Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata


Written by Cynthia Kadohata, Narrated by Elaina Erika Davis

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 2005

In this endearing book, the Takeshima family moves to Georgia so that Katie’s parents can work in the chicken factory. There, young Katie learns about Southern racism and the practically-slave-labor conditions of factory workers. But when Katie’s older sister Lynn becomes sick, Katie learns the hardest lesson of all…This is a sweet story – and pretty typical for Newbery winners. (Newbery judges certainly like bereavement, racism, and Southern settings!) The character in the book ranges from about 5-7, I’d say, but I think the subject and reading level is more appropriate for a 10-12 year old.  

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Reason for Reading: This was one of my planned reads for the social justice theme read in February.

When Arnold “Junior” Spirit accidentally breaks his rez-teacher’s nose, he gets a piece of unexpected advice: get off the rez before you lose your spirit. Junior decides to go to the all-white high school in a farm town 20 miles away from the reservation. He consequently deals with racism from the whites and hatred from his reservation friends, while fighting the usual teen problems of making friends, succeeding in sports, hiding his poverty, and impressing the girls. This book is hilarious and tragic at the same time. I loved the cartoons drawn by Junior…and I loved his dry, sarcastic humor. The characterization was fantastic – I really felt for Junior during his troubles. But you can’t read this book and expect some fuzzy-happy picture to be painted of reservation life. This book is gritty and realistic. Even rather depressing at times. I was really touched at Alexie’s honest portrayal of the life of a reservation kid. I look forward to reading more of Alexie’s books in the future. 

Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry

Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 1941. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years.

Mafatu is afraid of the ocean because he almost drowned when he was a boy. But in his culture, fear is scorned and laughed at. Mafatu feels that he must redeem his good name and prove that he is not afraid anymore. He climbs in a boat and goes on a voyage, but he soon finds himself shipwrecked on an apparently-deserted island. There, he keeps himself alive by making all of his own tools, weapons, and a new canoe. He battles a tiger shark, an octopus, and a boar. He defies the cannibals when they return to their island. But will he be able to return home? This was a cute book, and I enjoyed the adventure – though it’s very short and all the adventure is packed in at a very unrealistic pace. Regardless, I really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent with it. I think a young reader might find this book fun. It’s appropriate for someone reading at maybe the 3rd grade level. 

Devil’s Pass, by Sigmund Brouwer

2012 Book 145: Devil’s Pass, by Sigmund Brouwer

Reason for reading: This book was provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. The thoughts expressed in this review are mine, and I receive no benefit from giving a good review.

My Review:

When 17-year-old Webb’s grandfather dies, he leaves a list of seven mysterious tasks to be completed by his seven grandsons. Webb’s task is to hike out into the Northwest Territories on a mission to find a buried secret. While on this trip, Webb struggles with his own identity, and the changes he’s seen in himself ever since his widowed mother remarried an abusive husband. On this trip, Webb learns a lot about his well-loved grandfather…and a lot about himself. This is part of a series of seven books, about the seven grandsons–each with a task from his deceased grandfather. In order to give each grandson an entirely unique personality, the series was written by seven different authors. This is the only book in the series that I have read. Technically, it’s the fifth book in the series, but since the story of each grandson is completely independent of the other books, they can be read in any order. 

I was pleasantly surprised by this little book. Not that I expected bad things from it, but I didn’t expect to be caught up in the action. Brouwer has worked in some interesting action scenes right at the beginning of the story, and by the time the action has slowed to a pace more suited for plot and character development, I was already quite interested in the book. I read it in only a couple of sittings. This would be an excellent book for boys in the 5th or 6th grade age range, even though the main character is 17. 

Character Thursday:

Fanda at Fanda Classiclit has organized a weekly blog event in which we can provide a detailed character analysis of a book that we’ve been reading. I thought I’d try my first character analysis out on Webb. I thought he’d be an interesting character to start with because his identity is developing throughout the story. The following information will contain more details than I usually provide in my review, but I’ll try not to include any plot-vital spoilers. 

