A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Ishmael Beah (Adult Biography)
Ishmael Beah is a typical 12-year old boy. He enjoys rap music, practicing his dance moves, and playing soccer with his friends. But on one January day in 1993, what he and his brother and friends don’t realize as they head to Mattru Jong for a talent show, as that they will never be returning to their village of Mogbwemo again.
War has come to Sierra Leone. The adults call it a revolutionary war—a liberation of the people from a corrupt government. But why do the liberators kill innocent people? Why do they pillage and burn down the villages? Ishmael and his friends soon find themselves wandering from village to village searching for food, struggling for survival, and keeping one step ahead of the rebels. When they are captured by the government army, they are given a choice: join and fight or die.
Beah’s personal account of his years as a child soldier is horrifying and unimaginable. In his book, he says that it was his father’s words that kept him moving despite his weariness: “If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die.”
It was hard reading Beah’s story and learning about his vile actions during war, his terrifying nightmares that made him fear sleep, and his addiction to marijuana and cocaine. Perhaps what is harder still is knowing that the practice of using children as soldiers in war still exists and remains rampant. But Beah gives us a story not just of tragedy, but of redemption and hope. When he is rescued by UNICEF and taken to a rehabilitation center, every day counselors and medical staff would say to him, “It’s not your fault.” After many months, the day finally came when he began to believe it. By forgiving himself, Ishmael Beah started to forge a new beginning for himself and began to share his incredible story with the world—a story that will hopefully bring awareness and change for the thousands of children still fighting in wars throughout the world.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
Laurie Halse Anderson (Young Adult Fiction)
It started with the sudden death of a young and healthy girl. Within a week, 64 more would die from yellow fever and the capital city of Philadelphia would be filled with the endless ringing of bells—one toll for every year the victim had lived.
In the summer of 1793, 14-year old Matilda Cook helps run her family’s coffeehouse, where folks idly gossip or talk politics. Lately, the conversations have turned to the fever: Is it a sign from God? A punishment for sinners? Did the refugees bring it with them? As death draws closer, she and her grandfather are forced to flee the city for the safety of the country. But Matlida soon discovers that death is not easily escaped.
Anderson gives us a compelling, gripping, and suspenseful account of one of the worst epidemics in the history of the United States. Wiping out 10% of Philadelphia’s population in under three months, the effects of the fever were devastating. Many fled the city to escape the carnage, but it was those who stayed and tended to the sick, as well as the dead, that were the true heroes.
You don’t have to be a fan of history to thoroughly enjoy this book. From the first page, the plot never slows and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat. It reminds us how even the direst of circumstances can often bring out the best in people and that both disease and heroism are not bound by either social status or race.
It’s Tween and Teen Tuesday where we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book.
Ben and Me
Robert Lawson (Juvenile Fiction)
Do you recall seeing portraits of Benjamin Franklin where he wore an old fur hat? Little did you know that inside that hat lived one very intelligent, outspoken, and opinionated mouse by the name of Amos. Amos was Franklin’s closest friend, adviser, and the one largely responsible for Franklin’s greatest innovations and achievements…regardless of what historians may have recorded.
Lawson writes with wit and charm and provides readers with whimsical drawings that give life to both Ben and Amos. From lightning rods to “Liberty Forever!”, young readers will get a glimpse into the greatness and brilliance of one of history’s most accomplished individuals. Of course, we need to temporarily overlook the flamboyant embellishments of one overly enthusiastic rodent, but when you do, you get a delightful story that is just the right length to hold a young reader’s attention while capturing the imagination. Throw in a revolution…or two…and you have a tale that is sure to delight and amuse.
Lloyd Alexander (Juvenile Fiction)
Did you ever wonder where cats go when you can’t find them? No matter how hard you look for them, they’ve simply disappeared only to reappear just as quickly. According to Lloyd Alexander, they travel back in time.
Meet Jason and his cat, Gareth. Like all cats, Gareth doesn’t have nine lives, but he can travel to nine different places in history. Alexander gives us a fun and fanciful story through time as we follow Jason and Gareth to places such as ancient Egypt, Rome, Japan, and Peru and meet many notable historical figures along the way. The book may be fantasy, but Alexander spent over a year in research to ensure historical accuracy. Each adventure is a standalone story that is short enough to hold a younger reader’s attention, while long enough to offer a nice glimpse into the history of that time.
Time Cat wonderfully reflects the bond that humans have with their animals and how—throughout the ages—people have relied on their pets for protection, comfort, and companionship. This book reinforces the value of friendship and loyalty, while it introduces young readers to the exciting world of history.