Hope Is the Word http://hopeisthewordblog.com books, reading, & home education Sat, 10 Feb 2018 01:15:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/cropped-Hope-Is-the-Word-Logo-LARGE-PNG-1-32x32.png Hope Is the Word http://hopeisthewordblog.com 32 32 Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/02/09/orphan-island-by-laurel-snyder/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/02/09/orphan-island-by-laurel-snyder/#comments Sat, 10 Feb 2018 01:15:21 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24052 [Read more...]]]> You know what’s tough?  Growing up.  I remember it.

You know what else is tough?  Being the mama, helping your children grow up.  I’m doing it.  (Confession:  this might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.)

In my quest to read books that are the talk of the Newbery prognosticators, I finally got around to reading Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder.  I ordered it from the library months and months ago, and had even brought it home to read way back then, but I never got around to it.  This time I was determined, and it turns out that it was the right book at the right time for me.

What, you might ask, does the last paragraph have to do with the first two questions I posed in this post?  Plenty.  You see, Orphan Island is an extended metaphor for growing up, for transitioning into adolescence, for entering puberty, for whatever else you want to call that transition from little-kid to straining-toward-adulthood.   While this book is obviously written for a juvenile audience, there was plenty for this forty-three year old woman to glean from it.  It’s the story of Jinny, one of the oldest kids on Orphan Island.  At the beginning of the book, she gets her own Charge, or orphan she’s supposed to care for, delivered by the mysterious green boat that delivers new children and takes away old children.  This Changing took Jinny’s best friend, Deen, and replaced him with a little girl named Ess.  Jinny misses Deen and chafes against the responsibility of Ess.  Then things begin to go a bit sideways on their perfect island, which up until this point had provided everything the nine orphans who live there (always nine orphans) ever need.  It’s hard to tell, though, who or what is changing:  Jinny or the island.  And then Jinny makes a decision that has some downright dire consequences.

This feels a bit like a dystopian novel, mostly because until the reader figures out it’s a metaphor, she spends a lot of time scratching her head about the meaning of Changing and Cares and Elders.  However, the metaphor puts a fine point on the ending of childhood and the beginning of what it means to be an adult.  All of this is compounded by the fact that the Elders are responsible for their Cares, so in addition to their own growing pains (both physical and emotional), they have to think about the little kids whom they love.  It’s emotionally complicated but very true to real life.

I’ve dipped into a bit of the conversation around this year’s Newbery.  From what I’ve seen, this is one of the more polarizing books (at least on Goodreads).  People either love it or hate it.  I definitely fall in the first camp.  Louise, age twelve, read it and liked it “okay.”  Will the Newbery committee love it?  I don’t know, but this forty-three year old mother of two girls on the cusp of growing up got a lot out of it.  (Highly Recommended.  (HarperCollins, 2018)

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What I read in January 2018 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/31/what-i-read-in-january-2018/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/31/what-i-read-in-january-2018/#comments Wed, 31 Jan 2018 12:00:13 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24044 [Read more...]]]> January is almost always a great reading month for me, and this month has been no exception. It’s as if I heave a great sigh of relief as soon as the Christmas decor is packed away and collapse into a figurative easy chair to read the month away.  Of course, this doesn’t really happen, but I manage to fill my nooks and crannies with reading more in January than any other month. So what have those nooks and crannies held for me this month?

What I read by myself, a.k.a. for my own enjoyment and edification:

  • The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons, M.D.– I never reviewed this one, which I started in December but finished early this month, on my blog, but here is what I shared on Goodreads:

Mental health is a topic of great interest to me due to personal experience with mental illness. I read this author’s The Chemistry of Calm (his book about anxiety) last month as it applied more to my own personal experience at the time. I read a review somewhere that cited his The Chemistry of Joy as the better of the two books, and I have to agree with that reviewer. In my understanding and experience, anxiety and depression are bound up together. This book paves a bright and hopeful path using Western knowledge about mental health, Auyervedic understanding, and Buddhist philosophical teachings to offer a three-pronged approach to healing. Some of the suggestions are a bit out of my comfort zone as a thoroughly Western thinker, but it has provided me much food for thought and a great sense of hopefulness, which is invaluable.

  • Straw into Gold by Gary D. Schmidt–loved this one enough to choose it as a bookclub read for my class at co-op –reviewed on my blog here
  • The Man Who Invented Christmas:  How Charles Dickens’s Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford–I started this audiobook after seeing the movie by the same title (twice!–I LOVED it that much).  I’m a distracted audiobook listener so I know I missed some details and quite possibly great swaths of this engaging piece of nonfiction.  Still, enough of it sticks with me–particularly how our modern iteration of Christmas is indeed modern–the Puritans didn’t celebrate it at all, thus England didn’t celebrate it at all until the Victorian era.  It also made me want to read more Dickens.

    • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park–a re-read of this short but affecting story; my original review is here
    • Beauty:  A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley–it’s hard to pick a favorite, but this one might be it for the month.  My review here.
    • The Hate U Give by Angela Thomas–I didn’t review this one because I couldn’t.  All I can really say about it is that it gave me the feeling that I presume people might’ve felt after viewing Joseph Riis’s How the Other Half Lives.  I really had no idea what life is like for some Black Americans, but this book is an inside look.  A language and content warning belong on this book of young adult fiction, but I ultimately found it worth it.  Check out this review at Breakpoint for more insight (HT Sherry)
    • Wishtree by Katherine Applegate–It’s the time of year that I frantically try to catch up on the purported best in juvenile fiction so as to be able to anticipate the ALA awards in February.  This one is on a lot of lists, and I enjoyed it.  My review here.
    • I also managed to keep up with my Daily Audio Bible listening, which means I listened to Genesis and Job.  (I’m listening to the chronological Bible.)
  • What I read aloud to/with my children (chapter books only)
    • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai–My girls and I enjoyed this audiobook together, read expertly by Doan Ly.  My original review here.

  • The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Phillip Stead (illustrated by Erin Stead)– I read this delightful and quixotic tale to all four of my children, an unheard-of feat!  My review here.
  • Squanto by Clyde Robert Bulla–I partner-read this one with the DLM.  Here are my thoughts from Goodreads:

I read this one aloud, partnering with my 7 year old son. Clyde Robert Bulla’s books are good ones for this age, but I found myself editing this one a lot as I read, giving Squanto’s sentences all the necessary parts to make him sound like an intelligent human being. In other words, it stereotypes the Native Americans’ speech, which is something that is at best highly annoying and at worst something that creates the wrong image of Native Americans in the minds of another generation of youngsters.

  • Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz–This a funny, short chapter book for the early elementary and preschool set.  My review here.

Eleven books in a month is as many as I’ve read in a long time.  I’m pleased with it, and more important, I’m happy with my book choices.  It feels like a month well spent.

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Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/27/princess-cora-and-the-crocodile-by-laura-amy-schlitz/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/27/princess-cora-and-the-crocodile-by-laura-amy-schlitz/#respond Sat, 27 Jan 2018 18:51:15 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24041 [Read more...]]]> Laura Amy Schlitz has been on my radar since I read her Splendors and Glooms back a few years ago (a book which I handed to twelve year old Louise on our last library trip and which she subsequently devoured).  Having only read that one book by her, I associate her with creepy, atmospheric stories that are detailed and dense.  I couldn’t quite figure out how Princess Cora and the Crocodile would fit that profile, but I was willing to find out, and I took my boys along for the ride.  We read it as a read-aloud spread over several days, with even an intermission in our reading at one point because I read to them in the scraps of time we have here and there and sometimes those scraps disappear with nary a trace.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile is the story of the titular character, a princess who lives with her royal parents, well-meaning adults who take the raising of their daughter very, very seriously.  On the day of her birth:

So that very day the King and Queen began to train Princess Cora.  They stopped thinking she was perfect and started worrying about what might be wrong with her.  By the time she was seven years old, there wasn’t a single minute when Princess Cora wasn’t being trained.  (2)

Poor Princess Cora is made to take several baths a day at the insistence of her nanny, to read deadly dull books about the running of kingdoms with her mother, and to skip rope with her stopwatch wielding-father to his chant of “Faster! Faster! A future queen must be strong!. . .Skipping rope is good for you!”  Princess Cora has her own thoughts about her life but is afraid to tell her parents how much she hates the constant poking and prodding.  Then an idea comes to her:  what if she had a dog?  A dog would love her without demands.  Of course, a dog is too dirty and too time-consuming for a perfect princess who is a queen-in-training.  Poor Princess Cora writes a letter to her fairy godmother in desperation.  Her fairy godmother doesn’t send her a dog. . . she sends a crocodile.  The crocodile hatches a plot to help Cora by masquerading as her so that Cora can do as she pleases, and that’s when the real fun begins.  The hilarity that ensures is perfect for the preschool through early elementary crowd, and the story ends with lessons learned all around.

Brian Floca’s illustrations are perfect for this tale, and is appropriate for these early chapter books, they are copious.  Every two page spread has at least one illustration, and the illustrations are often of the picture book variety, taking up an entire page.  Princess Cora is demure but grows into her spunk, the nanny and queen are stern, and the king is quite frantic.  Floca communicates this beautifully through facial expressions and body language.  And the crocodile is the perfect combination of silliness and ferocity, with googly eyes and a gargantuan, toothy smile.

At seven short chapters, this book is an ideal first chapter book for children with short attention spans for longer, complicated plots.  My boys loved it, and I did, too.  Laura Amy Schlitz is obviously no one trick pony of a writer. Highly Recommended.  (Candlewick, 2017)

Related links:

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Wishtree by Katherine Applegate http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/26/wishtree-by-katherine-applegate/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/26/wishtree-by-katherine-applegate/#respond Sat, 27 Jan 2018 03:51:29 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24036 [Read more...]]]> I love trees.  I especially love trees in the winter time.  The contrast between the branches and the blue sky never fails to get my attention; in fact, it’s one of my favorite natural vistas.  I have taken countless photographs of this particular scene–in fact, I took some just today.

