Thursday, June 25, 2020

72. Silent Journey

Silent Journey. Carl Watson. Illustrated by Andrew Bosley. 2020. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Scott Schroeder yanked a can out of the drink machine in front of the gas station. As he fumbled with his change from the slot, a coin fell out of his hand and rolled out into the drive. He stepped to it and bent over to pick it up. A sudden bump from behind sent him sprawling.

Premise/plot: Scott stars in Watson's coming of age novel, Silent Journey. Scott, our hero, is deaf; trauma "caused" his deafness; there is no physical reason. He loves, loves, loves gymnastics. He misses his father like crazy when he is away. He is shipped from one relative to another to another to another. His best companion is a dog.

My thoughts: Silent Journey is a busy, busy, busy book in terms of plot. I feel like the author ends up juggling five or six balls instead of just three.

I did like Scott, for the most part. I liked seeing Scott make friends (some human, one dog). I liked seeing Scott do gymnastics, something he loves. I thought Scott's loneliness resonated which I suppose was a good thing.

What I didn't like, what I in fact absolutely HATED was the "need" to "fix" Scott's deafness and thereby make for a HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE ENDING when it comes to the pet dog. (Not to mention the uncle).

Another thing that confused me a good deal was the story line about his paternity. (Was his uncle his father? Is his father his uncle?) I thought this added a busy-layer to the story that was more distracting than not. I wasn't confused by the storytelling to be clear.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

71. The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars. Gary D. Schmidt. 2007. 264 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me. And let me tell you, it wasn't for anything I'd done. If it had been Doug Swieteck that Mrs. Baker hated, it would have made sense. Doug Swieteck once made up a list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you. It began with "Spray deodorant in all her desk drawers" and got worse as it went along. A whole lot worse. I think that things became illegal around Number 167. You don't want to know what Number 400 was, and you really don't want to know what Number 410 was. But I'll tell you this much: They were the kinds of things that sent kids to juvenile detention homes in upstate New York, so far away that you never saw them again.

Premise/plot: Holling Hoodhood is the narrator of this lovely coming of age novel set in 1967/1968 in New York. The book chronicles his seventh grade year focusing on his life at home and school. Every Wednesday as the other students go to either special studies at their church or synagogue (temple?), Mrs. Baker and Holling have the classroom to themselves. At first she puts him to WORK cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. But later she decides to work his mind instead, every single month they study a different Shakespeare play. At home, their family is feeling the tension of conflicting ideas over politics and the War.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, loved this one. It had me at hello. I love Holling's narrative. The book is packed with humor and heart. I think this is a book that could appeal to anyone and everyone. If you have a special fondness for teachers that play a role in *inspiring* and *changing* young lives, I think you will love, love, love The Wednesday Wars. Equally, if you love fiction that depicts the challenges and struggles that all families face, I think you'll love The Wednesday Wars. It has a little bit of something for everyone: friendship, first crushes, family squabbles, school, prejudice. One of my favorite aspects about this novel is that it does so much. It addresses meaning-of-life issues in a way that is both serious, realistic, but it captures life's funny moments as well. It has it all.

We spent the afternoon with English for You and Me, learning how to diagram sentences--as if there was some reason why anyone in the Western Hemisphere needed to know how to do this. One by one, Mrs. Baker called us to the blackboard to try our hand at it. Here's the sentence she gave to Meryl Lee:
The brook flows down the pretty mountain.
Here's the sentences she gave to Danny Hupfer:
He kicked the round ball into the goal.
Here's the sentence she gave to Mai Thi:
The girl walked home.
This was so short because it used about a third of Mai Thi's English vocabulary, since she'd only gotten here from Vietnam during the summer.
Here's the sentence she gave to Doug Swieteck:
I read a book.
There was a different reason why his sentence was so short--never mind that it was a flat-out lie on Doug Swieteck's part.
Here's the sentence she gave me:
For it so falls out, that what we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost, why, then we rack the value, then we find the virtue that possession would not show us while it was ours.
No native speaker of the English language could diagram this sentence. The guy who wrote it couldn't diagram this sentence. I stood at the blackboard as hopeless as a seventh-grade kid could be. (17-18)
 That night, I read Treasure Island again, and I don't want to brag, but I've read Treasure Island four times and Kidnapped twice and The Black Arrow twice. I even read Ivanhoe halfway through before I gave up, since I started The Call of the Wild and it was a whole lot better. (9)

That's the teacher gene at work, giving its bearer an extra sense. It's a little frightening. Maybe that's how people decide to become teachers. They have that extra sense, and once they have it, and know that they have it, they don't have any choice except to become a teacher. (60)

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, June 15, 2020

70. Stranger Danger

Mr. Mensch and His Magical Meshugenahmobile: Stranger Danger. David Michael Slater. Illustrated by Michelle Simpson. 2020. 66 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Asher, Ezra, Benjy, Sadi, Zara, and Abi all stood in the hallway. They were great friends and thrilled to see each other after a long summer break.

