Saturday, June 27, 2009

M. Sindy Felin's Touching Snow

I purchased this book for my school library after reading about it on some random blog (wishing now I had kept track of just which blog). Even though the content is more middle school I thought I had fifth graders whowould handle the subject matter.

What is the subject matter your asking? Child abuse and the plight of immigrant families are the overriding themes of this well-written novel. The author does a brilliant job of writing in the voice of an eighth-grade young girl.

  • The book begins in a startling way, with Karina telling us what it feels like to walk the halls of her school after killing her step-father. I think everyone should read this book; just as I believe all humans should work in the service is important to know how the world works; really works and this book describes how child abuse works in many families!! Karina has two sisters; Enid and Delta and all three suffer beatings from their large Haitian step-father. Here the three sisters discuss how they are going to save each other as adults:
"We should all make a pact and swear that when we get married, we'll never let our husbands treat our kids like Daddy does. We should prick our fingers and press them together and become blood sisters and swear." (Karina says)
"We're already sisters, Katu," said Enid.
"Oh, yeah, I know," I said. "but we should swear anyway."
"How would we ever stop someone like Daddy?" Delta asked.
I shrugged. "It's just an idea."...
..."I think that's a very good idea, Katu." whispered Enid. It was all the encouragement I needed. "All you'd have to do is call for help. We could have a signal,"
"Like the eagle has landed," said Enid.
"No!" yelled Delta as she jumped up suddenly and began twirling around and flapping her arms like a bird. "Your guardian angel has landed!"
"Yeah, something like that," I continued.

The girls are just looking for someone to save them; saving themselves has proven to difficult. The pattern is that one girl gets a "beat-up" from Daddy and then they are forced to lie about it to any authority figure, with the girls taking the blame. It isn't like anybody has a gun to their head to cover for "Daddy" but they know the routine. Mama needs "the Daddy" to be there in the house to pay the bills and even though, the mother is upset with the severity of the beatings, she feels the kids need his discipline to stay in line. Daddy works as a taxi driver and Mama works at a factory; often overtime to make ends meet. In any kind of abuse there is always an unwritten code to not get the offending parent in trouble and this family has the system down.

Here is another quote describing this vicious circle:

"Don't worry, Mrs. Gaston," said Mr. Levinson as her reached over and patted her arm. "We will do everything we can to get your family back together."
I could not believe what I was hearing. Yeah, I knew what I had just told Father Sanon and Mr. Levinson. (the lie that she beat her sister, Enid) But if they couldn't tell I was lying, then they were major retards. Why did I keep thinking some adult somewhere was finally going to start acting like one? Why did I think that Aunt Merlude would know what else to do when she found Enid half dead besides collapsing into a babbling heap of drool? Why did I think Uncle Jude would drive us all to the police station and rat out his brother instead of dunking Enid in a scalding salt bath, then letting the Daddy crash at his apartment? Why did I think that Mr. Levinson would listen to me tell him how I'd beaten Enid so badly she was still limping this many weeks later, then nod his head and pat my arm and say "Bullshit, Karina"?

Yes, there is a small amount of swearing, some kissing between Karina and a girlfriend, which will probably freak some people out. It fits with the story though and as the reader, I came away cheering for Karina, Delta and Enid for making their lives work amidst all the chaos. This is a wonderfully well-written tale about a harsh topic that had me racing to the end to see if any guardian angels show up to help.

Check out The Brown Bookshelf review.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parenting and books

Today I was driving in my trusty Volvo, when an argument/disagreement broke out between my 14-year-old son and my six-year-old daughter. There is nothing like driving in an enclosed vehicle with a crying child; one that feels wronged by the older sibling and siblings' friend. As my little J. was sobbing away, trying to tell me how her older brother had just wronged her I have to admit I was rolling my eyes and rubbing my neck with annoyance because I get really tired of all these little arguments back and forth.

I attempted to divert her after I took in one deep, long, cleansing breathe, with a quick little quip about how her brother would protect her from a playground bully, showing his love in this way even if on a daily basis it is difficult to feel his love. My son and his friend got involved, thankfully, in this tale I was weaving and soon the six-year-old was giggling with glee as her brother continued to explain to her how he would give the playground bully the evil eye with several demonstrations. I smiled as I listened to them, happy that I had diverted the argument and the tears-glad for my one moment of good parenting.

I thought to myself how I far to often give myself a hard time about my parenting skills; frustrated at my lack of patience with my teen-age son, who seems to work really hard on aggravating me, even though or because of our former great relationship. I have read many parenting books, trying to find the magic ingredient to show me the way. I have read and listened to Anne Lamott (a fabulous author, who often writes about her son, Sam) for guidance.

