Tag Archives: diversity books

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (2010)

There is no one left to help me.  They think I am weak and useless. Salva lifted his head proudly.  They are wrong, and I will prove it.” (p. 66)

We’ve heard that clean water can change lives in developing countries.  It’s a difficult thing to imagine, given our access to all the water we could ever want.  In A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park takes us to Sudan to bring this message home in a powerful way.

2008.  Nya must walk for eight hours every day, for seven months out of the year to fetch drinking water for her family.  It’s not always clean and sometimes it makes people sick.  When a team of workers tells her small village there is water buried deep beneath the ground they’ve been living on, it changes Nya’s life in ways she can’t even begin to imagine.

1985-2006.  Salva Dut is 11-years-old when he is forced to flee into the bush as the civil war in Sudan reaches his home in Loun-Ariik.  His trek from his home in Sudan across the Nile, through the desert and to Ethopian and Kenyan refugee camps spans years and is full of peril, danger, and heartache.  Yet, despite the hopelessness of his situation, Salva displays incredible bravery and perseverance. His mantra of facing just one day, one moment at a time allowed him to surmount incredible obstacles and achieve amazing success.

Don’t let the slimness of this volume fool you; Park’s sparse, matter-of-fact writing will sneak up and into your heart before you even realize it.  Salva’s story will stick with me for a long time.

See Nicki’s review.

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Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis (2009)

Driving across the county with their cigarette-smoking, fast-driving, very unconventional grandmother, Mare is the last way Octavia and Talitha Boylen want to spend their summer vacation.  But as Mare begins to tell them about her childhood and the forces that drove her into the Women’s Army Corps during WWII, Octavia and Tali come to a deeper understanding of their grandmother and themselves. 

Alternating chapters break the story down between “now” and “then”, but Mare’s story is where this book shines.  The road trip parts were less interesting and seemed unnecessary to me, although Davis does bring the two stories together in the end.  What stood out most to me are the themes of family, loyalty, and inequality.  It was heartbreaking to see Mare struggle with her mother’s silence after she joined the WAC and uplifting to witness the fierce love and sense of duty she felt towards her sister, Feen (which paralleled the relationship between Octavia and Tali).  Davis also highlighted the disparity with which African Americans were treated during the war.  They were good enough to fight but were still segregated in barracks, at drinking fountains and at nightclubs.  Mare’s frustration is palpable: 

“It is crazy to be here fighting for freedom and democracy when we are not free.  It tears me up to wonder why we are here, why our colored men go down fighting, when things will stay the same at home.” (p. 195)

 The only thing I felt was lacking was character connection.  The plot moved quickly, but I didn’t feel for the characters. 

Pair with Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.

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Illegal by Bettina Restrepo (2011)

Nora’s father left their family in Cedula, Mexico when she was 12-years-old with a promise that they would all be together again for her quinceanera, her fifteenth birthday.  He hoped to earn enough money in Texas to save the family’s orchard.  But as the years go by, Papa’s communication and the money he had been sending becomes sparser and sparser.  When it ends altogether, Nora makes the brave decision to stowaway across the border with her mother to find her father.

America.  The land of opportunity.  It doesn’t look much different from the home she left.  With very little money and no idea where to look for Papa, Nora and her mother find a small, dirty apartment to rent and begin searching for jobs.  After pounding the pavement in the hot, sticky, Texas air for days, they fall upon some good luck and land jobs working for a friendly couple with small food stands. 

Nora begins to wonder if America might be the place where her secret dreams of education and friendship could come to life, but fear and anxiety about finding her father, money troubles, and being found out by the police threaten to overtake what little hope and faith she has left.

Illegal was a quick read, with short chapters and sparse writing.  It’s a raw story about the struggles that forced a family to risk their lives for a life that doesn’t seem a whole lot better.  Michael Cart called Illegal “an important novel that deserves a wide readership”.  While I don’t wholeheartedly agree, I do think this is a unique story that hasn’t been explored too often in middle grade/teen fiction.

This is an ARC slated for release in March 2011.

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Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (2010)

Caitlin Smith’s world has been turned upside down. Her older brother, Devon, has been the victim of a horrific school shooting. Devon was the person who helped Caitlin make sense of the world. As a ten-year-old girl with Asperger Syndrome, Caitlin has a hard time understanding people and situations around her. She relied on Devon to be her guide on the complicated and messy journey of life. But now it’s just Caitlin and her father, who is having difficulty coping with his son’s death. At least Caitlin has Mrs. Brook, her counselor at school. But Mrs. Brook doesn’t seem to ‘Get It’ that Caitlin needs to find ‘Closure’, not make friends. When Caitlin comes up with a plan to finish a project Devon and her father began, she sets her small family and the larger community on a path to healing.

Erskine reveals the need for early intervention as her motivation for writing Mockingbird in the Author’s Note. Inspired by the Virginia Tech shooting, Erskine melds two distinct issues (school shootings and Asperger’s) into a thought-provoking novel for middle-grades. Over the course of the novel, we see many instances where Caitlin misunderstands or is misunderstood by her peers. Caitlin, however, has people in her life to guide her. There are many others that may have no one. By providing insight and explanation behind Caitlin’s behavior, she hopes the reader will be closer to understanding the mind of someone who is considered an outsider.

Read Nicki’s Review.

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Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai (2010)

In early 2001, Fadi and his family flee Afghanistan when the Taliban tries to recruit Fadi’s father, Habib, to work for them. During their escape, Fadi’s 6-year-old sister, Mariam is lost in the shuffle. The family must go to California without her. Once there, Fadi struggles with fitting in at a new school and in a new country, all while dealing with the agonizing guilt that it’s his fault his sister is missing.

A photography contest at school with a grand prize trip to India presents Fadi with an idea to make it back to Afghanistan, find Mariam and regain his honor. When the tragic events of September 11th strike, Fadi and his family must not only deal with the persecution that comes from being Middle Eastern, but with the fact that finding Mariam has just become a lot more difficult.

Senzai’s hopeful story provides the reader with a glimpse into another culture, one that is often quite misunderstood.

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