Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The very unique Hardscrabble family in The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

Oh, I am having so much fun reading this week, getting books off my to-read shelf that have languished too long.  I thought this one was going to be all copycat Lemony Snickett(poor, poor orphan children) and while it does have some similarities, the Hardscrabble family is very unique.

"There were three of them. Otto was the oldest, and the oddest.  Then there was Lucia, who wished something interesting would happen.  Last of all was Max, who always thought he knew better.  They lived in a small town in England called Little Tunks." (1)

It is written in a very meta-fictive style in that as the reader you are talked to in a certain, knowing way.  Their father has to go out of town on a supposed business trip and sends the children off to London, to an aunt's house.  Once they arrive they find only the cat sitter who made the mistake of pretending to understand what their dad said when he called to make arrangements.

Their aunt is truly on holiday and the cat sitter won't let them stay (she doesn't know them after all!) so they spend one scary night in London and then head off to their Great- Aunt's house near the sea. It's quite a journey and once they arrive their Great-Aunt is not what they expect at all.  They have a small castle to explore and  they find themselves pulled into the mysterious kneebone boy fiasco, which really all leads to what the Hardscrabble children really need; answers to what happened to their mother.

I found this book to be wonderfully quirky and I could think of a whole list of students to recommend it to because you need a unique mind to enjoy the Hardscrabble's as characters as well as their unique journey.
I found it so refreshing when the children find out (although Otto remembers) that their mother has been dealing with her own mental health and that that is where the father goes every time he sets off for a trip.

Ellen Potter breathes an unusual life into Otto, Lucia, and Max, creating this story and I wouldn't mind hearing more about their adventures. Take note of the cover above and realize you will find yourself returning to it throughout the story, checking on details about the children-like Otto's scarf, wrapped so tightly around his neck, as though he is continually cold.  Details.  Explore Potter's website

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

This heavy book has been sitting on my desk looking at me for about 6 months.  I stuck it in my summer box, brought it home, read a bunch of other stuff and it still kept looking at me.  If I'd peeked inside I would have noticed the little typed line..."for the peacemakers," which would have piqued my interest.  That and the fact that it's about the 60's-the early years-should have captured me as well and once I did crack the cover I enjoyed every page-the story plus the memorabilia. 1962-the year I was born and Kennedy and Khrushchev battle it out through many conversations, each one not wanting to back down.

"The price of a gallon of gas rose to 31 cents today."

And the opening sentence: "I am eleven years old, and I am invisible."-not because she's in some deep depression but because Mrs. Rodriquez hasn't called on her to read-aloud in Social Studies.  Remember when those of us that were good readers loved round robin reading-we were thrilled to be called on and Franny is the same, she is mad and feels like she is being punished by her teacher.  She dangles herself out into the aisle, hoping Mrs. Rodriquez will realize her mistake.

Franny is a strong young female heroine trying to make sense of a world where her family struggles seem as large and confusing as the world struggles with Cuba, nuclear missiles and the idea that she has to be ready to duck and cover to save herself.  You should know this book will make you smarter-it has a lot of history in it-and it will make you understand why peace is so important.

Each of Franny's family member brings something to this story but much of the action stems from Uncle Otts, a veteran, suffering from shell-shock.  He can't seem to separate reality from his war experiences especially as the U.S. seems bent on stirring up trouble with Russia and Cuba.  Things keep flashing back for him and I found this story line interesting as we still struggle with this as soldiers come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

I read around a bit on Deborah Wiles' website and she's led and interesting life.  I look forward to others in this three part series.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

I'm an even bigger fan of Donnelly's now that I've read this book.  I read Revolution (a newer book) first and then heard from many people about the fantastic-ness of A Northern Light, which prompted me to check it out from the library.  I finished it last night and sighed and smiled.

It's 1906 and Mattie Gokey is the oldest daughter in a family of four other girls.  Their mother has died recently leaving them all with fresh sadness.  Mattie's been the one in charge of chores, taking care of her siblings while her father runs the farm.  Mattie loves words, making her standout as a student when she is able to attend, and she looks up a new word in the dictionary every day.  She has two best friends; Weaver, an African American young man who is set on going to Columbia to be a lawyer, and Millie, who left school last year to get married and gives birth to twins.

