Friday, October 20, 2017

Poetry Friday: October - Author Unknown

It hasn't felt much like fall lately, with the warm temperatures we have been having, but yesterday we went and picked out some mums and pumpkins in preparation for Halloween. Then I remembered this poem I have used in the classroom and in home schooling and I thought I would share it, even though the leaves are still clinging mightily to the trees here in NYC.

I hope you enjoy this poem as much as my students did.

It's Poetry Friday and Leigh Anne at A Day in the Life has this week's roundup.

Monday, October 16, 2017

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near is a family story told in three parts, each covering a different time in the lives of five women.

Part One begins with a move. After living in Ghana and then London for a number of years, Rajeev Das gets a job in New York and moves his family, wife Ranee, daughters Tara and Sonia, into an apartment in Flushing, Queens. Though her daughters adjust to life in Flushing, Ranee is distrustful of the black kids who live in the neighborhood and wants to move. After a year in Queens, they move into a house in Ridgeford, New Jersey. 

Renee tries to hold on the some customary Bengali traditions, but her daughters quickly assimilate to life as Americans. Tara, the eldest daughter, wants to study theater, while Sonia’s interests lie more towards feminism and politics, aware of their parents desire for them to keep at least some of their Bengali cultural. 

Part Two begins after the tragic death of Rajeev. The Das family suddenly finds themselves at odds with each other, yet each painfully missing Rajeev. In high school, Sonia wins an all expenses paid trip to Paris, happy to get away from home. Fellow African American student Lou Johnson, handsome and friendly, has also won a spot on the trip, and although the two have always been at odds with each other in New Jersey, they quickly become friends in Paris. After college, Sonia and Lou marry, causing Ranee to completely stop speaking to Sonia.

Meanwhile, Tara pursues an acting career, while also being pursued by Amit Sen, a successful Bengali man. After refusing several marriage proposals because Amit had been picked for her by her parents, Tara finally says yes on a trip to India to spread her fathers ashes in the Ganges, and a visit to his childhood home. Tara continues with her acting career, becoming a famous actress/singer in India.

Part Three belongs to the daughters of Sonia and Tara. Chantel, or Shanti, has been raised in New York, living in Harlem with her parents, Lou and Sonia, and attending an exclusive private school on full scholarship. Anna, or Anu, has been living in Mumbai, and going school there. Now, though, she is in New York and in the same school as Shanti. Anu is not happy about the move. She is proud to be Bangali to the core, and considers Mumbai her real home. She has also inherited her grandmother's talent for sewing, even making and wearing her own salwar kameezes. 

You Bring the Distant Near is a compelling intergenerational story that is actually told more in a series of vignettes that sometimes skips over years, and yet, nothing is lost. Perkins has created five women, all seemingly so very different from each other and yet held together by their Bengali heritage, whether they embrace it or not. And it is a mark of Perkins talent as a writer that shows us the changes in each of these women over time and the events, both personal and public, that impact their lives. It is a slow, gentle novel, that more than once brought tears to my eyes.

The five female characters that Perkins has created are very well developed, truly finely tuned, but my personal favorite was Ranee. In Ranee, I saw my own father’s struggle to assimilate into American life while retaining his cultural identity. Ranee, like my dad, eventually finds the balance that works for her. And in that respect, Perkins has really captured the complexities of what being an immigrants means, as she explores the high cost and ways in which the Das family loses their cultural connections to their past and the ways in which they find redemption.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an EARC received at NetGalley

FYI: The title of this book comes from a poem which is printed at the beginning of the book. It was written by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), an Indian poet who also figures into the story of the Das family frequently. Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first Asian to do so. You can find more of his beautiful poetry at the Poetry Foundation HERE

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won is a sequel to The War That Saved My Life.

When last we left our evacuees, Ada Smith and her younger brother Jaime, they had been taken away from Susan Smith (no relation), with whom they had been living after being evacuated from London, and brought back to London by their mother despite the constant bombing. Sure enough, one night during an air raid, they don’t make it to the shelter because of Ada’s severely clubbed foot, and in the midst of everything, Susan appears to take them back to her house in the countryside.

Now, with her club foot surgically corrected, thanks to the generosity of her best friend’s wealthy parents, Lord and Lady Thorton, Ada returns to the country with Susan and Jaime. And, since Susan’s house has been destroyed by a bomb, they will be living in a cottage on the Thorton estate. 

