Archive | April, 2016

Fiction/Nonfiction Pairing: The Great War

29 Apr

I’ve had the First World War on my mind since before the 100th anniversary of its start, almost two years ago. Quite a bit was done and written in the months just before August 2014, and there have been trickles since. This week, I’ve become enamored of a delightful pair of books that look at the Great War through a literary lens.

Unknown

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War is a collection of modern stories, written by an amazing array of  contemporary YA authors (David Almond, Michael Morpurgo, John Boyne, AL Kennedy, Marcus Sedgewick, Adele Geras,Tracy Chevalier, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Sheena Wilkinson, Ursula Dubrovsky, Timothee de Fombelle) and illustrated by Jim Kay.

Publisher’s Summary:A toy soldier. A butter dish. A compass. Mundane objects, perhaps, but to the remarkable authors in this collection, artifacts such as these have inspired stories that go to the heart of the human experience of World War I. Each author was invited to choose an object that had a connection to the war—a writing kit for David Almond, a helmet for Michael Morpurgo—and use it as the inspiration for an original short story. What results is an extraordinary collection, illustrated throughout by award-winning Jim Kay and featuring photographs of the objects with accounts of their history and the authors’ reasons for selecting them. This unique anthology provides young readers with a personal window into the Great War and the people affected by it, and serves as an invaluable resource for families and teachers alike.

In a powerful collection, eleven internationally acclaimed writers draw on personal objects to bring the First World War to life for readers young and old.
That collection of short stories would pair nicely with this collection of biographies of 12 men and three women, who participated in the First World War, and who later gained fame in other ways.
Unknown-1
In the Fields and Trenches:The Famous and the Forgotten on the Battlefields of World War I is written by Kerrie Logan Hollihan and published by the Chicago Review Press.
Publisher’s Summary: When it started, many thought the Great War would be a great adventure. Yet, as those who saw it up close learned, it was anything but. In the Fields and the Trenches traces the stories of eighteen young idealists swept into the brutal conflict, many of whom would go on to become well-known 20th-century figures in film, science, politics, literature, and business. Writer J. R. R. Tolkien was a signals officer with the British Expeditionary Force and fought at the Battle of the Somme. Scientist Irène Curie helped her mother, Marie, run twenty X-ray units for French field hospitals. Actor Buster Keaton left Hollywood after being drafted into the army’s 40th Infantry Division. And all four of Theodore Roosevelt’s sons—Kermit, Archibald, Quentin, and Theodore III—and his daughter Ethel served in Europe, though one did not return.In the Fields and the Trenches chronicles the lives of heroes, cowards, comics, and villains—some famous, some not—who participated in this life-changing event. Extensive original material, from letters sent from the front to personal journals, brings these men and women back to life. And though their stories are a century old, they convey modern, universal themes of love, death, power, greed, courage, hate, fear, family, friendship, and sacrifice.
Together, these two books give readers a glimpse into the impact of The Great war on ordinary lives.

A Friday Surprise…on Wednesday

27 Apr

One of the arcs I picked up at ALA Midwinter in January was this

Unknown

My Name is Not Friday by Jon Walter, is the tale of a Samuel, born in freedom, but, by a twist of fate is kidnapped and sold into slavery, just as the Civil War is ending.

Goodreads Summary: ‘This boy has bought me. This white boy who don’t even look as old as I am. He owns me body and soul and my worth has been set at six hundred dollars.’

Samuel’s an educated boy. Been taught by a priest. He was never supposed to be a slave.
He’s a good boy too, thoughtful and kind. The type of boy who’d take the blame for something he didn’t do if it meant he saved his brother. So now they don’t call him Samuel. Not anymore. And the sound of guns is getting ever closer…

An extraordinary tale of endurance and hope, Jon Walter’s second novel is a beautiful and moving story about the power of belief and the strength of the human spirit, set against the terrifying backdrop of the American Civil War.

This is great read for middle grade kids for a number of reasons. First, it tackles slavery and, though it doesn’t show the worst aspects, it shows many horrible aspects of it. It shows the power of reading and the power of  faith without being preachy. I will say that the opening, which begins with a blind-folded Samuel being carried off to be sold into slavery, is a little confusing. Walter opens with a classic “start in the middle” strategy that might turn off a reader. Once they are in through, readers will find Samuel a reliable narrator and a good friend.

