Friday, April 25, 2014

The Promise by Nicola Davies

Nicola Davies is a new author to me. This lovely picture book offers both space and intent, resilience and surprise, chill and warmth. I loved the mature innocence the author captures in her story. She has written a few other texts that have won accolades and awards. I need to seek her work out.

Short story line: a girl tries to steal a woman's handbag. With a promise, the older woman lets the young gal have it. The gal is surprised by what is inside and spends the rest of her life living into the surprise of what the bag contains. A promise made becomes a lifetime of living action. 

Lovely, simple, intense, clear, hope from darkness, abundance from scarcity: what more can we want from a picture book? The Promise.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

Did you love Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine as much as I did? Book love: how is it we continue to be given these amazing gifts in the form of books by authors? I fell in love with Mockingbird on my first read and have since read it twice since. When I noticed Seeing Red on the shelves at my local library, I snagged it superfast. It's true: I was looking for another favorite book, and I found it. This time it was NEW BOOK Love!

I love the pace and structure of Seeing Red. It was a slower read for me, and I celebrate that. Some books I read are quick reads. I read the beginning chapters all invested and then pretty soon, I am losing just the tiniest bit of interest or life invades my reading time and I decide to skim a little. I still get the gist of the book and all, but it just isn't a fave then. I know an author has hit the mark when my reading slows down and I savor my living into the storyline. I first experienced this when Red started talking to his father. You see, his father had died a few months prior, and he was still talking to him. Especially when he gets into a difficult spot. Some of the folks in the story seem to struggle with kind, respectful, and welcoming ways of being help Red search for and create even more moments to talk with his deceased father.

Red is a young teen trying to prevent his mother from making the family move out of state. The bills have grown far too high with no way to pay them now that Red's father is dead, and Red's mom struggles to figure out any way to make ends meet other than selling the garage where Red's father used to fix cars and the house where the family still lives on the same property. The longer Red struggles to find ways to keep his family local, the more the primary plot emerges (and trust me: some of those attempts get him in a heap o' trouble). In the process, we readers get drawn into a phenomenal drama. Erskine artfully ties together race and equity issues, the Ku Klux Klan, and a community struggling to see how to maneuver and live in this historical fiction story.  While Red becomes a favorite character of mine, Miss Georgia is a heart winner!!

I love how Kathryn Erskine includes music of the times in her books. She even creates playlists and posts them on her blog for some of her books like Seeing Red and Mockingbird! I love how she carefully develops characters, and I love how she frames stories that make me want to read slowly. Tom Newkirk, author of The Art of Slow Reading, would be proud!! Thank you, Ms. Erskine, for writing your books!!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

I don't often see books as perfect. True, picture books move me more often than chapter or YA texts, but perfect? Not so fast. This one however might make the list.

Grandfather Gandhi, co- authored by one of Gandhi's grandchildren Arun Gandhi and children's book author Bethany Hegedus, offers readers a window into the common struggles discovered within anger and humanity, child to adult. The illustrator, Evan Turk, offers pictures that are nothing short of magnificent. My including them here don't come remotely close to offering you a chance to see what you will see when you hold the book in your hands. His work is gorgeous.

Young Arun visits his grandfather at his India. Trying his best to fit in, he adjusts his ways and lets go of his great loves like practicing his John Wayne swagger and playing sheriff. While playing soccer with friends, he is pushed down and erupts in anger. Disturbed by his reaction, he races to the only person he can think of: Grandfather. We readers are guided through a young boy figuring out who he is and how he can live in the shadow or beside his beloved and endearing grandfather.

You will want to share this book. You will want to study the images. You will want to lean into this book....a whole big gigantic bunch. Grandfather Gandhi. Brilliant.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Everything Breaks by Vicki Grove

My family laughs at me. When I am reading a book, they ask the title, waiting to hear some macabre, dark line. It’s true: I read some pretty grim shit. I don’t like sci fi at all, and dystopia is frequently lost on me, much to their dissatisfaction. High-school love stories really do not rock my boat. But I love a good heartbreaker….WHEN, and that is a big WHEN, the story takes us into authentic resolutions. This weekend midway to my in-law’s farm, I read the closing pages of Everything Breaks. I nodded to myself in the backseat and said out loud, “ That was good.” The audience I forgot I had, Laurie and Alysa, sat in the front seat, critically grinning, ready to pounce on my book choice again—I could hear them waiting to hear the title, opening the door for them to laugh at me. As I waited for the kickback to the title, Laurie said, "I want to know how good it really is; I may want to read it.”

Wait: what? Who knew she was really listening? Like really listening? Turning past joking and into curiosity? 

Everything Breaks is that good. I loved it. And I think Laurie would really like it too. In fact I can think of a number of readers who might like or love it. 

High-schooler Tucker has three close friends. As they prepare to make their grand entrance to their end-of-the-year junior bonfire, he drinks too much and can’t drive as planned. Needing to expel what he drank, he barfs by the side of the road while his buddies drive on to the bonfire. Unfortunately they too had been drinking, make a critical error on the road, and die in a fiery, brutal accident. The junior class is devastated, but Tucker can’t even figure out how to put one foot in front of the other, not to mention make sense of the tragedy.

Author Vicki Grove wisely instills a solid character to help Tucker find some footsteps. Including Greek mythology works very effectively in this story, and Ms. Beetlebaum uses her adult smarts and experiences to do a little walking with rather than talking to Tucker. 

I hope Laurie reads it. I wonder what she might say about the world of grim living that I seem drawn to if she read this one. She knows life with me is hard and she is usually right about my needing to laugh more, but maybe she is figuring out that I read these books because I am looking for something. Maybe the clues I am searching for help make me find a little more peace in the disequilibrium of living. I started reading books with this goal in mind as a teenager when life was pretty brutal. Seems I am still searching them out.