Category Archives: age 8+

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education

There have been many books written about Malala Yousafzai, and rightfully so. One of the newer books is Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, by Raphaële Frier. This book was originally published in France in 2015, but was translated to English and published in the US this year.malala cover

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education takes a different approach in telling her story, focusing a great deal on her formative years. With wonderful illustrations by Aurelia Fronty, the reader sees the happy and loving home Malala was born into. While many families in Pakistan might have been dismayed at the birth of a daughter, Ziauddin Yousafzai and Tor Pekai were thrilled. Ziauddin ran a school for girls and asked his friends to shower his daughter with the same attention that they would a boy. Continue reading →

Usborne Book of the Week – Flags of the World to Color

So in addition to writing this blog because I have a general obsession with children’s books, last year I became an Independent Consultant with Usborne Books & More. I did this because I wanted every book I saw and needed to figure out a way to pay for that, but also, because the company is dedicated to promoting literacy in our children. From time to time I like to write about the books that we cover, but I’m trying something new – focusing on one book each week.

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This week, I would like to highlight the books Flags of the World to Color. I’m really taken by this book because J just finished learning all of her United States capitals and so I figure she is ready to get working on learning all of the countries. Continue reading →

One Good Thing About America

This coming Monday I am part of a blog tour for the release of Ruth Freeman’s new book, One Good Thing About America. Blog tours are awesome because you get to learn a wide variety of information about the book straight from the author. In the case of this book, Ruth Freeman has written 10 outstanding posts about how she wrote the book and about immigrant life. Please come back on Monday to check out the blog tour and enter to win a chance to receive a free copy of the book!

One Good Thing About America is a wonderful book about Anaïs, a young girl who has just immigrated to the United States from the Congo. Her mother and younger brother are with her in Maine and trying to adjust to life in the United States. Unfortunately, her father is in hiding from the Congolese government and her brother has also stayed behind.

The book follows Anaïs as she navigates 4th grade in a new school where she struggles with the language, even though back home she had been top in English. The book is written as letters that Anaïs writes to her grandmother, Oma, back in the Congo. Her grandmother requires her to write her letters in English so that she can practice the language, and the fact that she has trouble with grammar and spelling make her situation more relatable and realistic. It also allows the reader to grow with her as she figures things out. Continue reading →

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

When I first heard that Shannon Hale was writing a graphic novel memoir I knew that it was one of those books that I was going to have to get my hands on. Thanks to NetGalley, my daughter J and I were able to read this before it actually came out, but I also still have a copy of it pre-ordered in my Amazon account.

Shannon Hale is one of our favorite authors who has written books from the Princess in Black Series to Ever After High and the Princess Academy series. You can check out some of our comments on those at an earlier post about Princesses who Defy the Rules. The characters that she writes about are strong, spunky, and take chances to be their own best self. Combine our love of her writing with the ever-trendy graphic novel format, and I knew there was a winning combination.

In her new book, Real Friends (being published this May by First Second), Shannon Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham bring forth a graphic novel about growing up and the realities of friendship and cliques. Continue reading →

Making Friends with Billy Wong

When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, we understandably think about the African-American experience. I wrote once before about how Mexican Americans in California were segregated into various schools and we have all heard of the horrible injustice of the Japanese Internment camps. As a Jew, I have long heard stories of quotas and some regions not allowing Jews to purchase homes or join certain clubs. There has always been a fear of things that are different and unknown. For this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day, one of the books I was sent was Making Friends with Billy Wong, by Augusta Scattergood. This book gave me pause to consider the Asian American experience, especially in the South.

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This novel focuses on Azalea Ann Morgan, a young girl who is sent to live with a grandmother that she barely knows during the summer of 1952. Her grandmother needs some help while she is recuperating from an injury and Azalea has been volunteered for the job. Azalea is very shy and doesn’t like talking to strangers, and more than anything, she misses her best friend back in Texas. Grandmother Clark has a very strong personality and is seen as something of one of the town’s matriarchs, but that doesn’t mean that Azalea likes her right off the bat. Early on, she encourages Azalea to befriend Billy Wong, a young Chinese-American boy living with his great-aunt and uncle and helping them at their grocery store.

Azalea is not comfortable with meeting anyone new, but especially not a “foreigner,” which is how she sees Billy. She fears going to Mr. Wong’s store assuming that she won’t be able to understand anything he says since she doesn’t speak Chinese. Grandma Clark, ever the one to bring people together, finally helps Azalea break down her walls by making her take Billy to ice cream on a scorching hot day.

