In 2008, Nya, a young woman who lives in Sudan, walks two hours one way to get water for her family. She does this twice a day. She does not have shoes. In her book A Long Walk to Water, Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park, introduces us to Nya. She also introduces us to Salva, a young man living in Sudan in 1985.
Their stories are told in alternating tales. Salva is a young student in Sudan in 1985. His country has been going through a civil war for decades. One day while Salva is at school, a group of rebels attack his village. The teacher tells all the students to run away to escape the attack by the rebels. Salva does as instructed but soon finds himself alone and far from his home. He certainly does not feel safe. He is lost and disoriented. He meets up with a group of refugees who are leaving Sudan and heading to Kenya. Salva joins the group though they are reluctant to accept him because he is a child and may become a burden. Salva walks with them, hoping to find safety in Kenya and hoping to be reunited with his family.
It is 1941, and the German Army occupies The Netherlands. A young Dutch boy named Piet has been given the task of escorting two neighborhood children to safety in Brussels. The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands, by Louise Borden, is the exciting story of Piet Janssen. He live in the town of Sluis in the Netherlands. His town is on the border between The Netherlands and Brussels. During the winters there, it is so cold that the canals freeze and the ice is thick enough to skate on. In fact, skating is a form of transportation for many people in the Netherlands.
Piet loves to skate. He also idolizes a skater named Pim Mulier who once skated through eleven towns. Many Dutch have skated through towns, but the route that Pim took has its own name, the Elfstedentocht (the Eleven Towns Race). Piet has been training to duplicate this race and finish just like his idol Pim Mulier. But in December of 1941, many of the Dutch were concerned with much more than a race along the canals. Their country was occupied by Germany. Because of the war, many fathers were gone. They had joined the Allied forces in England.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, here is Cupid, by Julius Lester. In this retelling from Greek mythology, we are introduced to Psyche. She is the daughter of a king and so beautiful that every time she walks outside people stopped and stared. They even stopped working. In fact, it was getting so bad that it was affecting the infrastructure of her community--and not in a good way. Her father, the king, felt it was in the best interest of his kingdom and his subjects to restrict Psyche from her daily walks. He decreed that she could only walk outside the castle gates once a month.
Word quickly reached Mount Olympus about the young beauty and the effect she was having on the other humans. Venus, the goddess of love, was not pleased at all when she learned of this young woman, She viewed her as a threat and decided to dispatch her son, Cupid, to do away with her. Never one to disappont his mother, Cupid quickly plans how he will get rid of this pesky human. However, when Cupid lays his eyes on Psyche, he is immediately stunned by her beauty, and he falls in love with her himself. He vows that she will become his wife, but he is reluctant to let his mother in on his little plan as she is a formidable force with which to be reckoned.
"I am so mad at you," the little rabbit says to his mother. Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai is the story of a little rabbit who is very angry at his mother. The story continues with the little rabbit listing the reasons for his anger. For instance, Mommy says that she cannot marry little rabbit even when he gets bigger. Little rabbit goes on to inform his mother that when he gets bigger he "will do whatever he wants."
Komako Sakai is the author and illustrator of this tender story. The illustrations are gentle and quiet as they juxtapose a tranquility against the ire of the little rabbit. The muted tones beautifully capture the story while sparse text expresses the universal sentiment of children at one point or another during their childhood. Every parent will recognize themselves as a child and will chuckle at the familiar words used by the little rabbit. They may even recognize their own children. In particular, the page where the little rabbit expresses his anger and turns his nose up into the air captured the moment beautifully. I know that I have seen that expression myself. This story is great to read aloud or for the emerging reader to ponder over after a particularly difficult day.
In the end, the little rabbit announces that he is going away. You can almost hear the "huff" as he leaves. He walks out of the room only to quickly return and ask his mother if she missed him. In the end the little rabbit and the mother are reconciled and everyone is happy.
Telemachos, the son of Odysseus, must go in search of his father whom he has never met. In the book The King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett, we join Telemachos on his journey. He was just a baby when his father left the island of Ithaka, but lately the residents have decided that Odysseus must be dead and it is time to find a new king. They want to decide who that will be. This would also mean that the queen Penelopeia (his mother) would have to marry that person. Telemachos decides that he will set sail to find his long-missing father. There are a few obstacles that he will have to overcome. One is that he hates the sea. The other is that he has no idea where to begin searching. In order to find the right direction to go in search of his father he must consult Daisy. Daisy is old...really old and, oh, yeah...she has three heads. She is also really mean, and, when you go to see her, you run the risk that she will kill you.
