Born Behind Bars

Kabir’s only home has been the jail where he was born.  He lives there with his mom, who is serving time for a crime she did not commit.  The warden changes and this warden follows the rules more strictly.  According to the rules, when Kabir turns nine he will no longer be able to live at the jail. 

As the story opens he only has a few days left there.  On the. day of his birthday he’ll be sent away from the only family he knows:  his mom and their cellmates.  Each of them have taught him important lessons:   how to be safe, the importance of honesty and a belief that he deserves his place in the world. Kabir’s teacher at the prison school also tries to teach him what he will need to know once he is free and living in Chennai, India – how to ride a bus, how to pay for things and how to show respect.  

On the day he turns nine, Kabir is handed over to his “long lost uncle.”  It seems okay at first, but odd too.  Kabir stays alert.  He remembers the lessons of his prison family.  When he realizes his “uncle” is a fraud and going to sell him into labor, Kabir does the only thing he can – runs!

Alone on the streets Kabir wonders how he will survive.  Where will he live?  How will he eat?  Will he ever see his mother again.  Fortunately he meets Rani, another street kid, who is willing to help him answer his questions.  She helps him figure out what to do next in a world that cares very little for homeless orphans who are from the low caste.  It is hard.  It is dangerous. But, with the support of a few people who are willing to see the good in him, Kabir makes his way.   He shows the free world he deserves a place in it … right beside his mom.

Be sure to read the Author’s Note.  Kabir’s story was inspired by an actual event in 2013, and unfortunately, this is not the only one.  Stories like this one, help me understand how important my voice is. Perhaps by becoming more aware and paying closer attention to injustices around us, we can make a difference.  Every kindness matters.  Thank you for all you do.

Happy Reading!📚

If you’re intrigued and want to understand more about kids born and living in prisons, read A Wish in the Dark (review here) or All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook.  If you have titles to add this list please leave them in  a comment.   Thank you.

 

Alone

Wow!  I’ll start there.  12-year old Maddie lives with her mom, step-dad, twin 9-year old brothers and new baby, Trevor.  Every other weekend she also lives with her dad and step-mom.  Everything is fine, but there are a lot of annoyances in her life – sharing a room with Trevor, checking in all the time, being there so “date nights” can happen…

Maddie crafts the perfect plan for one perfect weekend with her friends.  She tells each of her parents she’ll be with the other, but actually she and two friends will be spending the weekend at her grandparents empty summer apartment.  Maddie arrives without a problem.  She has the movies and snacks ready.  A sick friend canceled the arrival of her friends, and that’s how Maddie finds herself totally alone when the entire town is evacuated.  She knew something weird was going on, but she couldn’t risk getting in trouble so she stayed silent.

Abandoned, Maddie befriends George, one of the many pets also left behind, while she awaits her parents return.  They don’t come back and Maddie must survive on her own.  She keeps her wits about her.  She is determined to make it.  Even after she loses power, and then water, Maddie and George become adept at using the resources left for them – the library, store shelves, even neighbor’s homes.  Maddie learns from every experience.  She makes careful choices.  she survives a natural disaster, looters and a pack of “gone wild” dogs.  The one thing she cannot alleviate is the crushing loneliness.

In an ironic twist, one of the last conversations Maddie had with her brother, Elliot, was about The Island of the Blue Dolphins.  He was supposed to identify the main theme.  He had three ideas and he wanted to know what Maddie thought.  She agreed with him.  Karana’s biggest challenge would be finding food and shelter.  Still Elliot had wondered.  Now, as the protagonist of her own survival story, Maddie knew for sure what the greatest challenge was.  Elliot had been right.

Written in verse, the sparse text mirrors the striped down activities of Maddie’s life now that she is focused on life.

Happy Reading! 📚

 

Moonpenny Island

Flor loves Moonpenny Island ~ especially when the summer people leave and all that are left are the true islanders.  Flor and her best friend, Sylvie, are the only 11-year olds on the island and that’s just fine with Flor.  They are perfect together.

As the summer between fifth and sixth grade comes to an end, changes begin happening … one after the other after the other.  Flor’s parents have been arguing more.  When Flor’s grandmother gets sick on the mainland, her mother leaves to care for her but  doesn’t come back.  Next, Sylvie’s parents decide to send her to school on the mainland and she’ll be staying with her aunt and uncle.  Now Flor is alone.  Worse, Sylvie really likes her new school and all the new opportunities she didn’t have on the island.  Finally Flor’s perfect student sister is acting less perfect.  Something’s up and Flor has a feeling it’s not anything good – there’s a secret and it might be a dangerous one.

