The summer of 2019 challenged me to reduce my meter-high book pile and week by week, page by page, I spent time with some interesting books, both children’s and adult literature, both fiction and nonfiction. Seems however, that there is hardly a dent in the pile but I’m reading as fast as I can!
HOW TO READ A BOOK by Kwame Alexander, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Picture Book)
Sharing this book with young readers may invite them t olinger equally over the words and the bright images that join together to explain the best way to savour in the joy of reading (“A picnic of words=sounds in leaps+bounds”).
THINGS MY SON NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORLD by Fredrik Backman (Nonfiction, Essays)
Ever since falling in love with the novel, A Man Called Ove, I have been intrigued by reading the books by Swedish author Fredrick Backman. This book, written as a letter to his son, the author reflects upon and reveals the joys and flaws of fatherhood. Anecdotes are drawn from life experiences about such things as appetites, playing soccer, visiting IKEA, religion, show Backman to be the best husband and father and man as possible at the same time as being true to himself. This is a book of honesty and truth and humour.
THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINK by Ali Benjamin (middle years novel)
When her mother relocates to a small town in Vermont, Caitlyn Breen is forced to attend a rural middle school. She is one of only ten students in the seventh grade. Paulie Fink used to belong to the school but his disappearance is a mystery, especially since he was known for his mischief, humor and intellect. A reality show competition is established to help find ‘the next great Paulie Fink’. The book is written in short chapters that includes interview format, text messages, and lists. A story of quirky relationships… and self-discovery… and belonging. An enjoyable read, but not as appealing as author’s debut novel The Thing About Jellyfish.
SMALL ISLAND adapted by Helen Edmundson from the novel by Andrea Levy (script)
After seeing the wonderful production of this play as an NT Live Event, I read the beautiful script centred on the story of Jamaicans who settled in Britain in Audience members who saw the play, and readers of the novel and or script cannot help to cheer for Hortense who years for a new life away from rural Jamaica, and Queenie, who long to escape her rural English roots.
KADDISH.COM by Nathan Englander (adult novel)
When his father dies, Larry refuses to recite the Kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead), even though as the only surviving son, it is his responsibility to do so. Lo and behold, Larry discovers a website where a stranger can say the daily prayers and usher his father’s soul to safety. As the novel unfolds (in four parts), Larry struggles to deal with the consequences of his cynical plan. Larry transforms back to his original name and identity as Shuli, and his Hasidic roots. He becomes a Yeshiva teacher, is comfortably married with two children but and goes on a quest to find the stranger he once hired to fulfill his obligations. An at times amusing, bizarre and disturbing story of following Jewish tradition in the face of modern times. Philip Roth would be very pleased with this novel (I think!).
SHOUTING AT THE RAIN by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (middle years novel)
What a great writer, author of Fish in a Tree, Lynda Mullaly Hunt is. Delsie and her grandmother reside in Cape Cod, each showing devotion to one another, especially since Delsie’s mother has abandoned her. A wonderful cast of characters that includes Ronan (a fisherman’s son who prefers who’d rather throw creatures back in to the sea than eat them), Brandie (a ‘used to be’ best friend), Tressa (a conniving ‘mean girl). Words of wisdom about meeting life’s challenges abound in this book (mostly through the voice of Grammy) in this warm story about belonging, loyalty, overcoming diversity and shouting at the rain and knowing that ‘the sun will come out tomorrow’. (The musical Annie is featured in the plot).
ALL THE GREYS ON GREENE STREET by Laura Tucker (middle years novel)
This is a debut novel by the author and she has done a fine job of telling an intriguing story set mostly set in the Soho streets of New York. Though set in the 80’s the time period seem to be an important feature to lift the story. All the Greys on Greene Street has the flavour of E.L. Konigsburg’s popular novel From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E.Frankenweiler as a trio of friends depend on each other and work together to solve problems of family, love and art. Twelve-year-old Olympia, a talented young artist, is at is the centre of the story and must deal with the severe depression of her mother (who refuses to get out of bed) and the disappearance of her father , an art restorer, who seems to be caught in a forgery scheme. This is a book layered with mystery and strong emotion, especially with the plight of Olympia dealing with her mother’s mental illness.
