Child of Spring

Child of Spring by Farhana Zia

leaves and ring book cover

REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781561459049

Set in rural India this story is about Basanta. She is a wonderful, spirited, young girl who has a lot of growing up to do, while already having more responsibilities than the average American child. Basanta and her mother must work at Messaab’s wealthy estate. They take care of Messaab and little Bibi and the family’s housework. In the evening they return to their Bunti, a collection of huts they call their community. Basanta has many friends including Lali, Bala, and her animal friends Kalu the dear dog and Dinoo Kaka the crow. There are other kids in the community that Basanta interacts with regularly, like the mischievous brothers Raju and Paki, snake-like Rukmani, and the kind boys Ganga and Ramu. Basanta is rich in life but working in a world of wealth she quite frequently envies her mistress little Bibi and her luxurious presents. Throughout this story Basanta learns many lessons such as kindness, people’s ability to change, friendship, wit, and honesty. Many surprises come up in the little community both good and bad and the story ends with the festive celebration of Divali.

I would recommend this book to young girls and boys who want a taste of another culture. I think this book gives a great snapshot of what a normal girl’s life may look like all the while presenting universal themes and morals. There are many positive connections to be made with this book. The story doesn’t follow the traditional book structure so much as it accounts Basanta’s life. This sweet, easily read book is worth looking into.

Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

shadowy face book cover

BIBLIO: 1971,Simon and Schuster Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 9781416914631

Written as a diary this young adult book is notable for being one of the earliest young adult books in general but also for having questionable content. Most books at the time were sweet coming of age stories that had plenty of morals and maturity. This story talks about all the taboo topics of sex, drugs,running away, and straying from the expected past.

The girl writing this diary lives with her close knit family and when they move for her father’s work her life changes. Adjusting is hard for her in this new town, no one really wants to get to know her. She returns to her hometown to stay with her grandparents for the summer and is introduced to drugs, namely LSD and sex, and she returns home thinking she is effectively ruined as a person.

Upon the start of the school year she spirals out of control in secret, using all sorts of recreational drugs, dating a sleazy boy, failing in school, and even acting as a dealer.

She runs away with her only friend Chris to California and they start off in a dismal apartment and even worse situations but in a few short months they are able to open a small, mildly successful boutique. Homesick, they are happily accepted back home. They manage to stay clean for a while but the diary-keeper falls of the wagon and while on a drug induced trip ends up in Oregon, meets some other hippies and druggies, and joins in a rally. Again she realizes she doesn’t want this life and returns to her family and vows to stay clean. She also decides that she wants to go into social work so that she can help others through her past experiences.

Shortly after her return both of her grandparents fall ill and die. This tough time for her and her family was made worse by the bullying at school and then the diary-keeper’s freak out and institutionalization after she unknowingly ingests bad LSD and self harms.

It takes a while for her to be released but when she is, her life begins to turn around. Her family becomes closer, she befriends the good kids in school, she has a boyfriend, and her attitude is much better. The book ends on a positive not until the epilogue when the author reveals that the girl dies from an overdose only a few weeks later.

This book claims to be fiction but there is a lot of speculation on how much of it is based off an authentic diary. I would suggest this book for high school girls. I liked the story and connected to the diary-keeper. This book has been popular for decades and it is easy to see why. However this book is very dated in it’s references and style and sometimes it was a struggle to look past the 70’s vibe. I also had a difficult time with the end of the story, while it’s common for relapses to happen the ending wasn’t written in a way where it seems plausible and I was shocked at the epilogue because it really seems like the diary-keeper had a handle on her addiction and went clean for good. This epilogue was a call to action for awareness, which absolutely is still necessary and needs more advocates but the way the author did it was tacky and rushed. I suggest Ellen Hopkin’s Crank for a more recent spin on this subject.

