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ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE

Annotated Bibliography

SECTION 1

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 is.


THE BIG WAVE
Pearl Buck
Harper Trophy, 1986 (HarperCollins, 1973)
57 pp

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.


KNEEKNOCK RISE
Natalie Babbitt
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970
118 pp

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
Trophy,1986 (HarperCollins,1982)
128 pp
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.


MORNING GIRL
Michael Dorris
Hyperion, 1994 (Hyperion Books for Children, 1992)
74 pp

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
Patricia MacLachlan
Harper & Row, 1985
58 pp

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



SKYLARK
Patricia Maclachlan
HarperCollins, 1994
87 pp

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 home.
This is the sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall.



TUCK EVERLASTING
Natalie Babbitt
Dell, 1987 (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1975)
160pp

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.

SECTION 2



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
Marina Budhos
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006
159 pp

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.



BARGAIN BRIDE
Evelyn Sibley Lampman
Atheneum, 1977
180 pp

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.



BOY (NF)
Roald Dahl
Puffin Books, 1986 (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux 1984)
176 pp

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.



THE BREADWINNER
Deborah Ellis
Douglas & McIntire, 2000
168 pp

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
Linda Crew
Dell, 1991 (Delacorte Press, 1989)
213 pp

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.



DRAGONWINGS
Laurence Yep
Harper Trophy, 1977 (HarperCollins, 1975)
248 pp

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 the characters.



EYE OF THE WOLF
Daniel Pennac
English translation by Sarah Adams
Candlewick Press, 2003 (Editions Nathan, 1982)
111 pp

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
Daniel Keyes
Creative Education,1987
60 pp

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)
Roald Dahl
Viking Penguin, 1988 (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986)
224 pp

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.



HATCHET
Gary Paulsen
Puffin Books, 1988 (Macmillan, 1987)
195 pp

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
Scott O'Dell
Dell 1987 (Houghton Mifflin, 1960)
181 pp

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 survival.
Newbery Medal winner



JOURNEY
Patricia MacLachlan
Dell Publishing, 1993 (Doubleday, 1991)
83 pp

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)
170 pp

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



LUPITA MANANA
Patricia Beatty
Beech Tree, 1992 (William Morrow, 1982)
186 pp

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.



NIGHTJOHN
Gary Paulsen
Dell, 1995 (Doubleday, 1993)
96 pp

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.



THE PEARL
John Steinbeck
Bantam Books, 1956 (Viking, 1947)
118 pp

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
Scott O'Dell
Dell, 1992 (Houghton Mifflin, 1970)
144 pp

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 main character.



SOUNDER
William Armstrong
HarperCollins, 1989 (Harper & Row, 1969)
136 pp

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 tells.
Newbery Medal winner



THE STAR FISHER
Laurence Yep
Puffin Books, 1992 (Morrow Junior Books, 1991)
160 pp

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
105 pp

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
Velma Wallis
HarperPerennial, 1994 (Epicenter Press, 1993)
136 pp

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 self-reliance.
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
Sharon Creech
Trophy, 1996 (HarperCollins, 1994)
288 pp

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

SECTION 3


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
C.S. Forester
Little, Brown & Co., 1984 (Queens House, 1935)
136 pp

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.



ALEUTIAN SPARROW
Karen Hesse
Simon & Schuster, 2006
153 pp

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 people feel.



ANIMAL FARM
George Orwell
Dutton, 1996 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1946)
114 pp

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.



THE AVIATOR
Ernest K. Gann
Arbor House, 1981
189 pp

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
Dai Sijie
Anchor Books, 2002
184 pp

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
Matt Whyman
HarperCollins, 2005
152 pp

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
Sue Grafton
Bantam, 1986 (Henry Holt and Company, 1986)
243 pp

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
Will Hobbs
HarperCollins, 2006
214 pp

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.



ELLEN FOSTER
Kaye Gibbons
Random House, 1990 (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1987)
144 pp

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)
145 pp

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
Elsa Marston
George Braziller, Inc., 2005
135 pp
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.



FIRST CROSSING
Donald R. Gallo, ed.
Candlewick Press, 2004
223 p
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
Margaret Craven
Laurel, 1980 (Doubleday, 1973)
159 pp

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
168 pp

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
Ann Turner
Scholastic Press, 2000
113 pp

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
Conrad Richter
Bantam, 1975 (Knopf, 1953)
117 pp

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
Gary Soto
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
62 pp

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
Dorothy Gilman
Fawcett, 1989 (Doubleday, 1988)
184 pp

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.



NIGHT (NF)
Elie Wiesel
Bantam Books, 1982 (Hill & Wang, 1960)
109 pp
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 deprivation.
In 1986,Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.



ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Signet, 1963 (E.P. Dutton, 1963)
158 pp
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
Tony Hillerman
HarperCollins, 1991 (Harper & Row, 1980)
282 pp

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 multicultural environment.



RICE WITHOUT RAIN
Minfong Ho
Lorthrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1990 (HB)
236 pp

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)
Gary Soto
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)
106 pp
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
Terry Trueman
HarperCollins, 2000
114 pp

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
Bette Greene
Dell, 1984 (Dial Press, 1973)
208 pp

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
Alan Paton
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 hierarchy.



WALKING ACROSS EGYPT
Clyde Edgerton
Ballantine Books, 1988 (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1987)
240 pp

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)
Esmeralda Santiago
Vintage, 1994 (Addison-Wesley, 1993)
270 pp

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
Wilson Rawls
Bantam Books, 1974 (Doubleday, 1961)
249 pp

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 bloody.



THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND
Elizabeth George Speare
Dell, 1993 (Houghton Miflin, 1958)
223 pp

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

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