The reason that Billy is living in in Paris Junction is so that he can go to a better school. According to the author’s note in the back of the book, the Jim Crow laws of segregation in the South also impacted the Chinese immigrant population, which was surprisingly large. In 1927, a Supreme Court case classified Chinese Americans as “colored,” which led to many communities not allowing Chinese students to attend the segregated white schools. for Billy’s character, in his hometown he would have to go to the Negro school, which offered a substandard education. There had been a Chinese Mission school that his older siblings had attended, but it closed down. However, in Paris Junction Billy was allowed to go to the white school. While on the topic of Billy, from time to time, the novel switches to Billy’s voice in the form of his writings. From these small moments, we can see the prejudice from Billy’s eyes which lends additional power to his plight.

I was surprised to learn of the large number of Chinese immigrants that moved to the south as migrant labor and wound up opening  neighborhood groceries that served black and white clientele. But as one might imagine, their being in cities that historically had been segregated didn’t always allow for smooth transitions. As Augusta Scattergood alludes to in this book, other students were not happy with the notion of students who were different coming in and excelling on the sports teams and in the classroom. Local businessmen were also not always thrilled with the Chinese grocery stores, especially if they took business away from them. By setting this novel up through the eyes of 11 and 12 year olds, you can really get a sense of what the experience was like.

Scattergood uses her novel to touch on a variety of topics. There is the fear of those that are different. There is also a general anxiety around people and learning how to deal with strangers. Azalea and her grandmother learn how to be a family and how important family bonds are. Finally, there is also the character of Willis DeLoach who has a lot of anger and is incredibly misunderstood, but behind his prejudice is a little bit of jealousy and a lot of burdens bigger than a boy his age should be dealing with. Grandma Clark is the glue trying to put the whole town together.

This middle grade novel has a lot going for it and was a great read. Many kids can empathize with one or more of the characters and see how hard it is to be different. I also think that reading the author’s note and understanding the true history behind this story is important. A great read for kids 8+.

MCBookDay-white-1I received this book from Scholastic Books as a part of the 2017 Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

I have been involved with Multicultural Children’s Book Day since it started. Having grown up in Los Angeles, surrounded by a diverse community, I never thought about the notion of being different. Now that I live in a small town in the south, I am much more aware just how hard it can be to be a minority and to be misunderstood. I have always tried to teach my daughters to love everyone and to believe that we are all one human race and that all of our histories and differences should be celebrated.  I also know how important it is to be able to see yourself in the books you read, even more so when you are in the minority, so I look forward to this blogging event every year.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Save Me a Seat

When the first Scholastic flyers came home from my kids’ school this fall, I gladly spent a chunk of money on books to support their classrooms. While going through their selections, I came across the book “Save Me a Seat” by Sarah Weeks and Gata Varadarajan and bought it on a whim. That whim proved to be a great move because this book was outstanding.

save-me-a-seat-coverSave Me a Seat follows the lives of Joe and Ravi, two fifth graders in a Hamilton, NJ school. Joey and Ravi don’t think that they have anything in common, but soon they realize that they both have a  common enemy, the class bully, and a common mission to take control of their lives. The book switches back and forth between their perspectives as they navigate one week at school.

Ravi has just moved to New Jersey from India and struggles with how different things are in America. In India he had been the most popular kid, star student, and master cricket player. In America everyone mispronounces his name and struggles with his accent and no one cares how smart he is. He wants to be a part of the popular crowd, but he can’t seem to break in.

Joe is exceptionally tall for his age, struggles with Auditory Processing Disorder and is constantly bullied by the other kids in the class. His two closest friends have just moved away and he is also afraid that his new teacher won’t understand that he isn’t stupid. The only subject that he likes is lunch, although now that his mother is working as the lunch-room monitor, even that has lost its appeal. People thing that Joe is slow and that he doesn’t hear what is being said, but in reality, he hears and notices everything, he just sometimes struggles with what to focus on.

The antagonist of the story is Dillon Samreen. Dillion is an American-born Indian, a kleptomaniac, and the class bully. Ravi believes that they will be fast friends since they share the common Indian background. Little does he realize that Dillion is constantly making fun of him, stealing his things, and even trips him in class one day. Joe knows that Dillion is nothing but a bully and simply tries to stay out of his way.

As the week progresses, they go through typical experiences in school. You can feel Ravi’s frustration when he tries to show that he is intelligent and capable yet fails simply because things are done differently in America than they are in India. You come to appreciate how observant Joe is and how well he understands people.

