Oranges for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide

Orange for the Sunsets

Tina Athaide, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Social class, Ethnic relations, East Indians, Uganda, Family life, Idi Amin, History

Publishers Synopsis:

Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall.

But when Ugandan President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship. And with only days before the deadline, Asha and Yesofu must decide if the bravest thing of all might be to let each other go.

Why I like this book:

Tina Athaide’s powerful novel is gripping as it explores the 1972 expulsion of 50,000 Asians from Uganda. Athaide portrays the vast disparity between the two ethnic groups in Uganda through the daily lives of Asha Gomez, an Indian Ugandan, and Yesofu, an African Ugandan. Their friendship is depicted within the backdrop of historical events, a brutal dictator, social class, ethnic relations, family relationships, and hope. 

The narrative is told in the alternating voices of Asha and Yesofu, which is very effective because readers will understand the emotions each character has to confront individually and together as friends. All of the successful businesses, farms, schools, homes and churches are owned by Indians, while the Africans work hard labor in the sugar cane fields and are servants in Asian homes. Few African can get loans to buy land or start businesses.

Asha was born in Uganda and knows no other home. Her father is from Goa, India, and works in the Ministry of Tourism and they entertain foreign dignitaries. Her family is wealthy. She lives in a two-story house with a wraparound front porch. They can afford to eat kulfi or ice cream and serve their tea on beautiful silver trays. Her family have African servants, including Yesofu’s mother, Fara, who works as a housekeeper and cook. Asha is a compassionate, caring, brave and determined character. But she’s also very naive to the social injustices.  She never has visited Yesofu’s home or thinks to ask Yesofu about his life. 

Yesofu’s life is a stark contrast to Asha’s. His family lives in a two-room shack made of “wattle and daub — woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud and topped with a grass roof.” Yesofu sleeps on a woven mat and gathers branches for firewood and hauls water from the well twice daily. His mother has very little education and his Baba works in the fields all day. Yesofu’s and his brother Esi’s education is paid for by Asha’s father. Yesofu dreams of getting a scholarship to attend college and playing professional cricket.  At first, Idi Amin’s talk about a brighter future for Africans excites Yesofu. His Baba may be able to buy land. He may be able to attend college and have a better life. So he joins his friends and family in support the actions of Amin.

This is a period in history I wished I’d followed more closely in the 70s. So I’m very grateful to gain some understanding through Athaide’s novel, which is loosely based on her own life there. Her novel is well-researched. It really will help readers understand what happens when racial nationalism is used to rid a country of other ethnicities. President Idi Amin promises to help African Ugandans. But he seizes Indian properties, businesses, bank accounts. He is violent and commits torture and murder. Friends become enemies. There are no winners. And Yesofu begins to sees a darker side to Imin’s promises. Yesofu’s comment says it all: “Idi Amin had promised change would come to Uganda. And he was right. Everything had changed. No Asha. No Akello. No jobs. No money for school fees. No food, Dada Amin had promised a great future, but a future is hard to build when there’s nothing left.” 

I highly recommend Orange for the Sunsets. Readers won’t be able to put it down. Make sure you read her Author’s Note, the 90 Days in History, additional resources and view her personal family photos.

Review:For those wondering how to discuss the dangers of manipulative and toxic nationalism with children, this delicately told story is it. Orange for the Sunsets is a nuanced and balanced way to see politics through a child’s eyes.”— Nadia Hashimi, M.D., author of The Sky at Our Feet and One Half from the East.

Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family lift Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for this book. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee

Brother’s Keeper

Julie Lee, Author

Holiday House, Jul. 21, 2020

Pages: 320

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: North Korea, Family life, Communism, Refugees, Freedom, Korean War

Synopsis:

North Korea, 1950. Twelve-year-old Sora Pak and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from communist meetings. Repeat slogans. Don’t trust your neighbors. Don’t speak your mind. You are being watched.

There is no hope for escape…until war breaks out between North and South Korea. Suddenly there is chaos, and everyone is fleeing. The Paks’ plan to get to freedom is simple: they will walk hundreds of miles from their tiny mountain village to the South Korean city of Busan.

But when a bombing changes everything, Sora must get herself and her eight-year-old brother, Youngsoo, to South Korea alone — across rivers, over mountains, around enemy soldiers and border guards, and even through Pyongyang itself, all while staving off frostbite and starvation. Can two children survive three hundred miles of war zone winter?

Why I like this book:

Julie Lee’s Brother’s Keeper is a powerful work of historical fiction that will transport readers to the Korean War in 1950 — also known as the “Forgotten War” — where millions of people lost their lives trying to flee to South Korea. It is a haunting and compelling story of danger, suffering, survival, taking risks and heroism.  It is also a story about family and home.