Premise/plot: Six friends are turned off by the idea of a new student joining their Sunday School class. They send her out the door without a second thought. But their new teacher, Mr. Mensch, who is dressed up as the Statue of Liberty challenges them to rethink the situation. The kids--and teacher--set off on an adventure aboard the Magical Meshugenahmobile. (Think the show The Cat In the Hat Knows All About That). Their adventure will take them back in time--to a summer day in 1903--to Ellis Island where they will witness the arrival of a new ship of immigrants. Will the poem by Emma Lazarus convince these kids to be more welcoming and accepting?

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. It is a children's chapter book. The class the students are taking is a Jewish Ethics class. The framework of the story is that of teaching morals and ethics literally to children characters. The book includes discussion questions geared towards a specific audience--Jewish children. I'm not sure if that's because they can't imagine non-Jewish children reading it or if the author/publisher is primarily seeking a Jewish target? Regardless, I enjoyed reading this one.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, June 11, 2020

69. Just Beyond the Very Very Far North

Just Beyond the Very Very Far North. Dan Bar-el. Illustrated by Kelly Pousette. 2020. [October] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy] [j fantasy; animal fantasy; friendship]

First sentence: If you head north, true north, to the truly north part of north, where icebergs shiver, where thermometers lose confidence, and where snowflakes prefer to avoid, and then once you reach that north, you go just a little bit further north, that’s where you’ll find Duane the polar bear and his friends.

Premise/plot: Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is the second book in Dan Bar-el's animal fantasy. It starts Duane, C.C., Magic, Handsome, Major Puff, Twitch, and Boo. The book chronicles their adventures and misadventures and centers largely around their friendships. Think Winnie the Pooh but in the Arctic.

My thoughts: I have not read the first book. I would love, love, love to read the first book but haven't tracked down a copy yet. Would reading the second book first prove confusing? Not really. I soon found my way into this created fantasy world. I would still read the first book if I come across it. But I wasn't lost or confused by the relationships.

What he saw inside the grandfather clock, among the weights and chains, the pendulum and other metal doodads noisily flaying about, was a small, furry creature who appeared to be in the middle of a big, furious tantrum. Did I mention it was a Monday? It was a Monday. All stories involving overly loud characters begin on a Monday. What I have just described is known commonly as a stoat or an ermine, or what I will now refer to as a weasel. The fact that he would distinguish himself further by saying he was a short-tailed weasel, when his tail is obviously fairly long, only begins to demonstrate just how badly this creature knows himself. In any case, whatever he was, Duane had never laid eyes on one before.

A thinking walk is different from an adventure hike. In fact, it may be the exact opposite. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

68. Legacy

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Nikki Grimes. 2021. [January] Bloomsbury. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] [poetry]

First sentence from the preface: For centuries, accomplished women, of all races, have fallen out of the historical records. In the music realm, for example, we’ve long known and lauded the name and compositions of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but few are familiar with his equally gifted sister, Maria Anna Mozart, an accomplished instrumentalist and composer in her own right. In the sciences, we were taught the names of astronauts like John Glenn, but few could recite the names of early NASA scientists, mathematicians, and engineers like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden, who helped to make Glenn’s successful orbit of the earth possible. It took the Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie Hidden Figures, based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, to bring these groundbreaking women to light. Going further back in time, Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh, all but disappeared from history until recent years. It should come as no surprise, then, that the names of gifted, even prolific, women poets of the Harlem Renaissance are little known, especially as compared to their male counterparts.

Premise/plot: Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance is a companion to her poetry collection, One Last Word. In this collection--told within a framework of a young girl discovering women poets of the Harlem Renaissance--readers read classic poems from the Harlem Renaissance and new poems by Nikki Grimes. Grimes uses the poetic format Golden Shovel.

It includes poems by the following writers: Mae V. Cowdery, Helene Johnson, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Clarissa Scott Delany, Angelina Weld Grimké, Gertrude Parthenia McBrown , Anne Spencer, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Ida Rowland, Esther Popel, Effie Lee Newsome, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Blanche Taylor Dickinson, Lucy Ariel Williams, and Gwendolyn Bennett.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED this collection. I loved reading the older poems. I loved Grimes' new poems as well. I'd describe the collection as exquisite, compelling, wonderful.

