Category Archives: YA FICTION

Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit

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Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit

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I have read a fair amount of fictionalized accounts of the war in Syria, the journey of refugees, and their resettling in various countries, but this was the first graphic novel on the subject that I have seen, and I was excited to wait my turn behind my kids to read it.  My 7th and 4th graders read it in about 20 minutes and said they really liked it, knowing that it was a quick read, I wanted to take it in slowly and examine each picture to grasp the full message that the author, a Lebanese journalist, was conveying.  Definitely meant, for ages 5th grade and up because of the content, I appreciated the book more than I loved it.  It seemed rather choppy and the fictionalized parts come across just as a front to convey facts.  The book definitely is a great introduction to the conflict, and the format will appeal to a broad range of individuals.  

SYNOPSIS:

Told from the voice of Amina, a bright young girl who rushes home to show off her latest A grade paper to her family, is met instead by a bomb striking the beautiful peaceful neighborhood.  The images on the first page are destroyed as her younger brother Youssef must be located in the rubble and debris.  Now in Canada, Amina tells the story of their journey from Aleppo.  The bouncing around of time, provides some context to how life became under the rule of Bashar al-Assad, how checkpoints and emergency rule changed everything about Amina’s life.  As war creeps in it isn’t just inconveniences and fear, but also death, as further shown through Amina’s uncle who has joined the rebel army.  The family decides they need to flee to Lebanon and truly believe it will be just for a little while. 

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They rent an apartment for a year, but when they cannot afford rent they relocate to a refugee camp, where they stay for two years.  Amina’s father is determined that Amina stays in school but as work remains scarce and Youssef’s health continues to deteriorate.  Amina is forced to take a break from school to try and find work.  Eventually her father arranges to go by raft to Europe to try and start a new life and bring his family there once he is settled.  The terms of the loan to pay the smugglers is steep and when the raft doesn’t make it too far before tossing its passengers, Amina’s father Walid is forced to return to Lebanon unsuccessful. 

It isn’t until Amina’s family considers, like many other families in the camp, to get her married to keep her safe.  That Amina upon picking up some aid at a UN reception center, spills everything to a worker there, and a week later the UNHCR contacts the family to help move them to Canada.  The readers at this point I would assume are relieved the family will be safe, and are surprised when the family isn’t sure if they want to leave.  Syria is there home, and before the mom will agree to anything, she wants to go back to Syria to see her newborn niece.  Once in Syria, she sees that her home is no more as she remembered it, and agrees to be resettled anywhere.  Through the same flashbacks and flash-forwards in time, we also see that life in Canada is not easy.  The family is welcomed and helped and grateful, but it isn’t yet home, and the ghosts of Syria are still present.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I kind of like how choppy it is upon further reflection.  At first it annoyed me, but as I thought about it more and more, I have decided I like that it isn’t easy and smooth and fleshed out, the tone of the unknown comes through by not over narrating the emotions and circumstances.  I also like that everything that happens to Amina and her family is anchored in reality and the footnotes, references, and facts are all in the Endnotes.  Having said that, I wish their was a little more character development, it reads like a bunch of facts strung together and connected by this fictional family.  There isn’t anything wrong with it, but a little more warmth for the characters would have added a beautiful level and would not have been hard to come by at all.  There are so many stories from this conflict out there, and the reason they resonate with so many isn’t from all the facts and numbers, but often from the individuals that make the numbers real and haunting.  I felt like this book fell short on the human element unfortunately.  The only character I really felt had some heart, was the dad, he was awesome, and his love for his family and determination for his daughter’s education was definitely felt.

The book does drop some acronyms and political alliances to add context but not overwhelm the reader.  It definitely hints that there are a lot of groups vying for power, and control: Assad, Russia, ISIS, US, rebels.

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I love that the flashbacks to pre-war Syria are so relatable.  Kids need to really understand that we are all so much more alike than different.  Not just in our hopes and dreams, but even in our daily lives.  The characters in the book are the same as us, their lives look great,  maybe even better.  They have friends, and families and jobs, and cell phones, they also unfortunately, have war.

There were a few surprises for me, for example that buses between Lebanon and ISIS held Syria took/take people back and forth.  Similarly,  I was surprised to see that the punishment of smuggling cigarettes was being beheaded, but maybe more surprised that the book included it.

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It is reassuring for readers to know that the family survives, but the harrowing journey of seeing body bags, cutting costs to survive, risking it all to trust smugglers with fake life jackets, paint pictures of a journey that will stay with the reader.  The book doesn’t talk down to anyone, if something seems too simplistic, it almost encourages the reader to go research more about it.  

