Monday, July 6, 2015

Summertime Books: A Day at the Beach

The salty wind
the sound of the sea
the sand and the sun
the waves and the spray 
a glistening, glittering
                          jewel of a day

From: Changes: A Child's First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow
Sourcebooks, 2015, 40 pages (age 3+

A Say at the Seashore by Kathryn and Bryon Jackson,
illustrated by Corinne Malvern
Little Golden Books, 1951/2010, 24 pages (3+)

 Maybe you remember this rhyming book as A Day at the Beach.  It's been reissued but the story stays the same.  Nancy and Timmy head off to the beach with they parents and puppy and spend a day at the shore digging, building sand castles, chasing crabs and just having some summertime fun.  It may feel a little dated now, but it is still a nice story for young kids.

Beach House by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Amy June Bates
Chronicle Books, 2015, 32 pages (age 3+)

This is a real favorite now in my family.  We've spent years going to the Jersey shore on vacation and Beach House describes almost to a T just what it was like, right down to no beach till everything is unpacked.  Caswell has captured that wonderful beach feeling in her simple rhymes and I could almost smell the the salt air and feel the shore breeze as we read this beautifully illustrated picture book.

Beach Day by Karen Roosa, illustrated by Maggie Smith
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001, 40 pages (age 4+)

This is another favorite.  Roosa has also depicted a day at the beach.  Each activity is done in four line stanzas with an aaba rhyme scheme giving the readers the feeling of a pleasant, airy day by the shore.  The detailed watercolor (the perfect medium for a beach book) illustrations will make you want to head for the beach ASAP.  

Uh-Oh! by Shutta Crum, Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Random House, 2015, 32 pages (age 3+)

Two toddler friends, accompanied by their moms, head off to the beach in this almost wordless story.  The only word that appears in uh-oh.  But each uh-oh is followed by a new idea.  When the little girls glasses fall off, the kids pick them up and put them on the mound of sand they were building, turning it into a face.  You get the picture, I'm sure.  It's a nice book with a message along the lines of when you get lemons, make lemonade but for toddlers.

Beach written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper
Scholastic Press, 2006, 40 pages (3+)

Elisha Cooper takes the reader to the beach for the day in this wonderful book of observations.  He begins the day with a panoramic two page empty morning beach and ends with another panoramic two page empty evening beach, covering everything in between, from the beach rituals of people, adults and kids alike, to different kinds of waves, shells, and cloud formations.  Perfect for beach lovers and for those who have never experienced life at the ocean's edge.   

Hello Ocean/Hola Mar by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated Mark Astrella
Charlesbridge, 2003, 32 pages (age 3+)

In this day at the beach book, Pam Muñoz Ryan explores the seashore through a young girl's five senses, all done in rhyme.  The illustrations capture the way the sun's rays can lighten color, giving them an classic sun-washed appearance.  With its focus on sight, sound, hearing, touch and smell, this is an ideal precursor to a young readers own seaside sensory explorations.  Best of all - t it is a dual language book in English and Spanish.

Wave written and illustrated by Suzy Lee
Chronicle Books, 2008, 40 pages (age 3+)

Have you ever watched kids approach the water's edge at the beach, running forward and backward with the ebb and flow of waves, timid but wanting to go in the water.  Well, Suzy Lee has captured those tentative moments perfectly in this wordless book.  Not only that, she has made good use of each page's gutter, using it to separate the sand on the left side from the ocean on the right.  But, will her shy little girl make to the right side of the page and into the water?

Flotsam conceived and illustrated by David Wiesner
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, 40 pages (5+)

In this wordless book, a young boy, who loves to explore the beach, discovers an old camera that has washed up on shore.  Inside, he finds a role of film which he has developed.  Besides some imaginative underwater pictures, there is a photo of a girl holding a photo, which, on further investigation, is of another child holding a photo, and on and on.  What does the boy do?  Simple, heused the camera to  become part of the story himself.  This is one of my all time favorite books, in part, because of it so imaginative, and in part, because it shows kids that they are also always part of the story whenever they read a book.

At the Boardwalk by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman, illustrated by Monica Armiño
Tiger Tales, 2012, 32 pages (age 3+)

After a day at the beach, it's always fun to hit the boardwalk.  There are games, beach toys and sweet treats to be gotten, but it's also a nice place to blow some bubbles or go on rides.  Fineman depicts a day on the boardwalk with all its sights, sounds and smells in rhyming quatrains to the accompaniment of hazy, colorful realistic illustrations.

Roller Coaster written and illustrated by Marla Frazee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, 32 pages (age 3+)

I think most kids are fascinated by roller coasters and can't wait to ride them.  If they are still too young or too short, here is a book that manages to make the reader feel all the sensations of a roller coaster ride, from the anticipation while standing on line, to the coaster's slow steady climb up that first hill, and then down and around.  Frazee lets young readers know it's OK to change their mind at the last minute, but some people will ride again and again, if only by reading the fun book.

Feet Go to Sleep by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Maggie Smith
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015, 32 pages (age 3+)

Fiona's had a tiring day playing with her cousins on the beach, but can't relax to go to sleep.  With her mother's help, she begins to relax her body one part at a time, beginning with her toes.  As she relaxes, she thinks about why that part of her body is tired from playing on the beach - for example, her toes from gripping her flip flops, her tummy for eating delicious strawberries.  By the end of the book, Fiona has relaxed herself to sleep.  

See You Next Year by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Todd Stewart
Owlkids Books, 2015, 32 pages (age3+)

Everything good thing must come to an end, including summer vacation.  In this gentle story, a young girl narrates her family's beach vacation, from leaving their house to returning to it a week later.  The trip and the beach always have the same comforting sameness to them each year.  But this year, the girl makes a new friend at the beach, a boy who teaches her things like how to dive under the waves.  But a week goes by fast and soon it's time to go home, the kids promising each other they will be back next year.  I love the palette of colors Stewart chose for the illustrations.  They made me so nostalgic for my own youthful summer days at the beach.

I grew up only five miles from Coney Island.  When we were kids, we would ride our bikes to the beach whenever possible, packing our lunch in a shoebox that fit in the bike basket.  My dad taught me to swim in the ocean there and my only roller coaster experience was on the Cyclone there (five times, then never again).  Later, we began to spend summers on the Jersey shore, a few miles north of Cape May.  My Kiddo loves the beach as muich as I do, so naturally, I am always attracted to good beach books for kids, and we decided to pick a few favorites, some old, most new as we head off for another year of sun and fun.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

After accidentally (?) falling in a pond known as the Grimmer while on vacation, Triss Crescent, 13, wakes up and immediately senses something is wrong.  Nothing, not even her family, are as familiar as they should be.  Her younger sister Penny, 11, suddenly seems to be afraid of her and beginning to hysterically yell that Triss isn't her sister, that she's a fake and an awful creature.  And Triss's memories, well, it feels as though each one isn't all there.  To top it all off, she is always ravenously hungry.

Her parents decide to cut the vacation short and return to London, hoping that will help Triss recover.  But while packing her belongings, Triss picks up her favorite doll Angelina.  As she wonders why she brought her on vacation, the doll begins to speak, outraged that Triss is there with Angelina's family and telling Triss she's not right.  In panic, Triss smashes Angelina china face and hides her in the closet.

If you think this is going to be a creepy doll story, it isn't and that's not a spoiler.  Cuckoo Song is more, so much more than simply that.  Back in London, things begin to happen more and more quickly.  First, her parents begin to notice changes in Triss, who is no longer their neat, clean, quiet, obedient daughter.  And Triss discovers changes in herself; that in the morning, she finds twigs and leaves in her bed with no idea how they got there; that when she cries, cobwebs, not tears, flow from her eyes,; that she can eat pretty much anything, but certain of her possessions are more satisfying than food; that all the pages in her diaries have ripped out and only the covers remain; that scissors are things to be dreadfully afraid of; and that in his bedroom turned sanctuary, mysterious letters appear in the desk drawer of her older brother.  Sebastian had been killed in the last days of World War I, so how could letters from him be arriving five years later?

But only when Triss discovers that she is not really Triss, does the real mystery begin.  Who is she, exactly?  And where is the real Triss?  To find out, she will need Penny's help; after all, everything that has happened since not-Triss was pulled out of the Grimmer instead of Triss, is because of Penny's hatred of her older sister.  Together they will have to discover the truth about the mysterious Mr. Grace and his scissors, what kind of dealings the Architect and Mr. Crescent had, and what a magical creature called the Shrike knows.

And since not-Triss has only a few days left to live, they will also need the help of Violet Parrish, Sebastian's fiancee now despised by his parents for her modern ways.  It's Violet who had a wartime job, and who now rides a motorcycle, dresses in pants, has bobbed hair and listens to jazz, who rejects all the pre-war traditionalism that the Crescents so wholeheartedly want to maintain.

Cuckoo Song is one of those deliciously written novels that is hard to talk about because it will result in too many spoilers.  But if you keep out the spoilers, it doesn't give the story the kind of justice it is due. Oddly enough, at the center of the story is the Great War.  It's the dividing line between certainty and uncertainty:

"Before the war, everybody had their rung on the ladder, and they didn't look much below or about it.  But now? Low and high died side by side in Flanders Fields, and looked much the same face down in the mud.  And the heroes who cam e back from hell didn't fancy tugging their forelocks as they starved on the streets.  And the women! Once, they kept to to their pretty little path and didn't step on the grass. But those who worked in the farms and factories during the war, have a taste for running their own lives now, haven't they?  So all their menfolk are panicking.  Frightened, Uncertain.  And all this doubt, this shaking up of the foundations, there was more of it in the cities" (Kindle loc. 2557)

This chaotic uncertainty is what Triss and Penny's parents want to stop.  As a civil engineer, Piers Crescent has made a terrible bargain to do that which results in keeping the sense of his son alive through the letters that arrive everyday.   Penny unwittingly unleashes events in to novel that could destroy this bargain simply because she hates her sister, not for any other reason.

This beautifully written novel has been called creepy, horrifying, frightening, but I would call it realistic, magical, imaginative and not to be missed.  It is a wonderful mystery that will take the reader on an unforgettable journey.  And will have you questioning your own ideas about what it means to be human.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+, but I would not hesitate to recommend it to readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I've Read So Far in 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke & the Bookish

Today's topic is the Top Ten Books I've read so far in 2015.  This was really an easy list to put together, because I think these are all 5 stars works, and not listed in any particular order.

1- Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley - a novel about friendship and believing, beautifully, lyrically written.  My review coming soon.

2- Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge - this looks like a creepy doll story from the cover, but it is anything but…  My review coming soon.

3- Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff - Graff is an author who really knows how to tackle difficult topics and this is no exception.  My review coming soon.

4- Audacity by Melanie Crowder - this verse novel about young Clara Lemlich really shows the reader that with persistence and perseverance even against all odds one person can make a big difference in the lives of other people.

5- Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan - a beautifully written book about a music made by the same harmonica changed the lives of different people at different times.

6- Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia - the last book about the Gaither sisters - Delphine, Vonetta and Fern, is a satisfying ending to this wonderfully written historical fiction trilogy from the late 1960s and early 1970s when the times were certainly a-changin'.

7- Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt - not your ordinary counting book, but oh, so much more fun with Appelt's amusing crows to count.

8- Red, a Crayon's Story by Michael Hall - for anyone who doesn't feel like they are who they appear to be, those who might be wrapped in the right wrapper, so to speak, this book may help you on your way.

9- How To Read A Story by Kate Messner - sounds so simple, so easy, who doesn't know how to read a story, but if you follow the ten steps listed, I guarantee your reading pleasure will definitely be intensified.

10- A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNanara - how to improve you day?  Put a poem in your pocket and pull out whenever you feel like it.