The setting is vivid and rich in detail. Sora’s family lives in a square-shaped farmhouse with a thatched roof hugging the house like “a mushroom cap.” Their home is surrounded by fields or corn and millet.  All of the homes in her village look the same, but the countryside is lush and the rivers are the center of activity. The communist (under Kim II Sung ) rule with a tight fist and there are rules to follow and neighbors who spy on each other in return for favors.

Sora is a smart, curious and compassionate sister to two younger brothers. She loves school, learning and dreams of going to college and living in America. Sora has a complicated relationship with her mother, who like most Korean women value their sons over their daughters. Sora is angry when Omahni insists that she quit school to watch her baby brother, Jisoo. She also has to learn to cook and care for a household, which will prepare her for marriage. She’s more like her Abahji and shares similar dreams of travel. Youngsoo is a sweet boy who lifts Sora’s spirit with his humor. And he’s always going to catch her a fish. He’s also small and more vulnerable. Protecting him is what she does.

When a bombing separates Sora and Youngsoo from their family, it becomes Sora’s responsibility to keep them alive. Does she return home, or push forward hoping to find her parents? Courageous and resilient, Sora, chooses the treacherous journey south with only a small map of Korea folded in her pocket. Death and danger lurk around every corner. They find abandoned homes overflowing with sleeping refugees; sparse food; lice infestations; frozen rivers that break up while crossing; bombings; broken bridges; sinking canoes; mountains to climb; kidnappers; violence at the Imjin crossing; cardboard houses; and a frightening box car ride to Busan.

Lee’s novel is also based on the harrowing journey her mother made during the Korean War. The author feels that stories like this deserve a place in American history because there aren’t many books about this “Forgotten War” and the resilient Koreans who fled to South Korea.  Many American soldiers lost their lives trying to liberate the country from communism.  This book is a story for teens and adults.

Make sure you check out the backmatter. There is an Author’s Note; photographs of the author’s mother, siblings and parents; a Timeline of the Korean War with historical information; and a glossary of Korean terms.

Julie Lee graduated from Cornell University with a degree in history. After working in market research in Manhattan for more than ten years, she decided to pursue writing full-time. Currently, Julie lives in Georgia with her husband and three children. When she is not spending time with her family, she is working on her next book while pursuing her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Brother’s Keeper is her debut novel. You can visit Julie at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

I Want Everything! – Big Little Talks series – by Alberto Pellai and Barbara Tamborini

Perfect Picture Book Friday

I Want Everything!, Oh Brother! and I Don’t Want to Go to School! are three new books in the Big Little Talks series published by Magination Press Oct, 13, 2020, for children 4 to 8 years old. The empowering series is written by Alberto Pellai, MD, PhD, and Barbara Tamborini  and illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

I Want Everything! 

Opening: “I want the moon as my kickball, snow in the summer, and the sound of the ocean as my lullaby!  You think that tricycle is yours? It’s not, it’s mine. I’m the king of everything, not you.”

Publisher’s Synopsis: A boy wants everything in the world, but his parent tries to help him realize that maybe he’s okay with what he already has and that he cannot have everything that he wants. As the boy’s tantrum persists and he wants to be and roar like a lion, he is gently brought back down to earth by a parent who says, “But, you are acting rude when you roar like a lion and frighten everyone with your angry voice.”

Oh Brother!

Opening“Your baby brother is finally here.” / “Big deal. He doesn’t talk. He makes funny faces, sleeps a lot, and he only cries like a big baby! And you have to carry him all the time.”

Publisher’s Synopsis: This charming story about a new addition to the family will help older siblings appreciate their expanded family. The little brother has arrived, and all he does is sleep and cry! He doesn’t play ball or swim or do anything a little brother is supposed to do. And he takes up all the parents’ time. But the little brother smiles when his big brother makes faces and claps when he plays the drums. Maybe being a big brother will be great?

I Don’t Want to Go to School

Opening: “Everyone says kids need to go to school. But it’s better to stay home. I don’t want to go! Everyone says that teachers don’t let you talk or play. They are mean. They are loud. And the let bats fly around the classroom!”

Publisher’s Synopsis: Going to school can be a really big deal to a little kid. New routine, new friends, new places, and new faces can be a lot to handle at first! It’s hard for kids to handle that transition and see that school might be fun and that their parent will always come back.

This sensitive book will help kid and parents talk about this big step and transition to being apart during the day—and maybe even have fun at school!

Why I like these books:

Big emotions can be overwhelming for children facing life-changing moments! This fun, engaging and interactive series shows children voicing their thoughts, fears and frustrations (in orange ink) while an empathetic parent listens in the background and offers the child a reassuring message (black ink) to help them feel calm, validate an achievement, adapt to change, and set necessary limits with inappropriate behavior.

