Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Healing Water: A Hawaiian Story

Healing Water: a Hawaiian Story by Joyce Moyer Hostetter is a wonderful historical novel about the island of Moloka'i, where those who were afflicted with leprosy were exiled to in the late 1800s.
Pia is a teenage boy growing up in Hawaii. While he does not know who his father is, he enjoys his friendship with Kamaka a family friend who is older and takes Pia under his wing. When Pia discovers he has leprosy he is especially hurt by Kamaka's behavior toward him. Kamaka who always has seemed so fearless is terribly frightened by the disease. As happened to all leprosy victims, Pia is sent to live on the island of Moloka'i with all the other lepers. There he may receive mail or gifts from his family, but he will never be able to see them again because of the fear of contagion. Moloka'i is not the place the government established it to be. The original intent was that the inhabitants would work together as the Hawaiian culture had been established, yet because the inhabitants lacked enough food and proper shelter, a different kind of culture emerged. Pia, who is a fictional character, had to steal for food and many of the residents lived in small caves instead of in the town.
Pia is angry about having leprosy, angry about being sent away from his family, and angry at Kamaka for deserting him. He is taken in by a man, Boki, who provides Pia with the things he needs to survive, but who treats him poorly in other ways. When Kamaka moves to the island because his wife has been stricken Pia is forced to face his anger. And, when Father Damien moves to the island of Moloka'i to help care for its residents Pia gets a lesson in forgiveness.
This was such a wonderful book. While there is an adult novel, Moloka'i (still on my TBR pile) that focuses on the island designated as a leper colony, I have not seen anything out for young adults before. Hostetter includes notes in the back of this book giving more historical information about leprosy and how it affected Hawaii historically and today. The outcome for people with leprosy was eventual death during Pia's lifetime. Hostetter was able to create an ending for Healing Water that was perfect - still imagining Pia living on a beautiful island learning about forgiveness and living at peace with others.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Scrambled States books

Several years ago I read The Scrambled States by Laurie Keller. I loved this book and so did the classes I read it to. Now Keller has returned with a new Scrambled States book - The Scrambled States of America Talent Show. This book is as charming and funny as Keller's first.
I have shared this book with a variety of age levels now and am always happy to see that each group enjoys it. From first through fifth grade, students giggle at the story, look to find our state or others they have been to, and are engaged by this book. The older students probably "get" some of the jokes a bit more because they have more background knowledge to understand what makes some things funny.
In the Scrambled States of America Talent Show the states decide to hold a talent show- each state contributing in some way. Some states work behind the scenes and others perform various acts. All are amusing. Of course at the end of the night the states return to their homes to discuss their production and all agree that it was a great success. I can only hope that Keller will contribute a few more adventures in her Scrambled States series.

A YA Lockhart and a Memoir Lockhart

This morning I was writing information in my book journal about the latest book I had just finished. Last night I stayed up a little later than I should have to get through Mother in the Middle: A Biologist's Story of Caring for Parent and Child by Sybil Lockhart. I thoroughly enjoyed her memoir, but chuckled to myself when I entered the name, author and number of pages in her book into my book journal. Directly above that entry was the book Dramarama by E. Lockhart with the exact samenumber of pages. Same author name? Same number of pages? I figured I must have not been paying attention very closely to the information. It is true, though. I read two books by a Lockhart in a row with the same number of pages. That seems to be where the similarities end.
Dramarama by E. Lockhart is a YA title centered around Sarah from Ohio. She loves all things theatre and when she and her best friend, Demi, who happens to be black and gay (and therefore has a hard time fitting in in the small town he is from) are accepted to a theatre camp for the summer their friendship is tested. Sarah, who goes by Sayde at camp, realizes that she doesn't really fit in there and also is not as talented as she would like. Demi, however, is completely at home and flourishing in this new environment. The two have a few arguments, trying to decide where each belongs. Lockhart also includes transcripts from some tapes the friends make of their conversations, recording things for posterity. This book received a starred review when it was published and I almost purchased it then. I enjoyed it, but had so many starts and stops in my reading that I had a hard time getting into it. As someone who enjoys musicals I appreciated the references to different shows like Cats. This was a quick read, one I would have definitely liked in high school.

Mother in the Middle: A Biologist's Story of Caring for Parent and Child by Sybil Lockhart is the other book I have been working on. Lockhart's story seems all too familiar to many: a professional woman quits her job to stay home with her children. In addition to that, she is caring for her aging mother who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Lockhart is a biologist so she includes information about what is happening to her mother on a scientific level as well. The writing is interesting and engaging and I felt as though Sybil and I could be friends. The challenges she faces are ones many can relate to. Not only does she write about her mother's illness, but also includes her challenges with mothering, her marriage and her struggles in her professional life. This was a wonderful memoir and I enjoyed every word.

I can't believe it's back to work already today. The weekend went so quickly. I did get to talk books with a friend on Saturday, so even though I didn't find a lot of time to actually read anything, I was at least talking about reading.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Funeral Director's Son

When I heard the title of this book, I knew it was one I would need to read. For ten years my husband and I lived in a house attached to the funeral home where he was a funeral director. It was an interesting ten years, to say the least. Coleen Murtagh Paratore's middle grade book tells the story of Kip, a boy born into a long line of funeral directors who does not want to go into the family business. Much of what Kip reveals about life in a funeral home are things that I know about and make me smile in reminisence....while being thankful for my current surroundings all that much more. In addition to the funeral home setting, Kip, while not wanting to take part in the family business does have an important job. He helps the newly deceased find peace. Kip hears the wishes of those who have just passed away and helps relay messages to loved ones who were not told goodbye. When Billy Blye dies Kip must find out the secret holding Blye back from his eternal rest.
I liked the setting the most in this book because it was so familiar. I felt like the plot could have been more well developed because there were things I was still questioning later on in the book. I am not sure middle grade readers could make some of the connections Paratore is having her readers make. Kip is entertaining and even though I am not in love with the plot I still found the book enjoyable.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Help

I am feeling a little guilty. I have had a week off of work but haven't done a very good job of getting a lot of reading done. And, what I have read has all been 'adult stuff.' However, I read a GREAT, GREAT book, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a debut novel for her that was absolutely wonderful.
Told by three separate narrators, this story takes place in the early sixties in Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen is a maid for Elizabeth, a white lady with a young daughter she has no time for. Aibileen's own son died unexpectedly and while she is still grieving his death, her life is taken up by caring for Mae Mobley, cooking and cleaning, and ignoring the different racial slurs she has lived her entire life hearing.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is also a maid who has just been fired when the story begins. She is known for her mouth which doesn't serve her very well in the segregated south. When she loses her job and cannot find one it is Aibileen who helps her on her job hunt. She secures a position with Celia, a woman who married up in the world and isn't accepted by the rest of the social set her husband belongs to. Celia doesn't seem to understand the barriers between herself and Minny, and continues to work hard to fit in in her new life.
Miss Skeeter (Eugenia), is a white woman just graduated from college who has moved back to Jackson. Miss Skeeter wants nothing more than to get a job somewhere as a writer. When her job application for an editor position in New York is turned down, she is contacted by Elaine Stein who had looked over her resume. Stein encourages Skeeter to think of what she wants to write about. While her initial list of ideas is rejected, after much thought, Skeeter decides to write a book from the black woman's perspective of what it is like to work for white women. This is a dangerous undertaking in Jackson during the sixties and the maids she finally coaxes to agree to this must all work with her in great secrecy. As the project unfolds it is perhaps more than Skeeter bargained for and she is forced to examine her own life as someone who grew up with a maid, and the lives of her friends and their racial views.
There is so much more to this story I could include: Skeeter's love life, the relationship with her mother, the mystery of what happened to the woman who raised Skeeter and then left abruptly before Skeeter could say goodbye, Minny's abusive husband, Celia's secrets....Stockett has created a story with such depth that I have struggled all week with exactly what to say about it. This is perhaps the best book I have read all year and one I highly recommend.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Break Reading

First of all, I am enjoying the idea of having this entire week to hang out and read some books (and listen to my children fight) that have been stacking up on me. Today I didn't have much leisure reading time since I took my oldest two daughters and my mother to the Mall of America - and more specifically the American Girl store. This was our first trip there and we enjoyed it a lot. I will have to say that the idea of paying to get a doll's ears pierced or hair done is ridiculous, but my daughters had saved up some money of their own and paid for it. More frightening to me was the idea that a real person actually held that job. So, we left with a few bags and a little less money in our wallets. We also stopped at IKEA which none of us had ever been to. I am in the market for some new book shelves and their price is right. I now need to measure my walls and find a time to get a truck and drive back to Minneapolis to make a purchase. Maybe I won't have books stacked under my bed and in every other spare space.

