Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Mod. 6)

does my head look big in this

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Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big In This. Orchard Books: New York, 2005. ISBN 9780439919470

Plot Summary:

Amal is an Australian-Palestinian girl living in the suburb of Melbourne. She has decided to make the most important decision of her life: to wear the hijab full time. Attending a snobby prep school, Amal is uncertain of what lies ahead. The story takes place after 9/11 when tension between Muslims and the rest of the world are high. Can Amal navigate the rough waters of school, friends, family, and faith? Will her strength in her beliefs be resolute and unshakeable when she’s faced with adversity because of her decision?

Critical Analysis:

This was a wonderful book. I really enjoyed it. The story about this young woman is so compelling. The very informal and conversational tone to the book pulls you into it, and into the character’s mind.

Amal has made the decision to wear the hijab full time. I’m really glad I read this book, because it’s important to understand that for most women, wearing the hijab, or any other form of head covering by any other religion, is a personal decision, and it’s usually one that comes with a lot of thought and care.

“I’m terrified. But at the same time I feel like my passion and conviction in Islam are busting inside me and I want to prove to myself that i”m strong enough to wear a badge of my faith.” (pg. 7)

“The veil, dear.” Her voice is annoyingly phony. “So you’ve been made to wear it from today?”
“Nobody has made me wear it, Mrs. Walsh. It’s my decision.” I shift in the chair, my butt numb from the hard wood.
“Your decision to cover yourself up?” she asks with the faintest hint of skepticism.
I look at her with a bewildered expression. “Yes, it was my decision.” (pg. 39)

This book does a wonderful job of showing Amal as a “normal” girl, while still addressing some of the cultural issues that some Muslims face. Her friend, Leila, for example, is pressured by her mother to get married, even though she is still a teen. This has nothing to do with religion dictation, but rather cultural or societal expectations.

“It depends on what you mean by religious,” Leila answers. “Mom’s following her own customs more than Islam. She doesn’t really have an in-depth understanding about the religion, you know? Whereas my relatives in Turkey are all educated about Islam. The girls pray and some of them wear the veil and they go to university and work, because they know that it’s their right to do that in Islam. Mom’s more into following social customs.” (Pg. 151-152)

This book takes place 1 year after 9/11 and does a great job of showing racism of others in the heat of the anti-Muslim hysteria and how Muslims themselves felt, watching their religion being warped and twisted by people who don’t even understand the religion.

“Terrorists bombed a nightclub in Bali on Saturday. It’s horrific.”
It’s like a sandpit in my throat.
Ms. Walsh’s voice booms over us: “I know how distressed you’ll all be about the weekend bombings in Bali. please make sure to talk to your teachers and the school counselor if you need to. I’m sure you’ll all have the chance to share your feeling and emotions in class.”
It’s agonizing. I can’t feel only grief. Or horror. Or anger. It’s too mixed up. Incongruous, disjointed, and completely insane thoughts flash through my mind. Mom and Dad wanting to book a trip there for their anniversary. What song was playing when the bomb went off? Were there honeymooners? Oh my God, how could honeymooners be killed like that? Did the bombers watch as their inferno turned human life into carcasses? Was I going to be incriminated for their crimes? Was I going to be allowed to share in my country’s mourning or would I be blamed? ” (pg. 249-250)

Amal learns a lot about herself and her faith in this compelling novel. I highly recommend it!


Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal:

“Australian 11th-grader Amal is smart, funny, outspoken, a good student, and a loyal friend. She is also a devout Muslim who decides to wear the hijab, or head covering, full-time. The story tells of her emotional and spiritual journey as she copes with a mad crush on a boy, befriends an elderly Greek neighbor, and tries to help a friend who aspires to be a lawyer but whose well-intentioned mother is trying to force her to leave school and get married. Amal is also battling the misconceptions of non-Muslims about her religion and culture. While the novel deals with a number of serious issues, it is extremely funny and entertaining, and never preachy or forced. The details of Amal’s family and social life are spot-on, and the book is wonderful at showing the diversity within Muslim communities and in explaining why so many women choose to wear the hijab. Amal is an appealing and believable character. She trades verbal jibes with another girl, she is impetuous and even arrogant at times, and she makes some serious errors of judgment. And by the end of the story, she and readers come to realize that ‘Putting on the hijab isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning of it.'”

