Uncategorized

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter: A Book Review

Title: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Author: Erika L. Sanchez

Publisher: Ember

Copyright Date: 2017

Julia is growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago. Until recently, she flew under the radar of her overprotective parents, because her older sister, Olga, held a monopoly on their attention. Olga never lied. Olga worked hard to bring money home. Olga went to community college. And most of all, Olga never dreamed of leaving home.

Until Olga is killed in a tragic accident involving a semi truck.

Julia’s story begins just a few weeks after the death of her older sister. She finds herself grappling with the trauma of losing Olga, and also the constant attention that is now shifted Julia’s direction. Olga had always been the perfect one, but now the traditional Mexican role of “Perfectly Obedient” child falls on Julia’s unwilling shoulders.

When Olga was around, Julia was able to fade into the background. Her parents had no idea that she and her friends had taken up smoking weed and promiscuous behavior and she would never dream of sharing that after high school she planned to go to college in NYC. Perfect Mexican daughters just didn’t do those things.

Working through her own grief led Julia to her beloved sister’s bedroom where she found a few items that led to the realization that Olga wasn’t the perfect daughter that Ama and Apa had believed her to be. She had a secret life–and Julia was determined to break into Olga’s laptop to prove it.

This is a story of a daring Mexican daughter going to great lengths to uncover her family’s secrets. This quest takes Julia to some dark corners and along the way she must deal with her own demons.

A tale of breaking stereotypes, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a coming of age tale that puts readers into the shoes of a troubled teen trying to come-of-age by her own terms. With themes of grief, mental health, and strength Julia exemplifies growing up according to Mexican culture and she embodies the feminist values that so many young girls need to hear.

I really enjoyed this book. It moved a bit slow in the beginning, but that served to create a bond between readers and Julia. In the end, I felt that Julia’s character arc was beautifully articulated. She went from a bitter, troubled teen to an understanding daughter with a redemptive heart. I also enjoyed learning more about Mexican and immigrant culture through this book. Ama and Apa both immigrated to America shortly before Olga was born and so much of their journey shaped their lives as parents.

Check out my Goodreads account if you want to see what’s up next in my reading. And until I write again–curl up with a good book and find joy in the moments that you can escape into someone else’s story for a little while.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Books · Uncategorized

We Were the Lucky Ones: A Book Review

Title: We Were the Lucky Ones

Author: Georgia Hunter

Publisher: Penguin Books

Copyright Date: 2017

*Setting for book challenge: Eastern Europe (Poland)

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World War II begins with the German invasion of Poland.

The Kurcs were a wealthy, Jewish family rooted in Radom, Poland, when the news breaks about the war. One-by-one the war takes members of their family and all the Kurcs can do is hope for the best–that one day the war will end and they will be reunited as a family.

Ganek and his wife end up in Siberia in a concentration camp.

Mila’s husband is taken without a “good-bye” and she is left to raise their baby on her own in the ghetto.

Addy tries to make it home from France, but is prevented from entering his homeland.

Jakob must protect the woman he loves from meeting the same fate as her family.

Halina uses her wit and strong personality to survive under the new regime.

Based on true events in the author’s family history this novel is one of resilience and impossibility. So often, we read stories about the casualties of war, but We Were the Lucky Ones gives away in its title that this family may have been broken for a time, but hope is restored in many ways.

As I read about events that this family endured I was shocked. I am a history teacher and I consider myself fairly educated on the war era, but I really had no idea what it was like to actually be under the persecution of the Nazis. I felt anger as I learned about the way the Kurcs were disregarded and forced in to ghettos. I was anxious as I read about Jews being coerced to dig their own graves knowing that when their shovel emptied the last of the mound their final breath was soon to follow. And don’t even get me started on the cruel acts against children.

But as heartbreaking as these events were I do believe it is necessary to educate ourselves on these things.

Hitler didn’t start with death camps.

It was a long process that began by planting seeds of hate and isolating groups of people.

Thank God that the Kurc family was one of the lucky families. That every member was spared from the fate that over 6 million others endured is a miracle.

I listened to a podcast while reading this book where the author admits that she took some creative license when it came to the thoughts, feelings, and words of her ancestors. But it is evident that an immense amount of research went into this story. It teeters on the verge of non-fiction, but she states in the podcast she didn’t feel comfortable calling it anything other than a novel because of the way she had to fill the gaps with what cannot be found in the act of research.

This was an emotional read, but so worth it. We all need to be reminded of the past and oftentimes that makes us uncomfortable.

Over the course of 2019 my goal is to Read the World. Check it out!

Reading Challenge 2019 (2)

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Teaching · Uncategorized

Book Worm or Social Butterfly?

I am currently enrolled in a course on teaching writing and during this course the class is reading the book,  In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher. In his book, Kelly discusses some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.

I’m a big fan of Gallagher and in the past have read his other books, Teaching Adolescent Writers and Write Like This. He talks often about his experiences in the ninth grade English classroom and I sympathize with him on various levels about student apathy, concerns, and achievements.

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This week I was doing my reading to prepare for the course when I stumbled upon an idea which really resonated with me.

This is a quote within a quote from the book:

“In his study, ‘In the Minds of Others,’ Keith Oatley, professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, notes that recent research has found that

far from being a means to escape the social world, reading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings.” (2011, 1)

So often we hear the term “book worm” to describe someone who has developed an affinity for reading. This misnomer has carried with it a negative connotation. I’ve even heard other teachers use such negative language to describe students who consistently carry books to and from class. Readers can get a bad reputation from the rest of society. They are sometimes labeled antisocial, but the quote above points to the very opposite meaning.

One of my favorite pastimes is to sit at home near the fire place in the living room and read. I’ll even call it romantic when my husband sits beside me on the sofa and reads his own book as well. Because at the end of the day we share what we have read about. The people we have interacted with through reading. The lessons we learned from the stories we experienced. And there is nothing antisocial or negative about it.

People miss out on truly social experiences by choosing not to read. Reading provides us such unique opportunities to be a part of another life or time period that we may never otherwise experience.

I’m not saying every couple needs to be like me and my husband and bond through reading. Rather the point I am trying to make is that reading is not the negative experience that so many people have painted it to be. When I ask students why they are reluctant to read on their own I get responses like, “I would rather play games,” or, “My friends are more fun.” Although they may enjoy gaming and spending time with friends, reading can also be as much fun and engaging as both of those activities.

All of this to say, that just because someone enjoys reading does not mean that they are a book worm. It is indeed possible to read often and be a social butterfly. Reading can add authenticity to your social interactions outside of books and helps to develop the social skills needed for relating to others. By losing yourself in a good book you are setting yourself up for social success and training your mind for intellectual growth.

Citations:

Oatley, Keith. 2011. “In the Minds of Others.” Scientific American Mind.

Gallagher, Kelly. 2015. In the Best Interest of Students. Stenhouse: Maine.

Books

A Book Review: Not a Drop to Drink

The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, and outside influences.

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https://www.overdrive.com/media/1401049/not-a-drop-to-drink

Title: Not a Drop to Drink

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Copyright Date: 2013

Over the past several months I have been working in collaboration with some of my colleagues to map out our first ever whole-school read in the Freshman Academy. I have been zealously searching for the best materials and novels to use as a common experience to usher in the new freshman class next year. This is a trend that is becoming popular among universities and secondary schools and the idea behind the common school read is fostering a community of readers throughout the student body and faculty as well.

One of the biggest decisions when planning out a novel study that involves so many people is the choice of novel. We set out to discover a novel that the students would enjoy, be able to relate to, and that communicates a coming-of-age message with which they could sympathize. I turned to the school librarian for wisdom as she is an amazing resource. Our school has a Battle of the Books group which she advises and they travel and compete against other schools in their knowledge of prescribed books. Recently, this club had read Not a Drop to Drink and the students really enjoyed this book. She recommended that I take a look at the novel and see what I thought about using that as the subject material for the whole school read.

One thing I loved about the book from the beginning was that the author is from relatively near to where I live and specifically mentions the area where I live within the first five pages of the novel. That’s one thing that I thought may help to draw in some of the students especially because of the post-apocalyptic nature of the book. From the beginning of the book I wanted to know what happens to South Bloomfield!?!

Not a Drop to Drink is about a girl named Lynn and her mother, Lauren. There is a shortage of water in their post-apocalyptic world, but Lynn and her mother have their very own pond. Their lives are spent protecting their pond, house, and water source at all costs. I particularly love the opening line of the novel:

“Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond, the sweet smell of water luring the man to be picked off like the barn swallows that dared swoop in for a drink.” (McGinnis 1)

In the beginning, Lynn is used to a life of doing whatever it takes to survive. Her knowledge of life beyond the boundaries of her property are limited to the few trips she’s taken for wood and looting already empty homes. Her mother has taught her all she needs to know about survival and never hesitates to extinguish whatever life form threatens the security of the life she has worked so hard to build for her daughter.

After a series of emotional events Lynn is left questioning the only life she has ever known. She learns her own limitations and the value of trust. Also, amidst her circumstances she begins to see the value in others as they face the same struggle as she: survival.

I must admit that I can foresee my students falling in love with this novel. Some of the messages it conveys are ones that are hot topics in Young Adult media culture right now like: Is it ever okay to kill? Should the government control water sources? How can we preserve water in a world with a booming population?

It’s hard to say much more about this novel without giving away the premise. There are many plot twists and surprising scenes and you should read for yourself to see how things end up for Lynn in her quest to protect the things in life that mean the most to her. I look forward to reading the sequel, In a Handful of Dust because Mindy McGinnis has me hooked to the characters and world she has so carefully created.