-posted by Diane C.
For the Global Reading Challenge–the acclaimed reading program done in partnership with many Seattle Public Schools’ fourth & fifth graders–the selection of ten titles each year is the most sacred of undertakings. There is a fine balance that needs to be considered for kids’ interest, readability, and multicultural subject matter. Every year, when the titles are revealed with much fanfare in the schools, the enthusiasm is the same: “Great books!” the teachers and librarians and kids exclaim.
This year, one title had a bit of a challenge of its own. Hana’s Suitcase On Stage by Karen Levine brought out a concern by a few adults that its subject matter, the Holocaust, was too troubling for fourth graders to tackle. Fortunately, The Holocaust Center in Seattle, when contacted, was prepared for questions that parents and teachers had for the book’s sobering backdrop of World War II’s nightmarish history. The suitcase in this story is key to a quest and broaches the serious subject matter obliquely, shielding but not burying its origins. It’s a masterful work.
The other nine titles are all as intriguingly complex in their own ways: Saving Kabul Corner by N. H. Senzai is about two Afghani families in California, who must make peace inside and outside of their family units in America.
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood is historical fiction about an orphan, sent to infiltrate Shakespeare’s company to steal the newly written play, “Hamlet.”
Tua and the Elephant by R.P. Harris brings the cacophony of Thailand’s streets to life, as a little girl strives to save an elephant from cruel exploitation.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate recounts the life of Ivan, the gorilla, whose fate was to live out his life in a glass enclosure in a mall until he is saved by an elephant’s compassion.
In the true to life story recounted in The Heart of the Samurai by Margi Preus, the protagonist, Manjiro, survives a shipwreck and becomes the first Japanese immigrant to the United States.
Tom Angleberger’s fertile imagination creates a wonderful character in Origami Yoda, whose sage advice to sixth grade boys keeps them guessing in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.
The only graphic novel of the group, El Deafo by Cece Bell, is based on the author’s experience of hearing loss at a young age—a state of affairs that requires humor, grit and superpowers.
Finally, in a loving family story, How Tia Lola Saved the Summer by Julia Alvarez, the indefatigable Tia Lola is in charge of making summer the best one Miguel can remember.
Read one or read all ten before the in-school, semi-final, and final challenges between February and March and you’ll see what over 3,500 fourth and fifth graders in Seattle are finding out for themselves: reading is great fun! Hooray for the 21st Global Reading Challenge!