A Good Trade by Alma Fullerton

A Good Trade

Alma Fullerton, Author

Karen Patkau, Illustrator

Pajama Press, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Ugandan children, Poverty, Traveling for water, War

Opening: “In a small Ugandan garden, a single poppy blooms white in a sea of green. On a mat inside his hut, Kato wakes at the break of dawn.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Kato wakes early to begin his morning routine, a long barefoot trek beyond village gates through grasses, down a steep hill, and along fields dotted with cattle and guarded by soldiers. His destination is the village well, where he will pump a day’s supply of water into two jerry cans. Like very day, Kato lets the water splash over his hot tired feet before carrying his heavy load back home, where the day’s chores await him. But this is no ordinary day. The aid-worker’s truck has come, and in the back is something so special the little boy rushes home to look for something to repay the aid-worker for this unexpected gift for his village.

Why I like this book:

Alma Fullerton’s text is rich, spare and beautifully crafted. Her narrative is strong and lyrical as she shares Kato’s daily trip to get drinking water for his family. He is barefoot like the other children in his village. The water he collects is essential for cooking, drinking and bathing.

When Kato spies the aid worker’s truck that brings shoes to the village children, he hurries home with his water cans. He finds a white poppy and returns to give it to the aid worker as his expression of gratitude for her generous gift.

This important book shows children how difficult life can be for kids living in war-torn areas and in drought. For many children school isn’t an option because  their days are filled with chores. Fullerton’s story raises cultural awareness for the global plight of children like Kato. Young readers will appreciate the things they take for granted, like running tap water, shoes and transportation.  It addresses tough issues in a hopeful and age-appropriate manner and is an excellent read-aloud for the classroom.

Karen Patkau’s digitally rendered illustrations are colorful and lush. They work beautifully with the text and illuminate the message in the story.

Resources: This is an important story that will generate lively classroom discussions  about how difficult life can be for children around the world.  Ask children about how they would feel if they didn’t have a pair of shoes? Would they be able to walk barefoot every day to collect water from a well? How would they bath or wash clothing?  What will they eat? This is a great exercise in empathy.

Alma Fullerton is the award-winning author of the picture books A Good Trade, Community Soup and In a Cloud of Dust, When the Rain Comes. Check out my review of her most recent picture book, Hand Over Hand.  Visit Fullerton at her website.

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 website.

Every Falling Star: How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

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Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland, Authors

Amulet Books, Memoir, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 11 – 14

Themes: Life in North Korea, History, Family Relationships, Homeless Boys, Street Children, Gangs, Poverty, Loss, Survival, Escape,  Multicultural, Hope

Prologue Opening: My toy soldier peers over a mound of dirt not far from where my father, abeoji, my mother, eomeoni, and I have just finished our picnic, near the Daedong River in Pyongyang.

Synopsis: Every Falling Star is the memoir of Sungju Lee, a North Korean (Joseon) boy who grows up in a privileged military family in Pyongyang.  He dreams of becoming a general in the army. His father is an important military leader, his mother a teacher and his grandfather a doctor. Sungju plays with his toy soldiers and his father joins him to teach him war strategies. His favorite television cartoon is Boy General. His loving  family lives in a large apartment near Kim Il-sung Square. Life is normal and there is plenty of food. Sungju attends school where he listens to the stories about the eternal leader, Kim Il-Sung, studies regular subjects, and learns about the monsters that want to attack his country — the Americans, the Japanese and the South Koreans. He takes taekwondo lessons, attends birthday parties, and goes to the amusement park.

One day Sungju’s father is asked to leave his job because of something he’s done. The family is sent north to Gyeong-seong, where they are to work as laborers in the countryside. Sungju is shocked by his new life and the starvation and death around him. He attends school where he makes friends, but attending is not worth his time. Eventually the family’s money (won) runs out and they fall upon hard times like everyone else. His parents hunt for wild vegetables, roots, small animals in the forests to survive. Sungju sells his books in the market. When his father goes to China to sell valuables and his mother heads to an aunt’s home for food, Sungju is alone. They never return and he is homeless. The twelve-year-old is forced to live in the streets and fend for himself. He survives for four years by joining a gang (kotjebi) and creates a new family with these brothers. Eventually he leads his own gang. Life is dangerous, brutal, and unforgiving. Sungju learns to steal, lie, and fight-to-kill. Everyday he fears arrest, imprisonment and even execution. It is the hope of finding his parents that keeps him alive.

