A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
Author: Atia Abawi
Published: January 23, 2018 by Philomel
Guest Review by Rachel Krieger
Summary: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.
In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.
But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.
Review: This book is astonishing. In a world where people like to avoid talking about awkward things or situations that make us sad, this novel is completely, unapologetically honest. With every horror that Tareq experiences, you will find yourself crying with him, hoping with him, and loving with him. You will wish you could be with Alexia helping these people to find new lives. It is impossible to read Abawi’s story without reflecting on your own life, wondering what destiny would write about you.
If you know nothing about the refugee crises happening all over the world, this story will give you a glimpse into the lives of people struggling every day. Although it only looks into the lives of a few refugees, it gave me an idea of how different the life of a refugee is to my own. Atia Abawi’s story will make you reflect on your own humanity and actions, changing the way you think about the world and your own privilege.
Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This is the perfect book to start a discussion about the situation in Syria. Since it is so essential to address current events regardless of the sensitive nature of those events, teachers should start conversations about this war-torn region. There are many young adult novels that address immigration, however, this one specifically follows the process of that immigration. It would be very beneficial to have students read a book like this and a book like American Street to look at very different stories of immigration with a few similar characteristics. This book in conjunction with others about immigration could be the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of the danger of a single story.
This novel also offers a very interesting twist on narration. Since destiny is the narrator of this novel rather than one of the characters, there are small parts of the story that reflect broadly on war and humanity. It could be interesting to have students think about how this odd source of narration changes the story. They could even experiment with their own unique narrators, discussing how these odd points of view add or detract from stories.
Discussion Questions: What does the perspective switch add to the novel? Do you think a book like this is likely to encourage people to support this cause? How does Destiny as the narrator change this story? How would this story change if Tareq was a woman?
We Flagged: “Making it to Germany ended Tareq’s crossing and escape from war, but his new life as a refugee is just beginning. There are millions of Tareq’s, Susans and Fayeds, all in search of safety and kindness. I hope you will provide that warmth, be that helper, do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you—and I will—there will be reckoning. There always is.”
Read This If You Loved: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
I Love You, Michael Collins
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Published June 20th, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Summary: It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut who will come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship.
After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her—until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore?
I Love You, Michael Collins was a Best Book of June 2017 on Amazon; a semifinalist for the Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards; and a pick by the Planetary Society for Best Science Children’s Books of 2017.
Review: There is so much I really enjoyed about this book!
First, I adored looking into the experience of the moon landing. I cannot even imagine witnessing it happening! What an amazing feat it was and completely unimaginable. (And I hope to at some point see it happen again.) And I thought Baratz-Logsted did a good job showing all the different types of feelings towards the moon landing and space program. But I’m glad that she focused on its amazingness and the excitement.
Second, I think the author did a fantastic job with the character’s voice. With a book of letters it is essential that the writing sounds like the character because it is actually the character writing all the words. I loved seeing all the techniques she used to write like Mamie while still keeping her writing to a literary level.
Third, I loved that the book was not just a reenactment of the moon landing and a family’s celebration of it. The story has so many layers within it: Mamie’s introverted personality and the look into what makes a kid like this happy; her family’s conflicts and issues; and the power of one best friend.
Overall, I Love You, Michael Collins is a fun historical fiction middle grade book that is perfect for so many readers!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The first thing I went to when I thought about this book from a teachers point of view was the idea of letter writing. Mamie writes Michael Collins originally because it is a school project. Mamies letters could be used as a starting point on how to write letters, parts of a letter, etc. And students could even write a letter to someone in the news that is doing something amazing.
Next summer is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and at the end of next school year, I am definitely going to do a cross-curricular unit about NASA and the Apollo missions along with a read aloud of excerpts from this novel. It is so engaging as a story and will also be a great way for students in the 21st century to have a window into the 1960s.
But even without this amazing anniversary, Baratz-Logsted’s title is one that middle grade students will find enjoyment in and should definitely be in classrooms and libraries!
- How did the author help make her writing seem like a ten-year-old was writing the letters?
- Michael Collins is not a household name like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Why is that? Do you think we should all know his name in the same context as the other two astronauts?
- Which character do you think changed the most throughout the book?
- What do you think is going to happen next with Mamie’s family?
- How did Buster’s friendship help Mamie keep her positivity and sanity during this tough time in her family?