Yesterday I was feeling especially productive - at least in reading. I finished Elizabeth Edwards' book Saving Graces. This was written a few years ago and I had held off reading it wondering how I would get through the segment of her book where she writes about losing her son, Wade in 1996. I will admit even a few years later the story is so heartbreaking. While the book is about Edwards' entire life, it focuses the most on her loss of Wade and also her battle with breast cancer. I thought Edwards did a good job not making this book too sad or depressing, instead focusing on how others have touched her and how she has managed to go on despite some hardships. Now a few years later I wish Edwards would add another chapter about her relapse, although I am not sure I want her to add anything about her husband's infidelity. Whatever people may think about John Edwards, Elizabeth is a remarkable woman and reading her book will just help confirm that.

I also finished The Agency by Ally O'Brien. This chick lit book is smart and fun and hard to put down. Tess Drake is a literary agent who is wishing to strike out on her own. However, before she can finalize her plans, her boss is found dead in his apartment of an apparent homicide, and Tess is a suspect. Her new boss, Cosima has it in for her, and Tess just happens to be having an affair with Cosima's husband. Add in a few problems with clients and The Agency is full of suspense, sex, and style. While I have no idea if their will be a sequel to this book, I am hopeful that I can hear about Tess Drake's exploits again one day.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Sort of Funny Story

I am in the middle of reading The Agency by Ally O'Brien and loving it. It is a good, chick lit book, and fun to read. Yesterday I was basically carrying the book with me from room to room. At one point I had my mother and father in-law outside watching my three daughters on the swing set. The inlaws had just stopped by for a second and wanted me to come out as soon as I was ready (having interrupted my shower after a run). So, I was gathering dirty clothes and shoes and the book I was planning on taking outside to read while I watched three kids. I quickly threw the load of clothes in, yelled something outside, put on tennis shoes, and then couldn't find the book. Things like this happen to me from time to time and since my house is messy it is no surprise that I might not be able to automatically spot the one item I am looking for --sort of like hunting for a needle in a haystack. I kept looking, retraced my steps, looked some more. The only place I hadn't looked was in the washer. I couldn't really imagine throwing a book (and a library book no less) in the washer, but there weren't really many more options of where to look. I tried to open the washer, but it is a front loading one and I couldn't get it to open or stop. I sweated my way through the 53 minute wash cycle trying to figure out how I was going to explain this to anyone - I was advised not to tell my husband, but I am pretty sure my kids would have taken care of that. Well, 53 minutes later my daughters looked for me because I just couldn't bear to..... and ---no book in the washer. I kept looking and looking and looking...finally I happened to stop in our entry way that is loaded with bookbags, backpacks, shoes, coats, mittens, you name it, and opened each bag up. There in my daughter's back pack was my book. Not quite sure how/why it ended up there, but I have started reading again and am almost finished.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Every Human Has Rights: A Photographic Declaration for Kids

I just received Every Human Has Rights: a Photographic Declaration for Kids in the mail today. This book is based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and provides wonderful photographs to go along with thirty different segments the Declaration has been divided into. Each photograph and phrase is worth discussing and thinking about. As a teacher this book would be a wonderful way to begin a discussion about the many ways we are alike as human beings. Every Human Has Rights should appeal to a wide audience. It is a book that would be great on coffee tables, in libraries, in schools, and anywhere else that celebrates diversity.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Year the Swallows Came Early

While I have stated many times my love for historical fiction books, following a close second are realistic fiction novels aimed at the tween years. The Year The Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice is a debut novel that was a wonderful, wonderful read. At the novel's beginning, Groovy is out with her father when he is arrested. Groovy rushes to tell her mother who is at work at the beauty salon she is part owner of. Instead of being surprised by this news, her mother admits that she is the one who called the police. As it turns out, her father is a bit of a dreamer - and a gambler. The money that Groovy inherited from her namesake has been taken by her father and gambled away. Groovy spends a lot of time with her friends Frankie and Luis who run a Mexican restaurant and are also dealing with their own issues. Marisol, a girlf from Groovy's class and her younger brother, Felix, help Groovy with her struggles and end up being better friends to her than she ever expected. While Groovy does feel let down by her father, over time she is able to learn a little more about her dad and appreciate some of the goodness inside of him. The ending to this book is not overly trite or predictable, and now that I am done reading I miss Groovy and learning about her life.

