Student Voices: “10 Books with Muslim Representation” by Basma Heda, Senior in College

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“10 Books with Muslim Representation”
by Basma Heda, senior in college, Kellee’s Student from 2012-2018, and Bookstagram Reviewer @BookishBasma (#23 on Buzzfeed’s “24 Bookstagrammers You Need to Follow if Reading is Your Jam 5/6/21)! 

Everyone deserves to see themselves in a story. Especially when it comes to Muslims, a group that’s often villainized and misrepresented in the media, readers deserve to see themselves as the hero, as the person falling in love, as the person just living life. In addition to being a massive bookworm and the owner of 200+ books, I’m also a hijab-wearing Muslim woman, and I didn’t see myself on a page until the year 2020. The first time it happened, I cried a minimum of six times during the book, and then an additional 15 minutes after I finished (it was at 1am). I was seeing myself on a page for the first time in my life, and I want to spread that feeling. Here’s ten books with Muslim representation for all ages. 

Middle Grade

Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga

Written in verse, Other Words For Home follows Jude who leaves her hometown in Syria due to the conflict and comes to America with her mom, leaving behind her brother and her father. Thrust into a new world and armed only with the English she’s learned from her favorite movies, Jude learns to navigate a society that makes it abundantly clear she’s not welcome. It’s a coming of age story that tackles Islamophobia, the struggles of being an immigrant, and a child who just wants to belong. This was an absolutely beautiful story that made me cry multiple times, and I want to shout about it from the rooftops. 

Amina’s Voice & Amina’s Song by Hena Khan

This is a duology follow Amina, a Pakistani-American Muslim girl who loves to sing. In addition to navigating middle school and all its ups and downs, Amina experiences quite a bit of Islamophobia. Her mosque is vandalized and she struggles with her identity as a Pakastani American throughout the series. Even with all these obstacles, Amina continues to grow and find her confidence, and it was wonderful to see! This was an adorable series that’s perfect for any middle grade (or really any age) student!

City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda

A part of the Rick Riordan imprint, this book is about Mesopotamian mythology in the modern world with, get this, a MUSLIM main character. The story follows Sik, a witty and determined thirteen year old who’s trying to survive middle school and the grief of losing his brother when he’s suddenly thrust into the world of Mesopotamian mythology. Suddenly Sik is responsible to save not just his parents, but all of Manhattan. Joined by Belet (a fierce warrior and the adopted daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war) and a retired hero named Gilgamesh, Sik faces demons and a fast spreading plague in his rush to save the city. I was originally nervous on how mythology would work with a monotheistic religion, but it was done with grace and respect and I loved every second of it. A must read for any mythology fan!

Once Upon An Eid edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

Written by multiple authors, this book is a collection of short stories written about the Muslim holiday Eid! The stories are so heartwarming and really showcase a variety of cultures and backgrounds coming together for a joyous holiday. One of my comfort books!

More to the Story by Hena Khan

A modern, Muslim retelling of Little Women, this was the cutest book! Our main character, Jameela, is an aspiring journalist who’s biggest challenge is her strict editor-in-chief. In between the school paper, the new boy at school, and solving problems in between her siblings, Jameela is pretty busy. However, when her father has to take a job overseas and her youngest sister gets sick, Jameela’s world is turned upside down. This is a tear-jerker of a story with the most wholesome moments.  

Young Adult

Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

Remember at the beginning how I mentioned that there was a book that made me cry because it was the first time I saw myself? It’s this one. Love from A to Z is one of those books I feel like everyone needs to read. The hijabi main character, Zayneb, is an outspoken and strong woman, and there is so much of myself that I see in her. While this book is a cute romantic contemporary, it’s also a story of struggling with Islamophobia. Zayneb experiences multiple Islamophobic encounters, with her professors, going to the pool, and just trying to live her life. I remember reading this book for the first time, and I felt so SEEN and so validated. It was a reminder that I wasn’t alone in my struggles, that a hijabi like me could have a story without becoming the villain or the person needing “liberating”. Seeing Zayneb double down on her identity and refuse to budge was so empowering, and seeing myself represented on the page like that meant more to me than words could convey.

Saints & Misfits and Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali

These two books follow Janna Yusuf, an Arab-Indian American hijabi, who’s stubborn, outspoken, and a tad boy-crazy. While the books follow the same characters, they are vastly different in theme. 

