Archive for the ‘Secondary’ Category

Becoming Muhammad Ali

By James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

ISBN 9780316498166

Houghton Mifflin

I’m writing this review on a warm autumn afternoon in Christchurch, New Zealand and enjoying memories of the time I met Muhammad Ali and our short but amazing conversation. It was many years ago and I was living in London, doing my big OE; working in hotels for cheap accommodation and experiencing life on the other side of the world.

I was cleaning hotel rooms and working in the Forum Hotel, one of the biggest hotels in London at the time. Ali was no longer boxing but he was still doing the rounds working for charities and trying to make the world a better place. I was lucky enough to clean his room and when I was in the hall he came out and told me he had had an accident. Before I could say much, he stuck his hand out and showed me his finger, cut off and sitting in the palm of his hand. I looked up at him (I’m barely 5 foot) and back at his hand and I screamed. Not the best response, I admit and it wasn’t really that loud but he gently placed his hand on my shoulder and told me it was a fake finger, which you really could tell straight away. We both laughed after that. I think, his fame, his height and the suggestion that he had cut off one of his famous boxing fingers was just a bit much for this young girl from down under. It was and always will be one of my most treasured experiences. Despite his size and fame, there was a gentleness to him that I found quite humbling. So to read this book has been a total delight.

Getting to know the young Cassius Clay before he became famous, before he changed his name is kind of magical. It’s like watching a movie and knowing the ending, but having no idea how it started because you had missed the beginning. Patterson and Alexander have created a beginning that is easy to read. It is a mix of poetry and prose. Kwame does verse novels with impact and perfection and the poems here are beautifully written. Patterson’s writing shows the love and respect of a best friend and we feel it. Ali tells his side of growing up, knowing he wanted to be a champion boxer and just how he set out to achieve that. One of his best friends Lucius, aka Lucky, tells his version of events. His obvious sense of pride in his friend as he watched it all play out is evident as he shares his insights to the young Cassis Clay.

I love the illustrations throughout the book; graphic novel type that suit the tone of the book. I think one of the strengths of this book is that you can feel the love Ali has for his family, particularly his younger brother Rudy, and his friends. His determination and confidence is inspiring. This is not just a book about boxing, or a biographical account of his life; it’s about friendships, belief, faith and courage at a time when black people still had to sit at the back of the bus. I felt many emotions reading this book. Anger; for racism he had to endure in a time when segregation was everywhere. Hope; for his dreams to come through, and relief that he made it. Happiness; that I had the fortune to have been pranked by this amazing man.

I am so glad this book has been published and is out there for everyone to read, enjoy and get to know the young, Muhammad Ali. I don’t want to return the book to the library but I will (reluctantly) as I want others to enjoy it too.

Many different kinds of love : A story of life, death and the NHS

By Michael Rosen

ISBN 9781529109450

Penguin Random House UK

This is not a book for children, but it is about one of my favourite children’s writers so I am sharing my thoughts here. I want to start off first by thanking author Michael Rosen for sharing this incredibly personal account of his experience suffering from Covid-19. I use the word suffer because he certainly suffered.

His experience is told and shared with honesty, and a rawness that is palpable. At times I smiled when reading this book, but many other times I cried. His pain is real. So too, is his anger. For 47 days and nights Michael was in an induced coma. While he was still able to answer doctors but his condition worsening, they told him they wanted to put him in an induced coma. He asks…

‘Will I wake up?’

‘There’s a 50:50 chance.’

‘If I say no?’ I say.

‘Zero.’

And I sign.

He has no recollection of those days. The world, his world, according to Michael didn’t exist with him in it. You can tell how hard it has been for him to lose those days and everything they mean.

While he was out of this world, sleeping, attached to tubes, and machines doing all the work for him of staying alive, nurses at the hospital he was staying in recorded messages for him. They wrote notes, hello messages and recorded his state of being. Many of these messages are in this book. It not only shows just how much Michael means to so many people, but also, the caring and kindness of nurses in these terrible times we are living.

