Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Dreamer

The Dreamer
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Illustrated by Peter Sis

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  From the time he is a young boy, Neftalí hears the call of a mysterious voice.  Even when the neighborhood children taunt him, and when his harsh, authoritarian father ridicules him, and when he doubts himself, Neftalí knows he cannot ignore the call.  Under the canopy of the lush rain forest, into the vast and fearsome sea, and through the persistent Chilean rain, he listens and he follows...
from the book jacket

Review:  At first I didn't particularly like this book as it was far too fantastical and magical for me and that is not the genre that I prefer.  When I finished the book and read the author's note about how this is a fictional biography of Pablo Neruda's childhood, I liked this book much more and wish that I had gone into the book knowing this so that I could appreciate the poetry, questions and fantasy aspects throughout the book.  I would have understood the book better.  Neftalí grows up in a home where he and his siblings are not allowed to follow their dreams but must do what their father but yet Neftalí can't help but do what he was born to do.  He is an observer, a daydreamer, a thinker, a dreamer and he uses what his father considers to be negative qualities about him to make a difference.  This book isn't for everyone and I feel that some kids would not respond to it as it would be outside their genre but it is a well written, well illustrated book.

Rating: 4 stars

My Name is Maria Isabel

My Name is Maria Isabel
by Alma Flor Ada

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  For Maria Isabel Salazar Lopez, the hardest thing about being the new girl in school is that the teacher doesn't call her by her real name.  "We already have two Marias in this class," says her teacher.  "Why don't we call you Mary instead?"

But Maria Isabel has been named for her Papa's mother and for Chabela, her beloved Puerto Rican grandmother.  Can she find a way to make her teacher see that if she loses her name, she's lost the most important part of herself?
from the book jacket

Review:  This is a very basic chapter book that is very short and simple.  Maria Isabel wants to be called Maria Isabel but her teacher names her Mary and gets very angry when Maria Isabel doesn't answer to the name Mary.  Maria Isabel misses out on opportunities because the teacher doesn't use her real name.  This book just made me angry because the teacher was portrayed in such negative light but rightly so because the teacher had no patience for Maria Isabel.  I was angry reading this because as a teacher I would never disrespect a student by calling the student a different name or mispronouncing their name and I know every teacher in my school would do the same thing.  I wanted so much more from this book-more depth, more feelings, more explanations but this book is intended for a much younger audience.  I feel that this book would be appropriate for 2nd and 3rd graders but no higher.

Rating: 3 stars

The Color of My Words

The Color of My Words
by Lynn Joseph

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Ana Rosa is a blossoming writer growing up in the Dominican Republic, a country where words are feared.  Yet there is so much inspiration all around her-watching her brother search for a future, learning to dance and to love, and finding out what it means to be part of a community-that Ana Rosa must write it all down.  As she struggles to find her own voice and a way to make it heard, Ana Rosa realizes the power of her words to transform the world around her-and to transcend the most unthinkable of tragedies.
from the back of the book

Review: This story is a young girl who lives in the Dominican Republic who is a writer.  At the beginning of each chapter there is a poem about something from the chapter and they are beautifully written.  This story made me tear up more than once as I felt the hurt radiating from Ana Rosa.  This story is heartbreaking at times but is also full of life and culture.  There are several aspects of this story that make me hesitant to recommend it to elementary students one of which was drunkenness.  I felt like I could overlook the rum but with the other aspects, I decided I cannot use this book with my fifth and sixth grade students.  The reading level of this book is right for that age group but unless you have a mature group, I would recommend this to slightly older children.

Rating:  4 stars

The Midwife of Hope River

The Midwife of Hope River
by Patricia Harman

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  A debut novel featuring Patience Murphy, an Appalachian midwife in the 1930s struggling against disease, poverty, and prejudices-and her own haunting past-to bring new light, and life, into an otherwise cruel world

As a midwife working in the hardscrabble conditions of Appalachia during the Depression, Patience Murphy's only solace is her gift: the chance to escort mothers through the challenges of childbirth. Just beginning, she takes on the jobs no one else wants: those most in need-and least likely to pay. Patience is willing to do what it takes to fulfill her mentor's wishes, but starting a midwife practice means gaining trust, and Patience's secrets are too fragile to let anyone in.

A stirring piece of Americana, The Midwife of Hope River beats with authenticity as Patience faces seemingly insurmountable conditions: disease, poverty, and prejudices threaten at every turn. From the dangerous mines of West Virginia to the terrifying attentions of the Klu Klux Klan, Patience must strive to bring new light, and life, into an otherwise cruel world.
from GoodReads

Review:  This story takes place in the 1930s during the Great Depression and takes place in West Virginia where the Depression has greatly affected residents.  The story does flash back to earlier times as well.  Patience Murphy is a midwife who struggles to make ends meet.  She has a dark past of which we are only given snippets of what happened at a time.  We finally get the whole story closer to the end.  Patience is an independent and strong woman who is not afraid to stand up injustice and she sometimes seems ahead of her time.  I did feel that she seemed too modern at the beginning but as the story went on, I became more intrigued by the life in West Virginia in the early 1900s and I forgot about how modern she seemed.  For some reason I gravitate towards and really enjoy stories about midwives.  The births in this story are somewhat graphic at times so this probably isn't the book for someone who is squeamish about childbirth. 

