Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Amina's Voice & read-alikes: connecting readers with more books (ages 9-12)

Many of our students really enjoyed reading Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan, as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs. They connected with the way Amina learns to cope with her nerves, finds the courage to perform, and deals with the pressures of sixth grade.
Amina's Voice
by Hena Khan
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster, 2017
Amazon / your local library / Google Books preview
ages 9-12
As Amina starts sixth grade, she struggles with friendship and family issues. At school, her best friend Soojin is befriending another girl, Emily. Soojin is also talking about becoming an American citizen and taking a second, more American name. Amina just wants things to stay the same with Soojin.

At home, Amina loves to sing; true to her parents' nickname (geeta, 'song' in Urdu), she has a beautiful voice. Amina avoids the spotlight, and prefers to sing by herself. When her uncle Thaya Jaan, who is visiting from Pakistan, tells her parents that her singing and piano playing are un-Islamic, she feels undermined and unsure of herself just as she's trying to get up the courage to perform at a school concert.

Students of many backgrounds really responded to this story. Here are some of their comments:
  • "It totally hooked me and stayed with me."
  • "I liked the beginning how she felt nervous and scared, and then she overcame this."
  • "It was intense when their mosque burnt down."
  • "I could relate to having arguments with a friend."
Berkeley librarians worked together to recommend "read-alikes" for students who enjoyed Amina's Voice.
If you liked Amina's Voice for the way Amina found her own voice, you might try:
If you liked Amina's Voice for the way it portrayed a Pakistani family in America, you might try:
In looking for read-alikes, we tried to think of a "hook" to give a student a connection to another book. We also looked for books that would appeal to students at a similar emotional level and reading level. This is not an exact match, but rather a general guide to help us. We also looked for books that many of our libraries have and books that are still in print.

Many thanks to all of the librarians in Berkeley (both at BUSD school libraries and Berkeley Public Library) who are helping us create these read alike lists. Please let us know if you have any other books to add to these suggestions!

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wrinkle in Time: the movie, the novel & the graphic novel (ages 9-14)

In her Newbery medal-winning classic, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle created Meg Murray, an angsty, angry, passionate, heroic young girl on a quest to save her father and vanquish evil from the universe.

Does Ava DuVernay's film adaptation capture the story and L'Engle's characters? Most certainly yes. I can also certainly say that the movie is best seen alongside reading both the original novel and the recent graphic novel adaptation. Yes, see this movie AND read the book.

A Wrinkle in Time is a visual splendor. DuVernay catapults us into the fantastical otherworlds of Uriel, Ixchel and Camazotz. Even more than that, she gives us a Meg we can easily identify with, a young teen struggling with bullying at school, a missing father and a world that doesn't seem to recognize her gifts. As A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times,
"It is the first $100 million movie directed by an African-American woman, and the diversity of its cast is both a welcome innovation and the declaration of a new norm."
I especially appreciate the way Meg is an introverted, brainy heroine who struggles to control her emotions. I am grateful for the additional layers that DuVernay added with Meg's biracial identity. She is a young teen many girls today can relate to.
Storm Reid as Meg Murray, in A Wrinkle in Time
Meg is called on a classic hero's quest, and through her journey she battles her insecurities, claims her purpose and discovers hope for the world. Storm Reid plays her with a perfect balance of straightforward every-girl and brainy teenage heroine. She is rightfully frustrated at the injustices around her, and she discovers that the answers lay in both her heart and her critical problem-solving.

The Mrs. W's were imaginatively realized in the movie. Although they were not what I had imagined when I first read this story, they came alive on the screen as fully realized characters. I must say that Oprah's Mrs. What captured the inner voice of wisdom and guidance much more than the original text or even the audiobook, in which her language came across as hissing or stuttering.

While the movie captures the emotional development and visual tone of the story, its rushed ending left me thinking back to the book. I missed Aunt Beast's careful tending to Meg, helping her discover the light and hope in the world. I wondered how Calvin reunited with Meg.

I hope those questions will lead children back to reading or rereading the books, both Madeline L'Engle's original A Wrinkle in Time and Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.
In the end, I so appreciate the way Ava DuVernay embraced and captured this imaginative, passionate heroine. Meg wrestles with the existence of good and evil, she embraces love and hope, she claims her identity as a geeky girl who can figure out how to solve problems much bigger than herself. As Madeline L'Engle said in her Newbery Medal acceptance speech in 1963,
"We have the vocation of keeping alive Mr. Melcher's (the founder of the Newbery award) excitement in leading young people into an expanding imagination. Because of the very nature of the world as it is today our children receive in school a heavy load of scientific and analytic subjects, so it is in their reading for fun, for pleasure, that they must be guided into creativity."
Yes, that is just it. Books help young readers discover expanding worlds. Stories lead to stories, ideas create more ideas. I can't wait to hear what others think of this movie and whether it will bring them back to reading the stories.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books