Review: A Better Place

“I didn’t feel safe in crowds near my home because the person ringing up my groceries could be the person who shot my son.” page 140

A Better Place: A Memoir of Peace in the Face of Tragedy by Pati Navalta Poblete.
Nothing But the Truth, LLC, San Francisco, California.
Memoir, 255 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book.  See review for more details.

The story of one mother’s life after her son was a victim of gun violence.

A Better Place cover resized

When I get interested in a topic, one of the things I like to do is to read a variety of books that talk about the same subject from different angles.  This past winter I wanted to look at incarceration, gun violence, and forgiveness (as well as several other topics that aren’t related).  Among the books I’d purchased or put on hold at the library there were several friends gave to me or recommended.

However, this was mailed to me and I originally thought my prison volunteer friend sent it, but it came with a mug and he knew nothing about it.  Looking back through my emails I didn’t find any that mentioned this book either, so if I’ve accidentally deleted or missed one then my apologies!

I took some time before reading, since it seemed pretty intense emotionally.  Indeed, this title walks you through Poblete’s experiences, starting at the joyous moment when she and her fiance of several years finally booked a venue for their wedding… only to receive the call her son was murdered.

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Review: Left in America

“I guess associating with Black culture felt safer to me. They weren’t in danger of being told to go back where they came from or of anyone saying they didn’t belong.” page 110

Left in America: The Story of Juan Terrazas by Sally Salas.
Left in America Organization, Dallas, Texas, 2015.
Biography, 219 pages.
Not leveled.

The story of an undocumented child who was left behind when his parents were deported at 14 years old, including his struggles with homelessness and journey to Christianity.

Left in America cover resized

The book is clearly self-published but a good effort was made to make it standard.  My copy had a few formatting errors, and some photos were blurred or pixelated, including the back cover.  The back matter consists of one quote which might be about the book (it isn’t quite clear) and lacks a standard blurb.

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Review: In a Rocket Made of Ice

“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76

In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Not leveled.

Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment.  The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.

In a Rocket Made of Ice cover resized
In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt.

Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs.  That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.

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Review: Yes, Chef

“When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality. I wouldn’t do it because it was egalitarian, I’d do it because cutting people out meant cutting off talent and opportunity, people who could bring more to the table than I could ever imagine.” page 160

Yes, Chef: a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.
Random House, New York, 2012.
Autobiography, 326 pages.
Not leveled.

The life story of Marcus Samuelsson, a chef across three continents.

Yes Chef cover resized

This was a random find that was enchanting.  I’ll admit that I was first drawn in by the appealing cover, and then after the generosity of the friend who gave this to me, I had to at least start reading it.  What I found between the covers kept me up all night until the book was finished.

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Review: Giving Thanks 1621

Some thoughts on a slightly controversial children’s book.

Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast by Kate Waters, photographs by Russ Kendall, in cooperation with the Plimoth Plantation.
Scholastic, New York, 2001.
Picture book, 40 pages.
Lexile:  620L  .
AR Level:  3.9 (worth 0.5)  .
NOTE:  There is another book by the same title but subtitled “A Native American Good Morning Message.”

A 1621 harvest feast as seen through the eyes of two boys, reenacted at Plimoth Plantation.

Giving Thanks 1621 Harvest Feast

I feel it’s important to note that this book is on the former Oyate’s List of Thanksgiving Books to Avoid.  That’s part of why I checked it out from the library instead of buying.  However, I couldn’t find any in-depth reviews, so I decided to look through it myself to see how suitable, if at all, this would be for teaching about the holiday.

Because this is one of the Oyate Books to Avoid, the format of this review will look rather different than most.  I decided to use the 11 Myths about Thanksgiving template to consider this book.  My overall thoughts will follow.   Continue reading “Review: Giving Thanks 1621”

Reivew: Hoodoo

“It felt like the world was spinning and I was hanging on, hoping I wouldn’t get thrown off and fall into darkness.” page 155

Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith.
Clarion books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2015.
MG historical fantasy/horror, 214 pages.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 6.0 points)  .

In small-town 1930s Alabama, Hoodoo Hatcher is an unmagical twelve year old born into a folk magic family.  It’s embarrassing enough to not be able to do a simple spell when your name is Hoodoo, but it could be downright dangerous when the Stranger comes to town looking for a boy with that name.

Hoodoo cover

Hoodoo is an incredibly unique book.  Which makes it memorable and interesting, but also a bit challenging to discuss.  How do you classify it?  Hoodoo is decidedly set in the past, and some elements are very evocative of the time and place.  But it’s also definitely a magical book.  The magical elements are not simply magical realism – spells have effects (although not flashy ones) and the existence and efficacy of hoodoo are generally accepted in the town.

There are many creepy aspects.  Astral projection occurs a few times, and messages and items are sent from beyond the grave.  Lives are in danger, people are possessed, cemeteries are dug up.  I find it challenging to classify MG horror since it’s so much less scary, but my sense is that this would mainly fall into horror, with aspects of historical and fantastical fiction that make it a good entry point for readers of those genres.

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Review: Fire from the Rock

“I have to suck up as much pride and dignity as I can while it’s there for me.” page 200

Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2007.
YA historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile:  760L  .
AR Level:  5.0 (worth 9.0 points)  .

Sharon Draper detours from her usual realistic fiction for a historical novel set in 1957 during school integration at Little Rock.

Fire From the Rock cover resized

The novel opens with a bang as a white man’s vicious dog is turned loose on Sylvia’s 8-year old sister.  Several incidents throughout give a realistic portrayal of what it was like to live during that time period.  For example, although Sylvia takes great pride in her mother’s sewing ability, it’s also a practical necessity since she explains that at the time only white people were allowed to try on clothes in department stores or return them if they didn’t fit.  The nature of historical fiction also makes these glimpses more interesting and memorable to the reader than say, a textbook.  I think this book would work well in a high school history course.

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