Why I like this book:

  • Sungju Lee’s brave memoir captivated me from start to finish. I know so little about life in contemporary North Korea, and his gripping and powerfully haunting story touched me in a way I won’t forget. This is a true story that humanizes history for readers.
  • Lee and author Susan McClelland vividly depict the sharp contrast between life for the privileged families living in Pyongyang and the grim, deplorable and brutal life for the poor living through the famine outside the city in the 1990s. You understand how children in Pyongyang are brainwashed with propaganda based on myths from birth. You feel the anger, hopelessness and despair of those starving in the countryside and wonder how you would survive an authoritarian government where censorship is rampant and your freedoms are taken away.
  • Readers will observe Sungju’s transformation from a naïve child, loving and dutiful son in Pyongyang, to a resilient, fearless and notorious street gang leader. He uses the military tactics his father teaches him as a child to outsmart his street enemies, merchants and the police. He has rules his gang all agree to live by, like never stealing food from a child. He develops strategies, secret codes and hideouts. He is a leader and becomes hardened. The only heart he shows is towards his loyal gang brothers: Young-bum, Chulho, Min-gook, Unsik, Myeongchul, and Sangchul. They are his family.
  • The story is a page turner, reads like a novel and is packed with action. The pacing is fierce with most of the storytelling focused on Sungju’s street survival. He and his gang are always on the move. They hop trains to other cities, fight with different gangs for control over markets, manipulate merchants, and are chased out-of-town by police. They move on to other cities and repeat their activities. They also suffer personal injury and loss of two of their brothers.
  • Readers will have to wait until the very last chapter to discover how Sungju leaves his street life and is reunited with his family. The ending feels rushed and I wanted to know more about his big escape. After all, it is a risky event. Thankfully, there is an Epilogue at the end that fills in the gaps. Verdict: Teens will find this powerful memoir about adversity and hope, engaging and satisfying.  Every Falling Star belongs in school libraries. Although the publisher lists the book for ages 12-14, the School Library Journal recommends it for middle grade readers, ages 8 -12. Because of the drinking, drugs, stealing and violence in the book, parents should make that call for tweens.

Quote: “But I hadn’t lost everything. I had hope that I would meet my parents again. With this hope, I made a wish whenever I saw a falling star.”

Resources: There is a Brief History of Korea and Prologue at the beginning of the book. There is an Epilogue and Glossary of Korean words at the end.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

As a Boy

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Plan International Canada

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Boys, Education, Choices, Gender Inequality, Poverty, Responsibilities, Diversity,

Opening: “As a boy, I will have choices from the day I am born. Some will be made for me…and some I will make for myself.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: All children should be treated equally, whether they are boys or girls. Boys have sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. They care about the choices that their mothers have, and the opportunities that their aunts are given. They want to see their grandmothers get the respect they deserve, and that their sisters have the same rights as their brothers.

Because boys love their sisters, they want them to go to school, just like they do. Because boys are sometimes given chances girls are not, they know that this is not right. And as brothers and sons, nephews and future fathers, they can help to make sure that all children have voices and choices.

Why I like this book:

As A Boy is an inspiring global story about boys and their families. Each page features breathtaking, expressive, and powerful photographs that will melt your heart and touch your soul. No matter how difficult lives can be, there are so many smiles on their faces and a glimmer of hope.

The minimal use of text is strong and conveys Plan International’s message “that boys are routinely given an education and choices that girls are not, and that this needs to change.”  The book allows boys to raise their voices in solidarity, to say that they too want the girls and women in their lives to be given equal opportunities to succeed in the world.”

