communities better. Read about: Lucy, an orphan in Zimbabwe, who struggles to find enough food for herself and her sister; Kathryn from South Sudan, who teaches the younger children in the refugee camp where she lives; Farwa, who was destined to become a child bride in Pakistan; and Fahmeeda, a Youth Ambassador from Canada, who works to protect the rights of women and children around the world.

Why I like this book: Rosemary McCarney with Jen Albaugh, has written a powerful, inspiring, and uplifting book for middle grade readers that belongs in every school library — in multiple copies! It is a wonderful resource for students and teachers. The layout of the book is done with thought and purpose.  Readers are introduced to the stories of poverty-stricken girls who deal with barriers and hardship. Each story is followed by a “Did You Know” section, with facts and information about other girls around the globe facing similar problems and the critical need for education. In later sections the authors focus on hope and action. You feel strength and determination as the voices of the girls grow strong about what they can contribute. By the end of the book you see the girls uniting to form clubs to work on projects that will benefit their communities. These girls will become the future teachers, nurses, midwives, doctors, lawyers, business women and leaders. They will be the heart of their communities, bring growth and change, and turn the tide away from poverty and towards a more peaceful world. This book reminds me of what the Dalai Lama said at the Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009:  “The western women will save the world and bring peace.” It will also be educated girls in small villages around the globe bringing change to their communities and unity to the world.  Many photographers contributed to the bright and bold photographs that highlight each story. The book is beautifully packaged.

Rosemary McCarney is the author of a picture book Every Day is Malala Day She is President and CEO of Plan International Canada, and spearheads the Because I am a Girl global initiative.  She led the call for United Nations to declare October 11 the “International Day of the Girl” — a day each year to recognize and advocate for girls’ rights and end global poverty. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Plan’s Because I am a Girl FundPlan International is one of the world’s largest international charities working in 50 developing countries, including the United States.

Jen Albaugh is a former elementary school teacher and librarian working as a freelance writer and editor in Toronto who is greatly inspired by the work of Plan and the Because I am a Girl initiative.

*I was provided with a copy of “Because I am a Girl” in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Upside Down and Backwards

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – September 2014

Upside Down9781433816383_p0_v1_s260x420Upside Down and Backwards: A Sibling’s Journey Through Childhood Cancer

Julie Greves, Katy Tenhulzen, and Fred Wilkinson, Authors

Magination Press, Fiction, May 12, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-13

Themes: Cancer, Siblings, Family Relationships, Feelings,

Book Summary: Ever since his first ride, Bryce has been obsessed with roller coasters. The hiss of the ride starting, the anticipation, the slow climb up the first steep hill, the pause just before the car careens over the steep drop. But when Bryce’s sister Paige is diagnosed with cancer, his life become one of the craziest roller coasters he would ever ride. His parents are suddenly distracted and stressed. It seems like Paige always gets her way. Brice has trouble keeping up with school. He misses out on time with his friends. And he worries about Paige. Will his family ever get back to normal?

Why I like this book:  The roller coaster is the perfect metaphor for a sibling’s journey through childhood cancer. It is written in a matter-of-fact and understandable way. The story is vivid, realistic, upbeat and honest. It focuses on real-life issues for siblings and family members. I especially like that the book emphasizes recovery rather than dealing with a loss. Bryce narrates the story and the authors did an excellent job of exposing the confusing emotions of his character. Bryce’s world is turned upside down and backwards because his sister is diagnosed with cancer. He feels like he’s also riding the “cancer coaster.” There are midnight trips to the emergency room with Paige, but no one bothers to tell him. He feels forgotten when his parents don’t pick him up after school or don’t make a baseball game where he hits his first home run. Yet he cares about his sister and shaves his head when she loses her hair to chemo treatments. A sibling support group become a refuge because the other kids actually get what his life if like. The authors really got this story right and I highly recommend it for siblings of cancer patients and their parents.

Resources: There is a very helpful six-page guide at the back of the book with suggestions for siblings on how to take care of themselves, stay connected, talk to friends, discuss their feelings, deal with guilt, seek out a support group, and face  the future.

About the Authors: The authors share a passion for supporting patients and their families throughout the entire cancer journey in their work at Seattle Children’s Hospital. This passion  motivated them to write a book and create resources for siblings.

Julie Greves, CCLS,  is a certified child life specialist, where she has spent over 10 years working with pediatric oncology patients. Katy Tenhulzen, CCLS, is a certified child life specialist who has had the opportunity to support pediatric hematology and oncology patients and families since 2002.  Fred Wilkinson, LICSW, has been an oncology social worker focusing on psychological trauma since 2001.