Rummanah Aasi

Description: In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever. Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

Review: There are a plethora of fiction titles that are written about World War II and after a while all the books seem formulaic. I wanted to learn more of the inner workings of those who worked for spy agencies during the war so when I read the description of Kate Atkinson's latest Transciption I had high hopes considering I enjoyed her other title, Life after Life.
  Transcription is thriller-esque historical fiction that plunges the reader into the complex world of espisonage and the aftermath of World War II. The narrative jumps between two different timelines during the war and the current in which Juliet works for the BBC developing a children show in the 1980s. When she is given a death threat, we retrace her steps in the past and their consequences.
 At the tender age of 18 Juliet Armstrong is all alone in the world when she’s recruited by MI5. Her job is transcribing meetings of British citizens sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Soon, she’s pulled even deeper into the world of espionage, creating multiple identities and forging relationships that impact her life.
  It was fascinating watching Juliet make her way through the complex web of spying. She is very young and naive at the beginning but she soon realizes that she isn't playing a game but with people's actual lives. There are actual transcriptions in the book in which we over hear the British Fascists who think they’re passing secrets to the Third Reich but are actually giving them to an English spy; their crimes are both deadly serious, unfathomable yet funny at a dark level. There is intrigue in the book and even surprises that I didn't see coming and some I still yet to comprehend of the actions taken, but I think that is realistic given the extreme situation of war. With all of this in mind, readers who think this is a fast paced thriller will be disappointed. The plot moves at a leisurely pace, but it much more atmospheric and character driven that your standard thriller. I appreciate that the novel doesn't just end when the war concludes, but it shows its impact on those involved in it from fellow spies to war veterans who are dealing with PSTD. As one character states the line between nationalism and fascism is very thin, which unfortunately sounds very timely given our current political climate. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, allusions to sexual situations, Anti-Semitic comments, and war violence in the book. Recommended to mature teens interested in World War II and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, Trapeze by Simon Mawer
Rummanah Aasi

Description: New York City in the 1860s was a mess: crowded, disgusting, filled with garbage. You see, way back in 1860, there were no subways, just cobblestone streets. That is, until Alfred Ely Beach had the idea for a fan-powered train that would travel underground. On February 26, 1870, after fifty-eight days of drilling and painting and plastering, Beach unveiled his masterpiece—and throngs of visitors took turns swooshing down the track.

Review: The Secret Subway is an absorbing nonfiction picture book about the first creation of a subway in New York City. It is a story that I had never heard about. In the 1860s, Alfred Ely Beach found a solution to New York City's crowded streets and invented the first underground train which went back and forth in a 294 foot tunnel. He oversaw the building of a short tunnel, a single car, the machinery to make it move, and a luxurious underground waiting room, complete with a fountain.
  The creation of the subway was incredible and I loved the full page spread which shows spread shows the car traveling to the right of the page, then back to the left, its momentum causing the wide-eyed, elaborately dressed passengers to sway. Of course inevitable corruption derailed the project and the story was long forgotten until now. While the topic of trains may not thrill younger readers, the illustrations for this picture book by Chris Sickels are incredible. The images are made out of stylized clay figures and furnishings that are exquisite in details. The lightning and color choices makes the illustrations pop off the page as if the reader was watching a movie instead of reading a book.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: Sky High by Monica Kulling, Subway story by Sarcone-Roach, Julia.

Description: This picture book biography tells the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who bicycled across Ghana--nearly 400 miles--with only one leg. With that achievement he forever changed how his country treats people with disabilities, and he shows us all that one person is enough to change the world.

Review: Emmanuel's Dream is an inspirational picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, was born in rural Ghana in 1977 with only one functional leg and who grew up to become a national hero and disabilities activist. Readers learn of Emmanuel's challenges and achievements, both large and small. His mother had to carry him in order to attend school and once he became to heavy, he had to hop to and from school. In order to make friends, Emmanuel had to save money in order to buy a soccer ball and made a condition that others could play with the ball so long as he could play too while using crutches. He also learned how to ride a bike, which brought him national attention. As a young man, he embarked on an astounding 400-mile bicycle ride through Ghana, raising awareness and spreading his message that "being disabled does not mean being unable."
  The text is simple, well paced, and clearly written. Qualls's mixed-media art are quite nice and matches its upbeat tone. Soft blues and greens, bright oranges, and hot pinks are set against light-pastel painted backgrounds, effectively conveying mood and emotion. This story is sure to inspire many young readers and remind us that disabilities does not equate with restrictions.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-3.

