Surviving the Sudan….Book Review: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Going was easy.

Going, the big plastic container held only air. Tall for her eleven years, Nya could switch the handle from one hands to the other, swing the container by her side, or cradle it in both arms. She could even drag it behind her, bumping it against the ground and raising a tiny cloud of dust with each step.

There was little weight, going. There was only heat, the sun already baking the air, even though it was long before noon. It would take her half the morning if she didn’t stop on the way.

Heat. Time. And thorns. (Park, p. 1)

Every breath Salva took seemed to drain strength rather than restore it.

Thorns gored his feet. His lips became cracked and parched. Uncle cautioned him to make the water in his gourd last as long as possible. It was the hardest thing Salva had ever done, taking only tiny sips when his body cried out for huge gulps of thirst quenching, life-giving water. (Park, 53)

I’m going to open this post up with an immediate statement: Never have my eyes been so open to experience of those in other countries. I opened with these two excerpts, because they scratch the surface of the hardships Nya, living in the Sudan in 2008, and Salva, living in the Sudan in 1985, faced in their journies for survival.

Set in alternating time period, Salva and Nya both have different experiences in the Sudan. Salva is an eleven year old boy forced to flee his school after soldiers attack his schoolhouse during the Sudanese Civil War. The course of Salva’s experience is gut wrenching. From being forced to flee into the “bush” as they refer to it to having to make some tough decisions as a young boy, this is truly THE coming of age story. Prior to reading this, I didn’t know much about the Sudan or the war it faced from 1983-2005.

Intermingling with Salva’s dialogue is the story of a young girl Nya who walks miles each day to fetch water for her family. During the dry season, when the pond Nya walks to dries up, she and her family are forced to live by a big lake that is also dry. The method by which Nya retrives just a little water during this 5 month period is almost worse than walking miles and miles twice a day. Dig and dig and dig for just a cup or two of water. And the water is so scarce, but so contaminated, to not die of dehydration may mean you die of dysentery.

The story primarily focuses on Salva as he escapes the Sudan in pursuit of a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Salva has to cross deserts, lion country, the Nile River, the Gilo river, and much more to find his freedom. The dialogue and narration of Salva is extremely easy to read and reads like an eleven year old boy would talk. This is based on Salva’s real life experience. This made it more emotionally taxing as you read it. I was immediately sucked into his story. With so much at stake and no one to see that he made it safely, I quickly became Salva’s champion. I felt that each page I read would bring Salva’s freedom and safety closer and closer.

Nya’s story turns around when strange men come to her village one day with drills and tools and are inspecting the ground. Nya spends time being confused over the men’s actions, but the gift they give this Nuer tribe is critical. I didn’t realize the impact water could have on uplifting a community until I met these men. Water means life. I found as I was reading this book with a giant 30oz bottle of water in my hand that was cold and freshly filled how different our definition of “poverty” and “without” is in the United States.

The end of the book filled my heart with every warm cookie every baked. Eventually, these two characters, traveling in different times in Sudanese history find their stories connecting at the end of the novel. Salva, now a college educated business man, has some miraculous experiences at the end of the novel. He becomes his own champion and finds unlikely answers to the loss of his family and culture in the Sudan after his escape. He also finds a way to ensure that his people are being helped. Little by little, Salva tells his story to help his people.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants a quick, memorable, life changing read. This is one of a kind book. Park did an impeccable job telling Salva’s story. I can only imagine how proud he was to read this. I am not sure why I put off reading this book so long. The craft of her writing to also blend a real life account with a fictional character set her apart as a writer. As I read, I also felt the limited language of the tribe and how they perceived the world around them in terms of their tribe’s history and customs.  Set your comics books aside—We have a real life superman.

Rating:  Owls

Why I loved it:
I loved this book for so many reasons. Mainly, the experiences both character went through, particularly Salva, were gut wrenching. Sitting in my classroom, looking at students who are fed and sheltered and that can go get water, I have a new appreciation for agencies that build wells and schools and provide health care to third world countries. It also floored me that people live like this. You see the commercials on TV, but I think reading someone’s testimony is like meeting them in person. There is no background music or celebrity urging me to spend $19/month. It is me, Park, Salva, Nya, and the $6.99 that was spent on the book. It made my experience as a reader so much more personal to get to the end of the novel and find out this was a 90% true account of this man’s life.

