Friday, May 24, 2013

Hawksmaid by Kathryn Lasky

I am on vacation this week, and believe it or not, I, the librarian, forgot to check out a book to read on my trip.  So at the last minute I grabbed one off of my shelf at home.  It is an ARC (advanced reader copy) that I received years ago, but never read.  I hadn't read it because I am not a huge fan of Kathryn Lasky.  She is a writer that children love, but adults, not so much.  Her books lack...I don't know...sophistication, if that makes sense. That said, I enjoyed this book.  It is a "popcorn-and-peanuts" kind of read, and a good kind of "not so deep" story for a week on vacation.
Cover Art for Hawksmaid : the untold story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian
     Matty is the daughter of a wealthy baron.  Her mother is trying to make her into a lady, but she prefers spending time with her father and his beautiful hawks.  Then one day Prince John's men attack her home, steeling all their fortune and killing Matty's mother.  Now motherless and penniless  Matty spends more and more time with the hawks, and with the rag tag team of urchin boys from the village.  The book covers a span of several years, and the reader is able to see Matty, and her best friend, Robert, grow into the famous Maid Marian and Robin Hood.  As Matty grows, her connection to her birds becomes deeper and then uncanny.  In the end Matty and the birds must work as one to save the kingdom and free the captive King Richard. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Cover Art for Words in the dust Zulaikha is a 13 year old girl living in a remote village in Afghanistan. She was born with a cleft lip and has endured stares and taunting from those outside her family all her life.  Her kind and beautiful older sister is her primary emotional support, and Zulaikha is both happy, and sad when she hears that her father has arranged a marriage for Zeyneb. When the Americans come into her village, they offer to perform an operation to repair Zulaikha's cleft lip for free, but she must travel to Kandahar to the American base hospital to have the procedure.  While Zulaikha prepares for her life changing operation, Zeyneb prepares for her impending marriage, and both girls courageously face their uncertain future.

I was more caught up in this book than I have been in any book for a long time.  This is Mr. Reedy's first novel, but the writing is amazing.  I don't know how an American man could create such a believable Afghan girl character.  There in is my struggle with the book. The character of Zulaikha is based on a girl Mr. Reedy met while serving in the military providing humanitarian aide in Afghanistan in the early 2000's.  He lived in the country for a year, and worked closely with the native people there.  Still, all during the story I wondered how authentic the characters were.  Is the way Zulaikha and Zeyneb think really how Afghan women would have thought, or does he, unintentionally, place western ideals in the characters minds?  He doesn't overtly do so. The character's view of Americans is in no way idealized and his Afghan characters don't obviously fall into cultural stereotypes.  There is a long author's note at the end in which Reedy confesses to exactly the same reservations as I felt, but he defends his decision to write the book on the idea that someone ought to write Afghan girls' stories because they cannot write them themselves.  It is estimated that between 80-90 percent of Afghan women and girls are illiterate.

I am very conflicted about this book,  but I really enjoyed it as well, so you will have to read it yourself and decide what you think.  Be warned there is a one passage that contains rather graphic violence, and a few surrounding Zeyneb's wedding, that are a little mature in content, so I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under 13.  (226 p.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Cover Art for Starry River of the Sky Rendi has run away from home and stowed away in the cart of a wine seller.  He is discovered when he cart owner stops to sell wine to an innkeeper in the Village of Clear Sky.  The kindly innkeeper takes the boy on to help him and his young daughter run the inn in the absence of the keeper's son, who has gone missing.  The son is not the only thing missing.  The moon seems to be missing from sky above Village of Clear Sky, as is the rain.  At night Rendi can hear the sky weeping but no one else seems to hear it until one day a beautiful older woman arrives to stay in the inn.  She tells wonderful stories of the beings that live in the moon, the lake and the mountain.  As time passes Rendi comes to suspect that the woman is more than she seems, and her stories are not just idle fairy tales.

Grace Lin is a master storyteller.  She weaves all the elements of her story into an amazing lace-work of connections and meaning.  At the same time she creates interesting and complex characters who have fully realized personalities.  This book takes place in the same world as her Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, but you do not need to read one before you read the other.  Both books are loosely based on Asian mythology and are a great introduction to that topic. (288  p)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

Cover Art for Eleven Patricia Reilly Giff is one of those dependable authors.  She has a Newbery winner and two Newbery Honor books but has written dozens of other books for children that always find a following. The children in her books feel authentic, doing and accomplishing things that are age appropriate. This book is less intense and less depressing than her award winner, Pictures of Hollis Wood, but has a similar premise: a child that has a learning disability, who also has an extraordinary talent that makes up for it. We hope that whenever there is a child with a disability, there is some insightful and caring adult to help them recognize the amazing ability they have that will help them get through life.

Sam finds a newspaper clipping in the attic that has a picture of him as a baby which sparks his curiosity.  The only problem is, he is severely dyslectic and cannot read, so he much enlist the aid of the new girl in class to help him decipher it. Caroline is quirky and a loner, but she can't resist the mystery behind Sam's early childhood.  Why does the newspaper clipping say that he had a different last name and was lost on the river? Is Sam's grandfather really his grandfather?  As Sam and Caroline unravel the mystery together, they build a friendship that they both hope will last beyond Caroline's eminent move.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Cover Art for A mutiny in time James Dashner is a pretty hot children's author right now.  His series, Fable Haven, 13th Reality and The Maze Runner have all been big successes. I am embarrassed to admit I haven't read any of them.  So this is my first introduction to Dashner and it was a pretty decent book.  In it, two children, Dak and Sera, are both geniuses who live in an alternate near future reality.  Their world is beset by natural disasters and social unrest. Dak's parents are scientists and one day he and Sera sneak into their lab where they find the nearly completed "Infinity Ring".  Being a genius, Sera quickly finds a way to complete the device which allows its user to travel in time.  Very soon they are whisked away to a secret organization of Historians, who inform them that they must travel back in time and fix a few historical errors, to save the present world from imminent destruction. Time travel is a tricky business to write, and Dashner doesn't quite get all the wrinkles ironed out of it.  For example, when the enemy attacks the secret base, they jump back in time and escape to the time of ancient Egypt.  Why didn't they just jump back 2 days, and warn the people at the compound of their impending danger so they could prevent it?  Most authors would explain that this was a problem, because if they met themselves on different time streams, it would cause of fissure in time space, or something, but Dashner doesn't even address the issue.  Later they are on a the Santa Maria, about to be executed by mutineers, but it doesn't seem to occur to them that they are not in real danger, because they could just escape using the device at any time.I didn't fact check to see if the portrayal of the historical time Dashner depicts is correct, and the book didn't have an addendum that explains which facts are true and which are fictional.  It is a book that most kids would enjoy, but an intelligent 6th grader will see through the plot holes. (190 p.)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant

Cover Art for A fine white dustCynthia Rylant is an amazing writer, and this book has an interesting and unique premise.  Thirteen-year-old Pete is committed Christian and avid church goer and feels sad that his parents and his atheist best friend don't share his religious zeal.  Then a young revivalist preacher comes to town and Pete is swept up in religious evangelical fervor.  When the preacher invites Pete to run away from home and join him on the preaching circuit, Pete feels that he has received his calling from God. The short book focuses on Pete's internal struggle, as he considers and then anticipates leaving his home and family for God. Rylant does an amazing job of creating a believable young protagonist, showing sympathetically his deep religious feelings, but also his youth and naivety.  This is an older book, first published in the 1980's, but I am glad I stumbled across it.  (106 p)