As has happened quite a few times, we actually have more books than just one each for Nigeria. However, since both these reviews have been "hovering" in the draft folder for a while, we decided to get the first "tranche" of Nigeria books out, and we will follow up with a Part 2 in a while. We are still catching up with each other, and must co-ordinate our reading better! :)
Toby: Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
This book is about a normal girl who has a friend, who has a friend, and they all become friends together. Suddenly, Sunny, the main character, gets taken into a world of magic, because her two friends are magic. She passes the test to start working magic, but nobody else in her family has magic, she is a "free agent", somebody who doesn't come from a magical family.
Sunny is an albino, so her skin has no pigment, and in several African countries, being an albino is linked to lots of superstitions. So to have a character like this, and a girl, who is strong and powerful is really cool. I think this book would be great for anybody who understands that life can sometimes be hard - Akata is a word used to describe African Americans in the Yoruba language, and Sunny was born in America, although her parents were born in Nigeria, so Sunny is a little bit of an outsider. People say it is the Nigerian Harry Potter - I think this might be true, especially if you understand that the context is very different, and that's what I like about it. We have pre-ordered the sequel (it's coming out 3rd October), and I can't wait for it to come out!
Sabine: Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi
This book wasn't at all what I expected. I have had it for a few years (swapped in a coffeehouse with a bring-and-swap shelf), and when Toby decided on his challenge, I looked at my (rather large) To Be Read pile and pulled it out. Originally, I was intrigued by the references made to a child inhabiting two cultural worlds, but upon opening the novel, I realised there was much more to it than a child trying to find her identity.
Jessamy is eight years old when, on a trip to Nigeria, she first encounters the mysterious Tilly, a girl only she can see, but who nevertheless seems to have some power to interact with the real world. Over time, Tilly's intentions appear more and more sinister, hurting and threatening anybody who might stand in the way of her relationship with Jess, but Jess struggles to distance herself from her. The boundaries between reality, dream, magic and imagination are constantly shifting, and readers who expect an "explanation at the end of it all" will be disappointed.
Helen Oyeyemi was four years old when she moved from Nigeria to England, and still at school when she wrote the book. The Icarus Girl is a powerful and disturbing debut novel, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Oyeyemi's work.
Toby: William Wenton and the Luridium Thief, by Bobbie Peers
William Wenton and the Luridium Thief by Bobbie Peers is a brilliant book which can be read by children at any age. The story is about a boy who is hunted. He is a code-breaking genius, but doesn’t know that yet. One day, he gets attacked, because he succeeds in breaking the unbreakable code. He then gets chased and taken to an institute which helps people who are really good at code breaking carry on their lives in a good way. He is also on a search for his grandfather.
I like this book because it has loads of tech-stuff in it, and you can follow the storyline really well. My favourite character is Iscia, but I can’t tell you why, you’ll have to read the book! This book was originally called “Luridiumstyven” in Norwegian, and the translator Tara Chace did a brilliant job! I would say this would be good for age 8-15 years old. It is a really proper good storyline, and I just couldn’t put it down! I can’t wait to read Bobbie Peers’ next book!
Sabine: Naïve. Super by Erlend Loe
This book came out originally in the mid-1990s, and there is some reference to technology that makes that obvious, however, it doesn't prevent this book from being a gem. It doesn't take long to read at all, and the plot is deceptively simple. A 25-year-old protagonist suddenly questions what he is doing with his life. He decides to drop out of university, cancel the lease on his flat, reduce his belongings to the contents of a manageable backpack - and a bike - and thinks. A lot. About time. About what it means to be a person. About what is important to him. He thinks carefully about each item he adds to his life, once, he decides that he needs an item which:
- Is small enough to carry easily
- Costs no more than 100 kroner
- Can be used many many times
- Can be used indoors as well as outdoors
- Can be used alone or with someone else
- Gets [him] active
- Makes [him] forget about time (p.12)
Thus equipped with his list, he goes in search of the perfect item, and decides that a cheap plastic ball meets all his requirements. While his brother is out in the world, making money, he flat-sits for him, throwing his ball, and thinking about life. And time. And when his brother invites him to spend time together in New York, it is a big step from throwing a ball in a flat to the top of the Empire State Building (where time passes slightly faster at the top, than at the bottom of the building).