Why the kids loved:
I had one student write on an assignment, “I am not like Nya because I can go to the kitchen for water and don’t have to walk.” The kids like it because it opens their eyes to a new way of life, something that in my small town in Virginia, they have probably never talked about or been exposed to. It’s also a quick read and they feel successful.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Gripping, Compelling, Visceral, Eye Open, READ IT!

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Happy Reading! I hope you enjoyed my review and my students’ reviews!

-Miss Wyoming


Everyone Needs an Ivan…Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

“Ivan, I want you to promise me something,” Stella says.
“Anything,” I say.
“I’ve never asked for a promise before, because promises are forever, and forever is an unusually long time. Especially when you’re in a cage.”
I straighten to my full height, “I promise, Stella,” I say in a voice like my father’s.
“But you haven’t even heard what I’m asking yet,” she says and she closes her eyes for a moment.Her great chest shudders.
“I promise anyway.”      (Applegate, P. 111-12)

I found The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate on a list of great read aloud books for kids. It said it was a picture book, so I never bothered to look into it more. I know now that by “picture book”, the person reviewing the novel actually meant to say it has a handful of small drawings scattered throughout. I would estimate ten or less that don’t even cover a sixth of the page. A coworker and friend of mine read the book and had it on her desk. She recently suggested it to our assistant principal to read with the simple statement: “Everyone needs an Ivan.” It must have been something about the way she said it or how smiled with such admiration from just thinking about this imaginary character. In that recommendation, she not only recommended it to our principal, but also myself. I had to read this novel.

The One and Only Ivan is about a Silverback gorilla named Ivan that lives in a circus exhibit inside Big Top Mall and Arcade. Ivan is a simple gorilla who likes to relax, eat bananas, and draw pictures of bananas. One of my favorite characteristics about Ivan is that he states upfront that gorillas like to save their words for when they are really important; humans like to use as many words as they can. Every word in this novel is carefully chosen to make an impact. Ivan’s narration is simple, yet extremely powerful when you look at how he views words. Applegate’s writing in the narration of this story is simple: It is as if gorillas could actually talk. They are smart, yet they are still innocent and have limited experience. Ivan is honest about the experiences he does have and how he views the world around him.

Rosie is purchased when the circus show starts to go under. She is a baby elephants and who doesn’t love a baby? Rosie is in the cage next to Ivan with the other elephant, an older girl named Stella. Stella used to work for a circus and was abused there. As a result, she has a foot that never healed right and frequently gets infected. This makes it hard for her to perform and make money, so Rosie is brought as a new attraction. Ivan also has another friend, Bob, who is a stray dog that stays with him at night. Bob is a great character who is extremely sarcastic, but Applegate also uses Bob to make comments on the nature of the world. He is brutally honest and often comments on the cruelty of the world or extremely obvious observations about life that Ivan is too simple to make. For young readers, Bob is funny. For older readers, Bob is a philosopher.

An accident happens during on of the shows that causes Stella to ask for the promise I opened this post with. Ivan makes his first promise to Stella, that he will save Rosie. Ivan goes to work preparing a masterpiece to save Rosie. With the help of the janitors daughter, Julia, who brings Ivan fingers paints and paper, Ivan begins to paint a picture that he hopes will save Rosie’s life. Ivan works day and night to paint the picture, hiding his drawing when the mall owner, Mack, is around. Finally, when he feels that he has accomplished his goal, he gives his papers to Julia, hoping that with her artistic eye, she can make heads and tails of his gorilla drawing. The exchanges between Julia and Ivan are interesting because sometimes you forget that this is a gorilla and a young child interacting. It feels more genuine than that. Applegate’s writing suggests that, even though they can’t talk, Julia and Ivan are friends. And friends they are.

With a little time and patience, Ivan starts to see the fruit of his labor. I recently read a quote that said, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow” (Mary Anne Radmacher). This quote is Ivan. Ivan is courageous. Each day, Ivan watches and paints a few more pictures and hides them. He is courageous because Ivan is doing something not-Ivan. He is painting from his mind, something that makes him uncomfortable. Each day, Ivan has to return to his work. Finally, when Ivan feels that all hope is lost, zoologist and vets come to the zoo to rescue Ivan and shut down the Big Top Mall. Ivan not only saves Rosie, but Ivan is also able to save himself and in that, find something he has never had before in his life: a pack of gorillas to truly be a Silverback with.

