Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed; Nancy Paulsen Books, 226 pages ($17.99) Ages 8 to 12.
This beautifully written, moving tale by Pakistani-American author Aisha Saeed puts a human face on the global problem of indentured servitude, the persistence of a lawless, feudal state that allows the very wealthy to keep the poor in bondage and deny them an education. Twelve-year-old Amal dreams of becoming a teacher but is forced to miss school when her mother falls into depression after giving birth to a fifth daughter. A trip to the market in her small village in Pakistan has disastrous consequences: Amal has a run-in with Jawad Sahib, the powerful landlord who is owed money by everyone in the village, and she is forced to join his household as an indentured servant to work off her family's debt. The landlord confiscates her phone so she has no contact with her loving family; alone in unfamiliar circumstances she must summon the courage to make the best of her situation, learning the household routines, adjusting to life as maid to the landlord's elderly mother and figuring out how to deal with the jealousy of the servant whose place she took. Slowly Amal learns the stories of the other servants (including the hard fact that she and the others are being charged board and room, adding to their family's debts) and through an odd set of circumstances, ends up attending school again at a new Literacy Center built by the landlord for political purposes. Police officers who persist in coming to the Khan estate arouse her curiosity: What do the police want with Jawad Sahib? Readers will cheer at Amal's courage in bravely finding a solution to her predicament. Saeed paints a vivid picture of daily life in a Pakistani village, the cooking, the wedding traditions, the school, and the lack of rights for women and girls. She creates a fully realized portrait gallery of characters, from Aisha and her family to her friend Omar, who shares her dreams of a better life beyond the village. Saeed, author of "Written in the Stars," is one of the founding members of the We Need Diverse Books campaign.
The Big Book of the Blue, words and pictures by Yuval Zommer, sea life expert, Barbara Taylor; Thames & Hudson, 61 pages ($19.95)
This giant-size book with fun, easily digestible, informative nuggets of type and gorgeous, meticulously detailed illustrations is a marvelous introduction to ocean life. It packs in a huge amount of information, in a kid-friendly way. A chapter titled "Fins and Flippers," explaining how sea creatures move, has such whimsical subheads as "fin-tastic" and "flipping awesome." In the chapter "Gills and Blowholes," we learn a sperm whale can hold its breath for two hours. The chapter on Sea Turtles notes that a sea turtle "has see-through eyelids that it uses like a pair of goggles to see underwater." The chapter on flying fish notes that a flying fish has to be swimming at 37 mph to launch itself into the sky. The chapter on Sea horses, under the subhead "Crunch time," notes that a seahorse has a skeleton inside its body and one on the outside "like a suit of armor. This keeps it safe from predators who don't like its crunchy body." Fascinating chapters on deep-sea fish, rays, sharks, coral reef fish, tuna, pufferfish (the only fish that can blink), dolphins ("a dolphin sleeps by resting one half of its brain at a time.") ("A tuna has no home. It spends every day of its life swimming across different oceans.") There are chapters on tide pools, ocean depths, oceans in danger, "plastic in the sea." and "fishy phrases," or how to talk like a sea life expert. It's a British publisher, so mom is "mum," measurements are the metric system, and tuna is packed in tins, rather than cans. The book invites the reader to find the same sardine pictured 15 times in the book; a key at the end reveals the answers. Other books in the series: The Big Book of Bugs, the Big Book of Beasts.
The Game Can't Love You Back by Karole Cozzo; SwoonReads, 310 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
This entertaining summer beach read (in the SwoonReads romance imprint of Feiwel and Friends) combines baseball and romance, as a girl who pitches for her varsity baseball team finds herself competing for the Cy Young Award with the handsome starting pitcher of the other team in town after a fire at her high school results in the merger of the schools - and their sports teams.