Monday, October 29, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- The War in Afghanistan

Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through a Never-ending WarEllis, Deborah. Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through a Never-Ending War
15 May 2012, Groundwood Books
Hardcover copy from YABC and reviewed there.

Since 2000, Deborah Ellis has spent a lot of time trying to help the children in the war torn country of Afghanistan. Royalty money from her wonderful The Breadwinner goes to the Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International funds, and she has continued her research into the plight of these children in this new nonfiction book.In short chapters, a number of preteens and teens are interviewed about their lives. Each chapter starts with a bit of information about one facet of life in Afghanistan. Many of the children are fatherless, and some are homeless, but all want to improve their lives by working hard. This is an important message for children in the US, who do not fully understand how fortunate they are to have educational opportunities.
Strengths: Ellis has a very good eye for what interests young people. Our sixth grade students have a unit study of The Breadwinner, and this is an excellent companion volume. In fact, I may start reading one of the stories aloud every day to my study hall students!
Weaknesses: Many of the pictures of the children interviewed head shots; while there are some photos of the places where they live and study, I think it would have been more powerful to get pictures of them where they live. There are a few, but US children don't really have any frame of reference for what things are like in Afghanistan.

The Breadwinner TrilogyEllis, Deborah. The Breadwinner Trilogy.
25 August 2009, Groundwood Books.

This series is used in our 6th grade language arts classes, and the copies we have of The Breadwinner are from Scholastic. I didn't know that Groundwood put out this collection, but the books are so short that it is nice to see them all together. If, for some reason, you have missed this series, take a look at this collection. From the publisher:
The Breadwinner is set in Afghanistan, where 11-year-old Parvana lives with her family in a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul. When her father is arrested for the crime of having a foreign education, the family is left with no money or resources. Forbidden to earn money as a girl, Parvana must transform herself into a boy and become the breadwinner. In Parvana's Journey, her father has died and the family has scattered. Parvana, now 13 years old, is determined to find them. Again masquerading as a boy, she joins a group of wandering children, all refugees from war, who exist mainly on courage. In Mud City, the focus shifts to 14-year-old Shauzia, who lives in the Widows' Compound in Pakistan and dreams of escaping to a new life in France. 

My Name Is ParvanaEllis, Deborah. My Name is Parvana.
1 September 2012, Groundwood Books
ARC from YA Books Central

Parvana has been taken in by the US military police under suspicion of bombing a school. She refuses to talk to them, even though her English is very good, because she no longer trusts anyone. In flashbacks alternating with the present day, we learn what has happened to Parvana since the events of The Breadwinner. Her mother has been running a school for girls that is under constant threat, her older sister is sent to college in the US, and she has hope for the future that things will get better in her country. The soldiers are not overly cruel, but clearly want to find out what happened to her school, and why Parvana was in the wrong place and the wrong time.
Strengths: It was good to visit with Parvana again, even though her life is still very much affected by the war. She and her mother have been trying to make things better in the only way they know how, and Ellis very ably and touchingly describes their struggle. I always thought that this was a great book for 6th graders to read together, and they actually LIKE the assignment! It's good to see that the book has had a more wide-ranging effect than I knew!
Weaknesses: I found the alternating chapters to be a bit distracting, and thought it made the story harder to follow even though I could see that Ellis was doing this to build more suspense. . Obviously, we need to start with Parvana in custody, but a flashback and more linear trip to the present would make it easier to follow. Small quibble for such a good book.

Dear Blue SkySullivan, Mary. Dear Blue Sky.
2 August 2012, Nancy Paulsen Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Amy.

In 2006, Cassie's brother Sef is going to Afghanistan, despite her mother's objections to the war. Cassie's father is all for the fighting, her sister Van is too caught up in her own teenage drama to care much, and her brother Jack doesn't quite understand all of the details of Sef's deployment because he is nine and has Down's Syndrome. When Cassie has a school project to follow a blog about current events, she happens upon one written by an Afghani girl her age who goes by the name Blue Sky. Cassies finds out how bad things are for the people of that country, and starts to realize that the US military is not always thought to be the good guy... or behaving that way. She then worries about her brother's safety AND whether or not he is doing the right thing by being there, as well as worrying about her father's job, her mother's drinking, her parents' relationship, Jack, and the social dynamics of middle school. Of course, all the while, Cassie realizes that while things may be tough in her world, they are even tougher in Blue Sky's Afghanistan.
Strengths: This was very well done both in dealing with how Cassie feel's about everything going on in her life, but also in how Sef's deployment is not black and white. Blue Sky's posts seem very realistic, and the correspondence between Cassie and Blue Sky is thought provoking.
Weaknesses: One of Cassie's classes is studying The Giver, and a lot of references are made to this. While this book is frequently studied in classes, references to it slowed down the story for me and would be confusing to someone who has not read that book.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Practically Paradise.


  1. I've read THE BREADWINNER but not the other two in this series. And KABUL sounds like one I'd definitely love to take a look at.

  2. Oh wow, Miss Yingling, there is so much Middle Eastern goodness in this post! A friend of mine is currently stationed in Kabul (he's part of the elite forces - a soldier), so I have a feeling that these titles would interest him, as it has piqued my interest too. These are fairly new publications (most of them), I hope they're already in our libraries.

  3. Thank you for the first three books in particular. I think these are important books for our kids to read - they need to know about children around the world and the challenges they face.

  4. The Deborah Ellis books look striking both in content and photography.

  5. Wow. Gonna have to add these to the TBR list. My brother was in Afghanistan for a year. You hit the NAIL ON THE HEAD with the kiddos not having much of a frame of reference. We've been showing "trick or treat for UNICEF" clips in the morning announcements and they just can't fathom a world where water doesn't come out of the tap. And I teach in a Title I school.

  6. Anonymous8:33 AM EDT

    Love these book suggestions! I have DEAR BLUE SKY on my TBR, and I am adding the others right now!

  7. Anonymous8:55 AM EDT

    What a super interesting posting of books. I'll be checking some of those out--thanks for sharing!

  8. Anonymous4:17 PM EDT

    Didn't realize there was a sequel to Breadwinner. That was one of our Oregon Battle of the Books titles a few years ago.