Wednesday, January 20, 2021

January 2021 Reading Challenge: When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamison and Omar Mohamed


When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

This is the life story of Omar Mohamed, a young Somalian refugee growing up in Dabaab, a huge refugee camp in Kenya. Award-winning graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson illustrated Omar’s tale in an attempt to share his story, and the story of Dabaab and its residents, with a wider audience. The graphic novel format might at first seem an odd choice for such an intense storyline, but it works beautifully to bring the characters and camp to life. 

Omar and his brother Hassan have been in the refugee camp for seven years when we meet them. Omar spends his days caring for Hassan who has intellectual and medical disabilities.  His fierce love for Hassan and his commitment to keeping him safe is apparent throughout the story. Their father was killed when armed rebels invaded their village. In the chaos, Omar’s mother gave Hassan to him and told him to run. Separated from his mother and familiar neighbors, they end up living in the camp along with thousands and thousands of other refugees from many different African countries. Life in the camp is a bit boring; there are no toys and there’s never enough to eat, but the boys have friends, a caring foster parent, and each other. Omar longs to go to school, but worries about leaving Hassan unattended. Nimo and Miryam also love school and work very hard to succeed, but as girls, their path is much steeper. In addition to school work, they must also help with family chores, watch siblings, and face other cultural expectations.

Waiting is one of the prevalent themes of this novel – waiting for school to start, waiting in line for water, waiting for the food deliveries, and most of all, waiting and hoping for the coveted interview with UN officials who hold your future in their hands. Omar tells us often that none of the residents of Dabaab want to be refugees, that all of them long to return to their homeland, or barring that, the chance to be resettled in a safe place where they might do more than merely survive. Hope and hopelessness are both explored as various characters live and watch and wait.

I was quite moved by this novel. While the stated audience for this graphic novel is children grades 4 – 6, I recommend it for teens and adults as well. The illustrated first-person format succeeded in engaging not just my attention and emotions, but also my imagination and compassion. We often talk of books as being “mirrors and windows” – mirrors reflecting back our own experiences, or windows, allowing us a glimpse of another’s reality. I encourage you to look through the window that Jamison and Mohamed have shared with us.  

Amy Billings
Youth Services Specialist 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Staff Picks: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Looking for an adventure that will make you feel like a kid again? 
Check out The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.
It's like a children's book but for adults! 

Travel with Linus, a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. (It sounded like a children's book for a second there, didn't it? Nope. It's from the Adult Collection.) 

The main character, Linus, is a forty-year-old man living a solitary life with his quirky cat and old record collection. He lives an endless cycle of days of welfare check visits to orphanages for magical children until he receives a summons from Extremely Upper Management. His new assignment is to travel to the most dangerous orphanage, one that has never been heard of before. He must overcome his fears and uncertainties to obtain the information required. However, everything changes the second he steps onto Marsyas Island. His experiences with the children and their caretaker, Arthur, challenge his views on happiness, bigotry, and what makes a family. 

This novel has elements of whimsy and fantasy that sparked my imagination. (Every time they mentioned Chauncey, the unidentifiable green blob, I pictured Bob from Monsters vs. Aliens!) Each character has a unique personality, which can be a bit dark at times, and is incredibly enjoyable to read about. The underlying themes of overcoming biases, finding who you are and what creates a family make this fun, dark-humored, surprising novel incredibly heartwarming. 

You can place a hold on The House in the Cerulean Sea and TJ Klune's other fantastic novels through our catalog here.

Stephani Lindsey
Youth Specialist
Sharon Forks Library

Sunday, January 17, 2021

January 2021 Reading Challenge: The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder


The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder 

One of my favorite childhood books was The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and I can vividly recall listening to the story during a family vacation via cassette tape checked out from our local library. (If cassettes sound dated, keep in mind that cars were only equipped with AM and FM radio at the time. To listen to a book-on-tape on the road, you had to bring your own tape player and extra batteries in case yours ran out.)     

Rereading the story of April and Melanie’s friendship and their fun-filled days spent imagining Ancient Egypt in the back lot of an antique store gave me a new perspective on the story and I highly recommend this Newberry Honor-winning book for fans of exceptional storytelling of any age. 

What makes The Egypt Game so special? 

Written in 1967, the novel chronicles a friendship between an African American girl named Melanie Ross and a White girl named April Hall who meet when April moves in with a grandmother she barely knows. April’s mother, a glamourous, widowed actress named Dorothea (April always calls by her first name) is a presence only in the sadly infrequent letters she sends to her daughter. Though April has a tough exterior, it’s obvious that she’s heartbroken to be separated from her mother. As a child reader, I interpreted April’s false eyelashes and upswept hairdo as evidence of her obvious sophistication, though in rereading the story as an adult they paint a different picture. 

April and Melanie bond over their love of imaginary games, and become fascinated with pharaohs and pyramids when April discovers a library book on Ancient Egypt. Without the internet, 24-hour cartoon networks, or adult supervision, the kids create their own Egypt in an empty lot behind a quiet antique store.     

Rediscovering the story reminds me of how much I love these characters, particularly, Melanie’s four-year-old brother, Marshall who is designated as Egypt’s young Pharaoh and won't be separated from his stuffed octopus, Security. 

News of a child killer in the vicinity gives the adults in the story obvious concerns for their kids' safety, but the trio, along with a neighbor and two classmates, remains determined to keep their game going. (Parents and offspring will differ sharply on their thoughts about the risk/reward ratio when they come to this chapter.)  

Child killers aren’t normally found in juvenile fiction but it’s not the only reason the book stirred up controversy.  In 1995 and 2009, schools in Texas attempted to ban the book for depictions of children in dangerous situations and its Egyptian worship rituals. Despite the objections, The Egypt Game has remained popular for over six decades!  If you enjoyed it as a kid, you may have an even greater appreciation for the story as an adult. And if you haven't read The Egypt Game, then you’re in for a real treat. 

Alicia Cavitt
Information Specialist