Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Magical Reality of Nadia and The Year I Flew Away

Youssef, Bassem, Daly, Catherine R. and Holgate, Douglas (Illustrations)
The Magical Reality of Nadia
February 2nd 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nadia and her best friend Adam are excited about starting 6th grade. After spending the summer with cousins in Egypt, Nadia is all set to up her fashion game, and she's confident in her academic abilities, since she is a whiz at trivia. Her new teacher, Ms. Arena, seems nice, and her other friends Vikram, Chloe, and Sarah are all in her class. They are also academically inclined, and super excited about a project the class is doing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the The Museum of American History. The theme is "What Makes America, America", and Nadia wants the project to be about immigrants. Her friends, who have fairly diverse backgrounds, agree. Jason, a new boy with whom Adam has become friendly, has been delivering digs about Nadia's Egyptian heritage. He has made fun of her food, her clothing, and said some pretty nasty things that teachers haven't caught. Adam values the friendship because he wants to learn more about sports so that he can talk to his stepfather about them, so he doesn't stick up for Nadia. However, Nadia does get support from an unexpected source: she has an antique hippopotamus necklace that she bought in Egypt, and which is the home to an ancient teacher, Titi, who angered the wrong royal magician! He comes to life on the pages of a comic book Nadia has brought home for Adam, and gives her a lot of good advice on her project as well as how to handle Jason. As work on the projects continues, there are some tense moments, especially when Nadia's group project is damaged at the museum workspace. Will Nadia be able to get the project done, handle Jason, and restore her friendship with Adam?
Strengths: I am not usually a fan of books about bullying, because they are not realistically done. Jason is a great example of what a real bully looks like: generally likable, not suspicious looking to teachers, but underhandedly mean for no particularly good reason. I loved that Nadia stood up to him, and that most of her friends did as well. Adam's reasons for going along with him were also absolutely spot on for a 6th grader. It was also nice that Jason changed his ways when Nadia made him understand more about the situation of descendants of immigrants... which is everyone who doesn't have a Native American background! The school project was a great way to showcase these topics. The inclusion of a bit of history about the Egyptian Spring (2011, when Nadia was a baby!) was also interesting. 
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the young side. I wish that more middle grade novels had characters in the 8th grade; this way, they'd be fine for elementary school students and for middle school ones as well. Stu Truly is an excellent example of a book that has a lot more readers because the characters were older. 
What I really think: Like The Year I Flew Away, I would have enjoyed this more without the magic component, which makes it seem a bit young. The inclusion of cartoon panels makes this a lot of fun, and I would definitely buy it for an elementary school. 
Arnold, Marie. The Year I Flew Away
February 2nd 2021 by Versify
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gabrielle enjoys her life in Haiti but knows that things are difficult there. She also knows that when family members go to live in the US, they can be helpful in improving the lives of those they leave in Haiti, so she's a bit leery when she finds out she is being sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn, New York. She doesn't want to be one of the bad children who gets sent back, but the transition is a hard one. First, she moves to the US in the winter, and is not used to the cold. While her aunt and uncle are nice, her older cousin is not. At school (which is free; in Haiti, her parents struggled to pay for her tuition) children make fun of her accent and the way she is dressed, and Gabrielle does not like the American food that her uncle insists she learn to like. It's hard to believe the librarian, Mrs. Bartell, who is also from Haiti, that things will get better. When a local witch, Lady Lydia, offers Gabrielle a bargain, she is interested. Lady Lydia gives Gabrielle three slices of mango, and eating a slice will grant a wish. In exchange, Gabrielle will lose "an insignificant thing", although the witch is purposefully vague. After three slices, Gabrielle will owe her her "essence", and since Gabrielle doesn't even know what this is, it seems like a fair exchange. Gabrielle wishes for her English to be better and unaccented, and her wish is granted. The librarian is skeptical, but life is so much easier without having to put in all of the work to improve her language herself. However, the thing she loses is her ability to speak or understand Haitian Creole, so she finds it harder to communicate with her family. With the help of a talking rat, Rocky, she tries to avoid using another slice of mango, but after some difficult times wishes to be completely American. Sure enough, her wish comes true, but at what price? Gabrielle realizes that giving up her Haitian culture is a price that is too high to pay. With the help of Rocky, Mrs. Bartell, and her new friends, will she be able to defeat Lady Lydia and find her own way to be successful in the US?
Strengths: I really enjoyed the beginning of this when Gabrielle's home and family life in Haiti was described, and when she is trying to navigate her new school. The scene where she is looking for something to remind her of home and she settles on a bottle of cod liver oil was especially touching. (The familiar, even if it is not ideal, is what we love best!) I also enjoyed her interactions with the elderly Jewish woman for whom her aunt provides home help, and reading about the number of different jobs her aunt and uncle have in order to keep their family going is timely. 
Weaknesses: This had a good message about not losing one's cultural identity while trying to assimilate into a new culture, but it was delivered in a somewhat heavy handed way. I wish this hadn't had a magical component to it, but had included more information about Haitian culture. Perhaps if there had been a bit more discussion about the importance of magic in this culture, it would make more sense to readers unfamiliar with it. 
What I really think: This seemed a bit young for my readers, but this is a great book to have if Baptiste's The Jumbies is popular. I can't think of any other books with Haitian immigrants except for Farrar's A Song for Bijou. 
 Ms. Yingling

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