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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Ten Days and Nine Nights, by Yumi Heo

May 10, 2010

Rating: 5/5

A little girl marks a circle on the calendar. She has ten days and nine nights.

What is she waiting for?

Starting on May 1st, the reader accompanies the girl on her journey of ten days as she marks them off in the calendar. There are clues on every page as to what she could be waiting for so eagerly. Some of the things she does include saying goodbye to her mom at the airport; redecorating her room with her grandpa’s help; and practicing with a baby doll before, FINALLY, May 10 arrives, along with her mom and new sibling from Korea!

Yumi Heo’s story is a positive, heartwarming tale of adoption. It is written from the point of view of the little girl, which young readers can immediately relate with. The colorful, vivid illustrations emphasize the joy of family throughout the story. It’s a picture book you don’t want to miss.

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La bruja Maruja, by Ana Galan; Ill. Natalie Ponce Hornos

May 4, 2010

Rating: 5/5

(Note: This is one of those books written in Spanish that I really wish were translated to other languages so that more kids would get to read it!)

The day she met Maruja, she realized she was a troublemaker.

Maruja snuck into her room to give her nightmares.

Maruja blamed her when she got in trouble.

Everyone was bewitched by her smile.

But…how does this little girl really feel about her sister Maruja?

This is a heartwarming story of sibling rivalry written from the point of view of the older sister, who did not expect life with her new sister to be quite so disruptive. The sentences are simple and the images colorful and uncluttered. Other than sibling rivalry, themes in this picture book include: change, jealousy, problem resolution, patience, friendship and family. There is so much emotion packed into these 14 pages that you won’t want to miss! (If you can’t read Spanish, just get a friend to translate 😉 )

The book was written by Ana Galán, illustrated by Natalie Ponce Hornos and published by Kumquat (Buenos Aires, Argentina).

If you are interested in this and other titles from this published, click here: Kumquat
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NCTE 2009 – Back from Philly (Part 2)

January 6, 2010

This post is long overdue! Here are the final highlights of my trip to The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE’s) annual convention.

Critical and Inclusive Classrooms for All Students: Reflections from Two Educators, by Mary Cowhey and Sonia Nieto: I am a fan of Sonia Nieto’s work, so I made sure to attend this presentation and had the opportunity to talk to her and take a picture! (Geeky moment over, I promise.) They talked about creating multicultural learning communities at all academic levels. Ms. Nieto stated that multicultural education should be anti-biased, anti-racist and pervasive. Educators should think of multicultural education as basic education for all, creating multicultural learning communities with dialog, collaboration, negotiation, and willingness to rethink ideas and practices. Mary Cowhey then provided an example from her classroom. She talked about beginning a conversation with something as simple as your clothes tags to see where they were made. She stated that learning through activism confronts privilege and challenges the status quo. They then suggested a free article that offers a different spin on the question: how to close the achievement gap? It’s titled “Learning to Roar”, which can be found at Tolerance.org.

Books for Children Luncheon: Brian Selznick: I couldn’t attend the “lunch” part of this luncheon, but I managed to sit in the back and watch Mr. Selznick speak. His presentation was funny, thoughtful and he did the best reading of “Where the Wild Things Are” that I have ever heard.

Middle Level mosaic Workshop: Be The Book!: There were quite a few presenters here, my favorite being Jeffrey Wilhelm, author of “You Gotta BE the Book” (check it out and you’ll see what I mean).

Between each presentation we were treated to short chats with different authors, where they spoke about their books, their writing lives and some times their personal lives. I was lucky enough to chat further with Kathleen Duey, (we’d started chatting earlier in the day in the halls of the convention center when she commented on how my “Spanglish” reminded her of home), author of “Skin Hunger“; the awesome T.A. Barron, author of  the Merlin series, who stated his mother was his favorite English teacher; and Kate Messner, author of “The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.”

Other highlights: As always, NCTE conventions are full of booths where you can get teaching resources, new children and YA books, meet authors and much more.

Some of my favorite booths included:

  1. World of Words: They are interested in building bridges between cultures and provide many opportunities for educators to find authentic international and multicultural children and young adult literature. Check out their site for more information. You can also follow them on twitter.
  2. Classical Comics: Anyone who knows me knows that I love incorporating visual literacy in my classroom. I jump at the chance to use comic books, manga and graphic novels. When I found this booth I was utterly delighted. Like other companies, they adapt classical literature into graphic novel form. Unlike other companies, they create three versions of the novel, using the same images, but changing the reading level! I wanted to get my hands on many of the titles but, alas, it was not meant to be. Check out their website for more information. You can also follow them on twitter.

That’s it for the NCTE highlights. Thanks for reading!

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Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book, by Muriel Feelings, Ill. by Tom Feelings

October 3, 2009


Rating: 5/5

Rating: 5/5

Awards (1971/1972): Caldecott Honor Book; American Library Association Notable Children’s Book; School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year; Child Study Association Books of the Year

This informative book is about so much more than learning to count to ten in Kiswahili (which we learn from the book is the correct way to refer to the language, instead of “Swahili”).

Muriel Feelings and her husband, Tom Feelings, did a beautiful job of depicting life in East Africa. Each new number is accompanied by a double-spread black and white painting and a sentence providing many insights: from the types of instruments played to facts about the Nile River.

The book invites readers to engage with each page by learning to pronounce the Kiswahili numbers and getting just enough information about East African life to inspire curiosity to find out more.

If you are looking for a good book to get children ages 4-8  interested in other cultures and learning new languages, as well as acquire counting skills, I highly recommend this book.

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New Halloween Banner is Here!

October 3, 2009


The new Halloween banner is here, yay!

Thank you, Bonet Graphic Designs, for the awesome banner. I absolutely love it! If you are reading this post from Bloglines or elsewhere, just click here to get to the page. Don’t forget to read about the authors and books on the side widget! Feedback on the new banner is welcome and appreciated!

The new banner features the following authors and books:

Mitali Perkins: Featuring the cover of her novel for upper elementary readers – Rickshaw Girl

Annie Fox: Featuring the cover of the second book in her middle grades series – Middle School Confidential: Real Friends vs. The Other Kind

Have a great weekend!

-Prisca
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If you are interested in having the cover of your children’s or young adult book featured on this site, stay tuned for future banner changes. The first two authors who send in their information after I post the call for submissions will be featured in the next banner. It’s that simple!

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