Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist #7: Other Words for Home
“We’re in a period of human history where empathy is needed more than ever. As the mother of two little girls, I’m constantly trying to teach them the idea that no one ever grows poor from giving. That sharing what you have does not make what you have worth any less. I guess that’s what this book is really about—the ever-growing need for generosity. And generosity is really just another word for love. So let’s work on giving more love to others as well as to ourselves.”
(from Author’s Note) ― Jasmine Warga,
Jasmine Warga has written an insightful, beautifully written debut middle-grade book. This novel-in-verse follows protagonist Jude as she tries to keep her Muslim values under the intolerant pressure and travels away from home with her pregnant mother. To escape the uncertain violence in Syria, leaving her radical brother, father, and close friend behind.
At first, everything in America seems extremely fast and turbulent. Once she starts school in the U.S. and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before.
“Americans love labels. They help them know what to expect. Sometimes, though, I think labels stop them from thinking.” (92)
Jude is an insightful narrator. Although it is difficult to read the racism, Jude faces it isn’t shocking. But she also finds compassion, camaraderie and an excellent chance to take part in her school play, to focus on her dream of being an actor.
“Fatima and I both want to be movie stars. Fatima also wants to be a doctor, but I only want to be a movie star.”(8)
Jasmine Warga’s writing was persuasive and, at the same time, so accurate, and candidly elegant. Through Jude’s eyes, Warga blends in several Arabic proverbs, and humorous commentary about aspects of American society that seem unusual to a neophyte, like having a conversation.
“I have learned Americans love to say ‘you know’ and then stop/talking. They force you to fill in the hard parts, the things they are not brave enough to say.” (203)
Readers will discover themselves looking at the life afresh through Jude’s hopeful eyes. Other Words for Home is a selection that is unforgettable, timely and meets the criteria as a worthy Newbery contender.
About Annisha Jeffries
Annisha Jeffries is the head of the youth services department at Cleveland Public Library. She was a member of the 2007 ALSC Board and served on several selection committees, including the 2018 Caldecott Committee. A 2000-2001 Spectrum Scholarship recipient, Jeffries is currently the Chair of the Norman A, Sugarman Children's Biography Award. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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