I love the ending of this novel because it is almost a little tense until it ends, but it ends really happy. I love what Ivan gets in the end, as well as Rosie and Bob. I was so worried about little Bob in the end of this novel! This book is a great touch on humanitarianism and treating animals right, but it’s much more than that. It’s about sacrificing for people you love and doing something for someone else, no matter what it costs you. It’s about keeping your promises, no matter how much you want to give up. It’s about friendship and acceptance. It’s never too late to do what you always wanted to do. I cannot express enough how powerful this novel is. I wanted to cry frequently (I refrained as I was in class) and I smiled often. Applegate’s writing is so thoughtful and concise it is hard to imagine this book was written for children. Her means of developing personality individually in each character shows a different virtue our world needs more of–especially giving and caring and protecting our friends and family. As Bob frequently reminds Ivan, he is the One and Only. At the end of this book, Ivan lives up to that potential. He is Ivan. And he is great.

Rating: 5 Owls
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Why I loved it:
I loved this book because it was very deep. It made me question and think a lot as I was reading it. It’s also, despite the sadness in the beginning, a very sweet story. Ivan is simple and you love Ivan for his simplicity. He made a promise and sticks to it. I finished this book in a school day.

Why My Kids Loved It:
While I was reading, my students who read it said, “Oh, that’s sad, but that’s such a good book.” For a student, they are not going to dig into the philosophical Bob as much as an adult. They see a gorilla who made a promise and who kept it. It’s also on a lower reading level, so lower students will feel successful with this novel.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Fabulous book about possibility and friendship. Ivan is memorable and one-of-a-kind.

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Happy Reading! Go be someone’s Ivan today and change a life!

-Miss Wyoming

Sometimes You Just Need a Hat….Book Review: North of Everything by Craig Crist-Evans (QUICK READ!)

Dad sits on the edge of my bed,
his hand holding mine.

I tell him
about my dream,
the stars
like eyes of God,
like an open mouth,
the sky so black
it swallowed
all the sounds. (Crist-Evans, p. 22)

North of Everything is a short little book that encompasses a whole lot of emotion. Written by Craig Crist-Evans, this book is 67 pages of verse novel showing life as it is really handed to us. The narrator, unnamed, moves with his family from Florida to Vermont so his dad can farm again. We learn that his dad is sick of his nine-to-five and wants to be with the fresh air because he feels that it will help him. This was my first experience with verse in a long time. It’s quick and too the point. The writing is very fresh and free.

After moving, our narrator learns two things: first, that his mother is pregnant with a baby and second, that his dad is really sick with cancer. In it’s sparse words, the book shows the truth of dealing with illness in your family. It shows his father steadily decline and how it affects both the narrator and his mother. The narrator spends time at school sleeping and is frequently checked out. Crist-Evans uses the new baby to contrast the struggle of the mother and son to the new child’s experience of not knowing what a dad is. The new child, who the narrator calls Spanky, has no concept of father and was never old enough to get to know hers when he was well.

Eventually, the narrator finds out that being in the beautiful open country does not keep your family safe. As the father diminishes to a wisp of a man in his final days, the mother and son find a way to cope. This is very interesting because Crist-Evans subtly alludes to their lives falling apart. It’s implied, not stated, that the mother develops a drinking problem. The son remains relatively unaffected by this, seeming to understand that his mother needs this to help her cope. He makes a friend who has rabbits. These rabbits, like the baby, contrast birth and death.

The novel ends on a really sweet note, during the spring, as everyone’s lives come back together. My favorite poem in the book details the family out at ice cream together and a stranger makes the mother a balloon hat, telling her that sometimes you just need a hat. The last poem of the book is a bit quirky. The family is at dinner and the baby says her first words. There isn’t a real “closing” poem to the novel as there was an opening poem, but this final poem brings a sense of peace and closure that I do not think a poem written to end the novel would have. Life doesn’t end with a closing note–this book does a good way of showing that. It ends, just as the book ends, in a moment shared with others or alone. A moment that you may not think to be the last word, but is. It was brilliant.

Rating: 3.5 Owls
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Why I liked it:
This book doesn’t get a love–it gets a like. I liked the honesty of the poetry in conveying human emotion. I liked that the boy didn’t spend too much time on his mom’s story when he was more concerned on his own. I liked that it ended on a random poem instead of a poem meant to bring closure. I liked the honesty and grief and coping of this book.

