Thursday, October 30, 2003

It's my first time to post here!

Being a native Mainer, I like to keep up with local authors. I'm a big fan of Richard Russo, who once taught at Colby College, and his colleague James Finney Boylan, who is a fine writer as well. I recently picked up the new memoir She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan, thinking that I would welcome this new voice who must certainly be James's wife. To my surprise, I discovered that while Richard was receiving accolades for his wonderful Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel Empire Falls, James was becoming a woman.

By sharing her story, Finney Boylan examines the questions of gender identity and sexual identity (two different concepts) and what it means to "be" male or to "be" female, and how her eventual decision to become a woman affected her relationships with those she loves. Married with two children and in love with his wife, she nevertheless had always felt, as early as the age of three, that she would be happier as a female. In her early 40s, she decided to have sexual reassignment surgery, with the unhappy though loving support of her family and best friend Russo. The book charts these choppy waters mostly through presenting vignettes of the years leading up to the decision. On the Atlantic City boardwalk, at 10 years old, she thought to herself Maybe you could be cured by love. For 30 years she tried to convince herself that love would conquer the thing that had taken hold, indeed was settled in her essential being. It could not. His wife Grace (who, upon learning of his initial need to dress as a woman, had once admonished him, "No pearls before five") and children and best friend were forced to re-examine their own attitudes, learn how to relate to Jenny as she takes on James's former roles, and deal with the grief and feelings of loss they experienced when James left them. It's riveting reading.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Due to the pressure of one of my amazing colleagues, and my absolute devotion to Cynthia Voigt's books, Homecoming and Dicey's Song, I read A Solitary Blue. This is another book in the Tillerman series, but this one focuses on the life and happenings of Dicey's friend, Jeff. Cynthia Voigt has done it again, a moving story...both in action and emotion. Her characters have such depth and breadth and seem so real. If you are a fan of the two Tillerman focused books, you will love it when Dicey and her clan start popping up in Jeff's story. Like Dicey, Jeff is abandoned by his mother, but in a different way. We learn here why Jeff is such an incredible character and good friend to the Tillerman family. There is so much in Voigt's novels, it's hard to know where to start to describe them. If you can, just read them. You won't regret it!

I just started Shopaholic by Judy Waite and Hill Hawk Hattie by Clara Gillow Clark. Full reports coming soon!

Hi Theresa! I love the Snicket quote!

I just finished "City of Ember" by Jeanne DuPrau and it is an amazing first novel. The book has been floundering about in my library and I had been putting off reading it until a parent cam ein raving about how her 2 kids loved it so I figured I'd take it home. Twelve year old Lina lives in the city of Ember, a world of perpetual night. The only lillumination is in the form of floodlights around the city beyond which is only darkness. As the book progresses, twelve year old Lina and her friend Doon discover some of the dark secrets of the city and begin to fear that it will not last for much longer. The one generator is failing, no one understands how electricity works, food and supplies are running short and the blackouts are becoming more frequent. With the discovery of an old set of instructions, the pair set out to determine its meaing and possibly a way out of Ember.
I also recently read the 10th Lemony Snicket book "The Slippery Slope". I just wanted to share my favorite line from it: “I know that having a good vocabulary doesn’t guarantee that I’m a good person, “ the boy said. “But it does mean that I’ve read a great deal. And in my experience, well-read people are less likely to be evil.” Here, here.

Monday, October 20, 2003

It's so sad when a book has so much potential!
But it's definitely not worth trudging through a lousy book when there are so many gems out there!

Like I just finished Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle. It's been marketed (for lack of a better word) as a gay-teen book but it goes way beyond that scope to explore the universal theme of identity. In fact it's one of the best identity books I have read in quite some time and I would recommend it to lots of teens, not just ones exploring their sexuality. I think that's what makes this book such a winner. It also deals with friendship, which is closely tied into identity though I don't think we always think of the two as related. I liked the simplicity and reality of the writing. It's emotional but also funny which reflects real life :)

Right before that I finished Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. This book has won many awards and is always featured on school reading lists. Somehow it escaped me. I was doing some booktalking for fifth grade classes and O'Dell was one of the authors. Figured it was a good time to read Island of the Blue Dolphins and was I blown away! It's an amazing story. If a kid looked at the book cover they might make some erroneous assumptions…dolphins, a girl…blah, blah, blah … meanwhile (sorry to say this) it’s one of the best “boy” books I have ever read! It’s classic adventure. There’s wild dogs, warriors and chiefs, hunting and weapon making, survival! But it’s also about humanity and the message runs clear without being didactic. I just wish I had read it sooner! When I booktalked it to the kids I got them into a discussion about “boy” books versus “girl” books and this book really helps illustrate that it’s more about the story than the gender of the main character.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

New review of "Cat On A Hottie's Tin Roof" by Shelley Swanson Sateren coming soon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Recent good reads:

The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashgian

Tale of Desperaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread by Kate DiCamillo

My not-so-terrible time at the Hippie Hotel by Rosemary Graham

Currently reading Al Franken's new book: Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them. It's making me laugh to the point of embarrassment at my lunch breaks!

