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Book Reviews

Middle East and Africa

 

Uri Olev    Beverley Naidoo    Niki Daly    Kane Miller, Inc.

 

 


  Uri Olev

Bibliographic Citation:
Orlev, Uri.  2003.  Run, boy, run.  Translated by Hillel Halkin.  New York: Walter Lorraine Books.  ISBN 0618164650.

Summary: 
One day while digging through the garbage for food, Srulik's mother disappears in the Warsaw ghetto.  Unable to find his way home, he joins a gang of street kids.  When the Germans come through the ghetto to round-up Jews, Srulik manages to smuggle across to the Polish side in the back of a wagon.  As he encounters one tragedy after the next, Srulik is forced to give up his Jewish name and become Jurek.  This story follows one young boy's struggle to survive World War II as he loses everyone and everything he has.

Analysis:  

    In Run, Boy, Run, Uri Orlev tells the heart wrenching story of an eight-year-old boy struggling to survive during World War II.  When his mother disappears while he is looking for food in a dumpster, Srulik cannot remember the way home (Orlev 6).  He finds a gang of street kids who feed him and show him a place to sleep.  When the Germans come to clear out the Jewish ghetto, Srulik is forced to make a break to the Polish side (Orlev 16).  Luck and the kindness of a farmer helps him safely across (Orlev 18).  After he briefly spends time with a group of Jewish boys, Srulik must make his own way in the world.  Reality for him becomes sleeping in trees, searching the forest for food, and hiding from Nazi soldiers.  Though the story at times seems unbelievable, one critic stated, "Readers who have some familiarity with Holocaust memoirs will not be surprised by stunning coincidences and improbable events; others may grasp that survival against nearly insuperable odds depended on not one but many unlikely twists of fate." (Publishers Weekly 2003)  It is hard to imagine how one young boy could encounter so much luck, good and bad. 

    The author uses a very distinct writing style.  He distances the reader from Srulik's character who demonstrates little emotion.  "Orlev tells his tale with few flourishes, the straightforward narration oddly unemotional; it is through Srulik/Jurek's actions that the reader divines his inner state, not narrative revelation.  As declarative sentence leads to declarative sentence, the story marches to its conclusion, Srulik/Jurek's ultimate inability to sort out his own fact from the fiction he has been living speaking quiet volumes." (Kirkus Reviews)  The factual telling of the story reflects Srulik's attempts to distance him from the situation.  He forces himself not to stop and evaluate the situation because he might not survive if he did.  One critic noted that "He begins his struggle to survive without any bravura, just an unspoken decision that he will do whatever is necessary.  This is his single-minded focus; he expends little energy bemoaning his fate." (Steinberg 2003) 

    In a surreal reunion in a potato field, Srulik's father tells him, "You have to stay alive.  You have to!  Get someone to teach you how to act like a Christian, how to cross yourself and how to pray.  Find a farmer you can stay with until the war ends.  Always go to the poor people.  They're more willing to help.  And never swim in the river with other boys." (Orlev 64)  His father rushes to tell his son everything he might need to know to survive in the last few moments they have together.  Above all else though he tells Srulik, "But even if you forget everything--even if you forget me and Mama--never forget that you're a Jew." (Orlev 64)  After his father's death, Srulik becomes Jurek, a Polish Catholic orphan.  The narrative switches his name and does not refer to him as Srulik again until he returns to Blonie.  This change represents the sacrifices and the identity that Srulik has to give up in order to stay alive.  Even when he has forgotten his own name, he never forgets that he is a Jew. 

    Orlev conveys the cruelty and effects of anti-Semitism.  When Jurek's arm is caught in a machine, the doctor refuses to operate on him when he finds out he is a Jew.  Though he could have saved his arm, he sees him as less than human and as a result Jurek loses half of his right arm (Orlev 108-109).  The missing arm serves as a constant reminder of the inhumane and senseless nature of anti-Semites.  However, Orlev also reminds readers of the kindness and humanity that existed throughout the war.  Whenever he was sick, hungry, or cold, Jurek was always able to find some poor farmer to take him in.  A pretty young woman helps him learn the Catholic prayers, how to cross himself, and gave him a Madonna medallion to wear (Orlev 70-71).  Her kindness allows him to blend in as a Polish Catholic and hide his real identity.  He repeats the story she taught him to countless people throughout his journey to survive.    

