Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Somewhere Among

Unintentionally, it seems to be Japanese/American novel-in-verse week here at Devour Books! When I saw Somewhere Among listed on NetGalley.com, I was eager to see Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu's take on this theme.

I've read many of Holly Thompson's novels in verse, which usually are about feeling foreign, but in Somewhere Among, our protagonist Ema feels entirely at home in Japan. Although her mother is American, Ema is culturally Japanese. Other people may see her as foreign, but she thinks and acts like a Japanese child. I loved the glimpses into Japanese life and that Donwerth-Chikamatsu trusted the readers enough that she didn't explain everything in detail. For me, the best part of the book was feeling fully immersed in Japan while reading.

Unfortunately, the book was very sad and I don't know many middle grade readers who can take this much tragedy in a book. Somewhere Among features September 11th, living away from a beloved father, a bully whose mother hits him, a sickly grandfather, a mean grandmother, and a mother whose pregnancy puts her own and her baby's health in danger. The young readers I know could handle one or two of those problems, but it was fairly overwhelming. For foreigners living in Japan, there are never enough books to support your experience. Everyone else should read Holly Thompson's books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Falling into the Dragon's Mouth

Holly Thompson is a treasure for foreigners in Japan.

Having lived in the country for sixteen years, she has the experience of being an outsider and her books, like Orchard and Falling into the Dragon's Mouth bring that to life. When I read one of her novels-in-verse, I am back in my Kagoshima days, trying to use the correct manners and doing my best to understand. I taught in Japan with an American man who had three children attending Japanese schools. I always wondered what life was like for them. This is a book that would have helped them so much.

Falling into the Dragon's Mouth is about Jason Parker, a sixth grader who attends public school and is shunned by his classmates for being different. Jason finds solace in aikido, where everyone starts at the same level and his language difficulties don't matter. Knowing how to do aikido is one thing, and being faced with a pack of bullies is another, especially in a culture where saving face is so important.

Thompson makes Jason's loneliness palpable and captures so many small parts of daily life. I am eager to track down Thompson's other books to be brought back to my Japanese days. I hope that every international school in Japan gets a copy for their library.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Gordon Korman is simply magic.

This has been the Year of Korman in grade five. The students flew through the Dive, Island, and Everest series. A few are trading copies of Swindle. Next, they are going to love Ungifted.

After a series of humorous events, troublemaker Donovan Curtis is accidentally sent to a school for gifted students, where he most definitely does not belong. Everyone knows it, but Donovan brings so much life and unpredictability to his new school, that they want to overlook it. Unfortunately, no one can run away from their mistakes, and hiding them makes it harder for everyone (a great lesson for middle grade readers). Luckily, things tend to work out for characters like Donovan, and Ungifted is no exception to that rule.

This is a genuinely funny book that will have readers rooting for Donovan. The gifted and "normal" students are fairly stereotypical, but I think readers are smart enough to know this. I love the personal growth that I saw in the characters, particularly Donovan. In many ways, he is a typical middle school student, full of unthinking actions and fearful of consequences. Readers will relate to his impulsivity and the way that he thrives wherever he is placed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Nameless City

My students love anything presented in graphic novel form, so they would probably read this. As a more discerning reader, I want more from a book. This is too bad, because a fictional ancient civilization would fit in so well with what I teach.

I never got attached to any of the characters. I suppose the girl, Rat, was likable, but seemed to be a generic heroine. Faith Erin Hicks' illustrations were a bit rough for me, as well.

Not much to say except I was disappointed and won't be recommending this book to my students.