Archive | September, 2013

Reading along the Silk Road

30 Sep

Funny, how library holds work. You go along, blithely putting everything you want on hold, and then they arrive, and there’s a connection. I just read my way from Constantinople to Turkestan.

It all started with Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, a graphic novel by Tony Cliff. Girl power galore!


Selim is a lieutenant in the sultan’s army in early 1800s Constantinople. He lives a quiet, simple life until the day Delilah Dirk shows up in the sultan’s dungeon. While questioning her he discovers she claims to be a fearsome fighter, with deeds to her credit around the world. When she escapes, the sultan believes Selim had something to do with it, and he orders them both to be killed. Delilah frees Selim and takes him along on her adventures. You can actually read it online, for free, HERE!

Then, I read my first book on an e-reader, which was a more enjoyable experience than I expected.


The book however was amazing. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan, give perspective on what it is like to be gay in Iran. Sahar and Nasrin have been best friends forever, but when Nasrin becomes engaged, Sahar delves into a hidden part of Iranian culture. Well written and easy to read, I couldn’t put this one down.

On over to India, in the days just prior to partition, with  A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury.


The story is narrated by three characters, all about the same age: Tariq is a Muslim whose family is planning to leave India for Pakistan. Anupreet is a Sikh girl who has been a victim of the  violence between Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus rocking India at this time. Margaret is an english girl and the daughter of a surveyor working to create the border. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, helping see into this complicated time & place, and telling an excellent story.

The final book, The Vine Basket  by Josanne LaValley, is set among the Uyghurs of the part of eastern China, formerly known as east Turkestan.


Combining cultural geography, and themes of resistance, female empowerment La Valley tells the compelling story of Mehrigul. She has had to leave school to help support her family and lives in fear that her father will turn her over to the local Party boss as part of a quota of girls to work in factories in the South. When an American women buys one f her baskets for a huge sum, and asks her to make more, Mehrigul finally hopes her future might not be as bleak as she supposes.

A Little Autumnal Nostalgia

29 Sep

I have this memory. I must have been about 5 or 6 and I was sitting in the kitchen in our house in Rockton, Ontario. It was Fall and I realized for the first time that it was dark at supper time in Autumn and it wasn’t so in Summer.  It’s not an earth shattering realization, but it sort of rocked my world.

I’ve always had a special fondness for the quietness of Fall and Winter evenings. When my sister, brother-in-law, and I shared a house in Port Sydney, one of my favorite winter evening excursions was to walk through the woods to the small store that rented videos. The path through the forest lead over a stream.

That cozy feeling is captured in Jean E. Pendizwol’s Once Upon a Northern Night,


which is beautifully illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.





The book is a lullaby that paints a picture of a northern winter night for a sleeping child. It describes the beauty of a snowfall, the wild animals that appear in the garden, the twinkling stars, the gentle rhythm of the northern lights and the etchings of frost on the window pane. This book recreates the magical feeling I had on those cold, wintry nights and fills my heart with warmth. It is  a wonderful book that I highly recommend.

Everybody likes an Underdog

28 Sep

Right from the first page I had a feeling I was going to like Elvis and the Underdogs by Jenny Lee.


I also had a sense, right from the start, that this would be a perfect 4th grade read aloud. Both feelings stayed with me right to the end. This is a really fun read that doesn’t seem to be getting much attention.

Benji is a small sickly boy who is often picked on by the school bully. After a serious seizure he has 2 options: wear the world’s ugliest green helmet or get a therapy dog. What arrives at his house is a massive Newfoundland who can speak, though only Benji can hear him. Parker Elvis Pembroke IV informs Benji that a terrible mistake has been made. he was supposed to be sent to the White House. While the adults are trying to correct the mistake, Benji and Elvis become friends, get into and out of some trouble and help Benji end his pack.

You can check out  the book at or at your local library like I did.

This one is definitely on my list for the teacher read aloud club.

