Tag Archives: Moving

Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Miracle

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Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Miracle

bunchesA book about 5th grade friendships told from the perspective of four different girls in a variety of styles: instant messages, chatroom conversations, video scripts, and traditional text.  The author seems to have a checklist of diverse characters and afflictions that all must make an appearance in the 335 page story.  It is written on an AR 4.4, but with one of the main characters having two moms, details of a suicide mentioned, talk of pole dancing, male anatomy joked about, thongs, crushes, and mental illness, four girls coming together to form friendships and take down a bully, might raise more questions for young readers than they are ready to handle.  Yasaman the Muslim girl in the group, also borders on perpetuating more stereotypes than she breaks, and while I definitely don’t think this book is a good fit for 4th and 5th graders, I don’t really recommend it for readers of any age, there are just better books out there.

SYNOPSIS:

Asian American Katie-Rose doesn’t have friends, unless you count her neighbor Max, but she doesn’t.  She dreams of having blond haired Camilla as a best friend, but the Camilla she went to Pioneer camp with is not the Milla at school who hangs out with Modessa (aka Medussa) and Quin, and is popular.  Katie-Rose also dreams about being a cinematographer or director, she isn’t sure yet, but she loves to imagine scenes and scripts and how things ideally should play out, even when in reality they never quite seem to do so.

Milla, isn’t sure if she wants to stay friends with Modessa and Quin, they aren’t nice and she has a lot more fun with Katie-Rose, but somehow she always ends up going back to the popular crowd.  She also has a lot of anxiety and needs various totems with her at all time to feel secure.  When her little plastic turtle goes missing, she struggles to stay composed, and her and her turtle will end up changing a lot at Rivendell Elementary.

Violet, is the new girl at school and she is not liking her life at home or at school.  Her mom is in a mental hospital and she misses her desperately, her dad brings home fast food every night for dinner and life just isn’t the same since she moved to California.  Immediately able to tell who the popular kids are at school, she hasn’t decided which group of friends is the best fit for her, but when she stumbles on Tally the turtle, and doesn’t immediately return it to Milla, she has to understand what that says about her, and figure out if she is strong enough to make things right.

Yasaman is the quiet computer wiz, she is also Turkish-American, Muslim, and a hijabi.  She designs a platform where kids who are too young to join Facebook can chat, stream videos and send cupcakes.  The only problem is, she has no friends to get to join.  When Katie-Rose and her strike up a friendship, the first seeds of the four flower named girls are planted, but it will take all four of them to put Modessa in her place, rescue Tally, and deal with stereotypes, emotions, and family along the way.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that a Muslim, muhajaba is included in the quartet, and that her religion, her scarf, her culture, and her belief in Allah, actually are sprinkled in.  I don’t love how in the book’s efforts to include such diversity, that it also seems to fall for a lot of the stereotypes that it on the surface seems to be dispelling.  Katie-Rose asks her if she even knows what YouTube is before being made aware of how computer savvy she is.  All this is to subtly show the assumption that Muslims are not aware of technology and whatnot, and set the record straight, but also regularly thrown in are side comments from Yasaman that her father would never let her wear something, or she wouldn’t be allowed to do that because of her dad, definitely reinforcing a male dominated, authoritarian, out-of-touch patriarchal view.  Even her mother, an artist, is shown to demand a lot of Yasaman and be incredibly strict.  A lot of things aren’t spelled out, they are just dropped in and assumed that the reader get’s it.  But only Yasaman’s parents are portrayed this way.  Milla’s two mom’s are caring, Violet and her dad seem close, and Katie-Rose’s parents are rarely highlighted.  So, I felt like it was noticeable, and not in a positive way.

I’m still completely confused as why pole dancing and male anatomy made appearances in the book.  And the pole dancing reference appeared not once, but twice when Yasaman is talking to an older cousin who is talking about a friend who’s aunt is a pole dancer, and then later when Katie-Rose’s babysitter also mentions the same friend.  They also discuss people as being slutty and boy crazy and skanky.  The male anatomy isn’t spelled out it is hidden with a girl with major orthodontia reading a Wikapedia page on the greek satyrs, discussing their physical pleasures and talents.

