Alan Gratz

Refugee

Refugee

(Middle-Grade Reading Level - Real-life depiction of the refugee experience - there is death, desperation, and peril)

This book is extremely popular with middle school teachers, and after taking time to read it myself, I'd have to agree. Instead of writing a traditional review, I thought I'd write a list of 5 reasons why this book is a great resource.⁠

1. Gratz chose three stories that showcase disparate religions and cultures. In each case, he makes realistic connections between religious practice and daily life. ⁠

2. Each story demonstrates how unfortunately easy it is for people to divide themselves into groups without real cause. ⁠

3. The story of the Syrian refugee, Mahmoud, stands out because of its recency. Mahmoud's life deteriorates so quickly and allows students to see that the dividing line between a middle-class life and refugee status is actually quite fragile. ⁠

4. Gratz writes for middle schoolers. Each character portrayed a story that students can connect to despite the differences in culture or time. ⁠

5. Gratz ties the three stories together at the end to showcase the humanity of every refugee.⁠

There is no doubt that this should be included in every classroom library. Also considering utilizing this book as a class read-aloud, or for a full class read. ⁠

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Ground Zero

Ground Zero

Reading this novel was such a bittersweet experience for me. Alan Gratz does his usual, masterful job of creating a spellbinding story with two amazing protagonists and with an almost minute-by-minute review of the collapse of the two towers. Basically, I couldn’t put this book down. First, there’s Brandon, who quickly grows up as he struggles to survive the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11 in 2001.  The second protagonist is Reshmina, a young Afghani girl caught in the crossfire between the U.S. and Taliban nearly two decades later. Reshmina is forced to make a choice between vengeance or the path of peace.

I didn’t start this novel until after the fall of the U.S. backed government, and yet that only makes its lessons even more timely. Will a new generation avoid the mistakes of their elders, or will the cycle of violence continue?  I only hope that Gratz never has the need to write an epilogue.

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Allies

Allies

(Middle-Grade Reading Level - Content warning - death, war, gun violence, racism, racial slurs, antisemitism, bullying, medical procedures)

With Allies, Gratz once again combined several disparate perspectives to tell the story of a major historical event. Although this book touches on several topics related to WWII - including the French occupation, the Holocaust, and the treatment of Black soldiers - the book's central focus is the D-Day invasion of Normandy beach. Given the brutality and enormity of that invasion, Gratz made the wise decision to just tell the story of the main characters without trying to tackle all the death that occurred on that day. I do feel that Gratz tried to incorporate too many narratives into the plot and it appeared that some of the characters were dropped along the way. Despite that flaw, Gratz once again delivered an adrenaline-inducing narrative that deftly combined historical detail with interwoven points of view. This book is perfect for the student who's always asking you, "When are you going to teach about WWII?"

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Code of Honor

Code of Honor

This book is a must-have for any teenager who is enthralled by war or terrorism. Kamran, an Iranian American teenager, is caught up in a whirlwind of hate and suspicion after his brother is caught on video attacking a U.S. embassy. Soon after, Kamran and his parents are taken in by the CIA for questioning. Though the story of the family and the terrorist act are all fictional, the greater topics of the war on terror, racial profiling, and the news media all reflect the reality of our time.

From an adult's eyes, the story lacks believability. There are too many implausible connections made and the character storyline just doesn't reflect the reality of terrorism. Still, I think this is an excellent attempt to examine a multifaceted issue while keeping the story comprehensible for a middle schooler.

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