The narrative will engage children from the first page to the last. And they will be captivated by Elisa Paganelli’s colorful, lively and expressive illustrations.

Resources: The Big Little Talk series is a wonderful tool for parents, counselors and teachers. Make sure you check out the Reader’s Note at the end of each book, which further explains the common behavioral and emotional stages of childhood.

Alberto Pellai, MD, PhD, is a child psychotherapist and a researcher at the Department of Bio-medical Sciences of the University of Milan. In 2004 the Ministry of Health awarded him the silver medal of merit for public health. He is the author of numerous books for parents, teachers, teenagers, and children. He lives in Italy. Visit him at albertopellailibri.it and on Instagram @alberto_pellai.

Barbara Tamborini, is a psycho-pedagogist and writer. She leads workshops in schools for teachers and parents. She is the author with Alberto Pellai of several books aimed at parents. She lives in Somma, Italy. Visit her on Facebook @Barbara Tamborini.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copies provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Black Brother, Black Brother

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little Brown and Company, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages:

Themes: Fencing, African Americans, Brothers, Racism, Preparatory schools, Family life, Friendship

Opening: I wish I were invisible. Wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak or Frodo Baggins’s Elvish ring. Whether shrouded in fabric or slipping on gold, it wouldn’t matter to me. I’d be gone. Disappeared.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“Framed. Bullied. Disliked. But I know I can still be the best.”

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school, arrested and taken to jail for something he didn’t do. Just because he is black.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.

As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

Why I like this book:

Jewell Park Rhodes’s Black Brother, Black Brother is a timely, intelligent and well-executed novel for children and adults. Rhodes masterfully captures the pain of racial injustice for a 12-year-old black boy attending an all-white prep school outside of Boston. It is also a story about hope, believing in yourself, and choosing a higher path.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. The bond between brothers Donte and Trey is strong. Donte’s skin is like their African-American mother, and Trey’s is like their Norwegian father. Trey is a star athlete at school; Donte is not.  But what really stands out is the love and support they share as brothers. Their bond is unbreakable. And their parents are right there with them. Then there is a privileged  Middlefield Prep student, Alan, who punishes Donte for being darker than his brother. Alan is filled with so much hate and taunts Donte by calling him “Black Brother.”

Black Brother, Black Brother is also an engaging sports story. Readers will find fencing fascinating, as it requires skill, focus, honor, respect, patience and intuition.  Learning the sport from Arden Jones, an African-American national fencing champion, helps Donte find his voice and embrace who he is. For me, Donte’s relationship with “Coach” is the best part of the story. And it becomes clear that both coach and student need each other. They practice at the Boston Boys and Girls Club along with black twins, Zion and Zarra. Trey joins their small team in support his brother and learn the sport.

This is a compelling book to use to jump start the discussion about racism, privilege, and bias in our country — especially at school. Readers will be able to gain insight into the everyday experiences of their friends of color. It will help them develop empathy for others and hopefully encourage them to stand up for fairness and respect when they observe injustice at school and in their communities. If you are reading this book, it means you can make a difference! I hope this book becomes required reading in middle schools because it offers an opportunity for important dialogue among students.

*This book hit home for me, because we adopted a 13-year-old son from India in the 1985. He was darker than many black people and had shiny black hair. Everyday he dealt with questions like, “What are you?” Fortunately some white neighbor boys his age befriended him and had his back with school bullies. They remain his best friends today. As a successful adult, he still deals with racial profiling.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, winner of a Coretta Scott King Honor, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the New York Times bestselling Ghost Boys, as well as Bayou Magic and Towers Falling.  She has also written many award-winning novels for adults. When she’s not writing, Jewell visits schools to talk about her books and teaches writing at Arizona State University.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library book.

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer

The Story That Cannot Be Told

J. Kasper Kramer, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Reader, Fiction, Oct. 8, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Romania, History, Revolution, Folktales, Family life, Writers, Courage

Opening: “Once upon a time, something happened. If it had not happened, it would not be told.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country, tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published — right before he went missing.

Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.

Why I like this book:

J. Kasper Kramer’s The Story That Cannot Be Told is gripping and haunting, powerful and hopeful. The tempting title and perfect opening line beckon readers to enter Illeana’s world. Once they begin, they won’t be able to put this novel down.

