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Survivor’s guilt. Not the most common theme in children’s books these days. Not unheard of certainly, but it definitely doesn’t crop up as often as, say, stories about cupcakes or plucky orphans that have to defeat evil wizards. Serious works of fiction do well when award season comes along, but that’s only because those few that garner recognition are incredibly difficult to write. I’ll confess to you that when I first encountered Caminar by Skila Brown I heard it was about a kid surviving Guatemala’s Civil War and I instantly assumed it would be boring. Seems pretty silly to say that I thought a book chock-full o’ genocide would be a snorefest, but I’ve been burned before. True, I knew that Caminar was a verse novel and that gave me hope, but would it be enough? Fortunately, when the time came to pick it up it sucked me in from the very first page. Gripping and good, horrifying and beautifully wrought, if you’re gonna read just one children’s book on a real world reign of terror, why not go with this one?
He isn’t big. He isn’t tall. He has the round face of an owl and he tends to do whatever it is his mother requires of him with very little objection. Really, is it any wonder that Carlos is entranced by the freedom of the soldiers that enter his small village? The year is 1981 and in Chopan, Guatemala things are tense. One minute you have strange soldiers coming through the village on the hunt for rebels. The next minute the rebels are coming through as well, looking for food and aid. And when Carlos’s mother tells him that in the event of an emergency he is to run away and not wait for her, it’s not what he wants to hear. Needless to say, there comes a day when running is the only option but Carlos finds it difficult to carry on. He can survive in the wild, sleeping in trees and eating roots and plants, but how does he deal with the notion that only cowardice kept him from returning to Chopan? How does he handle his guilt? And is there some act that he can do to find peace of mind once more?
This isn’t the first book containing mass killings I’ve ever encountered for kids. Heck, it’s not even the only one I’ve seen this year (hat tip to The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney). As such, this brings up a big question that the authors of such books must wrestle with each and every time such a book is conceived. Mainly, how do you make horrific violence palatable to young readers? A good follow-up question would have to be, why should you make it palatable in the first place? What is the value in teaching about the worst that humanity is capable of? There are folks that would mention that there is great value in this. Some books teach kids that the world is capable of being capricious and cruel with no particular reason whatsoever. Indeed Brown touches on this when Carlos prays to God asking for the answers that even adults seek. When handled well, books about mass killings of any kind, be it the Holocaust or the horrors of Burma, can instruct as well as offer hope. When handled poorly they become salacious, or moments that just use these horrors as an inappropriately tense backdrop to the action.
Here’s what you see when you read the first page of this book. The title is “Where I’m From”. It reads, “Our mountain stood tall, / like the finger that points. / Our corn plants grew in fields, / thick and wide as a thumb. / Our village sat in the folded-between, / in that spot where you pinch something sacred, / to keep it still. / Our mountain stood guard at our backs. / We slept at night in its bed.” I read this and I started rereading and rereading the sentence about how one will “pinch something sacred”. I couldn’t get it out of my head and though I wasn’t able to make perfect sense out of it, it rang true. I’m pleased that it was still in my head around page 119 because at that time I read something significant. Carlos is playing marbles with another kid and we read, “I watched Paco pinch / his fingers around the shooter, pinch / his eyes up every time . . .” Suddenly the start of the book makes a kind of sense that it didn’t before. That’s the joy of Brown’s writing here. She’s constantly including little verbal callbacks that reward the sharp-eyed readers while still remaining great poetry.
If I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, the destruction of Carlos’s village reminded me of nothing so much as the genocide that takes place in Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy. That’s a good thing, by the way. It puts you in the scene without getting too graphic. The little bits and pieces you hear are enough. Is there anything more unnerving than someone laughing in the midst of atrocities? In terms of the content, I watched what Brown was doing here with great interest. To write this book she had to walk a tricky path. Reveal too much horror and the book is inappropriate for its intended age bracket. Reveal too little and you’re accused of sugarcoating history. In her particular case the horrors are pinpointed on a single thing all children can relate to: the fear of losing your mother. The repeated beat in this book is Carlos’s mother telling him that he will find her. Note that she never says that she will find him, which would normally be the natural way to put this. Indeed, as it stands the statement wraps up rather beautifully at the end, everything coming full circle.