Mattie has dreams to attend Barnard College and received a scholarship to attend-she just needs money to ride the train, a place to stay and books.  When the family mule dies her father needs help financially and agrees to let Mattie work at one of the local hotels.  A whole new world opens up to Mattie as she discovers the wealthy lives of the people staying at the hotel and the mystery of a young lady who hands her a stack of letters.

I just can't tell you any more.  You should read all about the mystery yourself.  This book has much to say about the beginning of the women's movement  and what it was like for women, like Mattie's teacher, Miss Wilcox, who chose a life of their own.  We take it for granted now; like it's always been that way, even though it's only about three generations ago that things began to change.  This book blends a love of words with mysteries about her teacher, the young woman at the hotel as well as Mattie's own dilemma as she sorts out what her own path will be.

Mattie is a wonderful heroine who doesn't disappoint us in her choices and uses what she comes to understand from her work at the hotel, through her friend, Millie, and her own mother's decisions as well as her relationship with Royal Loomis and everything he has to offer.  This one deserves to be pulled out of the stacks and read.

Awarded in 2004 the ALA's Michael L. Printz's Award for Excellence Honor Book-the list.   The First Part Last by Angela Johnson took the prize and understandably so.
Jennifer Donnelly's website

Other thoughts:
Best Books I Have Not Read
Emily at Las Risas
Erin Reads

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nonfiction Photojournals about Familes

Another piece of homework required for my recent class was a text set of books we might use to present a topic to students.  I wanted to do something startlingly different and picked non-traditional families with a focus on same sex, single dad, foster and multi-generational families.
I found three fantastic books that should be a part of anyone's collection:

1. My Family by Sheila Kinkade with photographs by Elaine Little (2006)  This book is a project by SHAKTI for Children dedicated to teaching children to value diversity. Presenting families from around the globe with all we have in common; eating, living, learning and growing together as one human family.  This book makes the point that we are all one.  Told through beautiful photographs and easy text this is a great book to explore with students and their families.

2. Families by Susan Kuklin (2006) This book highlights 15 families of various diverse backgrounds and how their family is special.  Several culturally mixed families are included and in their interviews,which are always the children, Osamu says  " We're a fun-loving, culturally mixed up family.  Mixed is more fun," after he and his brother have relayed how much they enjoy being a part of both cultures of Japanese and American.  In an another interview Eloise ends hers by saying "We both love each other. That's the most important thing in the whole, entire world."  Eloise was adopted from China by a single mom and feels 100 % American.  Each story makes you feel a little more connected and realize that Eloise is right-families are made up of love and that is the most important ingredient.

3. Our Grandparent's; A Global Album by Maya Ajmera, Sheila Kinkade and Cynthia Pon with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (2010)  This book shares the special relationship of grandparents in all cultures.  The special bond is explored and emphasizes what you can learn from this relationship.  Grandparents hold the key to where your family has been and how your parent was as a child.  This book is pure celebration of the joy between grandparents and grandbabies.

My mom was just here while I recovered from minor surgery and I'm happy to say she took great care in celebrating with her two grandchildren by cooking with them and getting them to help around the house.  Stuff they won't do for me, she had them up and moving!  Go Grandma!!  Celebrate your family!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jennifer L. Holm did my homework!

Maryland Newsline image-and article

Well, not really but she made it easy.  When asked, as part of my UNI Children's Literature class this summer, to pick an author out of a list of many interesting authors I picked her.  Even though she's been on my radar I haven't read anything of hers and it was time.

Jennifer had what sounds like an idyllic childhood.  Her father was a pediatric doctor and her mother was a nurse.  She had four sporty brothers and she did her best to keep up with them.  She read voraciously even, as one neighbor noted, she raked the yard.  It seems that she easily carried her passions into her desire to write.  Each of her young female characters are gutsy and refuse to be pigeon-holed into the idea of women in their time period.

1. Our Only May Amelia (1999) It isn't easy being a pioneer in the state of Washington in 1899, but it's particularly hard when you are the only girl ever born in the new settlement.  With seven older brothers and a love of adventure, May Amelia Jackson just can't seem to abide her family's insistence that she behave like a Proper Young Lady.  Not when there's fishing to be done, sheep to be herded, and real live murderers to be captured!  May is sure she could manage better if only there were at least one other girl living along the banks of the Nasel River.  An now that Mama's going to have a baby, maybe there's hope...(from author website)
This is a quick read filled with fun adventures.Getting to know her brothers, neighbors and relatives was part of the joy of this story. May  Amelia is a character I will remember.  This book was transformed into a play by the Seattle Children's Theatre-would love to have seen it.

