“Martí’s song for freedom: Martí y sus versos por la libertad” Emma Otheguy

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). Includes “Afterword,” “Author’s Note,” and a “Selected Bibliography.”

Marti'sSongForFreedomJosé Martí (1853-1895) was born when Spain ruled Cuba with an iron fist. Slave labor on sugar plantations allowed the rich to become richer, oppressing natives of all races. Determined to free his people José advocated for freedom from Spain, which led to imprisonment and deportation. Despite being away from the island he loved, José continued his fight to abolish slavery from his new home in New York through poetry and speeches. Ultimately he gave his life for his country, remembered for the words he left behind which deeply illustrated his love for freedom and justice for all.

Otheguy’s well-researched bilingual picture book tells the story of Cuba’s greatest poet and patriot, as Vidal’s simply drawn, yet colorful paintings, illustrate his struggle in a clear, straightforward manner. It will appeal to older elementary readers, especially those in grades 3-6, and may well be a contender for the upcoming Pura Belpré award. If it wins or places, remember that you read it here first.

Recommended for ages 8-11.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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“In the country we love: My family divided” Diane Guerrero

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Henry Holt and Co. 247 p.

InTheCountryWe LoveWanting a better life for their young son, and unable to make a living in Colombia, Diane’s parents obtained a four-year visitor visa and left for the United States. A few years later, Diane was born. Knowing they’d overstayed their visas her parents worked hard at various menial labor jobs, paying people who promised to help with citizenship papers but who ran off with their hard earned money.

Though Diane’s older brother became increasingly disillusioned at the lack of job prospects due to his immigration status, her parents were hopeful. They were sure that if they didn’t get into trouble, stayed below the radar, and kept paying the “lawyer” who’d promised to help, that they’d become legal citizens.

When Diane was fourteen years old, her parents were arrested by ICE for being in the country illegally and deported to Colombia. Left alone, and forgotten by the government, Diane had to figure out how to live without her family. “In the country we love” is the story of people who helped her survive, and the long road of pain and sorrow she endured on her way to becoming a famous television star.

According to the Migration Policy Institute 2016 study, “5 million children under the age 18 have at least one parent who is in the United States illegally. Out of that number, 79 percent are U.S. citizens.” Guerrero puts a face to one of those children. Her story is a must read.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.

Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.

Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.

“Ugly: A memoir” Robert Hoge

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Viking.

uglyRobert was born July 21, 1972 with a giant tumor covering his face, underdeveloped legs, and missing toes. His mother refused to accept him, while his father left the decision of whether or not to keep him up to her. It wasn’t until many weeks later, when his four brothers and sisters were allowed to take part in the decision, that he was finally taken home.

Using simple explanations, Robert’s many operations and “aha!” moments are documented from elementary to high school. Despite being vague on the details of why he was born this way, and what happened after age 14, he clearly documents how he worked hard to live an ordinary life despite his physical limitations. He is an inspiration to those facing similar struggles.

Recommended for ages 9-14.

“Bobby Kennedy: The making of a liberal icon” Larry Tye

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. To be published June 5, 2016. Random House. (Includes a Preface, Chronology, Notes, an extensive Bibliography, as well as Photos and an Author’s Note.)

BobbyKennedyTheMakingOfALiberalIconFrom his first days as campaign manager in 1952 and in 1960 for his brother John’s senatorial and presidential bids, Robert F. Kennedy was a behind-the-scenes, get it done anyway you can kind of guy. This hard nose approach made him a good candidate to work with the much-despised Senator Joe McCarthy, and played an important role in his crusades against organized crime as Attorney General when John became President.

Using an incredibly diverse set of primary and secondary sources Tye explores Bobby’s relationship with his father and brother, as well as with his own demons after Jack was assassinated. Over the years, as Bobby observed and learned from those around him, he grew both mentally and emotionally which caused alienation from former colleagues. His bid for the presidency in 1968 was a chance to try and right his own wrongs, as well as those of the tumultuous 60’s, and to set America on a better path. That he never got the chance to do so is an irrevocable sadness.

Though it made me cry at times I loved, loved, LOVED this book, and willingly took the time to read every single one of the titles in Tye’s extensive Bibliography, which covered everything from films to magazines to books to interviews and more. It took me almost 3 weeks to read because I kept stopping to go online and read more details about a section. I even spent time on YouTube watching Bobby give several amazingly heartfelt speeches described by the author in various chapters.

Bobby was always my favorite Kennedy, and reading about his losses and hurts, as well as successes, fleshed him out even more for me. The more I learned about Bobby, the more I mourned his loss to our country and those he was trying to help.

The picture painted in “Bobby Kennedy: The making of a liberal icon” is that of a man who managed to rise above his early shortcomings to one who ended up caring deeply for the poor and disenfranchised. Bobby wanted to make a difference, and his story will leave readers wishing we had someone of his caliber running for office in the upcoming November presidential elections.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Cinderland: A Memoir” Amy Jo Burns

Rated 2 stars ** 2014. Beacon Press. 208 pp.

CinderlandAmy Jo grew up in the sleepy town of Mercury, Pennsylvania, which flourished when steel was king but was now a shadow of itself. With mills shuttered, the close-knit town’s many traditions kept it going while its young people secretly dreamed of ways to get out of town. This is the story of a small town that survived the mill closures, yet allowed its own soul to die by not supporting a group of young girls who were sexually abused by one of its own.

Through flashbacks, Amy Jo tells her story of sexual abuse along with the history of Mercury and its people. I wasn’t a fan of her wandering narrative, and found myself wanting to put the book down instead of reading it because it wasn’t holding my interest. I managed to finish, but only did so because I had to write a review for it.

Perhaps other readers will be interested in reading Amy Jo’s story, which is why I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Hidden like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival” Marcel Prins & Peter Henk Steenhuis

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Published March 25, 2014. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic). (First published as Ondergedoken als Anne Frank in the Netherlands in 2011). Includes Foreword, Photographs of The Hidden Children Today, and a Glossary.

HiddenLikeAnneFrankSurvivors of World War II who, as children, were forced to leave their homes to live hidden, secret lives in various places in the Netherlands, tell their stories in “Hidden like Anne Frank.” While some were sent to live with friends or neighbors, many were hidden away with kind (and not-so-kind) strangers. All created a new identity, as instant deportation and death would be their fate if their Jewish identities were discovered.

Readers are told of the years of deprivation they suffered while hidden away including lack of privacy, hunger, the inability to attend school, living through the constant fear of being betrayed by Nazi sympathizers, and having their childhoods stolen from them. We read of their shock and sadness after liberation when they learned the fate of relatives who had been killed in concentration camps. We learn of the bravery of strangers who sacrificed their own freedoms to hide these Jewish children and other adults, while also learning of those who fought bravely in the Resistance Movement to save Jewish lives. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things stand out in the midst of tragedy, fear, prejudice, ignorance, suspicion, distrust and uncertainty.

Using first person accounts, along with period photographs and maps, Prins and Henk Steelhuis take readers through their memories, fears, hopes and dreams. While they survived, many of their parents, brothers and sisters did not leaving them with guilt that remains to this day.

“Hidden like Anne Frank” deserves a place in every middle, high school and public library so their stories, as well as the acts of kindness and bravery from members of the Resistance and total strangers striving to save some of the Jewish population of the Netherlands, will be remembered forever.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

NOTE: I am sure “Hidden like Anne Frank” will be in the running for the 2015 Mildred L. Batchelder Award. It has my vote!