Brown’s other method of handling this topic was to make the book free verse. Now I haven’t heard too many objections to the book but when I have it involves the particular use of the free verse found here. For example, one adult reader of my acquaintance pretty much dislikes any and all free verse that consists simply of the arbitrary chopping up of sentences. As such, she was incensed by page 28 which is entitled “What Mama Said” and reads simply, “They will / be back.” Now one could argue that by highlighting just that little sentence Brown is foreshadowing the heck out of this book. Personally, I found moments like this to be pitch perfect. I dislike free verse novels that read like arbitrary chopped up sentences too, but that isn’t Caminar. In this book Brown makes an effort to render each poem just that. A poem. Some poems are stronger than others, but they all hang together beautifully.
Debates rage as to how much reality kids should be taught. How young is young enough to know about the Holocaust? What about other famous atrocities? Should you give your child the essentials before they learn possibly misleading information from the wider world? What is a teacher’s responsibility? What is a parent’s? I cannot tell you that there won’t be objections to this book by concerned parental units. Many feel that there are certain dark themes out there that are entirely inappropriate as subject matter in children’s books. But then there are the kids that seek these books out. And honestly, the reason Caminar is a book to seek out isn’t even the subject matter itself per se but rather the great overarching themes that tie the whole thing together. Responsibility. Maturity. Losing your mother. Survival (but at what cost?). A beautifully wrought, delicately written novel that makes the unthinkable palatable to the young.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
What does a memoir owe its readers? For that matter, what does a fictionalized memoir written with a child audience in mind owe its readers? Kids come into public libraries every day asking for biographies and autobiographies. They’re assigned them with the teacher’s intent, one assumes, of placing them in the shoes of those people who found their way, or their voice, or their purpose in life. Maybe there’s a hope that by reading about such people the kids will see that life has purpose. That even the most high and lofty historical celebrity started out small. Yet to my mind, a memoir is of little use to child readers if it doesn’t spend a significant fraction of its time talking about the subject when they themselves were young. To pick up brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is to pick up the world’s best example of precisely how to write a fictionalized memoir. Sharp when it needs to be sharp, funny when it needs to be funny, and a book that can relate to so many other works of children’s literature, Woodson takes her own life and lays it out in such a way that child readers will both relate to it and interpret it through the lens of history itself. It may be history, but this is one character that will give kids the understanding that nothing in life is a given. Sometimes, as hokey as it sounds, it really does come down to your dreams.
Her father wanted to name her “Jack” after himself. Never mind that today, let alone 1963 Columbus, Ohio, you wouldn’t dream of naming a baby girl that way. Maybe her mother writing “Jacqueline” on her birth certificate was one of the hundreds of reasons her parents would eventually split apart. Or maybe it was her mother’s yearning for her childhood home in South Carolina that did it. Whatever the case, when Jackie was one-years-old her mother took her and her two older siblings to the South to live with their grandparents once and for all. Though it was segregated and times were violent, Jackie loved the place. Even when her mother left town to look for work in New York City, she kept on loving it. Later, her mother picked up her family and moved them to Brooklyn and Jackie had to learn the ways of city living versus country living. What’s more, with her talented older siblings and adorable baby brother, she needed to find out what made her special. Told in gentle verse and memory, Jacqueline Woodson expertly recounts her own story and her own journey against a backdrop of America’s civil rights movement. This is the birth of a writer told from a child’s perspective.
You might ask why we are referring to this book as a work of historical fiction, when clearly the memoir is based in fact. Recently I was reading a piece in The New Yorker on the novelist Edward St. Aubyn. St. Aubyn found the best way to recount his own childhood was through the lens of fiction. Says the man, “I wanted the freedom and the sublimatory power of writing a novel . . . And I wanted to write in the tradition which had impressed me the most.” Certainly there’s a much greater focus on what it means to be a work of nonfiction for kids in this day and age. Where in the past something like the Childhood of Famous Americans series could get away with murder, pondering what one famous person thought or felt at a given time, these days we hold children’s nonfiction to a much higher standard. Books like Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair, for example, must be called “fiction” for all that they are based on real people and real events. Woodson’s personal memoir is, for all intents and purposes, strictly factual but because there are times when she uses dialogue to flesh out the characters and scenes the book ends up in the fiction section of the library and bookstore. Like St. Aubyn, Woodson is most comfortable when she has the most freedom as an author, not to be hemmed in by a strict structural analysis of what did or did not occur in the past. She has, in a sense then, mastered the art of the fictionalized memoir in a children’s book format.
