Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Abuelita by Tony Johnston

Johnston, T.  (2009).  My Abuelita.  New York: Harcourt Children's Books.  Unpaged, $16.00.  Illustrated by Yuyi Morales.

The little boy, the narrator, enjoys spending time with his abuelita.  He understands that she has a very important job that she loves.  What could that job be?  The title of this book refers to the little boy's grandmother, how they spend their day together, and how much he loves her.

This is the story of a little boy and Abuelita, his grandmother.  She lives with him and his family, and he wouldn't have it any other way.  Abuelita (the Spanish word for grandma) is very busy, but she is an amazing person.  She plays with him, tells, him stories, and takes care of him.  She has an important job, and the little boy wants to be just like her.

The story has some Spanish words with the English translations next to them.  The pictures are very colorful and complement the story well.  They have a bit of texture to them that kind of makes them stand out (sort of like 3-D) on the pages. 

This was a nice story that made me smile and think about my grandmas.  I called them Abuelita too.  They used to take care of me when I was little, and we (my sisters, cousins) would convince them to play with us and they'd always have something good to eat.  Even now my sister goes to my grandma's house when she's hungry because she knows that "Grandma will feel me." 

This is a Pura Belpre Honor Book.  Go to http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,1000016708,00.html to learn about Tony Johsnson.  Other books Tony Johnston has written include That Summer and The Spoon in the Bathroom Wall.  To learn more about the illustrator and other books she's illustrated, visit http://www.yuyimorales.com/.  Other books she's illustrated include Ladder to the Moon, Floating on Mama's Song, and Sand Sister.

Tony Johnston, the author

Yuyi Morales, the illustrator

What Can You do with a Rebozo? by Carmen Tafolla

Tafolla, C.  (2008).  What Can You do with a Rebozo?  New York:  Tricycle Press.  Unpaged, $14.99.  Illustrated by Amy Cordova.

What can you do with a rebozo?  Anything!  Just use your imagination!  The title of this book refers to the many things you can do with a rebozo, a Mexican woven shawl.

In this book, a little girl tells about the many things you can do with a Mexican woven shawl, a rebozo.  Her mom wears it to accessorize her dress and makes it into a cradle to wrap her baby brother.  Her older sister twirls it into her hair while her grandmother uses it as a blanket on cold nights.  Her uncle even uses one to clean up spills, and her dad helps clean it to make it as good as new.  It can be used as a blindfold to cover the children's eyes when they're breaking a pinata, or use it to make a tunnel, or use it as a cape.  There are several things that you can do with a rebozo.  You're limited only by your imagination!

This was a cute book.  It showed how a little girl and her family have serveral uses for a rebozo and how they can use it for both practical and fun purposes.  It reminded me of rebozos that my family has and of different things that we do, not just with a rebozo, but as a family as we celebrate each other, holidays, and being together.  The bright, vibrant pictures nicely complement the text and both show different aspects of the Mexican culture.  Something else that I thought was nice about this book is that it has the story in Spanish alongside the English version.  I think anyone will enjoy this book and will be reminded of their own culture and what they do with items that are seemingly only meant for certain things but with a little imagination can be used for other things.

This is a Pura Belpre Honor Book.  To learn more about Carmen Tafolla, the author, visit http://www.carmentafolla.com/.  she also wrote What Can You do with a Paleta? and That's Not Fair:  Emma Tenayuca's Struggle for Justice.  Learn about the illustrator, Amy Cordova, at http://santeros.nmsu.edu/about/cordova.html.  She also illustrated The First Tortilla and Dream Carver.

Carmen Tafolla, the author

The illustrator, Amy Cordova

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Zusak, M.  (2002).  I Am the Messenger.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.  357 pages, $10.99

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver (20 years old) who doesn't have much going for him either in his career or social life.  But one day he gets an ace in the mail, and that's when his life becomes more exciting.

