Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Remembering Mrs. Rossi by Amy Hest

I know, I know: you haven't been hearing from Alysa much lately. You keep having to skim Andie's writing while you wait for the masterful Alysa to submit another entry. I get it, really I do. I know she just posted the other day and I loved reading her piece (don't tell her that, okay?). I know she is busy with school work and just being a teen. Plus I keep finding these books I enjoyed reading and I like to share so here you go, another from me!

Remembering Mrs. Rossi is a keeper. What a sweet, gentle, engaging story from Amy Hest. She is a prolific author-- I know her from her Baby Duck books. This one captivated me because of its gentle insistence about family. The storyline starts with Mrs. Rossi having recently died, and the dad and Annie the daughter are trying to find their way to live after that loss. There is nothing sappy about this book, sad as the subject may be; in fact, the writing holds this quiet hope for the two of them finding their way together. Both the father and daughter worry about losing their memories of their wife/mother, and like most hopeful juvenile books, the 2 find a way to work together to maintain their memories and their togetherness.

I like the gentleness of this book. I wonder how much of Amy Hest' experience of losing her own mother lives within this book, and I wonder what makes her smile about it. I guess when my mother passes (which hopefully is not any time soon!), I will be able to let her go while keeping her alive with the same calm  that Hest offers in this book.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell was a book that is hard to describe in words. I thought that it was such a unique story. Even though I had heard of the Pioneer recreation camps, I had never really given them much thought. Even though the main character Gen spends most of the book not enjoying living on Camp Frontier, it made me want go experience what it was like living back in the 1800's (more accurately 1890's or so.) It was a wonderfully written book and has become one of my favorites. I will definitely be adding this book to my book case. 

Genevieve has always been a city girl. She had a nice relaxing summer in mind before she started her freshman year of high school. But her mom seems to have other plans and signs her whole family up for Camp Frontier, a reenactment of life in 1890. Yay! Not. What would be fun about living on some farm for the summer? Nothing. The only thing keeping Gen from running away is the fact that she gets a phone at the end of the summer. Then, she hatches a plan. Why not just bring the phone with her? Stealing (well not really stealing, it would be hers anyway so...) the phone and taking it with her might be risky, but at least she could keep in contact with her friends right? 

Life on Camp Frontier seems to be just as Gen suspected. Terrible. There's an outhouse. Gross. And she is forced to share a bed with her brother. Even worse. Not to mention the snotty farm girl Nora that lives there. And then, a miracle happens. Two actually. She has three bars, which means she can text her friends! And second, there is a totally cute southern boy here with his family named Caleb. But will Nora ruin both the good things about the farm?
Gen finds herself constantly secretly texting her friends about the horrible life she is having. When her friends turn her text messages in to a blog, Gen may have to realize whats really important and see what was right in front of her the whole time. 

Week 2- Tuesday
7:45 pm
Ron had told us that every family would be given a cow the second week of camp, but I’d totally forgotten all about it until this morning. Gavin and I were pulling up potatoes in the kitchen garden, and suddenly there was Nora, leading a cow by a rope. She looked like she’d marched right out of a Mother Goose book, with her cap and her braid and her boots and her long dress that she wore like it wasn’t driving her crazy the way mine was.

-Page 85

 Have you added this to your book case yet?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wild Life by Cynthia DeFeFelice

So I have a secret life in reading: I love outdoors books, commonly about boys and every once in a while about girls(because I haven't found that many with female characters). These usually include a dog and some kind of risk outside and inside (the character, that is). Where the Red Fern Grows was an all-time favorite of mine growing up, and I still love, love, love to read it. Truth. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a couple of amazing pups like Dan and Ann.

Actually one time in my life, I believe I did. I used to have a dog named Ren, goofy, strong, fast, he and I found each other when he was a couple of months old and I had just moved to LA for my first teaching job. South-Central Los Angeles, that is. That dog kept me sane every day of those nine months and a few days, and shortly after the school year ended, we were butt to butt in the truck seat, driving back home to Colorado, trying to figure out next steps in life. Fast forward a chunk of years later when my partner and I got together. She had a dog who was just like Ren but smarter, way more graceful, and  a whole bunch faster. Kelsey was a sweet dog and definitely as important to Laurie as Ren was to me. From the first moment together, the dogs were connected in their souls. I know it sounds crazy but from that first moment, they never had any interest in other dogs, they slept touching every single night and daytime nap, and they always stayed close together on our hikes, walks, and runs. They were like Old Dan and Little Ann. It was a sweet time, and watching those two dogs, I was frequently reminded of Wilson Rawls' classic tale.