Rating: 4 stars

Dancing Home

Dancing Home
by Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel Zubizarreta

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Mexico may be her parent's home, but it's certainly not Margie's.  She as finally convinced the other kids at school she is one hundred percent American-just like them.  But when her Mexican cousin Lupe visits, the image she's created for herself crumbles.

Things aren't easy for Lupe, either.  Mexico hadn't felt like home since her father went North to find work.  Lupe's hope of seeing him in the United States comforts her some, but learning a new language in a new school is tough.  Lupe, as much as Margie, is in need of a friend.

Little by little, the girls' individual steps find the rhythm of one shared dance, and they learn what "home" really means.
from the book jacket

Review:  This is the story of two fifth grade girls who are cousins.  Margie was born in the US to Latino parents but wants to be thought of as American.  Lupe grew up in Mexico until she comes to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin.  Margie does not want Lupe around her but by having Lupe at her house Margie learns a lot of about her heritage and herself.  I love the message that this book presents and while it may appear to be preachy at times, I think it resonates and is an important message for kids to hear.  I think this is a book that intermediate grade readers should read to discuss about the book, perhaps in literature circles.  It is a book that I am highly considering for a group of Latino students to read as many of them are in Margie's situation.   There are a lot of Spanish phrases in the book but they are all explained in the following text, not just translated right afterwards.

Rating:  4 stars

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Wedding Chapel

The Wedding Chapel
by Rachel Hauck

Genre: Christian Fiction, Romance

Synopsis:  For sixty years, the wedding chapel has stood silent and empty.  Retired football hall-of-famer Jimmy "Coach" Westbrook built the chapel by hand, stone by stone, for his beautiful and beloved Collette Greer, whom he lost so many years ago.  The chapel is a sanctuary for his memories, a monument to true love, and a testament to his survival of the deepest pain and loss.

Photographer Taylor Branson left her hometown of Heart's Bend, Tennessee, to make a new life for herself in New York.  She had lots to run away from, not least of all a family history of broken promises and broken dreams.  Love catches Taylor off guard when she falls for Jack Forester, a successful advertising executive, and their whirlwind romance leads to an elopement-then to second guesses.  Jack, in spite of his very real love for Taylor, is battling his own demons and struggles to show her his true self and the depths of his love for her.

Taking a photography assignment in Heart's Bend, Taylor is thrown back into a past of family secrets buried deep beneath the sands of time.  When Taylor and Coach's journeys collide, they each rediscover the heartbeat of their own dreams as they learn that the love they long to hold is well worth the wait.
from the back of the book

Review:  From the get-go, this book did not draw me in like the other two books in this series.  I just wasn't as interested in Jimmy's life at all nor did I like the story of Taylor, Jack and Colette and they are all the main characters!  The book was so slow until two thirds of the way through.  Once you get past that, the book speeds up and becomes much more captivating.  All of a sudden I cared about the characters and what happened to them.  That aside, if I hadn't read the other books first, I would not have continued reading this series.  I felt like the Christian fiction aspect of this book didn't come into play until the end and it was on the lighter side.  The chapel is referred to in future books but I don't believe you meet any of the characters again.  This book could have been a stand alone.

Rating: 3 stars

To see my review of The Wedding Dress, click here.
To see my review of The Wedding Shop, click here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers
by Hazel Gaynor

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  In 1912, twenty-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s flower girls—orphaned and crippled children living on the grimy streets and selling posies of violets and watercress to survive.

Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a diary written by an orphan named Florrie—a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after she and her sister, Rosie, were separated. Moved by Florrie’s pain and all she endured in her brief life, Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.
 
from GoodReads

Review:  The haunting and desperate chapters and letters written by Florrie grabbed me into this book and kept me listening.  My heart broke for these two little girls, Flora and Rosie, who had to survive on the street all on their own by selling flowers.  At first I wanted to know more about them and less about Tilly but then Tilly's interactions with the orphans and the flower girls captivated me as well.  Tilly eventually found a journal written by Florrie and then both of their stories were intertwined.  Since I was listening to the book on my way to and from work, there were times where I felt things were repeating but I couldn't go back and check.  I discovered later that Tilly's dreams often repeated themselves.  The narrator in the audio version had a wonderful voice and presence but I did not like her voice for Mrs. Ingram.  She didn't sound French to me.  Other than those 2 small details, I very much enjoyed the story and would read another book by this author.

Rating: 4 stars