Because of course in fiction you can give your life a form and a function. You can look back and give it purpose, something nonfiction can do but with significantly less freedom. There is a moment in Jackie’s story when you get a distinct sense of her life turning a corner. In the section “grown folks’ stories” she recounts hearing the tales of the old people then telling them back to her sister and brother in the night. “Retelling each story. / Making up what I didn’t understand / or missed when voices dropped too low . . . / Then I let the stories live / inside my head, again and again / until the real world fades back / into cricket lullabies / and my own dreams.” If ever you wanted a “birth of a writer” sequence in a book, this would be it.
At its heart, that’s really what brown girl dreaming is about. It’s the story of a girl finding her voice and her purpose. If there’s a theme to children’s literature this year it is in the relationship between stories and lies. Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener and Margi Preus’s West of the Moon both spend a great deal of time examining the relationship between the two. Now brown girl dreaming joins with them. When Jackie’s mother tells her daughter that “If you lie . . . one day you’ll steal” the child cannot reconcile the two. “It’s hard to understand how one leads to the other, / how stories could ever / make us criminals.” It’s her mother that equates storytelling with lying, even as her uncle encourages her to keep making up stories. As it is, I can think of no better explanation of how writers work then the central conundrum Jackie is forced to face on her own. “It’s hard to understand / the way my brain works – so different / from everybody around me. / How each new story / I’m told becomes a thing / that happens, / in some other way / to me . . . !”
The choice to make the book a verse novel made sense in the context of Ms. Woodson’s other novels. Verse novels are at their best when they justify their form. A verse novel that’s written in verse simply because it’s the easiest way to tell a long story in a simple format often isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Fortunately, in the case of Ms. Woodson the choice makes infinite sense. Young Jackie is enamored of words and their meanings. The book isn’t told in the first person, but when we consider that she is both subject and author then it’s natural to suspect that the verse best shows the lens through which Jackie, the child, sees the world.
It doesn’t hurt matters any that the descriptive passages have the distinct feeling of poems to them. Individual lines are lovely in and of themselves, of course. Lines like “the heat of summer / could melt the mouth / so southerners stayed quiet.” Or later a bit of reflection on the Bible. “Even Salome intrigues us, her wish for a man’s head / on a platter – who could want this and live / to tell the story of that wanting?” But full-page written portions really do have the feel of poems. Like you could pluck them out of the book and display them and they’d stand on their own, out of context. The section labeled “ribbons” for example felt like pure poetry, even as it relayed facts. As Woodson writes, “When we hang them on the line to dry, we hope / they’ll blow away in the night breeze / but they don’t. Come morning, they’re right where / we left them / gently moving in the cool air, eager to anchor us / to childhood.” And so we get a beautiful mixing of verse and truth and fiction and memoir at once.
It was while reading the book that I got the distinct sense that this was far more than a personal story. The best memoirs, fictionalized or otherwise, are the ones that go beyond their immediate subjects and speak to something greater than themselves. Ostensibly, brown girl dreaming is just the tale of one girl’s journey from the South to the North and how her perceptions of race and self changed during that time. But the deeper you get into the book the more you realize that what you are reading is a kind of touchstone for other children’s books about the African-American experience in America. Turn to page eight and a reference to the Woodsons connections to Thomas Woodson of Chillicothe leads you directly to Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Page 32 and the trip from North to South and the deep and abiding love for the place evokes The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. Page 259 and the appearance of The Jackson Five and their Afros relates beautifully to Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven. Page 297 and a reference to slaves in New York City conjures up Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. Even Jackie’s friend Maria has a story that ties in nicely to Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano. I even saw threads from Woodson’s past connect to her own books. Her difficulty reading but love of words conjures up Locomotion. Visiting her uncle in jail makes me think of Visiting Day as well as After Tupac and D Foster. And, of course, her personal history brings to mind her Newbery Honor winning picture book Show Way (which, should you wish to do brown girl dreaming in a book club, would make an ideal companion piece).
It’s not just other books either. Writers are advised to write what they know and that their family stories are their history. But when Woodson writes her history she’s broadening her scope. Under her watch her family’s history is America’s history. Woodson’s book manages to tie-in so many moments in African-American history that kids should know about. Segregation, marches, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. One thing I really appreciated about the book was that it also looked at aspects of some African-American life that I’ve just never seen represented in children’s literature before. Can you honestly name me any other books for kids where the children are Jehovah’s Witnesses? Aside from Tom Angleberger’s The Qwikpick Papers I’m drawing a blank.
