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Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Fadhil al-Azzawi & Jennifer Roy

Review:

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story - Fadhil al-Azzawi, Jennifer Roy

Audience: Middle School

Format: Hardcover/Library Copy

 

The afternoon the bombs start falling, I get my highest score ever on my favorite video game.

 

Eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil lives in Basra, Iraq. He loves American television, Superman comic books, and playing soccer with his friends. When an international coalition initiates military action to stop Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait, Ali’s life is turned upside down. Ali’s father is serving with a medical unit and his older brother (Shirzad) is left in charge of the family. Everyone in the village is depending on government rations for food and supplies. Ali’s mother even burns his comic books for fuel to cook with. 

 

The book is based on co-author Fadhil’s childhood and doesn’t shy away from depicting the war. There are some pretty violent scenes in this book, including when Ali witnesses a firing squad that kills a bunch of people (even a child his age). At one point, Ali thinks his father may be dead and he often worries about his own safety.

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Knock Out by K.A. Holt

Review:

Knockout - K.A. Holt

Audience: Grades 5 & up

Format: Hardcover/Library Copy

 

Who am I?

I am Levi.

I am small

but fast

I am smart

but dumb.

If you move the letters of my name around

you get live.

So here it is.

This is my life

This is what it’s like

minute by minute

match by match

to live a Levi Life.

– first page

 

This novel is written in verse and tells the story of 12-year-old Levi. Levi was born weighing 2 pounds and went through some serious medical operations as a young boy. His older brother and mother are very overprotective and Levi feels trapped and longs to experience more of life. Levi’s dad encourages him to start boxing, without his mother or brother’s knowledge. Levi channels his energy and emotions into boxing and it makes him feel strong and in control. But, he is lying to his mom and brother and eventually to his dad too. 

 

The story is touching and has no real objectionable language or violence. Levi just wants a chance to experience life and doesn’t know how to explain this to his mom and brother. This story originated in the book House Arrest which tells the story of Levi’s brother trying to help out when Levi was an infant.

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Elephant Secret by Eric Walters

Review:

Elephant Secret - Eric Walters

Audience: 5th grade & up

Format: Hardcover/Library copy

 

I lay on my back on the inflatable raft.

– first sentence

 

Sam is 14 and she has spent her life living and working at her family’s elephant sanctuary. Some of the kids at school even call her “elephant girl.” Sam (and her father, Jack) likes the elephants more than people and the elephants are their family. The elephants consider Sam and Jack part of their herd. Sam never knew her mother and she feels uncomfortable with her dad’s new girlfriend. When a rich donor (James Mercury) pays a great deal of money to have three of the elephants artificially inseminated, he also becomes a “silent” partner. But only one elephant carries to term, and when the baby is born Mercury becomes much more involved. 

 

During the book, Sam grapples with her feelings about her dad’s new girlfriend and her own identity. Sam is a strong girl and she stands up for what she believes in. There are some sad parts (as there always are in animal stories) and some dangerous situations, but no real violence. Overall the book is a well-written family drama that kids will love because of the suspense and the adorable elephants.

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Ethan Marcus Stands Up by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Ethan Marcus Stands Up - Michele Weber Hurwitz

Audience: 3rd Grade & Up

Format: Hardcover/Library copy

 

The thing about this, and what I seriously don’t get here, is that it was Ethan.

– first sentence

 

Ethan is a 7th grader who has difficulty sitting still in school all day. One day, during his last period (Language Arts), he stands up and refuses to sit down despite repeated warnings from his teacher. As a result, he receives two days of after school reflection (aka detention). This begins a series of events that ends with Ethan and his sister (Erin) both competing in the Invention Day fair. The story is told from 5 different points of view – Ethan, his best friend Brian, Erin, her best friend Zoe, and troublemaker Wesley (who may not be as bad as he seems). 

The story is a quick, easy read that is appropriate for kids even in 3rd grade – nothing too heavy or serious and a lot of humor will appeal to students who enjoy books like James Patterson’s Middle School series. 

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Breakout by Kate Messner

Review:

Breakout - Kate Messner

Audience: Grades 4 & up

Format: Hardcover/Library copy

 

Dear Library Board,

Enclosed is my contribution to the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project.

– opening lines

 

 

Wolf Creek is located in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The town is built around a maximum-security prison and most of the residents have a least one family member working there. The book is told from the point of view of three seventh graders. Nora’s dad is the superintendent, Lizzie’s grandmother works in the kitchen, and Elidee’s brother is an inmate. Nora and Lizzie are best friends and Elidee just moved there when she didn’t get into a private school in New York City. Elidee’s mom wanted to be closer to her brother to make it easier for them to visit him. The townspeople are mostly white and the inmate population is mostly black and Latinx. Elidee is at first standoffish but she eventually becomes friendly with Nora and Lizzie. Nora and Lizzie are surprised at the way the townspeople treat Elidee and how different it is from how they are treated. A couple of inmates escape from the prison and the action revolves around how the manhunt affects life in the town. The story is told through contributions to a time-capsule project for school. The contributions include letters, press clippings, text messages, and transcribed voice recordings.

 

There are dangerous and suspenseful situations, and some shooting, but no overt violence. Nora & Lizzie learn about racism and try to decide how they feel about it and how to stand up for Elidee. Elidee works through her complicated feelings about the town, her brother, and everything else by writing poetry. Issues about our justice system and racial bias are explored in an accessible and sensitive manner.

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24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling

Review:

24 Hours In Nowhere - Dusti Bowling

Audience: Grades 4-7

Format: Hardcover/Library copy

 

Bo Taylor held my face one inch from the jumping cholla. “Eat it, Gus,” he commanded.

– opening lines

 

 

In the town of Nowhere, Arizona, the only thing exciting is dirt bike riding. Thirteen-year-old Gus is a smart boy and a natural target for the town bully, Bo. When Rossi stands up to Bo, she loses her prized possession, her dirt bike, Loretta. Gus is determined to get Rossi’s bike back, but Bo’s price is gold from the town’s abandoned gold mine called, “Dead Frenchman’s Mine.” Gus ends up going to the mine with an old friend, Jessie, one of Bo’s minions, Matthew, and Rossi. The four teens end up bonding over dangerous situations and shared conversations (the are all outcasts in different ways), and the adventure changes all of them.

 

This book has a similar feel to Holes by Louis Sachar. The characters are likable & quirky and there are generational ties that the teens discover during their journey. Students who like adventures and solving mysteries will enjoy this book. There are positive messages throughout the book about the power of friendship, believing in yourself, and looking beyond what people seem to be on the outside.

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