Review: Queen of Katwe

“Phiona had never read a chess book. Never read a chess magazine. Never used a computer. Yet this girl was already a national champion.” page 132

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Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion by Tim Crothers.
Vintage Canada, Penguin Random House, Toronto, Canada, my edition 2016, originally published 2012.
Nonfiction, 232 pages.
Not leveled.

Phiona Mutesi followed her brother to a place where children were learning to play chess.  Initially motivated more by a free daily meal, she soon found she had a gift for chess which might propel her out of the slums of Katwe, Uganda.

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Normally I am very strict about always reading first before seeing any movie based on a book.  In this case both my family and I really wanted to see the film, so I did watched before reading the book.  Sometimes seeing the movie version first can color the interpretation of the book.

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Board Book Review: Good Night Families

Between a rambunctious good morning to adoptive parents to a good night to everyone, our 39th board book manages to show a wide variety of families.

Good Night Families by Adam Gamble, illustrated by Cooper Kelly.
Good Night Books, 2017.
Board book, 20 pages.

A showcase of a wide variety of families going through their days.

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Good Night Families by Adam Gamble, illustrated by Cooper Kelly.

This book is a bit of a mixed bag.  First, let’s get some of the negatives out of the way.  The font is awful – a dead giveaway that this wasn’t produced by a regular publishing house.  There also isn’t a great flow to this book, it’s a series of vignettes that at times feels choppy and awkward.

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Review: We Are Family

“Each family is different; it may be large or small. / We may look like each other – or not alike at all.” p. 21

We Are Family by Patricia Hegarty, illustrated by Ryan Wheatcroft.
Tiger Tales, Caterpillar Books Ltd., Wilton, CT, 2017.
Picture book, 22 pages.
Not yet leveled.

A sweet vintage-style picture book depicting similar moments in the lives of ten very different families.

We Are Family cover

This British book is a bit off the beaten path.  I think I was looking for family books that were inclusive of foster and adoptive kids, and this certainly fits that mold.

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C&C: Two Novels about Sudanese Refugees

A comparison and contrast of two similar middle grade books.

Last summer, N and I read two novels about Sudanese refugees.

One was A Long Walk to Water: A Novel Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park.  Although this was reviewed first, I actually read it second.

The other was The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans.  I read this one first and then traded with N, who had read Long Walk to Water first.

A Long Walk to Water

One book is a novel closely based on a true story, while the other is a wholly fiction novel in verse with illustrations.  The main character of The Red Pencil is a girl who is displaced within Sudan, while A Long Walk to Water follows a boy who is displaced outside of Sudan.

The two characters face very different pressures within the same conflict.  Both witness the traumatic deaths of family members.  Both are survivors who try to hold on to hope and be a force for good in the world.  Both suffer.  Both lose their homes and most of their families and feel like they have lost their country.  Amira finds her religion as a source of hope, while for Salva the idea of improving other people’s lives motivates him.  Salva is forced to flee further and faster because for him the consequence is to be forcibly conscripted as a child soldier if not outright murdered.  Amira is able to flee more slowly and keep some family and neighborhood connections because women and female children were aggressively pursued in a different manner, which is glossed over in this children’s book.  Both characters are in danger of their lives, and both are surprised when the violence suddenly erupts in their hometowns.

Both of these books are written by marginalized authors, but neither are written by a Sudanese refugee.  One of these is written by a Korean-American, closely referring to the true story of one Sudanese refugee and American immigrant.  The other is written and illustrated by African-Americans.

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Which do I recommend?  Well that depends.  By reading both of these within a close time period, I felt like we got a decent overview of Sudanese refugees from two different viewpoints.  Together, they gave us a broader viewpoint than we would have gotten with only one.  However, we didn’t find a middle grade nonfiction text, which I would have liked to supplement these books.

The Red Pencil is better suited to younger readers, because while it does contain suspense and incredibly sad and awful events, the narrator is “safe” (we know she survives to write the story) and the violence is comparatively downplayed.  I probably wouldn’t use it in the classroom with students below fourth grade, but it could be appropriate for individual children who are younger.  This book could be read up into middle school, and probably even high school.

However, I didn’t enjoy the poetry and the illustrations didn’t balance that out.  It doesn’t seem to translate well into adult reading (as, for example, A Time to Dance or When the Mountain Meets the Moon do).

A Long Walk to Water works as an adult read, but it is very suspenseful and includes more graphic violence.  I’d use it with middle and high school students but would be cautious about using it with younger students.  Both books are appropriate for middle school students, and a comparison between the two could make for an interesting class discussion.

Generally speaking, both books were interesting, although I preferred A Long Walk to Water.  N enjoyed both books, although I find it telling that she stopped in the middle of The Red Pencil and put it down for an extended period of time.

Any books about Sudan or refugees that you recommend?

Review: The Red Pencil

This illuminated novel in verse tells a story of internal displacement for middle grade readers.

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2014.
Middle grade novel in verse, 331 pages including extras but not excerpts.
Lexile:  HL620L  (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 3.0 points)  .

Amira is a young village girl who dreams of going to school and learning to read the Koran.  But her mother desires a more traditional life for her.  Then the Janjaweed attack, and it seems like all dreams, and words, are gone forever.  Can a gift restore hope?

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This one was a bit of a gamble.  I have yet to dislike a book by any of the Pinkneys – individually and collectively they are so talented that the name alone can sell me on a book.  Plus I have loved Shane Evans’ work, and the kids find his illustrations appealing too.

But.  This is a novel in verse.  I wasn’t actually aware that it was illuminated until after purchasing, and Shane Evans’s illustrations did take the edge off.  But as I’ve said before, novels in verse rarely work for me.  I love poetry and novels, but feel that the combination usually loses something.  For this reason, I don’t often seek those books out unless they come highly recommended or with an author/illustrator team I can’t ignore.

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Review: Tears of the Desert

“The onrush of bodies approached in a heaving, panicked mass. Sayed and I went forward to meet them.” p. 209

Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir, with Damien Lewis.
One World Trade Paperbacks, Ballantine Books, Random House, New York, 2009.
Adult memoir, 335 pages including extras.
Not leveled.

Halima Bashir was an unusually lucky girl from birth, when her white eyelash was a good omen.  Combined with hard work, her luck held as she was able to gain an education (unusual for a village girl) and even became a top national scholar, gaining a rare admittance into medical school.  Unfortunately, she lived in Darfur and was a witness to the genocide there.  This is her story of survival among unspeakable horrors.

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This memoir was quite difficult to summarize.  Bashir’s life is a true story that reads like a novel.  Any small portion of this book could be seen as remarkable, but the fact that it all happened and she stood to tell the tale is a miracle.

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Review: Kisses from Katie

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis with Beth Clark.
Howard Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2011.
Memoir, 264 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  6.6 (worth 13.0 points)  .

This is a story of a young American who moved to Uganda, adopted 13 girls, and started a non-profit, motivated by her belief that Jesus was calling her there.

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Kisses for Katie is very religious.  I knew from the subtitle and her blog that this book was Christian, but didn’t expect it to be so heavy-handed.  I was also confused about the intended audience.  Given that literally every page included at least one reference to God, praying, or religion, one would assume this is a specialty book intended for a specifically Christian audience.  However, there are repeated points where commonly known Bible stories are summarized as if to someone unfamiliar with Christianity.

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