There isn’t any mention of Islam or religion, the females wear hijab, that is the only indication along with their names that they are a Muslim family.

FLAGS:

The violence, is pretty haunting and while the images and text aren’t graphic, the splatter of blood and guns and death are very present.  There is also mention of cigarettes.  While not explicit and possibly over the heads of some readers, the book does show that the loan sharks would be willing to take Amina, “Something nice and sweet…like you,” to help pay off the family’s debts.  A former classmate of Amina also invites the family to her wedding.  At 13 Amina’s family is also considering getting her married as a way to help keep her safe.  

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be better in Social Studies class more than in a Language Arts one. It would be a great supplement to share even, when discussing current events.  Its a quick read, a factual account and a powerful one at that.  

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AsZZwxM7YyQ

Publisher’s Synopsis: https://www.fireflybooks.com/index.php/catalogue/product/11566-escape-from-syria

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Power Forward: Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream by Hena Khan illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

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Power Forward: Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream by Hena Khan illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

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I enjoy Hena Khan’s books, I love basketball, and I love that this three book series is written for 3rd-5th graders.  I didn’t love the cover, however, which I attribute to the reason I waited so long to start reading the book, I know, lame.  But luckily the books were in the public library and I had a few hours on my hands and was able to consume the first two books, and look into ways to get the third one ASAP!  Written on an AR 3.8 level the 126 pages fly by, the second book On Point is 130 pages and an AR 4.0, and the third book in the series, Bounce Back comes out in October.

SYNOPSIS:

Zayd Saleem is in 4th grade and is desperately trying to move from the D squad basketball team to the Gold team with his best friend Adam.  The only problem is he is a pretty scrawny kid, and he has committed a lot of his day to practicing violin.  His desperation forces him to be less than honest and the consequences that follow may strip him of the chance to even try out for the team at all.  The basketball story is intertwined with a rich cultural Pakistani-American backdrop and familial characters that are relatable and fairly fleshed out.  Zayd’s mamoo, maternal uncle, has agreed to meet someone to consider marriage, which brings out some humor as the whole family, including grandma and grandpa, have big roles to play.  Zayd also has to figure out why he gets such stomach aches as he makes regular notes in his food diary, and has to balance the universal themes of friends, school, and homework, as well.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The font and spacing is wonderful for the target demographic, sprinkle in the illustrations and the book is not intimidating in length or size.  The book is very real and relatable, kids of all backgrounds will relate to the basketball storyline and the video games and players mentioned.  I loved the cultural environment.  My kids absolutely loved the mentioning of the Pakistani food that they eat, and customs they participate in, and dynamics they know all too well.  I don’t know that a non Desi (someone from the Indian subcontinent) will get it, love it, and not be turned off by it.  The books are published through Salaam Reads and I would imagine the author and publisher know what they are doing, and the library has numerous copies, so clearly, I’m over thinking it, but I really want to get feedback on the cultural aspect, because it is done really well and I think it would show promise for future books.  

I love that the book is about a boy and basketball, but it isn’t limited to being a boy book or a sports book.  The story moves seamlessly through all facets of the characters life that makes it pretty memorable for what could have just been a sports story with a moral.  The “life lessons” are clear and obvious, but not overly elevated.  The little mistakes that Zayd makes are a part of his life, as are the consequences, but his family helps him through them, and help him learn.

There isn’t anything preachy or blatant about Islam in the book, but the characters are Muslim and it mentions that the parents are heading to the mosque at one point to help with a fundraiser.  

FLAGS:

There is lying, but that is kind of the lesson being worked through.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I recently agreed to help a teacher with her “Lunch Bunch.”  Once a week students can opt to eat lunch in the library and have a book read to them.  They must commit for the duration of the book and I think for a 4th and 5th grade group this book would be a lot of fun.  It would probably only take two sessions to read and with the diverse class I can see if they get the cultural stuff or if it just bogs down the story to them.

Author’s website: https://www.henakhan.com/power-forward/

 

Love by Matt de la Pena illustrated by Loren Long

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Love by Matt de la Pena illustrated by Loren Long

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This 40-page-book may have a simple title, but most of us know, there is nothing simple about love, and this book shows love in many forms from a child’s perspective as they grow.  Sometimes picture books are basic and inspired to teach, or simply entertain.  Sometimes when picture books try to do more, the audience is confused when the pictures and amount of text on page don’t seem to align.  And sometimes, large pictures, with thoughtful poetry make the pages come to life and sing.  The book is written on an AR 3.7, so people thinking this book is for preschool aged children seem to be upset by the concepts hinted at and illustrated, but for older kids, this book has amazing power, and beauty that can show just how complex this universal feeling is.  