The writer follows these messages up with his own thoughts, poems and updates. He takes us on a journey through his hospital stay, rehabilitation, and continued recovery. The virus is real. In Michael’s case, he lost nearly two months of his life where he hovered between dying and living. He lost sight and hearing on his left side. He had to learn to walk all over again. His struggle is still going on but what we see in this book, is his determination to keep trying, and his courage, to not give up. It is obvious that his family are his strength and his wife, Emma, must be amazing.

This book is an eye-opener for an insight to people suffering from severe cases of Covid-19. It is profound in its honesty and his book serves to remind us all, that nothing is certain. This moment in time is what we have now. Nothing else is guaranteed.

I am incredibly grateful during this terrible pandemic, that I live in New Zealand. We have not suffered as those in so many other countries, including the UK, have suffered. We have mostly been able to go about our days normally. We have had lockdowns, and losses, but by world comparisons we are so fortunate.

Best wishes Michael on your continued recovery. Stay safe everyone, wherever you are.

White Rose

By Kip Wilson

ISBN 9780358376699

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Sophie Scholl is anti-Nazi political activist. The more she learns about Hitler and his regime, the more she is determined to make others aware of how dangerous he is but the risk is huge and the cost, if caught, unthinkable.

Based on the real life of Sophie, her family and friends, we read back and forth between the the time when Sophie first realised what was really happening to her neighbours, Jews and other innocent people, and the time when she is imprisoned for her own actions.

We learn of her strengths, fears, and those she loves. We learn about the atrocities and brutalities on Jews and anyone who disagrees with Hitler. We learn about the growing group of activists known as White Rose; a group of people who secretly print out information about the atrocities of Hitler’s regime. They are consequently considered as traitors of Hitler and are wanted. The story is well-researched, well written and has impact. I won’t forget about Sophie Scholl.

Sophie’s bravery to go against everything Germans are taught is inspiring and heroic. Along with Hans, one of her brothers, Sophie is eventually caught and imprisoned, yet even then, Sophie remains strong and dedicated to her need to make a difference to try and stop the war. Her belief is that

“…the world will see

and the world will know

and the world

will

make

them

stop.”

This is written in verse form which is the perfect way to tell Sophie’s story. It offers brevity and clarity and with all the white space on the page the poem and language becomes the focus. Powerful, haunting and insightful. This book and Sophie’s life will stay with me a long time.

Katipo Joe: Spycraft Book 2

By Brian Falkner

ISBN 9781775436607

Scholastic NZ

Grrrrr!

So I have just finished the second exciting book in the Katipo Joe series about Joseph St George, a Kiwi teen working for the British Intelligence during World War Two and now I am desperate for the next book. Brian Falkner I hope you are frantically writing the next book because I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Joe is the son of diplomats and spent much of his youth living in Germany where he speaks perfect German and English making him a good choice for spy. His father is taken prisoner by the Gestapo in the first book and he soon realises his mother is a British spy and she goes missing. Joe does everything he can to find her and his strength and abilities capture the interest of the British where is recruited as a spy himself. His spy abilities and powers of deception see him eventually recruited into the Hitler Youth movement where he becomes one of 12 teens being prepared to work for Hitler.

We follow the daily routines, tests and dangers of the 12 teens who work diligently towards an end goal with the support of Eva Braun, companion to Adolf Hitler.

The book has everything. Action, death, survival, betrayal, all neatly packaged in a tense, thrilling fast-paced adventure that will keep you turning the pages. In order to infiltrate the cause, Joe must become someone else. Doing so is dangerous and one slip-up could result in capture and probable execution. The trouble with being a spy, is knowing who to trust, if anyone.

The places and background happenings are based on facts. Some of those facts are quite harrowing but Joe has to convince others he has the stomach to deal with them. Some scenes left me feeling quite yuck but the reality is, those things really did happen. Joe is believable. He is flawed, at times doubting his own ability, over thinking things and he makes mistakes. Costly mistakes which he struggles with.

This is a solid read, gritty and gory in places but definitely one to read and remember. Joe as a character continues to grow but so too, does his willingness to step over that line. Death is simply part of how life is during the war. Falkner is one of those writers who captures the reader and keeps them hooked. This is a definite young adult title and series.

Hurry up, Brian!

House of Hollow

By Krystal Sutherland

ISBN 9780143796992

Penguin Books

This book trailer has me very intrigued. Check out the storyline.