From Booklist:

“Like the author of this breakthrough debut novel, Amal is an Australian-born, Muslim Palestinian “whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens.” At 16, she loves shopping, watches Sex and the City, and IMs her friends about her crush on a classmate. She also wants to wear the hijab, to be strong enough to show a badge of her deeply held faith, even if she confronts insults from some at her snotty prep school, and she is refused a part-time job in the food court (she is “not hygienic”). Her open-minded observant physician parents support her and so do her friends, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular. Her favorite teacher finds her a private space to pray. The first-person present-tense narrative is hilarious about the diversity, and sometimes heartbreaking. For her uncle who wants to assimilate, “foreign” is the f-word, and his overdone Aussie slang and flag-waving is a total embarrassment. On the other hand, her friend Leila nearly breaks down when her ignorant Turkish mom wants only to marry her daughter off (“Why study?”) and does not know that it is Leila’s Islamic duty “to seek knowledge, to gain an education.” Without heavy preaching, the issues of faith and culture are part of the story, from fasting at Ramadan to refusing sex before marriage. More than the usual story of the immigrant teen’s conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere. Rochman, Hazel –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.”

From Kirkus Review:

“Determined to prove she’s strong enough to ‘wear a badge of my faith,’ Amal faces ostracism and ridicule as she dons her hijab with both good humor and trepidation. . . . Abdel-Fattah’s fine first novel offers a world of insight to post-9/11 readers.”


Books by Fattah:

Ten Things I Hate About Me ISBN: 9780439943710

Where the Streets Had a Name ISBN: 9780330424202

When Michael Met Mina ISBN: 9781743534977

Books Written by Muslim Women:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi ISBN: 9780375714832

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai ISBN:  9780316322409

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi ISBN: 9780062085481

Discussion Topic: What other faiths use outward symbols of religion and a commitment made to God? Do these other faiths differ from Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab?


The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin Mod. 5


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Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: New York, 2007. ISBN 9780316060028.

Plot Summary:

Pacy Lin is excited for the new year, the Year of the Dog, where she is supposed to find wealthy and strengthen relationships. This funny book is about a young Taiwanese-American girl who is discovering who she is and fostering her relationships with her parents, her friends, her sisters, and her cultural identity.

Critical Analysis:

I thought this was a very good book. It is well written, especially for children transitioning from early readers to middle grade. The language is simplistic and easy to follow, yet descriptive and well written enough to keep their attention and increase their imagination.

The story is one that will most especially resonate with children from immigrant families. The cross between cultures, and feeling as though there are two parts of you, or more.

“But I’m not really Chinese either. It’s kind of confusing. My parents came from Taiwan. Some people thought Taiwan was part of China. So then calling me Chinese was kind of correct. Other people thought Taiwan was a country all by itself, so then I should be called Taiwanese. It didn’t help that my parents spoke both Chinese and Taiwanese. ‘So when people ask me what I am, what am I supposed to tell them?” I once asked Mom. “You tell them that you’re American,” Mom told me firmly. But my friend didn’t call me Chinese, Taiwanese, or American. They called me Grace, my American name.”  pg. 18 & 19

The focus on culture is really well done. The story centers around the Chinese new year, being the year of the dog, it indicates celebrating friends and family and self discovery.

“‘Yes,’ Lissy told me, nodding her head so hard that her black hair swung back and forth. Lissy always thought she knew everything. ‘You know how they say a dog is a man’s best friend? Well, in the Year of the Dog you find your best friends.” pg. 2

The sense of community is also very present in this book.

“What’s TAC camp?” I asked. 
“Oh, it’s a camp for Taiwanese-Americans. We all get together and do things,” she told me. “We go every summer. We spend a week there and then we go see my Aunt Alice the next week.” 
“That sounds boring,” I said. 
“No, it’s fun!” Melody said. “We sing songs and go to art class- all the usual fun camp things, except everyone is Taiwanese. Maybe you should come!” pg. 90 & 91

It also brings to light challenges our young kids have to face, like friendship and relations between parents and siblings. Even extended family.

The book is dotted with cute little black and white drawings and the who layout of the book is good. Several stories that were told by herself or family members interrupt the narrative.

This is a great middle grade book that kids will love.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“A lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist. Readers follow Grace, an American girl of Taiwanese heritage, through the course of one year–The Year of the Dog–as she struggles to integrate her two cultures. Throughout the story, her parents share their own experiences that parallel events in her life. These stories serve a dual purpose; they draw attention to Graces cultural background and allow her to make informed decisions. She and her two sisters are the only Taiwanese-American children at school until Melody arrives. The girls become friends and their common backgrounds illuminate further differences between the American and Taiwanese cultures. At the end of the year, the protagonist has grown substantially. Small, captioned, childlike black-and-white drawings are dotted throughout. This is an enjoyable chapter book with easily identifiable characters.”