2. Turtle In Paradise (2010) Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple.  She's smart and tough and seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending.  After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce.  So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met.  
Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen.  It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure.  Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways. (from author website)
While Turtle is another very high-spirited character compared to May Amelia she is very different and world-wise. I loved the beach setting and the very unique Key West culture and language.  Her boy cousins and their baby business was hysterical!

3. Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf (2007) Ginny has ten items on her big to-do list for 7th grade. None of them, however, include turning her hair pink. Or getting sent to detention for throwing frogs in class. Or losing the lead role in the ballet recital to her ex-best friend.  Or the thousand other things that can go wrong between September and June. But it looks like it is shaping up to be that kind of a year.  (from author's website)
See this is how you know an author is multi-talented...dropping into a whole new genre and doing it well!  This is part realistic fiction, part journal and a great peek at middle school.  Ginny is brave and bold and can clearly state that her dad died and she's looking for a new one.  This book is filled with fun notes between Ginny and her mom, movie receipts, drug store necessities, homework assignments and all this  great middle grade angst.

Babymouse (2005 and beyond)  This is a pink comic book (not just for girls though) about a funny little girl mouse who's in elementary school.  I'd like to read the whole set but haven't yet; the one I read (Heartbreaker) is about going to the Valentine's Day dance.  Babymouse can't find anyone to take her even though her best friend is available. I have Groovy Girl hooked on these now.  This series, to me, defined Jennifer L. Holm as an above average creative force;  the mouse put me over the moon!

Jennifer lives in Northern California with her husband and two children, Millie and Will.  She loved Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series and now I have this on my radar to read.

Babymouse has her own website-must introduce my students to this!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer Projects

Okay, I've survived the school meetings and have had the opportunity to work in my library and that is the best part.  I've created a new schedule and checked out some books to a few teachers.  I'm working on some lessons plans; long range and the next week or two.  Things are coming together.

At home I had two summer projects that I wanted to accomplish:

1.Bring less packaging home by buying in bulk using my own containers

2. Menu Planning so I'm not crazy during the week.

The packaging project has gone quite well and I now have half a shelf in my pantry dedicated to my bulk buying.  I planned on practice menu planning this summer but I never got to it!!  We DID eat over the summer but it was just fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants-eating.  We ate a lot of food from the farmer's market over the summer and I did a lot of food-related posts for Weekend Cooking  but the actually writing out of a plan did not happen. Sooooo.... Beginning of the school year is the perfect time to do this.

I've copied off the cute little menu plans from The Sister's Cafe and I'm reusing a  pink binder of Groovy Girl's.  She's into lime green now and so the pink binder has been tossed out of her room and into my recycling hands.

This week's plan:

Monday:  Pasta with red sauce (prepared by husband because I had Good Spirits Book Club)
Tuesday:  Mushroom Soup from She Likes Bento. Take out Pizza purchased by husband because I'm not feeling well and am slacking on the sofa.
Wednesday:  Mushroom Soup-I have all the ingredients and it begs to be made.
Thursday:  Tofu Stir Fry with garden produce
Friday:  White Beans with Garlic and Herbs (from In The Green Kitchen; Alice Waters)
Saturday: Leftovers
Sunday: Roast Chicken with garden potatoes

My plan is to only try two new recipes during the week.  The tofu stir fry is an easy recipe for me that I improvise all the time.  Just like lesson planning helps me to stay organized at work so to should this menu planning for my after school time.

How is your week shaping up?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

School Days

I have to wake up in the morning and go to a meeting for several hours-a meeting where I will listen to many administrators talk, talk, talk about how we are all doing an amazing job.  We ARE doing an amazing job (most of us).  Only to go back to our teaching jobs and be treated like we don't really do an amazing job because of the lengthy checks and balances systems that has been put in place.  It's downright creepy, is what it is.

I love working with students-the bonus of my job while I'm in school Summer is a huge draw as well.  Administration, guidelines, (extensive) lesson planning, meetings, meetings, meetings all bring me down.  We are all on some list or another which says we are not successful and we can never get ourselves off the list because we have the same students who struggle through school.  It is a never-ending cycle.

I'm pumped to go back, really I am.  It is just a bleak scene in my district right now and I am having a difficult time getting pumped up for this ding-dang meeting in the morning!!