Why my kids liked it:
It’s short enough that they felt successful. Especially for my students on the low end of the reading spectrum, this was a really quick read that wasn’t a challenge. They also liked the story line and how sad it was at times.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Honest emotions about a young man dealing with death, life, and all of the other challenges of life.

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Happy Reading! It’s cold here!

-Miss Wyoming

A Cyborg Cinderella…..Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The screw through cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. Her knuckles ached from forcing the screwdriver into the joint as she struggled to loosen the screw one gritting twist after another. By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean.

Tossing the screwdriver onto the table, Cinder gripped her heel and yanked the foot from its socket. A spark singed her fingertips and she jerked away, leaving the foot to dangle from a tangle of red and yellow wires.

She slumped back with a relieved groan. A sense of release hovered at the end of those wires— freedom. Having loathed the too- small foot for four years, she swore to never put the piece of junk back on again. She just hoped Iko would be back soon with its replacement. (Meyer, p. 3)

Cinder isn’t your modern day Cinderella tale—in fact, Cinder has a secret that only a few people in her community of New Beijing know: She’s a cyborg. But being a cyborg has afforded Cinder with a job. She is the best mechanic in all of New Beijing at the age of 17 years old. Adopted by a scientist and inventor from Europe, Cinder is left to fend for herself after her father’s death, stuck with her stepmother, Adri, and two sisters, Peony and Pearl.

If you follow my tweets at all, you would know that I was initially ANNOYED to the max with this book. Like, maxed out in my annoyance. The book starts too quicky into it’s futuristic jargon. Dates are labeled “T.E”, terms like “cyborg”, “netscreen”, “portscreen”, “android”, etc. are used within the first chapter. In my opinon, it was a little stereotypically science fiction. Meyer did little to clarify many things. We don’t even get a description of Cinder’s appearance, which I need when I read a book. The only background we get is that it’s in the future and in China.

Cinder meets the prince, Kaito aka. Kai, when he comes to her booth at the market to get his android fixed. Kai jokes that there is some top secret information on the android, but Cinder, who has a computer interface implanted in her brain, can tell that he is lying and there actually IS top secret information on the android. We are also introduced to the Plague aka. letumosis aka. The Blue Plague in this chapter. Prince Kai is nice and I think it was cool of Meyer to have Cinder meet him early, but througout the whole novel, the dialogue with him is terrible. She gave him a terrible, sarcastic sense of humor that is so far from royal it’s not funny. It read a little bit like, “I want to inject some humor in my novel, but I am not sure how to do it, so I’ll do bad sarcasm.” I guess, for a teen novel, it might be funny because their sense of humor is developing, but as an adult reading it, I wasn’t too keen.

After meeting the prince and seeing a neighboring stall be burned down to avoid the plague, Cinder goes home and we meet her family for the first time. Typical to Cinderella, Adri the stepmother, is awful. Pearl, the eldest step sister is also a piece of work and rather underdeveloped. Peony, the youngest at 14, is actually friends of Cinder. She is prince crazy and follows Cinder to the junk yard the night after the run in with the prince to talk about the experience. It is here Peony contracts the blue plague. In an act of malice, Adri banishes Cinder to the palace’s research facility to look for a cure for the plague where Cinder is sure to die. She blames Cinder for infecting Peony, even though we learn Cinder has never been or will never be infected due to either her cyborness or something else—her mysterious past.

But she doesn’t die. At this point in the book, perspectives shift. We get Dr. Erland’s perspective. Apparently, he’s been accused of only wanting young women as his research subjects. I thought he was a creep, but it actually makes a lot of sense when the book ends. We also get Kai’s perspective as he deals with the death of his father and become emperor. I am not crazy about the name Kai… reminded me of Matched, I guess? I just feel that Ky/Kai/Ki is an easy fall back for a futuristic name. Oh well. Kai is also dealing with a peace agreement with the Lunar colony on the Moon. They are made out to have some biological magic control something and are really cruel and trick you into thinking they are prettier than they are.