What are your favorite books that you've read so far this year?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Roundup of Kid's Book for Gay Pride

I was starting to think about a Saturday Roundup but after Friday's landmark decision about legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, I decided to do a roundup of LGTBQ books I have read and used.  June is Gay Pride month and this year there certainly is much to celebrate and since today is the big Pride parade in cities around the country, so it seemed only appropriate to begin my Pride roundup with

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Magination Press, 2014, 32 pages, age 5+ 
In short rhymes, the diversity and excitement of the Pride parade is perfectly captured, as is the joyous mood of all the participants. The energetic, colorful illustrations are whimsical visual representations of the rhymes. The back matter contains a reading guide and notes to parents and teachers.  FYI: Magination Press is an imprint of the American Psychological Association.

Daddy, Papa, and Me by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson 
Tricycle Press, 2009, age 0-3

Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson
Tricycle Press, 2008, ages 0-3

Each of these board books details in rhyme the activities done with each their same-sex parents, from painting and baking to making music and playing pretend.  These are great books for kids who do have same-sex parents and for kids who have friends who may have two dads or two moms and wonder what is it like in their family.

Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Laura Cornell
Candlewick Press, 1989, 2015, 32 pages, age 3+

Heather's favorite number is two and the reader is shown all the things that she likes two of, including her two moms.  But when on of the kids in school asks what her daddy does, Heather doesn't have an answer.  The teacher suggests the kids draw pictures of their family and it turns out that Heather is in a class full of kids from diverse families.  This book caused such a hoopla in the NYC schools when it came out and now it seems like just another good kid's book.

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Chronicle Books, 2015, 36 pages, age 5+

Stella has two daddies, so when the teacher announces there is going to be a Mother's Day celebration and all mothers are invited to come, she doesn't know who to bring.  When Jonathan asks Stella who kisses her when she get hurt, she decides to bring everyone in her family who does that.  

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino, 
illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
Groundwood Books, 2015, 32 pages, age 4+

Morris loves to play and imagine all kinds of fun things.  He also loves school, particularly the dress-up corner and the tangerine dress there, which he puts on every day.  But when the other boys won't let him play spaceship if he's wearing the dress.  Feeling hurt and lonely, Morris decides to stay home from school.  At home, he uses his imagination to paint a picture of a spaceship, a blue elephant and tangerine tiger after he dreams about them.  When he goes back to school and starts to build the spaceship of his dream, the other boys get curious and invite him to play with them - tangerine dress and all(which would be nail polish his mother put on him).  A nice story about being different, and the comfort of having support but also about the hurt and loneliness of being left out.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell,
illustrated by Henry Cole
Simon & Schuster, 2005, 2015, 32 pages, age 4+

There's a wonderful penguin house in the Central Park Zoo and that's where this family story takes place.  Roy and Silo, two male penguins, appear to really be in love, and really want a little penguin of their own.  After a few false starts trying to hatch a rock, they find an abandoned egg.  They care for the egg, as male penguins do, and when the egg hatches, it is a little female named Tango by the zookeepers.  The soft watercolor illustrations capture all the emotions of any parents trying to have a baby and the joy they feel when it finally happens.

King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
Random House, 2003, 32 pages, age 5+

When it is time for the Prince Bertie to marry, he tells his mother that he never really cared much for princesses, but his parents keep bringing eligible royal girls for him to meet anyway.  One princess arrives at the castle with her brother, Prince Lee, and Prince Bertie realizes he has finally met the love of his life,  The feeling is mutual and the two princes' marry.  I don't care for the illustrations, but the idea behind the story is nice.

King & King & Family by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
Random House, 2004, 32 pages, age 5+

King & King take a honeymoon trip to the jungle and have a wonderful time.  Still, all through their tropical trip they have the sensation they are being followed.  When they arrive home, they discover the stowaway orphan girl in their bags.  They realize they want to have a family, set about adopting the little girl and call her Princess Daisy.  The same kind of illustrations as the first book, but again a nice story about a diverse family.