Impact

26 Apr

Unknown

I volunteered for the committee because it sounded like a bit of fun. All we had to do was read over the scholarship applications and decide how to divvy up the $5500.00. Piece of cake.

The five committee members met at a cafe. After getting our beverages,a few snacks, and engaging in some chit chat, we got to work, each pulling one of the 15 applications.

“Remember,” we were reminded by our chair,”The person for whom the scholarship is named was a very active volunteer. We are looking for kids who have not merely volunteered, but who can articulate how their volunteerism has impacted their lives.”

As I read through the first one, I was caught a little off guard. I was getting weepy. I looked around the table. All five of us were glassy-eyed. I think we all had the same realization at the same time. This might be a more meaningful task than we could ever have anticipated.The second application had a similar effect.

After each application had been read by two volunteers the conversations began. We shared the ones that touched us most deeply. These were kids who not only volunteered, but developed a passion for their volunteerism. Some wrote about how they were surprised by this. Some wrote about how they learned about themselves, or faced their fears. It was hard work deciding how to split the money, but we tried to give as many of these passionate teens something. I think, in many ways, reading the applications will have more impact on me than the $500 or $1000 they’ll receive will have on them.

 

 

 

Canada Reads 2016

25 Apr

images

Every year since 2002, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation organizes Canada Reads, a ‘battle of the books” style competition to select a book everyone should read. This year’s winner is The Illegal by Lawrence Hill.

Unknown

Publisher’s Summary: Keita Ali is on the run.

Like every boy on the mountainous island of Zantoroland, running is all Keita’s ever wanted to do. In one of the poorest nations in the world, running means respect. Running means riches—until Keita is targeted for his father’s outspoken political views and discovers he must run for his family’s survival.

He signs on with notorious marathon agent Anton Hamm, but when Keita fails to place among the top finishers in his first race, he escapes into Freedom State—a wealthy island nation that has elected a government bent on deporting the refugees living within its borders in the community of AfricTown. Keita can stay safe only if he keeps moving and eludes Hamm and the officials who would deport him to his own country, where he would face almost certain death.

This is the new underground: a place where tens of thousands of people deemed to be “illegal” live below the radar of the police and government officials. As Keita surfaces from time to time to earn cash prizes by running local road races, he has to assess whether the people he meets are friends or enemies: John Falconer, a gifted student struggling to escape the limits of his AfricTown upbringing; Ivernia Beech, a spirited old woman at risk of being forced into an assisted living facility; Rocco Calder, a recreational marathoner and the immigration minister; Lula DiStefano, self-declared queen of AfricTown and madam of the community’s infamous brothel; and Viola Hill, a reporter who is investigating the lengths to which her government will go to stop illegal immigration.

Keita’s very existence in Freedom State is illegal. As he trains in secret, eluding capture, the stakes keep getting higher. Soon, he is running not only for his life, but for his sister’s life, too.

Fast moving and compelling, The Illegal casts a satirical eye on people who have turned their backs on undocumented refugees struggling to survive in a nation that does not want them. Hill’s depiction of life on the borderlands of society urges us to consider the plight of the unseen and the forgotten who live among us.

Set in 2018 in fictional countries, The Illegal is timely, but tells a story as old as time. The writing is fast paced, just like Keita’s running pace, and you can’t help but like him. Although he is the main character, the stories of several other characters help tell Keita’s story and add to to the complexity of the novel. A few things I expected to happen did, but there were a few surprises, too.

The Salt of the Earth

24 Apr

Unknown

Although the Publisher’s summary gives you the gist of the story, it hardly does it justice.

Publisher’s Summary:World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

  The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is possibly the worst single-ship loss of life in history. We all know about the sinking of the Titanic,  but who has ever heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff?

Sepetys is a master of shedding light on hidden bits of history and illuminating how it impacted ordinary people, the salt of the earth. In this book we meet compelling characters, some with secrets, some good, some not so good. Through them we see how war impacts civilians and the panic that ensues as armies are about to over run them: the rumors and fears that drive each character  to the sea.

