Category Archives: Admin

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

bk_long_walk_200pxby Linda Sue Park
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I picked this one up because it’s been on our 6th graders’ summer reading list for a while and I’ve never read it. I was also looking for a quick easy read because it’s been a while since I’ve posted, which leads me to a quick update: I’m away for the majority of 2020 and while I’ll try to keep posting regularly, my book access seems limited to what I can snag as an e-book. I’ll still try to get to newer stuff, but might have to rely on whacking through the huge to-read list of older titles.

However, this book was hardly easy – sure, it only took me a little while to read it, but Salva’s story is a tough one. I did not realize, going in, that this was based on a single true story; I thought it was a composite story. Park knows Salva and had read his written accounts of his life to write her book. The story opens in 1985, when Salva is almost 11 years old and war comes to his village in southern Sudan, and is told alongside the story of a girl in Sudan in 2008, Nya, facing the same water struggles from when Salva was young. War comes to Salva, finally, and all at once, while he is at school and the teacher sends all the young boys into the bush – run away from the village, he says, fearing that the boys would otherwise be forced to become soldiers on one side or the other.

Salva, on his own, meets up with a group of people walking east toward Ethiopia. He meets his uncle along the way, who helps him come to terms with the fact that his family is likely all dead. His uncle and his new friend both die along the way, in pretty gruesome ways that are described quickly and pretty matter-of-factly, but still disturbing especially once you know that this is a true story. Salva’s story includes accounts of life in refugee camps, but at that point the story picks up a lot in pace and much of the interesting narrative elements are lost as we speed through the years to the end of the story. Salva moves to a few different refugee camps, in Ethiopia and then Kenya (when the Ethiopians kick them out), becoming a leader of a group of Lost Boys, and then gets sent to the US to live with a family in Rochester, NY, even though he is no longer a minor. He goes to college and returns to Sudan to help build wells – including the well that Nya’s community gets. Salva is eventually reunited with his father and learns that most of his family survived as well.

I appreciated that there was a note from Salva and an author’s note, both from 2010/2011, and then an updated note from 2015 about the publicity that the books has generated for Salva’s organization, Water for South Sudan. The book is so short that I would have loved more fleshing out of the second half of the story, instead of nearly straight narration. However, the shortness of the book means that a lot of kids choose it for summer reading, and I think it describes a world so utterly unfamiliar to most kids in my community that I really appreciate its inclusion in the curriculum.

Misty Copeland, Jessi Ramsey, and Lessons Learned From Fiction

Reading the Baby-Sitters’ Club books at a young and impressionable age (8-10?) meant that I learned a lot from them. I learned what the word decorum means. I learned what it’s like to have a step-family. I learned what buffalo-head nickels and fedoras and tourniquets are. I even learned what a (derogatory) oreo is. But one lesson I had internalized so hard I took it for granted – until this week – was that it’s normal for ballerinas to be black.

In the Babysitters’ Club books, the original four girls are all in eighth grade (forever), but they quickly branch out into other members, including two Junior members, best friends Mallory Pike and Jessi Ramsey. Each of the BSC girls has traits that differentiate her from the others: Mallory’s are that she has red hair wears glasses [discovered when re-reading!] and comes from a big family; Jessi’s are that she does ballet and that she’s black. According to this website (and there’s more about Jessi and ballet on this blog), Jessi claims that racism no longer exists in the world of ballet, but with Misty Copeland’s recent promotion to principal ballerina making headlines, it seems that is untrue.

As a children’s librarian, I’ve read countless series with a carefully constructed balance of race. Series that come to mind include the Flower Power series by Lauren Myracle, the Beacon Street Girls by Annie Bryant, the Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. These series almost always include a redheaded girl, a brown- and/or blonde-haired girl, an Asian girl, and a black/brown girl. Sometimes, as in the case of Flower Power, they even include a character with gay parents, just to fully round things out on the diversity scale.

The characters are almost always very different in terms of interests and personalities, sometimes to the point of being caricatures, so you wonder why they’re friends, but there are two takeaways to writing about a group of friends like this. One is for kids of all backgrounds to see themselves as protagonists – not just represented in the book as a minor character for diversity’s sake, but actually as a protagonist. This is getting better every day, and is the goal of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Twitter.

The other takeaway is for kids – readers – to understand that they can make a conscious choice to overcome the subtle racism that they have already absorbed from their surroundings and to choose as friends people who may look different from themselves, but share something – an experience (overcoming a bully, as in Flower Power; adjusting to a new school, as in Beacon Street Girls; being dragged to a mother-daughter book club, as in Frederick’s series) or simply a friendliness and openness. It is human nature that we gravitate toward others who look like us, but what if “like us” referred to physical expressions of our personalities (clothing styles, hair/makeup styles – though these are definitely currently influenced by our class, race and culture) and not skin color, hair color, gender, age?

I’m not denying that the Baby-Sitter’s Club books are flawed, especially when representing a world as technical and detailed as ballet, but I think they teach a very valuable lesson, which is that you can be anything you want. Maybe that’s a really Millennial outlook, but it’s one thing we can count on many fiction writers to do: depict the world as they wish it would be, and leave as their mark a small, subtle shift in the way people think things can be. Ann Martin gave us a world in which a black girl can be a principal ballerina; hers and other series give us worlds in which kids can be friends with kids who look different than them, because they have other things in common. By showing us how this world can exist, they are taking steps towards making it reality, and that is the beauty and optimism of fiction.

I grew up understanding Jessi’s ballet skills as a fact of life, so Ms. Copeland’s achievement surprised me at first and then thrilled me. Maybe she will be offended that I didn’t know how hard it had been for her to get there, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that racism doesn’t exist. Just that, for a while anyway, one reader (okay, probably lots of readers) were moving through the world blissfully unaware that it wasn’t the norm. Any aspiring black dancer would have found herself represented, if not in the actual world, then in a book. And that’s got to be better than nothing.

School’s Out!

Which means I finally have a bit more free time on my hands – not to mention 100 reviews to post which I did for my class (Survey and Analysis of Literature for Children Grades 4-8). The assignment was NOT to include a summary, so I will add those to the best of my ability, and then include the class assignment (“personal review” and “what might interest children”). There were 22 categories and I will probably post by category to make it easier. I also may not post the reviews from the non-book categories (video games, magazines, and movies). Stay tuned!

Homage

I am in the middle of a week-long vacation which took me over the weekend to Portland, Oregon and the home of Powell’s Books, which more astute readers will recognize as the host of most of the book-related links and photos.  I had been to the City of Books before but of course needed to pay homage.  Favorite discoveries included:

~over 5 shelves just of Don Quijote

~a display of Scott Pilgrims (the movie just came out)

~Philippa Fisher’s Fairy Godsister (#1 in the series) and City of Ember which, after a lot of consideration, followed me home even though I “wasn’t gonna buy anything”!

Bud, Not Buddy – Take 2

I expressed my concerns to the Bud enthusiast, who advised that maybe it was not the book for me on account of my delicate sensibilities.  Taking that cue, I will unfortunately not be attempting to reunite with Bud anytime soon.

-The Management