Broken Memory: A Novel of Rwanda, by Elisabeth Combres

August 17, 2010

Rating: 3.5/5

Broken Memory is a story of a girl who survives her mother’s murder during the Rwandan 1994 genocide of the Tutsi people. She has no dreams, no ambitions, and no interest in her future. She has only one goal in mind: to fulfill her mother’s last wish…

“You must live, Emma.”

When I sat down to read this book, I braced myself for the horrors of genocide.

What I found was simple and thought-provoking.

This is not an in-depth look at a young survivor’s life or a detailed account of the horrors of genocide; it is a series of events that lead the character to catharsis and leave the reader with…an impression. A broken image.

It’s up to the reader to pick up the pieces and consider what makes us human and what can turn us into monsters.

It is a tiny book with barely a pause for characterization, where Emma’s story is quickly narrated and we are carried down a stream of words watching images of the old woman who takes pity on Emma and keeps her despite the danger to her life; of the gossiping women in the village who don’t like the sight of her; of the boy whose spirit and body have been broken but who she cannot help but befriend; of the old man who has suffered more than she thought anyone could bear; of the trials of murderers; and her journey back to her mother’s home.

While I want to give this book a high rating, its lack of characterization, its rushed prose and anticlimactic epilogue prohibit me from doing so. However, despite its shortcomings, it addresses an important part of history, and its fast pace will likely be appealing to many reluctant readers.

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Broken Memory won the Prix Nouvelle Revue Pédagogique and the Prix des lycéens allemands, where German high school students select their favorite book.

Broken Memory is part of the 2010 National Books for a Global Society’s list of outstanding K-12 multicultural literature.

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Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

June 30, 2010

Rating: 5/5

This is the second book in Suzanne Collin’s trilogy of the Hunger Games and it’s just as good, if not better than the first book. Check out a previous post if  you’re not familiar with the storyline. 

I an amazing twist of events, there are more survivors than previously expected, much to the embarrassment of the Capitol. Katniss’ year as the champion does little to settle her nerves, since she knows the Capitol is watching her every step. When the time comes again to pick this year’s “tributes”, a nasty surprise awaits all of the champions of recent years, as they must go back to fight for their lives. This time they are up against the best of the best. Behind the scenes, the districts are furious that their champions are in danger once more and keep a close eye on Katniss in particular. Will she be the one to set off the events that lead to a new rebellion? Who will survive this year’s Hunger Games?

I thoroughly enjoyed the transformation that takes place in this second book. In response to the Capitol’s new demands and cruel machinations, Katniss’ plight continues to unravel everyone’s beliefs about the system. The people of the capitol stir in discomfort; the districts begin to shake off their fear. The tension mounts with the turn of every page… 

I won’t say much else because I do not want to ruin the experience for those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to read this book.  😉

Questions: I like that this book makes you think and, better yet, it encourages you to ask very difficult questions that have no easy answer/s. One question that is still prevalent is: what does it mean to be human?

Other questions up for discussion could be:

  • How can one idea change the world?
  • In the story, the mockingjay becomes a symbol of freedom. What other objects or symbols do you know of that people have given specific meaning to? Why are symbols important to humans?
  • How do our experiences help shape our ideas of what it means to be human?

Topics in this book include: humanity, sacrifice, change, transformation, symbolism, ideas, rebellion, freedom, independence, justice, friendship, survival, community, family, politics, love, oppression, social classes…

Do pick up this book and ask yourself: what does it mean to be human?__________________________________________________________

The third book, Mockingjay, will be released August 24, 2010. I can’t wait!

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The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

June 25, 2010

Rating: 5/5

Welcome! You have arrived at yet another blog entry of a reviewer who absolutely loves this book.

For those of us who are not surrounded and immersed in children’s and young adult literature 24/7, The Hunger Games is a story set in a post-apocalyptic world, once known as North America, where twelve districts must send two young tributes, (read: sacrifices), to participate in the annual, televised Hunger Games, where they must fight to the death as a reminder that rebellion is not tolerated. Only one can survive.

