Friday, November 16, 2012

Testify by Valerie Sherrard

Shana Tremain is a good kid. She knows right from wrong and shes never been in any serious trouble. But when her best friend, Carrie, comes to her for help, Shana agrees to break the law to save Carrie from a molester. She even feels good about it for a while.

Then trouble starts. Someone in their group of friends is stealing from the others. As she searches for the truth, Shana uncovers evidence that raises a terrifying question: Has she made a horrible mistake?

Faced with the reality of what shes done, Shana finds herself trapped in a web of her own lies and deceit. Can she convince the right people that shes telling the truth now? Either way its clear someone is going to pay a terrible price for her crime

A Red Maple 2013 Nominee

For a short novel, the impact of the relationship between the girls is powerful and quick to reach out to the reader.   You don't have to identify with the specific circumstances of the group of girls to recognize the dynamics almost instantly- intense loyalty, the devastation of betrayal, the drop of your stomach when a mistake is realized, the desperation for a wrong to be corrected, the shame and fear of being outcast.  These are all emotions that can be experienced several times a day in the life of a teenage girl.  The rules of social survival can be brutal and binding.  Defying those rules can change how you see yourself and how those you think you know treat you.  

This is a powerful story that examines how motives and truth can change in an instant, altering who we think we are and who we will become.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Paper House by Lori Peterson

Life is hard for ten-year-old Safiyah in the Kibera slum outside Nairobi. Too poor to go to school, she makes a meager living for herself and her grandmother Cucu by selling things she finds at the garbage dump. After using scavenged paper to fix up the inside of the hut, Safiyah starts a mural on the outside. As word of the paper house spreads, Safiyah begins to take pride in her creation. When Cucu collapses after a fire, Safiyah stays at the hospital to help care for her grandmother. While Safiyah is away, her friend Pendo works on the mural, which upsets Safiyah. But when Pendo attracts media attention to the paper house, Safiyah and her grandmother are given a chance of a better life. -- Silver Birch Express 2013 Nominee

This was a pleasant quick read which served as a topical introduction to social issues and justice for young readers.  Peterson manages to humanize the concept of poverty and the real concerns of a child in the third world without becoming overbearing to young readers.  This is a story that explores the value of family, community, creativity and determination and the triumph of hope in difficult circumstances.   I can easily see this book being used to start a classroom discussion on the challenges children face in other countries, from hunger, safety, education and sickness as well as connecting themes of family, cooperation, friendship, and helping others.