Friday, September 23, 2016

Books about Refugees for Children

From Far Away
Robert Munsch



























A little girl named Saoussan Askar, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, moved to Ontario and began to send letters about her experiences as an immigrant to Robert Munsch. He wrote a story about it, and in the typical Munsch style, the book is entertaining and endearing. The story is written in the form of a letter.

Age appropriate: 5+
(Great read aloud!)






Breadwinner
Deborah Ellis



When Parvana's father is arrested, she has no other choice but to disguise herself as a boy and work so that her family can eat. This story carries all the breadth of life of war-torn Afghanistan, : laughter, heartache, courage and fear. An unforgettable read, and based on true stories of children Ellis met in refugee camps.

Age appropriate: 11+
(graphic violence)






Aram's Choice
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch




Aram is chosen with fifty other boys to go to Canada. He has just survived the Armenian genocide and is determined to find a way to bring money home for his grandmother. Readers will enjoy this book on several levels: historical, pedagogical, religious, social, and artistic. Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children shortlist, 2007
Golden Oak nominee, 2008

Age Appropriate: 9+






Everybody Cooks Rice
Norah Dooley



A number of multicultural families live near each other--the one thing they have in common is that they all cook rice. The book includes recipes to make with your child.

Age Appropriate: Primary levels




Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan
Mary Williams



Eight-year old Garang must escape from his country, Sudan, and then join hundreds of boys fleeing to find refuge from war. On the way he makes new friends and discovers the importance of education. A book about courage and perseverance.
Winner of the 2006 Coretta Scott King Award.

Age appropriate 8+





The Arrival
Shaun Tan



It's my opinion that anyone, adults especially, who would like to experience what it feels like to be immersed into a completely different culture, should read this book. There are no words, only images, and like any foreigner new to a place who does not yet know the language, you have to decipher what is happening in the story along with the protagonist. The illustrations are remarkable, a true classic.

Age Appropriateness: All 





Fatima
Frederick Lipp



When Billy starts to make fun of Fatima's mother at school, Fatima makes the brave choice to wear her own hijab and talk to fellow students about respect. As her mother explains to her, "It's not what I look like, but what I say and do that matters." This is an engaging, moving, and informative story for all students who do not know about the purpose of the hijab or generally about Islam. Check out other stories by Frederick Lipp.

Age Appropriate: 7+




Sami and the Time of the Troubles
Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland



In war-torn Lebanon, Sami learns about what it means to hope for a brighter future. Enjoy the beautiful, evocative illustrations by Ted Lewin.

Age Appropriate: 10+






The Lion's Mane
Navjot Kaur

Image result for the lion's mane book
 This is another great read-aloud for school children. In The Lion's Mane, children will learn about the Sikh religion and why some people wear turbans. The book is easy to read and engaging with lively illustrations to go along with the meaningful text. 

Age Appropriate: 5 +




Four Feet, Two Sandals
Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed






















This beautifully told and brightly illustrated book depicts what life can be like in a refugee camp.  Without making the situation too dark and depressing, the author chooses to focus on one difficulty that even the youngest of readers can relate to: not having shoes. Through this one detail, a young reader can pick up the book's themes of compassion and hope.


Age Appropriate: 5+ 

Review: Lights on the Nile by Donna Jo Napoli

Review: Lights on the Nile


Image result for lights on the nile

Lights on the Nile

By Donna Jo Napoli

I just finished reading Donna Jo Napoli's book Zel, which I enjoyed but did not find appropriate for the 9-12 year old audience it is marketed to. Lights on the Nile certainly seemed much tamer at first but it had some mature elements that I will list below.

In this story, a young ten-year old girl named Kepi travels up the Nile in search of her stolen pet baboon and for a chance to speak to the pharaoh. The story allows you to feel what it might have been like to be part of the working-class in Ancient Egypt, circa 2530 BCE. Napoli has certainly done her research, which makes the details come off as both very real, and slightly frightening:

-Kepi travels through a refuse pile and comes across a withered human hand
-After a vicious sandstorm, the body of a woman floats by Kepi on the river

Kepi, alone and vulnerable, is forced to fend off bandits, kidnappers, and ill-doers, which shows her incredible integrity and courage. Her difficulties also reveal the source of her secret strength: Kepi is a very pious young girl and is constantly praying to her Egyptian gods who appear to be listening and helping. As she travels up the Nile, the gods come in the forms of beetles, ibises, crocodiles, and hippopotamuses to fend off trouble, even if it means that sometimes these protective animals kill her would-be antagonists.

My Opinion:

Kepi is a wonderful heroine, full of spunk, personality, wit, courage, and humility.

The story is a real page-turner and Napoli's writing style is engaging and active, and she leaves readers with great cliff-hangers at the end of every chapter.

