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Along the Silk Road

3 Jun

As an end of the year project, our 6th graders always write China folk tales. They need to incorporate some of details we learned in class about Ancient China and create a pop-up book. It is a fun project and many os their stories are set along the Silk Road, which is the last topic we cover in class.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover a YA fantasy novel, set along the Silk Road. I read it this weekend, just to be sure it was worth putting in my library. There is a smidge of romance and one kiss, but otherwise it is very chaste.

The Candle and the Flame, by Nafiza Azad, beautifully illustrates the cultural diffusion we talked about in class as people (and creatures) from many different places converge along the Silk Road.

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Publisher’s Summary:
Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population — except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar. But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.

Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences.

What if…

10 Apr

As a teacher, I generally don’t answer “what if” questions – they can really sidetrack what we are working on in class. As a reader, I love that authors tackle all sorts of “what if” questions.

In Internment, Samira Ahmed explores the question, “What if fear and hatred of ‘the other’ is allowed to fester and grow?”

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Publisher’s Summary: Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.
Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.
I was a little ticked at Layla’s recklessness in the opening scene, but it certainly sets her up as a character who would progress from small acts of personal rebellion to larger, more public, acts of resistance. Ahmed does a great job showing the fear that keeps detainees compliant and the mounting consequences for won’t comply. She also demonstrates how easily “good people” start to turn a blind eye, but how the strong voice of opponents of oppression can make a difference.

Another series ended

23 Apr

This weekend, I finished Purple Hearts, the third and final book in Michael Grant’s Front Lines series.

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What a fabulous ending! Not only did we get to follow our characters from the Normandy invasion to their end of the war, Grant also includes a fast forward ending that includes their obituaries so we know what they did with their lives as a whole.  We can imagine all the parts in between. It is really the best of both worlds for readers.

Publisher’s Summary: New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant unleashes the gritty and powerful conclusion to the Front Line series and evokes the brutal truth of World War II: War is hell. An epic tale of historical reimagining, perfect for fans of Code Name Verity and Salt to the Sea.

Courage, sacrifice, and fear have led Rio, Frangie, and Rainy through front-line battles in North Africa and Sicily, and their missions are not over. These soldiers and thousands of Allies must fight their deadliest battle yet—for their country and their lives—as they descend into the freezing water and onto the treacherous sands of Omaha Beach. It is June 6, 1944. D-Day has arrived.

No longer naive recruits, these soldier girls are now Silver Star recipients and battle-hardened. Others look to them for guidance and confidence, but this is a war that will leave sixty million dead. Flesh will turn to charcoal. Piles will be made of torn limbs. The women must find a way to lead while holding on to their own last shreds of belief in humanity.

A break from poetry for zombies

19 Apr

Faithful readers know I don’t do scary. Normally, I wouldn’t read a book about zombies. But the cover of Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation was just too enticing.

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A work of alternate history, the book is set in a world where slavery has been abolished Despite that,  Native Americans and African-Americans aren’t treated much better than before the war and the rise of the zombies.

Ireland’s word-building is great. I was totally immersed in this new America. I was especially grateful that the book wasn’t scary and  descriptions of the killing of zombies weren’t graphic or gross. They were treated rather matter-of-factly, which was just right given the tone of Jane’s narration.

The story bogged down a bit in the middle when we were transported out of Maryland and into Summerland, Kansas, but I kept going because I really liked Jane. A few mature topics, like prostitution, are mentioned obliquely, but I feel very comfortable putting this one in my classroom library.

Publisher’s Summary:Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

When I first picked it up, I thought it was a stand alone. Although the ending is satisfactory, as I approached it, I realized this was the  first book in a series because no way were all the loose ends going to be tied up. So, I will have await the second book to find out if Jane will ever get to see her mother again.

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