This has mystery, suspense and a fairytale quality to it for young adult readers. The story is about three sisters who go missing from the streets of Scotland but come back a month later with no memory of where they have been or what happened to them. Strange things start to happen including their hair turning white and their eyes turning black. The girls are both beautiful and dangerous and as the years pass, one of them goes missing yet again.

There is a competition if you live in Australia for a chance to win a copy of this new thriller. Follow penguinteenaus on Instagram to find out the details, but be quick as it ends on the 15th April. While I don’t live in Australia and can’t enter the competition, I will be looking out for this book as it sounds so exciting.

New Zealand disasters: Our response, resilience and recovery

By Maria Gill

Illustrated by Marco Ivancic

ISBN 9781775436218

Scholastic NZ

Yet again, author Maria Gill and illustrator Marco Ivancic have proven themselves a winning combination with their latest collaboration. New Zealand disasters is a book that should be in every school library. It is timely, informative, well-researched and a great book to dip into again and again. It is one that is not just for study and hot topic projects, but is a book that will be interesting to everyone living in New Zealand.

I recall far too many of these disasters but also far too many that I have actually experienced to some degree or another, in my home town of Christchurch. I remember waking up to the eerie quiet and icy cold, snow-laden streets in the big snow of 1992. I recall vividly the Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes and the ongoing aftershocks. The Port Hills fire was very close to home and the mosque shootings is still very raw in my memory. And of course, the Covid-19 pandemic is still very much active around the world. This book provides enough information on these and numerous other disasters that readers will come to know of some of our worst moments in history. It provides an understanding of the disasters and like any information, it helps us cope and know that after any disaster, things will get better. Knowledge is power and this book provides us with hope and strategies for any future disaster.

Most of us will remember where we were when different disasters happened, so often the mention of a particular disaster will bring back memories and associations. For example, when the DC-10 plane crashed into Mt Erebus in Antartica I was living in Milford Sound and we found out about this awful crash listening on an old ham radio. Disasters bring people together and hold memories, good and bad.

New Zealand Disasters is well set out. It has a very cool colour-coded contents page, glossary, and index. Bright and bold headings and sub-headings make it easy to scan for information. It covers all sorts of disasters, like earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, mining accidents, plane crashes, volcanoes, fires and many more. There are photos and survival tips as well as a list to help you put together your own emergency kit.

The illustrator provides realistic impressions of the moment of many of the disasters. You can see the fear in the faces of people escaping disasters. Having lived through a number of these, I can assure you that the fear is real. Hopefully readers of this book will have some of their own fear alleviated, after learning some of the survival strategies.

Another top book from an award winning combo. Surely another award will follow.

Check out this very cool trailer.

The Electric Kingdom

By David Arnold

ISBN 9780593202227

PenguinRandom House

How cool is this book trailer? Answer. Very cool. And the cover too is very appealing. I am going to have to find a copy of this book and soon. Once you’ve seen the trailer, I’m sure you will be searching too.

A dystopian novel set after a pandemic, a fly flu. We all know how common flies are so this is rather a creepy thought. If you go to the publishers site you can read an extract. Here’s the link to get there fast.

The top secret intergalactic notes of Buttons McGinty Book 3

By Rhys Darby

ISBN 9781775436621

Scholastic NZ

Buttons McGinty is back in yet another funny adventure. Set out in journal form with lots of drawings, this middle grade book is ideal for fans of Jeff Kinney and Dav Pilkey. It can be read as a stand alone book, but there is a good brief recap of the first two books just in case you haven’t read them. Then before you know it, we are launching quickly and madly into Buttons’ final adventure.

Buttons is in search of his missing mother. He and his Dorm 4 gang travel the universe looking for her and come face to face with danger, including Batships, and Space Cops chasing them through the universe. The action is fast-paced, lots of tongue-in-cheek humour and a quirky protagonist who rushes through everything at break-neck speed. A good ending to the trilogy of Buttons McGinity and his band of friends. I love the robot and his kind heart.

You can also have fun creating messages for your own adventures by using the Morse Code and Hieroglyphs Keys at the back of the book.

