I read Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan recently for a children's literature class I'm taking and I enjoyed it very much. It's a beautifully written story inspired by the author's grandmother's experiences as a child immigrating from Mexico to California. In Mexico, Esperanza was the daughter of a wealthy landowner, but when her father is murdered by bandits, her wicked and powerful uncle, with intentions of taking over the family's ranch, threatens to force Esperanza's mother to marry him and send Esperanza away to boarding school, Esperanza and her mother flee with their servants to California where they all must work in the fields of the San Joaquin valley to survive. Life is very different for Esperanza in California but she rises to face her challenges and learns to be grateful for the little things in life.
I also recently finished listening to The Subtle Knife, by Phillip Pullman, read by the author. I had listened to The Golden Compass a couple weeks ago. This has been an interesting listen. It's performed very well by the author and a cast of voices. There is a lot of exposition to slog through in these books and there is a lot to say about idea of Lord Azreal setting out to kill the 'authority' but I don't want to get into that discussion here. I'll just say that I'm enjoying the books and that they are too sophisticated for an elementary school audience. And I finished the elephant while I was listening to it.
I started knitting a hat while I listened to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, read by the author. This was a short book and I listened to it in a single evening. It won the National Book Award in 2007 for young adult literature. The story is about Arnold Spirit, a Spokane Indian boy living on the rez who, on the advice of a teacher, decides to attend high school off the reservation, knowing it would be the only way for him to have a chance to escape the cycle of poverty, depression, and alcoholism that affects his community. The story is sad and funny and sweet and brutal and hearing it in the author's voice allows you to hear what he describes as "that sing-song accent that makes everthing sound like poetry."