Wild Life is a story of a boy whose parents both are called up to fight in Iraq at the same time. His folks decide he should go stay with his grandparents in North Dakota. Once there, he realizes some of the emotional baggage his grandparents carry. Days within his tense arrival, he finds a lost dog. Dog and boy connect at the hip and heart, boy realizes he won't be able to keep the dog, and they take off. It is a good story, one I can image readers who like stories like Rawls' tale will like. It is set in current day, and the text is somewhat simpler than Rawls' classic. Just like most juvenile-categorized books, it ends well.

What books did you read growing up that sit in your "secret read" categories? You might want to go check this one out if you are in the mood for dog-boy connection read.  I think you would like it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Busing Brewster

I remember when my family moved to Denver, Colorado in the early '70's. I remember my parents talking about which schools we would attend and how my mother the teacher didn't want us living in the midst of a giant transition Denver Public Schools was going through: desegregation. While I kind of understood what she was saying about the changes the district was going through, I didn't understand the energy beneath her words. Inside of me, I couldn't figure out what made her so worried.

Now I get it: now I am a mother who cares deeply about her daughter and doesn't want her to experience bad things just like my mom didn't then. I know I shelter Alysa from some experiences in life and hope like crazy some things don't happen to her. And although I try to be transparent with her, telling Alysa ALL about how certain issues make me feel inside just doesn't always fit for me. She pushes me, and for the most part, I tell her honestly where I stand and how my stance makes me feel. While it is still not always comfortable, my partner and I try to share our fears when we can. But these are my decisions, and I believe that Alysa can handle what I share with her. This is now though, not then, not a time in history where out of fear, people hurt children regularly because of fear.

This book pushes up against desegregation issues, namely forced busing, of the early '70's in the United States. First-grader Brewster is excited about attending his neighborhood school but learns the day before school starts that he will be going to a different school. While excited and nervous, it is the actions he experiences on the bus that begin to unseat him. He enters the newly-segregated school, only to notice some dramatically different features within it. Because of a fear-initiated action, Brewster must stay int he library with his brother all day. Lucky for him, an advocate under the guise of a librarian (awesome: powerful role models who worked as educators of social justice in the '70's!!) begins to work positively with Brewster. Readers like me will appreciate connecting to our memories of those early-to-us segregation days within schools. Readers who are younger than me likely will have multiple ways to connect with this text, given our current- day experiences with racism and fear.

Fear: there it is again. As an educator, a parent, a human, I have found some ways to be transparent about fear. It is simply part of our world, and I believe the more ways we find to talk about it, meander within it, and make sense of it, the more we will find our ways to bridging from the fear that separates us to the presence and peace that can come from connecting honestly and openly with others. This book will be one I add to my collection on social justice, for those moments when conversations of fear come up with kindergarten AND graduate students, for those moments when fear can be our teacher and love can enter into the bridged moments to possibility.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan

Gloria Whelan offers us a beautiful story of a young teen from 1918 struggling with her own truth. The story splits between India and England, England being where her parents are from and India being where her father is stationed as an officer with the British Army.

What surprised me most about this book reminds me of a saying I learned a few years ago when I visited Calcutta, India: same, same, but different. The tensions of teens are the same no matter the time period, and Whelan's way of shining light onto Rosalind's offered me a new way to think about girls then. As I read, I could imagine some of my nieces being ballsy enough to at least consider some of these actions. At one point in the story, Rosalind learns of how a baby was sold for food money. Beside herself, she takes her own money and goes to buy the baby back, of course from some disrespected and dangerous man. Rosalind is undeterred by his attempt to scare her; she knows what she must do and she does it. I won't spoil the story and tell you all about it but know that Gandhi plays an important role as do a couple of interesting aunts (I can imagine you rolling around my label of interesting as you read this book!).

The truth that someone can so convincingly know who they are and find their way to living within that truth at a time in history when children (yes, I use that label on purpose here since her parents obviously are fighting her growing up) are meant to be quiet and good and not be rabble rousers is a new idea to me. It makes perfect sense but I have not come across many recently-written books for that time period. I just love how Whelan frames Rosalind's life and how she lives through whatever trial sets in front of her.