Unfortunately the ending threw out the best parts of the story. Kepi has waited months and gone through excruciating trials to finally encounter the pharaoh and plead with him for justice for middle-class workers. She begs him that workers like her father should be given compensation for injuries attained from working on the pyramids. We do not learn the consequence of this encounter (and neither does Kepi get her baboon back); instead, the goddess Hathor jumps in to offer Kepi two alternative endings: the first, to return home to her family; and the second, to become a feri (fairy) and be a personal helper to the goddess. She chooses to become a fairy. All the intricate and beautiful workings of plot that depict working-class life go completely out the window as Kepi takes the opportunity to ditch her old life and claim a higher status with the goddess. Her role in life now is to offer consolation in the form of tinkling bells to the ailing pyramid workers, not to mention her family in mourning over her supposed death.

Age Appropriateness:

Like Zel, there are some more mature elements to this story that make it hard to place the book into a single age category.

Since the heroine is 10 years old, she should appeal to girls around 9-11; however, incidences of characters getting drunk and stark depictions of death (mentioned above), would put the book in the more mature category of 12-13 year old's.

The author takes a very historically-accurate stance to life in Ancient Egypt and describes how Kepi's older sister is eager to get married at 12. Therefore, the fact that Kepi is 10 does actually not tell us modern readers anything about the age-appropriateness of this novel. The same can be said of the young heroine in Zel, who is eager to be married at 14, and has a child out of wedlock at 16.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Amelia Rules



Amelia Rules: True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know)

Written and Illustrated by Jimmy Gownley

This book is appropriate for children who are going through, or have gone through, a divorce. For all other students, the behaviour in this book will seem extreme. There is a lot of yelling and physical angry outbreaks. Relationships seem tense, edgy, and uncertain. 

Amelia, as she appears on the cover, looks like an ordinary young girl. Certainly with her blonde hair and pretty face it is easy to make the assumption that this will be a "girly" sort of book. Amelia is a kid who seems to have everything, but the one thing she is missing--parents--is the greatest thing that sets her apart. The author often makes meta-literary statements in regard to why characters act out, blaming actions on insecurity or childhood trauma. 

The theme of the book is that adults claim to know more about life than children do, but really, there are things that adults can learn from children too.

Language and hateful speech:

There is a lot of yelling in this book between characters, and the language can often be hateful. The book opens with the quote "The main difference between boys and girls is that girls mature slightly faster and boys are idots."

In another quote, one young girl makes a belittling remark against the elderly, in a scene that is meant to be humorous: "Y'Know what's cheerful about an old folks home? Nothing! Well, there was the big crash when we coaxed those ten octogenerians into a human pyramid. But that was more funny than cheerful."

It is clear that Amelia's foul language is meant to be a repetition of what she is hearing being yelled at home. Her mother and aunt, with whom she lives, often argue loudly with each other. In turn, Amelia yells at her friend, "Shut up, Rhonda! You just don't get it! Tanner quit cuz of the business! And, like, getting jerked around! And, like...uh...society and stuff!"

In another scene, a young girl pretending to be a cheerleader at an ipportune moment is called a "hateful witch."

In fact, it seems that in every interaction with her friends, Amelia is either yelling or being yelled at. At the very end of the book, Amelia makes what appears to be a courageous move to yell (swear--it's "censored"--) at her supposed love interest. He has just told her that he was just pretending to like her to mess with her. She punches him on the arm. In true karma fashion, the love interest saunters away, falls, and breaks his leg.

Age Appropriateness

Amelia is eleven, and even at this young age she has clearly experienced more relationship trauma than is probably healthy. The author makes no hesitation to demonstrate how her parent's divorce has affected her relationships; when her parents fought, the worse she felt, and the meaner she became to her friends. 

Also at eleven, there is a lot of talk about romantic relationships between characters. Amelia daydreams about kissing boys and goes to the mall to meet up with romantic love interests. 

Positive Messages

Amelia's aunt Tanner tells her that "a cute, confident girl is much more powerful than a jedi."

In the end, Amelia's role model, her aunt "Tanner", shows that it is much more important to follow your dream than to risk failure.

My Opinion:

I didn't enjoy this book for its consistent negativity. While fights are normally resolved, there is an underlying and uncomfortable tension between characters through the length of the story. The book gives a cynical look towards relationships, with few characters willing to self-sacrifice for the good of the other. There is a strong bond between Amelia and her aunt Tanner, one of the only true love bonds in the book, though whether Tanner is a good role model is also questionable. Tanner dresses immodestly, professes in the opening quote that boys are "idiots", and is pushy and unwieldy with her sister and other characters.

I understand the point the book is trying to make and think that some children would connect with the character of Amelia. I don't think, however, that the story is a must-read for all children.


Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr

   

I was also quickly reviewing this series by P.B. Kerr. There is a dense mythology regarding djinn that is reviewed at length in this Wikipedia article.

