Book Review: “Amal Unbound” by Aisha Saeed

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This is what I now remember most about my last afternoon at school- the smell of the dusty chalkboard, the sound of the students lingering outside the door, and, mostly, how easily I took my ordinary life for granted.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is the story of a bright Pakistani girl who has to make the most of unfortunate circumstances. When Amal’s mother begins to struggle with post-partum depression, Amal stays home from school to take care of her younger sisters. She dreams of a better future when she can go to college and become a teacher. When Amal accidentally offends a member of her village’s ruling family, she is forced into indentured servitude and her whole world turns upside down.

What Amal Unbound gets right: It’s refreshing to read a book that’s not set in the United States. Amal’s story is uniquely Pakistani, and reading about her culture helped me learn new words and customs. The injustice that Amal faces is heartrending, but we cheer for Amal as she learns how to navigate the world and still be herself. Aisha Saeed wrote the fictional story of Amal as a reflection of Malala Yousafzai and her fight for women’s education, and Saeed hopes that Amal Unbound and similar stories will inspire young girls all over the world to stand up for what is right.

What Amal Unbound gets wrong: Nothing, really. My only caveat is that this book is written for a younger audience than me, so there’s some repetition here and there. However, that’s not a reason to ignore this book! The story is compelling for both adults and children.

Who should read Amal Unbound: Middle-grade children, teens, and adults who want to learn about different cultures, customs, and global problems.

Who shouldn’t read Amal Unbound: Adults who prefer adult narratives.

Book Review: “Looking For Alaska” by John Green

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Over the past decade, John Green has been one of the most prominent figures in young adult books. He has written and co-written 6 books, and all of them have made it to the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. His distinct writing style with young characters is seen throughout every single one of his books. John Green’s characters are typically sarcastic, romantic, and relatively pretentious. The books always focus around an ambiguous theme often relating to empathy or mental health issues. These ideas are seen in what may be his best work: Looking for Alaska.

Looking for Alaska tells the story of Miles, an introspective junior who is obsessed with the last words of famous people. He finds himself at a boarding school in Alabama, and while there, he meets two fascinating people: Colonel, his new roommate, and Alaska, an expressive, unpredictable, and emotional girl who seems larger than life. Alaska is obsessed with Simone Bolivar (His last words being “How am I ever to get out of this labyrinth”).  The labyrinth in this case is life and suffering, and that is what much of the book is about: figuring out how to get out of the labyrinth of suffering. The characters must learn how to understand the mental and physical issues that they all are dealing with, whether it is relationship problems, depression, or anxiety. A huge part of the book revolves around the relationship between Miles and Alaska.

The relationship that forms between Miles and Alaska builds the story, but this book is so much more than a romance. Alaska is dealing with heavy depression, and Miles feels  like an outsider, worrying about others’ opinions of him. The story follows them through their first semester until something tragic happens. The book changes from a cheery book about living at a boarding school (complete with pranks, copious amounts of school work, and drama) to something much darker. A new issue has arisen, and the main characters must deal with something much heavier than ever before. The majority of the second half of the book is about dealing with grief. The main characters have so many questions, and they don’t understand why bad things can happen to the people they are close to. This book tackles the great struggle of losing someone very near to you. It emphasizes how important it is to feel emotions.

This book is raw and real. Of course, the plot isn’t perfect; there are exaggerations, and many of the events would probably never happen in real life. I doubt many of the pranks in the story could ever work out the way they did, and many of the main characters are larger than life; however, the characters still feel real and personal. The struggles they face at 16 years old are issues many people at this age are dealing with. The book also stresses the importance of teenagers understanding that their issues are not minimal. Just look at one of my favorite quotes from Looking for Alaska:

When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.

This quote is so important for teenagers today. Often times, teens feel overshadowed by adults, and they feel like their issues are minimal due to the fact that there are worse things going on the world, but the issues those teens are dealing with are real. To think that teens are lesser simply because of their age is ignorant. Teens do have power, and they need not forget that.

This book is a fantastic story about grief and learning to keep going after hard events happen and how to grow from strife. Miles eventually learns the way out of the labyrinth.

 

Content warning: contains strong language, drug references, and other suggestive material.

Check it out here!

 

*written by Donny Turner

A Week of Kids’ Reads

Looking for a fun book to share with your child or little sibling? Well, don’t stop at one – get one for every day of the week so you can have a daily reading time! Whether you’ve got the midweek blues or feel like celebrating the weekend, we’ve got a book for you (and your family)!

