Review: I See the Sun in Afghanistan by Dedie King

i see the sun

I See the Sun in Afghanistan by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese

Looking for an ideal book to use with children about Afghanistan?  See Afghanistan and its culture through the eyes of a young girl in this book.  Follow her through one day from waking when it is still dark to fetch water.  Listen to the sounds she hears, see the chores she does, visit her school, and see how her family is impacted by the war and takes in extended family members.  Told in the first person, this book invites readers to see themselves as part of this country with its strong traditions and culture.

Using the device of a first person story told by a child, this book works quite well.  It explains many of the small things about life in Afghanistan, leaving the larger issues in the background.  While war is definitely a part of the story, this book does not take sides or express political opinions.  Rather, this is a book about everyday life and about the impacts of war on one family.  The tone is quiet and evocative, using sensory information to create the setting.

Inglese’s illustrations are a mix of painting and collage.  This works particularly well with the textiles, allowing the fabrics to really splash.  The collages also include occasional photographs which also pop against the browns of the landscape. 

I do have two issues with the book.  One is the whiteness of the skin of the characters, though this seems more of a stylistic choice than a statement of any kind.  It is used in other books in the I See the Sun series.  The other is that religion has been removed from the book, which is an odd choice for a book about a culture.

This look at the culture of modern Afghanistan is in picture book form, but will work best for slightly older children.  With the dearth of books on this subject for young readers, this would make a good addition to any library collection.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

beneath a meth moon

Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

Released February 2, 2012.

Laurel survived Hurricane Katrina, but unfortunately her mother and grandmother died in the storm.  With her father and little brother, they moved away from the destruction and loss to start a new life.  Laurel made new friends, joined the cheerleading squad, and hooked up with one of the coolest boys on the basketball team, T-Boom.  T-Boom was the person who introduced her to meth.  The meth erased all of Laurel’s needs, all of her grief.  Before she knew it, she was addicted and she had lost her friends and family.  Laurel is alone on the streets, begging for cash to support her habit when readers first meet her.  This is a story of loss, the destruction of addiction, and what must happen to return from that abyss. 

Woodson has written a raw and painful book that does not shrink away from any of the emotions, torment and horror of drug addiction.  At the same time though, the book is filled with hope and chances for change.  It reveals the dark truths but is never without some light.  At times I read the book without being able to breath deeply, the tension and tightrope of Laurel’s life was so tangible.

Woodson’s writing is glorious even as it speaks about addiction. Here is a passage from early in the novel, Page 18, where Laurel is walking in the snow after taking meth:

Something warm and wet was surrounding me, and I laughed at the heat inside the snow.  The hurt of wanting to moon was gone now, replaced by something heavy.  Not heavy.  Light.  Free.  I was free.  Tears.  The warm thing wasn’t snow.  Where were the tears coming from?  Who was crying on me?  I stopped walking and wiped at my eyes, but whoever was crying on me kept on crying.

As we see Laurel disintegrate before our eyes under the influence of the drug, we also see why the drug is luring her to use it, understand the pull of this beauty.  Laurel is a character filled with emptiness and need, yet she is able to put into words the grip of the drug and its power. 

This book is short, powerful, and wrenching, yet at the same time it is filled with incandescent writing.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Young Reader’s Group.

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