Here are a couple of quotes regarding djinn:

"Djinn power allows djinn to have an astral body, that allows them to enter other people's dreams and gives them access to possess people. Plus, if their physical body gets destroyed, their astral form can enter into any human spirit and in turn, the host becomes the djinn's new body still retaining all the djinn's knowledge and personality."

"Djinn can unleash an elemental on another being, elementals are mini-demons that live inside what djinn call the eight elements: water, earth, fire, air, spirit, space, time, and luck. Elementals tend to follow their creators once they carried out the deed they were created for and often help out their creator in times of crises. Dybbuk once released one by holding hands with the Gaunt kids." (Wikipedia)


Compare with a Christian definition of possession:

Christianity: Possession, in which Satan or some demon(s) takes full possession of a person's body without their knowledge or consent, so the victim is therefore morally blameless. (Wikipedia)


Compare with this definition of demon:

demon (from Koine Greek δαιμόνιον daimonion) or daemon (British English) is a supernatural, often malevolent being prevalent in religionoccultismliteraturefictionmythology and folklore. (Wikipedia)


Summary of Book #1 in Series "The Akhenaten Adventure":

John and Philippa Gaunt are twelve-year-old twins with a remarkably gifted mother, a very kind father, and two dogs that aren't who they seem to be. The family lives a life of luxury in New York. One day, their wisdom teeth appear simultaneously. During an operation to get the wisdom teeth removed, they both have the same dream in which their uncle, Nimrod, asks that they come to London. He tells them that they are djinn (genies). They begin the adventure of a lifetime, going from Cairo to London, using pink Ferraris, and riding camels. From New York, Egypt, and London, the twins' adventures are filled with excitement as they undergo training in the use of their newly discovered powers, but are also fraught with danger, as they battle the evil Ifrit tribe of djinn and its leader, Iblis. They must preserve the balance of good luck and bad luck in the world. (Wikipedia)


My Opinion:

There is likely to be some confusion for the Western, Christian reader regarding what is "good" and "evil;" since djinn are comparable to Christian demons that give and ask for something in return, as well as possess bodies and release power over others.

"Good" in the Christian sense is when one offers something freely, or takes something away with the host's consent. Power, in the Christian sense, is love and self-sacrifice.


Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz

 

Anthony Horowitz is the acclaimed author of the Alex Rider spy series, which continues to be a popular among 10-14 year olds.

I came across another series of his, The Power of Five, which was originally called The Gatekeepers. On glancing through the book I saw that the subject matter was very dark and wanted a more detailed summary.

There is a very satisfactory one on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raven%27s_Gate

Friday, June 17, 2016

Review: Amulet #3: The Cloud Searchers



Quick Summary:

Siblings Emily and Navin set off in search of the fabled city of Cielis to continue their mission to save the world(s). They serendipitously bump into the two fugitive elves, Trellis and Luger. Meanwhile, Trellis' father the evil elf king is sending off an assassin to kill the siblings and his own son. The siblings and the elves must learn to trust each other in order to fight off the assassin and make their way safely to Cielis.


Comments on the Story:

The story is certainly becoming more interesting. Some of the ploys of the plot seem, like in the first book, to trivialize emotionally dramatic moments. For example, when the Wyverns attack the airship, Misket and Cogsley are swept away and there is a weak response from the other characters. Certainly, the author is suggesting that they are not gone for good.


Minor Causes for Concern for Parents:

Violence:
-When the assassin comes to question some elves in a bar, he pulls out a gun-like machine and zaps one of the elves, completely removing that elf's memory. For the next couple of pages, this elf is shown with his head on the table, smoke escaping from the top of his head.
-The airship stops at a port where an old friend, a woman, greets the captain with a punch to his eye.

Drinking:
-Characters are shown drinking in a bar. There is another scene of the airship captain and his "friend" leaning against each other and sleeping on a couch while a couple of wine glasses sit empty on the coffee table.


Amulet:

In a dream, the amulet speaks to Emily and tells her that she has as much control as it does. It's still not clear "who" or "what" speaks to her through the amulet.


What I enjoyed:

The inspiring and imaginative graphic visuals, the new characters, and the faster moving plot.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: Cloaked in Red

Cloaked in Red

Vivian Vande Velde




From Common Sense Media:

Parents need to know that this mature retelling of the "Little Red Riding Hood" story is a novelization of the movie starring Amanda Seyfried. It centers on a red-cloaked heroine who's being stalked by a werewolf; there's lots of violence, including animal sacrifice, the torture of a mentally disabled boy who's suspected of witchcraft, a wolf's attacks on a village, the severing of an arm, and more. Valerie and Peter share some steamy kisses and do ultimately "give in to each other," though sex is pretty much undescribed.
©Common Sense Media Inc. 2016. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/red-riding-hood