Sunday, March 31, 2013

Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles

Historical fiction: check.
Multigenre: check.
Engaging story: check.
Out of the ordinary: check.
Realistic: check.
Amazing autobiographical connections by the author that totally make me want to know more about her and her life growing up with a doctor for a dad who worked for Mayo Clinic: check plus.

Breathing Room is a keeper. I really enjoyed the quiet and calm energy of this story, if you can believe such a life threatening situation could be framed in a quiet voice. A teen girl who has TB moves into a sanatorium to rest and recuperate. While there for what must be a long time, she creates relationships with a number of girls and the medical staff that treat them, much to the thwarted efforts and surprise of the staff. A common practice in the '40's and '50's, these institutions are literally absent in our lives now having disappeared rapidly with the discovery of antibiotics and the disease being more controlled. The author offers plenty of history around the operations of a sanatorium: her father worked at the Mayo Clinic in the '40's. In a special section, she includes historical photos and brief stories that help readers link the author with the story. Find this gem if you are looking for some US historical fiction framed around medical issues and WW II.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks

Are you a TED Talks nut like me? I scan those new listings regularly, eager to learn something wise and brilliant new life connection. A couple of months ago, I listened to Elyn Saks talk through her own life with schizophrenia. Wow. She can be so transparent and unemotional about what she has experienced, and oh so truthful. When I realized she had a book out, you can guess where I made a beeline to....yep: the library.

And it was worth it. I am kind of a nut about life- issue books but you already knew that. And Dr. Saks has a life issue that I have never read about, at least not with this lens and transparency. I am not sure how this book is categorized: is it a memoir or an autobiography? I am gonna guess the latter (but now that I read her website, I see she calls it a memoir). She writes with heartbreaking detail a number of her experiences with schizophrenia, offering us a fly-on-the-wall view of what life has been like for her as well how those experiences have helped her form what she does. A lawyer, she specializes in mental health law, teaching at University of Southern California. She brilliantly uses her own at times horrific experiences to advocate for those often without a voice: the mentally ill. Her work inspires me to continue exploring how to access my life experiences to support and advocate for others. She is just remarkable.

Here is the link to the TED Talk:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Navigating Early is my new favorite book. I had heard rumblings on the web about this gem and read several blog entries describing the heft of the author's words. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I read fast for stuff I like and only rarely do I slow down, in those moments when I don't want a book to end. Here is one book I way slowed down on, savoring every word.

Teen-aged Jack's mother dies and military-dedicated father sends Jack to a military school thousands of miles from home. Experiencing the dreadful grip of uprootedness, Jack finds a surprising, unique, and steadfast friend in Early Auden. The two boys set off on a lifetime adventure, searching for a gigantic bear, rattlesnakes, and an important relative long believed by most to be dead. What they discover changes a number of lives and certainly not only their own. 

Author Clare Vanderpool won the Newbery for her first novel, Moon Over Manifest, a book I now feel compelled to read. She demonstrates such a sweet writing craft in Navigating Early. I treasured her framing of the story, and I frequently found sentences that I plan to use as writing prompts in my own writing. Add onto that the messages she ladles lovingly throughout the text: hope, compassion, empathy, patience. I can imagine this book being considered for the Newbery this year too.

"You're jumping into the navigating part too soon. Maybe you should focus on the beauty of those stars up there apart from their function. Just atke them in, admire them, stand in awe of them, before you expect them to lead the way. Besides, who's to say that one group of stars belongs together and only together? Those stars up there are drawn to each other in lots of different ways. They're connected in unexpected ways, just like people."  (page 36)

I am not the best at always living in the moment all the time but last night offered me another moment to try again at it. Alysa is redoing her room-- yep, she is a teenager and the loft that I would have loved has to go-- so she asked last night if I would go to Ikea with her for a few things. I appreciate when a book rivers into me during my life away from it, and I keep hearing some of the messages from Vanderpool's writing, particularly as I have an opportunity to lean into intentional time with my dear daughter.

I loaned Navigating Early to Ruth and after Ruth, my partner Laurie will likely read it. That means it will be a few weeks before I get it back into my loving, eager hands. I am not in a rush; I know that good things come to those who wait.....twiddle away, thumbs. I have all the time in the world.

Friday, March 8, 2013

More by I.C. Springman

One 45-word book, one small talking mouse, and one boisterous magpie (and those birds are ALL boisterous!): the ingredients for a masterful, simple, and stupendous book about stuff.

We Portlanders were treated to an article yesterday on crows that is getting lots of talk time on radios and in blogs. This article offers yet one more window into the brilliant world of crows. According to the new book Gifts of the Crows: How Perception, Emotions, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans by Marzluff and Angell (2013), those black birds are seriously smart and meaningfully devious. I infer from the little I know about crows-- have yet to get my hands on the Gifts of the Crows--I feel pretty certain they are far smarter than magpies. We had magpies in Colorado where I grew up, and I thought the most they were good for was making a lot of noise. My brother liked them for other reasons likely involving a bb gun. But I digress. While reading More, I found myself seeing and hearing those little flying cackles that woke me in my teen years, screeching and crackling about outside. But even in all of my tree-climbing, I don't recall an animal who might put as much in a nest as this one does.

I loved the idea the author and illustrator represent in this book. The message is a rich one. I could easily imagine using this with young learners, particularly as an entrance into less, more, and other mathematical excitement! Check 'er out!! More.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

Imagine turning the page to a gigantic dog face covering the pages midway through a book. The little yellow thing in the bottom right is a youngster who has more gumption than the family members hiding out in the house. While quite respectful, fear doesn't seem to be a interrupting factor for this young person's way of being. Rather Small (well-named, don't you think?) wants to greet the family's fears by going out into and standing with this large, cumbersome, nosey pup. Some real raucous events happen after Small and the Black Dog meet up on that snowy day.

I love this book for its storyline that includes fear, twisty life changes, and winter, all metaphors I totally am grappling with in my professional life. I love the illustrations which simply make me return to certain pages again and again. I love how accessible this book fact, a kindergarten-teaching friend of mine read this through once and then reread it, as simply a picture walk. Let's just say she couldn't stop talking about what she noticed.

Oh, did I tell you the last name of the family is Hope? Ahem. Got your coat yet? Or your laptop/ipod/ipad with an order in? 

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. Nothing to fear here.