- If you were going to have a moon landing party, what would you make?
- How would the story of Mamie’s parents’ separation have been different in the 21st century?
“Dear Michael Collins,
I finally figured out why you never write back. Can you figure out how I figured this out? If not, I will tell you. I did the math.
Okay, I didn’t really do the math, since I don’t have all the information. But it struck me that I might not be the only person writing to you. I though, if every school in the country has just one class that is writing letters to the astronauts and if in each class there is just one kid like me writing to you, then that is still a lot of mail.
It’s no wonder you can’t write back to everyone. And of course you do have other things to do right now.
I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of you getting more mail than I originally thought you did. On the one hand, I’m really happy for you. I’m glad you’ve got more than just me. On the other hand, it was kind of nice when I thought I was the only one. It felt special. Like I was the the only one who knew about you. Which of course isn’t true. The whole world knows about you. It’s just that most of them don’t seem to appreciate you very much.
Does it ever bother you that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin get so much more mail than you do? I hope not. It certainly wouldn’t bother me. There was a time I thought it might be nice to be popular–you know, to have a lot of friends. But then Buster came along, and then Campbell, and I realized that that is quite enough for me…” (p. 30-31)
Read This If You Love: Space! I recommend Space Encyclopedia by David A. Aguilar and Moon Base Crisis by Rebecca Moesta & Kevin J. Anderson. Also check out Planetary.org’s list of recommended books from 2017: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2017/1115-space-books-kids.html and 2016: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2016/emily-lakdawalla-space-book-recommendations.html
Author: Angie Smibert
Published March 20th, 2018 by Boyd’s Mill Press
Summary: Boyds Mills Press is pleased to announce the March publication of BONE’S GIFT, a supernatural historical mystery written by Angie Smibert about twelve-year-old Bone, who possesses a Gift that allows her to see the stories in everyday objects. When Bone receives a note that says her mother’s Gift killed her, Bone seeks to unravel the mysteries of her mother’s death, the schisms in her family, and the Gifts themselves.
In a southern Virginia coal-mining town in 1942, Bone Phillips has just reached the age when most members of her family discover their Gift. Bone has a Gift that disturbs her; she can sense stories when she touches an object that was important to someone. She sees both sad and happy—the death of a deer in an arrowhead, the pain of a beating in a baseball cap, and the sense of joy in a fiddle. There are also stories woven into her dead mama’s butter-yellow sweater—stories Bone yearns for and fears. When Bone receives a note that says her mama’s Gift is what killed her, Bone tries to uncover the truth. Could Bone’s Gift do the same?
This beautifully resonant coming-of-age tale about learning to trust the power of your own story is “charming” says School Library Connection, while Kirkus Reviews says, “Smibert surrounds Bone with a loving, complicated extended family….(with) language, which feels real and down-to-earth, like her characters. An intriguing blend of history and magic.”
About the Author: Angie is the author of several young adult books, including Memento Nora, The Forgetting Curve, and The Meme Plague, and numerous nonfiction books for children, as well as many short stories for both adults and teens. She lives in Roanoke, Virginia.
Review: Bone’s Gift was a special story looking at a well-known time period in a less-known setting. Normally stories in the 1940s focus primarily on the World War in Europe and the Pacific Islands, but this story focuses on a young girl who stays home when her father leaves to fight for his country. What happens to the children who have no mother and whose father leave for the war? Mostly a young girl whose family don’t all get along? And a young girl who is working very hard to figure out something important in her life while also learning truths about her mother’s life. This is that story. Bone is a character that the reader will love and will want to know what happened to her. Between Bone’s loss of her mother, her father going to WWII, Appalachian folklore & setting, and family dynamics, Bone’s Gift has so many different aspects weaving their way throughout the story, but it is all done beautifully in a way that all comes together in the resolution.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:
- Book Talk! (in Adobe Spark)
- Appalachian Folklore in Bone’s Gift (written by professor Tina Hanlon of Ferrum University)
- Your Family Tree Activity – students get to explore Bone’s family and fill out their own family tree. (PDF)
- Bone’s Gift – an Appalachian storytelling game. A printable card game that teaches storytelling skills.
- (Ghost) Stories of Ordinary Objects Activity – object (photos) prompts and mini-lesson plan for story writing.
(Resources from http://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/?mbdb_book=bones-gift)
- What genre would you consider Bone’s Gift?