Ed doesn't have much going for himself.  He's a cabdrive only because he lied about his age, his mom is consantly reminding him about how his brother and sisters have done OK for themselves and he is the only one who seems to be stuck, and he is in love with Audrey, his best friend who doesn't want to start any kind of relationship with him that'll ruin their friendship.  All he really has are his best friends, Marv, Ritchie, and Audrey and their poker games and the Doorman, his old, devoted, and smelly dog who isn't much of a watchdog who likes coffee.  Ed seems to have surrendered to the fact that he's going to stay where he is, and although it's not where he'd like to be, he's come to accept it.  Then he gets an ace in the mail with addresses on it.  He secretly goes to these addresses and realizes that the people who live there need his help, but he's not sure how exactly he's supposed to help them.  He eventually gets the courage to do what he can to make things right for the people, and when he does, he gets visits from two men, Daryl and Keith, who are somehow connected to whomever sent him the aces and gets more aces with other addresses on them.  Ed knows what he has to do.  Then one day the aces have his friends' addresses on them, so he really wants to make sure that he helps them and make things work out for them.

As I was reading this book, I kept picturing a movie of the week.  It took me a little while to get into it, but then the pace quickend for me and I couldn't put the book down.  Some of the parts were very suspenseful while others were very heartwarming.  I think the book showed that we could all do things that will help others.  It doesn't have to be a big, grand gesture, but just going out of our way to do something nice or small (such as a short visit or small gift) for someone would help them.  I think it showed that we shouldn't turn our back on injustice and unfairness...stick up for people who can't stick up for themselves.  In the end, everything worked out well and Ed and his friends seemed happier, calmer, and content, which helped Ed as well.  The title refers to Ed because he has something to give or show the people whose addresses are written on the aces.  He has something to do...deliver a message to people, help them, and make their lives better.

This book is a Printz Honor Book.  To learn more about Markus Zusak visit go to http://www.markuszusak.com/ or http://www.randomhouse.com/features/markuszusak/.  Markus Zusak also wrote The Book Thief and The Underdog Trilogy, which includes Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle

Engle, M.  (2008).  The Surrender Tree:  Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom.  New York:  Henry Holt and Company, LLC.  169 pages, $16.95

Cubans have been struggling and fighting for independence throughout the course of three wars but is still not free, and the people are suffering horribly.  Rosa knows how to heal using plants, but will she be able to help her people get what they really need?

This book tells about Cuba's wars and struggle for independence.  It chronicles the life of Rosa from when she was a little girl and first started learning how to make medicines from plants to help and heal people.  It is written in verse through the point of view of Rosa, her husband Jose, who helps her, Lieutenant Death, who has tried to capture Rosa almost their whole lives, and Silvia and other people who join them and want to help Cuba gain independence.  The poems tell of the struggle of the people and of how Rosa and Jose risk their lives to help heal and protect the people who have been wounded.  At one point they even help heal Lieutenant Death, realizing that what they did was risky, and Death not realizing until it was too late that he was so close to capturing them and getting a reward for their capture.  Rosa, Jose, and their helpers (who come from all walks of life) realize that what they're doing is dangerous, but the know what they have to do, and that is their main concern.  The title refers to the tree where Lieutenant Death and his followers put the limbs of people they have captured to intimidate and scare people into surrendering and not trying to fight back.  I think that this tree is what keeps Rosa, Jose, and their helpers from giving up and continue fighting for what they know is right and for independence.

It was a bit difficult to get used to this book because of how it's written:  in verse poems, but once I got used to it, I understood a little bit more about Cuba's struggle and fight for independence, and it was quite interesting.  In a way the history of it is told in narrative poetry form because it's told from the point of view of people who were involved in the war, and I think that's what gradually made it easy to follow and understand.  Poetry isn't usually the first genre I choose, and especially not something historical, but I learned a lot from this book.  I'm glad I stuck with it and gave it a chance. 

This book is a winner of the Pura Belpre Award and a Newbery Honor Book.  To read more about the author, Margarita Engle go to http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6640331.html or http://us.macmillan.com/author/margaritaengle.  You will also see other books she has written, which include The Firefly Letters, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and Hurricane Dancers.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson, J.  (1998).  If You Come Softly.  New York:  Puffin Books.  181 pages.

From the first time that Miah and Ellie see each other and meet, they know that there is something special between them.  Will their love for each other be enough?

Miah and Ellie both unwillingly atten Percy Academy, a private high school, which is where they meet.  Miah is African American, and Ellie is Jewish and Caucasian.  To them, nothing can come between them or tear them apart.  Their love for each other will keep them together.  But society doesn't see how much they love each other.  People see only that he's black and she's white, and in the public's eye, they should not be together, but that does not stop them from being a loving couple.  Miah introduces Ellie to his mom, and she accepts her and them as a couple.  Ellie is hesitant to introduce Miah to her parents, but eventually decides that she truly loves him and nothing that they do or say can come between them, but something senseless and terrible happens that gets in the way of their love and them being together.