    Run, Boy, Run parallels Orlev's personal experiences during World War II.  He spent several years hiding in the Warsaw ghetto, until his mother was killed by the Nazis and his brother was sent to Bergen-Belsen (back cover).  After the war, he traveled to Israel where he now lives with his wife and children.  Jurek's story begins and ends in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw.  After he graduated from college, Jurek moved to Israel and married Sonia.  The couple then had two children together (Orlev 185).  The addition of the epilogue gives credibility to the story Orlev has been telling.  He relays how Jurek carried on after the war and how Orlev came to hear his story.  Orlev says that at the school he taught at Jurek "rose and told his story again.  This time to his surprise, the audience was enthralled.  You could have heard a pin drop.  Many people were moved to tears.  As was I when I heard it." (Orlev 186)   

    This book tells a powerful story of survival.  It combines the cultural setting of Poland and the religious backgrounds at war with one another.  I believe young readers will be drawn into the tragedy of Jurek's life.  Orlev paints an accurate and authentic picture because of his own personal experiences and knowledge of the war.  This historical novel based on a true story blurs reality and fiction.  It does not shy away from details or violence.  "Though [Jurek's] character lacks emotional depth, the story is totally engrossing as it vividly describes the hardships faced by so many youngsters during the war." (Steinberg 2003)  While this may make it unsuitable for younger readers, the mature ones will walk away from the book with a new outlook on the kindness of strangers and the destructive nature of war. 

Reference List:
Kirkus Reviews.  n.d.  Run, boy, run review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Publishers Weekly.  2003.  Run, boy, run review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Steinberg, Renee.  2003.  School library journal: Run, boy, run review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

 


  Beverley Naidoo

Bibliographic Citation:
Naidoo, Beverley.  2001.  The other side of truth.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers.  ISBN 0060296291.

Summary: 
Sade and Femi's lives change when their mother is murdered in retaliation for their journalist father's liberal words.  The two siblings are smuggled out of the country to London, where they are to meet their uncle.  However, when they discover their uncle is missing, the pair finds themselves lost in a foreign world unable to contact their family.  As they are passed from one foster home to another, Sade and Femi deal not only with the loss of their mother but the everyday struggles of two young children.  A chance encounter leads them to their father, but they have to find a way to rescue him from being deported back to Nigeria.

Analysis:

    Awarded the Carnegie Medal, The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo tells the tragic tale of two young siblings who are forced to flee Nigeria after their mother is murdered.  Naidoo begins the story with a flashback to that morning.  Sade was slipping her books into her schoolbag when she heard two sharp cracks and her father crying out (Naidoo 3).  Though the author chooses to use this scene as the introduction, she replays it again throughout the novel as Sade is forced to relive that moment over and over in her mind.  This repetition reminds readers of what this young character is constantly dealing with.  Naidoo effectively conveys the danger and immediacy of Sade and her family's situation.  Because of her father's outspoken articles against the government, Sade's mother is gunned down.  Therefore, her father quickly decides that the two children must be smuggled out of the country to England before the shooters try again (Naidoo 10-11).       

    When their uncle in London turns up missing, the siblings are shuffled around to different foster homes.  Naidoo fully develops the characters of Sade and Femi and their relationship with one another.  They suffer not only from the loss of their mother, but from the typical obstacles facing children in school.  Femi refuses to speak to Sade, and instead does nothing but watch television.  Sade, however, gets teased on the first day of school because of how she spells her name and is bullied by Marcia (Naidoo 119, 124).  The only redemption for the children comes when a chance encounter leads them back to their father.  However, he has been placed in jail for using a false passport and risks being deported back to Nigeria.  On top of worrying about Marcia's threats, Sade has to figure out a way to get her father freed.  One critic says that, "The larger political message that children should feel safe and not have to fear for their lives in any country is effortlessly apparent, as is the fact that both Nigeria and Britain have a way to go in claiming safety and justice for all." (Kirkus)

    Naidoo portrays Sade as a strong and ingenious young girl.  Through letters to her father and flashbacks of her mother, Sade develops a plan for freeing her father.  She decides that Mr. Seven O'Clock who anchors the news might just listen to two children and make their father's story a headline (Naidoo 188).  "Profound moral questions and fierce family love underlie Sade's actions as well as her father's; their choices are both admirable and painful, their actions both passionate and desperate." (Rabinowitz 2001)   One critic also noted that, "Far from being a patronizing glimpse of life in the third world, this is a vivid portrayal of complex people caught in complex webs using their own culture for strength in a time of need." (Kirkus) Though raised in South Africa, Naidoo effectively captures the Nigerian perspective and that of a political refugee.  "The author creates a clear sense of place, both for Nigeria and for London." (Stern)  Naidoo was forced as a young student to flee to England because of her involvement in the resistance to apartheid (back inside cover).  This allows Naidoo to speak effectively as an exile and relay the setting of London.  "Through [the] compelling characters, Naidoo has captured and revealed the personal anguish and universality of the refugee experience." (Larson 2001) 

