Toby: The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida
The Reason I Jump doesn’t have a storyline, it’s a book written by an autistic boy about what it is like to be autistic. He was 13 when he wrote the book. He explains that he learnt to speak with other people by using a board with letters and numbers on, that he could point to, so that he could have a conversation. He says that he can’t control the noises he makes, and he forgets things quite quickly, so he might do things that somebody told him not to do. He’s not trying to be naughty, he’s just forgetful and is trying out new things for him. I would recommend the book to anybody who is a parent or relative to an autistic person, because I think it is really important to understand, although Naoki also explains that not every person who is autistic is the same. I think it is really important that Naoki has written “The Reason I Jump”, because it is written by somebody who is autistic, rather than somebody who is not autistic trying to explain what it’s like. It would be a great book to have in a school library, and I also like that it was written by a child.
Sabine: The Nakano Thrift Shop, by Hiromi Kawakami
I read other reviews about this book, many very positive, and one that calls it "mundane", as though that were inherently negative. Hitomi is a young woman who works at Nakano's Thrift Shop - not an antique centre with inherently valuable items, but the kind that sells the results from estate sales. Hitomi enters a complex relationship with Takeo, the other employee, not quite a love story, more a series of encounters, some romantic, some confusing, some, yes, mundane. But it is this mundaneness that is an art form in and of itself, looking at the lives Hitomi, Takeo, Nakano, and their friends and customer, the lives of "ordinary" people who wriggle along as best they can, forming connections, growing estranged, and re-connecting.
This is a gentle book. It never shouts, although, on occasion, there are sections that remind the reader that the main character is a young, contemporary woman, which forms a contrast to the general "ticking along" of the story. To me, the items in the shop are metaphors for the experiences and connections of the characters - attributing value to them is personal, and sometimes, this value isn't recognised until much later.
Bonus Books (read when Toby was younger):
The Big Wave (Pearl S. Buck), read when Toby was 6 years old (repost from www.writingtotheworld.com)
Toby says: The Big Wave was about scariness, happiness and sadness. There was a little boy called Kino and his friend Jiya. They lived on a volcano by the sea. One day, a big wave came and smashed people's houses, and people died. Jiya's Mum, Dad and brother died, so Jiya went to live in Kino's house. The boys were happy before the big wave came, but then came the big wave and they were sad. Sometimes, things are scary, but you still do them. Sometimes, even just living can be scary, but if you have friends, then you might not be so scared, but you might still be a bit scared.
Mummy says: This is a beautifully written story about friendship through hardship. It explores grief and sadness, and although it is short and covers quite a bit of ground, it reads very calm and "quiet". A lovely find, and I'm sure we'll return to it.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr (read when Toby was 6 years old, re-post from www.writingtotheworld.com)
Toby says: It was really sad. Sadako was a little girl, and she had to go to the doctors. She had leukaemia from the atom bomb. She was folding a thousand paper cranes so that she could get better again, but she actually died. I liked the book, it was a sad book, though. There is a statue of Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan.
Mummy says: This was another book that had stayed with me since childhood, and as a result of it, I have been folding paper cranes - out of receipts in restaurants, scraps of paper while we wait somewhere...Toby had been playing with these since he was tiny, and I always told him that I learnt how to fold them because of a book I'd read as a child. What I didn't realise was one important change the author made - when we researched the book, it turned out that Sadako actually managed to fold a thousand paper cranes, but died anyway. In the book, she falls short of her target, and her class mates finish the remaining cranes, so that she gets buried with a thousand paper cranes.
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 :)