The books in this section were chosen for readers who have little experience
reading in English for pleasure. The stories are not simple, but the language
THE BIG WAVE
Harper Trophy, 1986 (HarperCollins, 1973)
Kino, a young Japanese boy, enjoys a peaceful life on his family's hillside farm
until a natural disaster destroys the neighboring fishing village. With the help
of wise parents, Kino deals with primal fears and loss of innocence in this
unsentimental tribute to human resilience and the healing power of love.
Selective details of cuture and location enrich the setting without complicating
the story. There are scenes of violent death (albeit watched from a distance),
loss of loved ones, and mourning.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970
An adventurous boy visits a small town at the base of a mysterious hill. When he
climbs the forbidden hill, he discovers that a natural spring is the actual
source of the dreadful howling that thrills and terrifies the villagers. The
villagers reject his discovery, however, and the boy learns something of the
human need for mystery.
THE LAND I LOST, short stories (non-fiction)
Huynh Quang Nhuong
15 stories (3-11 pp each)
This Vietnamese author recalls his childhood in a small farming community
surrounded by mountains and jungle. Topics range from attending opera with his
grandmother to encounters with dangerous wild animals. Characters and setting
are consistent through the stories, and the culture is revealed rather than
explained, with cooperative effort strongly featured.
Hyperion, 1994 (Hyperion Books for Children, 1992)
Morning Girl, a twelve-year-old Native American, and her younger brother, Star
Boy, live in harmony with the natural world on a Bahama island in 1492. The main
conflicts are sibling rivalry and the social pains of growing up. This
re-creation of life in a tropical paradise ends on an ominous note with the
arrival of Europeans. The cultural values of a utopian society are revealed
through dialog and actions.
SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL
Harper & Row, 1985
Caleb and Anna have a comfortable life on a prairie farm with their father
Jacob, but they miss their mother, who died when Caleb was born. Then Sarah
arrives from Maine in answer to Jacob's newspaper ad for a wife. She teaches
them to swim, cuts their hair, and tells them stories. The children are
captivated by her and long for her to stay.
Newbery Medal winner
When a severe drought threatens the prairie home of Sarah and her new family,
she takes her step-children for an extended visit with her family in Maine while
husband Jacob stays behind to tend the farm and livestock. The children enjoy
Maine and their quirky new relatives, but they worry about losing their real
This is the sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall.
Dell, 1987 (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1975)
Winnie, a restless ten-year-old girl, longs to make a difference in the world.
She gets her chance when she meets the enchanting Tuck family and accidentally
discovers the hidden spring which is the source of their immortality. Crisis
arrives in the person of an unscrupulous man who wants to exploit the spring to
make his fortune. At issue is whether immortality is a gift or a burden.
If you have read and enjoyed a few of the books in the first section, you're
probably ready to move up to writing that is a little more sophisticated. Try
any one of these that looks interesting to you. Remember, if you don't like it,
there are lots more to choose from.
ASK ME NO QUESTIONS
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006
A Bangladeshi family have a comfortable life in New York, where the father works
as a janitor, a vendor, then a waiter, and the bright older daughter is applying
to colleges. Like so many others, they have overstayed their visas, which is a
casual offense before September 11, 2001. After that, however, their legal
status is suddenly critical, as the family seeks asylum in Canada and are turned
back, then to face an immigration nightmare.
Evelyn Sibley Lampman
Widowed at 15, a resourceful young pioneer woman copes with grasping relatives,
isolation, courtship, and racial bigotry in the early days of white settlement
in Oregon. Living conditions are primitive but not impoverished, and prejudice
against Native Americans is realistically portrayed. Conflicts are resolved
believably, i.e., imperfectly, and without violence.
Puffin Books, 1986 (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux 1984)
In this first installment of his two-part memoir (see Going Solo), Dahl
remembers his childhood in Wales, family holidays in Norway, and the terrors of
English boarding school (1923-36). In a series of stories arranged
chronologically, he describes childhood crimes and punishments, hair-raising
adventures with his family, and gruesome visits to the doctor.
Douglas & McIntire, 2000
When her father is imprisoned by the Taliban, a ten-year-old girl disguises
herself as a boy in order to work in a busy Kabul market to support her family.
