Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Ali Fadhil and Jennifer Roy

Playing Atari with Saddam HusseinPlaying Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Basra, Iraq, 1991

January 16th.
The bombs start falling.

Eleven-year-old Ali and his brother Shirzad, are busy playing Atari when their mother orders them to the safe room. They race each other to the farthest reaches of the schoolhouse, a target where Saddam has placed weapons, where their young sister and brother wait.

The Americans are coming.

This is Ali’s second war, the first lasted eight years, (with Iran) ending when he was nine, his sister only six; she doesn’t remember what war is like.

Saddam Hussein is the president of Iraq, George Bush, the president of the United States. After Saddam orders the invasion of Kuwait, a neighboring country south of Ali’s home in Basra, his family scrambles to lock down and wait for the bombs to pass.

While the bombs fall, Ali plays Atari in his imagination. The bombs hit close enough his teeth vibrate, and he and his siblings sing the Muppet Show theme, drowning them out, and his family lives through their first night of the war.

Saddam’s people are everywhere, even the obnoxious twins Ali and his brother play “football” with, are sons of one of Saddam’s top men, anything he and his brother say or do will be reported. Propaganda rules the airwaves. People disappear.

Meanwhile, everything about America fascinates Ali. He “wishes he’d been born in a place where people are happy and carefree. Where families aren’t hiding, hoping to live through the night, for no other reason than their leader is a madman.”

Ali and his family stick with you, how they survive and deal with the unimaginable, how their regular lives are changed and how they cope as a family even while their father, a dentist for the regime disappears, and Ali’s older brother becomes the boss of him. Based on a true story. There are playful moments, and terrorizing fear, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough, a gripping and thoroughly immersive story.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

K10: AND I DARKEN by Kiersten White

The Kidliterati Ten is an interview series with young readers. We ask them about a favorite book and hope that you enjoy their answers. 

My son Carter is no stranger to this blog, and he probably thought when he turned 18 I'd stop asking him to do stuff like this, but in just a few days he's going to head off to college and so I'm looking for any excuse to make him sit down and talk to me.

Tell us a little about yourself: what is your first name, how old are you, and what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

*The stare I got after asking this question was long and unflinching, but I waited it out because I have nothing but time and I've reached that stage of parenting where I consider even exasperated eye-rolling to be 'quality time.'*

Fine. My name is Carter, I’m 18, and I like cookies and cream ice cream.

What book are you obsessing about these days? And why?

The AND I DARKEN series! It's incredibly well thought out, intense, and unapologetically feminist.

Can you describe the series in one word?


What was your favorite part of the series?

I loved how the ending of the last book stayed true to the themes throughout the series. Endings can be really hard, especially with more complex books, but AND I DARKEN managed to follow through. I won’t spoil what it is, but it managed to surprise me and pack a real emotional punch.

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do?

I would have died day one. No doubt about it. I am neither ruthless, nor cunning, nor ambitious enough to have survived half of what the main characters went through. The stress of the SAT almost killed me, I am definitely not cut out for the world of violence, political espionage, and danger that Lada, Radu, and Mehmed live in.

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book?

I would say that if you’re looking for a book with complex, driven, and inherently flawed characters, look no further than AND I DARKEN. Each character is overflowing with conflicting and competing emotions, where even if you hate what they are doing, you can understand the internal toil they are experiencing. There is sacrifice after sacrifice, tough choice after tough choice, and nothing is ever easy unlike some YA fiction. There are no easy outs.

What do you think about the book's cover?

The cover is easily recognizable, and I appreciated how the style stayed consistent through the series. A lot of YA books have covers with good-looking teens striking a dramatic pose in costume or something like that, but AND I DARKEN stayed consistent with a weapon and nature.

Would you want to read another book about these characters? Why or why not?

No, I would not. All the loose ends of the AND I DARKEN series were tied up beautifully, so there would be no more to read. The series does not leave you begging for more. Instead, it leaves you satisfied and feeling as if the book has had its natural end. Adding more would simply water down the story.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?

No, I don’t think I can. A lot of YA follows a pretty standard path: if you’re smart enough, strong enough, or cunning enough, you can find a better way. AND I DARKEN followed the path of: maybe there is a better way, but I can’t find it, so I will do the best I can and pay the price. Even the heroes are deeply flawed individuals capable of committing atrocities.

If you could ask the author one question about this book what would it be?

