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.
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.
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 :)