In a situation familiar to families under duress, roles change, as, for example,
she provides the necessary male escort for her mother and older sister to walk
out into the city. Likeable, albeit believably flawed, characters animate these
scenes of life under a harshly repressive regime.
CHILDREN OF THE RIVER
Dell, 1991 (Delacorte Press, 1989)
A Cambodian teenager in Oregon is challenged to meet the sometimes contradictory
expectations of two cultures. Khmer and Western values are explored as the
characters grapple with issues that are common to refugee resettlement in a
strange country: changes in dependency roles and parental authority, societal
expectations, and unresolved guilt and anxiety about the past. While
interpersonal conflicts are managed peaceably, there are detailed references to
atrocities of war.
Harper Trophy, 1977 (HarperCollins, 1975)
A Chinese boy lives with his father among "white demons" in San Francisco,
1903-10. The father's dream of building a flying machine is deferred by family
needs and the1906 earthquake. It's a rough environment: the boy visits an opium
den to find his cousin, an addict, and there are violent confrontations among
EYE OF THE WOLF
English translation by Sarah Adams
Candlewick Press, 2003 (Editions Nathan, 1982)
An embittered wolf paces in his lonely cell in a zoo, refusing to acknowledge
his human captors or even eat their food. Then he notices a small boy who
watches him with such intensity that the wolf is eventually seduced into a
relationship that opens worlds for both of them. There is magic in the stories
they share, and regret and humor and forgiveness.
First published in France and translated into English in 2003.
FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON
A mentally retarded man has his IQ tripled in a medical experiment; however, the
change is temporary and the subsequent decline is rapid. As his intelligence
increases, Charlie becomes aware of how his handicap has been perceived by
others and is horrified by the prospect of losing his new powers. The narrator's
conflicts are internal. This sympathetic treatment of a mental disability raises
some thought-provoking issues, not the least being medical ethics.
GOING SOLO (NF)
Viking Penguin, 1988 (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986)
In this sequel to his memoir, Boy, the writer recalls going out to Africa from
his home in England as a young man in the late 1930's. As in the earlier book,
the organization is episodic, with each chapter advancing the chronology through
a fairly self-contained story, with consistent, albeit evolving, settings and
characters. Early episodes include encounters with mambas and lions; later
chapters follow his experiences as an RAF pilot, fighting the Germans in North
Africa and Greece. Native African characters are treated graciously though all
are servants or soldiers.
Puffin Books, 1988 (Macmillan, 1987)
Brian, a young teenager from the city, is the sole survivor of a plane crash in
the Canadian wilderness. He is frightened and lonely, and with a hatchet as his
only tool, his attempts to find shelter and food are difficult and
discouraging. At one point he attempts suicide. He eventually develops
rudimentary survival skills and tunes in to the natural environment, but it's a
desperate struggle. Gruesome details of the pilot's heart attack and the
horrific plane crash get the reader's attention right away.
ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS
Dell 1987 (Houghton Mifflin, 1960)
Twelve-year-old Karana's village abandons their island home, and she and her
little brother are left behind. The younger child is killed by wild dogs, and
she spends many years alone on the island, watching the sea for a rescue ship.
She builds shelter, explores the environment, hunts and gathers food, and
manages her terrible isolation by befriending animals. O'Dell based this
survival tale on a true story, with the obvious themes of physical and emotional
Newbery Medal winner
Dell Publishing, 1993 (Doubleday, 1991)
Eleven-year-old Journey and his sister are left by their mother to live with
loving grandparents on their farm, where their uneventful lives are complicated
by feelings of loss and abandonment. More poignant than painful, the main
conflict is Journey's struggle to understand and accept his mother's leaving.
The emphasis is on relationships rather than events; loyalty, forgiveness, and
acceptance are themes.
JULIE OF THE WOLVES
Jean Craighead George
Dell, 1986 (Harper & Row, 1972)
Miyax (whose English name is Julie) is a fourteen-year-old Native Alaskan.
Escaping a disasterous arranged marriage, she runs away and gets lost on the
barren North Slope with winter approaching. To survive, she depends on the
skills taught her by her father, a famous hunter, and befriends a pack of
wolves. As her confidence grows, so also does her ambivalence about her future.
