Wednesday, April 15, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday

Mehmoud, Tariq. You're Not Proper.
March 19th 2015 by Hope Road Publishing (UK)
Copy received from the publisher

Karen is part of the Willow Tree Mob in Boarhead East, Manchester, UK, even though the leader, Donna, is anti-Islamic and Karen's father is from Pakistan. After Donna taunts fellow classmate Shamshad and takes the hijab from her head, Karen sticks up for her, even though Shamshad frequently calls Karen an "Oreo" and gives her a hard time for being "white". It turns out that there have long been issues between the two girl's families, although the exact nature of them is a bit vague, but it doesn't help that anti-Mulsim feelings in their neighborhood run high. Karen starts to feel that since she looks more "foreign" than British, she might be more comfortable embracing her Muslim side. She asks her father to help her learn how to say Muslim prayers, and buys herself a hijab. It's not an easy process-- her father is more interested in football and beer than in praying, her mother is rather at a loss as to what to do, and Karen has trouble getting others to accept her as Kiran, a Muslim girl. Luckily, after unpleasantness with Shamshad and her father at the local mosque, Shamshad's friend Laila helps Kiran learn how to dress and pray, and offers kindness and understanding that Kiran sorely needs. Both Shamshad and Kiran's lives are about to be upended, however, when family trips back to Pakistan bring unexpected surprises that make their feud seem pointless.

Mehmood does an excellent job of describing what every day life is like in Manchester for Kiran, which will be fascinating for US readers. Too many times, the only British books that make it across the pond are about middle class, white children whose main concern is saving the world from some fantasy villain! This read quite a lot like a Jacqueline Wilson book with Pakistani characters, now that I think of it.

Kiran and Shamshad both start the book as very quick tempered, prejudiced characters who are concerned mainly with themselves. As the book goes on, they learn to deal with others' problems a bit, but it isn't until the very end that they really begin to be understanding of others, and at that point, the transformation is brought about very quickly by an extreme circumstance.

This was an excellent book, even though the characters were a bit overwrought. There are some turns of phrase and situations that won't be as easy for US readers to understand, however, and the fact that Kiran and Shamshad's grandfathers came to the UK makes them a bit further along in their quest for  cultural identity than many of my immigrant students from Muslim countries are. Many of my students were born elsewhere, or at least have parents who came more recently to the US, so there is less of a chance for many of them to deviate from their family's wishes.

Even so, I gave this to one of my students, an avid reader who recently took to wearing a hijab, and her eyes lit up when she saw the title. "That's exactly what MY family said!" Her background in Somali, but her grandparents came to this country about 30 years ago, which is more in line with the teenagers' experiences in You're Not Proper rather than the experience of many of my students.

21929297Perkins, Mitali. Tiger Boy
April 14th 2015 by Charlesbridge
ARC from Kidlitcon!

Neel lives in the Sunderbans of West Bengal, and his village is next to a tiger preserve. His family is struggling after his mother's recent bout with dysentery, and his father's fishing business has been negatively impacted by bad weather. Mr. Gupta is a local entrepreneur who is trying to take over the entire village, and has the money to do so, so when one of the tiger cubs escapes from the preserve, he offers the local men lots of money to find the cub and turn it in to him. Neel knows that Mr. Gupta will sell the cub for its fur, so wants to find it himself. His family could use the money; Neel is in the running for a scholarship because he is the smartest boy in the village, but his math skills are not improving and he needs a tutor. If he finds the cub, will he be tempted to turn it in to Mr. Gupta for the money, or are some things more important.
Strengths: This offers a very vivid picture of what daily life is like for people in another part of the world. I loved the attention to detail-- how Neel's sister has to sweep the floor, how Neel and his friends play in the river and get in trouble for not studying, and how thrilled Neel is to get books and magazine to read. The adventure of hunting down the tiger cub will make this appealing to younger readers, but I loved that slice of life and think it is important to share with students. The glossary and appendices offer additional information, although most things are well explained within the text of the story.
Weaknesses: The drawings make this seem like a book for younger students, but is perfect for middle school. I am hoping that the short length will encourage my students to pick this up!


Liviania said...

I'm turned off from Tiger Boy by the cover, even though I know Mitali Perkins is an awesome writer.

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