I'm leaving for college on Friday and I'm super super super stressed. How do you handle things when you're super super super stressed?

Well, I don't know how Kiersten White may answer this question, but I can tell you that when I'm super super super stressed, I like to sit down on the couch with my 18-year-old son and talk to him about books.

You can learn more about AND I DARKEN and the rest of the books in the series here.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I FallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever read a book where you know how it's suppose to end, yet you still hope it will end differently?

BEFORE I FALL is about the night Samantha Kingston died and then has relives her last day six more times. She is a pretty, popular girl who seems to have it all. But as it is with a lot of popular people, she's maybe not aware of the fact that she's not the nicest to those who are lower on the social scale.

As she relives each day, she learns a bit more about her friends, her schoolmates and herself. She struggles to come to terms with her death, with figuring out how to make things right and to say good-bye in the best way that she can.

I kept hoping that each day Sam relived was going to really make a difference that stuck with those around her, but every morning the day before was wiped out–except for her death. And I kept hoping that she would figure out a way to beat death, even though I knew from the beginning that she was already dead.

I guess you could say the book shows you what it means to hope.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: Mermaid Tales: Fairy Chase by Debbie Dadey

Fairy ChaseFairy Chase by Debbie Dadey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fairy Chase is the latest adventure in the Mermaid Tales series by Debbie Dadey. The series features merfriends Shelly, Echo, Pearl, and Kiki, with each book in the series telling a story from one of the friends' perspectives. Fairy Chase features Echo, who finds herself sharing a room with her older sister when her aunt and uncle come for a visit. Annoyed that she has to give up her room, Echo soon finds herself enthralled with her aunt's tales of fairies. Echo becomes determined to find and catch a fairy herself, because if she does, the fairy will give her a gift. With her friends' help -- and with the help of a boy at school -- Echo begins her own fairy chase.

These books are perfect for younger readers, particularly second and third graders. The stories are just long enough to provide a challenge but are heavily illustrated in black-and-white. My rising first grader loved hearing this one read out loud to her. Echo's woes are relatable to young kids (sharing a room with a sibling, trying to figure out why her mother refuses to talk about something, and a teasing kid at school). Fairy Chase is especially poignant because it touches, ever so lightly, on the loss of a parent, and it shows kids how to be empathetic to others' experiences.

Each book in the Mermaid Tales series features a sealife or oceanic lesson woven into the story, which makes them useful for classroom and school libraries. The end of the books always include "reports" from the characters on whatever the chosen subject is (Fairy Chase has short true and false quizzes on water-diving birds). They also include a glossary of ocean-related words used in the story.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Review: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal UnboundAmal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Amal loves school and dreams of being a teacher someday. Her Pakistani village may be small, but it is vibrant and filled with wonder. One day at the market, Amal disrespects a man. She did not know he was a member of her village's ruling family...the very same family her father is indebted to.

As payment for her insult, Amal becomes an indentured servant in the Kahn household. As Amal tries to navigate the pecking order of working for the Kahns, she learns more about the ways in which the family maintains power. Amal must decide if she is brave enough to bring their crimes forward.

Just like Amal herself, Amal Unbound tackles a number of weighty topics with grace and determination. Life is not easy and neither are the choices that must be made. While Amal's situation is unique, the challenges she faces are not. It is only with unflinching bravery, despite her fears, that Amal finds a path forward through her ordeal.

Aisha Saeed has created a world of richly developed characters and has placed them in a village that feels like home.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

K10: MINECRAFT: THE CRASH by Tracey Baptiste

The Kidliterati Ten is an interview series with young readers. We ask them about a favorite book and hope that you enjoy their answers. Stay tuned below for a special GIVEAWAY!
Tell us a little about yourself: what is your first name, how old are you, and what is your favorite flavor of ice cream? My name is Alec. I'm 9 years old, and I like mint chocolate chip ice cream.

What book did you read and why did you choose it? I read Minecraft: The Crash and I chose to read it because it's about one of my favorite video games.

Can you describe this book in one word? Exciting!

What was your favorite part of this story? My favorite part is how they brought in VR goggles because I like the idea of going into a virtual reality Minecraft world.

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do? Bianca is getting treated in the hospital, so there's nothing you can choose there. If I got stuck in the Minecraft VR game like Bianca does, I would do what I want for a while and press "end game" to try to get out.  

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book? I would ask them, "Do you like Minecraft?" If they say yes, I would say, "I have a book for you" and tell them the title.

What do you think about the book's cover? The cover is really cool. I like the giant enderman floating in the sky.

Would you want to read another book about these characters? Why or why not? Yes because I think it would be fun to learn more about the characters and what they do.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one? I've never read a book about a video game before!

If you could ask the author one question about this book what would it be? Can you make another Minecraft book like this one?

We asked Tracey and this is what she said:
I don't think so. Every time I write a book I learn new things and I try new things, too. So none of my books have been just like any of the books that have come before, even with the Jumbies series, each book has been quite different. But, could I make another Minecraft book? I probably could. We'll see.

Thank you for the interview, Alec!

The brand-new official Minecraft novel is an action-packed thriller! When a new virtual-reality version of the game brings her desires—and doubts—to life, one player must face her fears. 

Bianca has never been good at following the plan. She's more of an act-now, deal-with-the-consequences-later kind of person. But consequences can’t be put off forever, as Bianca learns when she and her best friend, Lonnie, are in a terrible car crash. 

Waking up in the hospital, almost paralyzed by her injuries, Bianca is faced with questions she’s not equipped to answer. She chooses instead to try a new virtual-reality version of Minecraft that responds to her every wish, giving her control over a world at the very moment she thought she’d lost it. As she explores this new realm, she encounters Esme and Anton, two kids who are also playing on the hospital server. The trio teams up to play through to the End, and hopefully to find Lonnie along the way. 

But the road to recovery isn’t without its own dangers. The kids are swarmed by mobs seemingly generated by their fears and insecurities, and now Bianca must deal with the uncertainties that have been plaguing her: Is Lonnie really in the game? And can Bianca help him to return to reality with her?
Tracey Baptiste is the author of the creepy MG fantasy adventures The Jumbies and Rise of the Jumbies, the contemporary YA novel Angel’s Grace and 9 non-fiction books for kids in elementary through high school. Her official Minecraft novel, The Crash, is her latest release. Tracey is a former elementary school teacher, she does lots of author visits, and she's on the faculty at Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Review: Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

Just Like JackieJust Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robinson Hart isn’t a baby robin. She’s the only person to stand up to Alex Carter, the biggest bully in fifth-grade, and he’d better watch his mouth. Grandpa taught her how to seal transmission fluid, but nothing’s going to seal Alex’s mouth or the bloody nose she just gave him. “Robbie” Robinson’s a spitfire and a darn good baseball player. Her best friend Derrick, the opposite of everything she is, runs to her aid on the schoolyard, proclaiming it’s not her fault. “That’s why people need moms, or they end up like her,” Alex Baby Carter cries in defense.

Robinson’s never known her mother or father. All she’s had is Grandpa even if people stare, wondering how they could be related. He’s a black man, and she’s white, he raised her and named her after Jackie Robinson. Now it’s she, who’s taking care of him. Grandpa’s showing signs of Alzheimer’s, and Robbie hates when he’s called into school, on days she’s forgotten to count to ten or read baseball stats in her head to calm down. Whenever I’m bad he forgets more.

Robbie’s wants suspension, then she can help Grandpa in the garage all day, every day for the rest of her life. She’s really good at it, good thing because Grandpa’s forgetting his words and his memory gets tired, and she can’t have anyone wondering if he’s unfit to raise a child. She’s his right-hand and Harold, who’s practicing to be a dad while awaiting an adoption with his partner Paul, is Grandpa’s left-hand in the garage. She knows everything about repairing cars and tapping sugar maple trees.

When her fifth-grade class is given a family tree assignment. Robbie doesn’t know her mother’s name or anything about her family, and her grandfather’s quickly forgetting everything. Robbie needs to find out. Gloria, the guidance counselor, invites a group to discuss their emotions and work on the family tree project, but there’s no way Robbie’s having any of it. Especially since Gloria invited the bully, Alex Carter into the group.

A heartfelt and realistic depiction of living with someone with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s particularly painful reading how a child deals with her grandfather’s struggle. A beautifully written book, with great sensitivity, along with fantastic baseball and mechanic metaphors, we also learn a little about tapping sugar maples in Vermont. And what it looks like when we misjudge others and the lives they live, or the suffering we know nothing about, and then discovering your archenemy might have a heart after all.

Suggested grade level: 3-7. A moving and powerful reading experience.

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