THE WORLD’S WORST TEACHERS by David Walliams (short stories)
That rude rascal of an author is at it again, this time in a collection of short stories about bad bad teachers, that includes wild adventures with Miss Seethe who liberally assigns detentions to anyone who blinks, blows his nose, smiles on school premise or for having one ear larger than another; Mr. Pent who loathes (and confiscates) balls in all shapes and sizes:. Mrs. Splatt the dinner lady who cooked stinky stew with all kinds of things floating about (a hearing aid, a hedgehog, a used handkerchief, a scouring pad), and Doctor Dread, the science teacher infamous for his chair of a thousand farts. Funny funny funny. Crude crude crude. This book is filled with farts, and boogers, and mean teachers is ‘snot’ for everyone’s tastes.
THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead (adult novel)
Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad, has written a novel, based on a stark event in history where black boys ‘disappeared’ from a reform school in Florida only to be discovered about fifty years later when their bodies were dug up from their grave sites. The Nickel Boys tells the story of two boys who were sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era. Elwood Curtis, tries to maintain a reputable lifestyle under the guidance of his grandmother. He is determined to go to college, but an innocent mishap leads him to be sentenced to Nickel Academy, where sadistic staff abuses the students. A stark narrative of injustice, fate and resilience.
SHOUT OUT #1
THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS by Ann Braden (middle years novel)
Zoey, a seventh-grader, is smothered with her family obligations and her role as caregiver for her younger siblings. Living in poverty, Zoe tries to stay under the radar, stay positive and make the most of her troubles, even though her teacher advises her to ‘Suck it up!’. Zoey can tell you everything you need to know about octopuses and the animal serves as a metaphor for her daily struggles at home and at school. The author packs a wallop in this debut novel by presenting a family who lives from paycheck to paycheck, a mother reluctant to confront an abusive relationship, and brave girl trying to cope and find a voice (literally) in her middle school life. Facts about the octopus, procedures about the debate club, and the challenges of taking care of our friends and family are presented in this compassionate, and at times humourous, novel. One of my favourite reads this summer which I highly recommend. (ages 9-13).
SHOUT OUT #2
The 10PM Question by Kate De Goldi
Huge thanks to my colleague Shelley Stagg Peterson who brought me this award -winning “Book of the Year” title from New Zealand. Frankie is a neurotic teenager who bravely tries to cope with his persistent anxieties and his quirky family that includes a demanding older sister, three feisty great aunts, a rascal brother, Uncle George (his father) and a mother who, after nine years refuses to leave the house. Gigs and Frankie are great friends. When a new girl, Sydney, arrives in his class, Frankie discovers a new soulmate who helps him to get through the life’s foibles (Sydney has her own family troubles). This terrific New Zealand author paints vivid images of her characters and presents a strong voice and the sympathetic soul of a teenage boy who would likely be a great friend to Holden Caulfield. I loved this funny, heartwarming, special book!
WE RISE WE RESIST WE RAISE OUR VOICES
Essays, Art, Poems, Stories, Letters
Over 50 voices shouting out take action, be kind, and make a difference
A dazzling collection of writing and visuals by diverse voices sharing perspectives, wisdom and encouragement for readers to stay strong, be hopeful and spread kindness.
What songs will our children sing to their children?
What inspiration will they find in the words?
The songs that our children sing to their children
Will be songs we teach our children to sing.
~ Curtis Hudson /Page 65
Walk through each day and out of it, knowing the blanket of love each of you is wrapped in and ready to pen that blanket to others.
~ Jacqueline Woodson, “Kindness is a Choice” / page 18
Everything bad and frightening and loud
will always hide when you hold your head up,
will always hide when you hold your heart out,
will always sing a shrinking song
when you fly.
~ Jason Reynolds, “A Talkin’-To” / page 73