- How did the author incorporate Appalachian Folklore in Bone’s story?
- What theme would you say was the main theme of the story?
- What incident in the book changed the trajectory of the plot?
- How would a changed setting have changed the story?
Flagged Passages: “Bone Phillips floated in the cool, muddy water of the New River up to her eyeballs. The sky above was as blue as a robin’s egg, and the sun was the color of her mama’s butter-yellow sweater.
Her mother was still everywhere and nowhere Bone looked.
She let herself sink under the water and swam along the river bottom toward shore–toward Will.
In the shallows, her hand brushed against something hard and jagged on the silky river bottom. An image poured over her like cold bathwater. A young boy had hit his head on this rock. He struggled for air. The current grabbed at him–and her, pulling her along back in time. Bone snatched her hand away from the rock and came up for air with a gasp.” (p. 1)
Read This If You Love: Magical Realism, Folk lore, Historical Fiction, Mysteries
Don’t miss the other stops on the blog tour!
Monday, April 9 YA Books Central
Tuesday, April 10 Ms. Yingling Reads
Wednesday, April 11 Unleashing Readers
Friday, April 13 Always in the Middle
Rosie Revere, Engineer
Author: Andrea Beaty; Illustrated by: David Roberts
Published: September 3, 2013 by Abrams
A Guest Review by Jennifer Zafetti
Summary: Rosie is an ambitious young girl who aspires to be an engineer. She creates an invention for her uncle, but becomes embarrassed when he laughs at her. She does not feel supported , until she meets her Great-Great-Aunt Rose who is both an adventurer and an explorer. Her great-great-aunt yearns to fly so Rosie builds her a contraption made out of cheese. When her great-great-aunt laughs at her failure, Rosie becomes disheartened and swears to never invent again. Rose provides her with comfort and explains that, “Your brilliant first flop was a raging success.” This provides Rosie with the encouragement she needs to try again!
Review: I really enjoyed reading this book! I think that it is so important for kids to embrace failures! If Rosie had admitted defeat after her first failure, she would have never been able to be successful. Rosie’s perserverance allowed her to create a flying contraption for her aunt. Furthermore, the rhyming sentences created an engaging tone that kept me wondering what would happen next. This is a great story to read-aloud to a classroom! Additionally, the illustrations on each page really add to the story and provide detailed visuals to accompany Rosie’s different inventions. Overall, I think that this book can be inspirational for all ages—the simple message: never give up!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Rosie Revere, Engineer is an uplifting story in which failure turns into success. Teachers should use this children’s book to teach students about the importance of perseverance. When faced with challenges, students should use them as an opportunity to grow. If you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything!
Also, the teacher can pause the reading to ask for predictions.
Discussion Questions: How did Rosie’s mood change throughout the story?; When is a time that you persevered when facing a challenge?; When is a time that you have learned from a failure? How do Rosie’s family members impact her actions?
Read This If You Loved: Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, and The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Thank you, Jennifer!
The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming
Author: J. Anderson Coats
Published February 28th, 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Summary: High-spirited young Jane is excited to be part of Mr. Mercer’s plan to bring Civil War widows and orphans to Washington Territory—but life out west isn’t at all what she expected.
Washington Territory is just the place for men of broad mind and sturdy constitution—and girls too, Jane figures, or Mr. Mercer wouldn’t have allowed her to come on his expedition to bring unmarried girls and Civil War widows out west.
Jane’s constitution is sturdy enough. She’s been taking care of her baby brother ever since Papa was killed in the war and her young stepmother had to start working long days at the mill. The problem, she fears, is her mind. It might not be suitably broad because she had to leave school to take care of little Jer. Still, a new life awaits in Washington Territory, and Jane plans to make the best of it.
Except Seattle doesn’t turn out to be quite as advertised. In this rough-and-tumble frontier town, Jane is going to need every bit of that broad mind and sturdy constitution—not to mention a good sense of humor and a stubborn streak a mile wide.