Is everybody else ready to head back to school? Do you have your school supplies purchased?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Weekend Cooking; Mouth-watering Vegan Chocolate Pudding

My stepdaughter, Kaylee, has been here all week and anytime she is here I step up my cooking.  This week I tried three new recipes; one from my Sept. Vegetarian Times and two from Alice Waters' In the Green Kitchen.   All were delicious but the most adored recipe was a Vegan Chocolate Pudding from VT.  It was completely unfair to pit this mouth-watering chocolate recipe against two other very good choices so you can find their recipes at the end of this post.  Several of us dreamed about the pudding that night after eating it and talked about it the next day.

(image courtesy of Seraphic Singles)
Velvet Smooth Dark Chocolate Pudding (Sept, 2011)

This warm stove-top pudding packs a punch of deep chocolate flavor.  It's the perfect recipe for a quick company dessert or a simple nighttime treat.

3/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
3 T cornstarch
2 1/4 cups unsweetened hazelnut or almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz vegan semisweet chocolate, chopped

Whisk together brown sugar and cornstarch in medium saucepan.  Gradually stir in hazelnut milk, whisking constantly to combine.  Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, or until mixture thickens.  Stir in vanilla, and remove from heat.  Add chopped chocolate, and let stand for 1 minute.  Stir until smooth.

Mine didn't thicken as much as I thought it should.  We called it chocolate soup but licked our bowls anyway.  Now I have to try, try, try to make this again and see if I can perfect it!  Oh, the tribulations!

Here is the Lentil Soup recipe.
Here is the Apple Galette recipe.

I've loved paging through In The Green Kitchen and am thinking I might have to buy it.  Waters' has it set up with an informative opening about what a green kitchen is and how to stock a green pantry with a great list.  Each featured chef has their own section, with their green cooking tip; something like David Tanis' Simmering Beans advice followed by his recipe for White Beans with Garlic and Herbs, which I plan to make this week.

Weekend Cooking is a weekend meme hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  Any food related post can join in-click on her link and take a look at all the other foodie-posts!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Maggie Stiefvater's new book, The Scorpio Races

I stumbled across a new blog post by Maggie Stiefvater where she talks all about her new book, The Scorpia Races.  I love her creativity and the post describes how she and her sister recorded music/sounds to go with the book and how this book is the closest book to her real self.  Read her post on Goodreads.

Oh, and did I mention she's hosting a giveaway for 3 ARC's of The Scorpia Races.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake; Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

If you were only able to read one YA book this year, let it be this one.

472 pages

Goodreads Synopsis:

BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present. 

My Thoughts:

I gushed about reading the first 5 chapters via Amazon in this previous post and after I picked it up from my library I couldn't wait to get back to it.  It didn't disappoint me either.  Andi is suffering from her little brother Truman's death and she thinks about suicide more than once.  Her pain felt real as she trudges back and forth to school, going through the  motions and living for her music.  Music played a huge role in this story and it made me curious about the various bands that are mentioned. Modern bands mixed with dead composers make an interesting mix.  It should come with a CD.

This would have been a strong story on its own but adding the detail of Alex's diary, locked in a secret compartment of a guitar case, and the fact that Andi becomes obsessed with it brought such surprising twists.  Reading about Alex's daring adventures  to save Louis-Charles, the would-be king of England, help Andi to work through her own grief and frustration.  She heals as she is transformed by Alex's words.

I liked Virgil, Andi's new love interest, who helps her to talk about her pain and he doesn't give up-he's like a positive beacon for her, even when she messes up.  There are some creepy parts towards the end that had the hair on the back of my neck bristling away. I was reading it alone, late at night, while my husband was out of town-I scared myself silly. This was solid writing with very memorable characters. I'm pretty sure I know more about the French Revolution than I did before I read this!  Thank you, Jennifer Donnelly!

I checked out another Donnelly book, A Northern Light, from the library today.  

Jennifer Donnelly's website

Other reviews of Revolution:

Random Musings
Nancy at Tales from a Ravenous Reader
SIDEBAR:  I messed around with the HTML; trying to make a dotted box and I didn't get a dotted box, I got white!  Why can't I have a brain for HTML...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Soon after reading Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver I picked up Forman's If I Stay.  I found both books had similar themes of resurrection and death. The most glaring difference, for me, was personalities; Sam Kingston was a follower and her focus was on popularity~she does grow as she tries to fix things in her life.

