Toby: Naji and the Mystery of the Dig, by Vahid Imani
This book is set in Iran in 1942, and is about a normal girl who lives in a house, but she believes in magical creatures. One day, she sees that there are random men digging a hole in her garden. She asks her sister what is happening, and her sister replies that they are digging a hole for a new outhouse. Naji immediately gets agitated, and worries that they'll disturb an evil force. So, Naji starts watching - then her mother shouts to wash up.
A few days later, a man comes over to fix the pool. Naji believes that he is a looloo (a kind of child-stealing demon), because he has the name of one of the looloos. She is told to go and give him some tea, so she goes and sees if he is actually going to take children from their parents. Even though she is not stolen, she still wants to learn what is down that hole - she feels like some monsters will pop straight out of it. Is she right, or is she not?
My favourite part in this book is where Naji goes to see if the man that was there fixing was actually evil, because, while she is going to see him, the book describes all her thoughts. I like this book, because it has a very wide age range, and is fun for probably even grown ups to read. It has a lot of imagination for the 150 pages it is, and it has a lot about Persian culture in it.
Toby: It Ain't So Awful, Falafel, by Firoozeh Dumas
How many times have you moved? If you have, you'll know that it's very hectic. In this story, Falafel is fed up with moving. Of course, Falafel isn't her real name. Her real name is Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh. She gets called Falafel, because her next-next door neighbour is a little bit crazy. Zomorod's parents are from Iran, and it's the late 1970s, a time when there is a revolution in Iran, and the Shah is going into exile. When the revolution happens, there had been a Persian Shah for 2,500 years. Falafel is just a normal girl who wants to make friends and have fun. Her parents don't speak English, so Falafel has to translate for them, and she does not enjoy that. Zomorod changes her name to Cindy, to fit in better. When the revolution happens, people in America don't like Iran, and her father loses his job. They don't know what to do.
At the beginning, there is a dedication: "To all the kids who don’t belong, whatever the reason." This book is about and for kids who don't belong, and I hope that all children going through not belonging anywhere will find friends and be happy.
Sabine: The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani
When her father dies unexpectedly, a young woman and her mother are forced to seek the charity of extended family. The uncle, an accomplished carpet knotter, takes the young woman (we never discover her name) under her wing, and, against better judgement and his wife's advice, teaches her to design, plan and execute her own carpets. Despite her obvious giftedness and skill, this is not a rags to riches story, instead, a familiar plot of hardship, unfair treatment, and unlucky circumstances.
The book takes place in Persia around the 1600s, and describes to the reader the sights and sounds of ancient Persia. The heroine is all too human, with flaws, spirit, and anger. Following her life story made me in turn want to weep for her and shout at her. I did enjoy the detailed reference to carpet knotting, appreciating the research that must have gone into these sections.
We both have several books about, set in, or written by authors from South Africa. From the children's version of Nelson Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom" to the classic "Journey to Jo-Burg" by Beverly Naidoo, Toby has realised for a long time that this is a complex country. Some of the reviews we have carried together here are therefore a bit older :)
Toby: Journey to Jo'Burg, by Beverly Naidoo (read when Toby was 6)
We bought this book when Nelson Mandela died, but it took us a while to read it. I didn't like how people weren't all treated the same, because that isn't right. Naledi and Tiro were very brave to go travelling all by themselves.
Toby: The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela (written when he was 6)
I wrote a letter to Nelson Mandela when he was sick, because I wanted to thank him for making the world a better place. I had several non-fiction books about him, but after he died, this book came out, which is all about his life. I liked reading about his childhood.
Toby: Operation Rhino, by Lauren St John
I think you should read the rest of the series before this one, because there are lots of references to the other books in this one. Lauren St John was born in Zimbabwe, but because the book takes place in South Africa, we are putting it here, and we have another book by another Zimbabwean author for Zimbabwe, too.
'Race you to the bottom of the hill,' said Ben, reining in Shiloh, his new pony. 'Last one there washes the dishes after breakfast.'