Then word comes that Ada’s mother was killed in a bombing raid, and Ada finally begins to feel like maybe she actually isn’t the terrible person her mother always said she was. When Susan becomes their legal guardian, Jaime immediately begins to call her Mum, but Ada can’t bring herself to do that, and actually resents that Jaime could do it so easily. Calling Susan Mum would require a level of trust that she will always be there, and as Ada knows all too well, you just can’t count on that during a war.

When the government requisitions the Thorton manor for war use, the very formidable Lady Thorton moves in with Susan, Ada and Jaime. And when Ruth, a Jewish refugee from Germany is brought there by Lord Thorton to receive math instruction from Susan, so that she can eventually join him in his secret war work in Oxford, things really get tense. Ada and Jaime are convinced that Ruth is a spy, but Lady Thorton takes an immediate and intense dislike to Ruth, seeing her only as an enemy German, and the reason her son Jonathan had joined the RAF and put his life in danger.  

Ruth and Ada don’t hit is off, either, until they discover a mutual love for horses. But Lady Thorton refuses to let Ruth anywhere on the estate property, except the cottage, and especially the stables. When Susan gives her horse Butter to Ada as a Christmas gift, Ada lets Ruth ride her in secret and slowly the two girls develop a fragile friendship.

There is lots going on in The War I Finally Won, which I liked. War is a chaotic, confusing, demanding time and Bradley has really captured that. At the same time, the characters that appeared in The War That Saved My Life have the same feel to them, as they should, and even Jaime, whom I felt was a little thin as a character before, has become a more developed personality. 

The thing I found most interesting was the relationship between Susan and Ada. In the first book, it seems so clear cut, but now, Ada keeps Susan at an unexpected distance. Why? With her mother dead and gone (no, that is not a spoiler), I had expected that the three of them would form a nice, lasting family unit. But, ironically, it will take more loss, more sorrow and the realization that anything could really be gone in the blink of an eye for Ada to finally see the need to let herself trust more and that is the war she must finally win. 

The War I Finally Won is so more than just a satisfying coming of age sequel. While it explores the theme of trust, within that theme, it also explores the idea of how we define family. For those who haven’t read the first book, The War That Saved My Life, I would highly recommend doing so (though it isn’t necessary to enjoy this second book). 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from the publisher

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This review of The War That Saved My Life was originally published on The Children's War in 2015. On October 11, 2017, the sequel The War I Finally Won will be available. I highly recommend both.

Born with a severely clubbed foot, Ada Smith, 10, has been kept imprisoned and abused by her Mam in a one room flat her whole life.  Mam sees her foot as a mark of shame and humiliation, and so Ada never learned to walk, scooting around on her bum as she waits on Mam and younger brother Jamie, 6.  Then one day, Ada decides to learn to walk, keeping at it despite all the pain and blood.

In 1939, when war comes to England, Ada is told that Jamie will be evacuated to the safety of the countryside, and she will remain in the flat - bombs or no.  But Mam doesn't know Ada's secret and when evacuation day arrives, she and Jamie take off for the train station together.  Eventually arriving at a small countryside village, all the children are selected by residents except Ada and Jamie, who are taken to the home of Susan Smith (no relation) and left in her care.

But Susan is depressed, mourning the death of her friend (though clearly more than friend), Becky.  The two women had lived there together for years and Susan had inherited the property.  The last thing she wanted now were two children to take care of.  And yet, she does.  She feeds Ada and Jamie, buys them new clothes and shoes to replace the dirty, raggy things they arrived in, and allows them to find their own way through a certain amount of benign neglect.

And Susan has a pony named Butter that Ada determines to learn how to ride and care for.  Soon, she is riding all over the village and surrounding area.  Susan has also taken Ada to a doctor about her foot, and she has been given crutches to help her walk.  But when Jamie begins school, Ada refuses to go not wanting to admit she can't read or do simple math.  Eventually Susan, who has a degree in math, figures it out and offers to teach her at home - an offer not very welcomed by Ada.  But why not?

