Tag Archives: Diversity

Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

YA book review of Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer (Raybearer, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Nothing is more important than loyalty. But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

My Thoughts after Reading

This YA book is about a girl brought up to kill her mother’s nemesis.

All her life, our heroine craves the love of her mother, who hardly sees her and on the rare occasions when she does, plays with her affections. Without warning, her mother sends her away to be selected as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven. If this was not traumatic enough, her mother’s parting words were strict instructions to kill the prince as soon as she gains his trust.

It is very easy to root for our heroine who, on one hand craves her mother’s affections and on the other, wants to be true to her conscience and not kill the innocent prince. The concept of the Council of Eleven is unique.

If you enjoy dystopian fantasy, check out this one. 3/5

Review : The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

YA book review of The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

My Thoughts after Reading

This YA book of time-travel, sea adventures and history has a great opening line and scene that pulls you right in.

Our main character is the daughter of the captain of the time-travelling ship. They travel round the world and through time to acquire rare and mystical artefacts, especially maps.

I part-listened to the audio book and part-read the paperback. In each destination, I enjoyed learning about the time and place. The author has done a great job giving us a feel of the places and the eras. I got to know the characters and really liked the Kashmir. The author has also taken pains to sneak in nautical terms in the narration, reminding us that our heroine grew up in a tall ship. 3.5*

Review : The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

Middle-grade review of The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

The Ship of Shadows (The Ship of Shadows, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers.

But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.

Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade adventure book is about a girls-only pirate ship sailing the oceans blue in search of a treasure map.

Our heroine discovers a secret and this knowledge puts her life in danger. In the chase she meets a captain who offers to hide her in her ship for a few hours. Unfortunately it was still unsafe for Aleja to disembark and she ends up travelling to the far lands with the crew.

This book has everything: a magical ship, an ancestor with a mysterious legacy, cryptic puzzles, strange beasts from the sea and land, exotic locations of towns and deserts and of course, swash-buckling life at sea. What I liked about this book is how all the characters have their own strengths eg linguist, chemist, technologist, soldier, strategist. Together they made a great team.

If you like the sound of this, you might be pleased to know that this is the first book of a series. 3/5

Review : Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie

Middle-grade review on Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie

Little Bird Lands (Little Bird, #2)Goodreads Blurb

Little Bird has landed in America, far from her home in Scotland and far from the danger that stalked her family. But the new world holds new perils, and soon she’s on the run again. From the teeming streets of New York to the prairies of the west, Little Bird holds tight to secrets and dreams of freedom. Then, on her journey, she comes face-to-face with an unwelcome ghost from the past…

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is the second book in the story. However it can stand alone. I have not read the first book, which I understand is about our main character’s life in Scotland.

In this book, our protagonist and her father have arrived in America and settle in a copper mining community. They meet lots of new people, including a nasty shopkeeper, an independent lady doctor and a reliable Native American.

Set at the end of the civil war, this book gives a good flavour of immigrant life in America. I was whisked away to the time. I could picture the activities they did, their outlook in life and even the details of what they ate and wore.

This is a book with diverse and inclusive characters. The ending was heart-warming, concluding the story from the first book. A good read. 4/5

Review : I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin

Middle-grade review on I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín

I Lived on Butterfly Hill

Goodreads Blurb

An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this “lyrically ambitious tale of exile and reunification” (Kirkus Reviews) from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile.

Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until one day when warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates start disappearing from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” Before they do, however, they send Celeste to America to protect her.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful.

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is set in Chile during a tumultuous time in its history.

Our protagonist is the daughter of two very kind and giving doctors, who spend their time healing the poor. At the start of the story, we see the poverty and how Celeste is fortunate compared to these people. However it is this kindness of her parents that puts them in danger when a new regime took over. The fear and uncertainty is well described. This story gives an account of her life before, during and after this era.

I enjoyed the cultural flavour of the story. It whisked me away to Chile and makes me want to visit the place. This book also highlights Korean immigrants during that era.

If you are looking for a diverse book of a book about refugees, check this one out. 4/5

Review : Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Middle-grade book review Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front DeskMy Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about the struggles of a family of Chinese immigrants who went to America to escape the Cultural Revolution in China.

Mia’s parents took up this job running a motel as it offered free accommodation. However, the package was not an perfect as they were led to believe and the family have to work very hard just to make ends meet. Mia enrols in a new school and makes a new friend. At home, she takes care of the front desk duties. We are introduced to the weekly tenants and fellow Chinese immigrants. Before long, she shows us how efficient and resourceful she is.