Then one night J. and I were rereading Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Cookies; bite-sized life lessons when a thought hit me! This is my parenting book!! This truly hits all that I need to remember when parenting my children and if I can show them these qualities, using this common language I use every day as a teacher-librarian we may get somewhere together!

This will be particularly prudent as we head out on our major Summer Road-Trip to the DC area. I am going to make myself a cheat sheet with AKR's key words; you know, like "cooperation, polite, loyal, optimistic, and respect" so I can use them repeatedly as we drive for days together. I'm happy we have our Volvo instead of this...
which was the way my family road-tripped back in the day. (well, it was more of a green 70's version, really)

Watch this great video of Anne Lamott on Stephen Colbert.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy

My friend, Tina, from books are my thing, made me check this book out last week from our local library. She said, "Even though the cover is very unattractive, the story is great," and it was!! Funny one point, during my reading, I made a mental note that the dialogue was a not that good..then, when I got to the end, I had a huge "aha" moment, which I will not share because I don't want to be a spoiler!!

The story centers around Joan, who has just moved to a suburb of San Fransisco from Connecticut, with her family. Joan is sent out to "explore the neighborhood" one day while her mom is unpacking stuff and she meets a neighbor girl unlike any other. Her new friend goes by the name of Fox and appears to live in the forest area between Joan's house and the rest of the world. Fox (aka Sarah) lives with her wise single father, Gus, who is a writer (and a tattooed motorcycle rider.) Joan's father, on the other hand, is bitter and angry and takes it out on his family with sarcastic comments. Neither family situation is perfect, however, for Fox misses the mother who left her when she was seven.

Luckily, Fox and Joan end up in the same class and, toward the end of the year, enter a story-writing contest together, with one story they have created about "wild girls". The girls' story wins and they are invited to become part of a special writer's workshop taught by a unique teacher, Verla Volante, at Berkeley. This opens up a whole new world for Sarah and Joan as they trek each week into the wild city and meet a bunch of "loose nuts" that help them understand their own unique qualities. This book is a wonderful romp with a great cast of characters, and lots of story-telling tips along the way!!
Pat Murphy's website
Tina's review
Sarah Laurence's review
love the cover art on her copy-why did they change it????

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The List

  1. I've looked at this book, The Patron Saint of butterflies by Cecilia Galante several times at the library.
  2. I finally brought it home to read.
  3. I read it in one blissful day.
  4. Interesting cast of characters including the independent and courageous Honey and when the time is right, Agnes and Benny persevere.
  5. Religion is at the center of the story.
  6. Not just any old religion but a cult led by Emmanuel and Veronica.
  7. The cult began in some small Iowa town where Emmanuel was a professor.
  8. Love the grandmother-Nana Pete (Petunia); she is not part of the cult-thank heavens!!
  9. Winky, another cool character, has a beautiful butterfly garden(something I aspire to have also).
  10. You should read this book just so you can see the battle that rages inside of Agnes and maybe all of us from time to time.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Also known as Harper by Ann Haywood Leal

I finished it but I didn't want to finish it, if you know what I mean. I wanted to be 14 again reading this book, loving it and then rereading it, which is what I used to do when I was 14 because my days were never-ending read fests.

Ann Haywood Leal has created touching and realistic characters focused around the central theme of poverty. Harper Lee and her brother, Hemingway live with their mom, who is barely surviving financially. Harper's happiness comes from her family and her ability to transform words into poetry. Her mom works odd jobs, mostly cleaning other people's houses and working at a laundromat. It seems at one time the family had happier times with Harper's memories showing us a trip to the fair, and swimming together until Daddy's life becomes consumed with "the whiskey".

Harper's memories also shift to show us this new bitter daddy and how his acerbic tongue belittles the women of the family. In another flashback we are witness to mom demanding dad leave because of his drinking. I think this will really help young readers see a side of poverty they might never be witness to and it may show others that what they are experienceing in poverty is very much like Harper's life. I know many children at my elementary school have been traumatized by house fires or evictions. As the librarian, I often hear excuses like "i can't get my book's at my dad's and I'm not going there right now." Sometimes I hear from teachers that this family is now living in a motel because a house fire took their belongings or certain kids have been taken from a mom or dad's home, quickly. I've always been sympathetic to these situations but reading this book I will be more empathetic to how quickly life can spiral out of control, especially for a child.
I particularly liked how Harper, even though she couldn't get back and forth to school, really wanted to get there. She deeply missed her teacher and her school surroundings. Harper is forced to miss school for a few days because she has to watch her young brother, Hemingway while her mom works as much as she can to try to raise any kind of rent money. I guess when I hear about kids missing school for days at a time because of living situations I think they must be enjoying their freedom. Harper, Randall and Lorraine show the other side of students just doing what they can to get by on a very daily basis. This book, realistic fiction at it's best, will be a must-purchase for my library when I make my first book order in the fall. It reminds me of a series I read during my graduate days by Cynthia Voight called the Tillerman series; The Homecoming and Dicey's Song. These books also featured a young family in crisis.

