Every once in a while, I read a book that affects me so profoundly that I call all of my friends and tell them they HAVE TO READ IT! Refugee by Alan Gratz is one of those books. I'll admit, I've never been a huge history buff so I tend to shy away from historical fiction. This book, however, might have changed my reading habits. It tells three different stories about children who become refugees while escaping persecution. The first child is Josef whose Jewish family is running from the atrocities of WWII by ship. The second is Isabel, a Cuban girl whose family is trying to escape the oppression of Castro in 1994 by raft and finally, Mahmoud whose Syrian family is struggling to flee war torn Syria on foot. Each one of their stories is completely engrossing. The dangers the families face seem unreal, and it's difficult to grasp that this all really happened and is still happening today. These stories are very emotional and focus on innocent children during wartime. Their journeys stem not from bravery, but from life and death situations. However, the bravery they show facing numerous challenges is a continuous theme throughout the book
The chapters rotate through the three narrators and just when I couldn't wait to see what happened next, it would switch to the other stories. This is quite all right though as each chapter is as captivating as the next. I did have a friend mention to me that she skipped through and read each child's story completely. My advice would be not to do this because you might not fully appreciate the twist at the end of the book. This one is a bit tough for me to gauge a recommended age level. This is marketed for 9-12 year old children. The reading level is fine for middle grade students, but some might be scared by the guns, bombings, drownings, and other near death experiences. It was difficult for me to process the heartbreak, so I worry about sensitive readers. I would say 6th grade and up with parents being aware of the content.
I recently finished Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas after Amazon suggested I might like it based on my other interests. I had never heard of this book before, but I had to give it a shot based on the title alone! I’ve always been a Little House fan and was curious as to the premise of this story. I found it to be very entertaining with several great lessons for middle grade students. Charlotte and her family have been nomads for as long as she can remember. Her mother is a free spirited hippie like woman who moves her family from town to town in a constant search for positive energy and spiritual fulfillment. For this most recent move, Charlotte’s mom is trying to write a children’s book about prairie life so naturally she must transport her children to the town of Walnut Grove to channel the ultimate prairie spirit- Laura Ingalls Wilder. A small town like Walnut Grove isn't really at the top of Charlotte's list of places she would like to live, so her journey starts with a negative attitude before she even arrives. Adding to that, Charlotte, her twin Freddy, and half sister Rose have been uprooted so many times that Charlotte is determined not to make any friends since she will just have to leave them when her mother gets another whim and moves them again. Girls at school try to befriend her, but Charlotte is convinced they will be like mean girls she has known in the past and her new teacher, Mrs. Newman, doesn’t stand a chance with Charlotte again based on past experiences. Charlotte's grand plan is to isolate herself as much as possible and limit social interactions. When her brother Freddy, the only constant in her life, starts to pull away and make new friends, Charlotte feels lonelier than ever. Adding to her struggles, while made famous through the Little House books, life in Walnut Grove is difficult. The town is tiny without a lot of activities and the winters are extremely harsh In a twist of events, Charlotte, who is sick of hearing about Laura, inadvertently gets a job volunteering at the Laura Ingalls Museum and ultimately realizes the old books can actually teach her a thing or two about acceptance and gratitude.
This is a book I would certainly recommend.to everyone whether they were fans of Ingalls or not. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the references to a Pa Ingalls, Plum Creek and Nellie Olsen, but besides the history, it’s mostly a story about family and sibling relationships. As brothers and sisters grow older, roles change and these three children have to navigate that. There is much of the book that was funny and lighthearted but also parts that were a little sad. Living with a flighty mother that needs as much care as a child is another problem facing the siblings. Reading about the mom was frustrating at times because while she loves her kids, her choices are very selfish. While her character is annoying the rest of the story is quite enjoyable. Of course I was rooting for Charlotte to overcome her fear of rejection and find true stability and happiness but there are some funny bumps along the way. I hope that students will read this and perhaps take another look at the original Laura Ingalls Wilder books.
Restart, Gordon Korman’s newest novel, is a phenomenal book. I wish every middle school would make it required reading. The story begins with eighth grade student Chase falling from his roof and waking in the hospital with amnesia. While he can walk and talk, he has no memory of his family, friends, or life before the fall. When he is finally ready to return to school, still suffering from amnesia, he notices that students seem to be avoiding him and teachers aren’t especially nice to him. Worst of all, the boys that say they are his best friends are total thugs and they expect Chase to be the same way. He soon discovers that the other students avoid him because they fear him. Before the accident, he was the school’s worst bully. He was merciless to students who couldn’t defend themselves and horribly disrespectful to adults. The post-accident Chase can hardly believe the terrible stories he hears about the way he used to be before he hit his head. He doesn’t have the slightest inclination to be rude or mean to anyone or any memory of acting that way. He’s kind, thoughtful, and polite and is actually disgusted by the boys who were once his friends. They still behave the way he used to behave and they don't respect his choice to be a better person. Chase attends school each day hoping for someone he used to bully to give him a second chance. Finally, Brendan, a boy Chase used to torture from the AV club, reaches out and offers Chase a spot in the club. The other members are horrified. Chase made their lives miserable and is even the sole reason one of the club members, Joel, had to switch schools. Joel’s sister, Shosanna, has the most difficulty with Chase and is very upset that he gets assigned to work with her on a special project at the community retirement home.
What I found so moving in this story is the depths of Chase’s guilt when he discovers who he used to be. I could feel his deep regret as I was reading each chapter. Even though he targeted many students before the accident, Chase is a victim now as well. He is a victim of his past actions and suffers the consequences. The sub plot of the retirement home is a way for him to redeem himself. Meeting some of the elderly residents helps to shape the moral compass of the new Chase. While the amnesia is at first tough for him, all of the characters in the book, including Chase, come to learn that it is actually a profound gift for them- the chance to start over and become the people they were once too scared to be. I highly recommend this book to all middle level readers.