Thursday, November 29, 2012

Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by Uma Krishnaswami

When my family and I visited Kolkata a few years ago, the sounds of the city stopped me. I was of course a visitor, and everything I encountered was new to me. While out in the community, if someone wanted to talk to me, I would have to stop and turn toward them and listen. I could not walk and talk at the same time. The feast of visions entering my brain through my eyes was literally as much as I could handle at that moment. To talk meant to stop and change focus intentionally. I had to do one thing at a time during my visit there. Yes, I walked away with a gigantic gift of reality.

Out of my Way! Out of my Way! is about that one thing that just wouldn't get out of the way, that really actually rooted in a place could be in the way. A boy notices a small tree growing on a small path in a village in India. He seeks to protect it by placing rocks all around it. When I think of small path in India, I see small and path as oxymorons. I know tons of people will see this differently, but very little in India is small to me. So much is happening all the time that small is difficult to see, to notice, but there is nothing difficult for the Indian people to hold sacred. The boy does this, and life continues all around the tree. It grows and grows, eventually becoming huge and totally important to the community. The tree becomes a place of peacefulness. 

This is a terrific story with fabulous illustrations. I could see reading this with students to open the conversation of what do you care for, what is important to you, and how do you offer your gifts of knowing to the world. Small stuff....uh, not really. Great book...I think you will love this one.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Me and Momma and Big John by Mara Rockliff

This sweet semi-biographical book based on one of the builders of the cathedral of St. John the Divine and her son is really rich. I am not familiar with too many stories about stone cutters, and for those of us with a little experiential history under our belts (ahem, I mean that we who are a little older and a tad grey-haired) can easily imagine the trials a female stone cutter might have encountered in our country. The author ties in family and calling so genuinely that I thought it might be amazing to be a stone cutter. Rockliff tells this story so calmly, with such compelling presence, that I wondered whose story it was. The story is inspired by one of the first female stone cutters in the United States at a cathedral whose work continued for decades. A simple look at the website points to some stunning visuals within that beautifully, artfully created cathedral in New York.

Like so many amazing books that I find, this one simply glowed on the library shelves, quietly encouraging me to pick it up. So glad I glad.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

I am a rabid Sharon Creech fan. I love her work!!!! Love how she writes, how she frames sentences, how she crafts messages into her writing. I love Walk Two Moons, The Wanderer, Love that Dog, Ruby Holler, list goes on and on for her work. So when I realized that she had a new book coming out, I immediately put the book on hold at the Multnomah County Library. Yep, even before they had received their copies.  He-he-he-he-he, I love the deviousness of that action, the curiousness of my need to read her new words. The magic day it came, I could hardly let the book out of my sight. I was busy with my usual after school duties, what with chatting with Alysa about her day at school (most important than ever now that she is in high school), making dinner, prepping for my next day at work, and taking Alysa to dance class. Every so often, I would walk by the book, touch the intriguing cover, and wonder when I would devour the book. Ironically this was not a devour book; rather, for me, this was a savor book for me. I loved the savoring story.

The Great Unexpected offers a glimpse into the unpredictable universality of life. Our lives to be more specific. To me, Ms. Creech has grown with her writing, molding more complex themes, and explorations into her writing, and this book offers the most complex yet. She weaves heartbreak, heartache, and intrigue into the dailiness of living, wondering, and interacting. This book seems totally different from her others to me, although a tad of the abstractness reminded me of The Unfinished Angel. In The Great Unexpected, she ties two orphan girls, some strange townspeople, and a bunch of birds into a calm life-changing adventure that most of us would love to lift up as a story. My take away: be not afraid. Be not afraid of the unpredictable trials life throws at you, be not afraid of how friends seem to step away, and be not afraid of boys falling out of trees, having emerged from nowhere. Oh, and those birds: well, don't fear them either. They tell stories in their silence.

I hear your fingers tapping on the keys already....Amazon anyone? Library in your area?

**Side note to a reader from earlier: Little Bee just arrived. My week is pretty busy but looking ahead to Thanksgiving week offers a breath of possibility!!! Thanks for the nudge.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bully by Patricia Polacco

I love Patricia Polacco's work.  She is a master at opening conversations through her stories, and she captures important attention on dire issues in her writing. I seek her writing out for me FIRST and my students second (telling, yes?). I know her publications offer us all keen, critical entrances to the tensions of the human condition. Bully is no less than that.

Lyla seeks what every person in the world seeks: to be accepted, and she thinks she has that in the beginning of her middle-school experience. But then her "friends" start some wicked, underhanded means of ugliness, and she meanders the familiar line of what to do when others are not welcomed and she is. This is a familiar storyline, but it continues to be one that we see over and over across the U.S. Reading this story is painful at the very least, and I believe students and young people will want to find their own responses to Polacco's important book-ending questions.

Talking through the ugliness we continue to bring into our lives is never easy, and finding a way to fight back against the shame we in the U.S. create over and over again is relentless and crucially important. Polacco's wisdom in writing this book rises with a different light than in her other books. Sometimes the tensions of a society are carried effectively through a book. I believe Polacco does just that in Bully. I will be honest: this is not an easy read. And, and I know it is important.

We have more work to do.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave

In a rare jump into adult novels, I wanted to chat about this terrific little book I read recently. Chris Cleave is the author of Little Bee-- I am sure many of you have read this one before. I had not, but I had heard very good things about that and kept running into great reviews of Gold. The story line sounded just like I like 'em: a little Olympics, a little tension between friends, a little life and death edginess. And I was not disappointed.

Basically Zoe and Kate are track cyclists of Olympic medalist level. They are wicked good on the track, share the same coach, and have trained together for years and years. They share a bunch of things in addition to Tom-- a boyfriend, a daughter, a love of biking-- but it is only at the end, after years and years of Zoe kicking Kate's butt (barely matters a lot in track riding) or Kate choosing motherhood over winning that there is some resolution of how to live life without the rest of life getting in the way.

I loved Cleave's artful storytelling. Some books lift up the drama too much, but not Cleave. He holds a restraint in his writing that I really appreciated. The text was simple and complex at the same time, and I didn't want to put this book down. While fierce in the competitive levels framed and the dedication to one another, no matter some of the great challenges framed within, it still read as a quiet book for me. I am sure I am confusing you, but I could so see this happening in a sport. So see it.

I wonder what others thought of this....and Little Bee? Readers, advice?