Six school stories celebrating diversity

Hello everyone, the selection of reads this week takes place mostly within the background of the classroom and gives readers a different perspective from the lives of diverse kids. I selected only six titles for this post as I don’t believe in overwhelming you with too many reads. I hope you manage to find these and enjoy them as much as I did. 

Six school stories for you in black behind orange long box at right left top SAve me a seat in blue with lunch tray images Merci Suarez changes gears below young Latina girl on bike The green bicycle next to it young Arab girl in black hijab and cloak with bike Shooting Kabul left bottom night sky and mountains and town beneath Saving Kabul Corner next to it light green and yellow poaces lit up bottom space looks like shop with people The first rule of punk bottom right yellow background with young Latina girl jumping with microphone in hand and in jeans and tshirt
Six diverse school stories

The first two books are actually part of a couplet of tales featuring a pair of siblings. I first saw the second title and realised that there was a ‘prequel’ of sorts and decided to read them in order instead. Make sure you keep some tissues handy for these as they’ll bring tears into your eyes!!

Shooting Kabul letters inside photo negative strip N. H. Senzai underneath night sky behind large moon small buildings in foreground with people behind a truck
A story of ocurage

Title: Shooting Kabul

Author: N. H. Senzai

Publication details: Simon & Schuster Books for Younger Readers; NY; 2010

What this book is about: Fadi never imagined he’d start middle school in Fremont, California, thousands of miles from home in Kabul – and half a world away from his missing, six-year-old sister, Mariam. Adjusting to life in the US isn’t easy for Fadi’s family, and as the events of September 11 unfold, the prospects of locating Mariam in war-torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize of a trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home? Based in part on Ms Senzai’s husband’s won experience fleeing Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in 1979, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance. 

My review: Wow!! I was blown away by this story. From beginning to end I was hooked and waited with bated breath to find out if Mariam did get found!! Even the fighting scene with the two American boys who beat up Fadi, my heart really went out to him for being judged by the actions of extremists!! Brings home that message of not judging someone until you get to know them. The author has a great talent and I’m so glad she finally did write this story. Told in a very unique voice, that of a young boy racked with guilt and determined to get his sister back!! I absolutely adored it!!

My rating: 4 ⭐

Additional notes: This title has won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2011, Bank Street CBC Best Children’s Book of the Year Award, Middle East Outreach Council Book Award, and was nominated for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award and many others. 

Saving Kabul Corner yellow letters inside green box blue silhouette of trees and buildings yellow windows and people inside bottom window of shop with man and woman inseide
A story of courage

Title: Saving Kabul Corner

Author: N. H. Senzai

Publication details: Simon & Schuster Books for Younger Readers; NY; 2014

What this book is about: A true tomboy, twelve-year-old Ariana couldn’t be more different from her cousin Laila, who just arrived in California from Afghanistan. Laila is a proper, ladylike Afghan girl, one who can cook, sew, sing and is well versed in her Pashtun culture. Ariana can’t stand her. Laila has moved into Ariana’s cramped bedroom and, even worse, she is becoming closer to Mariam, Ariana’s best friend. When a rival Afghan grocery store opens near Ariana’s family store, it reignites a decades-old feud tracing back to Afghanistan. Like it or not, the cousins must move beyond their differences to help the families make peace before everything their parents have worked for is destroyed. Award-winning author N.H. Senzai’s second novel poignantly depicts the bond of family, and its power to unite in the face of adversity.

My review: Reading Saving Kabul Corner afterwards made all the previous characters, although grown up, all fall into place. What a lovely story this was!! Ariana has to deal with her cousin Laila who she thinks is stealing her best friend Mariam as well as the rival store that has opened in the same plaza as her own family’s store. The rip-roaring action-packed adventure that follows is one that kept me gripped till the end. I think girls would connect more with Ariana, Mariam and Laila in this story as Fadi and Zayd had grown up and were in high school!! Sibling stories like these have soft soft for me!!

My rating: 5 ⭐

The next two books are about two young girls from completely different countries and cultures with a few similarities between them. I know the covers might give away a common item but the two stories are far from similar. I hope you enjoy them!

The Green Bicyclle letters written in white chalk outline on blue sky background young Arabic girl with black hijab and cloak in jeans bicycles next to her
An interesting read

Title: The green bicycle

Author: Haifaa Al Mansour

Publication details: Puffin Books; NY, 2016

What this book is about: Spunky eleven year-old Wadjda desperately wants a bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah, and win, of course. But in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, it’s considered improper for girls to ride bikes. Her parents will never buy her one, so Wadjda decides to earn the money for her dream bike by selling mix tapes of banned music and passing notes from her classmates to neighbourhood boys. But when she’s caught Wadjda is forced to turn over a new leaf (sort of), or risk expulsion from school. Still Wadjda keeps scheming, and with the bicycle so closely in her sights she will stop at nothing to get what she wants. 

