Book Review: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Amina is a Pakistani-American who has just started middle school with her best friend, a Korean-American, Soojin. Soojin is applying for American citizenship and has decided to change her name to sound more American. Soojin’s sudden refutation of identity causes a rift between the friends, which is further widened as Emily, a student who used to make fun of their cultural differences, tries to befriend the girls. As if Amina does not face enough stress and new feelings of jealously already, her strong-willed uncle from Pakistan decides to visit, her teacher pressures her to sing in the school concert—Amina never sings in public—and her Sunday school teacher and parents force her to enter a Quran competition for the local Islamic Center. Just as things cannot get any worse, Amina accidentally shares Emily’s secret crush, causing a trivial fight with her friends, and the local Islamic Center and mosque is vandalized.…

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Book Review: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

Zomorod (Cindy) has moved from place to place in America and back and forth between America and Iran for her father’s work. With a mother suffering from relocation depression–and who refuses to learn English–and the hardships of making friends each year as a foreigner, Zomorod is determined to embrace America and American culture. She reads Good Housekeeping to learn about Thanksgiving, dresses up for Halloween, and makes curious and empathetic friends who have similar interests. Just as life is full of water balloon fights and Bonnie Bell lip-gloss, though, Iran starts a revolution. Americans living in Iran are taken hostage and the new regime implements strict rules on women. With the changing relationship between Iran and America, Zomorod’s dad is fired from his job. Anti-Iranian sentiment and hate crimes envelope Zomorod’s world, and her family fears for their family’s safety back in Iran as well as their own. With no income, Zomorod’s…

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Book Review: The Dance of the Violin

Joshua loves making music, even with everyday household items. His parents feed into his passion, buying Joshua a violin. Deciding that he wants to play a difficult piece in a Kalamazoo competition, Joshua practices with his teacher to perfect his performance. Joshua chooses this song because he can hear, see, and feel its captivating story. Once at the competition, Joshua stumbles on his first try, tumbling an imaginary dancer onto her face. The piece falls flat. Not yet defeated and determined, a brave Joshua asks the judge to try again. The music comes alive in his mind, the room disappears, and although the reader never learns the outcome of the competition, the actual winner is irrelevant. Joshua has achieved his goal and demonstrated his enthusiastic talent for music. Joshua’s ambition and story is based on a real person, Joshua Bell, who is now a talented classical violinist. The Dance of…

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Book Review: The Fog by Kyo Maclear

Warble the warbler lives in Icy Land where he loves to people watch. One day, a dense fog rolls in but none of the other inhabitants seem to notice or care. Soon, Icy Land becomes Fog Land, and everyone falls into a new pattern of blindness, forgetting how visible life used to be. Deteriorating into the same disinterested haze, Warble is awoken from his stupor by the sound of a singing child. Together, the pair decides to reach out to the rest of the world using little origami boats to see if anyone else is conscious of the fog. As the duo receives more and more responses, the fog begins to lift. Award-winning Maclear creates a beautifully messaged tale about environmental conscious, friendship, connectivity, and humanity. Although a slightly more abstract concept for younger children, The Fog is a great lap-read for preschool-aged children to third graders. Paired with Maclear’s…

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Review: Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

Giraffe is bored and decides to write a letter to anyone who Pelican can find over the African horizon. In fact, Pelican is pretty bored too and can use some excitement. Giraffe’s letter makes its way into the hands (or flippers) of Penguin who immediately writes back. Commence an endearing pen pal relationship as the two animals attempt to better understand each other and grow a new and comical friendship. Geared toward high-level first grade readers to lower-level fourth grade readers, Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a sweet and playful story about friendship, connection, differences, and learning. I laughed out loud as Penguin tries to find Whale’s neck and as they attempt to look like each other. Littler kids can enjoy the human-like and relatable qualities of the animals. Takabatake’s illustrations are simple and clean, helping to support Iwasa’s endearing text. Unfortunately I empathized with Giraffe, finding myself slightly bored. While…

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Book Review: Star-Crossed By Barbara Dee

Eighth-grader Mattie is struggling through the school year. Unlike her friends, Tessa and Lucy, she is not invited to Willow’s party. In an act of rebellion, Mattie disguises herself as Darth Vader and decides to attend anyway. Even though the night ends in disaster, Mattie begins to realize that she enjoyed her time with a girl, Gemma, more so than if she was with a boy. Mattie begins to spend more time with Gemma as they are cast together in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Although Mattie initially tries out for the part of Paris, she eventually finds herself as Romeo with Gemma as Juliet. The play as well as the upcoming Valentine’s Day dance forces Mattie to reconcile the unease she feels about her sexuality and decide whether or not to come out to her friends and Gemma. With heartfelt, realistic characters, Star-Crossed is a well-written and…

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