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Season 2, Episode 9

Based on a True Story

June 3, 2021

Travel from India to Alaska as Charity welcomes Kaitlyn to discuss two middle grade novels based on real life events. Book Recommendations for Tween and Teen Readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

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Charity 0:01 Welcome to the Planet Book podcast. I'm your host, Charity, a youth services associate with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. On each episode, you'll hear guests talking about their favorite tween and teen books. Thanks for joining me today. On this episode, I'm joined by Kaitlyn, a media aide with Nixa Public Schools and she's here to talk about her favorite middle grade novels she's read recently. Kaitlyn, welcome to the Planet Book podcast.

Kaitlyn 0:28 Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Charity 0:30 I am so excited to chat books. I'll talk books with anybody, but I'm excited to talk books with you. And you've brought two really good choices, I think. So Kaitlyn, what did you bring to share with us today?

Kaitlyn 0:44 So I work in a fifth and sixth grade school so I like to read the books that my kids are reading. And so I picked two middle grade books that I've read recently that I really loved. One is the Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani and the other one is Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly.

Charity 1:04 All right, which one do you want to talk about first?

Kaitlyn 1:07 Let's start with the Night Diary.

Charity 1:08 All right, go for it.

Kaitlyn 1:10 Okay, so this book, I loved it so much that I've actually read it twice, which I don't do very often. So that says something about this book. It's a historical fiction novel. I'd probably recommend this book for ages, probably 10 or 11 and up. But I loved this story as an adult as well, so I would really recommend it for anybody. And so this book is told by 12 year old Nisha, and Nisha lives with her father, her twin brother, Amil, and her grandmother, and they live in India. And Nisha and Amil's mother passed away during childbirth, which is not really a spoiler, they tell you that right from the get go. And her father is a doctor so he works quite a lot. He's often a little bit distant. Nisha's family also has a very beloved cook named Kazi. And for her birthday Kazi gives Nisha this beautiful diary, which is where that title comes from The Night Diary. And so this whole story is actually written in letter form. And Nisha is writing these letters to her mother in this new diary as a way to kind of try to stay connected to her mother's memory, and also kind of process through a lot of the things going on in her life. So it's important to know that this is historical fiction. And so it takes place in India in the year 1947, when India gained independence from the British, which was a part of history that I had not really learned anything about in school. So it's very informative for me to learn about that part of history. And so basically, when that happened, there was something called a partition. and India actually split into two countries. So the new India and then Pakistan. So Nisha's family actually lived on the Pakistan side of the split. And the problem with that was that part of the reason for the splitting into the two countries was there was a lot of religious tension between the Muslim and Hindu populations in India at that time. So the idea was that if you were Muslim, you had to live on the Pakistan side. And if you were a Hindu, you had to live on the India side of the split. And so that meant that there were tons of people, including Nisha, in this story, and her family, that were displaced from their homes and had to make a very dangerous journey to their new country. This is kind of loosely based off of the author's father, who actually lived during this time and had to make his own journey like that when he was young. And it's actually considered to be the largest mass migration in history, which I thought was really interesting.

Charity 3:47 Wow.

Kaitlyn 3:48 I had no idea that there were about 14 million people that had to move during this time as a result of the partition. The whole story is really a story of bravery, hardship, of course, as Nisha's family is making their journey to the new India and it's also kind of a story of finding your place in the world. One thing that's kind of hard for Nisha is that their father is Hindu but her mother was Muslim. So she sort of feels this identity tug throughout the story about, she sort of feels in the middle of two cultures in a sense. And then another thing that I really liked about the story was that Nisha is very shy but we see her really kind of bloom throughout the story and cultivate this love of cooking. She and Kazi, their cook, do a lot of cooking together. So there's a ton of really rich, like beautiful food and flavor, flavor imagery throughout the book that really made me want to try some new Indian and Pakistani recipes.

Charity 4:45 Wow, it sounds like this, I haven't read this one yet, but it sounds like it has a lot of really interesting elements. One of the things I'm curious about though, with historical fiction. I don't tend to read a lot of historical fiction because usually I find them to be kind of slow moving, what would you say in regards to that with this one?

Kaitlyn 5:06 This one's nice because it is in letter form. I think that kind of propels the story along, at least it did in my mind, because it's sort of like you're getting little bursts at a time. And it's almost like, I wonder what's going to happen on the next day. And the story is so moving and powerful that I think it really propels the story along. There's a lot of just action and hardship that happens on their journey. So I think it is definitely a compelling read. And I don't think it got too dry.

Charity 5:39 Okay, that is really good to know. What was your favorite part? Because it sounds like there's so many good kind of takeaways and things that could stick with you with this one.

Kaitlyn 5:48 Yeah, I really think that my favorite part was that I think sometimes people go into like middle grade reads as, oh, this is just going to be like a light, fluffy, feel good story. But I felt like I walked away having learned something new. And I was so grateful for that experience with this book. Because I don't feel like there are a lot of books written about this topic. So I was really grateful for the education of learning about this part of history. And then like I said earlier, just the food imagery as somebody who loves to cook, I thought it was so cool how the author kind of infused her culture throughout the book as well. And there's a glossary in the back. It mentions a lot of dishes by name and so there's a glossary in the back that kind of tells the reader what those are. So you don't have to wonder what those dishes are because it kind of explains it.

