The Resilience of Children
Do you remember when you were a child you had to face hard problems? At least they seemed hard to you. And you didn’t feel you had any support from the grownups who were supposed to take care of you and comfort you. That’s what these stories are about. Sometimes the support you didn’t think was there actually was, but you couldn’t feel it. Most of us really aren’t alone, but then some of us are. That’s what these books are about. I wish I could comfort the children and tell them that life is smooth sailing once you’re grown. Haven’t found that to be the case.
The first book takes place in a not so wealthy west African nation—Ghana—bordered by Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Women in particular must struggle to feed themselves and their children. Their female children more often than their male siblings are expected to leave school early to help with younger children and bring in money. If a girl is raped, she is more likely to be blamed rather than considered a victim. Actually, not too long ago the same was true in the U.S.A.
Even when Your Voice Shakes
Ruby Yayra Goka
Amerley’s goal is to have her own sewing machine so she can earn a living altering and making clothes to sell. Life in Ghana is hard. She has to quit school not because she wants to, but because she’s now the main supporter for her family. Her father has abandoned the family of four daughters for a woman who will bear him sons. And her mother is pining away, seeming to take no interest in how to pay for her daughters’ education. Amerley is sent to be a servant for a wealthy family in the city, theoretically with the promise that it will be only for a year. Then the family will get her into the respected fashion design school. While she’s there, she is raped and beaten by the older son. Thanks to the family she helps out with their baby two times a week, the crime is sent to the courts, and Amerley’s abuser lands in jail. Amerley’s story resonates with other girls and young women who have been assaulted, who then speak up about their experiences. As is the case in many places around the world, the women who’ve been abused are considered to be somehow provocative and deserving of their mistreatment. There are many good teaching points in this well-written book, especially about the culture of Ghana, however, it would have been nice to have more clarity as to the meaning of Ghanian words that are used throughout the story. There is a glossary at the back, which is helpful. Amerley is taken under the wing of the woman whose baby she watches a couple of days a week and ends up becoming a lawyer.
BIBLIO: 2021, Acord Books/Norton Young Readers/W. W. Norton & Company, Ages 14+, $18.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult African Fiction
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us. Whether or not you feel you have to follow the orders to get vaccinated or wear a mask, it has been hard to stay isolated and not interact with your friends. This applies to all of us. This book is about families in an apartment building and how they cope, or don’t cope, with the isolation. I know I have a hard time putting on a cheery face all the time. Can you imagine not having anybody to support or comfort you?
Sunny Days Inside and other Stories
This is a delightful series of stories about children and their families being shut in because of COVID-19. The families live in the same apartment building and the stories are titled by the apartment number where the family lives. In the title story, “Sunny Days Inside,” sisters in apartment 4A cheer up their mother who is depressed because they have to cancel their vacation. The twin boys in 2D pretend to be cavemen children for a school project about something historical. They practice living like cavemen including making up their own language. In apartments 3D and 4B, Juliet helps her neighbor, Reo by timing him while he runs laps on his balcony. In 3C Conner discovers he misses his teacher and helps his dad overcome depression. In apartment 1C Louis helps his mom’s hair salon keep afloat by setting up a business plan where she can do “virtual” hair cuts and styling and he begins his own business to keep the family dog from being too overweight. For a school project, Jessica of 2A learns sign language and strikes up a friendship with the deaf Meena of 2C. Together they save old Ms. Watts who becomes ill in her apartment. The final story has all the children sneak out of the building and take a walk after dark. They meet Ms. Watts relaxing after her stay in the hospital. There are a lot of good discussion points for teachers and parents to use to promote discussions about how we can all get through this ongoing pandemic.
BIBLIO: 2021, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade fiction
Have you ever felt that people you love and look to for support really aren’t on your side? That they are keeping truths from you? I’m sure we all have. But running away, tempting though it may be, is not the answer.
Maisie lives with her parents at the family’s art business. Dad is the painter and Mom handles the business end of things. Maisie does the initial drawings and sketches for whatever portrait has been commissioned. Maisie’s older brother, Calum, ran away several years earlier without so much as a goodbye to her. As far as Maisie knows no-one has a clue where he is. All of a sudden Maisie’s life is uprooted and she’s shipped off to Scotland to spend the summer with an aunt she didn’t know she had. Once there, she discovers that Calum has been living in Scotland and now London, England, having nothing to do with art. He comes to Scotland to see her and then she ends up running away from her aunt to stay with her brother and convince him to help the foundering family business. As usual, things don’t go as smoothly as she’d hoped. And it turns out her brother has not ignored art, but instead does artwork with his partner, Benji, by painting approved pictures on London walls. To add to all this Maisie is slower in her physical changes than her best friend. The story makes a number of good points about dealing with one’s emotions and understanding that truth is what makes us different. Maisie and Calum end up with a plan to save the family business and heal the rift between Calum and their parents. Teachers can use the book to spark discussions about family relations and sexual preferences and the changing dynamics of friendships.
BIBLIO: 2021, Jolly Fish Press/North Star Editions, Inc., Ages 8 to 14, $9.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction
Hope you all are doing well and at least being able to get a bit of your lives back to what you consider normal. I’m working on my YA novel, “Bad Hair Day”, my chapter book, “Excuse Me, Is this Yours?”, starting on a new short story for the next issue of Next Chapter Literary Magazine, and doing final revisions—I hope—on a short story titled “Thunderstorm.” Please drop me a line if you’re in the mood.