Love is your parent’s voice, love is burnt toast, love is the stars after your house burns down, love is in your grandpa’s wrinkles, love is staring back at you in the bathroom mirror.  But sometimes love also burns out and love is shielding you from things that might hurt you, and love separates people too. 

 

As humans, we can all relate to the same emotions, whether we give and receive love the same, the book shows the value and meaning it has to us all.  Hurray for illustrator Loren Long, because page after page, shows diversity of color, mobility, socio economics, age, and religion.  On a page where the love of the child is keeping her from seeing the TV that the family is crowded around a cross is present, and then a few pages later,bam, there is a girl in hijab looking up at the trees and listening to the love shared in their rustling. 

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I had no idea this illustration was present, and gasped aloud.  I said nothing to my daughter, finished the book, and handed it to her to read.  She turned the page and gasped aloud as well saying, “there’s a muhajaba, haha, we are in it too.”  Granted she is my daughter, so environment and genes account for something, but EVERY PAGE I think resonates with someone, and that gasp in my living room from me, from her, could come from anyone who turns a page in this book and bam suddenly feels represented, feels included, feels validated.  That my friends, is LOVE. 

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We are more alike than different.

 

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

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Mirage by Somaiya Daud

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I don’t read a lot of sci-fi books, ok so maybe I haven’t really ever read one…or maybe a few have snuck through and then been forgotten.  So, I was excited to read this book by a Muslim author with Arabic poetry and Moroccan inspired backdrop sprinkled in, if nothing else it had me intrigued.  The book is a 308 page YA book that came out two months ago and was available in both hardback and on audio at my public library.  I was thinking to listen to the audio version with my kids, but the book was ready first, and the reviews on the back cover by other authors, all mentioned that the book was “romantic” and “sexy,” huh? The synopsis online and even on the inside flap, hinted much more at rebellions and body doubles, and life on a small moon in a distant fictional galaxy.  Needless to say I didn’t check out the audio book and decided I should proof it for my self first.  I started the book, no less than five times.  Like I said, it isn’t a familiar genre and I was a little confused.  I decided to just keep plugging through the fifth time, and sure enough when my eyes started to get sleepy I realized I was more than half way done with the book.  I guess when you are building worlds and culture you have to start somewhere and the confusion worked itself out after that.  I’d say the book is for teens.  The romance isn’t explicit, save some kissing, but a lot is implied and better for kids a little older than middle school.

SYNOPSIS:

Amani is turning 18 and about to attend her majority ceremony, where her cultural daan, facial tattoos will be marked on her face.  Surrounded by her loving family of parents and two older brothers, and close friends, drones from the main planet attack the festivities and kidnap Amani to the palace that the Vathek empire has taken over after conquering the planet and two moons.  The storyline is pretty straightforward, the confusion for me was the world building of establishing the culture, the religion, the symbols and characters all intertwined at the start.  The understanding of what life was like before the occupation and now under Vath rule, about the tribes, the birds, and how so much has changed.  

Once Amani is enslaved in the palace and had her near identical features to the princess, surgically made to match the ruthless half Vathek, half Andalaan ruler, the setting is developed through stories and flashbacks that clear up the confusion and make the book a fast and fairly easy read.  As the princess’ body double Amani must learn to act and carry herself as Princess Maram so as to not be discovered when sent in to complete tasks that would put the real princess in danger.  The job of Amani, however, also develops in to her filling in for Maram, whenever the spoiled princess, doesn’t want to do things.  In the process of these engagements, Amani spends a lot of time with Maram’s fiance, Idris, who is Kushaila and as part of the war truce betrothed to Maram.  Maram and Idris are friends, who understand their roles, but when Idris figures out Amani is playing a role as well, the two of them fall in love, complicating matters considerably.  Throw in some Andalaan cousins, forced to the outskirts under the new rulers, a royal half-sister vying for the crown, and a rebel who looks like a beloved Prophetess recruiting Amani to join them as a spy, and you have a protagonist trying to stay alive while following her conscious as well.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that the world created seems plausible and real.  I love that I was engaged and intrigued and able to finish the book (yay!), but ultimately the book reads more like a romance book, than a sci-fi one.  Aside from the planet, droids, holograms, and modes of transport, it could be any culture and religion even here on Earth being fleshed out and established as the back drop for the story.  I love that Amani holds to her culture and the love she feels for her people, their language, poetry, and their history is palpable and descriptive. 