The Ghosts on the Hill

By Bill Nagelkerke

ISBN 9780995123366

Cuba Press

The year is 1884. The place is Lyttelton, a small and bustling harbour town. Elsie was one of the last to see the lost boys alive, and now she is haunted by what happened to them. When the opportunity comes for Elsie to follow in their footsteps over the Bridle Path and put their ghosts to rest, she doesn’t hesitate.

Set in the past, this story offers much in terms of the history of the settlement of Lyttelton, and Christchurch, New Zealand. As someone who grew up in Christchurch, the setting is familiar and I couldn’t help but smile at some of the places I recognised. Elsie is the main character and she is sweet and caring. However, she has a strong sense of guilt that eats away at her. While on the hills one day she met two boys and they chatted for a short time. Elsie even gave them some of her food as they had come unprepared for their hike over the Bridle path. The weather closed in but she did not stop the boys from continuing their walk and sadly they were never seen alive again. You can feel her pain and guilt and the fear of the hills she has now built up within herself. Based on truth, this story is both sweet and sad. This is not just a good ghost story but a look at the way of life back in the 1850’s. This would be a great read in class for primary school students doing studies on our early settlement. I particularly liked the Maori fairies thread, with the patupaiarehe who are wicked and dangerous.

The forever horse

By Stacy Gregg

ISBN 9780008332358

HarperCollins Children’s Books

Maisie has always loved horses. She is also a talented artist. When the opportunity arises for her to study in Paris, her two worlds collide. There, in the heart of the city, Maisie finds the childhood diary of famous horse artist, Rose Bonifait, and meets the beautiful black stallion, Claude.

As the two girls’ stories emerge, tragedies unfold – both past and present – and Maisie realises that she can’t begin to imagine life without her forever horse…

Once again Stacy Gregg seamlessly weaves two stories together to bring us an excellent read. Maisie and Rose have much in common even though they have never met. They both love drawing and they both love horses. Their stories are set in the same place in Paris, but well over 150 years apart. Rose has more confidence than Maisie and is strong-willed preferring to wear trousers rather than dresses as was expected for girls and young women of the time.

There is something very likeable about both girls and their stories are heartfelt. After an accident Rose has to deal with a huge change in her life. It is her eventual acceptance and courage to deal with her new life that makes her a good strong character. Maisie also faces changes and it is lovely to see her gain confidence and finally believe in herself.

I can’t draw, not even a straight line. I also can’t ride a horse but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this book and feeling lots of emotions as the two stories were revealed.

Answering to the caul

By Ted Dawe

ISBN 9780473528188

Mangakino University Press

There are some things you can never share with another human being. Answering to the caul is one of these.’ 

It is said that being born in a caul means that you can never die by drowning. Andrei Reti puts this prophecy to the test, time and time again.  But there is a price to be paid for each caul intervention.  This is a novel about the dark side of being special.  About the war between fact and coincidence. About the things we can never share.

This is definitely a crossover book which will appeal to young adults and adults alike. It is deep, sad, stinks of reality and the harshness of poverty and neglect but it is a very good read. Andrei, despite his dysfunctional upbringing is incredibly well-read. I love the many references to some of the literary classics, and I think many people who have enjoyed reading the classics themselves, would love Andrei.

Andrei does indeed believe that he was born in a caul and there is proof on a number of occasions where he has escaped drowning. However, each time the consequences have been fatal for some other people in his life. Andrei’s story runs over many years as he retells us his life. We see his father in prison, the death of his mother and when he is sent away to stay with relatives, his life changes. Poverty, anger, and revenge are all part of his life now and he has to live with choices he makes, as well as the choices made by his cousins. At times I wanted to hug him and others I wanted to shake him and tell him not to get involved in things. Even when he tries to do the right thing by traveling to Thailand to help out whanau, he still ends up in trouble and even danger.

Perhaps there really was something that mapped out his life. Whether you believe the caul or not, you can’t help but believe in Andrei and like him, flaws and all.

A good solid read.

I haven’t read a lot of graphic novels although I do appreciate their impact on readers and reading material these days as a growing and very popular trend. So over the Christmas break I decided it was time to read a few to see just why they hold such favour with readers. I chose a variety from younger readers through to Secondary school students at the older age group. I read five and honestly enjoyed every book. They were a real mix. Funny, mysterious, sad and serious. Will I read more graphic novels? Definitely.