From Booklist:

“When Lin was a girl, she loved the Betsy books by Carolyn Hayward, a series about a quintessentially American girl whose days centered around friends and school. But Lin, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, didn’t see herself in the pages. Now she has written the book she wished she had as a child. Told in a simple, direct voice, her story follows young Grace through the Year of the Dog, one that Grace hopes will prove lucky for her. And what a year it is! Grace meets a new friend, another Asian girl, and together they enter a science fair, share a crush on the same boy, and enjoy special aspects of their heritage (food!). Grace even wins fourth place in a national book-writing contest and finds her true purpose in life. Lin, who is known for her picture books, dots the text with charming ink drawings, some priceless, such as one picturing Grace dressed as a munchkin. Most of the chapters are bolstered by anecdotes from Grace’s parents, which connect Grace (and the reader) to her Taiwanese heritage. Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today’s young readers.”

From Kirkus Review:

“This comfortable first-person story will be a treat for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life.”



Other books by Grace Lin:

Dumpling Days ISBN: 9780316125895

Dim Sum for Everyone ISBN: 9780385754880

The Ugly Vegetables ISBN: 9781570914911

Similar books:

Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look ISBN 9781416913894

Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet S. Wong ISBN 9780152057084

The Dragon’s Child: A Story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep ISBN 9780060276928

Connective Activity:

Find out what the animal is for the year you were born. What is the characteristic for that year?


Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (Mod. 3)


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Medina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Candlewick Press: New York, 2014. ISBN 978-0763671648.

Plot Summary:

Piddy Sanchez is told that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t know who Yaqui is. As she continues to face harassment at school, all while balancing good grades and a job, she tries to figure out how to survive. As the harassment continues, it starts to take over her life, and she’s not sure how she’ll survive.

Critical Analysis:

This book was wonderful! Pura Belpre winning novels tend to be spectacular, and this one is no exception. The novel is wonderfully written. The characters, even the background characters we hardly see, are very well developed. The book flows well and keeps up a nice pace. I didn’t fly through it, but I didn’t feel like it was dragging either.

This book is more culturally specific than other books I’ve read. It included a lot with the characters. Latino culture was completely immersed in the book, which made me happy.

This is your basic coming of age novel, but with a Latin flair. The Spanish used in the book is wonderful. Just enough to give it a good taste. The context clues worked well enough for you to know what the words mean if you don’t speak Spanish.

I think the portrayal of the Latinx community in this book was spot on.

Piddy moves to a new school where she seems to be immediately hated, and starts receiving harassment. Between that and her ever straining relationship with her mom and best friend, she struggles to figure out who she is.

The struggle our main character goes through is one millions of kids all around the world go through. Figuring out sexuality, who you are as a person, parental relationships, and bullying are all topics we are very familiar with. This makes for a character everyone can relate to.

This was a very good book about growing up and becoming yourself, and I highly recommend it.


Review Excerpts:

From Booklist

“Medina authentically portrays the emotional rigors of bullying through Piddy’s growing sense of claustrophobic dread, and even with no shortage of loving, supportive adults on her side, there’s no easy solution. With issues of ethnic identity, class conflict, body image, and domestic violence, this could have been an overstuffed problem novel; instead, it transcends with heartfelt, truthful writing that treats the complicated roots of bullying with respect.”

From Kirkus Review

“A nuanced, heart-wrenching and ultimately empowering story about bullying….Interweaving themes of identity, escapism and body image, Medina takes what could be a didactic morality tale and spins it into something beautiful: a story rich in depth and heart…Far more than just a problem novel, this book sheds light on a serious issue without ever losing sight of its craft.”

From School Library Journal

“The Latino cultural milieu adds a richness and texture that lifts this up above many problem novels. The plot points are dexterously intertwined, and the characters are distinct. A real bonus for those looking for a bullying book for older readers that is not simplistic.”


Other books by Meg Medina:

Burn Baby Burn ISBN 978-1511371872

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind ISBN 978-0763664190

Mango, Abuela, and  Me ISBN 978-0763669003

Books with Latino Characters:

So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez ISBN: 9781416911890

More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera ISBN: 9781616955601

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano ISBN:9780545325059

Journal Entry:

What’s been your biggest trial so far in your life? Have you overcome it, or are you still facing it? How did you beat it, or how do you plan to?

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson Mod. 2


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Woodson, Jacqueline. Feathers. G.P. Putnam’s Sons: New York, 2007. ISBN 9780399239892

Plot Summary: 

Set in the 70s, this story is about a young black girl and her journey through a new year. Her mother is pregnant, a new boy moves into class, and the winter provides to be her most confusing, yet enlightening winter. She starts to see skin color, age, and deafness in a new light.