The flaws? Well it gets off to a slow start. The first pages didn’t immediately grab me, and I have to hope that if there are any kids out there who read the same way that I do, with my immature 10-year-old brain, that they’ll stick with it. Once the family moves to the South everything definitely picks up. The only other objection I had was that I wanted to know so much more about Jackie’s family after the story had ended. In her Author’s Note she mentions meeting her father again years later. What were the circumstances behind that meeting? Why did it happen? And what did Dell and Hope and Roman go on to do with their lives? Clearly a sequel needs to happen. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this.
I’m just going to get grandiose on you here and say that reading this is basically akin to reading a young person’s version of Song of Solomon. It’s America and its racial history. It’s deeply personal, recounting the journey of one girl towards her eventual vocation and voice. It’s a fictionalized memoir that nonetheless tells greater truths than most of our nonfiction works for kids. It is, to put it plainly, a small work of art. Everyone who reads it will get something different out of it. Everyone who reads it will remember some small detail that spoke to them personally. It’s the book adults will wish they’d read as kids. It’s the book that hundreds of thousands of kids will read and continue to read for decades upon decades upon decades. It’s Woodson’s history and our own. It is amazing.
The teacher at school smiles, but she's too busy to give me extra help, so later, at home, Mama tries to teach me.
She reminds me to go oh-so-slowly and take my time. There is no hurry. THe heavy book will not rise up and fly away.
When I scramble the sneaky letters b and d, or the even trickier ones r and l, Mama helps me learn how to picture the sep--a--rate parts of each mys--te--ri--ous syl--la--ble. Still, it's not easy to go so ss--ll--oo--ww--ll--yy. S l o w l y. SLOWLY!
I have to keep warning myself over and over that whenever I try to read too quickly, my clumsy patience flips over and tumbles, then falls...
Why? Wwhhyyyy? WHY? ¡Ay!
The doctor hisses Fefa's diagnosis like a curse-- word blindness*. She'll never read, or write. It's why she hates school so much, why the other kids taunt her when she has to read OUT LOUD.
But Fefa's mother has the heart of poet and doesn't accept the prognosis. She gives Fefa a blank book (one of the most terrifying things Fefa has seen) for her to fill with words as she gets them, slowly.
Fefa deals with the bullying and taunts of her classmates and siblings and slowly fills her book and slowly learns to detangle the letters.
Y'all know I'm a huge Engle fan. I'm most familiar with her YA stuff, but this one is more middle grade. There's a lot less politics and history**, as the main focus is Fefa's struggle with the written word. It's based on Engle's own grandmother and the stories she told of her own struggle with dyslexia.
Of course, one of the things that I like so much about Engle is how she weaves stories around Cuban history, so this wasn't my favorite one of hers. Also, there's only one narrator, while I'm used to her work being told in multiple voices. THAT SAID, it's still really good.
I like how Engle works with free verse and structure in this one to really capture Fefa's voice, especially when sounding words out and trying to figure out syllables. It's one that younger readers will enjoy and will cause them to seek out more of her work.
Mami said life would change after I turned fifteen when I became a señorita. But señorita means different things to different people.
For my friends Mireya and Sarita, who turned fifteen last summer, señorita means wearing lipstick, which when I put it on is sticky and messy, like strawberry jam on my lips.
For Mami señorita means making me try on high-heeled shoes two inches high and meant to break my neck.
For Mami's sisters, my tías Maritza and Belén, who live in Mexico, señorita means measuring me, turning me this way and that as they fit me for the floral dresses they cheerfully stitch together on their sewing machines. For the aunts, señorita also means insisting I wear pantyhose, the cruel invention that makes my thick, trunklike thighs into bulging sausages.
When my tías are done dressing me up like a big Mexican Barbie doll, I look at myself in the mirror. Mami stands behind me as I pull at the starched flowered fabric and argue with Mami's reflection.
"Why do I have to wear this stuff/ This is your style, not mine! I like jeans and tennis shoes. Why can't I just dress like a normal teenager? En los Estados Unidos girls don't dress up like muñecas."
Señoritas don't talk back to their mothers," Mami warns. When my aunts aren't looking, she gives me a tiny pinch, like a bee sting on the inside of my upper arm. "Señoritas know when to be quiet and let their elders make the decisions."
For my father, señorita means he has to be a guard dog when boys are around. According to my parents, I won't be allowed to date until I graduate from high school.
That's fine with me. I have better things to do than think about boys-- like prepare for my future. I want to be the first one in our family to earn a college degree.
For my sisters, señorita means having someone to worship: it is the wonder of seeing their oldest sister looking like Cinderella on her way to the ball.
But for me, señorita means melancolía: settling into sadness. It is the end of wild laughter. The end of chewing bubble gum and giggling over nothing with my friends at the movies, our feet up on the backs of the theater seats.
Señorita is very boring when we go to a fancy restaurant decorated with Christmas lights for the upcoming Posadas. We sit properly, Papi, Mami, and I, quietly celebrating my fifteenth birthday with due etiquette because I'm trying my best to be a good daughter and accept the clipping of my wings, the taming of my heart.
If poems had been introduced to me as a child as puzzles, maybe I would have taken to them a little more. A poem is a kind of puzzle, isn’t it? Depending on the kind of poem you have to make the syllables and words conform to a preexisting format. Unless it’s free verse, of course. Then all bets are off. That’s what you do when you’re writing a poem, but can reading one be an act of puzzle-solving as well? Earlier this year I reviewed Bob Raczka’s Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word which required the reader’s eyes to leap around the page, piecing together the words. Hidden by Helen Frost requires relatively less work to read, but the reader willing to seek out the messages hidden (ho ho) in some of the poems will be amply rewarded. The result is that “Hidden” manages to be both a book of poetry and a wholly original story of two girls bound together by a singular, accidental crime.
When you go to a new summer camp you usually have to deal with not knowing anyone. That’s not Darra’s problem though. Her problem is that she does know someone and, worse, that person knows her too. Years and years ago Darra’s father accidentally kidnapped a young girl by the name of Wren Abbot. He didn’t mean to, of course. He was carjacking, unaware that Wren was hidden in the back of the car, frightened out of her mind. Years later Darra, who once helped Wren, runs into the girl that, she is convinced, led the cops back to her home and got her dad arrested. Now they have no idea how to act around one another, and in the midst of the usual tween summer camp dramas they need to return to the past to clarify what happened and to figure out if they both can recover from the experience.
I’ve been a fan of Frost’s for years. Lots of authors write verse novels (stories written in free verse) and most of them are little more than just a series of sentences broken up without much reason except to pad out the pages. Frost is never like that. When she writes a verse novel she commits. Her books are written in various forms for a reason. In The Braid she created an intricate braid-like form of poetry that twisted and turned on itself. In Diamond Willow her poems were diamond shaped with special messages hidden inside. Hidden take a different tactic. Wren’s voice is straight up free verse, while Darra’s requires a little more work. As Frost puts it, “The last words of the long lines, when read down the right side of the page, give further insight into her story.” Well when I read that I had to flip the book back to the beginning to see if it was true or not. Sure as shooting, each and every one of Darra’s sections yields a new side of her story. The words behind her words, you might say. The experience of discovering this is akin to a small treasure hunt. When pitching this book to kids, make sure you play up this aspect. Some children will immediately decode the m
There are 2 poetry posts today because I missed one earlier this week (oops!)
I am telling you this just the way it went with all the details I remember as they were, and including the parts I'm not sure about. You know, where something happened but you aren't convinced you understood it? Other people would maybe tell it different but I was there.
It's like a bird. One minutes it's picking up something off the sidewalk and you recognize it all together as a bird eating. The next minute it's gone into traffic on the street and you try and remember how that bird was, how its pointy feet were strutting and its neck was bulging back and forth but its gone and you're the only one can tell it was there in front of you.
This is like that.
Make Lemonade is one of the earliest verse novels*-- it came out in 1993.
Often, when I read a ground-breaking book, after the ground has been well broken and things have grown up on it, it's hard to see what was so special about the original. I just have to remember that if it hadn't been for X, everything else that has come since wouldn't have happened.
I did NOT feel that way about this book.
LeVaughn wants to go to college. She'll be the first in her family, the first in her building to go. Her entire life has been about keeping up the grades she'll need and trying to make the money for tuition.
She gets a job babysitting for Jolly. Jolly's 17, a high school dropout, and works in a factory. She has 2 kids LeVaughn would watch after school.
It's harder than LeVaughn thought it would be to balance watching Jolly's kids and her school work. Jolly doesn't know what she's doing and LeVaughn needs to remind her about basic things like buying new diapers. Then Jolly gets fired and can't pay LeVaughn anymore, but at that point LeVaughn's not walking away and will do whatever she can to help Jolly and her kids out.