Ben and Martine are best friends, and always love to race. However, Martine is not riding a pony, she is riding a white giraffe, who got saved in a previous book. Martine used to live in England, but her parents died in a fire, and Martine came to live with Ben and his family in South Africa. In this book, Martine and Ben go on a rhino-saving adventure. It all starts on the Stars and Stripes Safari. Martine's favourite band are there, as well as some hunters and some surfers. The hunters say they have hunted bears in Romania, but that they don't want to kill any African animals. Right at the end of the tour, Martine shows Jayden, the leader of her favourite band, the hidden spot of where the rhinos are, a mother and a child. But she doesn't know what's about to happen.
A few days later.
BANG! Martine wakes up in the middle of the night and runs downstairs. There is a big helicopter, and in it, she sees the shadow of a man with a gun. One of the rhinos has been hit. It was the mother! Martine and Ben need to take the baby to another reserve!
I liked this book because it is very action-packed, and when you read it, you get a very good picture of what is happening. It was very enjoyable to read, and probably in the age range of 7-15. This isn't just an adventure book, it's a bit of a magic book, too. Martine has healing powers, and my favourite part of this book was right at the end - you'll have to read it to find out.
Sabine: The Cry of Winnie Mandela, by Njabulo Ndebele
I was a teenager when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and, like many others of my generation, I read the books that were popular in that era - I read Donald Woods' "Biko" and John Briley's "Cry Freedom" (though I never watched the film), and Winnie Mandela's "Part of my Soul". Around the same time, I also read another book, Doris Lessing's "Desdemona, if only you had spoken". Out of all books, this one stayed with me the most, even though it isn't (at first glance) related to the topic here. Doris Lessing gave voice to female characters - both in history and in literature - allowing them long monologues where they had a chance to explain themselves, to flesh out their characters, to be "more". I always thought they were the perfect monologues - innovative, fairly unknown, and interesting. Ndebele's book reminds me of this. Four women, at first disconnected from each other, are waiting. For various reasons, they are finding themselves without a husband - one went away to study, one went away to work, one died, one went into exile - all legitimate reasons, but as months drag into years, the women experience a kind of limbo. Society has certain expectations, and they are trapped in their existence, no matter what they do. When they meet (it is not described how, nor does it matter, there is a "meta" quality to this book, where the characters themselves seem aware of their imaginary existence), they decide to play a game, each looking to address Winnie Mandela, a waiting woman like they are, but waiting much more publicly. They ask questions, they draw out things they have heard, seen and read, and they engage with their own experiences in relation to Winnie's, inviting her to join their circle. When she does, she becomes one of them - questioning, searching, reflecting, acknowledging.
I found this book utterly fascinating - like the monologues composed by Doris Lessing, here are women who are given a voice to express themselves. But of course, it is their imagined voices, imagined by authors who have a way with words (at the time of the publication of the book, Ndebele was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town), and who can make us listen. This book reminds me of people whose stories need to be told, and consider the complexities of who might have the right, the ability, and the connections to tell those stories.
There is something odd growing in Stanly's garden. Bit by bit, bone by bone, a skeleton grows out of the ground. The grown-ups can't see it, but Stanly's sister Miren can. She calls it Princy, because, according to her, Princy wears a gold hat and has a black cape. When Miren gets really sick, Princy is the only one who can make her smile. Stanly thinks Princy is bad news, and his sister is getting sicker and sicker. But Princy makes her happy. Is he bad or good? This book is very emotional - I cried for a really long time when I finished it, and I don't normally cry about books. I had a chat with my Mum, because I was very angry at Princy. Together, we worked out that the book is about hope, or maybe about how death is sometimes harder for the people left behind, than for the person dying. It is hard to say what my favourite bit was, because it was so sad, but it made me feel very strongly, and that is what a good book does.
I reviewed this book for LoveReading4Kids, they are amazing! You should check them out, and you can read all reviews here.
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).
My name is Toby, and I am 10 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 review 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 :)