Archive | June, 2014

The Scar Boys: What I wanted Wonder to be

30 Jun


Let me start by saying I liked Auggie Pullman, protagonist of Wonder  by R. J. Palacio. It was a touching book and Auggie is sweet and likable. I didn’t love the book like so many people did. I felt it was a little too idealistic. You should still read it, if you haven’t already

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos, has the edge I wanted  Wonder to have. Harry Jones is likable, though a little less so than Auggie. He’s older than Auggie, but has a facial deformity due to a traumatic event in his childhood. Like Auggie, Harry also has one friend, Johnny, that helps him navigate the world of friendships. But unlike Auggie, Harry knows there will be no easy path or happy ending; he will always be an outsider.

Harry and Johnny form a bad, The Scar Boys, and it takes them through middle and high school. They are actually good and, in the summer after their senior year in high school, The Scar Boys go on a road trip. It ends badly, as you might expect, so I’m not really giving a lot away by telling you that it does. What The Scar Boys  does, that Wonder  didn’t for me, was really show the hurt and damage Harry’s disfigurement has on his psyche. Harry is a flawed hero. It is an emotionally raw book, without being heavy and dark.

If you liked  Wonder,  I highly recommend you give The Scar Boys  a read.

Women at War

28 Jun

WWI changed society in a myriad of ways, one of which was the role of women. This video, And We Knew How to Dance: Women in WWI


by the National Film Board of Canada  shows how Canadian women aided the war effort. It’s World War I, and many of the country’s men have gone into battle. Twelve Canadian women, aged 86 to 101, recall their entry into what had been a male world of munitions factories and farm labour. Their commitment and determination helped lead the way to postwar social changes for women.

And this book,



tells the story of approximately 100 nurses who were captured during the Japanese attack on the Philippines, which happened only 9 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mary Cronk Farrell’s Pure Grit is the story of how those nurses not only survived, but also how they continued to care for the sick and wounded with dwindling medical supplies and food. Over the course of their three years in captivity, the nurses lost weight because of the starvation-level rations they were given. some developed beriberi, others dengue fever and/or bouts of malaria and tuberculosis. Cronk uses interviews and lots of primary source material to create a highly readable and fascinating book that sheds light on an aspect of war that is still rather unknown.

Backmatter includes a glossary, list of nurses, timeline, endnotes, bibliography, websites, and an index.

Cronk also provides a teacher’s guide on  her website.

This is an excellent addition to any library or classroom in which World War 2 is taught.



The War at Home

27 Jun


Tomorrow we mark the event that set the dominoes of the First World War in motion: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

In John Boyne’s Stay Where You Are & Then You Leave,  we see the effects of war throughout the eyes of you Alfie Summerfield. He’s only 5 at the beginning of the book and 9 by the end, but John Boyne really captures how a boy of that age would view and understand the world and the crazy event going on around him. I love that he thins at 21 he’ll need glasses to read and will want to go to bed early because he’s so tired.

This is the best of what historical fiction should be: details woven into the fabric of the story so naturally we don’t even realize that they are historical facts. We get a real glimpse of what life was like for people left at home and the consequences the war had on society. We learn about shortages, deportations, conscientious objectors, white feathers and shell shock.

Alfie’s father went off to war. At first the letters were funny, then serious, then confused. Then they stopped. Alfie’s mother tells him his dad is on a secret mission, but Alfie thinks his dad is dead. While working as a shoeshine big, Alfie comes across some information that set him on a secret mission of his own to rescue his dad.

This book is a real gem. It was more like Michael Morpurgo’s  War Horse than Boyne’s most famous book,  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  It would be an excellent novel to read as kids learn about WWI.

Alas, I couldn’t help but do the math. Alfie  is 9 in 1918. That means he’ll be 30 in 1939 when the next World war breaks out. It broke my heart to think about that. The fact that I care is a testament to the quality of the writing that created the character of Alfie.

WWI @100

25 Jun

On Saturday we mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the trigger that set off the maneuvering that became the First World War. Or the Great War, as they called it. They didn’t know then that they were supposed to number them. The Wall Street Journal has a wonderful collection of legacies of WWI that you can see here. It is well worth looking at.

When I go to Canada later this summer, we will visit Ottawa and I am very excited to see the Canadian War Museum. I haven’t been to Ottawa since our grade 10 trip in 1980, and there are a number of museum that have been built in the decades since my last visit there.

