Book Review and Music Pairings: Chinese Cinderella, by Adeline Yen Mah

chinese_cinderellaThis was the most devastating book I have ever read!  This is the story about the torturous life of a little Chinese girl.  When she was born, her mother had a serious fever and died.  From then on, she was treated as the ‘bad luck child’.  Things got worse when she was four years old.  Her father remarried, and her step-mother was cruel, barely even noticing her.

Time passed until her first week of kindergarten where she was honored to be the ‘best student of the week.’  She got this award week after week, month after month.  Nobody congratulated her except for her kind aunt.  She and her aunt bonded and was the closest person to her.  Her aunt comforted her when nobody cared about her.  Then we learn the little girl’s name was Adeline.  Her father was very rich, but little Adeline shared only a tiny room with her aunt.  Unexpectedly, four of her siblings and her parents went on a trip.  It lasted almost a year!  When they were gone, it was paradise to be free of their strictness.  However, when they returned, Adeline learned that she and her family were moving to Shanghai.  Adeline was devastated.

In Shanghai, she attended a fantastic school and made a friend.  This became her new home where she felt  most comfortable.  However, her step-mother prevented any friends from coming over. Adeline’s home life was horrible because she lived on the third floor of the house in one room with all of her siblings.  The second floor was just for her new mom and father and their step children who received all of the attention.  No one from the third floor was allowed to enter the second floor.  During this part of the book, Adeline truly felt abandoned.  This reminded me of the song “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash.  It is as if Adeline had fallen into that ring of fire.

As depressing as Adeline’s life was, there is a bright spot in which she felt she could accomplish anything and escape her past.  The author does a great job engaging the reader.  If this book was turned into a film, during the credits the song “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner should be played.  It really depicts Adeline’s interactions with her cruel step-mother, Niang.  I really liked this book but was frightened to know that this is a true story.  The author, Adeline Yen Mah, lived this life and survived.

-Maya S., 6th grade

Michael Hingson: Speaking With Vision

MHingson_Author Headshot

Michael Hingson, author of Thunder Dog

On November 20, 2013, I had the unexpected honor of meeting author Michael Hingson. I had recently read and reviewed his book, Thunder Dog, and within 24 hours of my review being posted on Teen Voice, Michael Hingson posted a comment!  I was thrilled!  In his comment, Mr. Hingson invited me (and my parents) to his upcoming presentation: Speaking With Vision at Irvine Valley College.

Even though he has been called a hero for surviving the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks in the World Trade Center through the partnership of his guide dog, Roselle, Mr. Hingson focused his speech on his life experiences before and after his terrifying ordeal.

Being completely blind, Mr. Hingson has challenges due to his physical inability to “see” with his eyes. True, this means he is forced to take a different approach to things designed for a sighted world. But this isn’t a disability to him.

Those of us who pre-judge and limit Mr. Hingson when we learn he is blind have the real disabilities. Much to the dismay of his well-meaning neighbors, Mr. Hingson grew up riding a normal two-wheel bicycle around town!  He did this without crashing into objects or running into people.  He rode his bike just like the other kids who were not blind.  How did he do it? Much like dolphins and bats, Mr. Hingson learned that our environment “sounds” different when you pass a solid object or open doorway and that distances can be determined by sound bouncing off objects. He has become an expert at echolocation.

He has also become an expert at determination and having a “can-do” attitude.  His philosophy on life first began by his parents who never believed or treated him as if he was disabled.  Rather than insisting he live in a “safe” environment, they just cautioned him to be careful. Mr. Hingson has never expected or welcomed special treatment.  But he has insisted that he have the same opportunities sighted people have.

Mr. Hingson and his parents don’t spend time worrying about what isn’t in their control (like being blind or being inside the WTC when the hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers). Instead, Mr. Hingson believes we should “focus on things you can [control].  The rest will take care of itself.”

He wholeheartedly believes that “We have to make the decision to use our tools to move forward and progress,” just like the one-word command he gives his guide dogs to signal when he is ready to go:  “Forward.”

During Mr. Hingson’s speech, it was hard to tell he was blind. If he wasn’t talking about his disability (though it’s not really a disability at all), I would’ve forgotten he was blind! This is just another way to show you that Mr. Hingson doesn’t let his blindness drive his life.

After his speech, Mr. Hingson gave me a pre-release copy of his new book aimed towards 8-year-olds and up, Running with Roselle. Running with Roselle is a children’s version of his New York Times bestseller, Thunder Dog.  I will be honored to read and review this book in an upcoming blog!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Book Review: I Am Nujood, by Nujood Ali

nujood_coverAbout one month ago, my Girl Scout troop and I attended a screening of the international phenomenon Girl Rising, following the stories of nine girls from all around the world about their struggles to go to school. The movie was inspiring, and so we decided to read Nujood Ali’s true story about her bravery to escape her husband and defy the customs of her people to dive deeper into the topic of girls’ rights. At first I was hesitant to read this book because I was afraid of what she would describe. However, after finishing the book, I can say that this book took the movie to another level, and it truly is an amazing read.

The story starts when Nujood is nine, and she spends the first couple chapters describing her family, community, and daily life. Then she painfully describes the day she found out she was getting married to a complete stranger. She says that her mother never spoke out against the marriage, because her mother was one of the many Yemeni women who followed tradition and orders. Nujood tells of her hopes and dreams to one day marry a sweet and nice man and live happily ever after, and how those dreams were shattered when she met and came to understand her new husband. She tells of her wedding day, and being covered with the black niqab, since married women must cover themselves whenever they leave the house. She also talks about the horrible journey from her home with her strange husband to his home far away from her family. She tells of how her husband abused her and dishonored her family’s request to respect her. Nujood really thought there was no escape, until with the help of her bravery and courage, she made it to a courthouse where she demanded a divorce.

This book will fill you with such pride and contempt at the same time. Pride in Nujood for persevering, despite all the odds. Contempt for the people who ignored, or pretended they couldn’t hear. My least favorite part of the book was, of course, the abuse. However, I knew that this was a true story, and that is an essential part of her argument, so I read it with that thought in the back of my mind. My favorite part of the book is after Nujood is granted the divorce, and she goes back with her lawyer, who she respects and loves dearly, to her office. There, all of the women working threw her a “divorce party.” When they decide they will sing Happy Birthday, and Nujood confesses she doesn’t know when her birth date is, Shada, the lawyer, exclaims that from now on, that day will be her birthday.

This book is truly the most inspiring story I have ever heard. I have deep admiration for Nujood and all the other girls who have the same courage as Nujood to defy their fates. I definitely recommend this book to teens and adults because it does have some adult topics, themes, and graphics. Nujood is a very brave girl, and her story deserves to be shared and cherished.

-Kelsey H., 10th grade

Book Review: Thunder Dog, by Michael Hingson with Susy Flory

thunder_dog“My head is spinning. So much has happened in such a short time, and my mind reels, going over the events and trying to make sense of the explosion…” – Michael Hingson, p. 123-124

Michael Hingson is an ordinary man. He’s flown a plane, had several jobs, drives sometimes, has friends, is a Christian, and is married. And he’s permanently and totally blind.

This true story is what happened on 9/11/2001 when a blind man and his guide dog were on the 78th floor in the World Trade Center’s North tower as the first hijacked plane hit. Michael and Roselle were paired as man and guide dog for twenty-one months previously, and everything in their lives together seemed to lead up to this. Since Michael can’t see anything, he depends on what he hears, feels, smells, and breathes. He also depends on Roselle, and has to trust her very much on this terrifying day. They helped each other. They were a team working as one.

I personally loved this autobiography. Through books, I can say I’ve experienced what it’s like to be homeless, be a winner, be a gorilla, live through segregation, be a spy, live in a “crazy” family, live in a giant peach, and many other things. Oh, and now be blind. It’s a very gracious experience, and Thunder Dog has given me a new appreciation for people with disabilities.

I really like all of the details in this book. This is one of those books where you can travel back in time to a certain day, yet be home in time for supper. We all have some huge tragedy or trauma in our lives. We can choose to learn from it and teach others, or spend all our lives feeling bad for ourselves. Michael chose to teach others.

