Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reading award winners

This week I've been reading award winning books.  My local library JUST got in the books that are on the short list for the National Book award for young people so I totally SCORED.  I'd read three of them already, so I had two left.  This week I read one of them called "Threatened" by Eliot Schrefer.  He also wrote Endangered which was also on the short list for the National Book award last year and I can totally see why.  "Threatened" was such an interesting story with very compelling characters and very topical situations.  It's about a boy named Luc who lives in Gabon.  He is so ignorant that as he starts to tell his story, I was bit confused about how he had come to live in a boarding house (essentially a share cropper kind of situation where he owed a lot of money from his mother's and sister's extended hospital stay so he was working off the debt, which sounded like it would probably take forever).  Luc is serving drinks at a local bar when an unusual man comes in.  The man is Arab and apparently a scientist who wants to study chimpanzees.  He hires Luc to carry his bag and then to go on his expedition into the bush.  Luc has been taught from an early age that chimpanzees are dangerous and so he goes with a LOT of trepidation.  There are TONS of great things to connect to in this story... AIDS orphans, chimpanzee and endangered animal protection versus the needs of the indigenous people, the politics of Gabon, scientific research by big American companies, Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey...  AND it's well written and really hard to put down.  I loved this one but I think it's probably too big for my elementary age students, I would think middle school and up could read it.

I also read the Man Booker Prize winner this week.  The Man Booker Prize is for great literature in the United Kingdom and they made a big deal this year that the winner was Australian and not English (apparently they even considered some American literature, even though we aren't part of the UK, but it didn't make the cut).  The book that won is called "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" by Richard Flanagan.  This is DEFINITELY an adult book and it was really good.  It's the story of a man named Dorrigo Evans who grew up in Australia, became a doctor, went to war during World War 2, was sent to a prison camp in Burma and forced to help build a railroad there, fell in love, got married and had a family.  The story is not told consecutively so it's a little confusing about where exactly you are in his life sometimes but the story telling is amazing.  The imagery is rich and vivid (sometimes you wish he'd back off a bit!) and it was hard to put down.  

The last one I read this week was not an award winner but it should have been.  I also maybe shouldn't have read this one right after I finished the "Narrow Road" because it was sort of surprising how similar they were.  This one is called "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Septys.  (NOT 50 Shades of Gray, please).  I got to hear Ruta Septys speak at the International Reading Association conference in New Orleans in May.  I'd never heard of her book until then, but it sounded compelling.  It's based on her dad's experiences as a young man who escaped from Lithuania and ended up in America.  So I finally found the book at my library this week and wow, was it great.  It's about a 16 year old girl named Lina who lives with her parents and younger brother in Lithuania in the 1940s.  They have up until this point lived a fairly privileged life... Lina dreams of becoming an artist when the Russians come and take her and the rest of her family to a work camp in Russia.  The train ride there is arduous.  Her dad is separated from the rest of the family but they have hope that he is still ok.  Life in the camp is very hard and they are expected to do farm work and other manual labor to earn their keep.  Starvation and malnutrition are rampant in the camp because the Russians believe that the Lithuanians are inferior to them and they don't have to treat them like people, they are animals, which was exactly the sentiment expressed in "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" by the Japanese.  I really liked this story because it gave a different point of view to World War 2.  "Between Shades of Gray" would make a great mentor text because in addition to the historical part, it also talks about using art to show things rather than telling them.  Using the art pieces mentioned in the story as well as other art work about war experiences would be a great connection.  Here's a video where she tells about how she got the idea for the book.  

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