The story then starts to develop a little more. Queen Levana comes to earth to propose a peace treaty to Kai in exchange for him marrying her. Cinder learns of her heritage and is warned NOT to be around the castle. Kai and Cinder develop a weird little thing. Cinder figures out what the android is hiding…..and it is information that made me go, “Holy crap! I think she might be a princess!” That’s when I wanted to keep reading. I cannot confirm or deny the accuracy of my assumption, but the rest of the book was a really easy point once I was hooked in on that story element. I would say if you are selling this to someone or a student, capitalize on the fact that there is a big mystery that needs to be solved. It’s also interesting to see the Cyborgness of Cinder and how she hides that from Kai and deals with being an outcast.

Overall, the ending was really disappointing. It was a total cliff hanger. I’m also almost positive that there isn’t a second book. I think the second book, Scarlet, is a companion novel, but it does not feature Cinder as the main character. Scarlet has to do with little red riding hood and the newest book, Cress, deals with Rapunzel. I am actually sure you meet Cress in Cinder because they discuss a girl with impossibly long hair and she is trapped in a satellite. I will finish reading this series simply to see what becomes of Levana and Cinder and Kai, but it wasn’t my best read of the year. Actually, I guess it was the best and worst because it’s the only book I have read. This probably isn’t a book I’d readily volunteer to people to read, but if a kid needs a book suggestion, I would suggest it to them.

Rating: 3.5 Owls
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Why I liked it:
Once I got to the “Is Cinder the hidden Princess?” revelation, I had to keep reading!

Why my kids like it:
The updated Cinderella tale in conjunction with the trendy science fiction/dystopian feel make it a hot hit.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Retell of Cinderella in the future. Little exposition and a lot of sci-fi jargon. Once is I had my “OMG” moment, I had to finish reading.

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Happy Reading in the New Year!

–Miss Wyoming

First Review: Gregor the Overlander and the Underland Chronicles

I don’t even remember how Gregor the Overlander was suggested to me. One day, it was out of my life and the next day it was in my life. And once is comes into your life, this series is hard to forget!

Written by Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy, Gregor the Overlander chronicles the adventure of a young boy who gets sucked into an underground world. While watching his sister in the laundry room of their run down apartment building, Gregor notices that Boots has gone missing. When he tries to find her, he sees that the air vent has been opened and a weird mist is coming out. Thinking that Boots crawled into the vent, Gregor sticks his head inside to look around and unknowingly falls into a mysterious world built miles and miles below New York City. From giant talking cockroaches to a mysterious breed of people with translucent skin and purple-ish eyes, Gregor is introduced to the Kingdom of Regalia and the Underland. Gregor soon learns that his fate and the fate of the Underland are mysteriously entwined and must go on several adventures to save the Underland from the reign of terror caused by an army of rats.

Here is my amazon review on this book….I think it speaks for itself:
Collins is brilliant! A shame Hunger Games outshone this series!! Perfect for Potterheads (:”

Gregor the Overlander is a fabulous introduction in the world if the Underland. Once I purchased this book, I could not put it down and quickly had the entire series finished. I teach middle school and many of the boys in my class have been passing it around. I recommend this to anyone who needs a good, fictional read. I am a Potterhead and this series easily ranks up there with Harry Potter. Suzanne Collins is brilliant! It’s a shame Hunger Games outshines this series.


It truly is ashame that the Hunger Games outshone this series. It reads a little like “City of Ember” in the beginning, but very very different as you move through it. I have many of my kids reading this book as a lot of them have never heard of it. The boys love it! It’s very similar to Percy Jackson or Harry Potter. There are sequential books where the protagonist, Gregor, has to go on missions to save the kingdom, a person, etc. I highly recommend it for any age starting at 5th grade up.

The Quick and Dirty 160 Character Review:
Amazing book! Adventure packed and compelling. Character’s are personal friends. Wish this was going to be a 5 part movie series!

Why I loved it:
I really loved this book because it was different–it opened the doors for me to read Percy Jackson style books. Typically, I get stuck in the “what’s trendy” phase. This is a trendy author writing a little acknowledge series that demands to be felt (John Green, anyone?).

Why my kiddos loved it:
The boys in class love it for the same reason they love Percy Jackson–it has compelling action and a middle school male protagonist. There is sword fighting, war, and some funny scenes. There is also young love, friendship, brotherhood, and camaraderie. But mainly, there is just a lot of sword fighting and compelling action.


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Happy reading!

-Miss Wyoming