Saturday, April 30, 2016

Newbery Award Books Mini Reviews - March Reads

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom3.5 out of 5 Robots!

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle
Release: April 1, 2008
Hardcover: 169 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Reviewer: Shannon

Book Summary:
It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.

Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba.
(Courtesy of the Publisher)

Shannon's Thoughts:
Oooh, boy.  This is a tough book to review.  At face value, it is a very good book.  It is written from several different perspectives in prose.  It highlights Cuba's struggles for independence from a ground level.  It was very eye opening.  I have NO idea about this part of Cuba's history, especially the concentration camps.  I especially enjoyed that there were different narrators for each perspective.  That being said, this book is a hard read.  There is a lot of suffering and death.  It was hard for me to read as an adult.  I think it would be a bit much for 8-12 year olds.  I was thoroughly depressed after listening this book.


Heart of a Samurai4 out of 5 Robots!

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
Release: August 1, 2010
Hardcover: 305 Pages
Publisher: Henry N. Abrams
Reviewer: Shannon

Book Summary:
In 1841, a Japanese fishing vessel sinks. Its crew is forced to swim to a small, unknown island, where they are rescued by a passing American ship. Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations, so the crew sets off to America, learning English on the way.
Manjiro, a fourteen-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn everything he can about this new culture. Eventually the captain adopts Manjiro and takes him to his home in New England. The boy lives for some time in New England, and then heads to San Francisco to pan for gold. After many years, he makes it back to Japan, only to be imprisoned as an outsider. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro is in a unique position to persuade the shogun to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.

(Courtesy of the Publisher)

Shannon's Thoughts:
I liked this book and the narrator quite a bit.  It was interesting to see everything through Manjiro's eyes and to see how he ends up shaping Japanese history.  I didn't actually know Manjiro was a real person until after reading the book.  I also think this would interest boys who only like to read "boy" stories.  There is a lot of high seas adventure and what not.  The only thing I would make note of is that Manjiro spends a lot of time on a whaling ship and this story does not shy away from the brutal practice of whaling.  Manjiro has his reservations, but does participate.  The book is very matter of fact and doesn't take a side on it.  But, for anyone who is sensitive to animals being killed, I would be warned.


  1. Both of these books sound great from a historical point of view, but I am with you on the heavy hitting suffering and death as far as Middle Grade readers go. I might actually read The Surrender Tree because it is a fairly short story, and I also had no clue about that period of time in Cuba. Thanks for the reviews. :)

  2. Both sound like they might be tough on young readers but I'm going to suggest them to my nieces and nephew - they love books like this.

    Karen @For What It's Worth



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