In a way, this book reminds me of a modern version of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" - a search to live life simply, to remember the joy in life, to take time to think a thought all the way through to the end. In my favourite section of the book, the protagonist stands in the bustle of Manhattan, realising that he is not so different from anybody else: "I feel I am starting to care about all these people. I understand them. Of course they have to walk in the street, they have to get somewhere. Things have to work everywhere. I am thinking, we're in this together. Keep it up. It's going to be just fine" (p. 122).
Okay - Brazil is getting a special treatment :). Partially because we visited the country, and partially because we found it originally quite difficult to find a translated children's book. As a result, Toby read one book not by a Brazilian author, but then we found two! But then, one was a bit too old for Toby, and Sabine read it instead. So, overall, we each read two books for Brazil.
Toby: Me in the Middle, by Ana Maria Machado
Belle's family is very unorganised. Her mother usually drops things around the house and then, when she needs them, she does something which she calls 'a general clean-up'. And that is where our story begins. Belle is coming back from school in Rio de Janeiro, and goes into her mother's room. Her mother is doing her general clean-up, and Belle kisses her and then looks in her mother's closet. In the closet. there is a trunk, in the trunk, there is a box, in the box, there is an envelope, and in the envelope, there are pictures. Her mother and her look at the pictures. There is a beautiful picture of a little girl: 'That's my grandmother', says Belle's mother, 'and your great-grandmother.' Belle loves the picture and wants to keep it, but her mother says no. But Belle is allowed to take the picture to school. At school, Belle is playing with her friends, and Bisa Bea, as she now named the picture, is held by the elastic band in her shorts. When she gets home, she realises she has lost the picture. She tells her mother, that when she was playing, she got really sweaty, and Bisa Bea got absorbed into her body, behind her heart. She and Bisa Bea start talking to each other, and eventually, it feels like her great-grandmother is really there. Bisa Bea tells her what life was like when she was young, and it was quite different from Belle's. But soon, there is going to be a new arrival to talk to Belle...
I like this book because it is very fun and gives you a lot of historical facts about Brazil that you probably won't know. Bisa Bea was alive in a rich family during the slave trade in Brazil, and in a time when your parents would decide who you would marry. When we went to the National History Museum in Rio de Janeiro, we saw the pen that signed the "Golden Law" that ended slavery in Brazil.
My favourite part is the concept of "Me in the Middle" - it would be great if we could talk to our ancestors, and find out what their lives were like! I also liked the book because it was set in Rio, and I've now been to Rio - that was cool!
Toby: Grk and the Pelotti Gang, by Josh Lacey
The Pelotti Gang are on the move - they are off to steal more money. These famous criminals are the best in the continent, always escaping the police!
Grk, Tom, Max and Natasha decide to put an end to the Pelotti Gang: they are off to Brazil, or, more specifically, they're off to Rio. When they arrive there, they stay in "Copacabana Castle", one of the best hotels in Rio. One day, Tom decides to go on a walk, but his Dad and Mum say no. After a few days, Tom and Natasha are at a football match, but Tom gets bored and starts walking around, without telling anybody. But great dangers await him!
This book is very easy to imagine, and extremely fun to read. It is part of a series, with a different location in each book. I don't think I learnt a lot about Rio, but the story still was really fun! This book is recommended as reading in the back of the Rough Guide to Brazil - it is great that they have reading suggestions, but I think they should also suggest "Me in the Middle", because that book told me a lot more about Brazil.
Sabine: The Shape of Bones, by Daniel Galera
This book follows Hermano, a thirty-something plastic surgeon, as he sets off early one morning to climb Cerro Bonete, a mountain in Bolivia. But it also follows Hermano, a kid growing up in Esplanada, pushing himself and his body to the limits with daredevil bike races, where the winner is the kid who falls most spectacularly. Through the dual timeline, the reader sees the world through Hermano's eyes - his friends, the complex negotiations involved in friendship, his thoughts, and his character. Hermano (both boy and man) is a complex individual, both insistent on doing his own "thing" (like being the only one in his circle of friends not touching alcohol), and keen to fit in. In some cases, "fitting in" is a case of survival, in others, it is simply a case of not rocking the boat. Hermano (both boy and man) is searching for something, an,d realising that he will not find it on a mountaintop in Bolivia, he returns to the neighbourhood of his childhood to seek it there.
This coming-of-age story was an interesting read - Galera describes the Brazil of the 1990s in great detail, down to the cobblestones, the smells and sounds, making this novel deeply insightful - not only offering insights into Brazil, but also into what matters to us as we grow up, and how this shapes us into the people we are today.