    Rather than interrupting the flow of the narrative by explaining the Yoruba terms, Naidoo has chosen to subtly integrate them and allow the reader the chance to determine their meanings.   She includes a glossary in the back of the book, which translates the Yoruba words and phrases used throughout the story.  In the author's note, Naidoo points out fact from fiction.  She explains that the story takes place immediately after the actual hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian political writer.   The book also mentions two other real people, including General Abacha and President Barre.  One book reviewer has said that,  "The inclusion of real facts about African countries, such as the government's execution of Nigerian activist writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, makes Naidoo's story more poignant, while the immediacy of the parallel story, in which Sade must deal with similar obstacles on a smaller scale (e.g., powerful school gangs), makes the novel more accessible." (Publishers Weekly 2001)  The facts within the story give it authenticity and make it more real for the reader.  They help to establish the setting and make readers understand the political atmosphere of Nigeria in 1995. 

    I believe this book will appeal to young readers because not only does it transport them to a foreign place it also effectively captures the everyday experiences and emotions of Sade.  "This captivating Carnegie award-winning novel presents Sade as a likeable girl for whom it is easy to have empathy. The fear and conflicts she experiences ring true, particularly in the scenes in which students bully her in her new school." (Stern)  The use of foreign words is subtly integrated so as not to overwhelm readers.  The suspense and action keep the story flowing.  Flashbacks and letters build on the present-day story and help the reader understand Sade's character.  This book offers young readers a glimpse into another political environment and into the struggles of foreign refugees. 

Reference List:
Kirkus Reviews.  n.d.  The other side of truth review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Larson, Gerry.  2001.  School library journal: The other side of truth review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Publishers Weekly.  2001.  The other side of truth review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Rabinowitz, Rebecca.  n.d.  KLIATT: The other side of truth review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Stern, Alice F.  2001.  VOYA: The other side of truth review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

   


  Niki Daly

Bibliographic Citation:
Daly, Niki.  1999.  Jamela's dress.  New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.  ISBN 0374336679.

Summary: 
After carefully saving her money, Jamela's mother can afford to buy new material to make a dress for her sister's wedding.  When she gives Jamela the task of keeping the dog away from it while it dries, the little girl cannot resist draping it around herself and parading through the streets.  Her mother is disappointed when she discovers the ruined material.  Archie cheers Jamela up by sharing his prize money from the photo he took of her, so that she can replace her mother's material for her dress.

Analysis:

    In Niki Daly's Jamela's Dress, he recaptures his native South Africa in the story of a young girl and a bolt of orange and yellow material.  Jamela's mother has saved up to purchase the beautiful fabric to make a dress for Thelma's wedding.  When Mama asks Jamela to look after it while it dries, the young girl cannot resist rubbing her cheek against the material and wrapping the folds around her.  Before readers know it, "Down the road went Jamela, proud as a peacock to show Thelma her beautiful dress for the wedding." (Daly 7).  But when a bicycle tears and ruins the material, everyone is upset.  "Even Jamela was cross with Jamela." (Daly 16) 

    Daly carefully constructs the relationship between Jamela and her mother. "The affectionate interaction between mother and daughter is particularly well delineated; the bond of love between them emanates from the warmth of the oranges and yellows in the fabric at the center of the tale." (Publishers Weekly)  Mama entrusts Jamela to keep Taxi from ruining the new fabric.  However, when she discovers that her daughter has ruined the material, she is "so upset that she couldn't even look at Jamela." (Daly 16)  Mama then lovingly embraces Jamela when she brings her the new fabric (Daly 22).  Daly shows the mother and daughter playing a hand-clapping game, singing songs, and folding the material together as they strengthen their bond (Daly 23-24).   

    The author uses the language and speech within the story to help develop the story's background and create lyrical sounds.  One critic stated that, "The story is filled with the musical language of South Africa."  (Zaleski 1999)  As Jamela parades down the street, the children sing, "Kwela Jamela African Queen!" (Daly 9)  In the author's note, Daly explains that kwela music comes from the Nguni word "khwela," which means to get moving.  In the days of Apartheid, it was also a warning cry on the street whenever a police van was sighted.  Now, however, in the new South Africa the cry has become one to represent action and excitement (Daly author's note).  Daly also integrates words and phrases throughout the story in Nguni, such as when Mama thanks Archie by saying, "Enkosi kakhulu." (Daly 22)  The author seamlessly ties together the culture of the language with the meaning of the story.    

    Daly also utilizes his illustrations to establish the story's cultural setting.  One book reviewer said, "Daly splashes luminous watercolors across the pages of this warmly evocative picture book, set in his native South Africa." (Publishers Weekly)  Daly's characters belie their ethnic background and are depicted with warm brown skin, full lips, and broad noses.  Jamela's hair is braided into neat rows.  Daly's drawings also pay close attention to detail.  "Subtle accents add to the exotic flavor of the setting, from the Nelson Mandela poster hanging on a shop's wall to the chickens running loose in the streets." (Publishers Weekly)  The fabrics and clothing within the story are all brightly colored in rich tones and patterns.  "The brilliant fabrics depicted in clothing throughout the book add visual pleasure to the empathetic story of a very real child." (Horn Book Review) 

    As one book reviewer noted, "Daly's sun-lit watercolors capture the distinctive setting of the South African town as well as the emotional rollercoastering of a small child." (Horn Book Review)  He incorporates a lot of emotion in the expressions of his young character.  Jamela shows a look of pure love and happiness as she hugs the crisp, new fabric (Daly 2).  "Jamela's facial expressions are telling, as they change from joy, to apprehension and then misery because now her mama will not have a new dress for the wedding. The expressions reflect perfectly the child who knows she has done something bad, not because she is bad, but because she is a child." (Ford)  Also, Daly pays specific attention to the details.  Jamela's dog, Taxi, can be seen peeking out from under the material in every page.  In one image, he even appears to be smiling as he barks at a chicken (Daly 10).   "Daly displays a knack for pinning down domestic details that will resonate with his audience, from Jamela teetering about in her mother's red shoes to the look of contrition on her face as she gets a scolding." (Publishers Weekly)

    Though the soft watercolors may not be as appealing to young readers, the lyrical story and the readers' empathy with Jamela make this book a good read for children.  It brings the South African culture to life in a very subtle and sophisticated way.  I believe that children will be able to see themselves in Jamela's shoes as she plays dress-up with her mother's material.  Though the ending is a bit contrived with Archie winning the prize money for his photograph of Jamela, it still works in a believable way that readers can enjoy.

Reference List:
Ford, Carolyn Mott.  n.d.  Children's literature: Jamela's dress review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Horn Book Review.  n.d.  Jamela's dress review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Publishers Weekly.  n.d.  Jamela's dress review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

Zaleski, Joan.  1999.  School library journal: Jamela's dress review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 3, 2006).

 


  Kane Miller, Inc.

Bibliographic Citation:
Brändle, Bine.  2004.  Flusi, the sock monster.  La Jolla, CA: Kane/Miller Book Publishers.  ISBN 1929132697.

Summary: 
Maja's mother cannot figure out where all their socks keep disappearing to.  Maja soon learns the answer when she discovers Flusi, the sock monster, hiding in one of her socks.  The two quickly become friends though Flusi draws the line at hugs.  Sock monsters do not hug.  When Maja offends him by offering him her doll bed to sleep in, she looks everywhere to find him.  After rescuing Flusi from the wash, she finds him a new place to sleep--in her sock drawer.

Analysis:

    In Bine Brändle's Flusi, the Sock Monster, she tells a humorous story that answers why the laundry always comes out one sock short.  First published in Germany as Flusi, das Sockenmonster, the story features a very independent and expressive sock monster.  He cries, "Socks are everything to me!" as he clutches one of Maja's favorite socks (Brändle 7).  Brändle expertly develops the relationship between her characters.  One critic stated, "Brändle . . . has hit on a clever idea and developed it through well-defined characters: Mum and Maya have a happy, laid-back relationship, while Maya and the prickly blob of fluff interact believably—if you believe in sock monsters." (Talcroft 2004)  The two quickly become friends as Flusi demonstrates his back flip into the laundry for the little girl.  "In fact, he liked her so much that he decided to return the hair clip he'd found a while ago at the bottom of the washing machine." (Brändle 12)  However, Flusi draws the line when Maja tries to give him a thank-you hug.  "Sock monsters do NOT hug." (Brändle 13)  A line that is sure to make young readers giggle.    

