Saturday, April 25, 2020

WHITE BIRD by R. J. Palacio.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.  220p.  ISBN 978-0525645535 hc. $24.99    Gr. 5-10    JUV

In graphic novel format, Palacio frames a heart-wrenching Holocaust story, passed down from a World War II survivor to her grandson, told via video chat for a Humanities project at school.  Sara Blum lived a fairy tale existence in 1930's France with parents who were college educated and gainfully employed.  However, her town began to change in 1940, as Nazi guards began to appear in the village and Jewish families routinely disappeared.  On a regular school day, guards rounded up the Jewish students at the school, but Sara saved herself by hiding in a deserted tower.  Through the kindness of a classmate and his family, Sara was safely hidden in a barn for four long years.  That classmate was Julien, who had  crippled legs from polio, making him a Nazi target because of his imperfection.  Shortly before the war ended, the Nazis guards caught up with Julien and shot him.  Sara, who had been separated from her parents, became part of Julien's family, remaining close to them even after she found her father who had also been in hiding for years.  In honor of her brave friend Julien, Sara passed on his name to her son and grandson.  Revealing that she hadn't told her story to anyone else, she asked her grandson to keep her story and use it to fight injustice in the world.  Following the suspenseful main story, readers will find ten additional pages of historical information about World War II and the role of the French Resistance.
Lynette Suckow, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI

Sunday, April 19, 2020

OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga.  New York: Balzer + Bray, 2019.  342p.  ISBN 978-0062747808 hc. $16.99     Gr. 5-8     JUV

Jude, a young Syrian teen who loves American movies, wants to be a movie star someday, along with her best friend, Fatima.  Her older brother, Issa, is a university student who actively participates in student protests against the government, making the family a target for political retaliation.  After a raid on their home, Jude and her mother are sent to Cincinnati, Ohio to live with her uncle and his American wife.  Now Jude will have to use the English she learned while watching movies, in order to improve her language skills and survive in a new country.  Although Jude extends the hand of friendship to her very American cousin, Sarah is clearly not interested is having relatives that eat and dress ethnically.  The cousins’ relationship is strained to breaking point when Jude and Sarah try out for the same part in the school play.  A good deal of cultural information about Islamic religion, Syrian food, and women covering their hair when they reach puberty is included in the text.  It’s also a story about being a part of two countries at the same time, making new routines while, at the same time, retaining the old.  By writing in verse, Warga emphasizes human ideals and minimizes descriptive geography, sending the message that people everywhere want to be understood and valued.

Lynette Suckow, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI

Monday, April 13, 2020

THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE by Ruta Sepetys.  New York: Penguin Young Readers, 2019.  512p.  ISBN 978-0593115251 hc. $18.99    Gr. 9-12  YA FIC

A master of historic fiction, Sepetys, writes for young adults who have enough life experience to tackle the philosophical, political, and ethical issues found in her well-researched books. Readers are taken back to Madrid, Spain in 1957, when General Francisco Franco ruled the country through an oppressive dictatorship.  Daniel Matheson, an oil-rich Texan with aspirations to become a photojournalist, visits Madrid with his parents to share a cultural experience of Spain, the birthplace of his mother.  He soon meets Ana, a housekeeper in the luxurious Hotel Castellana Hilton, where she hopes to work her way up the career ladder – at least as far as women can go in a fascist regime.  Even though a relationship between Ana and Daniel would mean termination from her job, Daniel persists and meets her in her neighborhood, where he also meets her brother, Rafael, a butcher who dreams of being a bullfighter.  After listening to Rafael’s history, including his early years in a boy’s home after the Spanish revolution, Daniel has many questions about why the guards prevent him from taking photos of certain places and events in the city.  Rafael’s story intertwines with that of his cousin, Puri, who cares for babies at an adoption facility.  There a mystery about the babies dropped off anonymously, and later adopted out to families “in favor” of government policies.  In contrast to the pull of passion between Ana and Daniel, readers will be shocked by the level of corruption found in Spain during Franco's control of the government.
Lynette Suckow, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer.  New York:  Dial Books, 2019.  310p.  ISBN 978-052555323-6 hc. $17.99    Gr. 5-8    JUV

Sloan and Wolitzer formulate a humorous middle-grade story about the families we're born into and the friendships we create on our own.  Written as an epistolary novel, this tale is told entirely through e-mail messages  between two 12 year-old girls.  Book-loving Avery from New York City and sports-loving Bett from California, secretly known to each other as Night Owl and Dogfish, couldn't be more different.  After routinely looking through her dad's e-mails, Bett discovers that her father met someone at a conference and has been dating online.  She also learns that the two fathers plan to visit China together, while sending both daughters to a summer camp in Michigan.  Bett's subject line to Avery is "You don't know me," which ends up with 62 replies back and forth while the girls learn about each other and think about the possibility of becoming sisters.  Bett's gregarious grandmother enters the story, along with Avery's surrogate mother, to provide family histories while introducing discussion on sexual orientation, race, becoming a teen, and reinventing families.
Lynette Suckow, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

MAPPING SAM by Joyce Hesselberth. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2018. 32p.  ISBN 978-006274122-6 hc. $17.99     Gr. K-3    E PIC

Sam the cat’s nightly trips around the neighborhood show “what is where and how to get from here to there.”  The author engages Sam’s help to highlight different maps and ways of mapping.  Sam shows readers several ways to explore the outdoors in order to get a new perspective on the world and understand it better.  In addition to a geographic map tracing Sam’s movements around the neighborhood, readers are introduced to a transportation map, two biological diagrams, a cutaway view of the pond, a diagram of a water molecule, a world map, a constellation chart that maps the stars, a map of the solar system, and a blueprint of a building.  The clear, colorful illustrations convey a whole new way of thinking about the power of maps and their importance for recording new discoveries.
Lynette Suckow, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI