Williams, Michael. Now Is The Time For Running.
Deo and his brother Innocent do their best to enjoy life in their Zimbabwean village even though war rages around them and they are constantly hungry. When the soldiers come and demand food from an American shipment that has not arrived, Innocent, who is mentally challenged, gets upset and runs off. When the brothers return to the village, their family and many of their neighbors have been killed. They take off to seek the help of their mother's friend, but are told that they will need to go to South Africa in order to be safe. After a harrowing trip across a wild animal preserve, they make it to South Africa, where they are glad to get low paying jobs on a tomato farm. When the locals start harassing them for being foreign, they go to the big city and find a community under a bridge, where they set up residence, and Deo is able to play soccer again. There is still a lot of prejudice and hatred against foreigners, and Deo is not able to keep Innocent safe.
Strengths: Like Perkins' Bamboo People, this is a harrowing account of a place in the world with which many students will not be familiar. While we have not had any students from Zimbabwe, we have many from Ghana and Somalia, and this might help students understand why so many family flee their own countries and come to the United States. Boys will like this because of the difficulties faced by Deo. There's definitely an adrenaline rush in both the descriptions of fighting and soccer.
Weaknesses: This might be too violent for 5th and 6th graders, but is certainly something that older students should read.
Hays, Anna. Portia's Exclusive and Confidential Rules on True Friendship.
Sequel to Portia's Ultra Mysterious Double Life
Portia lives with her mother who runs an organic vegetarian restaurant and frequently makes Portia eat her odd experiments. A new girl who is very fond of animals of all kinds, Misty, who enlists Portia's help with all manner of bug and critter related tasks and mysteries. A budding detective, Portia is also trying to find her father, not alienate her best friend, Amy, and keep up with her school work.
Strengths: The girls love the Aladdin Mix books and will often read one a night. Anything dealing with friendship is an easy sell in middle school.
Weaknesses: This was published in 2009 and already is technologically dated, since Portia relies heavily on her PDA. Now she would just have an iPhone. On a personal pet peeve level, I didn't like the goofy names, like Portia Avatar or Mr. Scuzzy, the teacher.
Alert reader Alex at The Children's War sent the following link to an excellent article by Robert Lipsyte about boys and reading: "Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?" (The illustration by Ed Nacional at left is from that article.) I talked to several parents at Curriculum Night last night about how difficult it can be to keep 8th grade boys reading. Given the list of Most Popular YA Books I posted yesterday, this quote rings especially true: "But I think it’s also about the books being published. Michael Cart, a past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, agrees. “We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become,” he told me. “In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.” And then some. At the 2007 A.L.A. conference, a Harper executive said at least three-quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires. "
Amen! And what my boys really want are funny books about school situations, action books, and a little romance. Yes, romance, just from a boy perspective.
And skateboarding. I actually e mailed Mr. Lipsyte and asked that he write a skateboarding book. He said if he did, he would name a character after me. I'm still waiting!!