I love that society is focused so much on the strength of women.  Yes Maram’s dad is the evil overlord, but she is the future.  Amani is the protagonist, it is her mom’s strength that she calls on so often in her trials and torture.  The Prophetess that delivers hope is a female, that the poetry comes from women, and is gifted by women.  I love that the leaders of the rebellion are women, that the cousin that has not given up on the true bloodline of rulers is female and that the Dowager is such a strong, yet loving beacon that deserves the truth about Amani’s identity.  At one point, when presenting herself as Maram to Idris’s aunt, the two have a conversation:

“You must eat more,” she says in heavily accented Vathekaar.  “If you are to be any good at bearing daughters.”

“Why daughters?”

“Only your daughters will have the stomach for the future,”  she said.  “It is why your mother had you.”

 

I don’t really like the love story between Amani and Idris, it seems too easy, even though obviously it is plagued with impossibility, there should have been more tension.  Maybe it isn’t even the relationship, but more that Idris isn’t nearly as developed as Amani and Maram, and it shows.  I’m hoping there will be more books in the series and that he will be given some depth, because a lot is told about him, but the authenticity seems lacking.  The disjointedness of the romance could also be the pacing of the book.  I felt like somethings dragged and climaxes seemed rushed. Again, I’m hoping this is more setting the stage for further adventures, and that the next book will delve more in to the political-warring-rebel story line that the author definitely can delve in to and capitalize on along with Amani and Maram’s relationship.

Maram is my favorite character, how delicious that the antagonist is not one, or even two dimensional.  She is cruel, and scared, and vulnerable and everything in between.  I loved the interactions between the two young women.  I wanted to know more from Maram, how she felt about, well, everything, and I’m really hoping holding back on those insights was intentional for a purpose.  While she evokes both hatred and pity from Amani, she evokes so much curiosity and exasperation from the reader it is refreshing.

There is nothing Islamic in the book, the characters have their own fictionalized religion, and religious texts.  The names are familiar to the Muslim world, and arabic words sprinkled in with no definition, definitely will make Arabic aware children feel a connection to the characters and setting of the book.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think one could do this as a book club book for high school aged students.  And while I dislike labeling books for one gender or another and all the stereotypical tropes that that implies, I feel like because of all the romance and the amount of time spent on Amani and Idris the book might appeal more to girls.  The book spends a lot of time on these two as it is their talking that creates understanding of their world for the reader.  It is more telling than showing, and these two snuggled up or caressing each others faces is the manner in which the information seems to be expressed.  I’m holding out hope that the rest of the series will break away from this set up.

author’s website:  http://www.somaiyabooks.com/

article with excerpts: https://ew.com/books/2018/02/19/mirage-somaiya-daud-preview/

FLAGS:

There is kissing and affection.  There is also some violences broadly as the Andalaan’s are tortured and attacked and specifically, as Amani has a bird sent to attack her, and she is regularly hit and beaten. Nothing too extreme for high schoolers.

 

 

Digging Deep by Jake Maddox text by Wendy L. Brandes illustrated by Katie Wood

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Digging Deep by Jake Maddox text by Wendy L. Brandes illustrated by Katie Wood

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It is great to see a beautiful hijabi on the front of a sports book, written by a non Muslim, published by a major publisher, and having the story have nothing to do with the cloth on her head, but rather the skills on the court.  Teaching lessons about teamwork and self-worth, there is a whole series of these books about different sports with different main characters, and this one focuses on volleyball and a girl named Asiyah Najjar.  I’d maybe recommend this 63 page book to kids starting to feel confident with early chapter books, but more on that later.

SYNOPSIS:

Asiyah plays rec volleyball and enjoys it, but when her friend Lucy convinces her to try out for the traveling team, she has to not just be good enough to make the team, but focused enough to not let her teammates down.  With daily practices, comedian Asiyah feels like everyone is taking the new team way too serious and she questions if she wants to continue.  She loves playing the piano and with school work, her time is being consumed by volleyball.  When she overhears her friends doubting her commitment to the team, she, with the support of her brother, decides to dig deep and give it one last, serious, try.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Asiyah mentions in the first chapter that she is nervous about the traveling team, because of her hijab and that people in town know “what it is, and why I wear it,” she says.  She never mentions that she is Muslim or why she wears it, just states that the people around her know. Religion and faith are never brought up again.

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There are some slightly off things in this book for me.  According to the publisher, the book is meant to appeal to 8-11 year olds,  but to me, the style of the book is aimed for 6-8 year olds.  Those who need pictures and a large font and big spaces between lines and short chapters.  The illustrations, however, in the book make the main character and her friends seem like high school students, with their heavily makeup looking faces, or at least middle school with the main character wearing hijab.  After reading the book, twice, I still don’t know how old the main characters are.  They seem pretty independent, but then when Asiyah’s parents have to run some errands, her brother Rad walks her and Lucy to volleyball practice, like an escort.  

That’s another thing, of all the ethnic or religious names that could have been chosen, Rad seems like an odd choice in that it will come across as funny to readers and kind of mitigate the amazingness of having a socially accepted female Muslim athlete on the cover, again, just my opinion.

Another slightly confusing thing for me is that the book is a “Jake Maddox book,” but he isn’t really the author.  After looking in to it, I think it is more like a series or type of sports book that other’s write for and include his standards, “each of his stories is stamped with teamwork, fair play, and a strong sense of self-worth and discipline (http://www.capstonepub.com/consumer/products/digging-deep/).” The book is ok for 2nd graders, the lessons learned will resonate in the moment and teach a point, but the characters will be quickly forgotten.  The book has questions at the end and a glossary of volleyball terms which would be great for kids interested in volleyball.  

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FLAGS:

Clean, the characters listen to music and Asiyah plays the piano.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this for a book club book, but with the standards of sportsmanship and the integrity I’d probably have it in my classroom.  The book is a super short read, so reading it would help boost struggling reader’s confidence, and with so many books in the series, if the child likes sports, they will have lots of options with positive messages to engage with.

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Freeze-Land: A New Begininng

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Let me start off by saying that the fact alone that this book (and series) was written by a 9 year old is amazing.  As a former 4th grade teacher, if I saw this type of writing come across my desk, I would have probably pushed her to keep writing and publish one day too.  But, for all the support and love I wanted to give the book and the author, I really didn’t like the story.  So much so, that even with the second book, Good or Evil, in my hands, I couldn’t justify spending less than an hour to read the 124 pages, which is heartbreaking to say, but honest, none-the-less. 

The series is published by Archway Publishing which is a self publishing company through Simon and Schuster, so I have no idea if they have editors, or what the publishing process was for this book.  But, while you might forgive a few plot holes, and story gaps because of the author’s age, there are sentences that simply don’t make sense, words that are missing, and passages, that seem to be arbitrarily made-up on the spot.  So often the book reads like a child telling a bed time story and realizing they hadn’t explained something earlier and have to wiggle out of a tight spot, “and then, and then” become mechanisms to move the story along, when no other logical connection can suffice.

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At 93 pages the books is written for 2nd – 4th graders, and while they might inspire others to write, I don’t know that they will get enough out of the story to read the four book series.  The covers depict a girl that looks like Disney’s Belle and the title might excite fans of Disney’s Frozen.  I would like to think the writing improves as the author develops and grows, and I’m fairly confident that I’ll check out one of her future books, however, I think I’ll sit the rest of this series out.

SYNOPSIS:

Fourth grader Samantha Ringle loves snow, and can’t wait for the next storm to arrive on Christmas day.  After opening presents and celebrating the holiday, she meets Rebecca, a snow flake fairy from Freeze-land.  Six children have gone missing in Samantha’s area, six children that were chosen by Santa and infused with his saliva.  The children have gone to a distant planet to try and save it from the evil Lord Ninstagger, and return it to the snowy wonderland the Freezians once knew.  

Lord Ninstragger has a wand and a creates rhyming spells to make it work, he also has some other weapon an any-weapon-a-tor that I never really understood, and he can only be defeated if a word is said, but the word will also kill all the inhabitants of the planet.  To save the planet and free the other six children that have gone missing, she must defeat Ninstragger and his ninsting minions or Earth too will be destroyed.

Needless to say, she succeeds by having the good little cloud fairies cover their ears so she can say the word that will destroy the evil.  She then has to get all six of her friends and her annoying brother who got caught in the wind that brought her to Freeze-land, home.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that this author can articulate a creative imaginative story in her head and that her family supported her endeavors and got the book published.  I love that the author is Muslim and feels confident writing and sharing her words with the world.  Outside of that, I’m not sure the story would have the same appeal if it was written by a 19 year old, or anyone older than a teenager. 

There are huge plot holes.  The book says that all the children are taken to the dungeon, but when Ninstragger is defeated it says that only Jake is in the dungeon, the rest are in jail.  When freed all six show up instantly but the walk to the exact same place to free Jake is long and arduous and the climbing over the mountain is unbearable.  Samantha seems to be surprised that Jake is there, but early had overheard a ninsting talking about Jake by name, to Ninstragger.  Samantha doesn’t recognize the freed children or them her, even though some were her friends and they have been gone a year or less.  Some things also don’t seem to make sense, such as how are their rain cloud fairies in a frozen wonderland? Why does the word kill the inhabitants, what does it mean, how did they learn it? Why are their ghosts that come out of the letters and give the wrong advice? How did Rebecca get all six to Freeze-land, but claim she hadn’t thought how to get Samantha there?  Really the story is all over the place, and I could go on for many many paragraphs, but I think you get the point.  

There is nothing Islamic about the book, and I understand that there doesn’t need to be, but I don’t understand why all the Christmas and Santa stuff is needed.  I understand that the author may have used winter to set the stage for the story, but it seemed awkward to me that Santa randomly died going down a chimney into a lit fire, but yet sensed his time was coming and made a ton of arrangements for a future he would not have known would occur.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would not use this book as a book club selection, but if a child read it, I’d like to know there thoughts.  To see if the wholes and inconsistencies are noticed by the target reader.  My 11-year-old daughter struggled to make sense of the book, and while I tried so hard to force her to read the second one, after I read the first one I realized her hesitance and apologized.

Authors website: https://www.ayazsisters.com/

FLAGS:

The girl lies a lot and acknowledges that she lied to save Freeze-land, but then says that the book is completely true and not a lie.  Obviously there is Christmas and Santa mentioned and celebrated as well.

The word “stupid” is used a lot, and when Samantha and Jake are interacting they are pretty rude to one another.  While at the end, Samantha gains confidence and stands up a bit to a class bully, there is no reconciliation of her and her brother’s relationship.  She shows no concern other than consenting to take him back to Earth, and doesn’t seem to have been worried or relieved to see him in any of the situations presented.

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The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Amazon & The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Mars by Hena Khan and David Borgenicht

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The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Amazon & The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Mars by Hena Khan and David Borgenicht

There is nothing Islamic or religious, with either of these books, but I wanted to review them, as the author Hena Khan, who has brought such lovely picture books to our book shelves (Night of the Moon, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets), inspiring elementary books to the mainstream (Amina’s Voice, On Point, Power Forward), and who showed Curious George what Ramadan is all about, is Muslim.  She has done a tremendous job of blending culture and religion with everyday life making her stories relatable and found on bookshelves across America.  She also has written books that are just good books void of any religion and culture, that hopefully they remind our youth that you can write books about anything, appeal to everyone, and be successful as well.

Both books are like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that I remember from the 1980s except these are much better written, and I think I might have learned facts about Mars, space travel, and the Amazon from them, without even realizing it.  Aimed at 3rd to 5th graders, these two books were checked out from the library and read countless times by my kids and myself alike.  They are entertaining and not easy to predict.  It is worth noting that while I did make it the entire length of the Amazon, after four tries I gave up trying to survive the journey to Mars and back.

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SYNOPSIS:

In both books the cast of teammates is given at the beginning and shows a good diversity of men and women from all over the world with a variety of skills and backgrounds to be on the expedition.  The books then give the set up of where you are going, and how you got chosen.  You then are advised to flip to the back of the book to look through the files and notes that will give you knowledge about what you will encounter.  These pages are in full color and are in diary, note style.  The adventure then begins and you make choices that lead you down different paths to success, or demise, it is up to you to decide how to survive.  

WHY I LIKE THEM:

I love that you learn while making decisions and attempting to make the story continue.  The books are fun and most of the choices aren’t obvious, naturally a few are, but they are well done.  There are comic book style pictures sprinkled throughout and regular black and white illustrations on many of the pages.  I particularly liked that the kids read them more than once and learned a bit about space travel, mars, what would be needed to set up a colony, the Amazon, various animals, and survival skills in the rain forest.

FLAGS:

You might get burned up, or bitten by a snake, but nothing too graphic, as you are the reader and obviously know it isn’t real.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

These books wouldn’t work as book club selections, but I think 3rd and 4th grade classrooms and school libraries would benefit from having these fun books on hand.  Struggling readers will enjoy the fast pace and the number of pages (about 200 each), irregardless of if they are read or not, and advanced readers will enjoy trying again and again to reach the successful end.