The Letter Writer

I have said many times that historical fiction books are one of my favorite genres- if not the favorite. Just this weekend I read The Letter Writer by Ann Rinaldi. Knowing my love of kids historical fiction novels, I am surprised that I haven't read more by Rinaldi, who happens to have a large collection of historical fiction novels she has penned.
The Letter Writer tells the story of eleven year old Harriet who is her blind stepmother's letter writer. The two live on a plantation in the south, complete with slaves. While Harriet's time is taken up helping her stepmother, she is introduced to Nat Turner, a slave who has become popular as a minister preaching of God's love. Harriet's stepmother wants to hire Nat Turner to refinish some furniture for her, and while he is at their plantation Harriet is convinced by Turner to let him borrow a map of the area. The map, he claims, will help him know where the plantations are so he can continue to spread God's word. What he uses the map for, however, is one of the biggest slave uprisings in history.
I was totally fascinated by this look at something in history I knew little about. Rinaldi's book has made me want to delve further into the history surrounding this slave uprising and Nat Turner's role in history.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Several years ago when I first started reading Mo Willems' books - specifically Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus - I was not very impressed. I just didn't like the humor, or maybe I didn't get the humor, but whatever the issue was, I was not very impressed. Willems continued to write Pigeon books that I read and ordered, but not very enthusiastically. Then he wrote Knuffle Bunny and I fell in love with it. I love, love, love that book. My oldest daughter read and re-read that book and laughed hysterically each time. I was thrilled to see Knuffle Bunny Too and love that one just as much as the first. So, now Willems has written The Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and I am admitting that over time I somehow have come to really enjoy Mo Willems' books. I have shared The Naked Mole Rat with several classes -lower and upper elementary and all of them have enjoyed it a great deal. This book is just a lot of fun.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Converting Kate

Becky Weinheimer's book Converting Kate was the second young adult book I was able to enjoy while home sick on Monday. I had checked it out a while ago, and can't quite remember if I had heard or read anything about it, but thought it sounded interesting after reading the front flap. Kate and her mother have moved to Maine where her mother is running a bed and breakfast owned by Kate's great aunt. Although her parents divorced when Kate was ten she and her father were still close and his death which occurred suddenly just a year ago has left Kate grieving and questioning her faith. Kate's mother raised her with strict, fundamental-like religious beliefs at the Church of the Holy Divine. These beliefs have set Kate apart from her peers and are ones her father does not subscribe to. After his death and their move to Maine Kate starts going to her great aunt's church and refusing to practice different aspects of her mother's faith. She starts to make friends who help her question what she has always accepted, and especially becomes close to the new pastor when she starts attending youth group activities. I liked this book more than I thought I might. Weinheimer's writing quickly grabbed me. I also appreciated Weinheimer's own author note she includes making this story seem more personal to her own life. Converting Kate is Weinheimer's first book and I will look forward to more writing from her.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lock and Key

This past weekend I have spent time being sick at home. In addition to me being sick, my husband is sick and so is my youngest daughter who began throwing up last night. I feel mostly better today and so does my husband, but there are still two people at our house who haven't been sick yet and I am hoping we can finally be rid of whatever germs we have. UGH!!! The only good thing about laying around yesterday was that I did finally get two books read.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen has been on my stack for a while. I even started it, but never got far enough into it to care to keep going. Yesterday with some uninterrupted time I managed to read an enjoy Dessen's latest book. Ruby is a high school senior who had been living alone with her deadbeat mother. When her mom abandons her, leaving town with a boyfriend, Ruby tries to keep up the job she and her mother shared and continues to go to school maintaining the life she was used to for a time. When her landlord stops by and notices the broken dryer, Ruby's secret is out and she is taken in by her sister Cora, who she has had no contact with for the past ten years. Cora's life is like something out of a magazine: perfect loving husband, beautiful home, great job. Ruby isn't sure what to think of all of it and is sure that this new life is only temporary. Her sister and brother in law's neighbor, Nate, also a high school senior, befriends Ruby long before she knows how to be a friend to him. It is this friendship Ruby must remember when she discovers some of Nate's secrets.
I liked the suspense Dessen created in this novel as Nate's secret is revealed. I also enjoyed the development of Ruby's character and watching her mature. I have only read a few of Dessen's novels, but with each one can see how each appeal to young adults.