The very best book I read this summer was It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, by Firoozeh Dumas. It’s a semi-autobiographical, but fictional story about a preteen Iranian girl in the late ’70s. Zomorod (her name) has moved with her family to Newport Beach, CA, from Iran, for her father’s work. They actually had lived in the US briefly once before, and this time Zomorod has decided she will make friends and be “normal”–as normal as she can be with whom she thinks are two of the strangest people for parents (everyone can relate to that, right??). Zomorod goes through normal growing up and friendship difficulties, but eventually lands with a group of sweet, intelligent friends. Things are good! But how long will it last, as Iran starts popping up all over the news with protests, revolution and then the taking of American hostages? This books is so relevant in our world today, and I loved the message Dumas allows to shine through: that a few kind people can make all the difference in someone’s life, especially when times get tough. For this book, Amazon says grades 5-7. I really think this is one of those books that reads so smart, it would still hold appeal through high school (and adults!).
I also really enjoyed Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy, by Susan Vaught. It also won the 2016 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Fiction. The Edgar Award is a tip-off that a book is a mystery, which happens to be my favorite genre. I’ll try any mystery–realistic, historical, science fiction, etc. This one is contemporary realistic and takes place in Mississippi. Footer is an adolescent girl who lives with her mom and dad. Her mom goes through periods of mental instability, as she struggles with bipolar disorder. When the story starts, things have been good for awhile, but something has happened to set her mom off and cause her to have to go to a mental hospital in Memphis. Footer struggles with this, and worries that she too is showing early signs of mental disorder. At the same time, she and her best friend (a boy) can’t seem to stop poking their noses into a recent local crime being investigated: the murder of a man and the burning of his house. His two grandchildren were also presumed dead in the fire. This was a great mystery, and I liked how the author (a neuropsychologist) brings light and compassion to mental illness. Definitely a middle grade read (about grades 5-7).
One more, a picture book for the younger set. The Cranky Ballerina, by Elise Gravel, has quickly become a favorite with my 4-year old ballerina daughter (my 8-year old son has enjoyed it too, truth be told). Great for girls (whether they love or hate ballet, or are indifferent to it) and boys too (karate also appears in the book)–funny, some easily relatable sentiments, and a fun resolution.
In other news, my 3rd grade son began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone yesterday. We’ve managed to put it off till now on purpose, and he’s never seen the movies or heard much about it. This just multiplies my excitement for him, as he dives into this world. I plan to re-read it so that we can talk about it as he goes; this will be my 4th time to read book 1, but it’s been so long that I feel I need to re-read it. I loved his reaction upon examining the cover art (old edition): “Mom, he kind of looks like me, with dark, crazy hair, and the clothes he’s wearing…it’s like me in church clothes!”
Read on, everybody!