It is set in Romania in the 1980s, when communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, terrorized his country to control them. His secret police, the Securitate, enlisted ordinary people and kids to spy on their neighbors, friends and family. There is greed, death, starvation and brutality under his regime.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. Illenia is smart and courageous. Like her missing Uncle Andrei, Illenia is a writer and storyteller. She’s named after a character, Cunning Ileana, in a Romanian folktale that her father tells her at bedtime. This tale is woven throughout the novel. Illenia has written a collection of stories, poems, and folktales, that she’s compiled in her Great Tome. Most of them are harmless, but a few stories reveal truths that could get her family in serious trouble. Her father becomes fearful for his daughter’s safety, burns her tome and sends her to her grandparent’s farm village high in the mountains. Life there is backwards and operates at a slower pace. She dislikes her new environment at first. Illenia makes a new friend, Gabi, and learns that the village may soon be overtaken by the Romanian Army. She and Gabi make a plan to save the townspeople’s property.

Kramer’s original debut novel is a collection of folklores, memories, research, and fairy tales, that she beautifully weaves together into this unforgettable story that is part fact and part fiction. It is a story that will remain with you because of the profoundly human characters, thrilling and dangerous plot and the worthwhile ending. It is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use in the classroom, because it’s a part of history many students aren’t likely to know. It is very relevant today.

Resource: Make sure you read the Prologue at the beginning and the Author’s Note at the end. Visit Kramer at his website.

J. Kasper Kramer is an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has a master’s degree in creative writing and once upon a time lived in Japan, where she taught at an international school. When she’s not curled up with a book, she loves researching lost fairy tales, playing video games. and fostering kittens.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Kindred Souls

Kindred Souls9780060522995_p0_v2_s260x420Kindred Souls

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for ages: 6-10

Themes: Aging Grandfathers, Sod houses, Prairies, Family Life, , Dogs, Loss

Book Synopsis: Jake’s grandfather, Billy, hears the talk of birds, is eighty-eight years old, and is going to live forever. Even when Billy gets sick, Jake knows that everything will go on as always. But there’s one thing Billy wants: to rebuild the sod house where he grew up. Can Jake give him this one special thing? 

What I like about this book: Patricia MacLachlan’s book is a heartwarming story about a bond between a boy and his grandfather (kindred souls), their shared love of nature, and what Jake does to fulfill his grandfather’s wish.  The story is set on the family’s prairie farm. The story has a lovely rhythm about it. The plot is paced well for young readers with short chapters and an air of adventure in building the sod house, from research to recruiting the entire family to help after Billy becomes ill. Even the sudden appearance of Lucy, the stray “angel dog,” who never leaves Billy’s side, adds to the love and grace that permeates this story about family and letting go. This is a beautiful story.

Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. I also reviewed Fly Away and The Truth of Me,  both middle grade novels about complicated family relationships.

 

Fly Away

Fly Away9781442460089_p0_v3_s260x420Fly Away

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, April 2014

Suitable for ages: 7 -10

Themes: Family Life, Brothers and sisters, Floods, Farms, Poets, Music

Book Jacket: “Family means — offering help when it’s not asked for, accepting help when you think you don’t need it, sharing joys, keeping secrets, and singing your song. Unless you’re Lucy and you can’t carry a tune. Lucy thinks she has no voice. But family means — even if you’re sure you can’t sing, you’ll be heard.”

Synopsis: Lucy and her family (and Mama’s chickens) pack into an old Volkswagen bus and travel across Minnesota to spend the summer with her Aunt Frankie in North Dakota. They time their annual visit to help Aunt Frankie plan for the flooding of the Red River.  When they reach the Red River, it is high and flowing fast.  Lucy’s mother, Maggie, remembers the dangers from her childhood.

Lucy has a secret. Everyone in her family sings, but she can’t. Her father, Boots, loves opera, her mother likes Langhorne Slim and her younger sister, Gracie, sings in a high perfect voice. When Lucy opens her mouth nothing comes out. Even her little brother Teddy, who can’t talk, can sing. He sneaks into her bedroom at night and coaxes Lucy to sing with him. His sweet “la la la’s” are pitch perfect and no one knows but Lucy. As the flood waters recede and the house is safe, another crisis occurs when Teddy turns up missing. Will Lucy find her voice and save him in a way no one else can?

Why I like this book: With the heavy rains and major flooding we are experiencing across the country, Patricia MacLachlan chooses the perfect time to release a new book for children about this phenomenon of nature. It is a story that touches the readers emotions. I love the quirky nature of Lucy’s family, the secrets, the fears, the joys and the strong family bonds that keep the family afloat during a dangerous flood.  Fly Away is poetic and written simply for young readers wanting to read longer chapter books. The plot is engaging, well-paced and full of adventure. This is a great summer read and is 107 pages.

Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT.  I also reviewed The Truth of Me, another middle grade novel about complicated family relationships.