The good

I could write pages on what I like about this story, but I’ll spare you and mention only a couple of points.

First, the main character is complex, flawed, and oh-so likeable. Her name is Katniss and I found that sometimes I loved her, other times I was wary of her, and I could not stop rooting for her. She is cold, calculating and willing to risk everything to survive. You can’t help but wondering if she has risked too much…

Second, the world in which she is raised presents two very different, plausible sides: the impoverished, oppressed and broken districts, and the exceedingly rich, bloodthirsty, fashion-obsessed population of the Capitol. When the two sides meet through The Hunger Games, is it better to win or lose? Which is which? Death or life? 

The bad (?) – you decide

The book does have quite a few violent scenes. In fact, the whole premise of 12-17-year-olds killing each other for the viewers’ pleasure is in itself disturbing.  However, this could open the door to meaningful discussions around questions such as: what does it mean to be human? If you were chosen to participate in the games, would you choose to take a life? How does the government use the media to show the violence? What parts do you think are not televised to the districts and why? 

Topics in this book include: friendship, survival, community, family, politics, humanity, love, self/image, poverty, oppression, social classes, alcoholism…

If you have not yet read this book, I highly recommend it. It will keep you thinking and wondering long after you have finished the last page. The best part is that it’s a trilogy! (#2 Catching Fire and #3 Mockingjay)

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Arthur Collins and the Three Wishes, by Linda Rash Pilkington

May 6, 2010


Young Arthur Collins’ mom is obsessed with anything having to do with the classic story of King Arthur-hence his name. Unfortunately, the stories she is so fond of have done little to help his current situation. Arthur has withdrawn into himself. He is like a mouse, skittering from one place to the other while trying to find the courage to stand up to school bullies. Courage, however, is elusive and his brother Lance seems to have inherited all of it, leaving him none. Arthur’s frustration mounts as he is tormented by the Ruffians. These bullies don’t know the meaning of mercy and they might soon set their sights on Arthur’s cousin, Gwynie.  It doesn’t help that he is very embarrassed by her, which increases his frustration tenfold.

As tensions mount, Arthur unknowingly receives the tools of bravery from his family, starting with a book and the idea of magic. On a night when a sudden fever overpowers him, he wakes up in the past, where the legendary Arthur Pendragon, the boy who would be king, has disappeared and he must take his place! An adventure ensues and the story is filled with fear, confusion, hope, magic and, of course, witches and a dragon!
 
Author Linda Rash Pilkington has weaved an Arthurian tale where a boy plagued with contemporary problems finds that people, no matter what era they may be born to, are faced with similar problems and must rise above them or be crushed underneath.  The journey to bravery is not easy and even near the moment of truth, our weaknesses are there to test us. However, like one of the characters states: “Even weak people can become strong.”
 
The language in the book has a fairy-tale quality and sometimes reminded me of a play. The characters are quick to think out loud and state their intentions. This may not appeal to some audiences, but those who appreciate a straightforward approach will enjoy the combination of the whimsical and candid. One aspect of the story that made it difficult to read was that the action took too long to begin. With each chapter I was eager for progression, but it was not until chapter five that the story began to take off. This is something that, unfortunately, could turn away reluctant readers.
 
Overall it was an interesting read and a different spin to the Arthurian tales that elementary school children can appreciate.

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To learn more about the author and the book, check out the Arthur Collins and the Three Wishes site.

To learn about Arthur Collins and The Great American Book Race! TM , the effort on behalf of children’s literacy, check out City Castles Publishing. Don’t forget to click on “Media Kit” at the bottom of that page!
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How to Steal a Dog, by Barbara O’Connor

September 18, 2009


Rating: 4.5/5

Rating: 4.5/5

Ok, ok, I admit it…I have not posted lately though I said I would. No excuses, folks, just a lot of work! Without further ado, here is the review of How to Steal a Dog.

This is a heartwarming story about a little girl that has to ask herself some very tough questions in order to make some very tough decisions.

