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“When you sell a man a book you don't sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new lif... More
Summary: Caitlin Stoicsitz wasn't all that interested in school - or anything else that didn't have to do with shopping or boys. When Mrs. Miller told her 7th graders to pick a country to write a pen pal letter, Caitlin was intrigued. She chose Zimbabwe, because it sounded exotic and cool. Ten letters arrived in the school of 50 students in Chisamba Singles. Mrs. Jurai handed the first letter to Martin Ganda and asked him to read it out loud. It was Caitlin's letter. Martin was equally excited to learn more about a country he knew only through pop culture. What began as a school assignment in September 1997, evolved into a friendship that grew deeper with time and led to Martin coming to the United States to meet his American family and attend college. Both Martin and Caitlin tell the story of their relationship through alternating chapters.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, independent reading, read aloud book,
Recommended Age: read together: 9 to 13; read yourself: 11 and Up
Interest Level: 10 to 16
Reading Level: 5.6
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: It was impossible to put this down, and I read it in one sitting. I especially loved how the book laid out their assumptions with the "innocence" that comes with stereotyping people. Caitlin's and Martin's voices are authentic and their thinking reflects what you'd expect of preteens. The alternating voices - that mirror the back-and-forth you'd see in a letter exchange - help mark time, but also show readers how our experiences change our priorities and perceptions. Although some things would now be outdated (e.g., audiotapes and CDs), the essence of the story gives it an appeal for today's young readers.
Pros: Readers of all ages will enjoy this exceptional story of two pre-teens whose lives were worlds apart became a lifelong bond. This would be a strong choice for a read-aloud. Short chapters will also appeal to dormant readers.
Cons: The book needs a map of Zimbabwe! It would also help to have a timeline that marks key moments in Caitlin's and Martin's lives, as well as national or international events, so that readers can see how they intersect.
Borrow or Buy: Borrow, at least. It creates an opportunity for preteens to see themselves and think about their priorities/lifestyle in a nonthreatening way. Given its' narrative style, some readers won't *see* it as nonfiction (though it is). HIGHLY recommended.
Educational Themes: I Will Always Write Back opens a wonderful door for talking about assumptions, stereotypes, and world awareness. On several occasions Caitlin felt she had to "defend" her relationship with Martin. What were the bases for others' opinions? Was Caitlin always 'right' in her methods and judgements?
Because of its lack of a timeline, readers could create their own. There would be event timelines for Caitlin and Martin, but also a parallel timeline of key national / international events that impacted their relationship. They are touched on lightly in the book, and can be further developed with research.
Notes: This publisher sent a copy of this book as part of the 2015 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award (Cybils) process. This review is not intended to represent the opinions of the Cybils. The book will be donated to a reader in need.