I read an ARC of the book. (It's not due to be published until 2021 according to GoodReads). My favorite poem is Prelude by Lucy Ariel Williams.

I know how a volcano must feel with molten lava Smoldering in its breast. Tonight thoughts, wild thoughts, Are smoldering In the very depths Of my being. I would hold them within me If I could. I would give them form If I could. I would make of them Something beautiful If I could. But they will not be formed; They will not be shaped. I must pour them out thus, Like molten lava. Shape them into beautiful dreams If you can. I know how a volcano must feel.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

67. The Willoughbys Return

The Willoughbys Return. Lois Lowry. 2020. [September] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The front page of the New York Times, on a Thursday in June: CONGRESS VOTES OVERWHELMINGLY TO BAN CANDY, CITES DENTAL HEALTH On the same day, on an inside page of a Zurich newspaper: AMERICAN COUPLE, FROZEN IN SWISS MOUNTAINS FOR THREE DECADES, THAW SPONTANEOUSLY, APPEAR UNHARMED These two events, it was later proved, were related. It’s complicated.

Premise/plot: It has been thirty years--give or take--since the events of The Willoughbys. In the first book, two dreadfully selfish parents freeze to death in the Swiss Alps, leaving their four children (Tim, Barnaby 1, Barnaby 2, Jane) orphans in the care of a nanny. It's a comic novel. It may sound completely odd and over-the-top...and it is...but it works. This sequel opens with startling and shocking news. First, ALL CANDY has been banned. This would be bad news to just about every household in America...but especially if your family's business is a candy factory. Tim Willoughby's business--which he inherited--is a candy factory. Second, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby find themselves unthawed and in a bit of a predicament. They are in a foreign country with soggy money and expired identification (and credit cards). They feel at a complete loss when interacting with the world. (Think Encino Man.) They return to the States...

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I don't know how it compares to the first. It is equally delightful perhaps but with a bit more sugary goodness perhaps. I really loved the chapters focused on the Poore family. I definitely got vibes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

66. Write to Me

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian Left Behind. Cynthia Grady. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Katherine Tasaki returned a stack of books and turned in her library card. "We've got to move soon," she said, "All Japanese, you know."

Premise/plot: Write to Me is a historical picture book highlighting a fantastic librarian, Clara Breed, and her ongoing relationship and service to Japanese children in internment camps during the second world war. It is told from the perspective of children whose lives she touched.

My thoughts: Years ago I read a LOVELY, LOVELY nonfiction book for middle grade and young adults called Dear Miss Breed. It was a magical, magical read that I just loved. I didn't own it and I read it as part of Texas Woman's University's Librarians' Choices book list. I participated in choosing those 100 books for seven years. I doubt I'd be a blogger if it wasn't for that experience and fellowship. But I am making this WAY more complicated then it needs to be.

Long story short, this is a LOVELY picture book. I would definitely recommend it to readers of all ages.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, June 1, 2020

65. Sweep

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster. Jonathan Auxier. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.

Premise/plot: Nan Sparrow, our heroine, is a chimney sweep; one of many. When we first meet her in the opening pages of Auxier's novel, she's in the employ of Wilkie Crudd. She wasn't always. In her vaguest, fuzziest memories, Nan remembers the Sweep, the man who raised her and taught her everything he knew. Those dreams of the past haunt her in a lovely way, for the most part. She tells stories about the Sweep almost making him legendary among the other children. His physical legacy to her was small--a small piece of coal and a hat--but his legacy was priceless in ways no one could have foreseen.

When she needs help the most--in her DARKEST hour--help comes from an unusual source, that small lump of coal. For that coal--once burned--becomes a living being, a golem of soot, if you will. She names him Charlie.

The story is fantastical and memorable.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved this one. I hesitate to share too much of its plot for just that reason. This one is best read without knowing all the ins and outs. (Some books are; some aren't.) It was a book to be experienced. It was a book with depth and substance. The writing is delightful in that it sweeps you up, up, and away. But the story itself is bittersweet. There's nothing cutesy and adorable about children living in such poverty and in such cruel situations.

I will need to reread this one. Perhaps even this year.

ETA: Funny how you can read the same book twice and have different reactions each time. I didn't love, love, love it the second time around. I liked it certainly. I found it well worth reading. But I didn't get swept up in the story. The other books I've reread by Auxier have held up better.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers