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Books for the Beast: Multicultural October 19, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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It is perhaps not surprising that the books for the Multicultural group were more depressing than the books for the Romance group. Consequently, they took me a bit longer to get through. I had only read one book already out of this bunch (A Million Shades of Gray, which I hadn’t finished) so there were more new characters and authors to discover.

1. A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata 

I’m glad I had a reason to push myself to go back and finish this book. The Vietnam War is a subject that doesn’t get covered in as many children’s books as other historical time periods and many adults prefer to ignore that part of our nation’s history. So recognizing the sacrifices made by many of the different ethnic groups in Vietnam who helped the American army is important work for any book. That said, I thought the most compelling part of the story was the beginning, when we were introduced to the Dega people and the suspense once the village was attacked. Once we learn the result of the risks Y’Tin took, there was less to hold my interest.

 2. The Orange Houses by Paul Griffin

This book was heartbreaking in the best kind of way. Short glimpses of character’s lives add up to a picture of a community trying to make it through each day with little money and less hope. Switching perspective among the three main characters Mik, Jimmi and Fatima, Griffin provides sensitive portrayals of teenage war veterans and illegal immigrants. An extremely compelling read.

3. Tell Us We’re Home by Marina Budhos 

This one I didn’t manage to finish before it had to go back to the library. The story focuses on three girls in the same suburban town, all daughters of immigrants who clean for the rich people and their families. While I appreciate the premise of the book, it seemed like each girl was a little too much of a stereotype in personality (loud&dramatic, smart&artistic, quiet&pretty) and the theme of “these people do so much to help us and then are ignored by everyone” was a bit heavy handed. There was a lot that was stated directly that I felt could have been communicated through the actions or speech of the characters. However, I didn’t get that far, so maybe that was just the exposition in the beginning.

 4. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba

This was the truly inspiring story of the bunch. How Kamkwamba, with little education and still struggling with his family to recover from famine, managed to construct a windmill to bring electricity to his family’s home is an amazing, true tale. I have, for several reasons, been trying to learn more about Africa, both the history of the continent and the daily life of people there today. Kamkwamba shares wonderful details of his family’s daily routines and explains thoroughly the causes and effects of the famine in his country of Malawi. The electricity parts were a little harder for me to follow (I’m not scientifically-minded) but they would be perfect for high school science classes and any student with an interest in how the machines so many of us take for granted are life-changing for people in other places.

5. The Zabime Sisters by Aristophane 

This was the surprise of the group. I had never heard of Aristophane and had no idea what to expect from the story. I was blown away by the power of the artwork and the truth and humor in the story. Three sisters head out for the day on their tropical island in the French Caribbean, ready to run into ghosts, boys, fights and trouble. The conflicts and relationships are communicated perfectly through the posture and angle of the figures, and the charcoal-like brush technique is perfect. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in graphic literature.

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