There is also a lot of mental health issues that I’m glad are present, but I’m not sure if they are handled seriously enough.  I’m glad they are addressed, because awareness is a good thing, but discussing how someone swallowed pills to commit suicide and even though she changed her mind still died, and not giving any context seems to make the concept come across as a bit trivial to me in its presentation.  Same goes for Camilla’s anxiety and Violet’s mom being in a mental hospital.  These girls have some major stuff going on that their preoccupation with a snotty group of girls, and the obsession of mud being consumed in an ice cream shake, seems a bit off.

Overall, the girls seem incredible perceptive and articulate in their self reflection and understanding of social personas, that I found their banter completely disjointed.  I don’t think the author’s voice is consistent, and the heavy stuff is too much coming from 5th graders in my opinion.

FLAGS:

Stereotypes, and discrimination against Yasaman and her younger sister Nigar.  Possible triggers with talk of suicide.  Milla has two moms, it is never labeled or made an issue, she just refers to them as Mom Abigail and Mom Joyce. Talk of boy private parts and erections, crushes, pole dancing, words such as skanky, and slutty and dingleberry (poop hanging on) used.  There is lying and bullying and retaliation and poetic justice.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use this book for a book club or even have it in the classroom.  I think it gets a bit crass unnecessarily and the cute flowery cover and inside flap, makes it all the more surprising.  You might expect some potty humor in other books, but knowing it is there allows the reader to make a decision to read it or not, I would imagine most Muslim parents would see four diverse girls on the cover, one wearing hijab, get excited and hand the book to their 3rd or 4th or 5th grade daughter and have no idea what the book also includes in passing, with no relevance to the story lines highlighted on the inside flaps and back of the book.

Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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This 32 page, 9×12 story book, for ages five and up, focuses on character education and is meant to be a relatable story with clear lessons about how to behave and deal with situations in life.  The opening page bullets all the lessons readers should learn from the story and the end of the book offers directions to make a balloon craft.  

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I don’t mind books with lessons and morals so clearly delineated, and I like that the morals come from such an adorable character with a whole cast of supporters, and a number of books to her series.  

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My problem is more the story itself, for a lesson on how to make new friends, and dealing with the universal struggle of moving and feeling like ‘no one wants to play with me.”  The book spends nearly seven pages on Burcu making a surprise breakfast for her family before hearing the news that she is moving because the landlord says they should.

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They pack and move seemingly the same day, and then the point of the book gets going.  Burcu has to say goodbye to her friends and doesn’t feel like even going out at the new house to make new ones.

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Her brother, Alper, has no problem making new friends, and finally Burcu gives it a try.  Only a little girl attempts to get to know her and Burcu dismisses her because she is so young.  She tries to be included with the other children, but they don’t know her and aren’t willing to let her play.

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Burcu finally confides in her dad, that she can’t get anyone except the little girl to play with her.  Her dad encourages her to give the little girl a chance.  Burcu does and finds out they are the same age, she just looks really young, and then all the kids are friends and happy.

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The real hero to me is the little girl, Katherine, who didn’t give up on an ageist Burcu that didn’t want to play with her.  Seems odd that Burcu wanted a friend, and then was arrogant to complain about the one she got.  Plus, I would imagine kids who have moved and don’t have friends, would turn to a book like this for tips and hints, and ways to feel less alone.  The book offers none of that.  It doesn’t tell how finally Burcu makes friends, or gets included, other than it took time.  Which is great, but not exactly helpful if you are five and crying everyday because no one will play with you.

The writing is very dry.  I think it has been translated from Turkish, many of the sentences are passive voice, and the sentences choppy.  The book doesn’t have any glaring errors, it just seems like it would work as a story time, or as part of a lesson, and  maybe once as a bedtime story, but not a book that kids will clamor to hear over and over again.