Ann Haywood's website.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Night time story time

One of my quests this summer is to read good, old classic chapter books with J. so we started the summer with one of my early favorite authors, Beverly Cleary's Beezus and Ramona! I love that the humor of Ramona is still funny. You just can't get past the picture of Ramona ramming her tricycle into the coffee table, trying to get Beezus' attention or sitting on the basement floor taking one bite out of apple after apple-because "the first bite is the best."

During story time we still read picture books together and this week we discovered Polly Dunbar. We read Hello Tilly and Where's Tumpty by Dunbar. Very sweet books with no real purpose except joy. Great illustrations about a little pixie girl who lives with her animal friends in a little yellow house. J. and I loved that Tilly's long-sleeved polka-dot t-shirt matches the end papers of the book-yes, same exact polka-dots-both our mouths dropped open and then smiled with that fine little touch. We went through the other book but did not find the same matching arrangement. Dunbar has a few other good titles and her fun website is worth checking out!

We also read Lauren Child's Who's afraid of the big bad book?-talk about falling into a story, this one (no Charlie and Lola characters here, by the way) has Herb falling into one of his fairy tale books that he has treated very well. He's cut, glued and drawn mustaches on a few characters and that comes back to haunt poor Herb. This was a much longer book to read but J. enjoyed the silly story of Herb mixing it up with Cinderella and teaches an easy lesson of taking care of your books so the characters appreciate you. I enjoyed the story but am a little disappointed in Lauren Child's mass marketing of many of her titles. She's followed in the notorious footsteps of Franklin and Arthur books, and has a bunch of books written by other authors based on the Charlie and Lola television series. Bleechhh! This title written by Child's is quite good beyond how I feel about her selling out Charlie and Lola. Here is a very descriptive review of this book.

My own story time I finished The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry, which was a short read but not as magical as I had hoped. The children and the nanny are quite interesting but it is a storyline that has been done-you know mean parents, soon-to-be-orphans, great nanny and a avalanche in Switzerland. One of the outstanding features of this chapter book is the amazing language she has her characters use. The orphans are smart and talkative! Words such as "acquisition, affable, contemplating, bilious, conspiracy, ignominious and fortuitious." Wow-great language and with a glossary so readers can look up as they read. Lowry includes a bibliography of other famous orphan stories for readers. Exploring Lowry's website I discovered her blog and I read entranced for at least 10 minutes-pictures of grandkids mixed with her trip to Africa. I was looking for information about The Willoughby's because I'm wondering if there is going to be another sequel, following the orphans and the wonderful Nanny. I didn't find it there but will keep my eyes open because the book ended on just that kind of note!
Anyone out there with an extra copy of Catching Fire????????

Monday, June 15, 2009

Catching fire fever

Just a couple of book-related notes today. If you are still looking for a copy of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, the much-anticipated sequel to The Hunger Games head over to Linus' blanket for a chance at a give away!! Go ahead and leave a comment for your chance to win (even though I want to win the most!!!).

The other day as I was browsing Gennifer Choldenko's website for my last post I was so happily surprised to find myself quoted on her author page. I had to show my son, my mother and my brother and call my husband and well, now all of you (my three readers, insert smiley face). Check it out here and scroll past the cool prison photo-op. Love it!!! Thank you Gennifer!!

Thank you also goes out to Shelf Elf for randomly picking me to win a copy of Also known as Harper by Ann Haywood Leal. ***great author website:)
I can't wait to read this book, which is about a young poet growing up in poverty. The character names alone are interesting; Harper-named for the famous Harper Lee and her brother, Hemingway. Thank you to the rep at Henry Holt for sending it to me!

Take a look at this great review by Mrs Magoo!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Summertime sweet

Ahhhh, the joy of being a teacher definitely resides in the summer time break (don't tell the 500 students at my school!). Let the summertime reading begin. My hammock is set up and the lemonade is chilled.

After I finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Al Capone shines my shoes by Gennifer Choldenko, I decided it was time to go back to my beside-the-bed pile of soon-to-reads! I pulled up The Rest of her life by Laura Moriarty. I remember purchasing this book at my lovely library's used book store. It appealed to me because it was about the tenous releationship between mothers and daughters.

