Review: Children of the Fire

“The southwest wind in Hallelujah’s face blew pieces of flaming cloth and chunks of blazing hay high above her head.” page 33

Children of the Fire by Harriette Gillem Robinet.
Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon and Schuster, 2001.  Originally published 1999.
MG historical fiction, 134 pages including author’s note.
Lexile:  590L .
AR Level:  4.0 (worth 4.0 points) .

In 1871 Chicago, Hallelujah wants nothing more than to watch one of the fires burning around the city, but has no idea how one of those fires will change her life.

Children of the Fire cover

I hadn’t been reading much historical fiction so I impulsively bought this.  We’ve visited Chicago, so I thought it might make a good family read-aloud.

The cover was so irritating.  Why did they include the rich white girl?  Once I started reading, I also noticed that Hallelujah’s hair was wrong on the cover.  In the book it specifically states that her sister redid it into loose braids, not twists (and the cover looks more like ponytail poofs to me)  A large theme of the book is that Hallelujah is able to blend in with different groups because she wears a simple dress, but custom-made shoes, is the daughter of a slave, yet can read and write.  Different people see her in different ways.

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Review: Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go

“There are memories you write down to get them out, to force them as far away from you as you can.” page 9

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go: A Novel of Haiti by Laura Rose Wagner.
Amulet Books Imprint, Abrams, New York, 2015.
YA realistic fiction novel, 263 pages  including extras.
Lexile:  not yet leveled.
AR Level:  5.0 (worth 8.0 points)  .

15-year-old Magdalie’s been raised by her aunt in Port-au-Prince and is like a sister to her cousin Nadine.  When a massive earthquake hits the country, they’re devastated, grief-struck, and struggling to survive.  But then Nadine is offered an opportunity, and Magdalie cannot join her.  Will their sisterhood survive?  Will they?

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go

If you’re reading this review far enough into the future then this book will no longer be realistic fiction.  Just as novels about 9/11 are now historical fiction, this book about the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, a recent historical event, will one day be historical fiction!

The book opens with a scene of the actual earthquake, so it certainly starts off gripping.  After reading the blurb, I thought this book would be told in two voices, but it focuses solely on Magdalie, the sister left behind in Haiti.  This is an interesting twist on the usual immigration narrative.  Typically we follow the immigrant and don’t get as much information on those who are left behind.  In this book, the immigrant sister slowly and painfully fades away, while the focus is on the dire circumstances and overpowering need for survival in the country of origin.

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Review: The Birchbark House

“She was named Omakayas, or Little Frog, because her first step was a hop.” page 5

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.
Disney Hyperion, New York, 1999, my edition 2002.
Historical fiction, 244 pages including glossary.
National Book Award Finalist
Lexile:  970L  .
AR Level:  6.1 (worth 7.0 points)  .
NOTES: This is a work of fiction although I am not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.
While the main character is seven, I would recommend this book for older children.

This is one year in the life of seven-year-old Omakayas (Oh-MAH-kay-ahs), an Ojibwa (Anishinabe) girl, in 1847.

The Birchbark House Cover

Wow.  From the suspenseful prologue to the last word, I was fully immersed in this book.  The best historical fiction I’ve read in a long time, I might even like it better than Abby Takes a Stand.  To think I didn’t really want to read it that much!

I’d seen this book recommended so many times, but was avoiding it because I was required to read one of Silko’s books in college and did not like it.  That book was The Antelope Wife.  I found it unreadable – one of very few required novels I didn’t read cover to cover.  My professor was trying to be modern and avant-garde but the book was incomprehensible and had no plot, just intricate emotionally-laden descriptions that initially intrigued and later bored me.  I’m so glad to see that Erdrich has rewritten that book and the new edition is supposed to be much more readable, because in this book, I absolutely loved her take on historical fiction.

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Review: The Refugees

“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.
Not leveled.
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.

The Refugees cover resized

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.

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Review: Shine, Coconut Moon

“I’ve watched Apu at least a dozen times before with Mike and never had this feeling. I never thought it was uproariously funny like some of the kids at school or Mike did, but it never really bothered me either. Or did it, and I just ignored it?” page 127

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger.
Margaret K. McElderry Imprint, Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, New York, 2009 (my edition 2010).
YA historical fiction, 247 pages.
Lexile:  HL740L  (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  5.0 (worth 9.0 points)
NOTE: not suggested for elementary school students despite the reading level.

Samar, or Sam has never known much about her Punjabi heritage and never needed to.  After her father left, her mom cut all contact with her traditional Indian family.  So when her turbaned uncle shows up at the door after 9/11, Sam has no idea who he even is.

Shine, Coconut Moon resized

This is a coming-of-age young adult debut novel by an #ownvoice author.  I purchased this book as soon as I read Shenwei’s review.  I work with a number of Sikh and Indian students, and my original thought was to get this for one of my students.

However, after reading, I don’t think it would be suitable for that particular student.  She’s still in middle school, very sheltered, and quite devout.  I don’t think that the violence would be more than she can handle, but I think the underage drinking would bother her and keep her from getting to the parts more relevant to her life.  Perhaps when she is a little older.

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#DiverseAThon January 2017

I don’t normally post these sorts of things, but Naz at ReadDiverseBooks was very convincing about the need to promote the #DiverseAThon and maybe I have a few readers who might not know about it yet.

It runs from January 22nd to the 29th and “The goal of Diverse-A-Thon is simply to celebrate diversity in literature by reading diverse books all week and engage in thoughtful discussions on Twitter under the #DiverseAthon hashtag. The readathon will largely remain the same. It is low-stress and there no challenges – just read as many diverse books as you are comfortable reading in 7 days. There will be daily chats on Twitter this time around as well, so be sure to follow the @Diverseathon Twitter account to stay updated on all future news regarding the chats.”

challenge-cropped-resized
January 2017 #DiverseAThon TBR

It takes me ages to plan and write a review (I’m not great with cameras), and some of these I might not review, so just like last month’s book haul, this is what I’m (hopefully) reading and what you might see reviewed in the distant future.

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Review: Witness

“i don’t know if he could see me well enough / to judge the color of my skin. / i don’t know if my color mattered one whit to him.” p. 41

Witness by Karen Hesse.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2001.
Historical fiction novel in verse, 161 pages.
This book is not an award winner, but the author has won many awards.
Lexile: NP (What does NP mean in Lexile Levels? )
AR Level: 5.0 (Worth 2.0 points)

This free verse novel tells about when the Ku Klux Klan came to a small town in Vermont in 1924.  The story is told through 11 different voices, some of them sympathetic to the KKK and others in great danger from this change.  Two pivotal figures are 12-year-old Leanora Sutter, a gifted African-American, and Jewish 6-year-old Esther Hirsh.  Although this book seems to be aimed at 5th-8th grade students, since the characters span such a wide age range, it could be used in high school as well.

witness-cropped-resized
Witness by Karen Hesse.

I’m not fond of novels in verse.  I love poetry and novels, but feel the combination usually sacrifices either poetic artistry or the craft of the novel.  When I picked this book at the library (SM), I had no idea it was in verse.  Once I opened it, the poor book languished, being read a few pages here and there while I whizzed through other books (autobiographies of Simone Biles and Trevor Noah).  Finally I finished, then quickly re-read it for this review so I could return it.

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