The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman

The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman is a clever chapter book written from the perspective of four different preteens who have been caught cheating on their homework with a “homework machine.” The book is also fun as the students overcome their own prejudices and judgments of one another in order to unite in using the machine to better enjoy their afternoons. They come to recognize the ways that they are similar to one another, and they stand up for one another against the mockery of the rest of the class. I liked the book as a look at the friendship among young kids.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the different voices for each of the youngsters. It is clear from their voices that each has a very different personality, and their writing styles reflect that. This would be a fun novel for a teacher to use to demonstrate the importance of voice in a fictional text.

Beyond that, The Homework Machine is a fun story about kids cheating the “system.” What kid does not wish to do away with busy work homework?

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011 National Book Award for Young People and Newbery Honor Award) is a novel in poetry about a young girl’s relocation to American from Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It is about the challenge of starting over and the pain of discrimination in a strange new country and culture. It is a beautiful story for the curious child.

Many of the chapters could stand somewhat alone as they explore different aspects of the journey away from the familiar (in Kim Ha’s case, the busyness of the Saigon markets and their loving home) and into the foreign (a community in Alabama in post-Civil Rights era 1907s). Some of her challenges are specific to her situation as a refuge from Vietnam (such as the language barrier and obvious cultural differences), but others are the difficulties of growing up. I loved to see this unique perspective of the 1970s.

Ha’s story is painful for the aware reader. We know that America will not be as delightful as she dreams in the beginning, that her father will be hard to find, and that traditions are difficult to uphold so far from the familiar marketplace. As an adult, though, I found myself learning a lot about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I’ve always heard of the Vietnam war from the American soldiers’ side. I think it is important to also learn about from the perspective of the native Vietnamese, and this account from the perspective of a refuge was definitely a needed voice in the literature about the era.

I was grateful to discover, in the author’s note at the end, that many of the events are based on her own experience as a young refuge in a prejudiced America. I am not happy she had to suffer similar frustrations as the character in her novel, but I am grateful to know that the voice was a sincere and realistic one.

 

 

A Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

A Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (originally written 1949) is a true classic about a young boy meant to be a knight but recently disabled in an unfortunately illness. It was a Newbery winner from the earlier years of the award. The medieval setting was perfectly created, and I loved the inherent message of goodness in the book, but I suspect that despite it’s slim size, it is a tricky book to get young children interested in during this day and age.Continue Reading

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a poetic autobiographical reflection on the author’s childhood. The writing is sparse, written in free verse, and yet each poem packs a punch of emotion. Ms Woodson recalls her earliest of memories (fictionalizing events as necessary). Her early childhood is spent with her grandmother and grandfather in South Carolina and then she moves to live with her mother and step-brother in New York.

Ms Woodson’s poems capture the difficult transitions in life, but they also capture the complicate life that comes from growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in the Jim Crow South. She details her frustrations learning to read (due to probable dyslexia) and her persistent dream to become a writer and record the multitude of stories inside her mind.

Individually, each poem is full of meaning that could be enjoyed as the reader may like. There is more than meets the eye in these apparently simple poems. As a whole, the book is satisfying and complete: a story of a girl who lived and dreamed and became.