Saints & Misfits: This is not a cute, fluffy contemporary. The main character, Janna is sexually assaulted by someone well respected in the Muslim community, and the book follows her journey in trying to cope and her struggle in wondering if anyone will believe her. The character development Janna goes through blew me away, and I was crying by the end. My heart still aches just thinking about it and it’s a book that will be staying with me for a while.

Misfit in Love: This book picks up two years later, in the midst of wedding preparations for Janna’s brother. Everybody knows what a drama fest weddings can turn into, and that’s exactly what happens here. In addition to last minute wedding changes, Janna is dealing with drama of her own, as she attempts to understand her feelings about the love square (yes, you heard that right) that seems to be closing in.

Both books have fantastic Muslim rep (although I have some minor issues with the portrayal of hijab in the first book) and I highly recommend both books. 

Adult (note: clean, safe for teens)

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

A retelling of You’ve Got Mail, this book was a whirlwind of drama, love, gut-wrenching pain, and forgiveness. Hana is a brilliant MC and her perspective was such a great place to read from. Good Muslim representation in all forms of media is often an uphill battle, and we see Hana fighting that battle at her job at the radio station, when they want to run stories on Muslim communities that would actually be harmful. In addition to the fight for proper rep, Hana also deals with quite a bit of Islamophobia. The sensitive subject was written so well and I absolutely bawled. The romance was angsty, adorable, and basically everything I wanted from a halal Muslim enemies-to-lovers.

Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

A contemporary Muslim retelling of Pride & Prejudice, this story blew me away. The romance was absolutely adorable, and I am in LOVE with our main characters. I see a lot of myself in Ayesha, and Khalid was just so awkward, I couldn’t handle the cuteness! Similarly to Pride & Prejudice, I could not STAND Khalid’s mom (think Mrs. Bennett but so much worse). In addition to the romance, the story also touched on the intricacies of the Muslim community and the importance of our relationships with each other, and how we grow from them. Seeing how our characters navigated their faith and desires in a world that doesn’t always agree with it added so much to the story.

Thank you so much, Basma, for your recommendations!!
(And everyone else: Make sure to go follow Basma on Instagram! You won’t be disappointed!)

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

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Nice Try, Jane Sinner
Author: Lianne Oelke
Published: January 9, 2018 by Clarion

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

Review: I’ll admit, I’m always a sucker for a strong, sarcastic, and somewhat troubled YA protagonist, and Jane Sinner did not disappoint. Nice Try, Jane Sinner is psychological and philosophical, a little crass and silly, sometimes downright strange, and always full of tremendous heart—but then, isn’t that college? It was refreshing to read an older YA: Jane is right on that cusp of “not really a teenager anymore, but definitely not a full a full-fledged adult.” As she navigates her senior year in high school, taking classes at the local community college, I felt that, even beyond its obvious and intentional quirks, Jane’s story is startlingly unique in how it captures the whirlwind of  emotions felt during that transitional time. It also offered a healthy balance of relationships, featuring Jane’s loving yet tense parents, adoring but annoying little sister, and a cast of friends too diverse to affix any one guiding set of adjectives to.

Written in diary-format, the book is told exactly as Jane wants it to be, which adds an interesting dimension of questionability to her narration. Dialogue is captured in script format, which prompts readers to question at times what’s reality and what’s for show, on House of Orange and beyond. What Jane does and doesn’t tell the narrator about her past, her genuine feelings, and her motivation leads to some interesting twists.  In particular, Jane’s “Doctor/Self” internal dialogues were really compelling. Like the eponymous Jane Sinner herself, however, the book at times deflects the greater thematic issues at hand through its sarcasm and humor. Jane’s story revolves around a personal crisis—one that I wish the book would have delved in deeper to by the end. I did enjoy Jane’s exploration of religion and the expectations young people are sometimes held to, which is a topic I’ve yet to see be fully explored in YA.

For all its quirks and flaws, Jane Sinner has a heart of gold. It conjures up all the emotions of a teen on the brink of “adulthood,” while still maintaining a sarcastic yet thoughtful spark throughout. It’s refreshing to remember that being a young adult doesn’t end at high school, and life doesn’t have to either.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: I’ll admit, I’m always a sucker for a strong, sarcastic, and somewhat troubled YA protagonist, and Jane Sinner did not disappoint. Nice Try, Jane Sinner is psychological and philosophical, a little crass and silly, sometimes downright strange, and always full of tremendous heart — but then, isn’t that college? It was refreshing to read an older YA: Jane is right on that cusp of “not really a teenager anymore, but definitely not a full a full-fledged adult.” As she navigates her senior year in high school, taking classes at the local community college, I felt that, even beyond its obvious and intentional quirks, Jane’s story is startlingly unique in how it captures the whirlwind of  emotions felt during that transitional time. It also offered a healthy balance of relationships, featuring Jane’s loving yet tense parents, adoring but annoying little sister, and a cast of friends too diverse to affix any one guiding set of adjectives to.

Written in diary-format, the book is told exactly as Jane wants it to be, which adds an interesting dimension of questionability to her narration. Dialogue is captured in script format, which prompts readers to question at times what’s reality and what’s for show, on House of Orange and beyond. What Jane does and doesn’t tell the narrator about her past, her genuine feelings, and her motivation leads to some interesting twists.  In particular, Jane’s “Doctor/Self” internal dialogues were really compelling. Like the eponymous Jane Sinner herself, however, the book at times deflects the greater thematic issues at hand through its sarcasm and humor. Jane’s story revolves around a personal crisis–one that I wish the book would have delved in deeper to by the end. I did enjoy Jane’s exploration of religion and the expectations young people are sometimes held to, which is a topic I’ve yet to see be fully explored in YA.

For all its quirks and flaws, Jane Sinner has a heart of gold. It conjures up all the emotions of a teen on the brink of “adulthood,” while still maintaining a sarcastic yet thoughtful spark throughout. It’s refreshing to remember that being a young adult doesn’t end at high school, and life doesn’t have to either.

Discussion Questions:  Even in the context of the book, Jane is quite the controversial character to those around her — did you “like” Jane? How might this shape your perception of the book as a reader? Does “likability” matter in protagonists? Think about if Jane was gender-swapped: would this change how we view some of her more questionable decisions or characteristics?

Flagged: “I need to psychoanalyze myself for Intro Psych. I’m not sure how that’s possible; the prof was rather vague on the specifics in class today. I was also caught up in a doodle of my hand. I outlined my hand on my notes because the notes were ugly and otherwise useless. I layered the inside with different-colored gel pens until the outline was fairly thick. In the middle of the hand I drew toasters and toast. The whole thing came together really well. One of my better efforts. But I’m not sure how to psychoanalyze myself. I suppose I’ll have to be both the doctor and patient. Maybe the two of me can come up with some profoundly insightful insight.

A middle-aged man with thinning brown hair and a cozy sweater vest motions for Jane to lie down on the sofa. He takes a seat on the overstuffed leather armchair and crosses his legs like a girl.

THE DOCTOR

Hello, Ms. Sinner.

JS

                          Hi.” (Page 46-47).

Read This If You Loved: Anything by John Green (Turtles All the Way Down in particular),  Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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Review and Educators’ Guide: Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution by Nioucha Homayoonfar

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Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution
Author: Nioucha Homayoonfar
Foreward by Firoozeh Dumas
Published January 1st, 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: In the mid 1970’s Nioucha Homayoonfar’s French mother and Iranian father made a decision that would change her life forever. At the age of five, Nioucha and her parents moved from Pittsburgh to her father’s homeland of Iran, at the time a modern, bustling country where people from different religions co-existed peacefully and women and men alike pursued the highest level of education and professional opportunities. A new school, new language, and new friends took some time to get used to.  But none of that compared to the changes that Nioucha experienced during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Once the Ayatollah took control, full robes and head scarves were required, religion classes became mandatory and boys were no longer allowed to interact with girls.  Her life continued to be filled with family, friends, pop music and even her first boyfriend (although both the music and the boyfriend were strictly prohibited), but Tehran had become barely recognizable as bombs were dropped on her neighborhood, loved ones and even Nioucha herself were kidnapped, acquaintances were executed and day by day, their freedom was chipped away.

Publishing in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Taking Cover reveals the extraordinary story of Nioucha’s struggle to adjust, to understand and to figure out her place in the world while unrest and oppression swirled around her.  Additionally, this title is a unique blend of coming-of-age storytelling and history. Coupled with a thought-provoking forward by New York Times best-selling author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in FarsiTaking Cover encourages readers to take a deeper look at the importance of protecting religious, political, and social freedoms while Nioucha’s vivid descriptions of Iranian life — the food, the smells, and its customs — exposes readers to a country and culture rarely written about.

Review: Generally, our system of history education and media focus do not set up Americans with great global information which is evident in the many nonfiction and historical fiction books I’ve encountered in my recent lifetime that have taught me so much about the world. This is one of those books.

This memoir does a special thing in being a beautiful narrative that at its heart is about a young girl growing up but is also addresses the true prejudice against women in Iran as well as teach some basics about the Islam faith and the Iranian Revolution. It is hard to balance these objectives but Taking Cover does it really well which makes it perfect for middle school readers because the story will engage them while they are exposed to a time period and place that they may know little about, as I did.

