Monday, August 30, 2021

A PLACE AT THE TABLE by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan – a story about cooking, friendship and family


Why you want to read this book…

This is one of my favorite middle grade reads of this year! I really enjoyed this story about learning to find your place, told from the perspectives of two girls with very different personalities and cultural backgrounds. Both characters really came alive through all the details of their families and their culture, as well as their voices. It was great to learn more learn about different cultural foods and traditions. I also got hooked on whether Elizabeth and Sara would be able to resolve all the problems that came up with their families and friends. 

This book gave me something to think about in reading about all the difficulties and feelings that come into play for kids whose parents are also struggling to deal with issues such as mental health, immigrating to a new country and trying to make a place for themselves.  I’d love to read another book with these two characters, because it was hard to put this one down. 


Here’s the summary from the publisher  


A timely, accessible, and beautifully written story exploring themes of food, friendship, family and what it means to belong, featuring sixth graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl taking a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.

Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends?


A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan was published by Clarion Books in 2020. I read an e-book from my local library.

Additional Resources:

Here's a wonderful interview with the authors about their inspiration and how they worked together to create the book: 

In this interview, the authors mention these useful questions they created for Starting a Conversation with Elders Who Moved Here from a Different Country, posted on the We Need Diverse Books website


Friday, August 27, 2021

THE COLOR COLLECTOR by Nicholas Solis and Renia Metallinou - a story about making connections

This book has lots of layers, so it's a great mentor text for writers and a great one to add to a primary class collection. 


Why read this book?

 I really loved the way this book showed the awkwardness a quiet person may feel when making friends or not having connections with other kids. I also enjoyed the way colour was used in this story, becoming more prevalent in the illustrations as the girl opened up and made a connection with a friend.

Summary from the publisher: 

The Color Collector is a poignant story about newness, friendship, and common ground. When a boy notices the new girl picking up all manner of debris and litter on their walks home from school he wants to know why. So she shows him the huge mural she's created in her room that reminds her of the home she left behind. He learns all about where she's come from and they both find how wonderful it is to make a new friend.


The Color Collector by Nicholas Solis & Renia Metallinou was published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2021


 My Thoughts as a Creator:


One of the things I admired most about this book was how colours were used so effectively to fit with the text – a great mentor text for illustrators. The opening of the book was especially effective with a slightly sad or lonely tone and very little colour. You could definitely see how the illustrator and author together both contributed to creating meaning in this story.


My Thoughts as an Educator:


This would be a great book for a primary teacher, because as you read there is a lot to discuss about making friends, feelings and how to make other people feel at ease. The illustrations and idea of collecting scraps of colour to create art is a fantastic opportunity for talking about re-using materials as well as showing an art style kids could try. This is a many-layered book so it can have several purposes – my favourite kind of classroom purchase!


Ages: 5-9


Grades: The publisher suggests grades 1 – 4, but I will read this to my kindergarten students.


Themes: friendship, feelings, found object art



Writing: Think of a time when you felt unsure about something. Brainstorm some feeling words to describe how you felt. How could you help someone else who is feeling that way? Write one sentence to say how you could help.


Social-Emotional Learning Challenge: How do you usually make friends? Think of the things you have in common with a few of your friends. Now, challenge yourself to make a new friend! With a partner, talk for a couple of minutes and try to find something you both have in common.


Art: Try some Found Wrapper Art: Collect different kinds and colours of food and other product wrappers. What can you create using a collage technique? Add some drawn elements to your collage.


Additional Resources for Educators:


Here’s a link to some found object collage art with cereal boxes.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11 by Alan Gratz


Image of a boy standing in front of the wreckage of the Twin Towers
Why you want to read this book…

Besides it being the twenty-year anniversary of this horrific event, I was drawn to this story because I thought Alan Gratz would present the story carefully but with lots of tension. I was right. 

This story shares the events of 9/11 through the eyes of a fictional young boy, Brandon, who experiences the collapse of the towers and fights to survive. An interesting surprise was that it also told the story of Reshmina, a young girl in Afghanistan, who also experienced a life-changing event and had to struggle for survival. The similarities and differences between these two perspectives gave me a lot to think about.

 Even twenty years later, twin towers tragedy is heart-breaking, making for an intense read. Luckily, the details are descriptive without being overly vivid or scary. Reshmina’s story is also emotionally difficult and I found it very interesting to learn about her life and think about the issues she faced. Along with political issues, this story makes you think about basic human values and how people are connected. Author notes at the end of the story provide extra information as well as discussing some of the decisions the author made in writing the novel. A very interesting and emotional read.


Here’s the summary from the publisher…


It's September 11, 2001. Brandon, a nine-year-old boy, goes to work for the day with his dad… at the World Trade Center in New York City. When two planes hit the towers, Brandon and his father are trapped inside a fiery nightmare as terror and confusion whirl around them. Can they escape — and what will the world be like when they do?

In present-day Afghanistan, Reshmina is an eleven-year-old girl who is used to growing up in the shadow of war, but she has dreams of peace and unity. When she ends up harboring a wounded young American soldier, she and her entire family are put in mortal danger. But Reshmina also learns something surprising about the roots of this endless war.

With his trademark skill, Alan Gratz delivers an action-packed and insightful story of two kids whose lives connect in unexpected ways, and reminds us how the past and present are always more linked than we think.

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz was published by Scholastic Press in 2021. I read an e-version from my local public library.

Resources for Teachers: 

Here's a 25-min book talk with Alan Gratz, where he explains why he wrote the book and some of the research and decisions he made. Lots to discuss here!