Friday, 4 January 2013

My Brother's Keeper

Title: My Brother's Keeper
Author: Patricia McCormick
Publisher: Hyperion

My Brother's Keeper is about a boy (Toby) his two brothers (Jake and Eli) and his mom (Suzi). Toby's family lives in Pittsburgh and Toby and Jake are huge Pittsburgh Pirate fans. Almost every day after school, Toby goes and works for a man named Mr. D. Mr. D. is a baseball card collector and helps feed Toby's own card collection.

One day Mr. D gives Toby a mint condition 62 Stargell, the one card that Toby has dreamed about ever since his dad left. Toby has had this dream because everyone, but especially his dad, loved Willie Stargell (the one person who did not leave the Pirates for better money or for a nicer team his entire career).

When Toby gets home to show off his card to everyone, he gets the impression that Jake doesn't care. Toby realizes that Jake has stopped caring about baseball since his dad has left. Using information that he learns in health class, Toby realizes that Jake is meddling in something that will get bigger and bigger and soon take over them.

Even though I know nothing about baseball, I found this book easy to follow. Patricia wrote My Brother's Keeper with an interesting sense of humour that kept me coming back for more.

By Kai Roberts (son)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Two books about young women in war-torn Afghanistan

 In the autumn, to prepare for an assignment for my Social Studies class, I read a book called Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy.  I had chosen the themes of immigration and human rights to interest middle-years readers, given the kinds of multi-cultural environments in many of today's classrooms.  (Also, the curriculum expectations of the grade seven Manitoba Social Studies curriculum is focused on citizenship and human rights.)  One of the other books I then used as an English Language Arts resource for readers at a lower level was by an author named Rukhsana Khan.  In the intervening time, I have discovered another book by Khan, called Wanting Mor.  These two books have some interesting details in common... Reedy is a member of the American military, and Khan is a Canadian Muslim woman, who was born in Pakistan, emigrating to Canada when she was three years of age.  Both books provide insight into a world far removed from current Canadian teenage experiences, and are written with respect.  I am so intrigued at the similarity in subject matter, that I wanted to present both books.

Reedy's Book:  Words in the Dust

Hidden behind her chador, 13 year old Zulaikha hopes for a future that includes the opportunity to learn to read and write, to be beautiful like her sister, and to escape from the drudgery of her daily life.  Her stepmother resents her because of physical imperfections that stem from a cleft palate. Local boys taunt her, calling her “Donkeyface”.   NATO (U.S.) troops move into her Afghan village and an encounter with an American medical officer offer the opportunity for surgery that will improve her physical health and appearance.  Zulaikha’s dream of education is thwarted by issues of war, poverty, living in a post-Taliban Afghan community, and expectations of the roles of girls in rural Afghan society.  Her father is supportive of the surgery but her stepmother thwarts many of this teenage girl’s attempts to live outside the closed world of the family.  Zulaikha encounters her birth mother’s friend Meena, who secretly helps her learn to read.  The novel is based on the author’s real-life experiences.  Reedy, a member of the Iowa National Guard was conscripted to Afghanistan to assist with reconstruction after the war.

Khan's Book:  Wanting Mor
Jameela is a teenage girl living in a village in war-torn Afghanistan.  Her opportunities are limited, especially with regard to health care and education, and Jameela faces issues because of a cleft palate that was never medically treated.  But she has the love and support of her personal faith and her mother's love.  When her mother Mor dies, her father moves to Kabul with his daughter.  Life as she knew it falls apart. He starts drinking, remarries, enlisting her as a personal "slave" to his new wife.  He then abandons her in the marketplace after she is discovered learning to read.  Although this is a catastrophic experience, she ends up in an orphanage run by the foreign army who killed people in her community (I can't remember if it was American-run or not).  This provides her with an education, food, and shelter, and an operation to repair the untreated cleft palate.  She becomes a teacher's assistant and ultimately ensures her personal future.  Although all hope appeared lost, she did not give up on her personal dreams and need for self-fulfillment. Khan's website states that this was based on a true story.  


Friday, 26 October 2012

More on DUST

More on Dust, by Arthur Slade.  

I read a set of 10 texts for an assignment for my middle years ELA course this term.  My focus was on immigration, and one of the books I picked was called Andrei and the Snow Walker (which I will write about another day).  I was checking out a review in CM Magazine and the author suggested that the book Dust was a much better read if you wanted to read a good book about life on the prairies. 

I don't agree at all.  Each has a completely different focus -- I wouldn't compare the two in terms of prairie life of the past -- although each have elements of magic interspersed with historical fiction. The book has excellent descriptions of prairie life in the depression.   If you like your historical stories spiced up with the unbelievable and magical, you'll enjoy Dust.  It's set in the dust bowl of 1930s Saskatchewan; it has an evil villain who has obvious links with the devil; people are captivated by a belief that everything will get better if they follow a mesmerizing peron's bidding; a boy is kidnapped; another boy, his older brother is pivotal to the rescue of the entire town (spoiler alert... oops).