She must choose between accepting an invitation to live in San Francisco or
staying in Alaska and trying to live according to the old ways, which are
rapidly disappearing. While survival is the focus of much of the story, the
fundamental issue is conflicting cultural values.
Newbery Medal winner
Beech Tree, 1992 (William Morrow, 1982)
When their father dies, Lupita and her brother Salvador must leave their home in
Mexico and go to the United States illegally to earn money for the family. After
a difficult and dangerous trip, they struggle to make lives for themselves in a
harsh new environment. It's a familiar story to many immigrants, with themes of
loyalty, sacrifice, and self-reliance. Afterward by Lucas Guttentag, ACLU.
Dell, 1995 (Doubleday, 1993)
Sarny is a slave girl, living in the children's quarters on the farm of a cruel
master. Her birth mother was sold when Sarney was four, and she is being raised
to become a breeder. The environment is brutally harsh -- slaves work from
before light till after dark and are fed twice a day in a wooden trough; light
is forbidden in the quarters; and infractions of the rules are punished swiftly
and viciously. Her life changes when the master buys a rebellious slave,
Nightjohn, who once escaped to freedom in the North but has returned to the
South to teach slaves to read.
Bantam Books, 1956 (Viking, 1947)
Kino is a simple Mexican fisherman who dreams of finding a magnificent pearl so
that he can buy shoes for his wife and an education for his infant son. When he
finds the treasure, however, he loses the most valuable things in his life,
including his innocence.
SING DOWN THE MOON
Dell, 1992 (Houghton Mifflin, 1970)
In the 1860's, Spanish slavers kidnap a young Navaho woman, who escapes and
returns to her people in Canyon de Chelly, now northeast Arizona. Then white
soldiers destroy their crops and homes and force the relocation of all Navaho to
Fort Sumner, 300 miles away, in what we now know as The Long Walk. In this
historically accurate depiction of the genocidal policies of the white
government, the horror is mitigated by the focus on a determined and resourceful
HarperCollins, 1989 (Harper & Row, 1969)
A boy grows up in poverty and isolation in the rural South. The oldest child in
an African-American sharecropping family, his already difficult world is
shattered when his father is arrested and imprisoned for stealing food. As he
travels throughout the state in a fruitless search for his father's prison camp,
the boy struggles for physical and emotional survival. It's grim, with open
hostility between races, brutal treatment of prisoners, the death of the father,
and bloody revenge fantasies, though finally he meets a kind schoolteacher who
offers some hope for a richer life. This is a much harsher story than the movie
Newbery Medal winner
THE STAR FISHER
Puffin Books, 1992 (Morrow Junior Books, 1991)
Joan Lee is fifteen when her family moves to a small town in Ohio in 1927. As
the eldest child, Joan is expected to tend her younger brother and sister and
also to function as intermediary between her Chinese-speaking parents and the
community. This task is complicated by the unwelcoming and sometimes openly
hostile attitude of the hitherto homogeneous community. Their landlady, a
retired schoolteacher, helps Joan and her family resolve their conflicts and
join the community. Conflicted loyalty and incompatible cultural values bring up
larger issues of pride and family and community interdependence.
Yep based this novel on stories from his own family.
SING FOR YOUR FATHER, SU PHAN
Stella Pevsner & Fay Tang
Clarion Books, 1997
This is a fictionalized account of the true story of a prosperous Vietnamese
family that is targeted by their own government in the north for seeming to
reject communism. While everyone in their village suffers hardships during the
war, Su Phan's family has the added burden of being identified as enemies of the
state. Their survival is testimony to the power of love and loyalty.
Su Phan, who has changed her name to Fay, co-wrote her story with her American
teacher. The vocabulary and syntax are very simple, though the situations are
familiar and the interactions among the characters are complex.
TWO OLD WOMEN
HarperPerennial, 1994 (Epicenter Press, 1993)
In this recording of an Athabaskan legend, two complaining old women are
abandoned by their starving nomadic tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though
they have contributed little to their people in recent years, the two recall the
traditional hunting skills practiced in their youth and determine that if they
are going to die anyway, they will "die trying." After a painful journey to an
old summer camp, they gradually recover their strength and rediscover
The writer is an Athabaskan who has lived off the land, keeping the traditions
of her forebears. She heard this story from her mother.