Both boys also deal with issues in their family life. Ravi’s family is unsure of American ways of doing things and are also vegetarian. In addition to his parents, Ravi’s grandparents have also moved with them and so generational differences play in. Joe’s mother recently lost her job and wound up taking a job as the lunch room monitor at Joe’s school. Joe’s father is often on the road working as a truck driver. Both boys struggle to have their families understand how difficult school can be and the social difficulties that they both face.

Each day of the week is separated into its own section and titled by whatever food is being served in the cafeteria. This emphasizes the importance of food in all cultures and highlights how different Ravi’s family is from those around him. Food has always been an important way to understand different cultures, but in American schools, it has also been a way to ridicule those who bring items that are seen as “different.” Ravi avoids eating hot lunch and brings foods that are foreign to those around him.

But even with all of the differences, by the end of the book both boy learns to stand on his own two feet and each manage to show the other that they are not alone. They each manage to stand up to Dillion Samreen in their own way and we are left to feel that a new friendship is blossoming.

I thought that this was a marvelous way to show that we never really know what is going on in someone’s head and that the person you least suspect to be your friend might just be your best ally. Ravi even realizes that he is getting a taste of his own medicine when the popular boys won’t include him as that is how he treated others when he was in India. Joe’s character is incredibly endearing once he manages to get past his fears. When both boys manage to believe in themselves, they truly shine.

I purchased this book on my own, but Scholastic is a Platinum Sponsor of this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day and this book deserves some love.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Heroes and Heroines

As J gets older, she loves to find out more and more about real people and the things that they have done. I think it is due, in part, to the fact that as kids get older, they truly become more aware about the world around them and learning about people who have made a difference can help shape who they become. So when I was offered the chance to take a look at two new books from National Geographic Kids about Heroes and Heroines, I jumped at the chance. Not surprisingly, National Geographic Kids didn’t fail.

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Each book has an introduction that have seven stupendous qualities that a hero or heroine possesses. Things like courage, compassion, selflessness, and never quitting. Besides all of their heroic qualities, they also all “started out just like you.” The intro also has a side-bar mentioning that a) heroes shouldn’t be swept under the rug in the heroine book and vice versa, so they do get mentioned from time to time and b) heroism isn’t always planned so watch for a special symbol highlighting moments of bravery.

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In The Book of Heroines it’s all about Girl Power!  Looking for a leading lady? How about more than 100 of them?   From Michelle Obama, Jane Goodall and Wonder Woman to Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinem and Katie Ledecky, The Book of Heroines not only highlights how girls are just as tough as boys, but also challenges the reader to be a heroine herself and provides tips on how to unleash her inner heroine. The book is sectioned into chapters on world leaders, sports heroines, women in the workforce, legendary women from Greek mythology to modern television, women who have braved dangerous missions, peace heroines, ladies in lab coats, and even a chapter on brave animals.

 

Similarly, The Book of Heroes highlights 100 guys who had the boldness, bravery and brains to meet the challenges of their day. Men like Abraham Lincoln, Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking and Steve Irwin and well loved characters like Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker will allow boys to find more than just a few role models in the pages of this book and also perhaps inspire them that they, too, are capable of extraordinary things.  As with the heroines book, this one is sectioned into chapters on world leaders, legendary men from myths, comics, and screen, sports heroes, workplace heroes, peace heroes, action heroes, inspiring minds, and animals.

As with all National Geographic books, the photos are outstanding and the information is presented in an incredibly accessible manner. J really loved that her own personal heroine, Emma Watson, was included. I feel like I could look at these books for hours and learn something new every time. The Book of Heroes and The Book of Heroines are a great addition to any bookshelf to inspire the next generation.

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*Note – I did receive a free copy of these books to review, but the opinions are entirely my own.

A Culinary Adventure with All Four Stars

It is wonderful when a book can encourage a child to see outside of their personal bubble. In the charming series, All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman, J’s eyes were opened to a variety of foods and ingredients that she had never come across. At 9, she has started to be more willing to expand her culinary horizons and books like All Four Stars are a great way to entice her palate.

