Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Wild Poppies and Matteo

Saleh, Haya and Qualey, Marcia Lynx (Translator). Wild Popppies
May 23, 2023 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When their father, a teacher, is killed in bombing in their city of Raqqun, Syria, brothers Omar and Sufyan flee to the countryside with their mother and young sister Thoraya to an aunt's house new Al-Nuaman. There are several families staying there, but they all keep to themselves as they struggle to overcome their trauma and provide themselves with daily necessities. Omar, as the oldest, takes his responsibilities seriously, especially since the mother suffers from diabetes and other health concerns. Sufyan, however, acts out. He and his friend Rayan are approached by the Falcons of Truth, a religious extremist organization that gives them money and presents and then kidnaps them and makes them carry out their agenda of "death to infidels". The Falcons of Truth travel around, finding people who they deem to be religiously suspect and putting them to death. Omar's mother speaks up against them and is saved only when an uncle pays for her release. Sufyan's friend, Salma, decides to go with Omar to find Sufyan, and dresses as a boy so she doesn't get into trouble. With war raging all around them and the Falcons of Truth terrorizing young boys and ordinary citizens, will Omar and Sufyan manage to be reunited and to get back to their mother?
Strengths: This book is translated from the Arabic, and I would love to see more books for young readers that were not written by US or British writers! This is a fairly short book that packs quite an emotional punch. I appreciated the difference in the brothers, with Omar feeling responsible, but Sufyan chafing at the lack of food and the situation the family finds themselves in. There are many details about what life is like in a war torn country, and the story moves along quickly. 
Weaknesses: There are many violent moments captured in this book, so I would keep this in mind. There is no description of rape (I think it is phrased that girls are forced to become wives of the violent men), but there are people held at gunpoint and shot point blank, as well as people who are killed in bombings. 
What I really think: I think it is important for my students to understand that the events in the news affect real people, many of them their age, and that we should be grateful for so many things in the US. I wish there had been a little more about the family's life before the father's death to give perspective; at one point, Sufyan considers using his money to buy a video game console, but realizes that since the family can't even afford food, they might be angry at him. That's a real life detail that makes this a valuable look into a horrible experience for privileged readers. Combine this with titles like Rosenblatt's Lost Boys, McKay's Thunder Over Kandahar, or Saeed's Amal Unbound to show US readers how fortunate they are. 

Leali, Michael. Matteo
May 23, 2023 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eleven-year-old Matteo Lorenzini loves listening on his birthday to the story of how his parents found him at the fire station in Creekside when he was abandoned there as a baby, after they both wished on the big tree in the center of town for a child. He's happy with his family, but feels he is a disappointment to his father because he is small for his age and not a fabulous baseball player. His father played for the Blue Whales team when he was young, and it meant a lot to him because his father left his family about that time. Matteo receives the family baseball bat that was carved from a branch of the tree for his birthday. Even though he has a good friend in Azura, whose father owns the local bakery, Matteo doesn't feel like he can talk to anyone but his pet goldfish, Cricket, about his feelings of failure, or his crush on Omar, who used to be his good friend but doesn't hang out as much ever since Omar made the Blue Whales team and Matteo didn't. This year, Matteo makes the team, but isn't a great player. Not only that, but odd things are starting to happen to him. At first, it's his socks filling up with leaves, and it progresses to bark like scabs on his legs, and then moves on to leaves growing out of his skin. Does this have something to do with the fact that when Cricket died, he buried him near the tree? Finding the name "Kaz" on the tree, and connecting it with Mr. Kowalski, the elderly school librarian, Matteo asks him about what he knows of the history of the town and the tree, but doesn't get a lot of answers. The tree is dying, and the town is thinking of cutting it down, which worries Matteo. There are a lot of secrets in Creekside, and while Matteo and Azura are working on an interview project to celebrate the town's bicentennial, they uncover some of them, but will they be able to find out what family secrets of Matteo's are causing him to turn into a tree?
Strengths: Creekside was an amazing setting, and I loved that Matteo and Azura were interviewing residents about various facets of the town. The civic pride, especially around the tree, was great to see. I especially liked the depiction of Mr. Kowalski's library. The other interesting thing is that Matteo does consult his parents about the fact that he is turning into a tree, and they try to help him figure out what is going on. I don't want to reveal the family secrets, or the surprise ending, but it is all very satisfying. 
Weaknesses: This author's The Civil War of Amos Abernathy has been very popular in my library, but I'm not sure that my fans of this title are going to be as interested in this Pinocchio flavored fantasy. The fact that Matteo's parents are involved does make this seem like a better choice for younger readers. 
What I really think: This is an interesting modern fairy tale for readers who liked Applegate's The Wishtree or Haydu's One Jar of Magic.

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