Continue reading “Go Ask Alice”

Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

 girl in yellow dress book cover

​BIBLIO:2000 Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., ages 8 and up, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN13: 978-0-439-12041-8

A charming riches to rags tale about a young girl named Esperanza quickly grabs the heartstrings of its readers. This also can be categorized as a coming of age novel as the reader follows Esperanza for her whole thirteenth year. The focus of this story is on Esperanza and her family from El Rancho de La Rosas and from the Labor Camp. The book starts by showing Esperanza’s privilege and her excitement about her thirteenth birthday. The reader is introduced to her loving Papa and graceful Mama and quirky Abuelita. The servants Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel are also introduced as loyal workers and close family friends. Tragedy occurs when Papa is attacked by bandits on the edge of their property. The whole ranch falls apart and Esperanza’s uncles look to gain power and money from their brothers’ demise. When Mama rebuffs Uncle Luis’s proposal he burns down the vineyards and their beloved home. He also makes it difficult for them to escape to the United States.
Alfonso’s brother works in the migrant camp and arranged for all of them to arrive but Abuelita is too weak to accompany them and must stay under the peril of the uncles. The group successfully move to the migrant camp and Esperanza struggles to adapt to living in the poverty of migrant labor but also in the midst of the great depression. She quickly realizes how little she knows about life but she has her new family Josefina, Juan, Isabel, Lupe, Pepe, and those she traveled with to teach her and she soon becomes rich with experiences.
Throughout the novel there are a lot of tribulations in addition to those mentioned. Mama gets sick and depressed and must live in the hospital away from Esperanza and their family. Esperanza begins to work with the women of the family in the sheds to pack produce and support her mother’s medical bills and those who care for her. There is also a lot of talk about striking, the Oklahoma migrants coming from the Midwest in hopes of a new life after living in the dustbowl. There is also an underlying theme of social prejudice and sketchy government behavior such as the Deportation Act.
This book is touching and worth reading. It won the Pura Belpre Award and for good reason. It shows fabulously the life of a minority group in a realistic and personally touching way.

Fresh and Delicious: Poems from the Farmers Market

Fresh and Delicious: Poems from the Farmers Market by Irene Latham, illustrated by Mique Moriuchi

Animals and fruit book cover

BIBLIO:2016, Honesdale, PA: Wordsong an Imprint of Highlights, Ages 5 to 8, $16.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book
ISBN: 978-1-62979-1103-6

A collection with lots of short, succinct, and yet vivid poems make this book is as fresh and delicious as the title claims. Moriuchi created colorful intriguing illustrations with acrylics and collage materials. The poems vary in the type and style and the movement on the page with the words and the pictures is notable. In the beginning of the book there is a table of contents and as an endnote there are simple recipes using the food from the book. Each page highlights a fruit or vegetable, showcased by charming little animals. There is a lot of descriptive writing techniques which make this book great for practicing similes and metaphors for older students. This book also works as a good selection to talk about health and nutrition. I would recommend this book for read-a-long and for assisted silent reading because some of the words used are a little advanced to read independently.

Watch Out for Flying Kids

Watch out for Flying Kids!:
How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and
Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community.

by Cynthia Levinson

book cover, circus kids

BIBLIO: 2015, Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 12 to 18, $22.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book

Reaching for the impossible is easy for these remarkable kids. A form of entertainment that doesn’t come up often, the circus arts, focuses on skilled physical and mental talents. But what about talents of peace and unity? Levinson writes about children performers from St. Louis, USA and Galilee, Israel that challenge the norms of society about typical hobbies and typical relations. The unprecedented novel follows the stories of nine main troupers through seven years of international friendships and performances. The book observes each circus, flipping back and forth over a specified course of time, explaining tricks and routines, the nine trouper’s thoughts and personal lives, and the directors’ engagements, as well as general experiences that feed into the circuses developments. Each circus is enthralling, the St. Louis Arches with their professional performances and highly demanding practices show how advanced this hobby can go, to the point of attending a circus college! The Galilee Circus sections speak out about the difficulties of mixing Arab and Jewish children together because of their religions, languages, and moving past their shared yet volatile history as a country and community. Not to mention, their struggles of developing as a circus without the proper training space and supportive staff to train them. Together, is when the circuses have the most impact on the people around them and the reader as they recount performing as the cohesive Galilee Arches, learning from each other and gaining valuable life experience. Switching the trips between Israel and America gives all of the troupers a chance to experience a different culture while setting a social example. The book is equipped beautifully with a pronunciation guide, index, pictures, and side bars. Easy to use to inspire many conversations about diversity, barriers, strength of character, and more.