The title of the book refers to a poem by Audre Lorde
If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.

It took me a while to realize what had happened that ruined Miah's and Ellie's chances of being together, and I'm still not quite sure how and when Miah was shot by a police officer, but it was sad because they seemed to truly love each other and were there for each other when people around them didn't think they should be together.  When I found out (from help from a classmate) what happened to Miah, I quickly reread that part of the book to look for clues as to how I could have missed it, and I think it's  not explicitly stated, but it's there, and it made me sad.  I thought it would be their families that would try to keep them apart, but Miah's mom was warm and accepting of their relationship.  I think Ellie's family might have given them a hard time at first, but eventually they would have accepted them as a couple.  It's just too bad that it wasn't possible, and it was all just because of something senseless.  It made me wonder how Ellie and the people who loved Miah coped, and I will read Behind You to find out!

This book was on the Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten List.  To find out about Jacqueline Woodson and see titles of other books she's written visit her website at http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com/.  Other books she's written include Behind You (the sequel to If You Come Softly), From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (which won the Coretta Scott King Award) and Last Summer with Maizon (which has Maizon at Blue Hill and Between Madison and Palmetto as companions).

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Baskin, N.R.  (2009).  Anything But Typical.  New York:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.  195 pages, $15.99

Jason Blake has autism, so he doesn't do things like other students do or react in the same way to certain situations as other students might, but then he finally meets a girl who might just be his first real friend.  Will she be able to see past his autism at who he really is?

Jason is not neurotypical; he has autism, so he like order and routine and dislikes loud noises.  He has had a one-on-one aide at school, but this year it was decided that he was not going to have one because he has improved.  Sometimes he wishes he still had her because she'd know exactly what to do in certain situations, but he has to learn to get along without her.  Jason knows that the other students don't understand him or think he's weird, but this doesn't stop him from sticking to what he is used to.  There is someone at school, Aaron, who sticks up for him and smooths things over when things get rough for him, and Jason feels like there's a bit of a friendship with him.  Jason feels very uncomfortable in the neurotypical world (he describes this as the world of someone who doesn't have autism) and has trouble with social interactions.  The only place where he seems to really feel comfortable and fit in Storyboard, his website where he publishes his fictional stories that he writes.  He gets praise and positive comments for his stories.  Other writers who publish their stories on Storyboard ask him for help, advice, and input for their stories.  One particular writer is PhoenixBird, who later introduces herself as Rebecca.  She and Jason develop a frienship and e-mail each other back and forth through their websites.  She may be his first real friend (and maybe girlfriend).  Later Jason finds out that he will attend a convention featuring Storyboard, and Rebecca will be there too since it's in her hometown.  Jason is excited, but at the same time nervous because he is concerned that once Rebecca finds out that he has autism she won't want to be his friend anymore.  With help from his parents, Jason gets help overcoming these uncomfortable situations and learns to deal with them in his own way and as a neurotypical person might.
This was an interesting book to read because for some reason I didn't realize right away that the book is written in Jason's thoughts; he never actually talks in the book, and when he does, he doesn't say much. The book is told through Jason's point of view and through his thoughts as though he were a "neurotypical" (someone who doesn't have autism).  It took me a little while to realize this, and it surprised me.  I wasn't expecting the book to be told in this way.  He, as a person with autism, was going through the same feelings and situations that anyone his age would go through. 

As I was reading this book, I thought of my five-year-old cousin who was also diagnosed with autism, and it made me thing what it would be like for him when he gets to middle school.  I know his parents did their research and informed themselves about autism and are doing everything they can to help him, but I feel that it might be beneficial for them to read about how a family, albeit fictional, handles their situation.  I think that's the nice thing about fiction:  it can be therapeutic.

The book's title refers to Jason because he goes through the same situations that a typical person would go through, such as feeling awkward, having a crush on someone, and wanting to fit in, but he is anything but typical because he has autism, and that sets him apart from others.  This book received the Schneider Family Book Award.  Visit Nora Raleigh Baskin's website at http://www.norabaskin.com/ or her sister site at http://web.mac.com/norabaskin/Site/a_little_more....html to learn about the author and to see other books she's written such as All We Know of Love, The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah, and In the Company of Crazies.