Reads and Reviews – October 2021

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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Major Events in American History

Major Events in American History

I was delighted when I was asked to review Megan's new book, Major Events in American History. I know that Megan's work is always researched based and her point of view on history is one that I trust. Major Events in American History provides the perfect concise introductory text for students and teachers. Forbes' writing is crisp and grade-appropriate, however, she often goes beyond the standard narrative to include enlightening and thought-provoking detail.

I could see this book in many classrooms across the country, particularly when the teacher finds it necessary to introduce a new topic. I was particularly delighted to see that Forbes' often recommended further middle-grade historical fiction titles at the end of many topics for students to conduct a further investigation.

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A Night Divided

A Night Divided

A Night Divided had me hooked from the first pages. The main character, Greta, lives with her mother and her brother in East Germany, while her father and other brother have escaped to the other side. Trapped in the city by the Berlin Wall, the three are compelled to stifle any misgivings they may have about the Communist government and the Stasi. Early on in the story, Greta devises a plan to break free, and the tension surrounding whether her plan will achieve success consumes much of the rest of the story.

The hardship of daily life and the trauma of living under a Communist regime are depicted with some inconsistent historical accuracy. The story was engaging, and I legitimately wanted to see if Gerta and her family would achieve success in their task. With that said, the book could have been much better researched. As many German readers have pointed out, there were quite a few historical inaccuracies that made the major plot points implausible. Also, as a Goodreads reviewer noted, "to stay (in East Germany) is bad, to leave is bad." A bit more discussion of those difficult choices would have provided levity to the plot. However, with that caveat noted, for students unfamiliar with life under Communism, this book provides a sound introduction.

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Lakota Woman

Lakota Woman

Mary Crow Dog was born on a desolate South Dakota reservation, she survived a missionary school, was among those protesting at Wounded Knee in 1973 (while 9 months pregnant), and was an insider to the American Indian Movement. Although this book is written more as a narrative than as a historical story, there is so much history to be found in this text. I confess that I didn't know much about the American Indian Movement of the 1970s beyond the standard textbook definition. Therefore, when I read the back of this book, I knew it belonged in my "to be read" pile.

Mary's story is both raw and sparse. Much of it reads like a stream of conscious retelling, as she relays the abuse and indignations that Lakota Sioux have suffered throughout history. Her life story makes the impact of U.S. policy demonstratively clear. If you're looking for a book about more recent Native American history that goes beyond the a basic summary of events, Lakota Woman is perfect.

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Fallout

Fallout

I'm so excited every time I get a chance to read a Steve Sheinkin book! He takes a fascinating story that is just meant to be told and writes that story with text that a middle schooler can actually understand and appreciate. I know, one would think it's common sense, but honestly, these books are so refreshing to read. This book is his latest release, and it could be considered a sequel to his previous book - Bomb. Fallout discusses the astronomical tension that developed during the Cold War between Kennedy and Khrushchev and the events that led to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sheinkin incorporates anecdotes about the two leaders (like Kennedy's constant back pain) to make the topic more relatable and personable. The narrative is written with short chapters and thriller-like text that would draw in any middle schooler. Pick up this book for your classroom and check out the rest. I plan on adding all of his titles to my classroom bookshelves next year.

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Voyage of the Sparrowhawk

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk

WWI has ended, and Ben (13 years old) and Lotti (age 12) have both suffered losses that have left them largely on their own in England. They love the freedom of a little canal narrowboat called the Sparrowhawk, but the local authorities are closing in. In an attempt to reclaim their freedom, the two attempt to take the canal boat over the channel to France to find their family.

This book was a sweet palate cleanser from some of the sadder stories I've been reading as of late. Although the synopsis might indicate otherwise, there are no great stakes in this book and the writing honestly felt like it was from another time. This book is historical fiction only in the sense that it takes place in history. Beyond that, it's an endearing little story with classically written characters. It's best for younger middle-grade readers and it would be perfect for a bedtime read also.

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