I liked LeVaughn's inner strength-- not just in how she's pushing herself for a better life, but also in how, when Jolly loses her job, she stands up to her mother to continue doing what she thinks is right. She also struggles with her situation-- is it wrong to take money from Jolly to ensure that she will never end up like her?
AND, most of all, I love how LeVaughn knows she's better that Jolly, but Jolly still has a lot to teach her about the world and that even though they both live in poverty, LeVaughn has no idea how dark things can be.
A wonderful book that still remains relevant and popular 18 years after its debut. (18 years!!!! 1993 was NOT that long ago. Please tell me my calculator just lied to me!)
The castle where Fredrika spend her childhood was haunted.
In the attic, there was a sword that had beheaded a nobleman during a war.
There were bloodstained clothes beside the sword.
None of the servants would climb up to the attic to fetch boxes or trunks that had been stored next to ghosts.
This house where I live it haunted too.
It was built by slaves who rebelled, and buried an overseer inside the walls.
Papa has never been able to find the skeleton, but sometimes at night I hear pitiful moans and rattling chains.
It is either the ghost of some poor child from the slave ships being driven to market.
In 1851, Sweden's first female novelist journeyed to Cuba. Drawing extensively from her journals, Engle writes a verse novel based on Fredrika Bremer's time there.
The book is mostly told in three voices-- Fredrika's, Elena's (the daughter of the rich family Fredrika is staying with) and Cecelia's (a slave belonging to Elena's family, who acts as Fredrika's translator and guide.)
Although I found the CONSTANT parallels drawn between a woman's role and actual slavery to be a bit much and overdrawn (yes, you had no freedom if you were a rich man's daughter, but you weren't in actual chains) overall, I did really enjoy this book. I also think it makes an interesting companion to Engle's other book on Cuban slavery, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom. I especially enjoyed seeing Cuba through three different sets of eyes-- a slave who still remembered life in Africa, a Swedish aristocrat, and a Cuban aristocrat-- they had such different opinions and noticed such different things, it gives reader a more complete picture of daily life.
Book Provided by... my local library
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I remember Mr. Hon once said that a person should see more things and open his eyes if he wants to write a good story.
Ma cannot afford to send me off to see things. So I decide that when I grow up, I will not marry a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher, or a businessman. I will marry a bus driver, who can drive me everywhere to see the world and it will be free.
And he must look like Mr. Hon.
Tofu Quilt is a semi-auto-biographical verse novel about growing up in Hong Kong in the 50s and 60s and wanting to become a writer. Most of the poems focus on her relatives insisting that she shouldn't have big dreams or so much education, because she's a girl (her mother very much disagrees and insists that boys and girls are the same), reading books, or her trails and tribulations with various writing teachers over the years.
There isn't much of a plot, but it is a nice book especially for its pictures into day-to-day life in mid-century Hong Kong. The book shines when Ying is listening to the old ladies gossip at the end of the day or describing the flower market or the foreign tourist taking photos of drying laundry.
ARC Provided by... the publisher for review consideration
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If you don't want to click over and read, here's the takeaway:
1. It got a star 2. Sensory language describing the rich smells and tastes of Vietnam draws readers in and contrasts with Hà's perceptions of bland American food, and the immediacy of the narrative will appeal to those who do not usually enjoy historical fiction
Book Provided by... School Library Journal, for review
Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.
How awesomely appropriate is it that the first day of National Poetry Month falls on a Friday, which is a day that we celebrate poetry every week?
In honor of National Poetry Month, I'm planning on having a poetry post EVERY DAY (that includes weekends!) So I'll either share a poem or review a novel written in verse, like I try to do every Friday. And I'm not the only blogger doing something special to celebrate! Check out this loooooooooooooooooooooooong list of all the ways we're adding more poetry into our lives this month!
Let's get started with a review of a verse novel by my hands-down favorite verse-novel author.
Holding almost a weightless warmth (or chill) letters pass from one hand to another, shifting borders between the unknown and the known. Such minute detail: a cricket chirping by the dam and midnight; a cracked blue plate. Someone sitting at a table writing, absorbed in thought.
In 1850, at the end of the Highland Clearances, the MacKinnon family is evicted from their home on the island of Barra, in the Outer Hebrides. The oldest child, Sarah, elects to stay behind with her grandmother on a neighboring island. The night before they leave, Sarah braids her hair together with her sister Jeannie's. She then cuts off the braid and takes half with her, leaving the other half for her sister. The book then follows their respective stories-- Sarah's as she makes life in the small village and falls in love and Jeannine's as she and her family make the dangerous crossing and arrive in Cape Brenton, which is starving itself and has no place for strangers.