When Webb was 5th grade-ish, his widowed mother remarried a man who was abusive to Webb, but apparently not to Webb’s mother. So Webb was manipulated and threatened into keeping the abuse a secret. Eventually, at maybe 16 or 17, he ended up living on the streets. This is where he was when his grandfather died and the adventure begins.

Because of the abuse in Webb’s past, he adopted a protective role for other victims of abuse. At the beginning of the story, he saw a young woman being beaten by her boyfriend, and in order to defend her, he ended up in a fight with this very dangerous man. 

At first blink, you’d see Webb’s behavior as “good.” He was using his own experience to help a woman in trouble. But soon you find out that as Webb gets angrier and angrier, he loses his logic…he wants to seriously hurt this man. A rational part of his brain says that seriously hurting people in self defense isn’t necessary, but that rational part of his brain isn’t working once his rage has fired up. So Webb is a protector of the weak, but he’s also teetering on the brink of violent, hateful jerk himself. The identity crisis that Webb struggles with throughout the book is where to draw the line between protector and wrathful avenger? 

Webb didn’t think that his grandfather knew about Webb’s troubles. But his grandfather is more astute than Webb expected. Webb was left with two Nietzsche quotes to ponder during his hiking trip in the Northwest Territories. The first was: That which does not kill us makes us stronger. The second was: He who fights with monsters must take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Webb had already experienced and accepted the meaning of the first quote. But he was puzzled by the second quote. It made him question what he was becoming…whether he needed to become that…and what the alternatives were. 

Webb’s identity crisis was, granted, quite straightforward and clearly-laid-out for the readers. That’s because this book was written for 5th graders, who aren’t as attuned to subtlety as they will be as adults. I think Webb’s identity crisis allows someone of the appropriate reading age to learn something new about how the world affects their personalities…and how their personalities can affect the world. Thus, Web was a fascinating character, and I’m happy I met him. 🙂

The Headless Cupid, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

2012 Book 140: The Headless Cupid, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder 

Reason for Reading: This is my first post for Book Journey’s Banned Books Week 2012 blog tour. By reading banned books, I feel that I’m expressing my freedom of speech, but I’m also interested in learning more about WHY people ban books. I don’t approve of banning most of the books on ALA’s top banned books lists, though for some of them I can empathize with the objections.  For the most part, I think the people who are objecting to these books need to give their children more credit for non-gullibility. All parents should watch what their children are reading, watching on TV, playing on the computer, etc. I believe that the best way to raise children is through a lot of communication. Banning books isn’t going to save our children from the real world. 

My Review
David, the eldest of the Stanley kids has had to take care of his three younger siblings ever since his mother died. When his father gets remarried, David has to adjust not only to the new mother, but to a new teen-aged sister. And what a strange sister she is! Amanda dresses in dark flowy clothing, has a triangle in the center of her forehead, and wears an upside-down smile. Amanda begins to teach the Stanley kids about the occult, but soon things get out of hand when they awaken a poltergeist! This book is appropriate for 3rd-5th grade range.

The Headless Cupid is 98th on on the ALA’s list of the top 100 books banned between 1990-2000. The complaints about the book were that kids might become interested in the occult (or even learn to practice the occult) from this book. Of course, this is preposterous. This is not a story about an evil little teen-aged witch–it’s a book about an angry girl who wants to get revenge on her mother for getting remarried. This is a book about the very real emotions children feel when their parents make life-changing decisions. It’s about coping with that anger. It’s about love and forgiveness. Any child reading the book will end on a note of acceptance and forgiveness (unless they don’t finish the book). I think people who fear a book about kids playing let’s-pretend probably ought to lock their doors and hide away…because the real world is a lot scarier than this book.