Same, same, but different.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chirchir is Singing by Kelly Cunnane

Here is another sweet goody I came across in the library recently.Just one look at the cover is enough to draw most of us in-- Jude Daly offers such sweet illustrations there it is hard to not pick it up. Open to the first pages and you'll be done: you have to read this.

The familiar storyline of a young girl struggling to find her way to help the family only intrigued me more. I mean there are as many possibilities with this goal as there are girls. The young main character Chirchir takes us through her moments of struggle and the many openings of possibility she encounters as she moves from family member to family member in her search. But like in all amazing books that transport us into new worlds, it is the masterful work of the author and illustrator combined that take this book to new heights. I love how the author frames each page, making me curious to learn how and what Chirchir is thinking and exploring her own way into the people who are important to her. The gentle meandering of her day within the book offer a window into the lives of people in the Kalenjin tribe of Kenya, where the book is set, and occasional Swahili words are used along with Kalenjin names. Fascinating! The illustrations took me even further into what it must look like and FEEL like there in Chirchir's homeland. Daly, the illustrator, captures movement on the page with such grace and conviction. The actual angle that is just right, so much so that I can imagine young readers eagerly trying out her techniques on their own.

This is a brilliant and beautiful book, one that I am eager to use in my teaching and working with young people. Hmmmmmm, the perfect quandry: how to share this with more readers.....

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lucky for Good: The Final Story in Lucky's Hard Pan Trilogy by Susan Patron

I read The Higher Power of Lucky, the first of the Hard Pan Trilogy, because some folks were ticked off about a small detail involving the word scrotum in the first chapter and because it won the Newberry Medal. And after laughing so hard I almost fell off my chair when I read said chapter, I was hooked. I could imagine Susan Patron's crooked smile as she decided to include THAT word, having complete faith in readers to hold onto what is important about her stories and ignore what for some could feel threatening. All I can tell you is that from that first chapter on, I have looked at dogs in a whole new way (you gotta read it to understand!) and I celebrate whatever this author has to offer in our future.

I believe Lucky for Good just might be my fave of the series, barely nudging out The Higher Power of Lucky. In each of the books, Patron consistently writes from a source of truth. Lucky's life started out pretty rocky, with alot of uncertainties, and without ruining the ending for you readers, she is finding her way to smaller rocks and more grounding. The character development worked very well for me: I have a mind movie of the teeny town, Hard Pan, and some of the characters including Brigette and Lincoln and Miles that film production companies would love to get their hands on. I have never heard of a desert sounding so inviting. What started as a moment of hardened trials became a source of connection and living throughout each of the books.

What I most loved about Lucky for Good is how the character has grown: she has softened a little emotionally, finding her own way to use her learnings from hard times to know more about herself and how she works; she has held onto her sassiness, using it to both stand up to ugliness when called upon and enrich her friendships that are so important to her; and she sounds like some part of me, working so carefully (sometimes intentionally and sometimes by surprise) to create a way of living that brings joy to the losses in our lives. I love Lucky, I see her in my students, and I feel like I live a little within the books.

I can't wait to see what Susan Patron creates next!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg

I love it when I pick up fantastic books at the library. That happened the last time I went-- I ended up with 4 fantastic picture books!! Yes, in addition to Mirror, which I love, love, love, I found this book. Saweet!! Uhlberg's writing is so gently unrelenting that I couldn't stop reading, and Colin Bootman, the illustrator, absolutely offers dramatic support to an important story.

A Storm Called Katrina focuses on one boy's family who must leave their flooded home because of the levee breaking during Katrina. Having nowhere to go, they end up at the Superdome with thousands of other displaced families. Louis' father leaves to find food and the 10-year-old stays with his mother in the Superbowl, the huge, gigantic, thousands-of-seats Superbowl. After awhile, when the father doesn't return, the boy believes it is because the father can't find them, a common issue from the stories I read about that time period. Taking the issue in his own hands, Louis found his own way to find his father, offering a unique step forward for the storyline.

I really enjoyed this book. Learning more about what it could have been like really like those days and nights during and after such a life-changing disaster as Hurricane Katrina. This would be a great book to share with readers who are looking for a book about resilience, history about Katrina, or how families find their own unique ways to stay together.