In no particular order.

Speak : the graphic novel

By Laurie Halse Anderson

ISBN 9780374300289

Farrar Straus Giroux NY

This was the most powerful of the graphic novel books I read. It deals with the horrible issue of rape. Melinda attends a party where she is raped and we follow her downhill-slide as she struggles to deal with it all. Melinda tells no one about what happened and sinks deeper and deeper into a depression, her grades failing and friendships falling apart. The illustrations are dark, broody and powerful. We see her internal thoughts and her growing sense of anger as realises that she had said no. It is the claiming back of her voice that has the most impact in this top read for young adults. No means NO!

The Inkberg Enigma

By Jonathan King

ISBN 9781776572663

Gecko Press

This book is pretty special. It has a real retro feel to it like the old mysteries we used to watch on TV or read in old comics of my youth. I loved the setting with its small coastal fishing town, people who know each other and long hot summer holidays.

Miro and Sia live in Aurora, a fishing town nestled in the shadow of an ancient castle. Miro lives in his books; Sia is never without her camera. The day they meet, they uncover a secret.

A good old-fashioned mystery to solve. When a man is pulled out from the sea in front of Miro and Sia, there is some wild creature clinging to his legs so Sia takes a photo but unwittingly captures something else in the photo. Sia decides it is a clue and that they must investigate. Miro would rather read his books than follow danger, but Sia is persistent. He follows grudgingly at first but the more clues they find, the more he is keen to solve the mystery of just what is living in the sea below the harbour and what is the importance of a particular, very old book. The story suits the format with its colourful illustrations. There is a second story within its pages and these are told in black and white illustrations, adding to the overall retro feel.

Thoroughly good read. It would be nice to see Sia and Miro solve more mysteries.

The Witches

Based on the novel by Roald Dahl

Adapted and illustrated by Penelope Bagieu

ISBN 978176097830

Scholastic

Roald Dahl’s book The Witches takes on a new look in the graphic novel adapted by Penelope Bagieu. The illustrations are bright and visually appealing. The cover screams out just wanting to be picked up. Quick, easy to read and even at almost 300 pages long, younger readers will love this and I think it will be a top read and in high demand with my students.

What particularly appeals to me is that the text is in lower cases. I know it’s a thing with graphic novels to have the text in capitals but I find personally find it off-putting. Kind of like text messages use uppercase to shout out their messages. Three of the five books in this list used uppercase throughout and while you adapt to reading this way, I’d much prefer it the way it is here in The Witches.

The Invasion

Animorphs the Graphic novel

Based on the novel by K. A. Applegate & Michael Grant

Adapted by Chris Grine

Animorphs has been a hugely popular series for years and with the popularity in graphic novels, I think this format is going to be just as successful. The colourful illustrations and brief but pertinent text makes it easy to follow storylines.

A group of five friends find themselves face to face with an alien who has crashed to earth. He warns them of a bigger, deadlier threat to all mankind. Right before his death he gives them all special powers to morph into any animal by using their DNA if they can touch the animals first. Some are keen, others not so much but soon they find themselves running from danger and realise they need to use their gifts if they are to stay alive. They soon realise, the planet is under attack and they will need to do whatever they can to save lives. They need courage, teamwork and their new abilities to make this happen.

A good read, lots of action and I will be looking for more in the series as they are published.

Guts

By Raina Telgemeier

ISBN 9781743832684

Scholastic

Raina Telgemeier’s books are so popular that they are always on reserve, and sadly, they are also among the top titles of books that go “missing” and need replacing.

Based on her own life dealing with anxiety and stomach troubles, Guts is a story that needs to be told. Raina struggles with stomach pains, constant fear of vomiting, anxiety and just everyday life in general. Some days are worse than others and on these bad days she cannot attend school.

I love the ending where she realises she is not alone. Other people have similar issues or fears and it is just how people learn to deal with them that makes them strong enough to cope.

It’s realistic with a good message. I’m now going to have to read more of her work.

I think I might have my work cut out trying to read all the other books by these authors and graphic illustrators.