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I first read All Four Stars and thought that it was super fun. I had been enticed as a foodie and also because it was about a child who loved both food and writing. I inhaled the book and then encourage J to read it. It sat on her massive “to read” shelf for a little while, but once she finally cracked open the pages, she was caught under its spell as well. She enjoyed the first book so much that we immediately purchased book 2, The Stars of Summer, and now we are eagerly anticipating book 3 to arrive on our doorstep.

all-four-coverIn All Four Stars, eleven year old Gladys Gatsby loves all things food, but comically her parents are the ones who prefer take-out and are less likely to try new things. Because of this, all of her food explorations are done in secret. When she accidentally sets the kitchen curtains on fire making creme brulee, her cooking days are over, at least for the next six months. At school, her new teacher assigns the 6th graders a writing assignment for a contest held by the New York Standard newspaper in which they are supposed to write about their future. Gladys’s first go lacks passion and her teacher tells her so. Her newest friend, Sandy, would agree that her writing about wanting to be a vet seems far fetched when he thinks she has a future in food writing (having been the only person let in on her secret of the fact that she reviews all of the food she eats and has been for the past 4 years). But when her essay for the contest gets mistaken for an actual cover letter for a food writer, she and her new friends test how far she will go to get a real review.

As for exploring new foods, while Gladys’s parents are not adventurous, Gladys learns about food from her aunt who takes her on culinary tours of NYC. Gladys is also fortunate in that one of her few friends is Indian with parents who cook classic foods from their homeland. Gladys has also befriended the owner of a the local gourmet food shop and her friend Sandy’s mom likes to experiment with desserts. J is now all for making a traditional Indian dessert called Gajar ka halwa thanks to this book (recipe included in the book). It was also comical to read it with J because she would ask me what an ingredient was, I would explain it, and then the book would use similar terms to explain it in the very next sentence.

stars-of-summerThe second book, The Stars of Summer, has Gladys having successfully completed her first restaurant review for the newspaper. The paper still doesn’t know that she is only eleven and her parents have no idea that she is writing reviews. While Gladys was looking forward to a quiet summer, her friend Charissa has other plans and gives Gladys a free summer as the kitchen assistant at her family’s camp. Throughout the high-jinx that the camp backdrop provides, there is still food to be reviewed. This book starts at a tapas restaurant and then moves into a madcap attempt to find the best hot dog in NYC. A nice part of this book is that Gladys starts to share her love of food a little more with her parents, turning the tables and having them try some new foods.

This book took Gladys a bit further out of her comfort zone. Book one had her making new friends for the first time and letting people in on her secret love of cooking. Book two has her making a few more friends, try things that have always scared her (swimming anyone?), and improving her relationship with her parents. As for the culinary adventure, Gladys finds some of the most unique hot dogs possible – Chilean Hot Dogs with avocados, tomatoes and mayonnaise and South African Hot Dog Sandwich with french fries, lettuce and Indian curried pickle to name two.

stars-so-sweet-cover-1The final book in the series, Stars So Sweet, should be arriving at our house any day. That said, here is the summary available online:

As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise:  her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.

From other reviews that I have read, this final installment is less about food and more about finding yourself, but we are still looking forward to enjoying it. A very fun series!

Reading for Fun vs. Required reading

It’s interesting watching your reader grow in maturity. This year has seen great strides for J who continues to grow, not only as a reader, but in general maturity. Friday morning I was reading a post from the Nerdy Book Club about the “just right” book and what that means and it resounded with me. I am happy to say that J has never focused much on her “level” and always has read for pleasure. She has had great teachers and I’m definitely not one to push for reading levels.

These days, unfortunately, many kids focus a great deal on the “level” of the book and less on the story itself. That’s one thing if the book is required reading, but if you are reading for pleasure, it should be just that – pleasurable. When J was obsessed with Harry Potter or the Land of Stories, it was like you couldn’t pull her away from them. She knew every detail backward and forward. She could actually even recite the chapter titles from the first Harry Potter book.

So these year I watch with fascination as J approaches her required reading list for the Battle of the Books. J has long desired to be a part of the Battle of the Books. While she could easily read and comprehend most of the books at an early age, the rules state that you have to be in 4th or 5th grade for the elementary competition. A big reason for this, I believe, is less about reading level and more about having the maturity to read books that you don’t necessarily like all that much. She took a quick break from one book in order to plow through another and the different purposes and the distinction feels very clear to me.

6795756The first book she is reading is Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen. This is one of the books for the Battle of the Books this year and tells of a 13 year old boy living in the American frontier during the American Revolution. While Samuel is out hunting one day, his parents are taken captive by British soldiers. Samuel then sets out to find them. The story is filled with very detailed descriptions of muskets, rifles, bayonets and other weapons of the time. There are also many instances where readers learn of the practice of scalping someone. After each chapter there is also a page with historical notes that help fill in some of the holes that might exist by reading a book that takes place in such a different time. I would say that we are about half-way done with this book and while some parts are fabulous and keep you yearning to know what it going to happen, there are many other parts that you just have to trudge through.