WALK TWO MOONS
Trophy, 1996 (HarperCollins, 1994)
Salamanca Tree Hiddle, thirteen, recounts her six-day trip across the United
States with her sweet but eccentric grandparents. As they retrace her mother's
final journey from their Kentucky home to Idaho, Sal entertains her grandparents
with the story of Phoebe, her friend whose mother also left her family. While
the story is enlivened by Phoebe's wild imagination to include murder and
kidnapping, the telling brings Sal new understanding of her mother's leaving.
Newbery Medal winner
If you feel comfortable reading in English, you may find something of interest
in this section. Most of these books were written for adults, so the writer
assumes that you know a lot of words and that you don't mind occasionally seeing
words that you don't know. Experienced readers will usually continue reading
even when they don't understand everything. The big payoff here is that these
stories are more complex and deal with adult themes.
THE AFRICAN QUEEN
Little, Brown & Co., 1984 (Queens House, 1935)
Rose Sayer, a dried-up English spinster at thirty-three, is alone at the remote
outpost on the banks of the Ulanga River in German Central Africa where she and
her brother have worked as missionaries for ten years. When World War I began,
German soldiers destroyed the mission and her brother died. Rose is rescued by a
cockney river trader, Charlie, and together they set out on the decrepit African
Queen to "strike a blow for England." Rose takes the helm, both literally and
figuratively. Africa provides the setting for their adventure with river rapids,
swamps, and leeches, though scant notice of native people or culture.
Simon & Schuster, 2006
The United States government moves native Aleutian Islanders 1,000 miles inland,
ostensibly out of harm's way, when Japan threatens to invade this westernmost
point in North America during World War II. A teenage girl describes the
privation and homesickness that define their three-year internment. It's a
familiar story of refugee displacement, relieved, though, by her wit, about the
tortures of youthful courtship as well as the all too human natures of the
adults she can no longer depend on. As one might anticipate, a strong sense of
place prevails, but it is in aid of the sense of alienation these independent
Dutton, 1996 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1946)
The animals take over the farm in this classic story of failed revolution. After
ousting the unsympathetic Farmer Jones, the animals establish an equal society,
complete with Commandments, committees, and a retirement plan. In the end,
however, they are undone by their familiar human failings -- horses are dumb,
dogs are vicious, and pigs are greedy.
Ernest K. Gann
Arbor House, 1981
Jerry is a skillful pilot and a loner, haunted by memories of an accident in
which his student was killed and his face was disfigured. Now (1928) flying the
mails on a hazardous route in the mountainous Northwest, he is forced to crash
land in a remote area and his passenger, an eleven-year-old girl, is seriously
injured. He is frantic, angry, and despairing, but in the struggle to survive,
he forms a bond with the girl and recovers self-esteem.
BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS
Anchor Books, 2002
Two young men, sons of medical professionals, are sent to a remote village for
re-education during Mao's Cultural Revolution. They survive in primative
conditions and perform dirty, back-breaking labor at the mercy of suspicious
farmers. It's awful. By accident they discover a cache of forbidden books, and
their illicit reading gives them a wider screen to interpret and understand
their own budding physical and intellectual maturity.
BOY KILLS MAN
A pair of twelve-year-old soccer fans, growing up in the slums of Medellin,
attract the attention of a drug dealer when they inadvertantly interrupt a
robbery and one of them beats the robber to death with a baseball bat. The
gangster hires the boys, and they become his assassins, with heart-breaking
consequences for them both. One of these young killers, a surprisingly likeable
boy, narrates their harrowing story, with sophisticated vocabulary and powerful
emotion. It's a real train wreck. Good though.
"C" IS FOR CORPSE
Bantam, 1986 (Henry Holt and Company, 1986)
Kinsey Millhone is a private detective in a small southern California coastal
town. Her personal style includes jogging, junkfood (often with white wine), and
an acute, albeit irreverent, understanding of human nature. She is hired by a
wealthy young man who believes someone is trying to kill him. When he dies in a
suspicious automobile accident, her sharp eye for the personal quirks that
animate the characters she meets leads to the solution of the crime. An
unrelated subplot has Kinsey's dapper eighty-something landlord falling for the
charms of a giddy but hard-eyed new neighbor.