How to make a bird

By Meg McKinlay

Illustrated by Matt Ottley

ISBN 9781925381894

A girl sets out to make a bird. First she plans it, works out what she needs and begins her creation. We see her creative process working through language that is rich, poetical and thoughtful. Her thought process is almost a lesson for life itself.

Breathe deeply

and take your time.

The making of a bird

is not a thing

to be hurried.

The illustrations are stunning with a subtle sophistication that adds even more to the story.

I think this is one of those special sophisticated picture books that gives more and more on each re-reading. I read it to a group of 10 and 11 year old students today and it was wonderful to see their reactions when they realised that the book had many meanings. They all began to discuss their own creativity and what they felt they were good at and how some liked to draw and some liked to write poems and stories. A lovely discussion born out of reading this book.

The students are part of a year six book club and most of them are keen writers so when they discovered this book could be a metaphor for their own writing, they were delighted.

I love this. I confess readily, that reading a good sophisticated picture book or a good verse novel leaves me very contented, no matter the state of the world.

How to make a bird is an excellent book to unpack and think about. It’s not just about making a bird, but making a difference and not being afraid to try new things. It’s about bravery too, to let go and be proud, no matter what our creations.

Highly recommend at any level at school, including secondary.

Black Flamingo

By Dean Atta

ISBN 9781444948608

Hodder Children’s Books

I loved this book and the verse novel format is just perfect for telling Michael’s story. It begins with Michael as a very small child and progresses through his childhood and into his teens.

There is a sweetness to Michael which makes him likeable. He values his friends and loves his family, although his father in not part of the equation. At school, his best friend is Daisy and they spend so much time together. Daisy understands him and listens to him as he talks about his crushes but there comes a time, when even best friends fall out.

This is not just a book about his realisation and acceptance of being gay, it is about his courage and being honest enough to stand up for himself and be who he wants to be. Michael is a poet and through his poetry he is able to share his thoughts.

One of my favourite parts is the poem titled I come from which is in part, a summary of everything he has experienced, felt, seen and heard. It is his past and his present with hope for the future. It is powerful and an excellent insight to Michael and his internal thoughts.

It is also an excellent look at the LGBT life and we can see how difficult it is at first for Michael who is not just gay, but black and gay. Michael is British, black, Cypriot and Jamaican and this adds so many aspects to his life and his identity.

There are so many themes running through this book; gender identity, racism, sexuality, homophobia, self-acceptance and Drag queens and they are all part of this very good, realistic, authentic coming-of-age story. The significance of the black flamingo becomes clear as you read through this novel and when you see Michael and how far he has come, it leaves you smiling.

Migrants

By Issa Watanabe

ISBN 9781776573134

Gecko Press

Migrants is a stunning wordless picture book. Wordless books are also known as silent books, which is a nice way of thinking about this format, particularly as this beautiful book did leave me speechless.

Throughout the book, including the end papers and imprint page, the background is blackness. Darkness hovers over everything our characters endure, yet they themselves are full of colour, a sure sign of hope. There is definitely sadness and death in this book and some extra sensitive souls may find it confronting, but it is done with respect and beauty. It is a book which will encourage discussion about what it means to be a refugee and the terrible journey many people have had to endure.

Animals gather in a large group leaving behind their belongings and their homes. Their faces are serious, their eyes hold a sadness that is almost palpable. Together they travel over rough seas, searching for a new place, a new home, where they might find peace and somewhere safe to lay their heads.

It is powerful. The artwork is nothing short of stunning and each and every page could hang in a gallery and perhaps it should, so we are reminded just how lucky we are. I love how the stronger animals carry the younger and weaker ones, showing just how much they care for each other and more importantly, work together as a whole.

This book deserves to be in every school library; primary and right through secondary. There is so much to discuss and unpack that it would be great as a class study.

Stunning.

Punching the air

By Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

ISBN 9780062996480

HarperCollins

 

Punching the air is a profound book that left me thinking of the characters long after I turned the last page. I’ve been left with so many questions about fairness, justice, racism, white privilege, poverty and so much more.

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white. 

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it? 

