Book Review: The Bone Sparrow, One Half from the East

In the past few weeks I’ve been pretty slow about reading (I always get into a February slump!), but I have managed to finish reading two middle grade novels that I had been considering for class use. Below are my general thoughts about these books, and whether I’d recommend them for use in an ESL reading class!

(Click on the title for a Goodreads description!)

28217813One Half From the East by Nadia Hashimi

This book was a very interesting read on a topic I had never heard about – bacha posh. Essentially, in some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, if a family has all daughters and no sons, they turn a young daughter into a boy until she reaches puberty. This is the story of Obayda, who becomes Obayd because her father is injured and there are no male family members to help support her family. The novel explores all of Obayd’s newfound freedom now that she is a boy – she doesn’t have to do chores, she can run around at school, and she has much more independence than her sisters. However, there are definitely some pitfalls that she runs into, like what will life be like once she is turned back into a girl and her freedoms are taken away?

What ESL Students Might Enjoy: A lot of this story focuses on relationships within a family, which is usually an easy topic to connect to. Students may find some of Obayd’s frustration with her family easy to connect to. There is also a lot of exploration about what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl in relation to family responsibility in freedom.

Recommended for an ESL Reading Class?: Yes, definitely! Since the book is middle grade, it is a fairly easy, low-vocabulary read. Non-middle eastern students may struggle a little with some of the culture references, but those are easily explained. Overall, I think this is a great book to use in an ESL class!


29223495The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

This is a beautifully written, incredibly depressing story about a boy named Subhi who was born in an Australian refugee camp and has spent his entire life there. What I enjoyed the most was the small magical element of the book called the Night Sea – a mysterious sea that only Subhi can see that leaves him gifts every once in awhile. There is also a strong theme of story-telling that runs throughout the novel. Subhi makes friends with Jimmie, an Australian girl

What ESL Students Might Enjoy: The writing is fairly simple, and the story is very straightforward. There are a few places where Subhi is reading a story that takes place in the past, but this is denoted by a different font. Overall, the readability is fairly simple.

Recommended for an ESL Reading Class?: I’m not so sure about this one. The readability is nice, but the story is very, very depressing. In the past, my students have sometimes complained that there’s not enough action in a book and they get kind of bored. This book is kind of like that – it’s a lot of just daily life stuff in the refugee camp. There’s not really any action until the last 30 pages or so, so students might get a little bored.


Book Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a fantastic transition into 2017! I’m technically still on holiday hiatus, but I just finished reading this book last night (my last book of 2016!), and I wanted to write a review right away.

In addition to writing up literature lesson plans for ESL instructors, I also want to do reviews of books that I read for fun. This way, even if I don’t write a lesson plan for the book, instructors might be able to find a book that fits their reading class. This is my first review of 2017, and I loved this book SO MUCH…I hope you and your students enjoy it as well!

26192915Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Goodreads Description: San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

What I Enjoyed About the Book: I loved almost everything about this book! The main character, Mercy Wong, was smart, independent, and funny. She’s a self-made business woman with a lot of dreams. There was also very little romance (which I think tends to take away a lot from a story) – just enough to be cute, but not enough to be overwhelming. I also really liked that there was a lot of discussion about immigrants and non-white people in San Francisco in the 1900s – how they were treated by white people, how they were segregated to their own neighborhoods, how laws were passed targeting specific groups (such as the Chinese Exclusion Act)…but the main theme of the story is overcoming these barriers in the face of adversity. Overall, I’d give this book 5 stars!

What Students Would Enjoy About the Book: Even though my program has students from lots of different countries, we tend to have mostly Chinese students – as a result, we end up with a few classes every semester that have only Chinese students. I think Outrun the Moon would be perfect for when you have an all-Chinese class. The main character is a Chinese-American girl living in Chinatown in San Francisco in 1906, and the novel contains a lot of references to Chinese culture. Chinese students will have an easy time understanding the cultural references in the book, so they will mostly be doing language processing while reading, while non-Chinese students would have to do cultural processing on top of language. There are also universal themes that all students enjoy – action, adventure, family relationships, friendships, and people following their dreams.

Recommended ESL Level: High-Intermediate to Advanced

Have you read this novel? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!