If I Stay's main character, Mia was lovable just as she was~she grows as she learns to live without her family.  Her life was lovely; she had funky and interested parents, she was a talented cello player and had a funny and supportive best friend.  And the boyfriend, Adam, just as lovable as Mia but scruffier.


Mia chose life in If I Stay and this second book, told through Adam's perspective, tells us about his journey without her.  The band he plays in, Shooting Star, has taken off and he and the band are playing big shows with groupies and fans trailing after them.  He always wanted to make it big but it isn't what he expected at all because now it's not really about making music and getting their groove on; it's a show and it's bigger than them.  His band has always been like a family and now they are broken pieces linked but not happily.  He is popping pills and smoking cigarettes just to make it through the day.

One night in NYC Adam is out wandering the streets and passes by Carnegie Hall as people are going in for a performance.  It just so happens that Mia is playing and he buys a ticket.  Through word-of-mouth Mia learns that Adam (he is a major rock star now and recognizable) is in the audience and sends for him at the end.  They meet and talk for a few minutes and it doesn't go well.  Adam has all these things he wants to say to her and they just don't come out.  He wants to know why she let him go, why she stopped answering his emails and taking his phone calls.  Adam leaves Carnegie in frustration and Mia follows him and tries to talk more.  The second half of the book recounts this night together as they argue and slowly come together over what happened when Mia's family died.

My thoughts:

I liked this one but I missed Mia's eclectic parents.  In the first book you get a real sense of family from them; a coziness and in this one we meet Adam's parents and while they are both there they are not as interesting as Mia's were.  I loved Adam's interaction with her family and it added a lot to the characters.  Listening to Adam and Mia's dad talk about music helped us get to know Adam.  He wasn't just a guy playing in a band-he had potential.

We do get to hear all about Shooting Stars rise, crash and rise to fame again after Adam has a writing epiphany.  We get to understand why he's been in crisis and I was a bit bummed his band didn't understand this more.  His story was interesting but it got much more exciting once Mia and he were talking-even if at times I found it frustrating and wanted to talk for them!

Both these books are worthy and I like that it is a two-book set and I haven't heard anything about another one.  I felt the ends were tied up nicely and I could let them go.  And they made me weep!

Read my review of Lauren Oliver's Before i Fall.
Reading Rants reviews Where She Went.

Here's a trailer but I wanted Adam's voice to sound different.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Day

It's been my birthday (all day) and it has been an interesting day.  Three sweet children, all under the age of 10, made me breakfast.  I had scrambled eggs and biscuits.  I "helped" by taking the biscuits out of the oven and by making the scrambled eggs last night so Groovy Girl and her two cousins could just reheat the eggs. For her, it was extremely important to serve me breakfast in bed and that I could only take the biscuits out of the oven and pop back into bed. We did not have juice so I had Limeade mixed with seltzer-all served on a tray by 3 smiling children.  We all ate the eggs from one plate-4 forks.  It was wonderful.

I met a friend for coffee/tea and all 3 children played The Amazing Labyrinth while they ate their cookies and Orangina drinks.

I thought I should look up some facts about my sun sign and refresh my memory of what it means to be a Leo.  I found some interesting stuff worth sharing.

"There's an unmistakably regal air to Solar Leos. These are dignified—even noble—folk. Leos have a reputation for being conceited, but think again. Leos do feel important, but this generally takes the form of wanting to change the world in some way—to make the world a better place. They are generally motivated by affection for people, and often have big dreams and plans to make people happy."
 From Cafe Astrology website.

Those lines hit it exactly.  It is change that I seek,  for me and for the world.  

My husband sent gifts from afar.  I got a Bonsai tree in the mail and a toaster oven from my children. Some school clothes from my mother-in-law and a pair of one-of-a-kind knitting needles from my friend, V.  My mom gave me a book yesterday and bought me lunch and a big waffle cone of Hansen's ice cream.  30 of my friends wished Birthday greetings on Facebook and a few sent me texts or called.  My older brother sang to my mail box-very sweet. 