There are a number of WWI related books out now, and no doubt, some more to come over the next four years. I hope to tell you about many of them. Today’s book is the story of a war dog.


Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog is written by Anne Bausum and is published by National Geographic.

From the Publisher: Stubby, the stump-tailed terrier, worked behind enemy lines, and gained military honors along the way. Private Robert Conroy casually adopted the orphan pup while attending basic training on the campus of Yale University in 1917. The Connecticut volunteer never imagined that his stray dog would become a war hero. He just liked the little guy. When Conroy’s unit shipped out for France, he smuggled his new friend aboard. By the time Stubby encountered Conroy’s commanding officer, the dog had perfected his right-paw salute. Charmed, the CO awarded Stubby mascot status and sent him along with Conroy’s unit to the Western Front. Stubby’s brave deeds earned him a place in history and in the Smithsonian Institution where his stuffed body can still be seen. Almost 100 years later, Stubby’s great deeds and brave heart make him an animal hero to fall in love with and treasure all over again.

The book is well researched and full of photos and quotes. Backmatter includes an afterword, timeline, research notes, bibliography, resource guide, citations, and index. It would be an excellent means of introducing kids to the details of WWI, which many of them know very little about.

Silvia Mendez

24 Jun

I had never heard of Silvia Mendez until I read Duncan Tonatiuh’s latest picture book Separate is Never Equal.


The illustrations are classic Tonatiuh, but the text tells a very important story about the struggle in California in the late 1940’s , for integrated schools. And it focuses on the story of Silvia Mendez, whose family was at the center of the Mendez v. Winchester  decision, granting equal access to school for kids of Hispanic heritage. We all know about  Brown v. Board of Education, but we should all know about this story, too, since  it precedes that case and Thurgood Marshal and Earl Warren also play roles.

When Silvia and her siblings were told they couldn’t enroll at the nearby school, but had to attend the “Mexican school”, her parents took action. yes they enrolled the kids at the “Mexican school”, but they also started a campaign. they talked to other families and finally decided to file a lawsuit. They won locally and they won the appeal by the school board.

What I really like about this story is how Tonatiuh really ties it in to Silvia, how she felt and what this decision meant for her. I think Duncan Tonatiuh will be in the running for another Belpre award with this book.

Some thoughts on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

23 Jun

When they hear the name Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, most people think of his book The Little Prince. I read it in Grade 13 French with Monsieur Esders. My favorite Saint Ex novel has always been  Pilote de Guerre , translated as  Flight to Arras). 

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I have to admit, and I don’t say this to be pretentious, but I prefer to read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in French.  Pilote de Guerre is  memoir of his time as the pilot of a reconnaissance plane during the Battle of France in 1940, and condenses months of flights into a single mission over the town of Arras. Although it is about events, it is a reflection on war that was written, in part, to encourage the Americans to enter the war.  The Little Prince was published a year after  Pilote de Guerre.

This year, Peter Sís has written an excellent picture book biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.


The Pilot and the Little Prince connects Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s birth in 1900 to the sense of adventure and unlimited potential that the new century brought. Fascinated by planes a little boy, he became one of the first pilots to fly mail, creating new routes in far away places. He even crashed in the desert, an event that became the inspiration for the story of The Little Prince. It covers his time in America as well as his role fighting for France. And it ends with his disappearance. The story os good, but it is Sís’ illustrations that capture the energy and imagination of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

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 A picture book well worth picking up. I hope it will fuel your imagination.


Non-fiction Sunday

22 Jun

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Here is an incredible pair of books:  A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery by Albert Marrin and Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation by Sally M. Walker.

In A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery,  Marrin has not only written a biography of John Brown, but he also offers historical background on slavery in general and how it manifested itself in the US. We learn of John Brown’s relationship with abolitionists and his radicalization. And all this is set against the backdrop of  the years before the Civil War. An excellent addition to US history collections, the book has a substantial number  of photos,  illustrations and artwork from the period, all of which are well captioned, as well as notes, a bibliography for further reading and an index.

Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation by Sally M. Walker is history and geography, mingled with astronomy, math, politics and religion. I think of the line as a Civil War issue, but its history stretches back to the beginnings of the United States, when settlers came to escape religious persecution in England. It continues through property disputes between  the pens and Calverts ,until Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon are called upon to survey the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. This is a tough read at times and might be best suited for high school students.It is not as dramatic or exciting as  Volcano, but definitely interesting and worth reading.


Killing time & Mockingbirds

21 Jun

I had a lot of time to kill yesterday.

Thursday,  I was driving to pick up a dog, Bandit, to take him to his new home and  encountered the debris from a blown tire on I-5. It sounded as though I blew a tire, but when I pulled off, the plastic “pan” under the engine had come loose on one side and was dragging on the ground. I got to the Rest Area where I meeting Bandit. It turns out Bandit’s mom had a similar encounter. A kind man made a temporary fix with the spring from a pen. A very MacGyver solution! I called the insurance company & they sent me to a body shop, which I visited yesterday to have the repairs made. And, I read an awesome  book while I waited.


Paul Acampoa’s I Kill the Mockingbird is funny, poignant and a rallying cry about the power of books. Essentially, a trio of teens uses social media to create a campaign to get people to read To Kill a Mockingbird, by hiding copies of the book in bookstores and libraries. Basic supply & demand But it is also about friendship, growing up, life & death. And it references the book that combines two of my three favorite things:


I originally bought I Kill the Mockingbird  for my niece who will be 16 on July 4th, but I think it is a little to young for her. I have a few other titles in mind, but more on those later. If you are looking for a good, fun, quick summer read, that still makes you think, I Kill the Mockingbird  is a perfect choice.

More interesting than THE INTERESTINGS

20 Jun

I listened to Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings  in the early Spring. It was OK, but I don;t know if I would have stayed to the end if I’d been reading the book. I didn’t really like many of the characters and just had trouble really caring about their lives.

I just listened to We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Although the characters of this book have much in common with those of  The Interestings,  I liked this book a whole lot more.


The story is set in a world of privilege. Cady Sinclair Eastman is the firstborn grandchild in a wealthy family that vacations every summer on their private island off Martha’s Vineyard. She spends idyllic summers with her cousins who are only a few years younger that she is and a family friend. They call themselves The Liars. In the summer when they are 15 something happens. Cady does not return to the island until she is 17 and trying to remember the parts of the Summer 15 she cannot. Since that summer she has suffered terrible migraines and partial memory loss.

The story weaves back and forth between the past and the present. As Cady was trying to put the pieces together, I was right there with her. h, I had my theories, but when it all came back to her, I was not prepared for what really happened. I’m not often surprised in literature, but Lockhart caught me off guard and I reeled.

I highly recommend this book, wither in print or audio. The narrator, Ariadne Meyers, really captured the fierceness and frailty of Cady.


Happy 8th birthday, Lucy!!!

18 Jun

Here’s the birthday girl, ready to give you a big hug!


Today, Lucy turns 8. I decided to dedicate this post to her because, with all her health and age issues, Fiona gets a lot more attention than Lucy.

I adopted Lucy in January 2010. It was the Saturday before President’s Day. I had gone in to my principal to let her know I was taking off the day after the Monday holiday, usually a no-no, because I was getting a new dog. And bless her heart, my principal said, “Take Wednesday, too.”

She fit in well, at first. About 3 months after I adopted her, she started being reactive on leash to other dogs. When she turned on Fiona, I knew I had to take drastic steps. I was heart-broken and worried I’d have to give her up, but the folks at OregonBasset Hound Rescue gave me advice, which I followed. I took her to the vet to rule out a physical problem. Then, I saw a behaviorist who gave me some very helpful strategies I still employ. I always carry turkey jerky when we walk and I use Dog Appeasing Pheremones in the house.

Lucy spent her first few years locked in a bathroom, the victim of a family enamored of a puppy, but not willing to give her the training or attention she needed. Neighbors felt sorry for her and convinced the family to let them have her. Two years later the second family divorced and Lucy was an asset no one wanted. At least this family knew to contact OBHR.

And so Lucy came to me. She is the Laurel to Fiona’s Hardy. She is also very sensitive and trembles at times, when I leave. In fact, after our last round of 2 nights of parent-teacher conferences, Lucy was a wreck. Even when I left in the mornings after PT conferences, she would shake violently & try to hide in the bathroom. It took almost a month before she got her confidence back and was OK when I left in the morning, which she never used to react to.

Lucy likes to adjust blankets so they are all at her back and she frequently remakes my bed.


Sometimes she likes to go right under and hide.


Unlike Fiona and Louie, Lucy loves to play with toys. She gets so excited when we play fetch, which she really enjoys. This is one of the rare times when Lucy barks. I often joke that Lucy is silent, but deadly.

Join me in wishing Lucy a many happy returns of the day. And, since it also Paul Mccartney’s birthday, let’s sing

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