Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shooting Kabul

Shooting Kabul (Paula Wiseman Books)I am often very kind in my assessment of particular books because of their purpose. Such is the case with Shooting Kabul by newcomer to writing, N. H. Senzai, who grew up in San Francisco and Saudi Arabia. She tells the reader it is a story that had to be told, one that continued to niggle at the back of her head until she got it out.

Shooting Kabul is loosely based on her husband as a child and his family leaving Afghanistan because of the Taliban. It involves degrees in agriculture earned in the United States and a return to Afghanistan to improve farming techniques. After the Taliban's return to primitivism and total control of government and culture, the family's efforts (and efforts of many other families) were no longer wanted. It became unsafe to stay, thus a dark-of-night escape to asylum in the United States.

But that's not why I gave this book five stars. The writing, plotting, characters, plot conflicts--all would rate four stars. Ends are too conveniently tied and plot events are manipulated. But guess what? I don't care.  Here's why Shooting Kabul is a five-star book for children 9-12 and any older audience who wants to know more about Afghan culture.

1. The novel provides an up-close look at a typical Afghan family, actually, a Pukhtun family. The Pukhtuns make up the largest ethnic group of the Afghan peoples, comprising 42 percent of the population. The reader learns a little about religion, language, food, daily habits, family life. A "little" means just enough to weave into the story without overdoing it. The glossary of unfamiliar names and Afghan factos is included in the back of the book, as well as a further reading list.
Extra Credit
(Extra Credit is one of the recommended books, a book I recently reviewed.)

2. The plot is timed during the Sept. 11 attack on American soil, thus "forcing" American attacks on the Muslim people in American and how they dealt with those attacks.

3. Friendships that cross racial and religious lines. Both Fadi, the main character, and his older sister, form relationships with others: Fadi with a Chinese-American classmate and his sister with an Anglo.

4. Good family relations. Children cannot possibly get enough examples of good family relationships in life or books.

5. A photography component. Fadi's father Habib taught him how to photograph while they were in Afghanistan and gave him his old Minolta camera. In San Francisco Fadi joins the photography club in his middle school and enters a competition with one of his photographs. Seeing photography as an art form being promoted is a real boon for this book.

The most serious problem in the novel is the loss of the youngest child, Miriam, while the family is leaving by dark-of-night. During the mad rush to climb into the escape truck, Miriam is left behind. A six-year-old girl. There was no turning back with the Taliban hot on their trail. One of the prizes of the photography contest is a trip with a let's-call-it-National-Geographic photographer to one of three countries for a photography shoot (with a parent, of course). One of the countries is India. Fadi believes he can win that trip and find his sister.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would like to see it in the hands of good teachers. librarians, home-schoolers, and parents to begin a dialogue to improve American-Muslim relations.

Shooting Kabul? A photography term, of course, to tie all components together. Fadi and his dad "shot" many photographs of their city in Afghanistan, starting his love of photography and the twist it plays in the story.

The inimitable Mr. Clements

Extra CreditAllow me a bold statement: Andrew Clements is, quite simply, an excellent writer--among the very best for children! His earlier novel for older children (9-12 and above), Frindle, WAS his best creation, but now, I'm thinking that Extra Credit belongs right there on the shelf next to Frindle as Clements' tour de force novel.

Frindle is about the creative impulse and the impetus behind an idea to make it FLOW. Yet--when Clements made me get down on the floor in this novel and "see" those mountains-- wow, there are no words to express that moment of discovery that makes Abby see those mountains with Sadeed.

Abby Carson is a sixth grader in the middle of the year, who is advised that she will probably need to repeat sixth grade. Her scores are just too low and she has shown no signs of improving or even wanting to improve. Such a fear becomes her wake-up call. Please, what can I do? An extra credit project--write to a pen pal and create a display of your letters on the bulletin board.

So Abby gets a pen pal in Afghanistan--a pen pal chosen by the village elders. They pick Sadeed because his English and his writing skills are the best of all pupils in the village--however, Afghan culture prevents boys and girls from communicating, so his younger sister becomes the front as the letter writer.

Cultural differences await and will spill over into each other's neighborhood, becoming the focus of a situational divide. That is absolutely all I can reveal about this deeply impacting short novel. If I were in the classroom, I would make Extra Credit required reading.

Reasons why this novel should be read by middle school students:
1. It's an excellent story.
2. The implications cause the reader to consider his/her own life in comparison
3. It's a great cultural introduction to a totally different way of life
4. It teaches geography and a bit of history
5. By happenstance, it raises the issue of compassion and encourages the reader to stretch one's sense of unique place in the universe

Bottom line: Extra Credit is most highly recommended!

Frindle  I also highly recommend Frindle as a wonderful addition to school, classroom, and personal libraries.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Messin' with a classic!

Soooo, we're really going there? We're gonna change that ever-awful, offensive N- word to "slave?" "N-" (I can never ever bring myself to write that word, even in a blog for academic support of a classic): (from
1. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive.

a. a black person.
b. a member of any dark-skinned people.
2. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. a person of any race or origin regarded as contemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc.
When Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884, he used the first sense of the word: "a black person," the "acceptable" term of the time, although Twain probably used the word sardonically. After all, the most contemptible people in the Midwest and South are treated in his novel with only the slightest humor and more with Juvenalian satire, contemptuously, revealing their callous and inhumane selves.

As long as Huck and Jim, the "N" of the narrative, are on their raft, in the arms of the mighty Mississippi, they are safe. Touch land, touch evil. Meet it in the flesh. When Huck decides to go to Hell by freeing Jim, he shows his true color (pardon the pun). One of the kindest, most compassionate characters in literature is Jim.

"Slave": (from
1. a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; a bond servant. 
Technically, within context of the novel set during the time of slavery, Jim could be referred to as a slave, but that changes Twain's intent: satire. Satire is a hard master and only readers with the strongest stomachs can take this tonic/toxin. The way of life of the South with people as slaves--as property, as subjects to others--was certainly offensive, abusive, murderous. How else to lull the sensibilities of ignorant, racist readers if not with the practice of the "n-" word. Did Twain know he would one day  offend? That's not the question: Did he care? The novel and Twain's use of the "n" word are part of American history as reflected in its literature.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Original Unabridged VersionHuckleberry Finn stands as it is. Leave it alone. If not, what's next? The Bible?

 For further discussion of using the "n" word in a class setting:


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Wynton Marsalis

I have long followed the career of Wynton Marsalis, a New Orleans native. I just viewed a "60 Minutes" segment, featuring Marsalis in Cuba. Everywhere he goes, he teaches the importance of music, especially as it applies to children. His main thrust--after the music, of course-- is spreading a love of jazz.  Wynton Marsalis is a national treasure through his promotion of the arts, music in particular.

Here are some ways to get to know Wynton Marsalis:
Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your LifeClassic WyntonBlack CodesMarsalis on MusicJazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits with Art Print

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.