As with all of Helen Frost's verse novels, this one is expertly crafted. It alternates narrative poems told from each sister with shorter praise poems. The narrative poems read like prose, but when you read the author's note in the end, you discover that each line has the same number of syllables as the speaker's age and that the last words of each line are used for the first words of each line of the next narrative poem, braiding them together. At the same time, the praise poems braid the last line with the following first line. Like her other books, I saved the author's note until the end (sometimes knowing too much about how she crafted her work can be a plot spoiler!) and then went back and reread the story with the craft in mind. I love how her work is always so meticulously crafted but that it never, ever, ever, ever interferes with the story she's telling.
That said, while I love the story, overall this one didn't do as much for me as Frost's other work. That's not to say it's not brilliant and awesome, but just that Frost has a really high bar set for herself and this one wasn't my favorite of hers. The interspersal of the praise poems, which aren't part of the plot, broke the flow up a bit.
But, how can you not love lines like this? (From one of Sarah's narrative poems)
In love they say, as if love is a place you enter--as if we slice open time and find a wh
What a great pleasure it is to chat with rgz co-founder Lorie Ann Grover today about her verse novel, HOLD ME TIGHT.
Readers, this is a *wonderful* book, and an excellent compliment to this week's spotlighted title over at readergirlz, Lauren Oliver's BEFORE I FALL. It's thematically very different, but if you love intense stories with well drawn characters and true emotions, then you will absolutely adore HOLD ME TIGHT.
Welcome, Lorie Ann!
Psst. Holly, here are few secrets from HOLD ME TIGHT.
HOLD ME TIGHT is based on my own life experiences. When I was ten, my father left our family, and the boy who sat in front of me was kidnapped. Thirty years later, I decided to incorporate both events into a novel. Here's my trailer:
And now a few facts not found in the work... (spoiler alert)
My fingers stumble through the scales and through "The Gypsy Camp."
They crowd the keys, landing in two spots at the same time. They slip, clank, and clash into sounds that aren't music.
Watch, Jeff says calmly when my fingers freeze in frustration.
Jeff's fingers are bigger than mine, but they know how to touch each key, one at a time. They unlock each sound separately.
Jeff doesn't make mistakes.
His fingers brush across the piano keys like branches of the tamarind swaying in the wind. How can such big hands make such quiet music?
Matt is the son of a Vietnamese mother and the American soldier who left and didn't come back. He was airlifted out of Saigon without his mother or brother and adopted by an American family.
In his experiences on his baseball team, where a teammate blames Matt for a brother's death, and in working with a Veterans group, Matt comes to face the life he lived before and now only lives in his nightmares.
I've often talked about how I feel many verse novels could be written in short paragraphs and that's true here, but the sparsity of the text because of the verse format helps show Matt's isolation and confusion.
The first review for my verse novel, Pearl Verses the World is online, here. Among other things the reviewer describes the story as "a wonderfully told story with heart".I'm ecstatic.Pearl will be released on May 1 - watch this space for a month of celebrations including a blog tour, guest bloggers, a verse-off and more. In the meantime, Pearl can be ordered online at Fishpond
Ava's boyfriend Jackson is dead and Ava feels responsible, she's haunted by his death. Then, she's haunted by his ghost. It's hard to move on when he's right there, just out of sight, but leaving messages on the bathroom mirror and turning on the radio to your song.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I would have loved it at the age of 13 and mostly, I enjoyed reading it. However, I had issues with Ava and Jackson's relationship. It was very Bella-and-Edward. I mean, Ava finally gets out of the house and hangs out with her friends and Jackson's ghost totally trashes her room. He did the same sort of stuff when he was alive and Ava loves him for it. Ew.
And then there's my whole wishy-washy-ness on verse novels in the first place. There wasn't a lot of actual poetry in this, more terse prose with odd line breaks. That said though, it worked. The terseness, the brevity, the odd line breaks, all worked for Ava's voice as she tries to deal with what's going on.
So, would I give this to an adult friend who reads a lot of YA? No. Would I give it to a junior high girl who lives romance? In a heartbeat.