CROSSING THE WIRE
After the death of his father, a young man travels to El Norte from his home and
family in a small Mexican village. The story is in the details: staying warm and
staying cool in a zooming-temperature desert environment, finding food and water
when hollow and parched, surprising friendships, cruel exploitation. The author
recreates the crowded underworld scene of illegal immigration, an industry in
its own right, and this boy puts a human face on it.
Random House, 1990 (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1987)
Eleven-year-old Ellen narrates the story of her search for a home after her
mother dies and she is left in the care of her alcoholic, abusive father. Ellen
intersperses this chronology of disasterous placements with relatives with
descriptions of her present situation in a foster home, contrasting the grim
facts of neglect and abuse with the orderly comfort she finds in the care of her
"new mama." Throughout this oddessy, Ellen develops a picture of what a family
should be by studying the only functional families she can find, poor
African-American farm laborers. Her determination to have what she needs makes
the story compelling and often funny.
FAREWELL TO MANZANAR (NF)
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston
Bantam, 1974 (Houghton Mifflin, 1973)
A Japanese-American child's world implodes when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor
and she and her family are sent to an internment camp in the California desert.
She recalls in detail their arrival at the camp -- the stark, crowded barracks;
the filthy public latrines; and their first meal, Vienna sausages with canned
apricots over rice. The organization of the camp, with arbitrary housing
assignments and mess hall meals, ignores cultural and family traditions and is
destructive to both. The internees struggle to make a home in this alien
landscape, planting gardens and celebrating obon.
FIGS AND FATE
George Braziller, Inc., 2005
5 stories (16-30 pp each)
In each of these stories, a young person meets a personal turning point in
growing up in the modern Arab world. Though their situations are unremarkable,
the stories are both complicated and enriched by cultural expectations as well
as the emotions of the adolescent protagonists.
Donald R. Gallo, ed.
Candlewick Press, 2004
10 stories (13-33 pp each)
This collection of stories about young immigrants to the United States has some
common and familiar elements, e.g., negotiating an alien culture, operating in a
new and unwieldy language, and coping with the loss of friends and family.
However, in each of these stories, the main characters are teenagers, with their
own common issues around loyalty, identity, and independence. In addition, each
story is followed by a 2-3 page biography of the writer, some immigrants
themselves, all well-respected authors.
I HEARD THE OWL CALL MY NAME
Laurel, 1980 (Doubleday, 1973)
A young vicar, Mark Brian, is sent to minister to the spiritual needs of an
isolated community of Native Americans in British Columbia in the 1960's. He
approaches his task quietly and respectfully, and before long he has developed a
warm relationship with his parishioners, many of whom fear that they are losing
their children, and therefore their survival as a culture, to the lure of the
cities to the south. Complex characters and culture are revealed in their
actions and interactions.
THE JOURNAL OF PATRICK SEAMUS FLAHERTY, USMC
Eleanor Emerson White
Scholastic Inc., 2002
These journal entries from December, 1967 to April, 1968 describe an idealistic
young Marine's deployment in Khe Sahn, Vietnam. It's the familiar path from
innocence to experience, but the usual elements of war stories, e.g., macho
posturing, grisly battle scenes, and stock characters, are kept fresh by the
unblinking honesty of the protagonist. He could be a young soldier in any war,
but this one has particular resonance for so many of our students.
LEARNING TO SWIM
Scholastic Press, 2000
A young girl endures a summer of sexual abuse by a neighbor, cowed into silence
by his threats of further violence should she tell. She describes her fear and
pain, and her healing, with affecting immediacy in a series of short narrative
poems. This is a hard topic and the images are creepy, but the narrator's voice
is strong and honest.
THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST
Bantam, 1975 (Knopf, 1953)
True Son was four when he was kidnapped by Indians and adopted into a loving
family. He doesn't remember life as a white child, but at fifteen he is returned
to his biological parents in colonial Pennsylvania. The whites and their ways
are repellent to him, and his difficulty adjusting to his new environment is
exacerbated by mutual rigidity and mistrust. After he escapes and rejoins his
Indian family, however, he discovers that he has developed a certain sympathy
for the whites, which ultimately isolates him from his chosen people.