Review: I didn’t know much about the Washington Territory. I knew that it had to have been settled quite like Oregon (I’m the Oregon Trail generation!) or California, but I didn’t know about the boat expeditions, or any expeditions for that matter, to the territory. It was fascinating to read about Jane’s trip to Washington as well as the complicated family that she traveled with. Jane’s story is not only a look at the history of America and Washington State, it is also a story of the perception about the role of woman in towns and families. Ms. D, in Jane’s story, is such an interesting character. She, as a very young uneducated woman, married Jane’s father who died in the Civil War. Now she is still young and pretty but has a preteen stepdaughter and a toddler son, both things that make you less of an attractive new wife. Jane also has us look at the idea of woman on the frontier because she learns to step outside of the roles her stepmother wants her to have and expand into a well-rounded frontier girl.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: One thing I found disappointing was the lack of back matter in the book though I think this may be where the best classroom opportunity comes from. I assume that most young readers won’t know this time period and the west before it was America, so the reader themselves could use Jane’s story to jump start an inquiry look into the Washington Territory, the expeditions there (were they all in boats?!), and how life was different there than in the east.
Discussion Questions: How does Jane break the female mold in this story?; Why isn’t Ms. D as eligible as a wife as the other girls?; Why do Jane’s friends and Jane part ways a bit once they get to Washington?; Why is Jane’s paper book so important to her?; How did Mr. Mercer use propaganda to get young girls on his boat and also to get men in Washington to help pay for the expedition?; Did Miss Gower need Jane’s help or did she have another motive?
Flagged Passages: “It will need to be grand if it’s to fit the seven hundred unmarried girls and war widows Mr. Mercer plans to bring out west to teach in the schools of Washington Territory or to turn their hands to other useful employment.
Or, if you are Mrs. D, marry one of the many prosperous gentlemen bachelors pining for quality female society.
She’s pinned all her hopes on it. Mrs. D hated working in the Lowell mills. She hated leaving her kitchen and hearth and standing for fourteen hours a day before a loom, sneezing from all the dust and lint and not being able to sleep at night because of the ringing in her ears. She wants to be a wife again, to have someone else go out to work while she keeps house. If she has to go all the way to Washington Territory to do it, by golly, that’s what she’ll do.
After Mrs. D paid our passage, Mr. Mercer gave her a copy of a pamphlet he wrote about the advantages and charms of Washington Territory. She glanced at it once, rolled her eyes, then left it on her chair in teh dining room. I snatched it up and hid it in my secret carpetbag, and when she’s not around, I read it.
I’ve read every word hundreds of times. Even the big words I must puzzle over. Even the boring chapters on Lumber and Trade.” (p. 5-6)
Read This If You Loved: The Oregon Trail, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, The Very Nearly Honorable Society series by Caroline Carlson, The Chronicles of the Black Tulip series by Barry Wolverton, Rory’s Promise by Michaela MacColl, Hattie series by Kirby Larson, May Amelia series by Jennifer L. Holm
Author: Jeanne Moran
Published September 13th, 2013 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Summary: Munich, Germany, 1938. The Nazis are in power and war is on the horizon.
Timid Sophie Adler is a member of Hitler Youth and a talented amateur photographer. When she contracts polio, her Youth leader supplies her with film. Photographs she takes of fellow polio patients are turned into propaganda, mocking people with disabilities, people just like her.
Sophie’s new disability has changed her status. She has joined the ranks of the outsiders, targets of Nazi scorn and possible persecution.
Her only weapon is her camera.
Review: Sophie’s story is one that is not often told. World War II stories often focus on the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish population of Europe; however, what happened to those in Germany who weren’t Jewish yet the Nazis felt were useless? This story looks at one girls’ version of a story, but Sophie still is “useful” to the Nazis because she is a photographer, but she has to make a choice between taking photographs of what she is told or photographs of the truth about what is going on in Germany.
Much of Sophie’s story is universal: bullying, friendship, family issues, etc., but readers will also learn about the Hitler Youth and the beginning of Hitler’s rise in Germany.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to being a book that should definitely be in classroom libraries, I could also see Risking Exposure being a perfect addition to World War II lit circles/text sets. Since Sophie’s story is so unique, it will make any set of books include more diverse stories about WWII.
Discussion Questions: If you were Sophie, would you go with what she knew was right or would you do what was ordered of you?; How did contracting polio change Sophie’s life?; How did being a photographer potentially save Sophie’s life?; How did Sophie’s kindness cause her to contract polio?; How is Sophie’s story different than other WWII stories you’ve read?; How do you think Sophie’s decision is going to affect her life?
Flagged Passages: “When Werner ordered me to grab my camera and follow him into the woods, I obeyed. He was the Scharfuhrer, the Master Sergeant. What else could I do?
