Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Outside In/It All Comes Down to This

32333952Bradbury, Jennifer. Outside In
June 6th 2017 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Copy graciously provided by publisher at my request

In the up and coming city of Chandigarh, India, Ram does his best to keep himself alive on the streets. He managed to earn enough money challenging children to games of gilli, and he has a friend, Daya, whose father keeps an eye on him and sends him food sometimes. When all of his winnings accidentally end up in the bike basket of a factory worker, Ram follows the man out into the country, and sees the artwork the man is creating. It turns out that the artist, Nek Chand, is taking garbage that he finds in his travels and at work, and creating an entire Rock Garden. The land is not his, but when Nek was sent away from his home during the Partition, he was so homesick that he started creating the art. Nek lives far from his wife and son so that he can work and send them money. Ram offers to help out in order to earn back the money that Nek found but used to buy a train ticket, and while he is working he learns some stories about Hindu religious figures that everyone seems to know, but which no one has ever told him. Nek doesn't want Ram to tell anyone about him, and Ram secretly hopes that he can stay and help Nek with the art work and have a place of his own for once. With the help of Daya's father who is working with a local arts council, life becomes a little easier for both Nek and Ram.
Strengths: This is sort of an Indian take on The Seventh Most Important Thing! The descriptions of how Ram and Nek have to live are very interesting, and the story touches briefly on the Partition. I love Bradbury's Wrapped, A Moment Comes, and Shift, and think that Bradbury uses her time spent in India to great effect in her work. Working in the various religious stories is interesting as well.
Weaknesses: Perhaps I missed it, but I wasn't sure exactly when this book took place. I was imagining the early 1950s, but according to Chand's biography, it probably takes place in the early 1960s.
What I really think: This might take some hand selling to get children to read it, but I am definitely purchasing a copy. Readers who like art, children on their own, religions around the world or stories about India will enjoy this well-paced, detail rich story.

30971723English, Karen. It All Comes Down to This
July 11th 2017 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Netgalley

Sophie has just moved to a mainly white neighborhood of Los Angeles. Luckily, she has a friend nearby, Jennifer, who is happy to stick up for Sophie when neighbor girls won't include Sophie. It's still a difficult summer, however. Sophie loves to write, and is working on a book about her father's half sister. No one talks about her, but she was an "outside child". This makes Sophie even more upset when she sees her lawyer father with another woman. Her sister Lily is off to Spelman college in the fall, and is working at a boutique where she is passing for white. There is a new housekeeper, Mrs. Baylor, with whom Sophie doesn't get along-- Mrs. Baylor has told her that in Africa, Sophie's light skin might get her killed! Mrs. Baylor's son Nathan is painting the house, and Lily is attracted to him. Lily's mother, who managed to become a successful professional despite being raised in an impoverished sharecropping family, forbids this. Lily and Jennifer both want to try out for a local play, and Sophie thinks she has a good chance. When the Watts riots occur, Sophie's family is more impacted by this than she could imagine, and Sophie learns some tough life lessons about race and prejudice during this point in US history.
Strengths: This is a book that was definitely needed! How have there never been any middle grade books about the Watts Riots? The setting of this is brilliant, and I suspect that there might be an autobiographical component to this. Sophie is a wonderful character, and her friendship with Jennifer rings very true; Jennifer's family tries very hard to be "color blind", but that is a difficult task to accomplish even under the best of times. The issue of light skinned versus dark skinned black people is addressed in a very effective way, as is the feeling of some blacks at the time that their education and work ethic should be enough to make them successful, and that they shouldn't have to worry about issues of race. Hard to explain, but the book covers a lot of difficult, nuanced issues in a very effective way. Not only that, but it's just an interesting story about a tween girl.
Weaknesses: This on the longer side and has so many issues that it covers. I wish that some things, like the father's infidelity and half sister, had been left out so that the book could have focused more on Sophie's struggles with her own identity.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and am SO glad to have this for our 1960s unit! English's Niki and Deja books are ones that many of my readers have picked up in elementary school, so it's fantastic to see an older middle grade title from her!
  Ms. Yingling

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