Ada and Susan are two people carrying around a lot of physical and emotional baggage, thrown together by a war they don't really feel connected to and which at first doesn't feel quite as real as the personal war they are waging with themselves.  But gradually, they forge a relationship with each other and begin to feel like a family.  And then Mam shows up and takes the Ada and Jamie back to London, despite the bombing and Ada is forced to scoot around on her bum once again.

Now that they have seen another side of life, is it over for Ada, Jamie and even Susan?

What a powerful story The War That Saved My Life is.  It is everything that makes historical fiction so wonderfully satisfying.  There is lots of historical detail about London and the countryside in those early war days, including the rescue of British soldiers from Dunkirk (Susan's house is on coastal Kent, the closest point in England to Dunkirk). 

I thought that Susan and Ada were drawn well, with lots of depth to their personalities, but not Jamie so much.  He really felt like just a secondary character, mostly there for contrast and to move the story along in a believable way.  The shame Mam felt over Ada's foot is quite palpable, but also seemed to empower her with the ability to abuse her daughter, making her plain scary, though a rather one dimensional character at the same time.

One of the things I found interesting is that in the beginning Ada, the child, is such a strong, determined character, while Susan, the adult, was kind of weak and irresolute.  And yet, they have things to teach each other.  And to her credit, Bradley doesn't actually come out and directly let the reader know that Susan and Becky were partners, but its clearly there.

If your young readers loved Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian, they are sure to love The War That Saved My Life.  If they haven't discovered Good Night, Mr. Tom yet, perhaps it's time to introduce them to both of these fine books.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+

This book was an ARC received from the publisher

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Monday! What are you reading? We're reading board books!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It’s Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kid lit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. Twitter: #IMWAYR 

We've been reading lots of board books and here is a roundup of some of the latest board books for the youngest readers that we read last week. 

Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace
Chronicle Books, 2016, 28 pages, age 3+

Little Hoot loves to play with this forest friends. The only problem is that they always have to go to bed early, while Little Hoot must learn to stay up late, after all, he is an owl. Even as he begs to go to sleep, his parents insist he stay awake just more hour, then just 10 more minutes. Can Little Hoot do it? Rosenthal has taken the usual struggle of getting kids to bed on time and their attempts to put off bedtime and turned it around. Little Hoots predicament is sure to amuse all bedtime procrastinators.
Be sure to check out Little Hoot’s companion board books: Little Oink and Little Pea

Tubby/Bañito written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli
Candlewick Press, 2017, 28 pages, age 3 months+ 

Leslie Patricelli’s Baby is back and it’s bath time. Read along in Spanish or English as Baby has some fun in the tub playing with bubbles, practicing swimming, counts duckies and toes, and getting washed. Then, wrapped in a clean, warm towel, washing as Daddy dries the bathroom before taking of naked. A fun addition to the favorite series.   
Be sure to check out these other Spanish/English companion baby board books including: Blankie/Mantita, Huggy Kissy/Abrazos y Besitos, Yummy Yucky/¡Ñam! ¡Puaj!, The Birthday Box/Mi Caja de Cumpleaños, Hop! Hop!/¡Salto! ¡Salto!, Boo!/¡Bu!, Fa La La/Tra-la-la

When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Little Simon, 2017, 26 pages, age 2+

Here is some sage advice from an unnamed narrator for when your elephant has the sniffles: do whatever you can to try to prevent him from sneezing. You can put your elephant to bed, but be sure to hide anything in the room that may cause him to sneeze. If he gets bored being in bed, do whatever you can to keep in there and resting. If your elephant sneezes, you just might end up with the sniffles, too. This charming book is sure to make kids laugh as the little girl in it tries so hard to take care of her elephant - because sometimes a person with a bad cold can feel just like an elephant in the room.  Wiseman’s whimsical illustrations add much to the humor. Pair this book with

When Your Lion Needs a Bath by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Little Simon, 2017, 26 pages, age 2+

When your lion is smelly, it is definitely time to give it a bath. But lions don’t like water, so an unnamed narrator advises a young boy on the need to be pretty sneaky to get him in a tub. So the tub filled with bubbly water, lots of bath toys and try your best to trick your lion to get in the tub. Kids will no doubt laugh at the tricks and bribes used to finally get the lion bathed, but make sure all the doors in the house are closed, or uh-oh, you will have to start all over again. Kids are sure to recognize themselves in there two humor books, even if the tables are turned and the kids in the story become the caretakers. Wiseman’s illustrations are a playful here as in the companion book above. 