If you like this book try: A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz and My Story, My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Rummanah Aasi

Description: How I Resist is the response, and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change. A collection of essays, songs, illustrations, and interviews about activism and hope, How I Resist features an all-star group of contributors, including, John Paul Brammer, Libba Bray, Lauren Duca, Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita, Alex Gino, Hebh Jamal, Malinda Lo, Dylan Marron, Hamilton star Javier Muñoz, Rosie O'Donnell, Junauda Petrus, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Karuna Riazi, Maya Rupert, Dana Schwartz, Dan Sinker, Ali Stroker, Jonny Sun (aka @jonnysun), Sabaa Tahir, Daniel Watts, Jennifer Weiner, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, all edited and compiled by New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.
 In How I Resist, readers will find hope and support through voices that are at turns personal, funny, irreverent, and instructive. Not just for a young adult audience, this incredibly impactful collection will appeal to readers of all ages who are feeling adrift and looking for guidance.

Review: Our current political climate has left many of us disillusioned and hopeless. How I Resist is a timely anthology that encourages teens to take charge and be agents of change. The book features 30 diverse voices from a wide range of ethnicities, religion, sexual orientations, professional achievements, and even a few familiar celebrities. Each contributor shares their own definition of resistance, their own experiences encountering, and countering, various forms of injustice, and encourage readers to speak out and act against the same. Along with the diverse voices, the compendium also features essays, poems, music, interviews, comics, and other formats to address the topic of resistance. While some entries offer a step by step guide on how teens can enact change even if they are not old enough to vote, others like Jacqueline Woodson's interview suggest that change can start by having an open and honest conversation at home. The strongest entry in this anthology is by Maya Rupert who muses the problematic representation of Wonder Woman as a symbol of feminist power and diverse representation in all forms of media.
 If read as an entire book, the anthology does become repetitive but it would work better if used in selection and excerpts for class discussion. It is clear that this work is driven by passion, honesty, and the yearn to do something instead of being a passive bystander.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language in the book and mature themes discussed. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Hope Nation edited by Rose Brock, Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage by In This Together Media
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen year old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she’s worked for.
Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world.
  When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt’s Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day. While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain.

Review: I enjoyed reading Sheets by Brenna Thurmmler, but I could not help but feel like something was missing from the somber graphic novel. Sheets is centered on grief and dealing with death. Struggling to cope after the death of her mother, teen Marjorie is forced to become the adult. She has to look after her father, who is struggling with depression, and her little brother; attend high school; and run the family laundromat business, where they all live and work. At school, she is invisible to most and visible to bullies who make fun of her job. In addition an adult man threatens and tries to sabotage the laundromat in order to intimidate Majorie to relinquish the business for his own use. And as if this isn't enough, young Wendell, a ghost who is unhappy being dead and surrounded by other spirits, haunts Marjorie and her business and makes things worse.
  My problem with Sheets is that the narrative is imbalanced. Majorie's part of the story is solid and well fleshed out. I wanted to learn more about the Land of Ghosts and about Wendell which just skims the surface on the themes of grief and death. The characters are distinct, and the villain, Mr. Saubertuck, is self-absorbed and very easy to hate. The ghosts, who must wear sheets to be visible, are every bit as sympathetic as the humans and easily noted as a metaphor to how Majorie feels on a daily basis. The artwork is charming and makes a clear distinction between the graphic novel's two worlds, Marjorie's warm, colored world and Wendell's stark, monochrome Land of Ghosts adds life (and death) and dimension to the story. Panels also vary in size, which enriches the narrative. While I didn't love Sheets like I wanted to, I would recommend reading it and I look forward to reading more from Thrummler as she has a lot of potential as a graphic novelist.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Rummanah Aasi

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all have a safe and wonderful holiday full of food, family, and friends. I will be taking a blogging break this week to unwind and enjoy the holiday. I will return to normal scheduling the following week.
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