Telemachos has to be very careful in his approach to Daisy. He decides that he will bring an offering to Daisy in an order to appease her. He brings a basket of eggs and tiny baby rats. Despite the stench of decay, Telemachos finds Daisy and asks her counsel on how to find his father the King. Daisy tells him to "return to the place that is not on the day that is not bearing the thing that is not." With that cryptic message, he sets sail with his best friend Brax, who is a Centaur, despite his mother's protestations that Brax will eat all the food. After having set sail for a day or so Telemachos and Brax discover that they are not alone on the ship. Hopefully, the food holds out.
The votes are in and Shirley Heim Middle schoolers have made their choices. Here are their top picks for their favorite books from this year's Cafe Book program
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman
Inexplicable events start to occur when sixteen-year-old twins Tennyson and Brontë befriend a troubled and misunderstood outcast, aptly nicknamed Bruiser, and his little brother, Cody.
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
When Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, she is exiled to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.
Malice by Chris Wooding
Once you get into the story, there's no way out. Everyone's heard the rumors. If you gather the right things and say the right words, you'll be taken to Malice, a world that exists inside a horrifying comic book. It's a world that few kids know about ... and even fewer survive. Seth and Kady think it's all a silly myth. But then their friend, Luke, disappears and suddenly the rumors don't seem silly after all. Malice is real. Malice is deadly. And Seth and Kady are about to be trapped inside.
Pete the cat loves his white shoes. He loves them so very much that he sings about them. One day while he is walking and singing he steps in some strawberries and his shoes turn red. But instead of becoming angry, he sings about how much he loves his red shoes. When he steps in mud and his shoes turn brown, instead of becoming angry, he sings about how much he loves his brown shoes. The book Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean is a great picture book about a cat that "goes with the flow."
Pete's philosophy is summed up at the end by his statement that "no matter what you step in just keep walking along and singing your song."
Kerry Williamson is 15 years old and suddenly has been selected by three of the most popular girls in school to be a part of their group. In Richard Peck's book Three Quarters Dead, we meet Tanya, McKenzie, and Natalie, the three girls who rule the school and are the meanest girls around. Kerry is surprised by this sudden attention from these three who previously ignored her. They sit with her at lunch, they include her in their shopping expeditions, and she is invited to their party preparation meetings. Tanya is clearly the ring leader of the group. She is in charge of all the activities and the wardrobe decisions. While at lunch with Tanya, Kerry begins to notice that time seems to stand still and lunch goes on much longer than it has in the past although the clock has not stopped. There are several significant occurrences like this that Kerry notices but she is so happy to be part of the group that she ignores any signs that things may be weird.
"Beneath heaven is hell. Beneath hell is furnace." That is the description by 14-year-old Alex of Furnace, a prison one mile below the surface of the earth. When you are sentenced to Furnace you are sentenced for life. This gripping tale is Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith. In this story we meet Alex, who is arrested after he and a friend are caught during a burglary. However, the police are not your typical law-enforcement officers, as they are clothed all in black. Without any of the requisite procedures, during the arrest they shoot Alex's friend dead in front of him. Alex is taken to court and found guilty of murder. Despite his and his parents' pleas for an appeal he is sentenced to life in prison with no parole. Not just any prison but Furnace, where there are no visitors and no chance of ever getting out.
Alex arrives to find a tough world where survival is a daily concern. He quickly learns that friendships are not part of the Furnace world, and it is every man for himself. Gangs abound, the food is disgusting, and guard dogs tear the inmates apart. Alex quickly learns from his street-smart roommate to keep a low profile and not to draw attention to himself. This is especially the case when, during the night, evil guards manuever through the prison and randomly select the next victim. The victims are taken away and return as killing machines. Alex decides he wants out. So he and his roommate devise a clever escape plan. But it is very risky.
That time is upon us. That time when we start sniffling and coughing. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead is about one of those days when you just want to go back to bed. Amos McGee is the cheerful zookeeper at the local zoo. Every morning he "ambles" down to the bus stop after his breakfast of oatmeal and tea to catch the number 5 bus to the zoo. When he arrives there he always makes sure to spend time with his friends before he starts working. He plays chess with the elephant, he races with the turtle, and he sits quietly with the penguin. This particular day, Amos wakes up with the sniffles and his legs are achy. He decides to stay home and not to go to work.
Well, after some time has passed the animals begin to worry when Amos has not arrived at his usual time. The elephant has the chess board ready, the turtle is ready to race, and the penguin waits patiently alone. "Where is Amos?" they all wonder. Tired of waiting and concerned for their friend, the animals decide to go and check on Amos. So, they board the bus and head to Amos' house, where they arrive to find him not well. They each tend to Amos in their own special way, and then they end the day with a pot of tea.