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Saving Grace by Priscilla Cummings, is a beautifully written story. It takes place during the Great Depression. Grace's family is torn apart when they have no more money for rent, Papa can't find work and Pete gets beat up in an alley. The members of the family are forced to part. I won't say much more except to leave you with this quote that summarizes the theme of the story,

"And in that moment, Grace understood something that she would never forget: home wasn't just a building or an apartment with a roof and beds and chairs inside. Home was with her family, wherever they were." page 77.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Oh yes, I loved the Doll People, more than I thought I would. It's great also to recommend to families with young children who are looking for a book to read aloud together. And I get to review The Meanest Doll for my book review group, I'm looking forward to that.

A while back, Theresa recommended Varjak Paw by SF Said and illustrated by Dave McKean (known in the children's librarian circle for illustrating Coraline and Gaiman's creepy picture book, The Wolves in the Walls which I talked about here somewhere). Varjak Paw (it's a chapter book) has strong cover art that I feel really expresses the character of Varjak, a Mesopotamian Blue cat. The caption on the cover, written in red, reads "This cat must learn to fight" ... hello? I'm hooked. You want to know, need to know why this cat must fight. And fight he does but it is not just an action/adventure book with gory violence (though it is not for the easily squeamish either). Varjak learns The Way of his ancestor, Jalal, but he also learns how to survive on his own, how to be a friend, how to stand up for himself, to learn when enough is enough, and most important of all to succeed, how to Trust Yourself. I am not usually a fan of the anthropomorphic animal stories but this one is truly captivating. The story is just plain fantastic, simple in its style but intricate in its plot. And the illustrations compliment the book perfectly.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin wrote a delightful and satisfying tale called The Doll People. The illustrations by Brian Selznick take the story to a whole new realm of wonderfullness. I'm serious. He is a fantastic illustrator--Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride is one of my favorite picture books ever!

Anyway, in The Doll People we discover that the little doll people in children's dollhouses may, in fact, be alive. They may go on adventures in the house while the humans are sleeping. One or more of them may get lost in the house. If you think you see one of your dolls running or talking or dancing or playing piano, you may really be seeing a live doll. If you do catch one of them busy at one of these activities, they will go into temporary doll state as punishment for not being more careful to act like a doll around the humans.

It's a fun read that I look forward to recommending to 3rd and 4th grade girls. The sequel will be out soon, called The Meanest Doll in the World.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

It may seem as though I never read books that I don't like. This is not true, I do often dislike books and will often not finish a book that I am unhappy with. So, here again I will tell you about a book that I really liked!

Malka is a new juvenile fiction book written by Mirjam Pressler and translated from the German by Brian Murdoch. This novel is a Holocaust era book following the lives of a Jewish family, Hannah and her two daughters, Malka and Minna (their father is mostly absent from the book since he lives in Palestine). Hannah is a Doctor and very well respected in her community because of her profession. She treats Jews and Germans and for this reason never thinks that she and her girls might someday be sent away to a Jewish ghetto by the Germans. When the Germans really get tough on removing Jews from Poland, Hannah finally realizes that even She is not safe and she takes her girls on the long trek to Hungary where they should be able to find refuge. Climbing mountains with her daughters, especially the young Malka, proves much more difficult than imagined and when Malka grows ill, they make the difficult decision to leave her with a farmer and family who have given them shelter for the night. It is agreed that the farmer will bring Malka to Hannah and Minna when she is well. With pressure and fear that the Germans are near and willing to harm people helping the Jews, the farmer sends Malka off, and a seven-year-old girl is tossed out on her own in a chaotic world. Her survival instincts take over and she manages to barely make it, roaming from place to place, from family to family until she is eventually living alone in a coal cellar in the basement of a house in a Jewish ghetto. Unfortunately, she suffers in many ways, she is hungry, cold and worst of all, becoming mentally ill from the many deprivations she faces.

Silence pervades this story. The characters are constantly trying to be quiet so as not to be caught by the Germans. Malka spends so much time alone that she becomes silent as well, except for the racing thoughts in her brain and the occasional request for bread or an apple. Then there is the silence of the non-Jews who do not report or retaliate against the terrible things that the Germans are doing. Pressler uses the third person point of view to further the silence. The quiet of the mountains, the silence of the empty ghettos after the Germans host an "operation," either kiling Jews on the spot or sending them to camps, Hannah's inability to communicate the guilt she feels for leaving Malka. These things sent me into silent, deep thought, but also made me rage with anger over the horrible things that happened during WWII and the horrible things happening now in the Middle East and Africa and everywhere, really. We are still silent.