Amal is a teen, imprisoned for something he did not do. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong colour! The prison world he finds himself in is absolutely awful.  He is taunted and beaten by guards and other prisoners. He is reminded that this is his life and where he belongs, society expects nothing from, or of him. At times you can feel Amal believes this too. He struggles to cope in a society of systemic racism. It is a cruel, unforgiving world for Amal.

I don’t know if I’ll change

I’ve been so broken

too many times that I

have turned to dust.

 

Eventually Amal finds poetry and a way to cope.

Yusef Salaam, co writer of this powerful book, was one of the Exonerated Five, a group of young men who were wrongly imprisoned for a rape they did not commit. They were eventually exonerated and paid out. This is not that story but it is similar. Together the writers have written Amal’s story, one, which is sadly, repeated too many times.

Told as a verse novel, the writing is powerful, at times gut-wrenchingly raw.  This format was perfect for Amal and his story. Every word matters. It is beautifully written with an honesty that at times left me stunned and so sad. This is not a world we should be accepting.

It is no wonder that this book is a best seller. No doubt at all, it will be an award winner too.

It is well worth checking out the teacher notes here.

Blood Moon

By Lucy Cuthew

ISBN 9781406393446

Walker Books 

Periods, sex and online shaming. How is that for an introduction to this compelling debut novel by Lucy Cuthew. The author holds nothing back in topic or her language. The voices of her characters ring true. Their actions even more so.

Caught up in the heat of the moment, Frankie has her first sexual experience with Benjamin but her period starts at the same time. Somehow news gets out and Frankie finds herself the centre of an awful meme and continued hateful and spiteful messages. The news of her experience goes viral and everyone knows about it. Reaction is cruel and swift. Online shaming takes over her life and we see the impact of this awful aspect of living in a digital world. Once something is out there, it’s everywhere and almost impossible to stop.

Written as a verse novel, the language is sharp, emotive and real, allowing us to totally connect with Frankie and her thoughts. Her anguish, despair, sense of shame and betrayal are real. Frankie has no control of her life, nowhere to hide and everything is overwhelming.

When things spiral out of control and every internet post seems to have Frankie’s meme plastered all over it she struggles to cope. Falling out with her best friend creates further turmoil and Frankie is on a rollercoaster of emotions and we are on the ride with her. Lucy Cuthew captures the voices of teens with authenticity. Discussions about periods is often taboo but here, they are very much part of the story. Natural and part of everyday life for females, periods are often shunned and in Frankie’s case, shamed but as Benjamin and Frankie know, periods are just blood, that’s all.

The consequences of online shaming and misuse of the internet can have a devastating impact and the author demonstrates this extremely well. Even after all the happens, Frankie discovers she is stronger than she thinks.

For teens, this is one of those books that needs to be read and read widely.

Clap when you land

By Elizabeth Acevedo

ISBN 9781471409127

Hot Key Books

 

Elizabeth Acevedo knows poetry. She knows how to make words sing and dance on the page. Knows how to make those words haunt you and leave you in awe. I loved her book Poet X and now I’m in love again, with her latest verse novel Clap when you land. 

All these lies that we’ve all swallowed,

they’re probably rotting in our stomachs.

Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt; her mother long since passed away, while her father lives in New York. He returns each summer to spend time with her but this time his plane crashes and Camino is left an orphan. He sent money for her schooling but now that he is gone, she worries what will happen to her and her dreams of being a doctor seem pointless. There is also an unwanted male and danger not far from her door.

Yahaira Rios lives with her mother in New York and her father is also killed in a plane crash on his regular summer trip away. The father, is the one and the same. Neither girl knew of the other’s existence but the fate of that plane crash draws them together after secrets are revealed that they are in fact sisters.

Beautifully written in verse, each daughter tells their own story, their own fears, and struggles to cope with loss, grief, and the secret that shatters their worlds but ultimately draws them together.

The language flows beautifully and is succinct.

Tio Jorge knows how to listen.

                Even if all he hears is silence. 

There is so much to unpack in this novel, so many thoughts and feelings.  The girls share many physical features of their father but live in totally different worlds. I love how the author draws us into Camino and Yahaira’s worlds and inner thoughts. Their shared story is moving, gritty and powerful. I am so glad the sisters find each other. Loved this book!

 

I would love to listen and watch Elizabeth Acevedo live. Poet and performer!