My review: Based on Haifaa Al Mansour’s award-winning film Wadjda, this is the first kids book I’ve read that’s based on a film by an Arabic woman!! Usually the story is transcribed to film with many plot details omitted. This was a delightful story about the dreams of one feisty little girl to own and ride a bicycle of her own, and the struggles she endures to achieve this. An eye-opener of a story of the life of a young girl in a Muslim world whose rules are male-dominated and restrictions for everything for women. Wadjda’s character is one ‘spunky and adorable’ girl. I really liked the love-hate relationship she has with Abdullah, especially when he’s around his friends. The school scenes are the most vivid for me. I felt as if I was standing next to her as her principal’s eyes bored into her. A fascinating story that is better for older readers! 

My rating: 4 ⭐

Merci Suarez changes gears blue and green letters across yellow sky palm trees in corners pink buildins young girl with brown hair and blue top and shorts riding blue bicycle on street
A fascinating read

Title: Merci Suarez changes gears

Author: Meg Medina

Publication details: Candlewick Press; Somerville, MASS, 2018

What this book is about: Sixth-grader Merci Suarez isn’t like the other kids at seaward Pines Academy. She’s a scholarship student who lives with her extended family in three little houses they call Las Casitas. But everything feels different this year – and not just at school, where queen bee Edna Santos has set her sights on Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine buddy, Michael Clark. At home, Merci’s beloved grandfather, Lolo, has been acting strangely: falling from his bike, calling people by the wrong names, and getting angry over nothing. Merci is worried about Lolo, but no one in her family will tell her what’s going on. Just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse, something happens that puts everything into perspective and forces Merci’s family to finally face the issue they’ve been avoiding. In a coming-of-age tale full of humour and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion that defines middle school and the steadfast connection of family. 

My review: My favourite type of Middle Grade fiction: full of heart, humour and family connections. The school scenes are expertly woven together and the plot is superbly crafted. I loved all of the characters, from the little twin cousins up to the aged-grandparents. Diverse authors like Meg Medina who tell this side of American culture teach us a lot of the struggles Latin Americans face. I truly enjoyed this story and couldn’t stop the tears from falling at one point!! I look forward to others Medina writes in the future as she’s fast becoming another favourite author of mine!!

My rating: 5 ⭐

Additional notes: This title was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2019, the NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book in 2018, and nominated for the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers Literature in 2018. Meg Medina’s writing a sequel due to be published in 2021.

These next two reads are slightly different in nature but something about them captivated me from the start. Save me a seat had a somewhat nostalgic feel to it as I found myself warming up to young Ravi as his culture and mine are similar. One of the attractive qualities of The first rule of punk was the creative process Malu describes of making zines in her story. 

image of lunch trays on top and bottom with food in compartments Sarah Weeks on top Save me a seat in middle Gita Varadarajan in bottom tray two compartments
An entertaining read

Title: Save me a seat

Authors: Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan

Publication details: Scholastic Press; NY, 2016

What this book is about: Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL. Joe’s lived in the same town all of his life, and was doing just fine until his best friend moved away and left him on is own. Ravi’s family has just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in. Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common – but soon enough a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week. 

My review: Told in alternating voices by two very different authors, we see a week in elementary school as both Joe and Ravi try to find their place in it all!! Some awesome writing two talented authors!! I liked the Tamil terms sprinkled in the dialogue Ravi has with his family; it made me imagine their accent in my head. Also, I hadn’t known about APD – Auditory Processing Disorder (where people have difficulty understanding speech) – until I read this story. The school scenes were the best for me!! A quite funny read but also a moving story of tolerance and acceptance. 

My rating: 4 ⭐

The First rule of punk bright purple letters across yellow background young girl in braids and tshirt and jeans with microphone jumping in middle images of record scissors yarn ball across back
A hilariously lovely read

Title: The first rule of punk

Author: Celia C. Perez

Publication details: Viking; NY, 2017

What this book is about: There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school. On day one, twelve-year-old Malu (Mana Louisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself. The real Malu loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malu finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself. From debut author and long-time zine maker Celia C. Perez, The First Rule of Punk is a heartfelt exploration of friendship, finding your place, and learning to rock like no-one’s watching. 

My review: A really great story!! I loved all the many characters and storyline of this read. Even managed to learn quite a few things about Latin Americans and their culture from this book. The family dynamics described here are quite heartfelt and moving and shows not just the differences Latin American families have, but their similarities. Along with Malu’s adventures as a rock chick the little zines she makes added an extra layer to this story!! I thought that Celia Perez’s debut novel was really well written and would recommend it to anyone looking for something different! 

My rating: 5 ⭐

Additional notes: This book has won the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award in 2018, nominated for the Pura Belpre Award for Author, the Boston Horn Book Award for Fiction & Poetry in 2018 and the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award in 2020. 

A small note: It is by reading books like these with such amazing and courageous youngsters that I feel inspired for the future of my nieces and nephews. I believe that the world they grow up in will be so much more different to mine; filled with acceptance of their differences and tolerance towards their backgrounds and cultures. I look forward to finding more stories like these from you all, so if anyone has read anything similar, please leave a suggestion below. 

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