Wishtree, then, can’t help but be a good one for me.  This story is written entirely from the point of view of an oak tree named Red.  Red is a special tree–a wish tree, a place for people to come and leave their wishes each year.  Because Red is pretty old, he has seen a lot of things happen in his neighborhood.  However, something that happens during this story prompts Red to finally break the cardinal rule of trees.  Red is the victim of vandalism aimed at one of the families that lives in the shade of his branches.  This family is isolated and alone because they are different:  immigrants perhaps, with cultural (religious?) markers that set them apart from their neighbors.  The girl, Samar, is lonely, so her wish is for one thing:  a friend.  This, paired with the vandalism, causes Red to act–he actually talks to Samar and the neighbor boy, and the results of this have the neighborhood reaching back into history to rediscover its  . . . roots.

Red’s voice is endearing and enjoyable, even humorous:

Trees have a rather complicated relationship with people, after all.  One minute you’re hugging us.  The next minute you’re turning us into tables and tongue depressors.  (2)

Red is also home to a menagerie, and they add a touch of humor to the story.  I could never quite keep all the animals straight, but Applegate gave them names that should make that easy.  For example, the skunks are all named for things that smell good.  All of these things help to lighten the subject matter a little bit.

This book is really a simple book and a quick read.  In fact, sometimes I think the day of long, complicated juvenile fiction is over, and this book is a perfect example of why I think that.  The story doesn’t suffer for its simplicity, though I think sometimes that these stories oversimplify the problems they’re concerned with, especially ones that are very complex in the real world we live in.  Wishtree just happens to be about discrimination and hatred toward minorities, which is obviously a hot topic now.  I do think it’s worth writing about, and I think Katherine Applegate has done a beautiful job of sending out a message of love and acceptance for all people.  However, it feels a bit “flavor of the month” for me.  I don’t mind my books to have a message, but I like for the message to be secondary to the story.  This one feels almost like a parable.  It’s a well-told parable, but a parable-like nevertheless.  This one is worth the slight time-expenditure it takes to read it.  (Macmillan, 2017)



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Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/25/ordinary-extraordinary-jane-austen-by-deborah-hopkinson/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/25/ordinary-extraordinary-jane-austen-by-deborah-hopkinson/#respond Fri, 26 Jan 2018 01:51:09 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24028 [Read more...]]]> This week I introduced my girls (ages thirteen and twelve) to the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (and yes, Colin Firth).  Such a walk down memory lane for me!  If possible, Mrs. Bennett is more embarrassingly funny, Elizabeth more admirable, and Mr. Darcy more dreamy than I thought in my teens and early adulthood.  (Okay, maybe Mr. Darcy isn’t more dreamy, but I can sure relate more to Mrs. Bennett!)  I was reminded again through watching this mini-series just what a genius at relationship Jane Austen was.  I was also really glad to have gotten my hands on this new little gem of a picture book biography, Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen:  The Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl by Deborah Hopkinson, as a way to give my girls another lens through which to experience Austen for the first time.

Of course, Hopkinson’s biography would begin in no other way than this:

It is a truth universally acknowledged

that Jane Austen is one of our greatest writers.

But it might surprise you to know that

Jane lived a simple life.

She wasn’t rich

or even very famous in her time.

We learn that Jane “was sometimes awkward and a little shy.”  We learn that she was a member of a large and busy family of six brothers, one sister, “plus packs of boys who came to live and study at their father’s boarding school.”  We learn that “[f]amilies back then made their own fun,” and the Austens excelled at that:  dancing and word games; cards and charades; always reading; and even an annual theatrical production in their old barn.  Although Jane had little formal schooling, she had her father’s large library at her disposal and read from it voraciously.  She had an incisive mind from childhood and began to explore expressing her thoughts and observations in writing at age twelve.  Her father witnessed this and supported it by keeping her in notebooks and even gifting her with a mahogany writing box.  She began to explore the world of novel writing (but on her own terms) as a teen, and even after initial rejection from publishers, she did not give up.  She died having published six novels.  Although they were only attributed to “a lady,” word got out and she become famous in her lifetime.

This book is two-thirds biography Jane Austen and one-third anthem to the life of a quiet, observant girl, a girl who lived a very circumscribed life but kept her eyes, ears, and heart open and did what no man of her time was doing:  write about the everyday lives of her generation.  Qin Leng’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment:  slightly whimsical, colorful, soft, and quite evocative of Austen’s bright intellect.  My favorite illustration is the one of a small, young Jane standing alone in her father’s large library.  The book ends with a timeline of Austen’s life and a section entitled “Jane’s Bookshelf” which gives publication dates, famous quotes, and very brief summaries of each of her novels.  The final page offers places on the internet for more information about Jane Austen and a brief bibliography.  This book is a lovely tribute to a beloved author.  Highly Recommended.  (Balzer + Bray, 2018)

Many thanks to Provato Marketing for sending this book my way for my unbiased review.  Check out other stops on the blog tour here.


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