Red, A Crayon's Story written and illustrated by Michael Hall
HarperCollins, 2015, 40 pages, age 4+

I loved Red, A Crayon's Story when I read it and wish I had it while I was still a classroom teacher.  I included it simply because it speaks to anyone who has ever felt different, anyone who has ever felt like they were born in the wrong wrapper (skin).    

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Simon & Schuster, 2013, 275 pages, age 9+

Nate loves musicals and he dream is to be in one on Broadway.  When he hears about a casting call for ET, the Musical, Nate takes a bus by himself from PA to NYC to audition.  There's lots of humor and nice behind the scenes bits of a Broadway show audition, but it isn't all fun for Nate.  While Nate is a really likable character, he has often experienced the meaness of others for being who he is.  Nate is also becoming aware of his own sexuality, but really isn't ready to commit to anything just yet.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
Simon & Schuster, 2014, 304 pages, age 9+

Well, Nate got a small part in ET, the Musical and now he's staying in NYC with his aunt, a former actress.  He is still the wonderful musical theater geek he always was, but now he gives the reader lots of detail about Broadway show rehearsals, and the different people you meet there.  He is beginning to realize more that he is perhaps not attracted to girls as much as he is to boys, but has still decided to defer a final decision.  I loved both of these books and only wish Nate with revisit Tim Federle for a third installment.
Random House, 2014, 272 pages, age 9+

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher takes place over one school year and introduces the reader to a family similar to their own, but more diverse.  There are two dads and four adopted boys ages 6, 10, 10 and 12.  The story is written like a series of vignettes that show how each character grows and develops during the year.  I wrote that here is no big drama to the story of the Fletcher family, just everyday life, and yet, it will keep you riveted. 

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
DisneyHyperion, 2014, 256 pages, age 9+

Sixth grader Grayson has known since he was a young that he was really a girl in a boy's body, but could never express it publicly.  Not until an understanding teacher cast him in the female lead role in the school play.  Grayson is looking forward to at least being himself on stage, but is unprepared for the repercussions of the teacher's decision not only among the school bullies but also among parents and other teachers.

Coming Soon
George by Alex Gino
Scholastic, 2015, 240 pages, age 9+

OK, I cheated on this one, only because I haven't read it yet, but I do have an ARC from BEA, where there was lots of buzz about this debut novel.  It is the story of George, a girl in a boy's body.  That's all I really know about George, except that I can't wait to read it.

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis
Pajama Press, 2014, 224 pages, 13+

This historical fiction novel takes place in 1988 Tehran.  The conservative government has outlawed same-sex relationships and it doesn't matter how old or young you are, if caught in one, it means death. So when wealthy Farrin, 15, falls for Sadira, a poorer student at her girls' school, and the feeling is mutual, both girls know the price could pay.  This is a hard, gritty novel, but shouldn't be missed if you haven't already read it.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
HarperCollins, 2013, 470 pages, 14+

In this debut coming of age novel, Cameron realizes she is gay and falls for new-to-town Coley Taylor.  The two have in intense relationship, but eventually Cameron is outed to her family and finds herself in a religious conversion camp called God's Promise.  I found Cameron a bit too passive a main character for my taste, which I think made the book hard to read.  But I thought the part about the conversion camp an important part of this novel.  This is a hard-hitting novel but one I actually do think teens should read.

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson
Penguin, 1995, 2010, 144 pages, age 12+

Melanin Sun, 13, records all his thoughts in his notebooks, including his thoughts about his mom.  The two are  pretty close but lately she's been a bit distant and secretive.  When she announces that she's gay, Melanin is totally thrown for a loop, but there's more shock to come -  his mother's new girlfriend is white.  Now, Melanin has to deal with things at home as well as taunts from other kids, and the judgements of neighbors.  Melanin is forced to critically look at himself before he can accept things.

