Amal the Inspiring
Although the Newbery Committee will meet at the end of January, 2019, to choose the most distinguished books for children published in the United States in 2018, the full Committee has already convened twice in 2018: once at the Midwinter Conference to meet each other and be briefed of what to expect for their year-long service, and once during the ALA Annual Conference in June. At the June meeting, there is usually a chance to practice discussing a few books. Here at Heavy Medal, we are also going to offer the opportunity for a practice discussion today, and perhaps Wednesday.
Now, a brief description of a Newbery Book Discussion model before we start the practice:
- Civility and focus on the literary qualities of books are maintained throughout the hours of discourse.
- Listen and respond to what is being said and not who has said it.
- Committee Members should both express their opinions when needed and be mindful to not monopolize the conversation.
- A member of the Committee is responsible to introduce each book in less than 2 minutes.
- The introduction should focus on a few positive literary qualities of the book that warrant its nomination.
- No book summary. (It’s a waste of precious discussion time when everyone at the table is familiar with all the books.)
- The Chair then would ask others who also have positive comments to chime in. Members of the committee are encouraged to show their agreement with audible or visible cues: “yeses,” and “rights,” nods, smiles, silent jazz hands, etc.
- After ample chances have been given to positive feedback, the Chair would open the floor for concerns and disagreements.
- All critiques should be firmly grounded in the text – not vague feelings or conjecture beyond what could be found in the book itself.
Today, we will discuss Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. It has quite a bit of Heavy Medal reader support and is on many end of year’s “Best of” lists. I will serve as the book introducer. Heavy Medal Award Committee (HMAC) members (along with Heavy Medal readers) are welcome to discuss the book following the guidelines above.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Saeed has created a brave character in Amal, who is also caring and resourceful. From the get go, you see Amal supporting her younger siblings, her parents, and her friends. Even when she feels envious of her friend Omar’s good fortune to attend a much better school, she is genuinely happy for him, hugging him. (Chapter 3) Her love of learning and intelligence also comes through many times. Saeed includes details that make the surroundings of a rural Pakistan village easy to imagine: from the sugarcane maze, the roses planted around Amal’s gray house, to the opulence of Khan Sahib’s mansion with its sunken living room, floor-to-ceiling windows, a tiled veranda, and the sprawling garden. Since readers see everything through Amal’s eyes, what she finds ordinary (the farm land) or unfamiliar (a rich man’s household) is conveyed organically to the reader, without traces of exoticism.
The theme of the intrinsic unfairness of a society with strict social hierarchy is presented with a fairly compelling plot line and in a style appropriate for the intended readers. Amal’s predicaments seem small and domestic, but they reflect the power structure and contemporary socio-economical realities. One distinguishing feature is that this story could be read on two very different levels: one just about Amal defying her odds and getting out of her unfortunate indentured servitude — unbinding herself from a personal oppression; the other to examine and challenge the systemic oppression and hope for a more liberated populace — perhaps to unbind many, via literacy and knowledge.
That is about 1 minutes and 45 seconds long. Now, I invite HMAC members and Heavy Medal readers to add to the positive aspects of this book – or expand upon what I have presented above.
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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