Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ruby in the Sky

Ferruolo, Jeanne Zulick. Ruby in the Sky
February 5th 2019 by Farrar Straus and Giroux
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ruby and her mother Dahlia have moved a lot since her dad is gone, but their last move takes them from Florida to a small town in Vermont where Dahlia was raised. Her aunt Cecy helps out, especially after Dahlia is arrested for a workplace incident of harassment for which she is wrongly accused of assault. Ruby isn't wild about her new school, since there are some mean girls who make fun of her clothes and her silence, but she knows that flying under the radar is the way to go. She does slowly warm to Ahmad, a recent refugee from Syria, especially after his uncle hires her mother to work at his store. Ruby finds it difficult to become invested in the Wax Museum project her class is assigned, even though she is interested in her subject, astronaut Michael Collins. Near her run-down rental house, Ruby has met the local Bird Lady, Abigail, who lives in a shed near her former house, having suffered a family tragedy in the 1970s. As she works on her project, Ruby also investigates Abigail's past, and finds out that she worked with the computers that helped with the moon launch. Her mother's trial is the same day as the Wax Museum, and the local government has put a law in place to remove Abigail from her property, so things become a bit fraught in Ruby's world. Luckily, with the help of her supportive friends and family, she and her mother manage to make it through and find a new path forward for themselves.
Strengths: This hits the hard-to-define sweet spot for sad stories for my students. It has the novelty of a parent arrested for a somewhat minor offense but who is nonetheless in danger of going to jail. Ruby's method of coping with her new school-- withdrawing, trying not to speak-- is one that I see all too often. It's good to see that even though the place the two are renting may be cold, Ruby's aunt brings food and warm thrift store clothing to them. I especially liked that even though there were a LOT of sad things, Ruby was fairly positive, even if some of those thoughts were set on going back to Washington, D.C., which never seemed like a likely ending for the family. Ahmad and his uncle are great characters, and I especially enjoyed the interchange where Ruby tells Ahmad he was lucky for only having to go to school two hours a day... until he tells her that school had to be over by 8:00 a.m. because that's when the bombing started! Ruby may have it tough, but Ahmad and his uncle have had it far tougher. I did cry at one point, even though the part at which I cried was a tiny bit cheesy.
Weaknesses: It's hard to believe that Abigail would have spent forty years living in a shed; again, there's that portrayal of grieving parents as being unable to cope that I find insulting. There are a lot of things that come together in a rather unrealistic way, but this is a generally interesting and upbeat book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for fans of Vrabel's Bringing Me Back, Arnold's Far From Fair, Sand-Eveland's Tinfoil Sky and Pla's The Someday Birds.

Brown, Don. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
September 18th 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Junior Library Guild Subscription

Like this author's The Great American Dust Bowl, The Unwanted is a good introduction to the topic of the war in Syria and the enormous number of refugees who are seeking a home after leaving their war torn country. In well researched anecdotes, Brown puts a very human face on an exodus that has raised tempers of people in many of the countries to which the Syrians are fleeing. Brown concentrates on what has happened to individuals, and tries not to address the issues of religion too much.

It's an interesting and effective way to make difficult information easily digestible, and I learned a lot. I'm just not a fan of Brown's art style. For me, so much hinges on the noses on the drawings of people, and I'm not a fan of his. So, great for information, but I'm not a fan of the art. My students are not going to care, and our ESL teacher practically grabbed this book out of my hands. Similar to Colfer's Illegal. 

Ms. Yingling

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