    Then Maja offends Flusi by offering him her doll bed to sleep in.  He is furious because he claims he is not a stuffed animal and refuses to sleep in the bed (Brändle 15-16).  Maja's disappoint at the loss of her friend is clearly evident.  She worries so much that she loses her appetite.  Brändle, however, continues to infuse humor throughout the story.  When Maja finally finds Flusi, she has to rescue him from the wash (Brändle 21).  Because his mouth is still a bit soapy, he has a hard time telling Maja what happened.  He responds slowly, "I was...blub...on my way...blub...back...blub, blub...to your room, and...." (Brändle 21).  After several misunderstandings, Brändle mends the unlikely pair's friendship as the two realize how much they miss one another.  Maja even promises never to make him sleep in the doll bed again.  Through a humorous twist, she finds the perfect place for the sock monster to sleep--in her sock drawer. 

    Brändle has continued the wit and humor of her story throughout her illustrations.  Done in bold and vibrant shades of every color, they are sure to capture the reader's attention.  One critic noted that, "The illustrations are full of action, the house is full of clutter, and the sock monster is remarkably expressive."  The setting is depicted through tiny details.  In Maja's room, Brändle has created a typical, messy children' room by placing a stuffed monkey in the limbs of a potted plant, toys and books on the floor, Maja's drawings taped to the wall, and framed family photos hung on the wall (1-2).  She also utilizes her illustrations to express her characters' emotions.  When a disgruntled Flusi and unhappy Maja first meet, the two stare at one another with their hands on their hips.  Flusi's ears are even folded back in anger (Brändle 6).  However, Flusi's sensitive sign is shown as readers see him clutching a beloved sock with an expression of pure happiness on his little blue face (Brändle 7).  After rescuing him from the wash, Brändle depicts a soggy and miserable Flusi walking away from Maja (Brändle 21).  Maja's own dejection is apparent on the following page as she gets ready for bed without the sock monster (Brändle 22).

    In addition to expressing emotions, Brändle has utilized her illustrations to convey much of the story's humor.  When demonstrating the many uses of a sock, Flusi can be seen with his behind hanging out of one, wearing one on his head, and peeking out through a hole in another (Brändle 8).  Flusi can be seen scratching his head as he plots out his next move in a game of Connect Four with Maja and throwing his hands up in joy as he rides in her remote control car (Brändle 13-14).  In another humorous twist, Flusi can be seen wearing a Superman sock around his neck like a cape while sword fighting with his friend (Brändle 13).  No matter what he is doing though, Brändle tucks a sock into the illustration, reminding readers that Flusi is a sock monster after all.      

    Though the author, Bine Brändle, is from Germany, there is little evidence of her cultural origins in this story.  One hint comes from the little girl named Maja, which is the German form of the American name, Maya.  However, the name is not specific to Germany alone and is used in Scandinavian and Arabic cultures as well (Behind the Name 2006).  The author has also chosen to use the more European term "Mum," rather than the American "Mom."  Despite her background, Brändle infuses images associated with an American childhood.  An Eeyore doll can be seen sitting in a potted plant (Brändle 1).  A Superman sock is tied around Flusi's neck.  The two friends play the game, Connect Four, while being surrounded by Legos spread out on the floor (Brändle 13).  Also, the remote control car that Flusi "drives" is a convertible Volkswagen bug (Brändle 14).  All these cultural markers are not specific to Germany, but rather remind American children of objects found in their own culture.   

    One book reviewer said, "Flusi reminds us that there are many delightful books in other countries just waiting to be translated." (Talcroft 2004)  I agree that this is a wonderful story that answers the universal question, where do socks disappear to?  Brändle expertly tells the story of young Maja and Flusi making readers believe in sock monsters.  I believe the bright colors and detailed illustrations will immediately capture readers' attention and hold them.  Young readers will delight in the humor found in the illustrations, especially the expressions on Flusi's face.  I can also see children giggling though when they spot Mum's purple flowered bra in the wash.  They will have fun pointing out the things that are familiar to them, such as Eeyore.  This story ties together friendship and humor all in one.

Story Extension:
You can have the children decorate a sock to give to Flusi, the sock monster.  Then you can display them for everyone to see.

Reference List:
Behind the Name.  2006.  The letter "m."  http://www.behindthename.com/nm/m.php (Accessed May 2, 2006).

Talcroft, Barbara L.  2004.  Children's literature: Flusi, the sock monster review.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed May 2, 2006).

 


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