“It was a trivial secret, but one I would remember as vividly as my feeling that while some people are haunted by the dead, others are haunted by the living.” page 71
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Grove Press, Grove Atlantic, New York, 2017.
Adult short story collection, 207 pages.
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.
This collection of eight short stories is tied together not so much by the characters as by a common theme – they all deal with Vietnamese immigrants, albeit in very different and sometimes surprising ways.
I first heard of this book when reading an interview with the author prior to the release. Instantly knew I wanted to read it and put in a library request. Received it at the end of April and was about to send it back unread because I didn’t think I’d have time to read it, but then Shenwei posted about the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge … so I read one story at a time during lunch breaks. Because of the tight time frame for this challenge and needing to return the book, I only read it once.
Amina’s Voice is a great new Muslim #ownvoices MG novel. Here’s my take on the Wisconsin references in the book.
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan.
Salaam Reads imprint, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 197 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: Not yet leveled.
Amina is shy and a little afraid of some of the big changes coming with middle school, like a chance to enter a singing contest or her uncle coming to stay. Her best friend is Soojin, a Korean immigrant who’s finally becoming an American citizen and wants to change her name. They find that their different cultures have some cultural norms in common, and they bonded over having unusual names. But if Soojin changes her name, is she also going to change her best friend?
There are going to be lots of reviews of this book, so I thought for my review, I’d take a different perspective. Kirin at Notes from an Islamic School Librarian reviewed Amina’s Voice and had only one issue with it, which confirmed my idea that this #ownvoice novel is a great representation of Muslim culture.
The earliest readers need diverse books too! Here’s one appropriate for the beginning reader.
We Can! (also titled If You Can, I Can) by Gay Su Pinnell, illustrated by Barbara Duke.
Scholastic, New York, 2002.
Realistic fiction, 9 pages.
Lexile: BR (What does BR mean in Lexile?)
AR: not leveled
NOTE: Intended for the earliest beginning readers, a later edition is titled If You Can, I Can.
We Can is the sweet story of two non-white brothers, told in extremely simple words with pictures carrying most of the story, for the earliest of pre-readers and beginning readers.
I was delighted to find a nice selection of early readers at a local thrift store. It is incredibly difficult to find a good batch of books at this level in general, let alone culturally appropriate and diverse books, so I quickly sorted through the stack to find any that had diverse characters. At a dollar each, this particular store was a little expensive for pre-readers (most places sell used ones for 50 cents down even as low as 10 cents, especially for used books which have writing and highlighting in them as some of these did), so I wanted to only select those that I might not find elsewhere.
This book takes place over one very intense day. Natasha is a serious girl who loves science and music. Daniel is a romantic boy who loves poetry but works diligently to meet his parents high expectations. When they meet on the streets of New York City, love is destined, except for one catch: Natasha’s family is about to be deported. Can she stay in America? Can they somehow make it work? Is love really about fate or just a chemical reaction in the brain?
As Natasha and Daniel are telling their story, there are interludes from a third person perspective that give more information about various details and background about people in their lives.
There are several areas of diverse lit that I have very little knowledge about. I don’t know much about Islamic books, so I rely on bloggers like Notes From an Islamic School Librarian to point me towards good reads or point out flaws in books that I might not notice. I’m sadly ignorant about indigenous culture, but Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature is helping educate all of us about good Native representation in literature.
But until very recently, I didn’t have many ideas about good South Asian books. Enter the new website Kitaabworld (kitaab means book in many languages). They curate books and some other children’s items from South Asian cultures, including bilingual and religious books.
In addition to selling South Asian books right there on their website, they offer a lot of helpful content for the clueless but well-meaning non-South Asian, such as their guide to the best books of 2016.
I had only heard of four books on this list before, although Save Me a Seat was one of my favorite books of 2016. However there are now several I would like to read, including One Half from the East and YA novel Rani Patel in Full Effect. Mirror in the Sky also looks intriguing.
I hope you are also able to find some new reads from this awesome website!
“If I had to choose, I have no idea who I would pick between a biological brother I didn’t know and Felix, who I loved so much.” p. 171
Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah.
UK: The Chicken House. US reprint: Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade realistic fiction, illuminated book, 282 pages (including extras).
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 7.0 points)
Dara Palmer’s life is sooo dramatic. She was clearly born to be a star, you can tell by how much TV she watches! It’s life or death that she gets the part of Maria in her school’s production of The Sound of Music, so when she doesn’t, some family members feel that it’s her dark skin keeping her from a part in the musical, not her overacting.
This was entirely an impulse buy. When I opened the book and discovered that it was illuminated (text is complemented/completed by pictures drawn around the margins and in the white space of the book), I was surprised. Another surprise followed as I found out the book was set in Great Britain. This edition is slightly Americanized (5th grade instead of 6th year), but the characters are still very British.
Dara Palmer is a pretty unlikeable character. She literally states this at the end of the first chapter:
“This all happened a while ago now. Let me just say, I was a different person back then. I don’t know if you’re going to like the old me much when you hear what I was like, but I’ve changed. Stuff happened along the way – all kinds of stuff, actually. Nuns and noodles were just the beginning.” ~page 2
Dara is self-absorbed, overly dramatic, and yet somehow magnetic. She comes off as very unsympathetic, until we get to know her a little more. If it wasn’t for the caveat in the first chapter, I might not have made it past the second. And that would have been a shame.