My best friend Ronnie bolted to her feet alongside me. ‘You don’t need to go everywhere Sophie does, Renate,’ Wener said to her in his usual high-pitched whine. But she ignored him and winked at me as we crashed through the underbrush. Rennie got away with a certain level of disobedience. Younger sisters can.
But I wasn’t Werner’s sister. I couldn’t risk it.” (p. 3)
Read This If You Loved: The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
An interview by the author of Greenhorn with the director who adapted her book to film
In 2014 I co-produced an independent film adaptation of my middle grade novel Greenhorn, the story of a young Holocaust survivor who arrives at a Brooklyn yeshiva in the 1940s with only a small box that he won’t let out of his sight. The film, like the book, concerns bullying and disabilities and is based on a true story.
The film version of the book premiered in late 2014 at the Landmark NuArt Theatre in L.A. and at The Museum of Tolerance in New York. It was named the 2015 Audience Award Winner for Best Short Film Drama at the Morris and Mollye Fogelman International Jewish Film Festival in Memphis and subsequently aired on public television in Tennessee and Kentucky.
I’ve always wondered what caught the eye of the film’s director Tom Whitus, who wrote the screenplay. Tom is not Jewish and none of his family perished in the Holocaust, so what about the novel made him want to adapt it to film? The following is my short interview with Tom about Greenhorn:
Anna: What first struck you about the book?
Tom: The story is about friendship and loyalty—and standing up to bullies. These are all themes that are as important today as they were in 1946.
Anna: Why did you want to adapt the book to film?
Tom: As much as I respect the power of reading, I knew that the film would give us an opportunity to tell the story on a larger scale. And, since I felt it was important story to tell, I hoped the film would give us a chance to tell the story to a broader audience.
Anna: What did you see as the challenges to filming it?
Tom: The biggest challenge was going to 21st Century New York City to make a film set in 1946. Fortunately, much of New York has architecture of that period, so it was just a matter of framing out all the signs of a modern city. Casting was a challenge as well, finding the boys brought up in a modern world who could look and act like the yeshiva students of 1946. We found some very talented actors to bring those roles to life.
Anna: Are you satisfied with the end result?
Tom: Yes—with this caveat. Whenever I watch the film, I always come across a scene where I say, “I could have done that better.” Still, given our constraints, I think we made a very nice film.
Anna: What do you think the film achieves that the book couldn’t?
Tom: As I said before, I think it reaches a broader audience. There are people out there who will watch the film but might not ever take the time to read the book (though I honestly think you can read the book in less time than it takes to watch the film). That said, the film brings the characters to life.
Anna: Do you think the film is important?
Tom: This is a very important film for many reasons: It is imperative that we remember the Holocaust and the toll it took; we need to remember and mourn the victims of the Holocaust and celebrate those who survived to tell the story; friendship and loyalty can overcome small minded people; and finally, those who are different—those who stutter, those who suffer from tragedy—need to be accepted and loved, not shunned and made fun of.
Anna: Why do you think young people should see the film?
Tom: I think it will help them understand what others have gone through, and how friendship, loyalty and bravery can change the world.
Anna Olswanger is the author of Greenhorn and Shlemiel Crooks, a Sydney Taylor Honor Book and PJ Library Book. She has been a literary agent since 2005 and lives in the metro NYC area. Visit her online at www.olswanger.com. Greenhorn was published in 2012 by NewSouth Books in hardcover and ebook.
Karen Cushman, Newbery Medalist, called the novel “a tender, touching celebration of friendship, family, and faith.” David Adler, winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book for Nonfiction, called it “a heartwarming and heartrending story of friendship and tragedy.”
As an aid to teachers and librarians, the publisher NewSouth posted a Classroom Guide for the book on its website: http://www.newsouthbooks.com/greenhorn/greenhorn-classroom-guide.pdf
The guide has curriculum tie-ins to the Holocaust, Judaism, World War II, Heroes and Heroines, U.S. and New York History, World History, Historical Fiction, Friendship, Community, and Family.
TMW Media distributes the film version of Greenhorn and has posted a discussion guide for the film online at www.tmwmedia.com/newtmw/teachers_guides/L4812DVD.pdf.
You can view the film’s trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNo5tx3q_3c.
Greenhorn is an important film and book, so thank you to Anna and Tom for sharing it with us! Also, what a fascinating process to learn about!
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