Category Archives: YA

The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi, Tamim Ansary

The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi, Tamim Ansary

“I was late to school, and that’s all I could think about. I started across the field. And then suddenly a fire flashed in my face and the earth seemed to move beneath my feet. I remember a shower of soil and then nothing. I woke up on the ground, surrounded by a crowd, men and boys…no women. They were all staring down at me with huge eyes. Their lips were moving, but I could hear no voices. All I heard was a loud ringing in my ears.”

How is that for a gripping opening?
All the more if you realize that this novel is nonfiction. It is an autobiography.

Farah Ahmedi is born at a time when the war between the mujahideen and the Soviets reaches its peak in Afghanistan. Bombs are falling all over the country, and her native city of Kabul is bursting at the seams with hundreds of thousands of people looking for homes and jobs. The sounds of gunfire and fighter planes are as normal to Farah as the sounds of traffic or children playing are to a schoolgirl in America. When Farah steps on a land mine on her way to school, her world becomes much smaller than the dreams and hopes in her heart. She begins to learn–slowly–that ordinary people, often strangers, have immense power to save lives and restore hope.

“The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky” recounts an epic journey. It shows what a childhood in Afghanistan is like, where classrooms are bare spaces with only chalkboards on the walls and are filled with more students than seats (and no books). In Kabul, they cancel school because of rockets and bombings; in Chicago, Farah might have a snow day. In Kabul, a schoolgirl wears a black dress and a white headscarf; inAmerica, girls need the right jeans and trendy tops.

Thanks to a number of good people who crossed her path at critical moments, Farah is thriving. She may be haunted by her past, but she is no longer enslaved by it. Farah is now a proud American citizen  and, in this time of new refugees coming from another country, this might be timely read.

Charles and Emma, The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

I recently spotted this hardcover and bought it at a literacy conference. I had seen reviews of it and the title appealed to me. I was curious. I have never read The Origin of Species but wanted to learn more about the man who wrote that groundbreaking book.
I was blown away while reading Charles and Emma. I kept thinking ‘what an amazing amount of research this author has done!’ and ‘how did she make all of these facts and quotes so readable?’
Charles Darwin was a young man in Victorian England when he went on a sea voyage around the world on the ship called the HMS Beagle. While visiting islands in South America and beyond, he collected specimens of plants and animals, recording information and labeling each item. 
Back in England, after 5 years, he and other scientists studied these artifacts in detail. They had been raised in the solid belief that God had created all things and that these things did not ever change. However, studying birds collected on the Galapagos Islands, they noticed minute differences in the beaks. Having observed earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Darwin’s brain slowly made him realize that not all things were as constant as had been believed. He realized that changes, that evolution, were at work to allow all species the benefit of the fittest; to allow them to survive and adapt to their environment. He also realized that the earth was much older than the few thousand years the church said it was.
In Charles and Emma, I learned how scared Darwin himself was of his realizations. How he felt the need to document and proof his beliefs before sharing them with anyone. The book focuses on his personal life  with his beloved wife Emma. Emma was extremely religious and worried about her husband’s findings. Yet, even though she never shared his strong feelings, she helped and supported him. Her faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on a theory that continues to spark intense debate even today. He was a thoughtful and kind man, supported by a loving, liberal family. This book is a unique glimpse into their world and into households of Victorian England. A fascinating read, no matter which side of the fence you are on. And look at all the awards it won! It is, in my opinion, one of those rare books that is both for YA (young adult) and adult – a true ‘anybody’ book.
‘Deborah Heiligman’s biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion for young readers’.

Petey, by Ben Mikaelsen

Petey, by Ben Mikaelsen
Petey is a touching story of friendship, discovery, and the uplifting power of the human spirit.
In 1922, at the age of two, Petey’s distraught parents commit him to the state’s insane asylum, unaware that their son is actually suffering from severe cerebral palsy. 
Bound by his wheelchair and struggling to communicate with the people around him, Petey finds a way to remain kind and generous despite the horrific conditions in his new “home.” 
Through the decades, he befriends several caretakers but is heartbroken when each eventually leaves him. Determined not to be hurt again, he vows to no longer let hope of lifelong friends and family torment him.
That changes after he is moved into a nursing home and meets a young teen named Trevor Ladd; he sees something in the boy and decides to risk friendship one last time. Trevor, new to town and a bit of a loner, is at first weary of the old man in the wheelchair. But after hearing more of his story, Trevor learns that there is much more to Petey than meets the eye.
This timeless story is recommended for all ages!
Author’s website: for background information on this book.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

When Billie Jo is just fourteen she endures heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Written in free verse, this Newbery Award winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental as well as emotional turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.

I completely fell in love with the language of this book. Not all Newbery books are books that I love, although most of them are. And that medal on the cover always makes me want to read the book, just to see why the judges felt it was worthy. Out of The Dust is powerfully written and deserves this recognition. It made me want to read all the free verse novels I could get my hands on. Love the genre. Karen Hesse says more with fewer words. Read it!

ZOOM to your library!

Zoom by Istvan Banyai

Here is a picturebook that is for almost all ages! The book is wordless and takes you onto an amazing journey: from farm to ship to city streets to a desert island. You will go by any mode of transportation, around the entire globe.
But if you think you know where you are, guess again. For nothing is ever as it seems in Banyai’s mysterious landscapes of pictures within pictures.
Like a photographer with a zoom lens, the illustrator zooms out from a close-up, surprising you at every turn of the page.
You can ‘read’ the colorful images with young children, make up elaborate tales with others and have interesting discussions with readers right into high school.

If you like this book, try part 2: Rezoom.
Paperback, 64 pages, Puffin Books  ISBN 0140557741 (ISBN13: 9780140557749)

Lesson Plan:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins
One of the advantages of being in a book club, I find, is that it sometimes makes me read books I might not select on my own. The Hunger Games is a perfect example. Judging by the short content on the back cover, I would never ever have picked this book to read. Gruesome, terrible, not at all ‘my kind’ of book. I am not at all a fan of science fiction (if that’s what this is).

However, my book club decided that we should read this first book in the series, mostly to find out what all the hype was about. My book club consists of about 6 – 8 women ranging in age from 19 to 80.

And so I took The Hunger Games home from the library and, hesitantly, starting reading.

I don’t remember now how long it was before I was completely, totally hooked: in the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister Primrose, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I could not put the book down. The writing was superb, the story riveting. And with today’s popularity of reality TV shows, scary as it is, even has a ring of truth to it.

When my book club next met we discovered that the story had gripped each of us in a similar way. Each of us read all three books in a row:
Part 2: Catching Fire
Part 3: Mockingjay

Powerful writing! Highly recommended for YA and adults of all ages. Good discussion material in highschool.
I had no need at all to see the movie: as with all good books, I had already seen the movie in my head while reading. (for games, downloads)