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There is nothing Islamic in the story, but most of the major online Islamic bookshops carry the Burcu series, so I would imagine the authors, and publishers are Muslim.

Overall, the book sets off to teach a great lesson, but falls a bit short.  The illustrations are adorable and the large size and playful font are very well done, the diction, not so much.  The books are reasonably priced and if you see a title that works for a lesson, or theme you are discussing, I think you can make the books work.  If you are looking for a book to read over and over to your kids, you might, however, be disappointed.

 

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

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Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

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This 40 page book caught my attention because I have a son named Mustafa, and the illustrations looked endearing and fun.  The author/illustrator was inspired to write the story when she visited Croatia and saw the resilience of the children.  She also remarks on her website, that children in new places can all relate to the nuanced uneasiness and gradual fitting in process that takes place universally (http://marielouisegay.com/blog/).

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The text is prose-like as young Mustafa ventures from his apartment each day to the park nearby.  He notices things he has never seen before and compares them to the destruction he recalls of his homeland.  He also finds things that remind him of home and things that look familiar. From little ladybugs and a heart-shaped leaf, to the changing leaf colors and kids dressed up in costumes, there is so much to take in and understand.

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As the days go on, he begins to wonder if he is invisible.  Finally, a little girl with a cat makes a small beckoning gesture to him that doesn’t need language to be understood, and just like that, the world gets a little more welcoming.  This gentle story shows what being new can feel like, and reminds us that sometimes all it takes is a simple act of kindness to change so much.

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The book mentions that Mustafa came on a long journey, but does not specify where he has come from.  He draws his house being bombed in the dirt with a stick and mentions loud noises and fire.  The mother wears hijab, and obviously his name would identify them as Muslims, but other than that there is no reference or mention of religion.

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Overall, the book would be great for ages 4-8.  The passages are a little long, but with the illustrations and relatable concepts, I think children will reflect on what the author is trying to convey, and be able to process what Mustafa has been through, and how hard even the littlest things can be in a new place.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

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It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

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Islamaphobia is rampant in today’s America, but it isn’t the first time that a minority group has had to face extreme persecution.  Often us Muslims need to look around and be reminded: Blacks are still targeted, Japanese once were interned, Italians, Irish, Hispanics, really every minority group has, and continues to struggle to be accepted as part of American culture, unfortunately.  Today’s middle school students didn’t live through 9//11 and often they think they are the first to be ostracized for their faith or their parent’s countries of origin.  So I picked up this book to see how well the book would serve as a way to discuss prejudice and persecution with Muslim kids, in a way that they could relate to, but be removed enough from that hopefully they could offer their own insights and experiences.   This book takes place in the 1970s and the climax is the Iran hostage situation as the book is told from an 11-year-old Iranian girl’s perspective. 

Similarly, most Persian penned books that I’ve read fight against Islam and the way it was forced upon them by their government, so I also wanted to see how the author would paint the faith in her semi auto-biographical-middle-school tale.  Alhumdulillah, I was happily surprised how Islam was handled in this 378 page, AR 4.7, book, and I think, like the inscription reads, “To all the kids who don’t belong, for whatever reason.  This one’s for you.”

SYNOPSIS:

Zomorod has lived in America before.  She was born in Iran, moved to California, moved back to Iran, back to California, and now from Compton, California she is moving to the much wealthier Newport Beach and hoping to start middle school fitting in more with her new Brady Bunch inspired name, Cindy.  Establishing early that she is the translator for her mother, who doesn’t speak English and doesn’t want to learn, and that she is somewhat embarrassed by her parent’s thick accents, lack of American snacks, Iranian food, and conversation topics, the book will appeal to most middle schooler’s who can relate.  Her parents, however, are pretty chill about letting her go out with friends, and doing whatever she wants, so really its more about the age and being angsty and awkward, then it is about her parents and their lifestyle and culture.  The basic point of the book is a growing-up tale of making friends, finding real ones that care about you, finding the balance between family and the outside world, cultures that conflict, the past and the future, and ultimately finding acceptance and pride in who, and what you are.