Sabine: The Head of the Saint, by Socorro Acioli
This book is classified as Young Adult - we had originally bought it for Toby, but I think at 9, it was just a few years too old for him, so I read it instead, and I'm glad I did. Samuel is 15 when his mother Mariinha dies, and, on her deathbed, she makes him promise to light three candles for her, in three different locations, and to take her rosary to his grandmother, in a bid to find his father, whom he never knew. With no money for the journey, Samuel sets off to walk for 16 days through the harsh heat of Brazil, only to find that there is no warm welcome awaiting him, and the town where his grandmother lives has been slowly dying ever since a disastrous incident with a giant statue of Saint Anthony. Devastated and injured by a pack of dogs, he sets up home in the Saint's head, only to discover that he has the unique ability to hear people's prayers...and possibly the power to do something about them.
This book mixes the realism of Brazilian culture and religion with hints of magic and belief in miracles, a fine balance that could easily tip over in either direction, but is balanced beautifully by Acioli. The book overall is very understated - the drama unfolds without much sentimentality, the characters are well defined and wide-ranging. I had the occasional problem with the timeline, but if you accept other magical aspects of the book, what a bit of a disrupted timeline among friends? :) Overall, a very enjoyable read.
For Sudan, Toby has read a book that is not actually by a Sudanese author - however, he enjoyed it very much, and so, we wanted to include it. The book we have chosen for Egypt, by an Egyptian author, will feature Sudan again...a bit :)
oby: A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park
A Long Walk to Water is a book about the Lost Boys of Sudan. These were 20,000 boys displaced by the Second Civil War in Sudan, which lasted from 1983-2005. Salva’s story starts in 1985. He is a young boy from the village of Loun-Ariic. One day, the rebels blow up his school and he gets separated from his parents. He then meets his uncle, and goes on a trip to a camp in Ethiopia. He meets lots of friends, but the rebels find them and make them swim the river going from Ethiopia to Kenya. Many get swallowed whole by alligators, and many get shot by the rebels. We follow Salva over several years as he tries to find his way to Kenya, and to safety.
The book changes narrators, as well as Salva, there is Nya. Her story takes place in 2008, after the civil war ended, and we first meet her when she fetches water, which takes her half a day. Salva’s story spans several years, Nya’s story lasts only a day.
I liked this book because it based on a true story. Salva is a real person, and the author’s descriptions are very good. The book wasn’t always easy to read, because you know that real people got hurt, but I think it is important to know happened in Sudan, and this is a good way for children to learn a bit about it.
Sabine: Telepathy, by Amir Tag Elsir
I enjoy books that mix reality with the surreal, and Elsir's short novel certainly delivers on this. An unnamed, celebrated Sudanese author begins to suspect that one of the characters in his latest novel - a poor man called Nishan Hamza Nishan, first a messenger in a school, before he takes it upon himself to gain an education with the aim of becoming a lawyer - is in fact based on a real person, of the same name. A friend of the writer suspects that Elsir may have been told Nishan's story telepathically, but Nishan is only part way through his own story, and in "Hunger's Hopes", the novel, an unpleasant fate awaits him. This leaves the author with a dilemma. Is he responsible for his characters, even in real life? Should he take it upon himself to try and change Nishan's fate - if it is his fate at all?
The book is set in Khartoum, and I enjoyed the descriptions of the Sudanese capital, as well as references to political occurrences, and seeing some of the views on Sudan and South Sudan through the eyes of somebody local. Elsir's descriptions are vivid, and the premise of the book was exciting. However, I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters - the women in Elsir's novel are difficult to engage with, since they seem very "polar" in character. The men are more interesting, but somehow always written at arm's length, as though there is a final piece missing. Nevertheless, I'm glad I read this book.
This might take some time. Both Toby and I have read books by Swedish authors, and neither one of us wanted to be lazy, and so we both chose to read something new.
Well, we can't write about "reading Sweden" and not mention Astrid Lindgren. Toby has read most of her books, but two stick out in particular. He first encountered "Ronia, the Robber's Daughter" when he was 5 years old, and this was our book review at the time (taken from when we first blogged it on Writing to the World):
Toby says: It was really good! Ronia lives in Matt's Fort, Matt is Ronia's Dad, and he is a robber chieftain. Birk Borkason is the son of Borka, and Matt and Borka are enemies. But Birk and Ronia are friends. Their Dads don't like that Ronia and Birk are friends, so Ronia and Birk secretly run away and live in a bear's cave. I liked it when Ronia and Birk made friends. I don't like that there are no more Ronia books, only one.
