These are the diverse books I’ve recently read along with brief thoughts on each and links to publishers’ and booksellers’ pages, in no particular order. All of these I wholeheartedly would recommend to middle and high school educators.
Authors: Caitlyn Alifirenka, Martin Ganda
Publisher: Little, Brown
Synopsis (from School Library Journal): “The true story of two young pen pals who forge a life-altering connection. In 1997, Caitlin, a typical 12-year-old girl from a middle class American family, began writing to Martin, a studious 14-year-old from a Zimbabwe slum. In her letters, Caitlin described her life, which consisted of shopping trips, quarrels with friends, and problems at school. Martin was initially far more circumspect in his responses. Inflation had rocketed in Zimbabwe, and even finding money for postage was a struggle for the boy. Staying in school, which required paying costly fees, became merely a dream. Eventually, Martin revealed the harsh realities of his life to Caitlin, who began sending money and gifts. What started as chatty letters turned into a lifeline for Martin and his family, as Caitlin and her parents helped the boy stay in school and achieve his goal of studying at an American university. This is a well-written, accessible story that will open Western adolescents’ eyes to life in developing countries. Told in the first person, with chapters alternating between Caitlin’s and Martin’s points of view, this title effectively conveys both of these young people’s perspectives.”
My Thoughts: I loved reading this. It was a quick read, probably most appropriate for a 7th-9th grade audience. I personally enjoyed that the setting starts when I was Caitlyn’s age, in the same year she was in 7th grade. But more than that, it was a beautiful and heartrending portrait of compassion, perseverance, faith and optimism, and courage. It showcases the best of people while not ignoring despair, fear, and desperation. My only objection is that there’s a tendency to read it as “the rich white girl saves the day,” but in a classroom setting, using guided discussion and other resources, it would be quite easy to steer this into, “Martin did so much more than what meets the eye, and he never gave up.” Lots of lessons to learn from this book.