Book Review: Escape from Aleppo

26146347Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Sendai is a timely and eye-opening story about a 14-year-old girl who is forced to flee her home during the Syrian Civil War.

When bombs start falling on her neighborhood in October 2013, Nadia’s family decides to leave. But in the chaos, she and her cat Mishmish get separated from the others. With the help of a mysterious old man and two young boys, she’ll have to make her way to the Turkish border.

Escape from Aleppo is a suspenseful and evocative story about her journey through the war-torn city. In addition, through flashbacks, the reader sees glimpses of her ordinary life (painting her fingernails, watching Arab Idol, eating her grandmother’s cookies) before the war.

Although it’s fictional, this book weaves in a lot of factual information. I like middle grade books about recent history because they help kids understand important events that are rarely discussed in school.

I recommend this book for middle schoolers who have read about the Syrian refugee crisis in the news or seen the heartbreaking before-and-after pictures of the ancient city of Aleppo and want to know more about what kids are going through in that part of the world.

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Book Review: Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

35098408Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla is a fun, fast-paced story about a 6th grader named Stanley and an epic comics trivia contest.

Stanley has sensory processing disorder, and a lot of things stress him out, such as his 14-year-old brother, his absent father, the fact that his best friend wants to make new friends, bullies, the ridiculously terrifying safety drills at his new school, crowds, noise, and having to say hello to the new girl next door.

The new girl, Liberty, turns out to be pretty cool, though. With her can-do attitude and Stanley’s encyclopedic knowledge of comics, they make a great team for Trivia Quest, an all-day treasure hunt in downtown San Diego. If they can solve all seven puzzles, they’ll win VIP passes to Comic Fest the following weekend. But it won’t be easy…

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine is a great book about facing challenges and overcoming fears. Anyone who’s ever felt anxious about a new situation will relate to Stanley.

Book Review: The Once and Future Geek

37699465If you like time travel stories, Arthurian legends, or video games, then you should check out The Once and Future Geek, the first book in Mari Mancusi’s new series called The Camelot Code. It’s action-packed and funny.

Not only do Sophie and Stu, two modern day middle schoolers, travel back in time to Camelot, but a young Arthur and Guinevere also travel to the 21st century. This mixing of characters and time periods leads to some humorous moments. While Stu uses his video game skills to defeat challengers to the throne and defend Britain against the Saxons, Guinevere tries her first cherry Slurpee from 7-Eleven (and gets her first brain freeze!).

When Arthur learns from “the Google” how his story ends, he balks at returning to his own time. His actions in the present are starting to affect the fabric of time, though, threatening everything from Stu’s life to pepperoni pizza. To make matters worse, the evil Morgana wants to kill Arthur. It’s up to Sophie and Stu to save the day (with a little help from Merlin).

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is November 20.

Book Review: Front Desk

31247008Front Desk by Kelly Yang is so good. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me want to rush out and give a copy to all the kids I know (starting with Larrabee).

Set in the early 1990s, Front Desk is the story of ten-year-old Mia Tang, who just moved to the United States from China. Her parents take a job managing a motel in Anaheim, California, and Mia often handles the front desk. The motel owner, Mr. Yao, makes life difficult for her parents, while she has to deal with his son Jason at school.

Some of the things I loved most about this book are:

  • Mia.  Mia is a terrific narrator. She’s caring, brave, resourceful, and optimistic. Kids will root for her whether she’s helping her father wash towels in the bathtub when the washing machine breaks or navigating 5th grade as the only girl who can’t afford jeans.
  • Mia’s friendship with Lupe. At school, Mia bonds with Lupe, the daughter of Mexican immigrants.
  • Mia’s relationship with her parents. Mia’s mother and father want only the best for her but sometimes fail to understand what she’s going through.
  • Mia’s hotel community.  Mia and her parents left their extended family behind in China, but they find a new one with Hank and the other weeklies and with the Chinese immigrants they feed and house at the hotel.
  • Mia’s letters. Throughout the story, Mia writes letters, including demand letters, thank you letters, and letters of recommendation. Although she’s not a native English speaker, Mia is a character who changes the world with her English words.

This book tackles tough, discussion-worthy topics, such as immigration, poverty, and racial discrimination, but it does so in the context of a story that’s engaging and accessible to kids. Highly recommend!