Charity 6:45 Okay, that part sounds really intriguing. And I love that element. It adds almost like it sounds like a sensory kind of experience to this as you are imagining all of these delicious foods.

Kaitlyn 6:57 You can totally place yourself in the story.

Charity 7:01 Yeah, oh, that's great. Okay, I was aware of this one, but I'm going to bump this one up higher on my to read list. You made it sound really good.

Kaitlyn 7:08 I highly recommend it.

Charity 7:09 All right. What about the next one you brought for us Kaitlyn?

Kaitlyn 7:13 Yeah, the next book is called Song for a Whale. And this book, I would probably recommend for even fourth graders and up. So this story is about 12 year old Iris. And Iris is actually deaf. But both of her parents and her brother are hearing and she also has a grandmother who's deaf. So in their family, they use American Sign Language or ASL to communicate. And Iris is the only deaf student in her school. So she faces some hardships with that, not necessarily because she's deaf, but because a lot of her teachers and her peers don't really understand how to communicate with her. And they don't really treat her like she's a very smart or capable kid. But Iris is actually very smart. She's a bit of a tech wizard, which I thought was so cool. She has a hobby of finding these old broken radios at junkyards, and she replaces the parts to make them work again. And so you might be wondering, well, how does she know if they're working because she's deaf? But she uses her hands and feels the vibrations to see if the sound is coming out properly. So I thought that was super cool. And so one day at school, Iris goes to science class, and her teacher is showing this video about a whale called Blue 55. And so Blue 55 is special because his songs and his whale calls have a different frequency from most other whales. And so that means that the sound that he makes the whales around him can't understand him, or sometimes even hear him when he tries to communicate. And so that means that Blue 55 is often swimming by himself. And so that really resonates with Iris as somebody who sort of feels a little bit like an outcast at her school. And so she forms this really strong connection with finding and helping this whale. She ends up recording a song for the whale at the same frequency that he uses to communicate. And so without giving too much away, Iris makes it her mission to find Blue 55 and help him not feel so alone. And the story has some pretty adventurous twists and turns along the way. I think ultimately a story about connection and determination even in the face of obstacles. And I really liked this story because it brings to light some elements of deaf culture that some readers may not be familiar with. The author is not deaf herself but she is a sign language interpreter. So she weaves in a lot of really beautiful descriptions of American Sign Language that I think a lot of people would find really interesting. And I also think that this story would appeal to anybody who likes to learn about sea life or even science, because the whale in this story is actually loosely based off of a real whale called 52 Blue, who is known as like the loneliest whale in the world. And so that was kind of cool to learn about some new things, just that whales do to communicate.

Charity 10:30 Wow, that is so interesting. As you were describing it, I was wondering if this was based on a true story because it just sounds like it would be.

Kaitlyn 10:40 Yes.

Charity 10:41 How interesting that both of the books that you shared today, while being completely different, it sounds like they give a window into a culture that probably a lot of readers may be unfamiliar with. And both books where you're gonna learn a lot. It sounds like about both of these cultures.

Kaitlyn 10:58 Yeah, that's my favorite part. That's my favorite part about reading is that you get the opportunity to sometimes see into somebody else's world that you may never experience yourself. But it's a great, just tool for empathy, and just to learn something new. So I thought both of these were really great for that.

Charity 11:18 Did you read Wonder by Brian Selznick? I'm sorry, not Wonder by Brian Selznick. But you know, the title I'm talking about with the story with the deaf character?

Kaitlyn 11:28 I have read Wonder, but I'm trying to think of what the other one is.

Charity 11:32 He wrote a story where the main character was deaf. And so Song for a Whale reminded me of that one because that representation isn't one that you see very often in, certainly, middle grade fiction too much. And so, I was wondering, Wonderstruck, that's the title Wonderstruck.

Kaitlyn 11:57 Oh, okay. I haven't read that one. No.

Charity 11:59 Okay. Well, that's another one where, it's two main characters, but one of them is a girl who's deaf. In that one, he does a really good job of, kind of showing how she moves through the world and how she kind of learns to do all the things that she needs to do, and she does some pretty cool and important things in that story.

Kaitlyn 12:23 That's awesome. I'll have to read that one because I haven't read that yet.

Charity 12:25 It's a good one. Well, Kaitlyn, these were two really just fascinating titles. And I'm gonna say important titles, like these are really just good stories. So I'm definitely going to put these on my to read list. All the listeners, Planet Book listeners out there, put these on your to read list. Kaitlyn, I want to thank you so much for being with me and sharing these wonderful books today.

Kaitlyn 12:50 Oh, well thank you for having me. I enjoyed talking to you today.

Charity 12:53 Oh, I'm so glad we did this. Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Planet Book podcast. Check out the library's website at for these and other great recommendations and follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

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