Moving to a new country is never easy, even more so if you don’t speak the language. In this account, we also see the struggles of fellow immigrants, their culture shocks and gaffs and the traps they fall into. There is also a strong theme on racial prejudice she experiences and witnesses. This book has several themes that can be explored in a classroom. Mia’s approach to seeking justice on behalf of her friends is worthy of discussion.

Mia’s struggles means her maturity is higher than your average middle-grade reader. This book can be extended to a young YA reader. If you are looking for a similar theme aimed for a younger reader, Pie in the Sky is worth checking out. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Review : Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Middle-grade book review of Dragon Mountain by Katie Tsang

Dragon MountainGoodreads Blurb

Deep within the mountain, a great creature stirred in its sleep. Its eyes rolled back in its head, and its wings jerked wide open…

When 12-year-old Billy Chan finds out his parents are sending him to a summer camp in middle-of-nowhere China he doesn’t know what to expect. There he meets fellow campers Dylan, Charlotte and Ling-Fei and together they stumble upon an age-old secret: four powerful warrior dragons, hidden deep within the mountain behind the camp. They have been trapped since an epic battle with the Dragon of Death and need the children’s help to set them free before terrible evil is unleashed on the earth. Billy and his friends must set off on a dangerous adventure that will take them to the heart of the Dragon Realm. But can they save the dragon and human worlds from destruction?

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about an unexpected twist during a summer camp in China.

Billy would rather be surfing back home in California than endure a summer camp to polish up his Mandarin. He gets teamed up with three other children and on their first activity they venture into forbidden part of the area as a short cut to their destination. They survived an earthquake but to their surprise everyone else at camp did not experience it. One of his team-mates had lost her precious necklace. Returning for it, they discovered the cave of dragons and their adventure began.

If you enjoyed The Golden Compass, you’ll also enjoy this story as they have a similar bonding with their dragons. I liked how the authors had merged Eastern and Western folklores of dragons. I also liked how they gave representation to mixed-race children who grow up having extra expectations heaped on them. But this book did not dwell on the characters that deeply. On the contrary, the children leapt from one crisis to another in this is fast-paced story.

This is one for readers moving on from chapter books. 3/5

Review : Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan

Middle-grade book review by Asha & the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan

Asha & the Spirit BirdGoodreads Blurb

Asha lives on the family farm with her mother in rural India.

Her father is away working in the city, and when the money he sends stops suddenly, a wicked aunt arrives. She’s determined to seize the property – and the treasure rumoured to be hidden on the land. Guided by a majestic bird which Asha believes to be the spirit of her grandmother, she and her best friend Jeevan embark on a journey to the city, across the Himalayas, to find her father and save her home …

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is the winner of The Times 2017 Children’s Fiction competition. It is about a girl on a journey to find her lost father. Since its publication, it has gone on to win the Costa Childrens Book Award 2019.

Asha’s father is away working. She has not heard from for months and decides to go on a journey to find him after speaking to a fortune teller. A bird appears periodically throughout her travels. Asha believes her grandmother has reincarnated into this bird and is guiding her on her perilous journey. Her journeys up the mountains remind me very much of Running on the Roof of the World, also another middle grade book about a journey across the Himalayas.

This books whisks you away to India. The author give a flavour of the place by peppering her flowery language with Hindi and Punjabi words. If you enjoyed the Newbury winner The Night Diary, you’ll like this one too. What I also like about this book is the gentle way she introduces the ugly side of India by way of child labour, no too dissimilar to Boys Without Names. She also touches on the harsher facts of life where parents have to go away to work in order to support the family, very similar to Secrets of the Great Fire Tree.

If you’ve enjoyed any of the books I’ve listed in this review, you’ll enjoy this one too. 3/5

Ten Books for Black History Month

 

October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. If you are an educator, here are some books for you to check out. There are middle-grade, YA, fiction and non-fiction books in this collection.

1. I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño

I, Juan de ParejaGoodreads Blurb

Told through the eyes of Velazquez’s slave and assistant, this vibrant novel depicts both the beauty and the cruelty of 17th century Spain and tells the story of Juan, who was born a slave and died a respected artist. My review

2. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Mighty Miss MaloneGoodreads Blurb

“We are a family on a journey to a place called wonderful” is the motto of Deza Malone’s family.