The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
Penguin, 1997, 2010, 144 pages, age 12+

Stagerlee, 14, is the daughter of a biracial couple.  She's always been a bit of a loner, feeling different from her sister and from her classmates, who want nothing to do with her anyway.  Now, Stagerlee is questioning her sexuality but has no one to talk to about it until her cousin Trout comes to visit.  The two become fast friends and Trout helps Stagerlee begin to explore who she really is - gay or straight, black or white or just who she is.

Ash by Malinda Lo
Little, Brown, 2009, 272 pages, 14+

This is a retelling of the Cinderella story, with a difference.  After Ash's father dies, she is left to the mercy of a wicked stepmother.  Her only relief is reading fairy tales and the occasional nighttime trips into a wood filled with fairies.  There, Ash meets a huntress named Kaisa, who she finds herself attracted to and wishes to spend more time with her.  This is such a beautifully written story and the relationship between Ash and Kaisa is so lyrically, almost magically narrated, presenting their relationship as the most natural thing in the world.

Huntress by Malinda Lo
Little, Brown, 2011, 384 pages, 14+

In this coming of age story, schoolgirls Kaede and Taisin must journey together into a dark, threatening wood to see the Fairy Queen for help when nature goes out of balance.  Taisin is attracted to Kaede, but had a vision of losing her, so her is reluctant in getting involved.  When that doesn't feel right, Kaede realizes she must find harmony in her own life and do what is right for her - which is loving Taisin.  I thought this was such a beautifully written novel, lyrically and magically written in the same vein as Ash.

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum
Penguin, 2015, 128 pages, age 12+

Here is a brief, but concise history of the Stonewall riots in 1969 that started the gay right movement.  Bausam gives a detailed account of what being gay was like in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was a criminal offense, before moving on to describe the night of June 27, 1969, when the grungy gay bar called the Stonewall Inn was raided and the violent demonstrations that followed that night.  Bausam uses lots of photographs and documents, as well as first person accounts.   A great book for anyone who doesn't know the history and the how or why Pride happens every year.  

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Candlewick Press, 2014, 192 pages, age 14+

Six transgender or gender-neutral teens were interviewed and their personal journeys toward becoming their authentic selves are documented with respect and dignity.  Kuklin doesn't sugarcoat the isolation, the challenges, lack of support and supportive services for teens who are transitioning.  On the other hand, the book in not without humor and poignancy.  There is a Question and Answer section at the end of the book, as well a Glossary, Author Note's and list of resources.  Kuklin is a gifted photographer and includes many photographs in the book.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Pakistani American Naila, 17, can't wait for high school to end and college to begin so she can get away from her conservative Muslim Pakistani parents.  When she is caught a prom with a boy, her parents whisk Naila off to visit relatives in Pakistan in the hope of instilling their conservative values in her.  But Naila is in for the surprise of her life, when she realizes what her parents really have in mind.

Naila may go to a regular high school, but she has always been forbidden to go to any extra circular activities, like sleepovers, soccer games, dances and especially the upcoming prom.  Though she has always obeyed their rules, Naila has also been seeing Saif behind her parents back whenever possible, though they have never had so much as a real date.  Saif and his family have been ostracized by the Pakistani community ever since his sister married a non-Pakistani boy.

But prom is a once in a lifetime event and Naila desperately wants to go with Saif.  So when her best friend convinces her parents to let Naila sleepover for a supposed birthday party, it's really just a ploy to get Naila and Saif together at prom.  And the ploy works, until people start sending Naila's younger brother text messages and photos of the couple.  Enraged, both parents show up and drag Naila away from Saif and out of the prom.

Forbidden to return to school for graduation, even though she is the salutatorian, her parents suddenly decide it is time to visit family in Pakistan.  At first, Naila has fun meeting the relatives she had only heard about before, but suddenly her visit becomes a round after round of teas and dinner parties, meeting families she has no real interest in,  But when her young cousin informs her of her parents plan to marry Naila off to a good prospective husband without her knowledge, Naila's life becomes a nightmare.  When she tries to escape, her uncle comes after her and forces her to return home with him.  Constantly watched, knowing one wrong step could conceivably result in her death, Naila must wait and hope that Saif will be able to rescue her.