One day, Georgina’s father left the house and never came back. Since then, she and her brother have been living in the family’s rickety car, hoping their mother can make enough money to get them a place to live. Despair slowly eats away at her as her little brother’s hair gets dirtier and dirtier and she can’t afford to complete her school projects so her grades begin to plummet. One day she sees a $500 reward sign for a lost dog and gets an idea: steal a dog, wait for the reward sign, then return said dog and get the money. Easy…right?

I love this story. Georgina is lovable and realistic and the reader can’t help but wonder if, under the same circumstances, we would do the same. The boundaries between right and wrong are blurred and frayed, and without being preachy, the writer makes the reader consider some very tough questions such as: “Should Georgina hope and depend on her father coming back? Is she right in feeling that she might not love him anymore? Is she right in feeling resentful towards her mother because she has not been able to find them a home? Is it ok for her to steal a dog for reward money, even if she really takes care of it and makes sure it’s safe?”

Topics included in this book are: family, relationship between siblings, homelessness, abandonment, friendship, responsibility, animal cruelty and becoming an outcast.

I’m glad to have seen this book on some schools’ reading lists and I hope more teachers read and share it with their students.

**Note**

How to Steal a Dog was nominated for the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award. Check out what readers have said!

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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo

September 3, 2009

Rating: 4.5/5

Rating: 4.5/5

This is one of those stories that frustrated me at first, but was a good read. In the end I couldn’t decide if I wanted to smile or shed a few tears. I’m still not sure! At first I really disliked that Edward was such a stuck-up little china rabbit, but by the end, I couldn’t help but like him.

Edward Tulane is a unique little china rabbit made for a little girl. She loves him and dotes on him, but Edward can’t help but feel bored of it all. Quite simply, he doesn’t know how to love, so he doesn’t care about the little girl or anything else except being treated well and not compared to a doll. One day, the family takes a long journey on a ship and he is accidentally thrown overboard. His miraculous adventure begins there as he struggles to stay sane and hopeful that he will be rescued and returned to his owner.

As the years pass, Edward is loved by many people, from hobos to an elderly couple, and he is equally mistreated by others. The story is beautifully told and each of Edward’s new homes comes with new adventures and hurdles to surmount. Slowly he begins to learn about love and of the dangers it entails, such as being brokenhearted and full of despair.

I recommend this for younger readers and as a bedtime story. It encourages discussion of loss, learning to love, treating others as you would want to be treated, the importance of taking care of what you love, and humility.
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Gossamer, by Lois Lowry

September 3, 2009


Rating: 4.5/5

Rating: 4.5/5

Littlest One’s touch is soft as gossamer; an asset to any dream-giver. As she learns to gather fragments to give back to humans in form of revitalizing dreams, whether nostalgic or happy, she learns about the importance of hope. As she practices to be  a proper dream-giver for a lonely old woman, an angry little boy enters the picture and she realizes it’s going to take all of her strength to save the child from the evil nightmares of the Horde of Sinisteeds.

The reader also glimpses the lives of the old woman who decides to be the foster parent of a little boy; the angry boy who has been abused by his father and torn from his mother’s side; and a mother who struggles to get her life together so she can get her little boy back. They are all desperate to find relief from loneliness.

I enjoyed reading this story and it felt as if I were a child again, being read to by a parent or grandparent. It’s the kind of story that makes you want to snuggle under the covers, free to imagine creatures like Littlest One hiding behind a pillow, listening intently.

There is a good balance of serious topics such as abuse, broken family, and solitude with the lighter and kindhearted nature of Littlest One and her kin. My only disappointment was that Littlest One is too sweet and too naive. I kept expecting her to fall dangerously close to becoming a Sinisteed because of the violence in the little boy’s past, but she remains pure and unswayable, which I found hard to believe.

Still, this is a very enjoyable book with a lot to say about the value of family and the importance of hope. I recommend this book, especially as a read-aloud to be shared with family.

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