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.

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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: 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.

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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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Review: The Last Black Unicorn

“I know this, but honestly, part of me still feels like I could end up homeless again at any point in time, and then all I’m going to have is a bag with a dog on it. ” page 265

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Hadish.
Gallery books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Memoir/autobiography, 276 pages.
Not leveled.

The life of comedian Tiffany Hadish from foster care to Hollywood stardom.

The Last Black Unicorn

Yet another Target pick.  I’ve been finding some gems (and a few duds) randomly choosing books at Target that have POC on the cover.  Before reading this book, I didn’t think Hadish was familiar to me, but then realized I’d seen her before.  I’m not very informed on pop culture so the name wasn’t as recognizable to me as it might be for others.

Although the cover isn’t particularly fantasy-ish, the unicorn of the title interested me.  Alas, it’s a comedian’s memoir, not a fantasy novel.  But the last comedy memoir I read from Target was excellent, so I decided to give this one a try.  This is the story of Hadish’s life from high school until her more recent Hollywood success.

The twelve chapters are topical, arranged in roughly chronological order.  Some of her stories are laugh-out-loud funny, while others, particularly the chapter about her ex-husband, are much more serious.  Hadish has been through a lot, and she’s open about her experiences both negative and positive.

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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: Acts of Faith

“How does a teenager come to hold such a view? The answer is simple: people taught him.” p. xii

Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel.
Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2007.
Adult nonfiction/autobiography, 189 pages.
Not leveled.

Part autobiography, part nonfiction, this is the story of Eboo Patel’s life, how it could easily have been so very different, and what he feels is most important for young people today.

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This was a very unique read.  Patel intersperses the story of his own life with a look at the way various Western minority youth were influenced by religious extremists and carried out various acts of violence.

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Review: Seedfolks

“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 2.0 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.

Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole.  Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.

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Review: A Special Fate

“There is a bit of Japanese folklore that made Chiune’s parents think that perhaps their son might be special.” page 1

A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust by Alison Leslie Gold.
Polaris, Scholastic, New York, 2000.
Nonfiction, 176 pages.
Lexile:  980L  .
AR Level: not leveled

The story of one Japanese diplomat who followed his conscience to issue life-saving passports to Jews during World War II, against the orders of his superiors.

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A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust by Alison Leslie Gold.

Sugihara was such an interesting figure.  Many of his choices, starting with the one that caused him to eventually become a diplomat, were quite unusual for Japanese society.  His early experiences defying his father look, in retrospect, like preparation for his major act of defiance in issuing the passports.

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