Meanwhile a geologist and his peculiar daughter come to Moonpenny in search of trilobites  – one of the first creatures known to develop sight.  Flor realizes seeing and understanding can be more challenging than she had thought.  What it going on?   What is true?  What matters?  Flor’s search for answers helps her see more clearly and leads her toward a new understanding of what’s important.

I really like how Tricia Springstubb develops her characters.  Each one is polished and unique, while at the same time just like someone you know.  If you haven’t read her other books, give them a try.

Happy Reading!  📚

Sunshine

Ben has always been a kid without a mom, but he wants a family like everyone else.  He has a mom, but she left eight years ago.  Ben has a plan.  If he can show her he’s a good kid, then he’ll be able to bring her home where she belongs.

Ben puts his plan in motion.  His mom and dad agree that Ben will spend a week with his mom on the island she inherited from her grandfather.  While waiting for her to arrive, Ben absently strokes the red golden hair of Sunshine, the dog that is always by his side whenever he needs her.

When his mom finally comes into view, nothing is as he expects.  The boat is a canoe – no motor.  He won’t need his tablet – no electricity.  He won’t have daily check-ins with his dad – no phone.  Still, it is his mom and he still has his plan, so Ben decides to give it a go.

Ben finds the isolation frightening, but Sunshine seems okay with it.  Ben thinks the primitive cabin is dark and spooky, but Sunshine seems okay with it.  Ben feels afraid of the wild animals right outside the door, but Sunshine seems okay with it.  Ben is determined to see his plan through no matter what.  But when fire threatens his mom’s island, Ben is forced to face all he’s been trying to forget and find some answers:  What makes a family?  What causes worry?  What happens when you try to understand?

Sunshine is an important and poignant exploration of family, guilt and forgiveness.

Happy Reading! 📚

Solimar

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarch by Pam Muñoz Ryan tour 15-year old heroine on a magical adventure to rescue her kingdom and save its sacred symbol.

The time for Solimar’s quinceañra and official coronation as princess is fast approaching.  She has mixed feelings about the changes and new responsibilities coming her way.  She loves her family.  She is proud of her heritage and holds deep respect for her elders.  She, as are all the citizens of San Gregorio, is a fierce protector of all the natural wonders around her.  Still she questions and wonders about how “new and different” might strengthen her kingdom rather than diminish it.

While waiting for her grandmother, Solimar slips quickly into the forest to witness a moment in the annual migration of the sacred butterflies.  Though her visit is brief, she is chosen by the monarchs to be their champion.  In return for her protection, Solimar receives a magical gift.  As she is learning how to use this new gift wisely, a neighboring king plots to kidnap her family and force the kingdom under his will.  Solimar, alone, has what it takes to rescue her family and save her kingdom if only she can follow signs with strength, courage and speed.

What a surprising and wonderful story!

Happy Reading. 📚

Amal Unbound ~ Omar Rising

Amal tells her story ~ the story of a 12-year old Pakistani girl with dreams.  She dreams of becoming a teacher, sharing her love for learning and language with all the children of her village   One day she accidentally insults a member of her village’s ruling family and her dream is shattered.

As punishment for her behavior, Amal is forced into servitude.  She must leave her family and friends to go to work for the Kahns at their family estate.  Distraught by this turn of events, Amal gathers her courage and determines to make the best of things.  It is a terrible situation, but she is willing to give her all for her family’s safety and future.

Once at the estate there are many rules Amal must learn – those that govern her life as a servant and those that define her place in the hierarchy of staff.  It is difficult, but Amal is determined to succeed.  Over time, the things Amal observes and learns makes her feels more and more uncomfortable.  She begins to understand how ruthless the Kahn family is willing to be in order to maintain their power and position.  Amal decides, if she’s ever going to see her family again or have any opportunity in her future, she must take action.  If is frightening, but… she finds a way!

Omar, Amal’s best friend, tells his story too.  He has recently  a scholarship to Ghalib Academy Boarding School – a game changer for his life.  He is the son of a servant and this opportunity, he believes will open the door to a whole host of opportunities.  He can’t wait to play soccer, join the science club and discover all the new ideas and information available to him.