LIVING UP THE STREET
Dell, 1992 (Strawberry Hill Press, 1985)
176 pp (21 stories, 2-12 pp each)
Poet Soto remembers growing up Mexican-American and poor in Fresno in a series
of stories, roughly chronological, tracking his development from mean little kid
to thoughtful adult. In detailing such events as picking grapes (to earn money
for school clothes) and trying to set the house on fire (for entertainment), the
writer effectively recreates a child's perspective and the social and moral
complexity of a child's world. An overall theme of emerging conscience develops
as the casual brutality of the early thrill-seeker is gradually replaced by more
thoughtful consideration of individual choices and one's place in the world.
MAKING UP MEGABOY
Virginia Walter & Katrina Roeckelein
DK Ink, 1998
A thirteen-year-old boy shoots and kills an elderly immigrant shopkeeper in a
small American town. The story unfolds in a series of single-page commentaries
by the widow, the boy's parents and classmates, and the local townspeople.
Though the events of the crime don't change over the course of the narrative, a
chilling picture of the young killer's life develops until, in the end, we can
infer a twisted motive for this senseless crime.
MRS. POLLIFAX AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE
Fawcett, 1989 (Doubleday, 1988)
A respectable grandmother and undercover government agent, Emily Pollifax agrees
to run an errand for the CIA while vacationing in Thailand with her new husband
Cyrus. What follows is murder, kidnapping, and a desperate trek through the
jungle, with a restrained depiction of the requisite violence and a benign view
of the CIA. Generally, the Thai people and culture are treated with respect,
though slighting references to the Thai government and military are common.
Bantam Books, 1982 (Hill & Wang, 1960)
Originally published in French by Les Editions de Minuit, 1958
The author recounts in horrifying detail his experiences as a Jewish adolescent
in the Nazi Holocaust. In the beginning his parents and neighbors discounted the
rumors of Nazi atrocities; even when they were moved into ghettos, they resisted
acknowledging the possibility that it could get worse. Wiesel describes losing
his family and his faith in nightmarish scenes of torture, murder, and terrible
In 1986,Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH
Signet, 1963 (E.P. Dutton, 1963)
Translated from the Russian by Ralph Parker
First published in the U.S.S.R. in the magazine Novy Mir, 1962
This expose of the Soviet gulag follows prisoner Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, in the
eighth year of a ten-year sentence, through one day in a Siberian labor camp. In
a dehumanizing environment where food is measured in ounces and staying alive
requires excruciating attention to detail, Shukhov barters for an extra helping
of soup, cadges tobacco for a smoke, takes pride in building a wall, and shares
a precious morsel of bread. While he is neither clever nor gifted in any
apparent way, Shukhov's determinaton to survive is compelling.
This is Solzhenitsyn's first published work; he won the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1970.
PEOPLE OF DARKNESS
HarperCollins, 1991 (Harper & Row, 1980)
Officer Jim Chee of the Navaho Tribal Police is offered $3,000 to recover a
stolen box of mementos, and while he turns down the commission, he does pursue
the case, uncovering a series of murders that involve uranium mining, a
psychotic hitman, and suspicions of witchcraft. Chee uses his understanding of
Native American cultures and mainstream white culture to solve the puzzle, and
in the process sorts through personal conflicts about his own identity in a
RICE WITHOUT RAIN
Lorthrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1990 (HB)
Jinda lives with her family in a farming village in northeast Thailand. The rice
crop is decimated by drought, and at the urging of a group of idealistic young
college students who are visiting the village, her father challenges the
traditional exorbitant rent and is arrested. Jinda is fascinated by these
sophisticated Communist social reformers and joins them in Bangkok to push for
her father's release from prison.
This story is based on the author's experiences during the student-led social
reform movement in Thailand in the 1970's and is supported by a Foreward
describing the political climate in Thailand at that time.
