Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: Indentured servants, Pakistan, Family Life, Dreams, Courage

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their grand estate, surrounded by a high brick wall and gate guards.

Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So  she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them — so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars, will eagerly devour Amal Unbound, a heartbreaking and hopeful story about believing in yourself and finding courage in the midst of danger. Saeed’s bold and skillfully penned novel creates an exceptional reading experience that will  touch your soul.

The setting is culturally rich as it is about Pakistani traditions, village schools, small villages, shopping in local markets, food preparations, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and the pressure on mothers to birth baby boys.

The first-person narrative with Amal offers greater depth into her character. Amal is a strong, determined and clever protagonist who loves school and dreams of going to the university and becoming a teacher one day. When her mother suffers postpartum depression after the birth of a fifth daughter, her father makes Amal quit school to care for her siblings. Not one to give up, she manages to find a creative way to keep up with her school work. When Amal stands up to the wealthy Kahn son, Jawad Sahib, at the market and refuses to give him her purchases, her world begins to crumble. As a punishment, he makes her a servant at the Khan family home.  The characters are well-developed, memorable and despicable. They will stay with you after you finish.

The plot is suspenseful and dangerous at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. Even though Amal is living in luxury serving the kind mother of the brutal landlord, it will always be a prison for Amal. But Amal is smart and resourceful and she uses it to her advantage.  Amal Unbound is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The author manages to surprise me with the unexpected ending. Readers will be cheering.

It is so hard to imagine that indentured servitude is a problem that still exists for millions of people globally. It takes many forms and occurs in the United States. It is a corrupt and dangerous business. It is Saeed’s hope that Amal’s story will shine a light on the brave girls enduring servitude.

Favorite Quote:

“I balanced the tray in my hands and walked to the kitchen. I tried to pretend I didn’t care what the woman said, but I did.  I doubted I would every get used to being discussed like cattle at the market.” Page 109

Aisha Saeed is the author of Written in the Stars. As a Pakistani American and one of the founding members of the much-talked-about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping to change the conversation about diverse books. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Cowboy Car by Jeanie Franz Ransom

Cowboy Car

Jeanie Franz Ransom, Author

Ovi Nedelcu, Illustrator

Two Lions, Fiction, Apr. 11, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Cars, Pursuing Dreams, Courage, Friendship

Opening: Ever since he was knee-high to his daddy’s hubcaps, Little Car wanted to be a COWBOY.

Synopsis: Little Car grew up in a crowded city garage where he saw cowboys on TV. He learned that cowboys lived in a place called Out West, where there was a lot of space and they could sleep under the stars. Cowboys could wear big hats, drive the range, herd cattle and circle the campfire.  Little Car wanted to be a cowboy. He didn’t want to live in noisy big city.

Everyone told him that cars couldn’t be cowboys. His dad wanted him to be a taxi cab, like him. His mother wanted him to be a family car, like her. One day Little Car packed up his trunk and headed west until he found a big ranch and Dusty, a cowboy. “Cars can’t be cowboys. They can’t ride horses!” Little Car was so convincing, that Dusty gave him a chance. Will Little Car prove he’s got what it takes to be a cowboy?

Why I like this book:

In his heart Little Car knows he’s destined for greater things.  Little Car has character and determination. Kids will cheer for Little Car and his big ambition to pursue his dream of becoming a cowboy.  They will laugh when Dusty asks him to move a big bales of hay and Little Car ends up beneath the pile. But when Dusty is thrown from a mean bull at a rodeo, Little Car struts his stuff with a big VROOOMMM and drives off to help his friend. The ending is endearing.

Jeanie Franz Ransom’s text flows nicely, with fun wordplay (brake dancing) and excellent pacing.  Ovi Nedelcu adds to the excitement of Little Car’s big adventure with his colorful, expressive and zany illustrations, which will quickly draw children into this entertaining story. Wait until kids get a look at Little Car’s fifty-gallon hat! Verdict: This book is a winner!

Resources: Ask children what kind of car/vehicle (truck, boat, golf cart, camper, bus, train etc.) they would like to be. What color would they want to be? Would they have a name?  Would they have an important job like to do like helping people?  Ask kids to draw a picture of the car/vehicle they’ve selected.

Jeanie Franz Ransom was a cowgirl growing up. She had a pony and a showed horses all over the Midwest. She is now an award-winning author. Her recent titles include Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf and There’s a Cat in Our Class.  I’ve reviewed both books. You can visit Ransom at her website to learn more.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books