Deza is the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana, singled out by teachers for a special path in life. But the Great Depression hit Gary hard, and there are no jobs for black men. When her beloved father leaves to find work, Deza, Mother, and her older brother Jimmie go in search of him, and end up in a Hooverville outside Flint, Michigan. Jimmie’s beautiful voice inspires him to leave the camp to be a performer, while Deza and Mother find a new home, and cling to the hope that they will find Father.

The twists and turns of their story reveal the devastation of the Depression and prove that Deza truly is the Mighty Miss Malone. My review

3. A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia 1859 by Patricia C. McKissack

A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia 1859 (Dear America)Goodreads Blurb

Day or two later

Freedom is one of the first words I teached myself to write. Down in the Quarters people pray for freedom – they sing ’bout freedom, but to keep Mas’ Henley from knowin’ their true feelings, they call freedom “heaven.” Everybody’s mind is on freedom.

But it is a word that aine never showed me no picture. While fannin’ this afternoon, my eyes fell on “freedom” in a book William was readin’. No wonder I don’t see nothin’. I been spellin’ it F-R-E-D-U-M.

I put the right letters in my head to make sure I remembered their place. F-R-E-E-D-O-M. I just now wrote it. Still no picture… My review

4. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1)Goodreads Blurb

In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.

5. Viva Durant and The Secret of the Silver Buttons by Ashli St. Armant

Viva Durant and The Secret of the Silver ButtonsGoodreads Blurb

Viva Durant, New Orleans’ youngest detective, is on a quest to solve a jazzy mystery involving hidden treasure, while exploring the city’s unique culture, history, and music. This family-friendly audio original features original jazz music from the creator, Ashli St. Armant, and an enthusiastic performance from Audible Hall of Fame narrator, Bahni Turpin.

Plucky 14-year-old Viva Durant heads to New Orleans every summer to spend time with her loving but stern grandmother, known as Gram. After Gram reads Viva an article in the local paper about a missing treasure related to the world-famous song, “Miss Mary Mack,” Viva traverses the Crescent City on an epic adventure to solve the mystery. Along the way she meets some of the city’s most colorful characters as her journey takes her to the French Quarter, a jazz club, a creepy cemetery, and even the circus. Can Viva rise to the occasion and solve this musical mystery? Listeners will find Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons a joy to listen to! My review

6. Beck by Mal Peet

BeckGoodreads Blurb

Both harrowing and life-affirming, the final novel from Carnegie Medal-winning author Mal Peet is the sweeping coming-of-age adventure of a mixed race boy transported to North America.

Born from a street liason between a poor young woman and an African soldier in the 1900s, Beck is soon orphaned and sent to the Catholic Brothers in Canada. Shipped to work on a farm, his escape takes him across the continent in a search for belonging. Enduring abuse and many hardships, Beck has times of comfort and encouragement, eventually finding Grace, the woman with whom he can finally forge his life and shape his destiny as a young man. A picaresque novel set during the Depression as experienced by a young black man, it depicts great pain but has an uplifting and inspiring conclusion. My review

7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give (The Hate U Give, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. My review

8. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadGoodreads Blurb

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share. My review

9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou's Autobiography, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

10. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures

Goodreads Blurb

The #1 New York Times Bestseller. Set amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts, into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War and the women’s rights movement, ‘Hidden Figures’ interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.  My review

Black History Month

Review : Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Middle-grade book review Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Song for a WhaleMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about a girl and her determination to help a lonely whale.

Iris is the only deaf girl in her school. Her mother wanted her to go to a mainstream school but she has difficulty fitting in. One day in Science, the teacher shows them the video of a whale that communicates in a different frequency to all the other whales. Its story moves Iris and she wants to do something to signal to the whale it is not alone in this big wide world.

This is an amazing read on many levels. It is very easy to get behind Iris, who feels isolated in school. She is also grieving for her grandfather. She had hoped to find solace in her grandmother, but her grandmother has withdrawn into her shell. In her pursuit of the whale, I learnt about oceanography and the work carried out. I also like the uniqueness of a girl tinkering with broken radios, let alone a deaf girl adept at mending vintage ones.

This books allows us to see deaf people as intelligent beings with needs and wants just like anybody. A must-read.

If this has captured your attention, here are some key dates coming up you might be interested in:

Goodreads Blurb

The story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?