SMALL FACES (NF)
Arte Publico, 1986
126 pp (31 essays, 3-6 pp each)
In this essay collection, poet Soto uses people and events in his own life to
explore love, fidelity, fatherhood, poverty, and fate. In pieces that celebrate
the richness of his life, the tone is astonishment rather than
self-congratulation, and throughout the collection runs a strong current of
respect, even awe, for human dignity.
THE STORY OF A SHIPWRECKED SAILOR
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Translated by Randolph Hogan
Random House, 1989 (Knopf, 1986)
First published in book form in Spain as RELATO DE UN NAUFRAGO,1970
A Colombian sailor is swept overboard in the Caribbean and survives ten days in
a raft without food or water. This is a real emotional roller-coaster, with
sharks, hallucinations, and rough seas to keep the reader awake.
This was originally a newspaper story, written by Garcia Marquez in 1955 when he
was reporting for a daily newspaper in Bogota. He received the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1982
STUCK IN NEUTRAL
The fourteen-year-old narrator has typical interests and yearnings for a boy his
age, and an extraordinary capacity to remember even slight details. He also has
cerebral palsy, and cannot speak or control his body to communicate, so no one
in his loving family knows about his rich inner life. Wry and funny at the same
time that it is nightmarishly sad, the story leads to consideration of quality
of life issues as well as the terrific impact caring for a child with special
needs has on a family.
SUMMER OF MY GERMAN SOLDIER
Dell, 1984 (Dial Press, 1973)
Twelve-year-old Patty shelters an escaped German POW in WW II Arkansas. The
family housekeeper helps her but cannot protect her from her abusive parents.
TALES FROM A TROUBLED LAND
Simon & Schuster, 1996 (Charles Schribner's Sons, 1961)
120 pp (10 stories, 4-26 pp each)
All of these stories are set in South Africa during the apartheid era. While
racial tension is not the focus of every story, it is a consistent feature of
the landscape. The stories are spare, at times a single scene revealing a
character or illustrating an aspect of the culture, sometimes with humor and
frequently with irony.
Though apartheid has ended in South Africa, Paton's stories remain timely, as
they deal with characters negotiating relationships in a complex social
WALKING ACROSS EGYPT
Ballantine Books, 1988 (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1987)
At home in Lister, North Carolina, Mattie Rigsbee is seventy-eight and claims to
be slowing down, though she raises a garden, mows her own yard, and cooks three
square meals a day. She is sustained by her Southern Baptist faith, and the
story revolves around her efforts to follow a Biblical teaching to minister to
"the least of these my brethren." As she interacts with a stray dog on her back
stoop, the dogcatcher, the dogcatcher's delinquent nephew, gun-toting neighbors,
a snuff-dipping sister, and more, we see that hers is a ministry of hearty
Southern cooking and plainspoken advice.
WHEN I WAS PUERTO RICAN (NF)
Vintage, 1994 (Addison-Wesley, 1993)
This is an autobiographical account of the author's childhood in Puerto Rico and
later New York City. As the eldest of many (eventually eleven) children,
Esmeralda has a care-taker role in her struggling family. Compounding the
deprivations of poverty, her parents' stormy relationship keeps the family in
upheaval, separating and reuniting in unpredictable jolts. An extended family is
in place, though their involvement is not always productive. The undiminished
spirit of this remarkably perceptive child provides a theme.
WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS
Bantam Books, 1974 (Doubleday, 1961)
Billy is growing up on a poor farm in the Ozarks. He has a good life, but he
longs for hunting dogs of his own so that he can coon hunt. He finally gets his
dogs, and he goes hunting nearly every night, carrying a lantern and an axe,
running through the woods behind his baying hounds. His extraordinary bond with
his dogs is the heart of the story. Lots and lots of hunting scenes, some quite
THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND
Elizabeth George Speare
Dell, 1993 (Houghton Miflin, 1958)
When her indulgent grandfather dies, Kit, fifteen, must leave her home in
Barbados to live with relatives in Connecticut,1687. She brings seven trunks of
bonnets and silk dresses and the values of a colonial plantation society to this
remote Puritan outpost, and her disappointment, as well as her hosts' dismay,
are immediate and overwhelming. She immediately stirs up trouble by befriending
an abused child and an elderly woman suspected of witchcraft and disrupting the
local courtship scene.
Newbery Medal winner