In this particular tale, Leigh is the narrator, a woman, wife and mother who still struggles with how her mother raised her. Her mother was cold, bitter and a complainer, not the hug-loving, cookie-baking mama Leigh wanted. But like I tell my own children-"you get what you get and you don't throw a fit". Leigh has never recovered from the many mistakes her mother made while her older sister, Pam is more empathetic to her mom and how rough she had it; trying to raise the two girls on her own, working sometimes more than one job and moving constantly as her mother continues to lose jobs due to her somewhat abrasive personality.

When the book opens we meet Leigh, a high school English teacher married to Gary, a professor at the local univesity somewhere in Kansas. Their oldest daughter, Kara driving in town accidentely hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk, while rescueing a lost dog and trying to call the animal rescue shelter at the same time. Written in 2007, this shows what young drivers deal with in our modern techno world. All I had to do when I learned to drive is figure out the exact moment to let out the clutch! This tragedy is what motivates the story and how the family deals with the stress of the situation is very interesting.

When I purchased the book I didn't realize that I would be reading the book at them same time my 14-year-old son would be applying for and getting (gasp!) his permit to drive! The book took on special meaning because of this coincidence (?). This is a great read; worth it for the wonderful relationships Moriarty has created. Leigh's best friend, Eva and her daughter Willow add to the list of characters meant to shake things up. I know really want to read Moriarty's first book, The center of everything.

I brought home from school 45 chapter book, 4 professional books, and 20 picture books so I'm picking randomly out of my crates for what to read next. all that should get me through until i find a copy of Catching Fire!!!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

We've read our ARC (yes, we've had it for awhile now) of Little Oink by A.K.R and illustrated by Jen Corace , quite a few times. I read it to J. first, then again, again and now she has read it to me a few times
Let's hear what she thinks of this fabulous book: Me:
So, honey what do you think of this book?

J.: "I think the illustrations are cool because she puts lots of little detail in it, I like the story because it is switched around; usually parents are clean and in this book, the parents are messy and the 'kid' is clean and not messy!" "The illustrations pop-out at you-a lot of detail and speech bubbles!" "I like the trees and the greens and browns in the picture and then the pig's stripey shirt" "and I like the writing on the chalk board in the school room and the 'students' eating from the trough." and I like the nighttime scene where they are doing 'this little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home...', I like how the dad has a big dirt stain on his shirt"-"all I really have to say is it is awesome and unique!" followed by a giggle!!

J. used the word
"detail" quite a few times in reference to the illustrations as well. I love the continuous run-on thought-process. I had trouble keeping up typing and I am pretty fast. I don't really know what I can add to that amazing assesment except I love the book as much as Little Pea and Little Hoot!

I love the switch-around message for a reminder of our own individuality!! My Mom used to call it "marching to the beat of a different drummer", in reference to me.
I think these books demonstrate those qualities extraordinarily!! As I browsed her website I noticed several other new books.
I already have Duck! Rabbit! in my library collection(can't wait to share it with little ones in the Fall) and will be looking to add Spoon as well. Whomever Amy Krouse Rosenthal is teamed up with she seems to shine with unique ideas!

Little Oink
April, 2009
Chronicle Books

Watch the book trailer here!
Another great review here!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gary Kelley's illustrations

I went to a book signing for our local artist, Gary Kelley tonight! He was discussing the illustrations he created for Doreen Rappaport's new biography, Eleanor, Quiet no more; the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. I took my budding artist, J. and both of us loved listening to him talk about creating the art work for this beautiful project. The illustrations are amazing and unique and match so well with Ms. Rappaport's text. I loved hearing him talk about how he researched from a variety of books, looking at old photographs to capture her face from different angles. He showed photographs he took of a house Eleanor lived in at the beginning of her marriage and how he turned those into his chalk drawings. He enjoyed researching this project because her life encompassed such great history and she grew in her ability to speak out. Kelley admitted to being a Democrat (which I knew as he was at several local Obama events last summer) and the only reason he brought this up is comparing some of his images (like Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial)-to Obama speaking there this year. Kelley is a very talented artist and yet very down-to-earth-he was wearing blue suede sneakers!

J. asked him a question during the Q/A part of the evening. I was impressed she stuck her little hand up right away and asked what he painted with and if he had a place to paint at home? A: While he does paint, the drawings were done in chalk (a special chalk-I can't remember the exact name) and he has a studio downtown on Main St. Now we know!

I want to know who at the publishing company decided to present Rappaport's biographies without a title on the front...this is pure genius I think! Not only does it make his drawing of Eleanor stand out so dramatically but it also makes you want to pick it up right away and start exploring-for the title, of course, but in the meantime you'll probably fall in love with the story and the illustrations inside and march right up and buy it. I bought a copy at the signing and J. stood in line to have it autographed...she was first in line and I hope she will always remember these exciting book adventures.