25. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Rachel

All-of-a-kind Family by Sydney Taylor, read by Rachel, on 03/24/2014

This was a pretty cute book. Reminded me of an urban Little House on the Prairie. I loved the detailed description of Jewish holidays. Make sure you don’t read those sections on an empty stomach…the food descriptions were very well written!

It’s the turn of the century in New York’s Lower East Side and a sense of adventure and excitement abounds for five young sisters – Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie. Follow along as they search for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor, or explore the basement warehouse of Papa’s peddler’s shop on rainy days. The five girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!

14. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, Julia Kuo (Illustrator), read by Angie, on 02/13/2014

Summer and her brother Jaz are headed out with their grandparents on harvest. Her grandfather will drive a combine as they travel the country harvesting wheat. Obaachan and Jiichan are an old Japanese couple who argue constantly and are always trying to help with Summer and Jaz. The family’s luck hasn’t been very good ever since Summer got malaria in Kansas and almost died. Her parents had to go to Japan to care for dying relatives leaving the kids with the grandparents and a mortgage to pay. While on harvest Obaachan keeps antagonizing Mrs. Parker the head of the harvesters and Jiichan gets sick. Summer has to step up and help out and change the family’s luck.

I found this book a little on the slow side and I have to admit I was a bit bored by all the information on combines and harvesting wheat. I did like Summer’s journey to help her family and was pretty entertained by Obaachan and all her complaining. I like the fact that Kadohata’s writing is filled with Japanese words and information on that culture.

28. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Noelle · Tags:

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, read by Noelle, on 01/23/2014

One of fiction’s most audaciously original talents, Neil Gaiman now gives us a mythology for a modern age — complete with dark prophecy, family dysfunction, mystical deceptions, and killer birds. Not to mention a lime.

Anansi Boys
God is dead. Meet the kids.

When Fat Charlie’s dad named something, it stuck. Like calling Fat Charlie “Fat Charlie.” Even now, twenty years later, Charlie Nancy can’t shake that name, one of the many embarrassing “gifts” his father bestowed — before he dropped dead on a karaoke stage and ruined Fat Charlie’s life.

Mr. Nancy left Fat Charlie things. Things like the tall, good-looking stranger who appears on Charlie’s doorstep, who appears to be the brother he never knew. A brother as different from Charlie as night is from day, a brother who’s going to show Charlie how to lighten up and have a little fun … just like Dear Old Dad. And all of a sudden, life starts getting very interesting for Fat Charlie.

Because, you see, Charlie’s dad wasn’t just any dad. He was Anansi, a trickster god, the spider-god. Anansi is the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn the social order, create wealth out of thin air, and baffle the devil. Some said he could cheat even Death himself.

Returning to the territory he so brilliantly explored in his masterful New York Times bestseller, American Gods, the incomparable Neil Gaiman offers up a work of dazzling ingenuity, a kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth that is at once startling, terrifying, exhilarating, and fiercely funny — a true wonder of a novel that confirms Stephen King’s glowing assessment of the author as “a treasure-house of story, and we are lucky to have him.”

26. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline, Multicultural Fiction

The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen, read by Madeline, on 12/16/2013

More than two decades after moving to Saudi Arabia and marrying powerful Abdullah Baylani, American-born Rosalie learns that her husband has taken a second wife. That discovery plunges their family into chaos as Rosalie grapples with leaving Saudi Arabia, her life, and her family behind. Meanwhile, Abdullah and Rosalie’s consuming personal entanglements blind them to the crisis approaching their sixteen-year-old son, Faisal, whose deepening resentment toward their lifestyle has led to his involvement with a controversial sheikh. When Faisal makes a choice that could destroy everything his embattled family holds dear, all must confront difficult truths as they fight to preserve what remains of their world.

“The Ruins of Us” is a timely story about intolerance, family, and the injustices we endure for love that heralds the arrival of an extraordinary new voice in contemporary fiction.

11. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Poetry, Rachel, Teen Books

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, read by Rachel, on 12/09/2013

Before the legend of Billie Holiday, there was a girl named Eleanora. In 1915, Sadie Fagan gave birth to a daughter she named Eleanora. The world, however, would know her as Billie Holiday, possibly the greatest jazz singer of all time. Eleanora’s journey into legend took her through pain, poverty, and run-ins with the law. By the time she was fifteen, she knew she possessed something that could possibly change her life—a voice. Eleanora could sing. Her remarkable voice led her to a place in the spotlight with some of the era’s hottest big bands. Billie Holiday sang as if she had lived each lyric, and in many ways she had. Through a sequence of raw and poignant poems, award-winning poet Carole Boston Weatherford chronicles Eleanora Fagan’s metamorphosis into Billie Holiday. The author examines the singer’s young life, her fight for survival, and the dream she pursued with passion in this Coretta Scott King Author Honor winner. With stunning art by Floyd Cooper, this book provides a revealing look at a cultural icon.

I loved this book of poetry! It was a quick read, but full of biographical information on one my favorite jazz singers. The illustrations were beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

 

24. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi, read by Angie, on 10/23/2013

Hiroshi, his parents and Grandfather are leaving Japan to move to Washington, DC. Grandfather has cancer and is seeking a new treatment in America. They are moving close to Grandfather’s first son. Skye is happy living in Washington and playing soccer. Then she learns that her Japanese relatives are moving here. Her father has never talked much about Japan and Skye barely speaks Japanese or knows much about the culture. Hiroshi and Skye both have to change their lives and learn new things. For Skye this means giving up on all-stars soccer during the summer so she can go to Japanese school, but it also means she gets to know a grandfather for the first time. Hiroshi has to learn to fit in an American school and learn English; he also has to give up his dreams of rokkaku battle and share his grandfather. Skye and Hiroshi both resent the other and neither really does much to help the other. But grandfather and kites brings them together. Grandfather has always been a champion kite builder and rokkaku battler. Hiroshi is learning form him and he slowly starts to teach Skye. As Grandfather gets sicker, the cousins are brought closer together.

What an excellent book! I loved the dual narrators as Skye and Hiroshi both got to tell their stories. I loved learning about rokkaku as I had no idea kites could battle. This book really made me want to go to the Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, DC. I think this is a good book to introduce kids to the issues facing new immigrants and mixed race kids. I thought the mix of cultures and the problems that arose were really wonderfully written.

15. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction

The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia, read by Angie, on 10/13/2013

Aliya is a young Muslim Indian trying to navigate the 5th grade. She struggles with lessons from school and Sunday school, with being a fraidy-cat, with not standing out. She starts really questioning things when Marwa moves to town. Marwa is so self-assured whereas Aliya is always scared to stand out. Marwa wears her hijab with confidence, it is just part of who she is; Aliya can’t keep hers on her head during prayers and wouldn’t dream of wearing it all the time. The girls might come from different cultures but their religion brings them together and allows Aliya to become more confident in who she is. She starts writing letters to Allah. At first they are complain-filled pages, but soon she is working on getting out of the hole (as her mother tells her). She starts standing up for herself and becoming more confident in who she is. Aliya is surrounded by a multi-generational family who helps her with her questions and explorations. She also has good friends both at school and at Sunday School.

I respected the fact that Zia didn’t shy away from the hard questions and the discrimination that many Muslims face after 9/11. She illustrates how it affects everyone at every age and how their is no real reason for it. I enjoyed the glimpse into Muslim life since I really have no first-hand knowledge of the religion or its practices. I thought it was great to illustrate that Aliya is really no different than any of the other kids in her class. She may be Muslim, but she still worries about bullies, boys and being popular just like everyone else. I think we sometimes forget that not being Christian doesn’t make you un-American; it just means you practice a different faith. On the inside we all worry about the same things no matter what age we are. A great lesson for readers of any age.

26. September 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman, read by Angie, on 09/25/2013

Tara Feinstein is negotiating the waters of 7th grade and preparing for her bat mitzvah. She questions whether she should even have a bat mitzvah; can she reconcile her Indian side with her Jewish side? She is also dealing with her best friend Rebecca who might have become friends with Sheila Rosenberg and her other best friend Ben-O who might actually LIKE her!

Most books for middle grades are all about white characters with a middle-class, christian background. This was a nice, fresh, multi-cultural book. I liked that being Indian or being Jewish was not really treated as different, just as something you are. Tara’s only conflict was how to meld the two cultures. I really liked all the middle school angst of new friends and boys and everything that goes along with it. I would definitely recommend this one.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publishers on Netgalley.com.

30. May 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Joyce, Multicultural Fiction · Tags:

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, read by Joyce, on 05/08/2013

It’s a survivor book.  The 13 year old main character, Miyax orJulie (name given by her pen pal Amy from San Francisco), is lost on the frozen Alaskan tundra.  She cunningly wins the friendship of wolves.  Becoming an accepted member of the pack is the only way she can make the journey without a compass or setting sun to guide her.  The personal tragedies that she has faced in her life and the relationships she forms with the animals compel one to keep reading.

30. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Multicultural Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

The Good Braider by Terry Farish, read by Courtney, on 04/20/2013

Viola lives with her mother and young brother in war-torn Sudan. All the men are either dead or fighting and soldiers prowl throughout the town, taking whatever they wish. After Viola is raped by one of these soldiers, the family decides to attempt a move to America. First they must travel out of Sudan and into Egypt, where they live in a refugee camp while waiting for the appropriate documents. It takes many long months to get the paperwork in order, but they are finally able to travel to America. Viola and her mother move to Portland, Maine, where a large Sudanese population has already been established. There, Viola attempts to piece her life back together while trying to balance life as both a girl from Juba and her new life as an American teen.
Told entirely in spare, lyrical verse, this novel is lovely addition to the immigrant-story genre. Viola’s experiences are painful, but her hope is palpable. This story sheds light on a part of the world that many American teens spend little time thinking about. The trajectory that Viola’s life takes is breathtaking, realistic and honest. We, as Americans, are so used to thinking about a country’s borders as something writ in stone, however, the borders of many countries in Africa are more or less arbitrary and were imposed largely by Western colonialist powers. Thus, when civil war breaks out, it is not necessarily because the country is divided, more that the country was never exactly unified in the first place. In fact, this story takes place shortly before South Sudan gains its independence. Readers will feel for Viola as she struggles not only to survive the journey out of Sudan but as she attempts to reconcile the cultural differences she must face as a new American. A moving and memorable read.

04. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline, Multicultural Fiction

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, read by Madeline, on 02/15/2013

major pettigrewMajor Ernest Pettigrew (retired) leads a quiet life in the village of St. Mary, England, until his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But will their relationship survive in a society that considers Ali a foreigner?

27. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

In Darkness by Nick Lake, read by Courtney, on 02/25/2013

When In Darkness won the 2013 Printz Award, I was a bit surprised. So many other books had a lot of buzz, but this one didn’t seem to register on that particular radar. I knew it had been well-reviewed, but when it won, it jumped up to the top of my reading list and I was not disappointed.
This is a story of two major turning points in Haitian history. We are first introduced to modern-day Haiti through the eyes of Shorty, a young gang member who had been convalescing in a hospital after a gunshot wound when the 2010 earthquake hit. Shorty, now buried so deep in rubble that he can’t even see, tells us his story in order to keep himself sane. Shorty was born as a twin, which, in Haitian culture, implies that the lwa (gods) have blessed these children. Life is difficult, but more or less tolerable in the slums of Port-Au-Prince. While the UN guards the slums, it is really the local chimeres, or gangs, that control the community. The only funding for education or medicine comes from the local gangs and the UN frequently causes more problems than they fix, giving the people of Site Solay (and many, many others) little reason to believe that they are there to help. When Shorty witnesses his own father being slaughtered by a rival gang and loses his twin to the gang in the process, Shorty joins Route 19 in order to fight for his sister’s return.
Juxtaposed against Shorty’s story is the more historical narrative of Toussaint L’Ouverture. Toussaint and others, inspired by the recent revolution in France, aim to rid Haiti of slavery. While attending a vodou gathering wherein the lwa of war is invited to inhabit one of the souls present at the ceremony, Toussaint is infused with the soul of a boy. A boy who lives in a Haiti where black people are no longer slaves. He is also suffused with much of the boy’s knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic; skills which he swiftly uses to his advantage. The truly striking aspect of Toussaint’s mission is his insistence limiting violence as much as possible. Indeed, Toussaint became notorious for being considerably ahead of his time and went on to influence the American abolition movement nearly a century later.
As Shorty begins to lose his grip on reality, he keeps seeing flashes of a distant past…
I absolutely loved how these two gripping stories intertwined to present a rich and complex picture of a country torn apart first by imperialism and then by poverty, violence and corruption. This is a book that I can not stop thinking about. Appeal to teens may be limited, but sophisticated readers willing to take the plunge will not have any regrets.

12. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kira, Multicultural Fiction · Tags: ,

Their eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, read by Kira, on 02/10/2013

  Janie a sotheir-eyes-were-watching-god-movieuthern black woman in the 1930s deals with sexism and racism in her search for love and respect.  Hurston weaves poetic descriptions of pear blossoms raining down on Janie, with short sections of magical realism.  Her grandmother had been raised in slavery, and later freed, forces forces young Janie to marry as a young teen, giving Janie what the Grandmother desired in life, Her granny claimed she was doing it out of love, but it seems more out of her own fears.

I thought this would be a difficult read, and though the characters certainly face hardships – they still are able to find love and beauty in the world!

Their Eyes Were Watching God2nie, a So

11. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Historical Fiction, Kim, Multicultural Fiction · Tags: ,

Beloved by Toni Morrison, read by Kim, on 02/11/2013

beloved-toni-morrison-paperback-cover-art Beloved

Toni Morrison’s magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel–first published in 1987–brought the unimaginable experience of slavery into the literature of our time and into our comprehension. Set in post-Civil War Ohio, it is the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who has risked her life in order to wrench herself from a living death; who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad. Sethe, who now lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing apparition who calls herself Beloved. Sethe works at “beating back the past,” but it makes itself heard and felt incessantly: in her memory; in Denver’s fear of the world outside the house; in the sadness that consumes Baby Suggs; in the arrival of Paul D, a fellow former slave; and, most powerfully, in Beloved, whose childhood belongs to the hideous logic of slavery and who has now come from the “place over there” to claim retribution for what she lost and for what was taken from her. Sethe’s struggle to keep Beloved from gaining possession of her present–and to throw off the long-dark legacy of her past–is at the center of this spellbinding novel. But it also moves beyond its particulars, combining imagination and the vision of legend with the unassailable truths of history. Upon the original publication ofBeloved, John Leonard wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “I can’t imagine American literature without it.” In fact, more than a decade later, it remains a preeminent novel of our time, speaking with timeless clarity and power to our experience as a nation with a past of both abominable and ennobling circumstance.

When I first started reading this book I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it as much as I did as I got further into it. I love Toni Morrison’s writing style and her characters.

01. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Kim, Multicultural Fiction · Tags: ,

The Color Purple by Alice Walker, read by Kim, on 01/31/2013

color purpleCelie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.

 

I love this book!

05. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Multicultural Fiction, Teen Books

This Thing Called the Future by J. L. Powers, read by Courtney, on 11/16/2012

Khosi lives in South Africa with her grandmother and little sister. Her mother works in another town and can only come home on occasion. Times are not good for anyone living in their village. Everyone is poor and death seems to visit nearly every family in the form of AIDS. When Khosi’s mother returns home for an extended visit, it is glaringly obvious that she is sick. Very, very sick. She denies that it is anything serious and refuses to visit a doctor. Khosi, with her sister and Baba, goes to visit the local witch doctor in the hopes of saving her mother. Her mother eschews all traditional “superstition” and refuses to take part in anything that has to do with the local witch doctors and their methods. As Khosi’s mother worsens, Khosi begins to realize that her mother may not have been entirely straightforward about her illness. A trip to the clinic confirms their worst fears. With all this death and disease, Khosi wonders if there even is such a thing as a future in this world.
Traditional ways conflict with more modern sentiments in this timely story of a young woman trying to make sense of a devastating disease that is so localized and personal. AIDS in South Africa is a serious concern and has been for years. Misinformation about the disease is rampant and not nearly enough has been done to combat the spread of HIV. Readers may benefit from a bit of research before or during this book. I actually took an entire class in college about women in South Africa and was grateful to have the background information. This book was really quite well done, but may take some pushing to get circulating among its intended audience.

04. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction

Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling, read by Angie, on 12/03/2012

Sylvia and Aki is a wonderful historical novel about school segregation and Japanese internment. It takes place over several years in the 1940s and is based on true events. Aki and her family live on their asparagus farm and enjoy life in America. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and everything changes. People look at them suspiciously and they receive notice that they will have to leave their home and move to an internment camp. Her father is imprisoned in a different camp and it is years before they see him again. Sylvia and her family have just leased Aki’s farm. She is excited to be going to the new school nearby. But she and her brothers are turned away and told they have to go to the Mexican school in the barrio. Sylvia’s father starts a legal fight that eventually leads to school desegregation in California.

I really enjoyed how these stories intertwined. We think of the horrific events in Europe when we think of WWII, but we forget that we did some pretty terrible things as well. The Japanese in America lost their homes, their livelihoods and were basically imprisoned for years without trials or doing anything wrong. They were simply locked up because they were Japanese. We also don’t think of Mexicans when we think of school segregation, we think of African Americans and the struggle they had to get a good education. I like that this book spotlights a part of our history that is not often talked about. I also appreciate all the additional information Conkling included at the end of the book.

15. October 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Mystery

Vanished by Sheela Chari , read by Angie, on 10/14/2012

Neela dreams of being a veena player, but she gets stage fright. Then her grandma sends her a mysterious veena and she starts to get better. But the veena is stolen and Neela learns that it is cursed. She must work with her friends to discover who stole the veena and what the curse really means.

I really enjoyed the way the author successfully wove Indian culture into this story. It makes for a very nice multicultural tale that I think kids will enjoy. The vanishing veena is a good mystery and there were enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested. However, the plot did get a little convoluted at times. There is a lot going on in this book and a lot of characters to figure out. Sometimes it worked really well and other times it was a mess. But overall this was a pretty decent mystery.

19. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Multicultural Fiction, Teen Books

Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, read by Courtney, on 09/15/2012

Tina is having a period of existential solitude. She’s just been “dumped” by her best friend and now sits alone at lunch. She has trouble identifying with her classmates, who all seem to fit into neat, tidy groups, and her large Indian-American family. She begins keeping a diary as part of her English Honors project and addresses her entries to the existential heavyweight, Jean-Paul Sartre. Tina finds herself stepping out of her comfort zone to take a break from her solitude. She ends up starring in the school play (Rashomon…must be a pretty progressive school) and going on bike rides with her crush, Neil. It’s all going well until she realizes how much kissing will be required of her in the play and all of it with a boy she finds disgusting. The one boy she wants to kiss does not appear to be nearly as interested in Tina as he is in the idea of Tina (he constantly grills her for information about Buddhism in spite of Tina’s identifying with atheism), so that’s not going so well either.
Tina’s journey is strikingly realistic and always told in a playful fashion. Tina is a lot of things, many of contradict. She loves her family, but is annoyed by their insular nature. She is bitter about stereotypes, but is willing to overlook them when it comes to that elusive kiss. Tina is like a lot of young women trying to reconcile their identities with their place in the world. Through her writing, Tina realizes some important truths about herself; truths that will likely resonate intellectual teens. A fun, smart read.

27. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Multicultural Fiction

Zahra's Paradise by Amir and Khalil, read by Courtney, on 07/23/2012

If you’re looking for a book to break your heart, this might be the one. Flashback a few years to the Iranian elections and subsequent protests. A young man, Medhi, has gone missing. His brother, a blogger, and his mother set out to find him. Their journey takes the reader across Tehran and into prisons, morgues and mass graves. It’s an unflinching look at the effects of government corruption intertwined with Shari’a law, told with absolute respect for those trapped in the crossfire. It is as much about the suppression of culture as much as it is about the suppression of dissent. It is so important for us to remember that the violent images we see on reactionary news networks do not represent the vast majority of Iranians. Most are peaceful, compassionate people who only wish to raise their families and celebrate their heritage. Instead, these same people are often the victims and find themselves, like the characters in Zahra’s Paradise, trying to salvage what they can after corruption has run its course.
Zahra’s Paradise refers to the largest cemetery in Tehran. Zahra is the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. This book also comes with background information about the elections, various definitions of Arabic and Farsi terms/phrases, thoughts from Paul Coelho and a list of the names of the dead (which spans several pages, in extremely small font). A somber, but worthy read. The authors are anonymous due to the nature of the work.