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, by Valerie Zenatti

2012 Book 114: A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, by Valerie Zenatti (7/26/2012)

Reason for Reading: Reading Globally Middle Eastern Theme Read. 

My Review 
As a method of self-defense against increasing Israeli-Palestinian violence, feisty 17-year-old Israeli Tal writes a note and sticks it in a bottle. She asks her brother to throw the bottle in the Gaza sea, with hopes that she’ll meet a Palestinian girl and somehow put a personality to the people she knows must be behind the fence. What she gets is 20-year-old Naim, a scathingly sarcastic, but nice-under-the-surface Palestinian man. The book is a series of emails between the two, and as their understanding of each other grows, so does their affection for one another. This was a really sweet book. It was silly, as are all teenage romances, but actually believable (if you have faith in coincidence). I was surprised while reading because I’d originally thought the author was Israeli, writing for Israeli teens—but the book is written by a French woman who lived in Israel when she was younger. The target audience is therefore teens who do not necessarily know all the background in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is something I appreciated, because I felt like I understood what they were talking about when they mentioned political and historical events. This is a quick, enjoyable read.

Samir and Yonatan, Daniella Carmi

2012 Book 101: Samir and Yonatan, by Daniella Carmi (7/7/2012)

Reason for Reading: I read this for the Middle Eastern literature theme for Reading Globally

My Review 3.5/5 stars
When Palestinian boy Samir breaks his knee, he must stay in a Jewish hospital for a special surgery. There, he faces his fears of Israelis and make a new friend. This is a cute story with the we’re-not-so-different-after-all moral. Although it may resonate more strongly with the Israeli kids for whom it was originally written, its translation is a good addition to English-language children’s literature as well. It was enjoyable and cute, and has a moral that every child in the world can benefit from.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

2012 Book 96: Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (6/28/2012)

Reason for Reading: This has been one of my top 5 LT recommendations for a while now, so I thought I’d try it out.

My Review 4/5 stars

Upon returning home from school one afternoon, Clay Jenkins discovers a box of cassette tapes in which his crush Hannah Baker explains the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. Over the course of one night, Clay’s perception of life morphs as he reacts to Hannah’s tragic story. I was prepared to be annoyed at this book–I thought it would glorify vengeful suicide. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I was immediately drawn in to Hannah’s story. I could hardly put it down. I was impressed that there was very little bitter vengefulness expressed. Mostly, she just wanted to be understood. Her story shows the reader in horrifying detail how the little not-so-nice things we do might have a huge impact on others. It’s a story that tells us to look at the way we treat other people…and to pay attention to the signals that they’re sending. It is a heartrending story, and was emotionally difficult for me to get through, but I think it has the potential to change the way teenagers view their own actions. It’s also an amazing hard-to-put-down story.

Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff

2012 Book 78: Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff (5/17/2012)

Reason for Reading: It was there

My Review 4/5 stars
Hollis Woods is a 12-year-old orphan who has run away from every foster home she’s ever lived in. As a last-ditch effort, she is placed with an elderly lady who is “good with girls like you.” In her new home, Hollis is finally happy, until she realizes that her foster mother has a fading memory, and she must hid this fact from the state in order to stay where she is. This book is simply precious. Hollis seems so real–snarky but sad, brave but insecure, and willing to do whatever it takes to care for her foster mother. This short book could be appreciated by adults as well as people in 5-8th grades.

Dave at Night, by Gail Carson Levine

2012 Book 70: Dave at Night, by Gail Carson Levine (4/30/2012)

Reason for Reading: Because it was there

My Review 3.5/5 stars
When Dave’s father dies, Dave is separated from his brother and sent to an orphanage. Dave finds a way to sneak over the wall of the orphanage and wanders the streets at night, where he meets many interesting characters (both high society and from his own social class). In his adventures at the orphanage and the streets, Dave learns a little bit about himself and what he needs in life, he grows to accept his problems and embrace his gifts. This is a sweet little book.