The political climate in Iran and in America amplify what it is like when people hate your country, but can’t find it on the map, and manifest in the story with bullying at school, Zomorod’s father losing his job and not finding a new one, and some hateful acts occurring at the Yousefzadeh’s home. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book could be heavy and dark, but it’s not.  The voice of Zomorod really stays in the persona of an 11-year-old girl and is poignant, clever and light-hearted, I even laughed out loud a few times.   The 1970’s backdrop isn’t too alienating for today’s readers, as there aren’t a lot of cultural references that would turn them off.  The historical significance, is very likely one they will not have heard of before and the book, through Zomorod’s eyes, will shed light on Iran in the late 70s and early 80s without boring the target audience.  They might even learn something and remember it.  

The stereotypes about Iran are addressed, the concept of a single person having to represent every one of that minority group is felt first had through the main character, and many misconceptions about Iran are clarified.  Yet, the book doesn’t get preachy, it maintains its lightness, and while I read it in a few days, it was just as easy to put down as it was to pick up.  The characters felt real and developed for the most part, so even though it was a tale about life, it was compelling enough to stick around, and you are invested enough to care how the characters are doing. There are a lot of really great supporting characters in the book as well: neighbors, friends, teachers, friend’s families, and a few not so nice characters that surprisingly aren’t painted with a singular condemning evil stroke.  The author is very careful to reserve judgement of all her characters and the sub groups they represent.

Which brings me to how Islam is handled in this book.  Her family doesn’t practice, but her reference for Islam is shia, as evident by her mentioning 12 imams.  I took pictures of most of the pages where Islam is mentioned, less than 10 in all, but where it is mentioned it is handled very politically correct and powerfully.   She talks about how they don’t celebrate Christmas or most holidays as they aren’t Christian or really American, but when the pool key is lost she does pray to a Christian Saint after a suggestion that such an act will help it be found.  It isn’t really presented as a religious act, more of one done in desperation. Here are the most applicable and relevant passages regarding Islam.

  • Dr. Klein shakes his head in sympathy.  “Do your wife and Cindy have to wear those cover-ups if you go back?”  “Yes, and I cannot believe this.  When we lived in Iran, my wife, my sisters, all the women I knew wore western clothes.  No tennis clothes like you see here, but regular clothes.  Only religious women chose to wear hijab, it meant something.  Imagine if everybody in America had to wear a cross around their neck or a Star of David-what would those symbols mean? Nothing. If you have to wear it, it means nothing.  If you choose to wear it, it means something” (168).
  • “The Ayatollah is Muslim, right? So is, like Allah, his God?”  “Allah is the Arabic word for God,” I say.  “It’s the same God. (154).”
  • We don’t have Saints in Islam, just a Prophet with twelve imams, and they don’t preach to animals or help find lost items,  My family, like most Iranians, is Muslim, but we never do anything religious.  I’ve never even been in a mosque, which is like a church (40).
  • “Being Muslim means different things to different people,” I say.  “My family doesn’t do anything officially religious.  My dad says religion is kindness and that’s what everyone should practice” ((184-5).
  • “…even though we belong to three different religions. We are alike in so many more ways than we are different.” 

FLAGS:

The book is fine for middle school readers, there is mention of Cindy’s dad trying alcohol at one point in the past and not liking it.  Cindy’s friends tease her once or maybe twice about liking a boy and Halloween is celebrated.  There is a lot of lying in the book, but it is made clear why, even if she doesn’t always feel bad about it: she is embarrassed by her mom’s food and lies that she shared it, she withholds information a lot, she pranks the neighbor lady who left a dead rodent on their porch, etc.  Hopefully the demographic won’t be inspired by Zomorod’s antics and just find them as her way of dealing with life.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a fun book club book to discuss being new to a country, minorities, how to handle conflicting cultures, and how to be and have good friends.

Educators guide: http://firoozehdumas.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ItAintSoAwfulFalafelguide.pdf

https://www.floridamediaed.org/uploads/6/1/4/2/61420659/ms_-_it_ain%E2%80%99t_so_awful_falafel.pdf

https://www.bookmovement.com/bookDetailView/49051/It-Ain’t-So-Awful,-Falafel-By-Firoozeh-Dumas

Author’s page: http://firoozehdumas.com/books/it-aint-so-awful-falafel/

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

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The Turtle of Oman

This slow, aimless, subtle, quiet prose-like book, is unexpectedly charming and endearing, and so not like most every young adult book out there.   I truly want to make all 4th through 8th graders read it, absorb it and ruminate in the love shared between a nine-year-old boy, his grandfather, and their home.  The easy 299 pages flow by on a 4.6 reading level and make you long for a kind grandfather to help you see the amazing in the ordinary, and provide you with gentle strength when facing life changing events .  The Turtle of Oman has no climax and no conclusion, yet it offers hope and warmth in a reassuring manner that makes you feel better for having read it.

SUMMARY:

Aref is moving from Oman to Ann Arbor Michigan for three years while his parents pursue their education.  To say he is dreading the move is an understatement.  Lucky for him, and the reader, Aref’s grandfather Sidi, helps him create some memories to take with him to America.  While they spend time together, travel around the country, and talk, the reader is drawn into a world where Aref and Sidi, finish each other’s sentences, and blur the lines of fact and make believe with their stories.  Their love and ease with one another is so seamless that not only are they best friends, and relatives, but they are so intertwined the thought of their separation is heartbreaking.

“Aref kept thinking that no matter what you say, there is something more inside that you can’t say.  You talk around it in a circle, like stirring water with a stick, when ripples swirl out from the center.  You say something that isn’t quite right and that’s worse.  Then you want to say, sorry!  But no one knows what you mean.

He wished he could tell Sidi, you are the king of my heart forever, I don’t care who else I meet, I don’t care about traveling and new friends and different flavored yogurts, I only care about how nice you are and how much I cannot stand the thought of being far from you, ever, ever, ever.

But he could never say this.”

Sidi has passed his love of rocks on to Aref and each adventure involves Sidi slipping a rock to Aref as a token for him to remember their adventures and each other.  From exploring the beach, camping in the deserts, sleeping on the roof, and going out on a fishing boat, the duo relishes in the details of everyday life that make life worth living.  Along the way Aref keeps lists of interesting facts and the reader learns about animals, Oman, Michigan and so much more.  But no matter how much prodding and reassurance Sidi and Aref’s mom try and impart on him ,the book pivots around the inevitable need for Aref to pack his suitcase.  As much as packing a suitcase can be a climax or a conclusion, that is what the author gives, and the reader must be content to understand that like Aref’s beloved turtles, he will have to find his way to the ocean only to return once more to Oman.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it meanders and cannot be rushed.  I love the cultural warmth and the emotional depth.  While the setting is Islamic, there is no religion mentioned other than the call to prayer heard in the market place.  Quiet books usually border on boring for young adult readers, but I feel like this one doesn’t.  I am leaning toward doing it for the Junior Book Club to see if it has the emotional appeal that I think it will.  The main character is scared and unsure about the big move, feelings many children have felt.  But his way of handling it, while childish and whiny in his stubbornness to pack, also offers nuanced hope.  Aref is allowed to work through his thoughts and feelings, and while some characters rush him, his time with Sidi doesn’t feel rushed and forced.  His time with Sidi is reassuring and patient, a fictional soft place for the scary unknown.

“Talking with Sidi felt like a sky of floating words,” Aref explains. “You could say anything.”

FLAGS:

None, the book is completely clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Interview with the author:  http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/talks-with-roger/naomi-shihab-nye-talks-with-roger/#_

https://www.readingtokids.org/Books/BookView.php?pag=5&bookID=00001192