He soon learns, however, that there are no sports or clubs for scholarship students.  In fact, there may not be a second year for scholarship students – no matter how hard he tries.  He’s. been set up to fail.  Regardless of what Omar has been told, he decides to do all he can.  He studies endlessly.  He works hard  at his in the kitchen.  He is helpful and kind.  Everyone deserves a chance and he find a way to learn from everyone as he works to build his future.

This combination of kindness, determination, and the relationship building leads Omar forward.  It’s not easy, but he finds a way to change what at first seems to be an impossibly rigged system established to keep “scholarship” kids down.

There is so much to learn from these characters and the struggles they endure – for things we take for granted each day.  I am grateful for what we have and am reminded of the importance of checking in with others – do you have what you need?  Can I be your voice?  Can I find a way to add in?  Can I help?   What can I do to ease the struggles of others?

Happy Reading!📚

A Wish In the Dark

by Christina Soontornvat

Wow!  What a wonderfully layered book.  I was breathless as read the last word and shut the cover, eager to read it again to catch what I’d missed the first time.  A real gift!

Once upon a time Chattana was full of magical wonders, but when catastrophe struck, that changed.  In the present magic exists, but is mostly invisible.  It is there, but tightly controlled.  

The only light and power allowed in the city comes from  glowing orbs.  The citizens use these to light their homes, cook their meals and power their machines.  The orbs come in a spectrum of colors.  The dimmest and most affordable orbs are Violet and Blue.  The brightest and most dear are Jade and Gold.  The color of the light has become a symbol of wealth and status so the wealthy are bright and illuminated, while the poor are dim and shadowed. The city Chattana literally has a dark side and a light side – where you reside seems to define your position and worth.

The law of Chattana requires a child born in prison to remain there until his or her 13th year.  Pong, born and orphaned in Namwon prison, is nine.  He dreams of what his life will be like when he is finally able to enter the city.  Inspired by a poster in his classroom, Pong aspires to serve the Governor, Chattana’s savior, ruler and sole source of power.

When the Governor comes to inspect the prison, Pong he hopes he’ll make a favorable impression.   A misunderstanding by the Warden’s daughter,  Nok, makes that impossible.  In fact the Governor proclaims, “Light shines only on the worthy”  and adds that there is no worth to be found in anyone “born in darkness.”   These words crush Pong, and so when the opportunity for escape occurs, he takes it.

Out of the prison, Pong has to flee.  The tattoo on his wrist forever connects him prison, and if caught, he’ll be sent back, for life.  That would be unbearable and so Pong heads south to the sea.  When he is feeling most desperate, he stumbles upon a temple in a small town.  There he meets a wise and generous monk, Father Cham.  Father Cham teaches him about boundless compassion, staying true to yourself and looking for ways to lift others. At the temple, with Father Cham Pong learns and grows – his life is changed forever.

Four years after the prison visit, Nok is faced with a dilemma.  Her parents have asked her to leave the city to attend a well respected school run by monks in the country-side.  They feel it will be best for the family – Nok disagrees.  She has always tried to make her parents proud.  She is the best student and the best spire-fighter.  She believes if she can perform one more impressive feat, she will prove her worth to her family and to the elite.  She just has to realize what that feat will be.

When visiting the school, she discovers it.  Nok recognizes a young monk in the village as the boy who escaped from Namwon on the day of the visit that caused her father to lose his position.  She believes that if she can bring this fugitive to justice, no one will again question her worth.  Thus begins Nok’s relentless pursuit of Pong driving them both into the impoverished darker side of Chattana.  Their the rumblings of discontent and protests of the oppressed are stirring.  As they become louder and more intense, both Pong and Nok recognize the importance of empathy and compassion in the face of the blinding power of self-righteousness.  Will that understanding come soon enough to change the course of the future?  Will they survive?  Will Chattana?

A Wish in the Dark is masterful and magical. A must read book!

Happy Reading! 📚  

Northwind

Gary Paulsen’s last book ~ so good!

Leif, orphaned at birth, raised as a wharf rat, next as a ship rat, was sent with four of the oldest, crippled crew members and the only other young boy on the ship (bought for a bolt of sail cloth) to set up a fish camp.  The rest of the crew sailed north on a seal hunt.  Those in the fish camp set about catching and smoking salmon.

After they had smoked enough fish the last the entire crew six months, they realized that the main ship was not going to come back for them.  It had been gone too long and so the six,  5-year old Little Carl, 12-year old Leif, and four seasoned seamen, including wise and caring Big Carl, created a cedar dugout large enough for all of them to return to a port to find another ship.  Before they were able to leave the fish camp, a ghost ship drifted into and out of  their bay, silently leaving a deadly sickness.

The older seamen succumbed first.  But before Big Carl became too ill, he gathered a bundle of supplies and pushed Leif and Little Carl out to sea in the canoe, advising them to head North to stay away from the sickness.  While at sea, the boys became ill too.  Leif recovers. Little Carl does not.  After burying Little Carl, Leif follows the old seaman’s advice and paddles North.  Day after day after day after week Leif paddles.  This Long Paddle is full of danger, challenge, constant change and wonder.  Leif observes carefully –  looks for new ways to understand and know – always questions and always learns.  What a journey!  You won’t regret a moment of your time with Leif.  Maybe you’ll be inspired to find a quest of your own.

Happy Reading! 📚

Sorry I was away for so long ~ I had computer issues.  They’re fixed for now.  Phew!📖

How to Get Away with Myrtle

I really like Myrtle.  She is a spunky detective.  If you’re a mystery lover, I know you’ll like her too.   Before the train has left the station in the second book of the series (and I hope it is long), Myrtle is on a new case.

Myrtle has been sent on a “relaxing vacation” by her father.  She is to be accompanied on this trip by Aunt Helena, Miss Judson and Peony – because at the last minute Myrtle just couldn’t leave her cat behind.   Peony may be the only good thing about being on a “vacation” with Aunt Helena at the seaside.   At the train station Myrtle begins observing what is happening all around her –  as any detective would.  When she sees something that seems a bit off, she follows her instincts … and follows.

This is how she makes the acquaintance of Mrs. Bloom, a professional insurance investigator who is aboard this train the to protect the priceless Northern Lights Tiara. Myrtle is looking forward to learning all that she can from the investigator, but before the train reaches its destination, both the tiara and Mrs. Bloom have vanished. 

At the end of the line a dead body Is discovered in the baggage car.  Someone has been murdered—with Aunt Helena’s sewing shears.   The trip is derailed, the local police appear to be inept, Scotland Yard is in no rush to arrive, so Myrtle is the only one following the leads. What’s a smart, bored Young Lady of Quality stranded in a washed-up carnival town to do?  

Readers who already know Myrtle, will know exactly what her choice will be.  If this is your first time with  Myrtle, she will follow the evidence to find out which of her fellow travelers is a thief and a murderer.

There are lots of challenges along the way as you read along with Myrtle and solve this mystery.  I hope there is a  next book with Myrtle.  If there is, I’ll be reading it!.

Happy Reading!📚

What Happened on Fox Street

Fox Street has everything Maureen Jewel Wren, usually called Mo, could want.  Her family lives in the heart of the dead end street – Mo considers this end one of its best traits.   Her family’s home is surrounded by all the things they need – a person who cuts hair perfectly, a fix-it man who makes things work, a piano player who adds beauty, her best friend’s grandmother who insures summers together, some wild boys who add spice and a creepy lady who adds to the intrigue   of the street.  Everything is there,  but most importantly for Mo are the memories Fox Street holds.  Fox Street holds all her memories of her mom.  It’s where they lived as a family before the accident that took her away.

Mo’s never seen a fox on Fox Street, but she always looks.  In fact, she and her best friend, Mercedes, have a secret place beyond the guardrail, down in the scrubby ditch at the end of the street.  They call it the Fox’s Den – they’ve always gone there to share their secrets, to solve their problems and to have a little away time from Mo’s little sister,  “Wild Child” Dottie.  That is until this summer when everything is changing.

This is the story of that unforgettable summer where everything changes ~ and yet somehow Mo finds a way to stay connected to the important things ~ family, friends, home and memories.

Read What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb to find out Mo manages all this and  perhaps sees, saves…? the first fox on Fox Street.

I really loved these characters.  I hope you do too.  Each one of them is developed as a unique sparkling gem.  I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Happy Reading!📚