Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exposed by Kimberly Marcus

Marcus writes the story of two best friends who lose their friendship over rape. Challenged to stop reading mid way, I just finished and though I don't have much time, I just finished and had to write this post. I loved this book, and I hate that it needs to be written.

Liz and Kate are best pals in their senior year in high school. Plans about college, dance, photography, and boys percolate about the entrance to this book, until a party, underage drinking, and a boy sexually assaults one of the best friends. The boy: the other girl's brother. Oops, wait: he didn't assault her. Rather the question is did he. Was it consensual or not: the question that follows so many situations these days. I found the way the author continued to turn directly into the dark light of this story engaging. She pulls no punches; I often felt the energy of the girls as they continued through their losses, particularly that of Liz.

This is a first book for Kimberly Marcus, and I can only hope she keeps writing more that engage and storytell through this lens. The subject matter, while challenging, remains crucial for our time.

***Still working on Alysa. Yes, I know: I am not being terribly successful, am I? Urg. Ideas? Yes, I know: maybe this weekend....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud

Did you know that two mules were specially selected to pull Martin Luther King's casket from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College? I had no idea. And that Doctor King was the one who wished to have "mules pull the farm wagon that would hold his burial casket"? (If my mother reads this entry, she will likely mutter because I think I just goofed on the order of the quotation marks and the question mark. None of it looks right: sorry about that.) Thank goodness for these authors who knew I for one needed to know about this story; it is spectacular.

Belle, the Last Mule at Gees' Bend starts as a story of a boy in the small town of Camden, Alabama waiting for his mom to come home. He notices this mule eating greens in a garden and questions a woman sitting near him about the freedom to graze that this mule has. She proceeds to tell the story of Dr. King's visits to Camden years before, about how he inspired residents to take gigantic risks and register to vote: in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement! Belle, along with a number of other mules, pulled adults who wanted to register across the river when a huge flood came and made the river uncrossable. The story continues with the author framing how Belle and one other mule, Ada, were the chosen ones and selected to pull the casket.

I totally loved this book. The storyline surprised me, I loved the illustrations, I learned something brand new, and I fell more in love with historical fiction. Brilliant, simply brilliant! One of the authors also wrote Ruth and The Green Book, a picture book that I reviewed here Go to your library or fave bookstore and pick up this wonderful book. And then email me and tell me what you think.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Life in the Ocean by Claire A. Nivola

On National Library Day (thanks to my good buddies at Lit for Kids for that amazing info!), I celebrate my local library for bringing me another amazing picture book. I love the book about Wangari Maathai, Planting the Trees of Kenya, so it is no surprise that this new read about the oceanographer Sylvia Earle wins my attention. But Nivola does one more thing in Life in the Ocean that caught me: she infuses Earle's current language and quotes into the book itself in a rather remarkable way.

This Sylvia Earle gal sounds amazing. I can well recall my own explorations out in nature growing up, and Nivola does a sweet job of connecting her reader's life experiences with Earle's. The way she starts the story with Earle's childhood invited me to look back gleefully-I loved exploring as a kid--but I can imagine young readers taking on the persona and experiential practices that the author writes of in this book. The illustrations draw readers in instantly. If you liked the illustrations in the Maathai book, you will love these drawings. The ocean is literally on the page, and it is easy to disappear into the details and imagine yourself swimming and observing right beside Earle.

But I loved the quotes from Earle the most. For instance, close to the end of the text, Nivola writes, "One expedition, 3,000 feet down, was, Sylvia says, like 'diving into a galaxy.'" Really. I am telling you, this is a keeper. I loved this book. The illustrations completely match the images in my head and extend them. The story captured me from the start. After I read this book, I wondered about my own love of science and couldn't help but consider what might have changed in my professional career if I had read this book and learned more about Sylvia Earle when I was young.

**Side note: I am still nudging Alysa. She has had a draft waiting for completion for a week but no luck yet. Fingers crossed....

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Hunger Games Movie and Teaching

Having a teen-age daughter really changes what I read.

I balked thoroughly at reading The Hunger Games when it first came out, but she won: I read it and mostly enjoyed it. I posted an entry on the third book. I really liked the books. But the movie was a no-brainer. With the lead actor from Winter's Bone, Jennifer Laurence, and with the mockingjay sound, I was hooked. So early last week, we trekked to the theater, doing our best to avoid the spring-break crowds by going to a smaller theater. OMG, that is a great movie. I loved the character development, and I loved how the screenwriters lifted up what was most important from the book. My mental images while reading the book appeared on the screen, similar and completely believable. I was living The Games.

One thread caught me the most and held on: two participants from each of the 12 “Districts” (areas where people live but are governed by the Capital) are selected and must fight for their lives in The Hunger Games. At one point during the Hunger Games, Rue, the youngest player in the 74th Annual Games, is killed. Katniss, the lead character and also a participant in the Games, weeps at such a loss. This girl had actually saved Katniss’ life earlier, solidifying a natural connection between the two. Katniss is unable to save hers though she tries valiantly. After a poignant burial with flowers, Katniss, knowing she is being filmed, salutes Rue’s district in a statement of solidarity.

I loved the movie! The folks who made the decisions on what to include in the movie hit the nail on the head. They included just what was important in the movie. Try it and see what you think. But first, read the book: see if you aren't swallowed by it!