This is not an easy story to read, but it is fast paced. We meet each of the four narrators separately,and, at first, I had a little trouble remembering who was who. Eventually, their stories become interconnected and each story sheds more light on the others, and I felt empathy for the refugees, though not for Alfred, the fanatical  German sailor,  who is portrayed less sympathetically.An excellent book for readers who love historical fiction.

You can see Sepetys talking about the story in this video.

A truth bigger than the stories and the lies

22 Apr

Yesterday, I wrote about one boy, facing the consequences of his grandfather’s WWII experience. Today, I am writing about another: The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones.

Unknown

Publisher’s Summary: The ghosts of war reverberate across the generations in a riveting, time-shifting story within a story from acclaimed thriller writer Tim Wynne-Jones.

When Evan’s father dies suddenly, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his dad had been reading when he passed away. The book is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? What is in this account that Evan’s grandfather, whom Evan has never met before, fears so much that he will do anything to prevent its being seen? And what could this possibly mean for Evan? In a pulse-quickening mystery evoking the elusiveness of truth and the endurance of wars passed from father to son, this engrossing novel is a suspenseful, at times terrifying read from award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones.

Wynne-Jones’ writing, as always is rich and multi-layered. I will admit it took me a couple of chapters to get going with the story, but once I did, I was hooked. The story moves seamlessly between fantasy and reality, present and past. There is text and subtext, and stories within stories.

Griff laughs. “What I said was, the truth is bigger than the stories people tell themselves and bigger than the lies they live with.”

The book received seven starred reviews!!!

Kirkus Reviews 
“Dual stories of strength and resilience illuminate the effects that war has on individuals and on father-son relationships, effects that stretch in unexpected ways across generations as Evan and Griff make their way toward a truce. An accomplished wordsmith, Wynne-Jones achieves an extraordinary feat: he eliminates the hidden depths of personalities and families through a mesmerizing blend of realism and magic.

Publishers Weekly 
“Readers will be swept up quickly in the tense relationship between Evan and Griff, as well as the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers fighting for survival in a surreal landscape. Without spelling out the metaphoric significance of the story within the story, Wynne-Jones provides enough hints for readers to make connections and examine the lines between war and peace, as well as hate and love.”

Booklist 
“Wynne-Jones writes with a sure hand and a willingness to take readers into uncharted territory. The main characters in both time periods are complex and vividly portrayed, while the stories, both supernatural and realistic, quietly take note of nuances that standard narratives overlook. A riveting, remarkable novel by a reliably great Canadian writer.”

School Library Journal 
“Offering a unique take on the World War II period, this intergenerational tale is an excellent addition to most YA collections.”

Shelf Awareness 
“English-Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones (The Uninvited, Blink & Caution) crafts a truly spellbinding novel in which the mystical, desert-island, wartime chronicle is as riveting as the modern-day story… and the ways they begin to fuse together are breathtaking.”

The Horn Book 
“There’s a whole lot going on here: Evan’s and Griff’s shared heartbreak, exhibited in very different ways, and their own increasingly complicated relationship; the stark contrast between the mainly nondescript “Any Place” of Evan’s suburban Ontario and the horror of the desert island; and the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers in the story-within-a-story. All these seemingly disparate parts come together in fascinating ways, resulting in an affecting and unforgettable read.”

* Bulletin of the Center for Children’s 
“The layers of intergenerational strife, savage warfare, lingering suspicion and gradual healing are quilted into a warming narrative that is both uncompromisingly tragic and holistically redemptive. Readers will carry this haunting story with them for a long time.”

Race, family and identity

21 Apr

I had only a vague idea about American Ace when I picked it up.

Unknown

I knew Marilyn Nelson’s book was a novel in verse about a boy, Connor Bianchi, whose paternal grandfather was a Tuskegee Airman. What I learned as I read was that it was a complex story about an Italian-American boy who discovers that his grandfather was not the Italian immigrant everyone believed, but a Tuskegee Airman, stationed in Italy at the end of WWII.

Reading each poem, we see how various family members react as they find out that their family isn’t quite what they all believed it to be. Some, like Connor, embrace the revelation. Others react negatively believing that “bad news should be told privately”. Their reactions reflect attitudes about race in America.

Nelson includes an afterword in which she explains that she wanted to write about the Airmen from the perspective of someone new to their story. Since most African-Americans knew the story of the Airmen, she created Connor.

