Inside Out & Back Again

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by Thanhha Lai, ages 8 – 12,   a 2012 Newbery Honor book and 2011 National Book Award Winner

Delightful verse brings you right inside the head of a girl who has always lived in Saigon with her mother and brothers. Her vivid descriptions of papaya trees and mopeds and water spinach and hammocks illustrate how much she loved her life there. In 1975, as the war ends badly, we follow young Ha as she boards an overcrowded boat, “trapped in putrid, hot air made from fermented bodies and oily sweat” as their country, South Vietnam, disappears.

A man she thinks is a cowboy rescues them from a refugee camp in Florida, but life in Alabama is hard. At school, classmates tease her with whispers of “Boo-Da,” and a bully she calls Pink Boy torments her. Her brothers save her more than once, by bicycle or motorcycle. The family gets by.

This story is based on the author’s own experience, moving from Vietnam to America, so it rings with authenticity and lyrical grace. Highly recommended—even for those who think they don’t like books in verse.   The author's website is here http://www.thanhhalai.com/author/

Kira-Kira

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by Cynthia Kadohata, ages 10 - 14,   2005 Newbery Medal winner

Be prepared for sadness as well as beauty when you read this glittering novel. Katie adores her older sister, Lynn, who helps her when they move from Iowa to Georgia in the 1950s. They are among only 31 Japanese Americans in their new town, and their parents work hideously long hours in a non-unionized poultry plant and hatchery.  Yet they enjoy camping trips, their baby brother, and special moments together, staring at the stars. Lynn has a special way of viewing the world, seeing joy in everyday things.

When Lynn starts to feel tired and sick, no one realizes how serious her illness is. Still devoted, Katie spends long hours with her sister as the illness gets worse. Heartbreaking as this story is, it is also funny, poignant, compelling, and inspiring. Lynn’s dream was to go to college and to live by the sea in California, and Katie wants to keep her dreams alive. Because of Katie’s fresh and detailed way of telling her story, you will come to love her family as if it were your own. 

The author's website is http://cynthiakadohata.com/

The Drowning World

by Brenda Peterson. A gripping tale of life in an imagined undersea world.  

Whoa! This book is a winner, sure to catch on and captivate and ensnare readers of all ages, especially young people. Brenda Peterson has created a richly imagined underwater world called “Aquantis,” complete with mer-people who can shift between one tail and two legs, mind-talking communication with dolphins and sea turtles, a Hogwarts-like training school, and even a dark underside of exploited workers in the sea gardens.

Part of the story is set in the year 2030, and the author gives us a vivid portrayal of what global warming might do to the low-lying lands of south Florida, swept by frequent hurricanes, covered with mud, and its residents, doomed to a life offshore on Eco-Arks.

But what kept me turning pages were the adventures of the main characters: sixteen-year-old Marina, assigned to explore the “SkyeWorld” as a spy-ambassador, and Lukas, a sexy young human drawn into the underwater world while trying to save turtles from an oil spill. Can’t wait for the sequel!

More information is available at Brenda Peterson's website and at amazon.com.

Yokohama Yankee

Yokohama Yankee: My Family's Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan, by Leslie Helm

Yokohama Yankee is unlike any memoir or family story I’ve evYokohama Yankee voerery read: the elegant, skillful melding of a poignant story of the adoption of two Japanese children with the swashbuckling tales of a family that began in the 1870s when a German man married his Japanese housekeeper. Born and raised in the foreign enclave of Yokohama, Leslie Helm delves deep beneath the surface of Japan, weaving together that country’s ugly and beautiful aspects and its love-hate relations with “gaijin.” He analyzes himself and his family with an unflinching eye, producing a powerful, honest and self-reflective story that shows bitterness, family betrayal, a longing for belonging, and subtle tenderness. To say nothing of a mad samurai who committed murder and seppuku in the house of Helm’s great-grandfather!

The illustrations are magnificent and bring the history to life: not only family photographs but postcards and maps of old Yokohama, handwritten notes, wrenching wartime landscapes, and whimsical chapter headings inspired by postal stamps.

I highly recommend this book, which that will draw you in and take you on a journey to the long-ago and far-away – and bring you safely back to present-day America. Find out more at Leslie Helm's author website.

The Friendship Doll

Friendship Dollby Kirby Larson

This is a delicious book that made me smile many times. Miss Kanagawa, a three-foot-tall doll hand-made in Japan, came to the United States in 1927, along with 57 other dolls, as an ambassador of friendship. That much is a true story. What American children might she have met, and how might she have affected their lives? That is where Kirby Larson’s vivid imagination kicks in.

A rich, spoiled girl in New York City in 1928. A daughter of an unemployed mechanic in Chicago in the early days of the Depression.  A lively reader from a fatherless family in “the holler” in backwoods Kentucky in 1937.  An Okie girl whose family lost their farm in the Dust Bowl and had to look for work on the West Coast. A modern-day boy in Seattle.

At first I thought the messages about friendship, as given by this doll, might be clichéd, but Newbery Honor Winning author Kirby Larson doesn’t do clichés. Each of these children speaks with a clear, distinctive voice, using fresh metaphors and images true to their time and place. Even Miss Kanagawa has attitude. And all of these compelling mini-stories have surprise endings!

I highly recommend this book, especially for girls who think they have outgrown their love for dolls.

Kirby Larson's website is http://www.kirbylarson.com/

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