I was taken to dinner by old family friends-they've known me almost my entire life and happened to be driving from Colorado through Iowa, heading home to Wisconsin.  They brought me a rice mix from WI.  It was very special for them to think of me in the midst of their busy travel schedule.   
My other favorite August birthday is on Jerry Garcia was on the 1st.  
I hope everyone has had a blissful day!
Another Leo website!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

July Recap

  1.  Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Library)
  2.  Changing Heart by Jodi Piccoult (my own shelf)
  3.  If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Library)
  4.  Fire by Kristin Cashore (library)
  5.  Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm (library)
  6.  Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf by Jennifer L. Holm (library)
  7.  Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm (library)
  8.  Sisters Grimm (4) by Michael Buckley (Library/g.g.)
  9.  Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (library)
  10.  Forever (Mercy Falls Book 3) by Maggie Stiefvater
  11.   One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus (my own shelf)
I'm happy when I've read more than a handful of good books in a month; even during summer when I should have plenty of free time.  July's been a good and joyful month with lots of cooking and friends but with enough leftover spare moments to read.  

Groovy Girl's 45 minute swim lesson have provided me with lots of quiet time to read.  The graduate class I complained about gave me the opportunity to read a bunch of Jennifer L. Holm's books and I have a post planned to share those.  I finished off Stiefvater's Mercy Falls series which I loved and hated to see end.  I read two of Cashore's Seven Kingdoms series and look forward to where she takes these interesting characters.  

I can't pick a favorite.  They've all provided me with a different experience, even the titles by the same authors.  Where did your July reading take you?

I'm off to a good start for August as I finished Where She Went by Gayle Forman last night with a free flow of tears and several tissues.  Now I'm working my way through Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.  I have three more weeks before school begins.  Bliss.

Upcoming Posts:

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
and a
Jennifer L. Holm discussion  

Monday, August 1, 2011

One Thousand White Women; The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

A friend gave me this book and said "You've got to read this; it's the best book I've ever read."
A big build up.  It sat for about 6 months on my to-read shelf by my bed and every time I ran into my friend, Rocky, he would say..."Have you read it yet?"  and I'd have to say "not yet, but I'm going to get to it soon."  I put a limit on it for myself;  I needed to finish it by July.

I finished it last night at 11:57, (July 31).  It only took me four days (in between single mother duties as the male half of my family is off on a mission trip to W.Va.) and I liked the book.  I don't think it is the best book I've ever ready but I liked it.  Mostly it points out human frailty and that it has been with us since the beginning of time.  

The book is a bit of historical fiction, according to the author, but not completely.  He's mixed true factual events and real people with a whole lot of fiction. The book begins with a peace meeting between Little Wolf, the Sweet Medicine chief, addressing the President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, Little Wolf's request was that if 1,000 white women joined them, became brides of Native men and had babies this would be a clear path to assimilation between the races.  The idea  made perfect sense to the Cheyenne but the peace meeting collapsed and all went home. This book interjects to change the outcome...What if 1,000 white women did marry into the Cheyenne tribe?  What then?

May Dodd is a fictitious character who reads like a real person so well is she created.  She's a woman of means from Chicago who had the misfortune of falling in love with, Harry, a foreman with her father's company.  They live scandalously, unmarried, and have two beautiful babies together.  One night while Harry is off drinking, men come and take May and the babies away.  The babies end up with May's parents and she ends up in a lunatic asylum-her illness is reported as "moral perversity."

She is approached one day by special permission as she's not allowed to be near men at all during her "confinement" due to her "condition."  She and several other women are given the opportunity to volunteer for the Brides for Indians Program.  May signs on immediately as this, in an odd way, is her ticket to freedom.  As these women travel west on the train we get to know them and it is these women and the friendships that make this book worth reading.  My favorite character was Phemie, a strong African escaped slave who made her way to Canada and then signed up for the program to become truly a free woman.  I understood her motivation and her need to connect with the Cheyenne.

There are many interesting themes in this book but the idea of humanity came to me over and over.  I wanted May to grandly discover how beautiful Native culture was-and she does to some extent-but every time she feels that way something negative happens and she is thrown backwards.  Toward the end of the book my mind kept thinking about our current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a no-win situation bullying another culture, just as we did with the Native Americans.

Life keeps circling and humans do terrible things to each other in the name of religion and assimilation.  The book made me think, question some preconceived notions and, especially, appreciate the strong women this book introduced me to.  The image of Phemie on horseback, May writing, Helen painting and the Kelly twins will stay with me for a long time.  This would make a wonderful book club choice as there are so many elements to discuss.

Jim Fergus website