Friday, December 12, 2014

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is another of my fave authors. She wrote Hate List and Thousand Words, both reviewed on this blog. Torn Away is another winner from her. YA authors frequently surprise me with the subjects they write about, and Torn Away surprised me multiple times.

Her junior year is almost over when a massive and deadly tornado destroys much of what Jersey knows. Her sister and mother are killed, her stepfather goes missing, and as she waits under the pool table in the basement of her no-longer-standing house, she contemplates what in the world she will do to live again. Wickedly traumatized by surviving the brutal storm, she does what others around her are doing and begins her own searches. Days later (that actually seem like weeks through Brown's effective and "time-stopped" writing), her stepfather returns to the house; Jersey thinks she is somehow lucky he is alive until she realizes that he refuses to care for her, sending her to her long-disappeared and relentlessly-cruel father. Life seems unlivable; here again Brown brings a piercing clarity to her writing, to the storyline, and to a new-to-me world of the aftermath of tornados and living in Tornado Alley. As is usually the case with Brown's books, there is a glimmer of hope but it comes with great effort on several character's parts, accompanied by pain-filled costs. I had two questions inside when I reached the end of the story: When do we know what we have to let go of is worth letting go of? What do we need to have the strength to indeed let go?

This is a powerful tale to investigate. I would love to know how it reads for those who have survived such trial-filled experiences. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine

Kristin Levine is definitely on my Top 100 Authors list, and as I read her new novel, I was reminded why. I read and reviewed The Lions of Little Rock earlier, a tale that rocked my world in several ways. Her audience here again is the young teenager, that serious and studying age when one gets a little quiet and asks seriously unique questions about the ways our world works. Levine knows her audience well, her writing reflects that knowledge like a still pond stutters rings when a rock is tossed in: slowly, consistently, and rarely ending.

The Paper Cowboy is the story of a young teen boy who would rather stir up trouble and bully folks than listen to the frequently resonating and difficult questions that pummel him inside. His bullying can be pointed to anyone, and in some ways, he is living out the ugliness his mom is throwing his way in her increasing emotional and physical beatings. His sister gets seriously burned in a fire and Tommy feels he is to blame for that, so he takes all the beatings his mother will lay out on him. He bullies school mates, one "Little Skinny" in particular. He escalates his nastiness to new heights when he places a communist newspaper in the stack of papers used to wrap purchased items at Little Skinny's fathers' store. Set in the 1950's US when McCarthy is out to accuse and prosecute any communist, real or imagined, the store's image never recovers the emotional and social beating Little Skinny's father takes because of that single page that wraps an item from the store. Tommy knows what he did was wrong so he searches for who the communist in his community really is while keeping his actions secret. Tommy is one bad dude, ugly in many ways, and as tensions grow for all of his mean actions, an equal and paradoxical questioning resonates inside of him. Kind adults and young people, forgiving and resilient, show up in interesting moments, offering Tommy new footing and ways of being.

Levine amazes me. Her book is 330+ pages long, an uncommon book length for this age group, but not a page is wasted. The storyline both deep and realistic, she aptly weaves her own memoir-like history into this tale. I love how she reveals her mission at the end of the text, offering information that both surprised and further engaged me. This is a difficult and beautiful read, worth engaging in during our winter season. A beautiful tale without question.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

Looking for a beautiful book and story? This is a great world to touch into then. Fox's Garden is a lovely tale told through detailed and elaborate drawings. I have only two of the illustrations here; each of them state confirmingly the need for you to hold this gift in your hands and read it. Share it with others, peruse it yourself several times, and consider just what might happen if you found a fox at your door.....

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Just a few quick words... let you know I will post soon about The Paper Cowboy, The Farmer and the Clown, Fox's Garden, and Torn Away. Just as soon as we get back from having Thanksgiving din-din at the farm.

But first a goodie from Naomi Shihab Nye....

So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,

and in that way, be known.

I am grateful you read these words and this blog. Grateful for your friendships and the gifts you give the people in your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for all the Letters by Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers is quite a character. How in the world did he think up this book? Short stories for each letter of the alphabet? Quirky stories, funny, with great drawings, all connected through our amazing alphabet.

I am not sure which I like more, the stories or the illustrations. I am not sure at all which letter I am most drawn to...likely all of them, depending on the day.

Adults will be equally engaged by the least I was!
And the storyline within each letter is instantly accessible, a treat to read aloud or silently. 

I only dare you to read the stories and illustrations without laughing....see what you think!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

We buried our family dog last Saturday. Losing a dog is always difficult for me, and the pain I felt saying goodbye to Bandit seemed endless. I just happened to be reading Ann Martin's new book Rain Reign at the same time; that turned out to be an okay thing, and maybe even good.

Martin wrote A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray years ago, and I loved that read. Martin is a prolific writer; her website shows a whole bunch of titles I have not even touched yet. I may be inaccurate but based on the content of A Dog's Life, I see Martin as knowledgable about dogs. When I saw Rain Reign, I did not hesitate to check it out. Martin weaves together Aspberger's, relationships, and homonyms all into a artful mosaic-like story. Her content surprised me and further engaged me (and even has me hearing more homonyms!).  In short order, Rose's dad brings home Rain the stray dog and gives the dog to Rose. Times are hard at home, a giant hurricane comes and wreaks havoc, and Rose actively struggles with behavior stemming from her Asperger's. Said father lets Rain out to go to the bathroom during the flooding aftermath of the storm and Rain doesn't return. Rose and her uncle (very interesting and lovely relationship here) search for the dog, eventually finding her as well as discovering some more of the mystery of Rain. I refuse to say more here because I don't want to spoil the book for you, but suffice it to say that there is light within the great dark story that Martin paints as Rose's life.

Looking for a new great dog book? Looking for a terrific new y.a. novel? Looking for more on Aspbergers? Wanna know more about homonyms? Here you go, on a silver platter: Rain Reign.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I love Shannon Hale's work. She writes the Princess Academy books, a total fave of Alysa when she was in 5th and 6th grade. I read a couple of the books then too--just to join together with my little one and support her new swallowing-books-in-one-day practice way back then. Well, the divine Mrs. Hale has a new gem out, The Princess in Black.
Oh-yeah, this one is our next read aloud in my class! I could be wrong, but I predict my kindergartners will be right at my side, clamouring for more!! Princess Magnolia may very well become our new heroine, a monster-stopping chiquita not to be reckoned with. She keeps her black clothes hidden and her monster-stopping skills at the ready. Her monster alarm is a ring whose tone alerts her to monsters on the prowl--come on, her castle just happens to be right next to a hole in the ceiling of the monster's home. She has a sweet steed waiting to receive its alert via hoof resonance. And then there is Duff the goat boy....not sure where he is gonna do in the next book in the series but I have a feeling we have sort of Batman and Robin with way more smarts, curiosity, prowess, and way less power-structure, Batman-knows-best, Robin here. I swallowed this book just this morning, refusing to let freshly-made homemade waffles deter me from finishing. And a question nuzzles in me: who is this Duchess Wigtower? Just curious.

I fully believe you, dear reader, will LOVE this new one from Shannon Hale. The illustrations by LeUyen Pham are totally the cat's meow, representing and engaging all in one. If you want to seek out more before you order the book, check out the link below to Shannon Hale's new page on the book: