Friday, August 30, 2013

The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna

The final book in a series of three, The White Bicycle gives readers an tour inside the life and brain of a teen girl dealing with Asperger's Syndrome and that wickedly difficult transition of growing independent. Her diary entries over the summer. Taylor writes from France where she has taken a job for the summer. There in the lush offerings of the south of France, she discovers friendship and explores the possibility of what having brothers might be like. Without the usual "Dear Diary" entrances, we get an unobstructed view of life from Taylor's seat. We get a really clear (and sad) sighting of her mother and the challenges (and gifts) that her mother gives her throughout life. Taylor does some decent detective work over the summer, figuring out---wait a minute, I can't tell you: you are gonna read this book and don't want me to spoil it, do you?--all sorts of interesting details about her own power and possibility in life.

Author Brenna spent some serious time researching this baby. As I read, I appreciated the rich details she returns to repeatedly, mirroring what I know of the experiences of people who have at the least Asperger's. I loved the simplicity the author wrote the story with. Figuring out how to deal with a mother who is a pain in the butt and doesn't always tell the truth, finding how to develop independently, and discovering how to act responsibly is is not an easy set of actions. But The White Bicycle leads us on a rich ride of that sounds very realistic indeed. And I love how the main character is a girl!!

I have a question though: how accurate is this portrayal? Readers, do you know?

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos/ Illustrated by Nate Powell

I am a fringe reader of graphic novels. I am not too hip on superheros and comics beyond the few I check out a few in The Oregonian, and I don't like super-violent or super-sexy reads. However every now and then I read a superb graphic novel that I selfishly think was written for me. The Silence of Our Friends is one of those reads.

Like other books I have reviewed lately, The Silence of Our Friends is based on Long's experiences growing up during the civil rights movement, for him in Houston, Texas. Demonakos is a comic devotee to the nines and Powell has some serious artistic compliments in the form of awards sitting at his feet. The three of them take solid liberty in translating one small story of that supremely difficult time. A white newspaper reporter finds himself drawn to justice through a friendship and a wrongly-blamed group of college students. The title comes from that amazing man Martin Luther King Jr. whose voice lives on more than adequately in this graphic novel.

I really loved this book. I loved the storyline (always do---can't learn enough about that time through the voices of those that experienced it themselves in one way or another), the illustrations/graphics, and the weaving of the story. Another sweet one I encourage you to seek out!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins

Nature and witnessing, deer and humans, watching and moving all circle through the gentle storyline of this picture book. Collins brings an adept hand to her framing of a father and son's explorations in the forest as they search to see deer. The author speaks of her own witnessing of how most wildlife has moved further into the woods near her house, and her book seeks to recapture the simple beauty of seeing wildlife in their natural home.

Father and son set out quietly one early morning, walking past their home, crews building with heavy machinery nearby, and the beginnings of the wilderness within walking distance of their home at the coast. Once at the openings of the forest, the boy must find how his own stillness welcomes the stilled movement of the animals just waiting for him to find silence to move. A sweet tale, realistic in our daily suburban lives, this book invites readers to return to the natural world and reflect on its lovely gifts of life. The story line is well supported by some lovely acrylic paintings that sing out to readers, further encouraging our turning to nature to find one more sampling of beauty in our world. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Light in the Darkness by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Know anything about "pit schools"? Neither did I. Seems super important now that I have added one more gold nugget of history to my small collection of knowledge connected to slavery and the 1860's in the U.S. The full title of this book is Light in the Darkness: A Story About How Slaves Learned in Secret. Definitely worth shining a little light on how those enslaved learned the beginnings of how to read and write, all with the weight of life and death in their hands and minds as they sought out pit schools to study at.

Cline-Ransome has crafted a solid book here, molding the story around Rosa and her mother and the delicate, dangerous moments when they took the life-threatening risk of venturing out into the night to learn in the pit school set up by another slave. The illustrations are dark and threatening, just like the brutal slave hunters who relentlessly sought out their prey. As I read this story, my mind made connections to other books telling similar and important stories (Henry's Freedom Box, Unspoken, and Almost to Freedom LEAP to my mind along with Hush Harbor, When Thunder Comes, and Belle, The Last Mule at Gee's Bend).

I love historical fiction, and I feel this growing awareness of how I seek out historical fiction set in the 1860's about the resilient lives of slaves and the other people who collectively worked to move us past the tremendous limits of judgment. Light in the Darkness leads us one step further into knowing the truth that lay so quietly hidden beneath the ugliness of the times.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Truth of Me by Patricia MacLachlan

What fire has been lit under Patricia MacLachlan? I know she has been writing actively for decades, but lately she has been putting the pedal to the metal, and I don't mean in the production kind; I mean putting her heart and soul into her books. Maybe it is just me: maybe I haven't read enough of MacLachlan's prior work. But written in veins similar to Edward's Eyes and Kindred Souls, The Truth of Me touched a story of connection and being seen that I seek out but don't often find in books, particularly in chapter books.

Robbie and dog-extraordinaire Ellie spend the summer with grandmother Maddy. Maddy is eclectic and engaged, living life to its fullest in her own very unique way. Robbie loves Maddy fiercely, and while he realizes the tension that lies between his mother and Maddy, he is unable to tease out what it exactly is. As Robbie spends his summer growing his awareness of his own truths of who he is, he learns what great hefts his mother totes to her string- quartet concerts around the world in addition to her violin.

As is true in MacLachlan's heart-knowing books, there is a quiet and turning inward that this book invites. I loved this book for its quiet reminders to the reader. How often are our young people told and reminded that who they are is indeed enough? When do we take consistent time to hear and see our young people? How do we make sure to welcome and make known the truths of each of us as humans? The Truth of Me does all of that and more. Sweet brilliance here, sweet brilliance indeed.