Although this book is wonderful, I do not suggest it for teens/tweens under 12 years old because it is an adult book. But it really depends on individual maturity level. For those who do choose to read this, from me to you, good reading!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Book Review: Wooden, by John Wooden

wooden_coverWooden, by John Wooden with a foreword by Steve Jamison, is– well, in a way an autobiography of Coach Wooden’s life, yet this really isn’t considered an autobiography. To me, it’s a book on how to live a better life, during the good times of your life, and the tough times too.

Coach Wooden was the head coach at UCLA, and during his coaching reign he won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years and also won 88 straight games which still remains a record today for the Bruins. This story emphasizes Wooden’s feelings and his beliefs that he has carried all the way from his early childhood in a farm in Indiana.

He shares these beliefs with us in order to show how they work in life, and also why should we act in this specific way or form. This book is supposed to be a book in which you can reflect on your own life and see where your weakness are, and then well strengthen and also fix that specific weakness that you are having in your life.

This book I would surely recommend to every age. Coach Wooden has been a role model to me, and I am very sure he will be a strong example of a role model to you as well. The life of a remarkable, and humble hero– Coach John Wooden.

-Robert N., 10th grade

Book Review: Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, by Julie Andrews Edwards

home_memoir_coverJulie Andrews’ autobiography, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, shares with the reader the hardships and rewards of becoming a famous Broadway and Hollywood star. This book is fascinating to me, because like Andrews, I love to sing, dance, and read. Although I do not dream of becoming a famous icon, I find those who follow the road to becoming one interesting and undeniably courageous.

Julie Andrews’ story begins in London, England during World War II. Julie Andrews spends her childhood constantly in voice lessons and traveling to perform with her parents, and she describes despising her voice lessons as a child. Little did she know that later- in her teen years- she would come to appreciate and use her voice as her ticket to stardom. Despite her parents’ painful divorce and her mother’s flighty behavior, Julie Andrews succeeds in becoming a well-respected performer in her home country.

Andrews writes that although she thoroughly enjoyed traveling with a company and performing, she always felt responsible for her family, and she hated to be away from them. Julie Andrews is admirable because when she is offered a two year contract to perform as Eliza Doolittle from “My Fair Lady,” she insists on making it one year so that she can come home to care for her siblings. Most girls looking to make it on Broadway would snatch up the offer and leave their family to fend for themselves.

Julie Andrews was a talented, compassionate, responsible, composed young lady; respected by many as one of America’s greatest icons. With the help of the much-loved Walt Disney, Julie Andrews became a star on-screen as well as on-stage. One might say Julie Andrews is best known for her perfect role as Mary Poppins, the beloved nanny; but I love her most for her role as Maria in The Sound of Music for her carefree attitude and loving heart.

I recommend this book to all who love Julie Andrews’ work, and find themselves, like me, in awe at those who take such risks to discover themselves.

-Kelsey H., 10th grade

Author Interview: Chad Williams

chadwilliams Author and former Navy SEAL, Chad Williams, visited Mission Viejo in March, and two members of the Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice took the initiative to interview him about his Navy SEAL experiences and the faith journey he shares in his memoir, Seal of God.

Q: Why do you believe that being a Navy SEAL always stood out to you?

A: “Being a Navy SEAL stood out to me because I saw it as the most difficult military training in the world. In my mind, it really was top of the mountain and I see being a Navy SEAL as being a part of the most elite. And that was something I wanted to aim for. I didn’t want to be just mediocre- I wanted to do something really big.”

Q: How did you feel when you were working the gun when your team was ambushed capturing the terrorist in Iraq?

A: “My initial thought was, ‘Wow, this is for real. If I get hit by one of these bullets that are coming at me, it’s not like a training exercise where you are just going to feel a sting from a simulation round. But these bullets are real, and could take an arm off, and in a split second I could be standing before God all of sudden.’ I  do remember thinking about some of the other SEALs that were on the ground, getting shot at, hoping ‘I hope that none of these guys get hit, because I know where I’m going when I die, but for some of them it is kind of uncertain.'”

Q: What are your feelings now toward your team-members of Team 1 who ostracized you?

A: “I have nothing but love for those guys; nothing but forgiveness is what I feel towards them. If  I saw one of them, I’d go running up to them on the street, and just tell them, ‘Hey man, I love you guys and no hard feelings,’ and I would want to share the gospel with them.”

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