Motor Mix: Flight by Emily Snape, illustrated by Rilla Alexander
Chronicle Books, 2017, 16 pages, age 3 months+

Young readers can mix and match things that fly in this interactive concept book. Young readers can go along with the kids, their friends, siblings, and even their pets for a ride on a rocket ship, an airplane, a lunar probe, a sea plane, and a hot air balloon. The left facing pages of the book show a stationary illustration of one of these machine, and the right side of the page, divided into three parts allows young readers to mix and match and make up their own, complete with sound words. A fun way for kids to to learn the names of things that fly, and to use their own imagination. With simple, block-like illustrations in bold colors diverse characters. Pair this book with 

Motor Mix: Emergency by Emily Snape, illustrated by Rilla Alexander
Chronicle Books, 2017, 16 pages, age 3 months+  

Here is the companion book to Motor Mix: Flight, though this one focuses on emergency vehicles, many of which even the youngest readers might be familiar with. Kids can go for a ride, with appropriate vehicle noises, on a firetruck, a highway patrol car, a snowplow, a tow truck, a ambulance, a lifeboat, and a helicopter. Or, they can invent their own, by flipping the divided parts of the right side page over the stationary illustration on the left facing page. This concept book offers a fun way for kids to learn the names of vehicles that help people, and is sure to generate questions about how they work. With simple, bold illustrations in bright colors and diverse characters. 

My Little Cities: San Francisco by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Chronicle Books, 2017, 22 pages, age 3 months+ 

Whether you are traveling to San Francisco or are already living there, this book is a charming way to introduce young readers to this exciting city. In very few words, Adams has managed to convey all the sights, sounds, and tastes that are to be found in San Francisco. From the Golden Gate Bridge and the twists and turns of Lombard Street to Chinatown and the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, it is all there. Pizzoli’s simple, colorful illustrations includes not just the famous sights that everyone should see, but also reflects the diversity of the people who live there. 

My Little Cities: Paris by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Chronicle Books, 2017, 22 pages, age 3 months+

Ah, Paris, the city of lights and one of my favorite places. Once again, Adams and Pizzoli have  captured the heart and diversity of this beautiful city. From the Jardin des Plantes (or Botanical Garden), the famous Shakespeare and Co., to Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, it’s all there, including people riding bikes with those wonderful French baguettes in their baskets. Just as she have in all her My Little Cities books, Adams includes a list of all the sights included in the book, with a short description of all of them. 
Be sure to check out the previous companion books in this series: My Little Cities: New York and My Little Cities: London

Peek-a-Moo! written and illustrated by Nina Laden
Chronicle Books, 2017, 22 pages, age 3 months+

Babies and toddlers love to play peek-a-boo and this is a perfect book for that. Each left facing page has the words Peek-a and behind the right page cut out is the answer - all rhyming with you. The last Peek-a has a mirror, so young readers see themselves reflected and become part of the book. Peek-a-Moo perfectly captures that moment of anticipation between not knowing and discovering, so characteristic of the earlier books. Each book in this series focuses on a different place, and here it is a farm, so each answer relates to animals or vegetable found there. Laden’s illustrations are bright, energetic and often humorous. 
Peek-a-Moo! is the fifth book in this series, so be sure to check out these companion books: Peek-a-Who! Peek-a-Zoo! Peek-a-Boo! and Peek-a-Choo-Choo!

Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book written and illustrated by Molly Idle
Chronicle Books, 2017, 20 pages, age 3 months+

Flora is back in a new board book and with a new friend. Flora and the Chicks was a counting book, in this companion book, Flora meets an ostrich with purple feathers that match her purple sunsuit, but that is were similarities end. When Flora says hello to the ostrich, he responds with good bye. Playing with the concept of opposites, Flora and her new friend gradually get together in friendship. Young readers learn about opposites with illustrations the perfectly illustrate the words used - among them - near/far, under/over, stop/go, and ending with apart/together. And once again, Idle has managed to include so much expression in facial and body language on pages that contain one word. Some of the pages have flaps the reveal a word opposite. A fun book for young readers and the perfect companion to Flora and the Chicks.

Enjoy! What are you reading?
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