Goodreads Summary: Connor’s grandmother leaves his dad a letter when she dies, and the letter’s confession shakes their tight-knit Italian-American family: The man who raised Dad is not his birth father.

But the only clues to this birth father’s identity are a class ring and a pair of pilot’s wings. And so Connor takes it upon himself to investigate—a pursuit that becomes even more pressing when Dad is hospitalized after a stroke. What Connor discovers will lead him and his father to a new, richer understanding of race, identity, and each other.

 

Lizzie Borden: Sifting Fact from Fiction

20 Apr

I first learned about Lizzie Borden in 1975. I remember sitting with my mother and sister, watching the TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden starring Elizabeth Montgomery.

MV5BNzFmMjk5NmItZGY2ZS00NzYyLWE2MTMtNTUxOWUxYjZiNjg0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzU0NzkwMDg@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_

Up until that point, she’d always been Samantha from Bewitched,  and my mom made a big deal out of her change of roles, and this movie. In retrospect, I can see it as the made for TV movie that it was, but it has colored my view of Borden’s guilt.

A much more evenhanded presentation of the facts can be found in The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller.

Unknown

 Goodreads Summary: In linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a portrait of a woman and a town emerges.

The book opens on the morning of the murder and takes us through Borden’s arrest, imprisonment, trial and the acquittal. In these days of Law & Order  in all it’s incarnations, it is interesting to see the lack of  forensic evidence and clear police procedure we have come to expect. Miller’s story is engaging, unfolding like a thriller and full of newspaper reports about the sensational “trial of the century”. There are actual photos of the murder scenes and other photos and diagrams. Additionally, Miller has numerous sidebars that give us a clearer glimpse into life in Fall River, MA in August 1892.

Middle grade readers on up will find this a fascinating read.

 

 

My new doctor

19 Apr

Unknown

A mild expletive escaped my lips as I read the letter. My doctor was writing to inform me that she is moving from internal medicine to immunology, and I would have to choose a new preferred provider.

I went through this last summer with my vet. I had a big decision to make then: choose a new vet at the clinic I’d used for ten years, or go somewhere completely new.I see my vet more than I see my own doctor so this was a very big decision to make.  I opted to stay at the same clinic, but  go with Dr. Klau, the new vet hired to replace Dr, Davies. I knew I could always move on to a new clinic if he didn’t work out. So far, my experience with Dr. Klau has been excellent.

I hate going to the doctor myself. I see my own doctor once a year, but only because I have to. They have this thing about renewing my asthma medicine without seeing me. Choosing a new preferred provider was a little different from choosing a new vet. I am a part of a big HMO, so I had several locations to choose from. I went online and looked through the list of doctors accepting new patients. I studied their pictures, looked where they went to school, researched which clinics they work at, read about their hobbies.Then, I went online to look at ratings. Everything and everyone is rated these days, so I eliminate a few more. I reread their profiles and finally whose one.

Today is the big day: I have my first appointment with my new doctor after school. Although the process was a little different , the outcome of this appointment is the same as my first vet visit: I can always move on to a new doctor if it doesn’t work out.

 

 

Charmed lives

18 Apr

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I don’t read scary books. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox has a spooky cover and a promise of a haunted castle, so I opened it with great trepidation.

Unknown

Fortunately, the cover is the scariest part of the book, which mixes an old Scottish Castle, Nazis, the Enigma machine and magic. Although all of these have been covered in other books, in other ways, this book provides a fresh take on all of them.

Publisher’s Summary: “Keep calm and carry on.”

That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

A great book for middle readers. You can check out the book trailer:

 

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

The Fat Squirrel Speaks

Knitting, spinning, and assorted awesomeness.

Global Yell Blog

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Jone Rush MacCulloch

Deo Writer: Musings to Spark the Spirit

Klickitat St. Readers

Just another WordPress.com site

Readerbuzz

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

PLUMDOG BLOG

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Gail Carriger

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Kate Messner

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Cybils Awards

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Someday My Printz Will Come

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

The Librarian Who Doesn't Say Shhh!

Opening books to open minds.

Tundra Books

Home of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers and Friends

andrea gillespie

Inquiring My Way Forward

Kirby's Lane: A Place for Readers and Writers

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

The Horn Book

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

The History Girls

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

%d bloggers like this: