Tell Me

Tell Me: What Children Really Want To Know About Bodies, Sex And Emotions

This book is brilliant! Emily Writes posted it on Instagram as she’s writing a review, so of course I quickly ordered a copy… It’s fantastic. I think it’s translated from a European author (it’s published by Gecko Press in English), which perhaps explains how frank and no-nonsense it is.  Having said that, it’s also incredibly funny and totally age-appropriate for a book about sex and puberty aimed at children! Every page has a hand written picture below an entertaining cartoon illustrating the issue, then the reverse page has the answer.  It’s open, honest and non-judgmental, without ever being unnecessarily graphic; totally worth having around the house for kids to find out answers to life’s burning (and mortifying) questions!

The Diary of Anne Frank – The Graphic Adaptation

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

I’m sure there are a few purists out there who might feel shocked that I’m about to give this graphic adaptation of the iconic Diary of Anne Frank a rave review. But in the words of adaptor Ari Folman, “I wish to declare that we are sensitive to and aware of the liberties that we have taken, and that our goal was always foremost to honor and preserve the spirit of Anne Frank in each and every frame.”  In this, they absolutely succeed.  This is a stunning graphic representation of Anne’s innermost thoughts, one which actually allowed me to see her in a different light. For example, when Anne concludes that she’s, “made up my mind to lead a different life from others girls, and not to become an ordinary housewife later on,” there is a gorgeous depiction of her as an adult woman sitting at a desk, with various framed images on the wall behind from her time in the Annex.  As my husband pointed out, Anne lives forever frozen in our minds as a young girl; these images gave me the push I needed to actually think about who she might have become had she had the opportunity to fulfill her potential.

The pictures are stunning and the choices of what to include I think leave you satisfied that you’ve captured Anne’s story.  Towards the end, as her thoughts become more and more mature, the editors increasingly include whole passages from the diary.  Anne’s writing still succeeds in reminding us that each generation faces the same dilemmas, no matter the issues of the day.  I will leave you with this as a final thought, because Anne, in her timeless manner, manages to capture the way I feel everyday when I read the news, or hear basically anything about American or British politics:

“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.

Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!”

 

 

 

 

Becoming

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I requested this magical book as a farewell gift from my students at HHT, and forced them all to sign it before I left.  This meant I felt a bit emotional about starting it, so I’ve only just gotten to the end, but my god, what a storyteller! I’m not hugely into autobiographies, but the former FLOTUS can seriously spin a yarn – it is truly never, ever dull or long-winded. What a brilliant woman (as if though we didn’t already know!).  There was one passage at the very end that really resonated with what we have tried to teach our students over the years, and it is this:

“So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal. We grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only one way to be American – that if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong. That is, until someone dares to start telling that story differently.”

All You Can Ever Know

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This delightful read came recommended from a variety of other websites, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. It’s the author’s tale of discovering her birth family, and the secrets and lies surrounding her adoption that had been buried for nearly 30 years. Chung was born to a Korean family living in America and had always known she was adopted out after a few months in hospital, as a result of being born prematurely.  She knew little more than that though, and had always tried to please her (white, red-haired) adoptive parents by going along with the, “Your parents gave you up because they loved you so much and wanted a better life for you” story, which they certainly gave her.  But her adoptive parents’ desire not to see race was not enough to protect Chung from the harsh realities of being the only Asian child in a pretty conservative American town, and she suffered badly from bullying.  Once pregnant herself, she decided it was time to unravel the mystery of her birth and began to search for her family.  What she finds is surprising and not at all what you typically see in adoption stories – I won’t ruin it, but I don’t think it’s too much to say that one delight is the discovery of a full biological sister, who quickly becomes family in a very real sense.

The 57 Bus

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I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book like this before – it is so perfectly balanced, so precise in presenting two sides to the story, that it feels more like an illustration of restorative justice than it does a YA novel (and in fact as an adult I got an incredible amount out of it).  It recounts a real incident in the US in which a 16 year old African-American boy, Richard, set fire to the  skirt of an agender youth, Sasha, on the 57 bus after school.   The book opens by just setting that scene in very factual terms.  The next section focuses on Sasha, where we learn about their journey to understanding their gender, and receive a brief lesson in relevant terms and concepts, which is really helpful.  The third section is about Richard. This, I think, is the master stroke, because Slater has really done her homework – she has interviewed both students’ schools, families and friends, and taken excerpts from media clips, social networks, police evidence etc.  This means that instead of feeling angry with Richard, we end up incredibly sympathetic to his cause, and with a deep feeling of unease about racism in the US, notably within the US justice system.  The final sections focus on the trial and justice, then on how life looks for both teens following the event. I’ve put this as an easy read because each chapter is very short and it doesn’t use difficult language, while explaining concepts incredibly well.  If I were to give it to one of my students, I think I would recommend they read the intro then Richard’s section first, then go back to Sasha’s, just to really hook them.  Either way, this is an incredible story brilliantly told, I can’t recommend it highly enough to adults and students alike.

Tiger, Tiger

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This is not a book you’re likely to forget once you’ve read it.  It’s seriously intense, and the most incredible part about it is that it’s true.  It’s about a 7 year old girl and her romantic relationship with a 51 year old man. That sentence just raises so many questions, none of which I can even begin to consider in this tiny space.  It’s a hauntingly beautiful read and the students who’ve picked it up have enjoyed it (well, enjoyed isn’t quite the right word, but you get what I mean), but obviously it can be pretty affecting and even triggering, so be warned.

Lion

Lion

This story is Un. Be. Lievable. Having lived in India for a number of years, I just cannot fathom how anyone could find a family they lost there when they were 5 years old, despite not even knowing their real name.  Saroo Brierley used Google Earth to do just that. He was lost from his family after begging his brother to take him to work on the train tracks one evening. He was told to wait on the platform but fell asleep, and when he awoke, assumed his brother must have gotten back on the train. He then climbed aboard himself and feel asleep again, only to wake up on a moving train, all alone, with no idea where he was going.

Somehow, this incredible little boy survived living for weeks at Kolkata train station. Unlike in NZ, a child alone would not necessarily inspire compassion in those passing by. There are so many children begging for money in Indian train stations, most people try their hardest to just ignore them. So it was for Saroo. But by some miracle he made it out alive and found himself adopted to a family in Australia.  Twenty plus years later he began searching for home, obsessively scouring Google Earth for landmarks he had committed to memory in his many imagined walks through his home town. And somehow, he did it.