Side note: Is anyone else really impressed by the vivid memories that some have of their childhood? That is another thing I took away from this book–I remember a lot less than others! Excerpts from the memoir would be wonderful as a mentor text about writing about memories using imagery.

Side note: I would love to do a memoir book club with diverse voices including Taking Cover! I was thinking Born a Crime (the new young reader edition), Hey KiddoOpen Mic, and March Book One-Three. What other titles do you know of that would fit this idea?

Educators’ Guide provided by the publisher:

Flagged Passages: “CHAPTER 1: Fury 1986 (Part 1)

Javabe ablahan khomooshist. -Persian Proverb
Silence is the best answer to fools.

I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.

My mother was pushing my brother in a stroller. She had already crossed the street, but I’d lagged behind. So when the ‘Moral Police’ pulled in front of me, I was all alone. Their job was to ensure that all women and girls dressed in a manner dictated by Islam. To set an example, these four were covered head to toe in black chadors, and some even wore gloves.

The Black Crow sitting in the back seat jumped out and grabbed my arm without saying a word. I caught my mother’s eye just as I was being pushed inside the jeep. Maman stood helplessly, screaming across the traffic for the Crows to let me go.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Love: Memoirs, Learning about unreported history, Expanding your knowledge of the world

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing the book for review!**

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

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The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen

Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC

Praise:

  • National Book Award
  • Pura Belpré Award
  • Michael L. Printz Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book

★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)

★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)

★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)

“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation

“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost

“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street

Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.

With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change,  Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words. 

Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one. 

As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
  • How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
  • How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
  • Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?

Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
  • How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
  • What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?

Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
  • Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.

Flagged Passages: 

  • I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
  • My brother was born a soft whistle:
    quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
    But I was born all the hurricane he needed
    to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
  • Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
  • While I watch her hands, and face,
    feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
    She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.

    We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
    in background. But I don’t feel so different
    when I listen to her. I feel heard.

“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo: 

Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/

Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams

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Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth

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Running on the Roof of the World
Author: Jess Butterworth
Published May 1st, 2018 by Algonquin Young Readers

Summary: A story of adventure, survival, courage, and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India.

Tash lives in Tibet, where as a practicing Buddhist she must follow many rules to avoid the wrath of the occupying Chinese soldiers. Life remains peaceful as long as Tash, her family, and their community hide their religion and don’t mention its leader, the Dalai Lama.

The quiet is ruptured when a man publicly sets himself on fire to protest the occupation. In the crackdown that follows, soldiers break into Tash’s house and seize her parents. Tash barely escapes, and soon she and her best friend, Sam, along with two borrowed yaks, flee across the mountains, where they face blizzards, hunger, a treacherous landscape, and the constant threat of capture. It’s a long, dangerous trip to the Indian border and safety—and not all will make it there.

This action-packed novel tells a story of courage, hope, and the powerful will to survive, even in the most desperate circumstances.

About the Author [from her website]: As a child I wanted to be many things, including a vet and even David Attenborough, but throughout all of those ideas, I always wanted to write. So I studied creative writing as a BA(hons) at Bath Spa University, where I won the Writing for Young People Prize in 2011. I then completed a Master’s in Writing for Young People, also at Bath Spa University, and graduated in 2015.

My first two novels, RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD and WHEN THE MOUNTAINS ROARED are set in the Himalayas. My family on my Dad’s side has lived in India for seven generations and I spent much of my childhood in India too. My father was a trek leader and we lived on a remote foothill above Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan community in exile is settled. My mother’s family lived in London, where I was born. She was off on her own adventure, travelling in India, when she met my dad. Growing up, I would always write about the Himalayas when I was in the UK and missing the mountains or my dad and grandparents who still lived there.

Although RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD is fiction, it is inspired by a journey that tens of thousands of Tibetans have braved. I wanted to write a story that is relevant to today and grounded in events, places and communities I care about deeply.

Now I live between Louisiana in the US and Frome in the UK, and you’ll often find me back in the Himalayas too.

Review: We all have knowledge gaps. I try to learn as much as I can about the world and others unlike me, and this story took me to Tibet and showed me a struggle happening that I was unaware of. While reading and since reading, I have spent hours reading about the history and current affairs of Tibet.