A little friendly competition

26 Sep

When I was taught to outline, there was a protocol using for numbers, Roman numerals and letters. In word, when bulleting, you get the same three choices if you want something other than an actual bullet or arrow. But which is best? How do you chose?

In Mike Boldt’s 123 versus ABC   numbers and letters both want to be the stars of the book.


Their debate escalates when funny animals and props start arriving: 1 alligator, 2 bears, 3 cars. You can see where this is going. Each grouping of new animals and objects are highlighted in the text and I found myself wanting to count each monkey or lion to make sure there were, in fact, that exact number.  This is not a number/alphabet book for beginners. Some of the humor is a little sophisticated for early readers, but made me laugh, like the page on which A states that “today is Bring Your Lowercase to Work Day. Here is little a.” Of course I loved the fact that 25 balls of yarn were needed to knit sweaters for 26 zebras. I always enjoy a good knitting reference.

This book would be a fun read aloud, as 1 and A both have very strong voices.


Boys and Eating Disorders

25 Sep

Did you know that 10% of 10 million people in the US with an eating disorder are male? I had no idea until I read A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger.


I had to reread the first two pages because I was confused about who was narrating the story. Then, I realized it was being narrated by his eating disorder! How wonderful and terrifying. It was an effective way to write the story because it gave enough distance from the main character, Mike, who had a great life.  He was on his high school baseball team. His grades were good, although he was quiet in class, and he had a good friend who was like a brother.  Then his family fell apart. Mike self-confidence fails and his self-image becomes distorted. We can see that he is surrounded by well-intentioned people who miss the signs of an eating disorder or try to help, but stop short of really helping. And, the eating disorder warps how Mike perceives. them. The voice sounds caring to Mike, but it is creepy to me, making it really powerful.

The book is short but packs a punch. The only other book that really helped me understand a bit of the world of eating disorders is Laurie Halse Anderson’s  Wintergirls. 

As an adult who works with kids, A Trick of the Light made me reflect on the many ways we talk to kids, but fall short. We walk up to the line, but are afraid to cross it.  As a specialist in a school, I don’t have homeroom teacher responsibilities and sometimes it is hard to tell a colleague that they might be missing something.  I need to see all kids as my kids and make the homeroom teacher, counselor and administrators aware of what  see. And I need to be sure I call kids on what  see, letting them know there is one more adult in their life who cares.

In Mike’s case, we learn that his friend Tamio, one of his teachers, his coach and others kept calling his mother to let her know they were concerned. It took all of them for her to finally realize Mike had a problem so he could get the help he needed.


Knitting, Audiobooks and a Giveaway by some cool authors

23 Sep

Here’s another fun picture book about knitting:


in Little Owl’s Orange Scarf,  by Tatyana Feeney, Little Owl’s mom has knit him a scarf. Unfortunately, it is scratchy and orange. he tries to lose it, but has little success until he goes to the zoo. Later, Mom knit him a new one, but let’s him choose the yarn.

Choosing yarn for a project is a knitter’s dilemma. You have to get the color & fibre just right for a recipient. You also have to think if expensive yarn is worth it if the recipient isn’t going to hand wash the item. I generally try to knit with washable yarn for others and save the fancy stuff for me.

I read 2 books this weekend consequently I did not knit. This is OK because I am between projects right now. Reading & knitting are mutually exclusive activities, unless you knit & listen to an audiobook, which I’ve been known to do. I always have an audiobook in the car. Right now I;m listening to Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World.


About the giveaway:

One of my new favorite blogs, cccblogheader is giveaway tons of stuff to celebrate their first anniversary. Check out the blog and enter to win. Click HERE to enter the raffle.

From 1497 to 2059

22 Sep

From Renaissance Italy, I have travelled to futuristic, dystopian England. I’m about 2/3 of the way through The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.


Although marketed to adults, I can see many YA readers flocking to this novel. It’s an OK read. I don’t think it is necessarily worthy of the hype that it has been getting, but I can see that it is a potential moneymaking series. Although here are some very original elements, the clairvoyance in particular, reading The Bone Season has me thinking of other  books I’ve read.

The first literary connection I made was to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. Both books have a “Master Species” taking over Earth, claiming to be benign protectors.

There is the obvious similarity to The Hunger Games:  a strong female who has to play the Masters’ game, but doesn’t really accept the rules.

The book is set in London and Oxford, recalling Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials . There was even  a companion book called Lyra’s Oxford, if I recall correctly.

Finally, Shannon has projected a seven novel series from this debut novel.  A little Harry Potterish, don’t you think?

The story moves quickly and Paige is a very likable character. Sometimes the local cant interferes with the flow of the story, but that might just be because I went straight to this novel from Falcon in the Glass. Anyway, if you read a lot, this is worth picking up just to see what all the hype is about.  I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about The Bone Season.


My weekend in Renaissance Venice

21 Sep

I didn’t have much of a summer vacation because of summer school. So, thank goodness I can live vicariously through books.

This weekend, I’m in Renaissance Venice, courtesy of Falcon in the Glass, by Susan Fletcher.


I actually visited Venice way back in 1983, when I was an exchange student in Denmark, so I can really visualize the story as I read. Even if you haven’t been to Venice, Susan Fletcher’s vivid recreation of the setting makes it easy to imagine what our hero, Renzo sees and experiences. She also manages to bring the history and beauty of glassblowing in Murano to life without being didactic.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Renzo, a twelve-year-old laborer in a glassworks, has just a few months to prepare for a test of his abilities, and no one to teach him. If he passes, he will qualify as a skilled glassblower. If he fails, he will be expelled from the glassworks. Becoming a glassblower is his murdered father’s dying wish for him, and the means of supporting his mother and sister. But Renzo desperately needs another pair of hands to help him turn the glass as he practices at night. One night he is disturbed by a bird–a small falcon–that seems to belong to a girl hiding in the glassworks. Soon Renzo learns about her and others like her–the bird people, who can communicate with birds and are condemned as witches. He tries to get her to help him and discovers that she comes with baggage: ten hungry bird-kenning children who desperately need his aid. Caught between devotion to his family and his art and protecting a group of outcast children, Renzo struggles for a solution that will keep everyone safe.

A great read for kids who love historical fiction.

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

19 Sep

Ahoy there! Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. And what better day than to talk about a book with a nautical theme and a search for Captain Kidd’s treasure!


Fish Finelli: Seagullls Don;t Eat Pickles  by E. S. Farber is illustrated by Jason Beene. This is a fun adventure mystery. While the strong plot concerns Fish and his friends hunting for lost pirate treasure, the book’s greatest strength is its character development; not just Fish, but his friends and family and other minor characters as well. It has a gentle sense of humor that keeps things light and sporadic sidebars with factoids that don’t seem either intrusive or patronizing.

This would make a great elementary read aloud. But be warned, some of the humor is very much the way 3rd & 4th grade boys talk. Heres an example: When Roger finds out that librarian Mr. E. Mann may have the treasure map, he cleverly observes, “Whoa! The librarian’s got the booty!” Argh!

Thrills and Chills

18 Sep

One night, when she was in her early teens, my niece rebecca stayed up with my twin sister and I to watch Psycho. It was an exciting and terrifying evening in which we screamed and had some good laughs.

Have you ever wondered what people did for this kind of fun before the advent of horror movies?

Rob Harrell offers an answer to this question in his graphic novel Monster on the Hill.


In a fantastical 1860s England, every quiet little township is terrorized by a ferocious monster–much to the townsfolk’s delight! Each town’s unique monster is a source of local pride, not to mention tourism. Each town, that is– except for one. Unfortunately, for the people of Stoker-on-Avon, their monster isn’t quite as impressive. In fact, he’s a little down in the dumps. Can the morose Rayburn get a monstrous makeover and become a proper horror? It’s up to the eccentric Dr. Charles Wilkie and plucky street urchin Timothy to get him up to snuff, before a greater threat turns the whole town to kindling.

This is fun romp with monsters and sure to be a favorite even with kids who don;t often read graphic novels.

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