I am a fan of Plan International books. They address tough issues and teach youth about how difficult life can be for children around the world. Since we are a global family, youth need to know that boys are treated differently than girls around the world. Their needs are put above their sisters. But, boys also face the burden and pressure of growing up quickly to be a man, to work, to support their families, to fight and to be brave.

As a Boy is a perfect companion book to Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World, as well as The Way to School, both personal favorites of mine. Click on the titles to read my reviews. All three of these books are valuable resources for school libraries, so that children will have an understanding of what it is like to be a boy or girl in a third world country. Since so many children live in poverty, education is vital to their futures. Many times going to school involves hurdles and risks.

Plan International was founded in 1937. It is one of the world’s oldest and largest international charities, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Proceeds from all the book sales are used to support programs benefitting children around the world.

Resources/Activities: This is an excellent classroom discussion book to talk about how boys and girls are treated differently around the world. Pair As a Boy with the other two books mentioned above, so students get a better look at the gender inequality. Ask students if the feel they are treated equally in their country of origin. Make a list. Ask the boys and girls how they would feel if they had to change places. And, celebrate gender equality with other children on the International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11, 2016.

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives

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Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch, Authors

Little Brown and Company, Memoir, Apr. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Pen Pals, Teenagers, U.S. and Zimbabwe, Friendship, Poverty, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis: It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. Martin was lucky to even receive a pen-pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one. That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

Why I like this book:

  • This is an inspirational  story about a true friendship that begins between two 12-year-old students in 1997 — Caitlin lives in Pennsylvania and Martin lives in the slums of Zimbabwe. They make a pen pal pact that they “will always write back.” Their story is about similarities and contrasts. Their friendship transforms both of their lives and makes them better people.
  • The dual memoir is told in first person with alternating chapters that keep readers turning pages. It also adds more depth to the story because readers have immediate access to their intimate thoughts and feelings as they exchange letters and build trust with one another. Caitlin’s early letters detail arguments with friends, boyfriends, shopping, and family. Martin quickly realizes that Caitlin’s life is one of privilege, so it takes a crisis before Martin finally opens up and reveals his difficult life.
  • Martin is a serious and determined teen who is wants to be the first in his family to get and education. He is at the top of his class and scores very high on national exams. He is a whiz at math and wants to go to college and major in mathematics and finances. He works hard at his studies, but also has a side job to help his family. His story is the most compelling because of all the obstacles he has to overcome to pursue his dreams.
  • I enjoyed watching Caitlin’s growth and change when she realizes the full impact of Martin’s poverty-stricken life. She begins to look at her own life and what matters. She stops hanging with the friends who tease her about her pen pal. She begins to focus on finding ways to help Martin realize his dreams. She turns to her family for help.
  • Caitlin’s parents are amazing. They play a significant role in finding ways to send money to Martin’s family after his father loses his job. They pay for Martin and his sibling’s schooling, help his parents with rent and food, and send care packages. Helping Martin pursue higher education in Zimbabwe and attend a university in America, becomes a family project. Caitlin’s mother is a gem! She works tirelessly with American universities to find a full scholarship for Martin. She and Caitlin work with embassies in both countries. This is a family to admire.
  • I Will Always Write Back is a powerful story about how one person (and family) can make a difference. It is a story about connecting the dots with others less fortunate and realizing that we all have the power to help others less fortunate, whether it is locally or globally. Both Caitlin and Martin opened each other’s eyes to a bigger and better world. Their memoir is an eye-opener and an excellent choice for students in the classroom. Teachers can use their story to discuss the contrast in cultures and encourage students to get involved in service.

Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda are still best friends today. Caitlin, an ER nurse, is married and has young daughters. Martin earned dual degrees in mathematics and economics for Villanova University and an MBA in finance from Duke University.  Over time he saved and purchased a new home for his parents with indoor plumbing, a toilet and their own beds.  His sister is planning to attend college in America.

Liz Welch is an award-winning journalist and memoirist whose critically acclaimed first book, The Kids Are All Right, won an ALA Alex Award. She worked with Caitlin and Martin to bring their story to life.

The Way to School

WTS_backcover.inddThe Way to School

Rosemary McCarney with Plan International, Author

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sept. 1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: How children from around the world travel to school

Opening: “You probably enjoy going to school. Even if you have a bad day now and then, wouldn’t you miss it if you could never go? Did you know that lots and lots of kids around the world would love to go to school, but can’t?”

Synopsis: As the new school year begins, many children eagerly prepare for school. In America and Canada, most ride school buses, travel by car or walk.  But, children all over the world don’t have a yellow school bus picking them up each day. For many children, the journey to school is not very easy. It can be long, arduous and dangerous. They travel though earthquake and tsunami areas, wade or paddle across rivers, climb mountains and slippery cliffs, cling to ziplines that dangle over gorges, and ride dog sleds.

Why I like this book:

Rosemary McCarney has once again written a beautiful and remarkable book that will be an eye-opener for many children. I was surprised at the extreme dangers children face daily because they are so determined to attend school. They want to improve their lives and help their communities.

I like McCarney’s minimal use of text and her emphasis on the beautiful photographs that speak more than words ever could. Every photograph in this stunning picture book shows the commitment children are willing to make to go to school. This is a magnificent book for teachers to use in the classroom at the start of a new school year. It will jump-start many interesting discussions about extreme modes of transportation for children in third world countries.  It will also help children appreciate what they have. This book belongs in every school library.

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Photo Courtesy of Second Story Press

Resources/Activities: After reading the book and showing children each detailed photograph, ask them some lively questions: “What would you do to get to school?” “How important is school to you? Why do children in poor villages want to go to school?” Ask kids to choose one of modes of transportation in the book, draw a picture and write a paragraph about going to school by boat, dog sled or ziplines. Today is a National Day of Service. How will you be involved?

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.

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.

My Name is Blessing

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Eric Walters, Author

Eugenie Fernandes, Illustrator

Tundra Books,  Fiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Kenya, Poverty, Disability, Orphan Crisis, Hope

Opening: “Muthini watched his grandmother stirring the big pot. He knew there would be not much to eat. But whatever there was would be shared equally among her nine grandchildren. They lined up, oldest to youngest. Muthini was lastUsing the two fingers of his right hand he scooped up some porridge.”

Synopsis: Muthini and his grandmother, Nyanya, live in rural Kenya near the mountains. Nyanya barely makes enough money to support nine orphaned grandchildren. Muthini, whose name means “suffering” is the youngest and was born with no fingers on his left hand and only two on his right. He is teased by others. When he asks his grandmother why he as fewer fingers she tells him “we are each given more of some things and less of others.” ” It is so sad that other children only have ten fingers when you have a larger heart, a bigger brain, and greater spirit.” One day his grandmother realizes that she is too old to help Muthini. She takes him to a special residential home/school for children without families, where he meets the director. Gabriel, looks at Muthini’s hands and only sees his potential. But Gabriel will only accept Muthini if he changes his name to Baraka, which means blessing.

Why I like this book:  Eric Walters’ story is about a real boy named Baraka and his grandmother, Grace. His text is very lyrical and heartwarming. His extraordinary story begins by showing Muthini’s disability as a misfortune.  But Gabriel focuses on Baraka and his great heart and spirit. Baraka is a blessing and not one who suffers.  Eugenie Fernandes’ acrylic illustrations are done in soft browns and yellows hues and capture both the emotion and spirit of the story.  He gives great detail to facial expressions.

Resources: There are five pages of back matter about Baraka and his grandmother. Walters shares information about the Mbooni Region of Kenya — the poverty, famine and disease which leaves 500 children orphaned. He chronicles his 2007 visit with photographs of Grace and her family, their meager living conditions and the region. Walters response to what he sees by founding The Creation of Hope, a residential care center for children. You can read about Eric Walter’s work in the book and on his website. Make sure you check out the page devoted to the Creation of Hope.

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