23208632The second book is Gertie’s Leap to Greatness. She inhaled this book. It was given to her on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday evening she had finished it. When I asked her what she liked about it, she just said it was great. I’ve started reading it myself, but haven’t gotten into the heart of the book yet. Gertie has been compared to Ramona Quimby, but slightly older and definitely more modern.

The story is primarily about Gertie Reece Foy, a fifth grade girl who has made it her goal in life to become the best fifth grader in the universe.  Why? Her mother had moved out when she was a baby, but a few days before 5th grade started, Gertie saw a for sale sign in her mother’s front yard. Gertie feels the need to become her absolute best self so that she can walk up to her mother’s door, hand her back a locket that she had given her, and then her mother “would know that Gertie Foy was one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome and that she didn’t need a mother anyway. So there.” But there is just one problem in Gertie’s plan. The new girl, Mary Sue Spivey, also wants to be the best fifth grader.

This book is the trials and tribulations of an 10 year old trying to become her best possible self. In seeking out her greater self, she stumbles upon the greatness that was already inside of her. Even if the kids who are reading it don’t completely get that message, they will see her try new things, fail, and pick herself right back up and figure out a new plan of action. Gertie’s “leap” to greatness is really made up of many small steps that all of us need to take.

I loved watching J tear through a book again, it just really made me think about how we all approach books. When a book really moves a kid, or an adult, they simply can’t put it down. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, Frindle, The Monster War, these are the books that have been favorites recently in between the required reading she has done. She’s definitely enjoyed some of the BOB books more than others and doesn’t wait for me to share in the reading, but she absorbs them and enjoys them in a completely different way. That’s okay, she is learning of the wide variety of styles and flavors out there. If only we could all be as smart as our kids.

A Learning Lesson in A Long Walk to Water

Every year schools across the state of North Carolina compete in the Battle of the Books. There is an elementary level and a middle school level. The elementary Battle of the Books is only open to kids in the 4th and 5th grade. J has been waiting to be able to be a part of the team since 2nd grade. She hopes to make the team this year, although there are more kids wanting to be on her school’s team than will be allowed.

What I have always loved about the BOB is that they produce a list of books that each child is supposed to read and then answer questions on. I know that some of my friends have had some issues with the questions themselves, but that’s not what this post is about. What is great about the list is that the books cover a wide array of topics, genres and levels and are often books that children wouldn’t generally just pick up on their own. The latest in J’s string of great books read is A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.

alongwalktowaterA Long Walk to Water is a book that is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a young boy who is forced to flee his village and his family in 1985 at the age of 11 during the Second Sudanese Civil War. It is told in alternating perspectives from Salva and Nya, a young girl in Sudan in 2008 who has to walk to a pond that is 2 hours away from her home every day in order to get her family water, but the main story is Salva’s.

Sudan in the 1980s was ravaged by a civil war. The war had many issues, but it was at it’s heart a war between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians and native spiritualists. When Salva is forced to flee his village and wander, not only do younger readers have a hard time understanding what he is going through, but they are additionally confused when many adults don’t want to help the young boy. It is talking points like this that make these BOB selections so fabulous.

Salva becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a large group of boys who have been separated from their families and wind up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He learns a great deal about himself and his strengths as he walks the long journey with thousands of other refugees. He is one of the fortunate ones and is relocated to the United States in 1996.

The other story that is being told is more current and even more important for our children to understand. Young Nya’s story is told in brief snippets of only a page or two at a time. Nya is a young girl in Sudan in 2008. She can’t go to school because every day she must trek to the pond and back two times in order to bring her family the water that they need to survive. The water is filthy and it is a two hour walk, but it is their only option. During the dry months, the family must uproot itself so they can be closer to a different pond, or they would be completely without water. Children get sick from the dirty water that they drink, especially as they are not always able to wait to allow the water to boil and sometimes they don’t even have enough to let it boil. As the story proceeds, people come to her village to dig a well and enable them to not only have clean water readily available, but then to allow the children to also go to school.

A Long Walk to Water is a very powerful and well written book. J and I both learned a great deal while reading it and it gives kids an important insight into the fact that there are many people in our world whose lives are not nearly as easy as our own.  Reading this also came at the same time as a friend of ours is working on her mitzvah project trying to help bring clean water to Africa, so I used both as talking points with J. This is the great way that books open up conversations to help truly educate our children to the broader world around us.