Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Born Behind Bars and Defending Champ

Venkatraman, Padma. Born Behind Bars 
September 7th 2021 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kabir Khan has never known life outside out prison. His mother, who is Hindu, secretly married a Muslim man who worked at the same house she did, and was jailed after being accused of stealing. Once in jail in Chennai, she realized that she was pregnant, and her husband wrote to her for a while, but then the letters stopped. Kabir is too old to be with his mother, but small for his age, so the warden has let him stay. He does to school, and gets along with most of the other inmates. When a new warden makes him leave, he's not sure what he will do without Amma. An uncle is found, and arrangements are made for him to pick up Kabir. Unfortunately, he is not a relative, but just a man who has the same last name, and he has arranged to sell Kabir! Kabir escapes, but life on the streets is not easy. Luckily, he meets Rani and her parrot, and she helps him earn money from his singing, learn where to purchase food, and find a place to sleep at night. Rani is Kurava, and used to the Roma way of life, but had to leave her family when her uncle was going to marry her off when she turned 14. The two get along, and it's less lonely to be with someone. Kabir would love to travel to his father's town and look for his grandparents, since the last place his father seems to have been was Dubai. When he helps a woman who loses an earring, he is given train tickets, and is able to travel to his grandparents in Bengaluru. Both children are from lower castes, so experience a lot of discrimination, such as a train ticket salesman who doesn't want to sell "to their kind". He and Rani wait outside the mosque where the family worships, and follow a man who looks like Kabir home. They follow him to his shop and find that his name is not Khan, but when crowds angry over a water dispute threaten to attack, Rani manages to save the business by getting onto the roof. The man posts the children's picture on social media, and Kabir's grandparents find him. They don't have a lot, but are glad to see him even though he is half Hindu. Rani is welcomed into a school that is willing to make adjustments for her Kurava life style without judging her. The woman who runs the school has contacts with lawyers, and Kabir hopes that he will be able to get his mother out of jail so that she can join him. 
Strengths: Like this author's The Bridge Home, this has an appealing blend of a setting in another country, children surviving on their own, and a happy ending. Kabir has a positive outlook despite his past, and is motivated to try to make things better for himself and Rani. There are some kind people who help the children out along the way. This Boxcar Children vibe is always popular with middle school students, who like to think that they would be able to survive under similar circumstances. There's just enough information about the cultural make up in regards to caste, religion, and poverty, and some notes at the end. Another great title from Ms. Venkatraman.
Weaknesses: The paragraphs in this were very short; often just one of two sentences. As the book progressed, it didn't bother me, but it struck me as odd at the beginning. This format does make the book move very quickly, and I don't think students will notice. 
What I really think: I enjoyed reading this very much, but I would still like to see books about children in other countries who don't face quite so many challenges, so that my students don't think that everyone in India is poor or homeless. 

Lupica, Mike. Defending Champ (Triple Threat #2)
September 7th 2021 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alex's dad is curious to see what she will do after her successful football season in Triple Threat, and is surprised that she wants to go back to her soccer team for the spring season. Sure, Lindsay is still angry and not helpful, but she is comfortable asking Annie if it would be okay if she returned. Because there are limited spots on the team, she must try out, which isn't really a problem. She makes the team, along with Rashida and Roisin, but the town council decides there is not enough money to fund all the sports, since there are some infrastructure improvements that need to be made, and GIRLS' soccer is cut. (There is a formula for which team goes, based on new sign ups, but it still seems wrong and arbitrary!) Alex isn't happy, but isn't willing to go down without a fight. The team's Coach Cross agrees. Lindsay wants parents and community members to donate the $25,000 that it will take to fund all of the necessities for the the season, but Alex has a better plan that feels more equitable-- the girls' team will earn the money themselves, by sponsoring a game with the boys' team. The boys' team is rather reluctant, but after they win a scrimmage, they are on board, just as Alex predicted they would be. Chase is still being difficult, and tries to use an injury to get out of playing. Alex's friend Gabe also sustains a strained ACL, and Alex feels responsible, especially since it might keep him out of his baseball season. Alex's mother is in town to lecture at a nearby college, but must go back to California to watch Alex's step brother play in his first ball game, and will miss the big match, but Alexis very understanding about this. Who will win the match, and will the team be able to earn enough money for their season? 
Strengths: Alex is such a great character. Her struggles with Lindsay are very realistic, and I like that she has good friends in Sophie and Gabe. Her parents' situation, with her father as primary caregiver (and frequent home cook!) and her mother living across the country with her new family, is also important to have represented. While the football career has receded a bit, I think we might see one more book about Alex's 8th grade year. Chase has a good moment at the end of the book, but also throws down a challenge. 
Weaknesses: The town council controls school teams? Perhaps in Pennsylvania? I know that this kind of underdog story is popular, but it rubbed me the wrong way. It's like bake sales for library funding. Fix the problem. If there's not enough money for two soccer leagues, combine them and limit membership by tryouts. It just seemed unlikely. 
What I really think: This had a lot of good moments, and I have a LOT of girls who play soccer and want to read about it, so I will definitely purchase, even though I don't quite believe all of it. Love the cover. 
Checked out almost 400 books yesterday; always a good reason to be tired! All of the 7th grade today, so it will be hopping again. 

Judging from the shoulder pads on this dress, it's from the 90s. Or, if you believe Etsy, the 1980s. Since I had a number of sailor dresses when I first started teaching in 1989, that's probably true. 

Oh, look! I'm cottage core. Yeah, don't even know what to do now that half my wardrobe is listed for sale on Etsy as "vintage". Star pin from my friend Linda, who cleared out some of her work jewelry, since she's been retired for over a decade!

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