Mummy says: Ronia the Robber's Daughter was one of my favourite books as a child, and re-reading it with Toby has reminded me why I love it so much! Ronia is such a strong girl, and really, there are no "baddies" in this book (apart from wild harpies and other creatures of the forest) - it's full of essentially "good" people who just have to see each other's point of view a bit more.
About a year later, Toby and I read The Brothers Lionheart together. And then we read it again. And then he read it again, by himself. And to this day, it remains one of his favourite books. Toby says: "I can't decide which one is my favourite, but I think if you want to read two amazing books, or you only have time to read two books by Astrid Lindgren, then I think you should read these two."
For the challenge, however, we both read a book we hadn't read before (Sabine read two), and here are our reviews:
Toby: The Glass Children by Kristina Ohlsson
"I don't like this house", said Billie. "Well, cope with it", responded her Mum. Billie and her Mum have just moved into an old house, which used to be a children's home in the 1920s. Billie is convinced that there are ghosts in there, but her Mum doesn't believe her. But if there are no ghosts, why does the ceiling lamp keep coming loose, swinging without a breeze? Billie is determined to find out the secrets of the house!
This book is a very scary but exciting book. You always wonder what is happening, but for me, working out who the culprit was was not too difficult. My favourite part in the book is when Billie and her friends go to the library and try to work out the secrets of the house. In the book, it also mentioned brittle bones disease, and I think this is good, because it means that children reading the book can learn more about something that can affect adults and children in the real world.
Sabine: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend: Katarina Bivald
This book makes a lovely summer read - Sara, a young woman from Sweden, decides to throw caution into the wind and plan her first international journey, to visit Amy, an elderly lady from Broken Wheel, Iowa, with whom she has been exchanging letters. Unfortunately, when she arrives, there is nobody there to greet her, and when she finally makes her way to Amy's house, she discovers that Amy has passed away, having left instructions for Sara to make use of her house - and her books. What follows is a story about belonging, friendship, love, and, above all, books. Sara is quiet yet persistent, the inhabitants of Broken Wheel are detailed and individual (although how quite so many "characters" can fit into a sleepy tiny town remains a questions that is maybe best not asked), and the whole book is a thoroughly enjoyable way to while away a few hours.
Sabine: My grandmother sends her regards and apologises: Fredrik Backman
Without putting too fine a point on it: this book is a thing of beauty. This story about a nearly-eight-year-old girl, her grandmother, and the people around them, is written with such unbelievable tenderness and attention to detail, it is actually quite hard to review, because all you want to do it tell people to read it, with a kind of fervour that would probably make you look slightly odd in the eyes of the very people you are trying to convince. But if you like people who are a bit "different", and not afraid of being so, if you like seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and having magic seeping into the real world in the way that all our lives sometimes resemble fairy tales, and if it's okay with you to feel an awful lot of emotions across the time span it takes you to read the book...then (and I am writing this with as little "mad-sounding fervour" as I can) you might really, really want to read this book.
Elsa is nearly eight when her grandmother - her protector, her story-teller, her guide to the "Land-Of-Almost-Awake" - dies from cancer. Her grandmother, a former doctor who saved lives the world over in disaster areas, sends Elsa on a final quest, with a series of letters to apologise to the many people she feels the need to - posthumously - apologise to. The quest not only helps Elsa understand more about who her grandmother was before she became Elsa's grandmother, but also to learn more about the people around her.
Backman thanks Astrid Lindgren in the "Author's Thanks" at the end, and The Brothers Lionheart is mentioned several times throughout the book, tied in as only a lover of stories can. I can't remember feeling this touched about a grandparent/grandchild relationship since reading Peter Härtling's "Oma" ("Nan") as a child...which I don't think ever got translated into English. Thank you to Fredrik Backman for this book - and to Henning Koch, for a beautiful, beautiful translation!
My name is Toby, and I am 9 years old. I have written letters to every country in the world - you can read about that adventure at my other website, Writing to the World. Some letters are published in a book called "Dear World, How Are You?". In order to learn more about the countries I am writing to, I am reading books, and I am reviewing them here. I also reviewed books for LoveReading4Kids, and those reviews are on here, too. I am trying to find one book set in each country, or by an author from that country. My Mum is doing the same for grown-up books, and I am reviewing mine, and she is reviewing hers. So whether you are a child or a grown-up, you can explore the world with us :)