But other than smacking me in the face with this truth and taking place in a setting and from a point of view that is not often shared in middle grade and young adult novels, it also is a page-turning survival adventure. Tash and Sam must face a trek that hundreds of thousands have done, but they are doing it alone with only help from a few yaks and maybe some unexpected allies.

I included the author’s biography in her own words above because I think it is important to see that although this book may not be an own voices per se, it is written by someone who lived in the area and cares deeply about the people who live near the Himalayas.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to see this book and others from countries in other continents as part of a lit circle or in-class book club within middle school or high school classrooms to allow kids to see the world outside of their small area. Some other texts could be: Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins, Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Diamond Boys by Michael Williams, Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams, Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan, Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf, Long Walk to Walter by Linda Sue Park, The Glass Collector by Anna Perera, Sold by Patricia McCormick, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, La Linea by Ann Jaramillo, and I am sure there are more that I just don’t know. In addition to the novels, students could read news articles about the current events that connect with what they read in their fiction novels.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do Tash and Sam have to leave Tibet?
  • What are Tash’s parents doing that is so dangerous?
  • What is the geography like between Tibet and India?
  • What religion is Tash and Sam if they are going to see the Dalai Lama?
  • How do the yaks impact the success or failure of Tash and Sam’s journey?
  • What did the message in the letter end up meaning?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 17: Journey

Eve steps into a ditch and I slide forward, slamming into the hump above her shoulders.

‘Sorry, Eve,’ I mutter, shuffling back to find my balance.

Being a yak rider should run in my blood but my leg muscles ache from clinging on so tightly.

We approach the thick wire fence that surrounds the village. Two rocks stand to our right like giant guards.

Please let it be clear.

Sam dismounts. He moves slowly toward them, crushing the gravel under his boots.

‘There’s no one here!’ he shouts.

‘Is the fence still broken?’ I ask.

He nods and disappears between rocks with Bones.

I follow him. The rusty fence has bowed to the ground where the boulder fell and flattened it. The space between the rocks is just big enough to squeeze Eve through, though I have to tug at her harness to get her to move. As I step over the fence, my heart jumps.

We’re escaping.

Read This If You Love: Books about climing mountains like Peak and The Edge by Roland Smith, survival books like Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder, or books that expand your reading borders like the books listed above

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**Thank you to Brooke at Algonquin for providing a copy for review!**

Alone Together by Sarah Donovan

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Alone Together
Author: Sarah J. Donovan
Published: May 1, 2018 by Seela Books

Summary: Sadie Carter’s life is a mess, as wavy and tangled as her unruly hair. At 15, she is barely surviving the chaos of her large Catholic family. When one sister becomes pregnant and another is thrown out, her unemployed dad hides his depression, and her mom hides a secret. Sadie, the peacekeeper and rule-follower, has had enough. The empty refrigerator, years of hand-me-downs, and all the secrets have to stop. She longs for something more and plans her escape.

However, getting arrested was not her plan. Falling in love was not her plan. With the help of three mysterious strangers—a cop, a teacher, and a cute boy—maybe Sadie will find the strength to defy the rules and do the unexpected.

Told in verse, Sarah J. Donovan’s debut Alone Together has secrets, romance, struggle, sin, and redemption, all before Sadie blows out her 16 candles. It’s a courageously honest look at growing up in a big family.

Review: Sarah’s writing shows that she has a firm grasp on adolescence. The book is a beautiful book in verse. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I had closed the text. Sadie lives in a Catholic household, and she is struggling emotionally. She is the only one of the eleven people in her family to sit at the breakfast table, and one of the few siblings who hasn’t left the family altogether. She is the peacemaker and is sick of the empty fridge and bad choices that others seem to make for her. I think that Sadie has a life that many young people will relate to. She is left wondering about the ways in which people exist alone together. This is a great read, and I will be using it (in part and in whole) in my classes.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The title of this book is quite inspiring. Students might be asked to reflect on all of the ways that we are “alone together” in this world. Teachers can offer space and place for students to critically analyze whether we are alone together or whether we are something else. I’d love to hear students’ thoughts about this.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In this text, what is the role of family? In our world, what role does family play? How are we tied and not tied to our families?
  • How does Sadie’s family impact her life?
  • How does Sadie grow within the timeframe of the book? What does she learn?
  • Which verse resonated with you? How does it connect (or not connect) with your life?

Flagged Passage: 

“The only one of eleven

who sets the table every morning

with cereal bowls and spoons,

who matches mounds of socks

without complaint or disdain,

who obeys every stand, kneel, sing in mass

without sneaking out after communion” (6).

Read This If You Love: Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas; Stop Pretending by Sonia Sones; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi

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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

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