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  • Monday
    If You Take a Mouse to School by Laura Numeroff
    Sure, Monday is the dreaded start of the school week – but look on the bright side and enjoy this story of the hilarious escapades of a mouse in the schoolhouse.

tuesday

  • Tuesday
    Tuesday by David Wiesner
    A zany wordless tale of a very unusual day involving a flying frog invasion!

wednesday

  • Wednesday
    The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting
    On Wednesday nights when Grandma stays with Anna everyone thinks she is teaching Anna to read. But the two have a different surprise up their sleeve for Dad’s birthday. A beautiful story about a loving family and the joy of literacy.

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  • Thursday
    Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
    While Wednesday is often hailed as the awfullest day of the work week, everyone knows that Thursday really takes the cake. It’s near enough to the end of the week for you to be exhausted, but not quite near enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel (see Friday). Commiserate with Alexander’s unfortunate day by reading this book to your overtired kids.

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  • Friday

Friday means it’s time to have fun! School has let out for the weekend. Check out Family Fun Nights: 140 Activities the Whole Family Will Enjoy for tons of games and ideas for a great night with your children.

saturday

  • Saturday
    Saturday Market by Patricia Grossman
    Join Ana and Estela as they sell their handmade goods at a Saturday market in Mexico. Enjoy the colorful illustrations and learn a few Spanish words along the way.

sunday

  • Sunday
    The Lord’s Prayer illustrated by Tim Ladwig
    The text of the Lord’s prayer is presented along with beautiful oil-painting illustrations about a father and daughter. May the words of this treasured prayer stay with your family as you head into a new week!

Top 5 Award-Winning Children’s Books

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The library strives to obtain award-winning children’s books for our Family Room. Education students and parents alike should have access to high quality stories for their kids. This list describes just a few of the best award-winners that the library has available.

*all descriptions courtesy of WorldCat*

Julie of the Wolves

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Author: Jean Craighead George

Award: Newberry Medal

Description: “While running away from home and an unwanted marriage, a thirteen-year-old Eskimo girl becomes lost on the North Slope of Alaska and is befriended by a wolf pack.”

 

Jumanji

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Author: Chris Van Allsburg

Award: Caldecott Medal

Description: “Left on their own for an afternoon, two bored and restless children find more excitement than they bargained for in a mysterious and mystical jungle adventure board game.”

 

Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry

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Author: Mildred D. Taylor

Award: Newberry Medal

Description: “A black family living in Mississippi during the Depression of the 1930s is faced with prejudice and discrimination which its children do not understand.”

 

The Giver

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Author: Lois Lowry

Award: Newberry Medal

Description: “Given his lifetime assignment at the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas becomes the receiver of memories shared by only one other in his community and discovers the terrible truth about the society in which he lives.”

 

Where The Wild Things Are

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Author: Maurice Sendak

Award: Caldecott Medal

Description: “Max, a naughty little boy, sent to bed without his supper, sails to the land of the wild things where he becomes their king.”

 

We Have Graphic Novels!

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Did you know that the library carries graphic novels in our Family Room?

Featuring diverse characters and powerful stories, these books are exciting to read. The illustrations leap off the page with bold colors or character expressions, and the comic book format makes reading along easy.

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To search our graphic novels collection, click here.  Happy reading!

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Featured Author: Jean Craighead George

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The author of such classic childhood favorites Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain was born on this day in 1919. Jean Craighead George was a reporter, author, and, above all, a nature-lover. George published over 100 novels during her writing career, most of them about and for children. Her research in Alaska inspired her Julie of the Wolves trilogy, the first book of which won the Newberry Medal, and George won over 20 different awards for her literature.

George died in May 2012 and was posthumously inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame in November 2016.

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The library holds several of George’s most famous works. They are located in the Family Room in the Logos. A complete list of the library’s holdings written by Jean Craighead George can be found here.

Featured Art: Katherine Crutcher Motta

The Family Room is currently featuring an art installation by Union alumnus Katherine Crutcher Motta. The pieces combine bright colors and unique typography with quotes from famous children’s books. The artwork will be on loan for the Spring 2016 semester.

Most of the artwork is available for purchase; please see Janice Baumgardner (Room 107) or Melissa Moore (Room 105) for pricing and availability. Katherine Crutcher Motta also has an Etsy shop and takes custom orders. She can be reached at katherinemottadesigns@gmail.com.