Written in the Stars is told in the first person by Naila, so the reader not only knows what she is feeling and thinking about what is going on around her, but not no more than Naila until things happen.  Naila never suspects what her parents are up to, and neither does the reader, so it surprises both at the same time.  And the readers feels Naila's painful isolation, frustration, and the hopelessness that occurs as Naila realizes she must accept her circumstances.

Spoiler Alert

I found my blood boiling almost the whole time I was reading the second part of this novel.  Forced to marry a man she doesn't know, kept drugged until the marriage so she wouldn't try to run away again and disgrace the family, Naila finds herself married to a doctor named Amin.  Luckily for her, he is not a mean or cruel man, though his mother makes up for that.  Still,  knowing that the marriage hasn't been consummated, she goads Amin into forcing himself on Naila in what amounts to rape.

I read Written in the Stars straight though one evening.  Naila's voice was both compelling and riveting, sounding like an average 17 year old, even as desperation followed by resignation creeps into it.  As her story unfolds, Saeed includes a lot of cultural information, customs and traditions.  The thing that I had to move difficulty with were Naila's parents, who thought they were doing the right thing for her, but really it was their own face saving they were interested in. How can parents sell of their child to save their reputation?  This is a hard one for me.

Forced marriage is a big problem in this and many other countries, as you will discover when you read the Author's Note at the end of the book.  Be sure to turn the page and look at the list of resources the author includes, in case you or someone you know needs finds themselves in a situation like Naila's and need help/advice.

Written in the Stars is a book not to be missed.

This book is recommend for readers age 14+
The book was borrowed from a friend

Friday, June 19, 2015

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

I was pretty excited when I heard that Floyd Cooper was going to be at BEA 2015 and more excited when I found out he would be signing copies of Juneteenth for Mazie.  In fact, I was so excited that I was the first person on line.  What a nice man Floyd Cooper is, and what an incredible artist and writer.

Young Mazie feels that sometimes her life is full of the word no - no cookies before bedtime, no playing outside when it's dark, no staying up late.  When she tells her dad that she can't do what she wants, he begins to tell her that the next day is a celebratory day.  But why, Mazie wants to know.

Her dad tells it is a day called Juneteenth, a day celebrated by her family and many others because it is the day that the slaves in Texas were told they were finally free.  And for Mazie, it is the day her great-great-great-grandfather Mose became a free man.

And though there was dancing in the streets on June 19, 1865, these former slaves, like the former slaves all over the country, discovered that freedom comes with a price.  Yes, they were now paid for the work that they did, but black people weren't treated equally, they had to fight for jobs, schools, for every opportunity, but Black Americans have achieved great things, right up to the highest office in the country when Barack Obama was elected.  And so they celebrate every year on Juneteenth.  And Mazie will carry on the tradition.

Cooper's book is a great straight-forward telling of the Juneteenth story.  It is given a nice personal touch by relating it to Mazis's own family (and this will no doubt encourage young readers to ask about their family history).  Freedom is certainly something to celebrate, but unfortunatley, the history of Black American's freedom and equality is also such a rocky, rocky road, and Cooper includes that in his story, though he does end on an upbeat celebratory note.

This is an ideal book for introducing young readers to Juneteenth, a story not many kids outside of Texas may know about.  And 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth.  The Emanaipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln, went into effect in 1863, but news did not travel fast in those days and slaves and slave owners in Texas didn't hear about it until two years later, on June 19, 1865 (though in all fairness, I have to say that the reason for this delay is in contention).

As always, Cooper's story is accompanied by his beautiful oil painted illustrations, using a soft palette of browns, blues and yellows.  The illustrations both enhance and extend the story being told.

It is a shame that this year's Juneteenth celebration is marred by the horrific church shooting in Charleston, SC, but it is also a reminder of the need for books like Juneteenth to educate young readers and to help in the healing process.