I want to project something onto this story -- why else would the author mix historical realism with magical fantasy?  Maybe there's a link with the prairie prophets of the 1920s and 1930s --  William Aberhardt, the Baptist preacher who lead the Social Credit party, might be some short of opposite model for the man who tried to convince the entire town to follow his particular vision.   I'm not sure of the reasons for mixing the two -- creativity?  A way to show how two styles can work together?  I don't know if I'm fond of this particular method, but I did find the descriptions of life in Depression-era prairies very well written. The main character, a boy named Robert, is smart and wise, and you want him to solve the mystery of the missing younger brother.

by Brigitte (mom)

Sunday, 21 October 2012



Author: Eric Walters

Sketches is a book about a girl named Dana and her friends Brent and Ashely, but they aren't normal children. They live on the streets of New York.

Dana ran away from her house because of horrible stuff between her, and her step dad. She hopped on a bus and then another and another to get away. That night, she slept on the floor behind a locker in a warehouse. When she woke up, her backpack was stolen. Then all she had was her clothes and her wallet.

The story sketches is about how Dana and her friends deal with the problems of being on the streets and about the problems with her step dad. I rate this book 8 out of 10.

By Kai


By Arthur Slade.

Mom and I each plan to review this book before we discuss it with each other.

Matthew Steelgate can't wait to go to town to buy candie, his mom really wanted Robert to go help him, however Robert doesn't feel the need. Robert wants to stay home and read too, when Matthew gets abducted, Robert can't help but think that it was his fault.

 A new stranger has showed up in town, and bought and refurbished the abandoned theatre. His name is Abram. Who is this Abram? Why would he move to a town where there is nothing but dust and dashed hopes? Is there a connection between other abductions in nearby Regina and Matthew's abduction?

As the book progresses magical things start to happen. People seem to be hypnotized and fall asleep at certain times. Abram makes a machine that can make rain, it is called a rain mill. Soon the town is green and there is hope for this years crops, but the greenness is only around the town, people in other towns still have their hopes and dreams dashed, because they haven't had rain in years. When Abram gives a lesson on butterflies at the school, everyone has dreams of butterflies especially a big one that tries to make them come with her.

Worst of all Robert's parents have almost forgotten about Matthew, and Robert feels the need to investigate further. The ending is fast paced with a surprisingly mythical conclusion.

Dust is an interesting read, if a little slow during the beginning and middle of the book. I would give this book a 7 out of 10. During the beginning, I would not have thought this book to be mythical. A good read I would suggest it readers who like reading, as I said before it is not fast paced.                        

Gabriel (son)

Monday, 8 October 2012


By Veronica Roth


In what appears to be a post apocalyptic world,  a new society has sprung up. The new society is divided up into five factions. Each believes in it's own virtue, each lives by it's own virtue. Candor, the honest, Abnegation the selfless, Dauntless the brave, Amity the peaceful, and Erudite the intelligent. However on one day one choice decides your future, in an almost cruel way, and if you can't decide or are incompetent or fail the initiation into your new faction you join the factionless, the outcasts of society.

We meet up with our hero Tris Prior struggling with guilt from what she did during the Erudite attack on the rest of society. Missing her parents, and wondering if she is doing things right she runs into relationship problems, all the while having to make choices, that cause her even more grief and guilt. Even though she is Divergent she soon has to start worrying about the simulations and how she might not be in control of them and herself the next time the head of Erudite Jeanine decides to accomplish something in that sick way of hers. With her relationship problems growing worse, Jeanine manages to guilt Tris into coming to Erudite headquarters to be experimented on so that Erudite can improve the simulations and make even the Divergent susceptible to the simulations.

After a big escape from an unexpected source Tris realizes that life is important, and that she wants to live it. Tris soon finds out why Erudite attacked everyone, it wasn't for power. Abnegation had been trusted with information that Jeanine wanted to protect. She didn't think the entire society was ready for it. So after a big fight where the resistance army plans to destroy Erudite and their information, Erudite crumbles.

Tris knowing that the army will be ruthless and destroy all the information says that she is not emotionally and psychologically ready to attend the battle but, instead sneaks into the Erudite compound during the assault and tries to find the information with a couple of other people. Confronting her fears and having to use her Divergence she gets caught by her own army, and worse, she can deal with the army but she is also caught by her boyfriend making her relationship problems unbearable. Labeled a traitor she talks one last time to Tobias her boyfriend and manages to sort out their problems and gets him to find the information. Finally a win for Tris.

Roth was able to finally towards the end of the book make her negative book a positive one. I was able to predict most of what would happen in the next chapters, again and again. But I did not guess the ending, the truth about the apocalyptic world and human nature rocks the book to its core. I suggest that you read this book, the ending to me was worth 500 hundred pages of stalling, and Roth has opened the story for another book. I predict there will be a third novel better than the first and second combined. I would suggest this book and especially the first book (Divergent) to grade 7 and 8 readers, and of course anyone older. This book has some violence in it. I really liked it a Insurgent a lot, especially the ending.

By Gabriel (son)

Stand Your Ground

Stand Your Ground is about a kid named Jonathan. Jonathan isn't a normal boy because his dad is a con-artist. So what do you do when your dad has a mob of angry people after him? You lay low at your grandparents, who you've only met at your mom's funeral.

Stand Your Ground is about a man and a 14 year old teenager learning about each other's differences.
One trained to be a con-artist, the other an old Dutch wood worker. Jonathan thinks that his dad will come pick him up right away so he starts scamming kids. Eventually he makes friends with his Grandfather who helps him get a job to pay off the scammed kids, and in the end it all comes down to staying with his grandparents, or going on with his dad.

I strongly suggest you read this great novel by Eric Walters.

By Kai

Author: Eric Walters
Publisher: Stoddart Publishers