Critical Analysis:

I thought this was a very thought provoking book. While it’s not splendidly written (with several tense changes and simple sentences that seem patronizing as examples), it does make the reader think and brings the reader into the life of this young girl.

Frannie reads a poem by Emily Dickinson. The lines resonate with her so much that she constantly thinks about it and the meaning and applying it to her life.

“Hope is the thing with feathers…” -Emily Dickinson

Such is the power of poetry.

And as all young teens do, she spends a lot of time thinking about her life. Her brother, Sean, is deaf. They get along really well and spend a lot of time talking and messing around. You can see in the writing how much they love each other.

Her mother, who is older, is pregnant.

And to top it all off, a new white boy, “Jesus Boy” has moved in from the “other side of the highway” and is in her class at their African American school.

Trevor turned to the boy and whispered, “Don’t no pale-faces go to this school. You need to get your white butt back across the highway.” (pg. 4)

The town they live in is segregated. One side of the highway is for white people, the other for African Americans. In the book, the characters seem to be okay with this. Only Frannie’s brother, Sean, mentions wanting to cross to the other side.

Why would we want to cross the highway, anyway? I asked Sean. What would we want to see?” (pg. 16)

A shocking feature of this book is the racism towards “Jesus Boy.” He’s pale skinned and from “the other side” so he’s a target for bullying immediately. The bullying doesn’t get better when they find out that he’s actually mixed. In fact, it isn’t until “Jesus Boy” knocks the biggest bully down that the bullying dies down. After that, others start to leave him alone. Our main character, Frannie, seems confused as to how he’s not black when his dad is, and why that merits continuing bullying. Others seem content to still call him “white.”

Another cultural marker in this book is the dialogue between Sean and his family. All the dialogue is in italics rather than quotations to indicate sign language use.

Because the town is mostly African American, the writer does bring in AAVE. (African American Vernacular English) which gives the novel a more authentic feel. When writing dialogue, it’s important to consider language and how it’s used.

“Say brother,” the kids said, which was jive talk for I agree with you.” (pg. 25) 

“‘Right on, I heard somebody else say. ‘It be’s like that.'” (pg. 27)

We see her feelings about all that is going on in her life, and her confusion in trying to figure it all out. The book deals with racism, religion, relationships, and so much more.

Each moment, I am thinking, is a thing with feathers.” (pg. 118)

A beautiful coming of age story that will resonate with readers and leave you hopeful about the future.

Review Excerpts:

From Publishers Weekly:

“Looking forward” is the message that runs through Woodson’s (The House You Pass on the Way) novel. Narrator Frannie is fascinated with Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is the thing with feathers/ that perches in the soul,” and grapples with its meaning, especially after a white student joins Frannie’s all-black sixth-grade classroom. Trevor, the classroom bully, promptly nicknames him “Jesus Boy,” because he is “pale and his hair [is] long.” Frannie’s best friend, Samantha, a preacher’s daughter, starts to believe that the new boy truly could be Jesus (“If there was a world for Jesus to need to walk back into, wouldn’t this one be it?”). The Jesus Boy’s sense of calm and its effect on her classmates make Frannie wonder if there is some truth to Samantha’a musings, but a climactic faceoff between him and Trevor bring the newcomer’s human flaws to light. Frannie’s keen perceptions allow readers to observe a ripple of changes. Because she has experienced so much sadness in her life (her brother’s deafness, her mother’s miscarriages) the heroine is able to see beyond it all—to look forward to a time when the pain subsides and life continues. Set in 1971, Woodson’s novel skillfully weaves in the music and events surrounding the rising opposition to the Vietnam War, giving this gentle, timeless story depth. She raises important questions about God, racial segregation and issues surrounding the hearing-impaired with a light and thoughtful touch.”

From School Library Journal:

“With her usual talent for creating characters who confront, reflect, and grow into their own persons, Woodson creates in Frannie a strong protagonist who thinks for herself and recognizes the value and meaning of family. The story ends with hope and thoughtfulness while speaking to those adolescents who struggle with race, faith, and prejudice. They will appreciate its wisdom and positive connections.”

From Booklist:

“Eleven-year-old Frannie can’t quite understand the Emily Dickinson poem that she is reading in school. It is about feathers and hope, something that isn’t often a topic in Frannie’s part of town. A new student called Jesus Boy is the only white kid in her sixth-grade classroom, and Frannie and the others aren’t sure what to make of him. At home she is worried about her mother, who is pregnant again following two recent miscarriages. She wonders how this baby will disrupt their household, displacing her as the baby of the family. Set in 1971, the story deals with issues of race, faith, family, and disability. Frannie begins seeing there is more to the world around her than the people in her life, including her hearing-impaired older brother, Sean. Her view and perspective are also changed because of her growing friendship with Jesus Boy.”


Books by Jacqueline Woodson:

Miracle’s Boys ISBN 978-0142415535

Hush ISBN 978-0142415511

If You Come Softly ISBN 978-0142415221

Books about African Americans:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander ISBN978-0544107717

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander ISBN 978-0544570979

Solo by Kwame Alexander ISBN 978-0310761839

Discussion Circle:

How do the feelings of Frannie correlate to African American youth today?

Seeing Emily by Joyce Lee Wong (Mod. 5)


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Wong, Joyce Lee. Seeing Emily. Amulet Books: New York, 2005. ISBN 0810957574

Plot Summary:

This is a coming of age novel told in free verse about a girl named Emily Wu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She is torn between melding her American self and her Chinese heritage.

Critical Analysis:

This novel is very beautiful. It’s a classic coming of age tale about a young girl who desires following her own heart rather than the expectations placed on her by her parents. The writing is very beautiful. It flows very well and the writing is consistent throughout. Imagery is one of Wong’s strengths in this novel. She paints a very beautiful picture of the struggles facing first generations children. She pulls you into the mind of her main character, Emily, and you feel her desires and wants. This is a very beautiful novel that I highly recommend.

Example Poem: 

“At the moment
an image appeared
in my mind,
a bird
molting her feathers,
shaking off her winter garb
and exchanging it
for new plumage,
giddy and bright
as the stirrings
of spring.

A breeze
teases the air,
and the bird stretches her wings,
feeling the tantalizing lift of current
as she poises at the edge
of her nest.

Ready to dive into
the dazzling expanse
of air and light,
the bird envisions herself
soaring higher
and higher until
the very world seems to shrink
beneath the sweep
of her wings.”

This excerpt is found on page 49. I chose this example because it is a perfect representation of the writing in this book, the theme of this book, the tone of this book, and more importantly, the imagery of this book. In this example, you find all of these aspects. I especially like the meaning behind the image of the bird. In this image, you can see and feel Emily’s desperate desire to rid herself of the expectations placed on her by her family. This is a very compelling novel.

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin YA Book Review


Agosin, Marjorie. I Lived on Butterfly Hill. Atheneum Books for Young Readers: New York, NY. 2014. ISBN: 9781416953449

Plot Summary:

Celeste Marconi is an eleven-year-old girl who lives in Chile. She loves reading, writing, and hanging out with her friends. She collects words and dreams of being a writer. When her beautiful and beloved country is taken over by a military dictatorship, Celeste will face hardships she has never known. Her doctor parents, healers and champions for the poor, are at risk of being captured and killed by soldiers. In order to keep Celeste safe, they send her to live with her Aunt, who lives on the coast of Maine and they themselves go into hiding. Unable to speak English, and  without any friends, Celeste must navigate her way through life in this strange land she dares not call home. Plagued with the heartache of her parents disappearance and her home taken over

Critical Analysis:

This is probably the best novel I have read in a long, long time. I mean the absolute best. The emotions I felt while reading this surpassed anything I’ve ever read, excluding only Lurlene McDaniel books, and as ever, Harry Potter.

Celeste is such a beautifully written character. Through her young but wise eyes, you see the world she lived in. You see the war she fought. While she didn’t fight in the actual war, she did fight her own. Figuring out who you are while you worry about your friends and family is one heck of a battle to fight.

Agosin perfectly demonstrated the toll that hardship takes on children. When Celeste is finally able to come back to Chile, things will never be the same. Everything and everyone has changed.

As far as story goes, the only thing I want is to know what happened to the Chinese family Celeste met in the states, but I guess not knowing what happened to them was the point.

As far as writing is concerned, her style is incredibly beautiful. The writing is beautiful and lyrical. Every detail is perfect and adds on to the story. I absolutely loved it!

Accompanying the story are a few beautiful illustrations. They aren’t needed, but I do like them.

All in all, I think everyone should be required to read this gorgeous, heartbreaking, heartwarming, wonderful story.

Review Excerpts:

Pura Belpre Award 2015

From School Library Journal: “The language is poetic and full of imagery and, while the book is long, it moves at a smooth pace. Occasional illustrations reflect the mood of each phase of the story.”

From Booklist: “Agosín, an award-winning author, lived a similar multicultural, multigenerational story set around the Pinochet coup in the 1970s, and she writes of it with beauty and grace, telling a compelling tale that both enchants and haunts”


Books like I Lived on Butterfly Hill:

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle ISBN: 1481435221

Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachmann ISBN: 0762456337