You can discover more about Juneteenth, HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was received at BEA from the publisher, Capstone Press

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Some Books about Ramadan for Young Readers

Today is the first day of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic lunar calendar.  Ramadan always falls on the ninth month and because it is based on the moon, it varies from year to year.  But the customs, observances and rituals that are such an important part of Ramadan are always the same.  Here are a few books for young readers to become familiar with the traditions of this holiday.  

My First Ramadan written and illustrated by Karen Katz
Henry Holt, 2007, 32 pages (age 2-5)

A young boy decides he is finally old enough to try to fast during the holy month of Ramadan.  He clearly describes what he and his family do each day from before sunrise to sunset and how the end of Ramadan is celebrated.  Simply words and text make this ideal for young readers.  

Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman, illustrated by Sue Williams
Albert Whitman, 2011, 24 pages (age 3-8)

A young girl describes how she and her family observe the Ramadan holiday each day in this short poem that repeats the phrase "under the moon,/under the moon/under the Ramadan moon.  It is a good book for young readers to learn the very basics of what Ramadan is and why it is observed.   

Max Celebrates Ramadan by Adria F. Worsham, illustrated by Mernie Gallagher-Cole
Capstone, 2008, 24 pages (age 5-7)

In this leveled reader, Omar, who is Muslim, invites his friend Max to celebrate the end of Ramadan with his family.  Max learns what this important holiday means to Islamic people, the purpose and importance of fasting. and the family oriented meal that celebrates the end of fasting, the Eid al-Fitr.  A nice beginning reader.  

The Jinni on the Roof, a Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi, illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa
Pamir, 2013, 40 pages (age 4-8)

It's the end of Ramadan, and Raza's family, including many of his aunts, uncles and cousins, are about to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr in Lahore.  Early that morning, while everyone is still sleeping, Raza wakes up and hears Amina, the family cook, making parathas in the kitchen.  Realizing he is very hungry, Raza quietly climbs up to the roof, goes over to the kitchen chimney and in a deep voice, tells Amina to make some parathas for him.  Thinking voice belongs to a jinni, a scary being, Amina gets Raza's grandmother.  The two women fix some parathas according to the "jinni's" instructions, but has Raza really fooled anyone?  This is a fun story that also introduces young readers about Ramadan in Pakistan.  A glossary is included, as well as an Author's Note that explains more about the tradition of Ramadan.

Lailah's Lunchbox, a Ramadan Story by Reem Farqui, illustrated by Lea Lyon
Tilbury House, 2015, 32 pages (age 6-8)

Lailah is finally old enough to fast, but when she shows up at her new school without her lunchbox, she doesn't give the teacher the note her mother sent explaining that it is Ramadan.  Later, in the cafeteria, she thinks about the friends she left behind when her family moved from Abu Dhabi, who were also Muslim.  Lailah is also afraid her new friends won't understand why she won't be eating lunch for a month.  An understanding librarian helps Lailah sort it all out.  A very nice picture book for older readers based on the author's real experience of moving to this country from the Middle East as a girl.  

A Party in Ramadan by Asthma Mobin-Uddin, MD, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen
Highlights Press, 2009, 32 pages (age 7-9)

Leena is finally old enough to begin fasting for Ramadan, if only for one day a week.  She decides to fast on Fridays, so she can have Iftar with her Auntie Sana.  When Leena is invited to her friend Julia's birthday party where there will be a pony, her mother reminds her it's the first Friday in Ramadan.  Leena decides to go to the party, and just not each any of the food there, but discovers that's easier said than done.  Back at home, Leena helps prepare for Iftar, and later has a wonderful surprise thanks to her friend Julia.  There is lots to learn about Ramadan, respect and friendship in this story.  

Ramadan by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi, illustrated by Omar Rauuan
Holiday House, 1996, 26 pages (age 7-9)

As young Hakeem celebrates Ramadan with his family, the meaning, history and cultural rituals for observing Ramadan are incorporated into the story in this picture book for older readers.  Though not really a narrative, it is an interesting introduction to this holy month for both young Muslims and non-Muslims and includes more information, including a glossary, than most Ramadan stories. 

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