I am delighted to welcome children's author and poet Lorraine Marwood to my blog today. Lorraine's second verse novel for children, Star Jumps has just been released (you can see my review of it here), so I asked Lorraine to drop in and talk about why she chooses to use the verse novel form This is what she had to say:Why use this genre as a way of story telling?Years ago when I finally gave into
So, I know I've been pretty down on verse novels lately and haven't read one in a while that I both (a) thought was poetry and (b) liked.
But, I have to say, that I have two that I am completely enamored of at the moment! Love That Dog and its sequel, Hate That Cat, both by Sharon Creech.
Both books are poems Jack writes to his teacher, they're like letters almost, and we only get Jack's side. (If I were a creative writing teacher, I would have my students read these books and then write Miss Stretchberry's response poems.) The class is studying poetry and Jack struggles to understand some of it, to tell why some things are poems and some aren't. And some of Jack's poetry would work as prose, and some is pure poetry. There are big ideas and small ideas and humor and sadness, forgiveness and loss, all in a few pages and a few words.
I love how this book has to be told in poetry because it's about poetry. I love how it references so many other classic and non-classic poems and how those poems are in the back of the book, because while I may automatically get a reference to a red wheelbarrow, most middle grade readers won't. I also love how much Jack loves Mr. Walter Dean Myers and how he wonders if each new poet is still alive. Most of all, I loved that the poems were awesome and good but still read like they were written by a kid.
I didn't even mind the dead dog (to be fair, the dog is dead before the book starts, but it still made me cry!) I want to shout about these books from the rooftop. Love That Dog is going to be the April book for my book discussion group. I decided that as soon as a I finished the book.
And here are two poems to show why these books are awesome (both are from Hate That Cat):
Something I am wondering: if you cannot hear do words have no sounds in your head?
Do you see a
ONOMATOPOEIA made my ears frizzle today.
All that buzz buzz buzz and pop! pop! and drip and tinkle and trickle-- the sounds are still buzzing and popping in my head.
And the bells bells bells in that poem you read by Mr. Poe (is he alive?) all those bells bells bells all those tinkling and jingling and swinging and ringing and rhyming and chiming and clanging and clashing and tolling and rolling all those bells bells bells and that tintinnabulation what a word! Tintinnabulation!
... (you'll have to read the book to get the rest! Ha!)
As part of my celebrations for the release of my verse novel, Toppling, I have invited some of my friends - writers, poets, bloggers, teachers and more - to drop by during March. I will be asking each visitor the same question - what do you like about children's poetry? - but am expecting some real variety in their answers.So, without further ado, I'd like to welcome my first visitor for the
By now you have all probably figured out that I have a weakness for ballet novels. Someday I'd like to do some research into the changing world of ballet novels-- when they started actively talking about permanent foot damage and eating disorders. When the heroine wasn't always guaranteed to grow up to be the world's biggest ballet star.
This one follows a more modern ballet novel plot and as a frequent reader of such things, the ballet plot was pretty predictable and wrapped up a little too quickly.
Clare is living with her grandfather for the summer, taking intensive ballet classes, preparing for an audition for the City Ballet Company. Failure, for her, is not an option, but she doesn't have control over everything and may have to face the unfaceable.
As a verse novel, this one is a bit different in that it is one long poem instead of a series of poems. As a poem, it falls into the trap of many verse novels and doesn't really work on the level of poetry. The moments of poetry come when Clare is dancing, but when it's general plot and dialogue, it doesn't work as well.
But, it is obvious that Grover is a dancer and danced at the intense level that Clare does. She's gone through the auditions and competitiveness of that level of dance and writes about it in completely authentic voice. And this is why the poetry works best when it's about the dancing.
Dust. Steamy sweat, like a pot of chicken soup. Oak floors. Pine rosin. Sour breath from deep inside. We breathe it all in rhythm.
Here is the moment when the music flows into my bones, and I don't have to think of the steps, and I don't have to count the movements, and it really feels like I might actually be dancing for a few seconds.
I'm a pale dust mote swirling on a warm sunbeam. I leap and float, land deep and rise to step and spin in the shaft of light, showing everyone who I really am. It's like I'm turned inside out.
How exciting! Today I welcome another visitor to my blog, here to help me celebrate the release of Toppling by guest blogging about what she likes about children's poetry.Please welcome the lovely Karen Collum. Over to you, Karen.The Thinking Reader’s NovelI’ve always been a voracious reader, devouring children’s books of every kind at an alarming rate. Verse novels, however, are a new discovery
While some may have been indulging themselves with a nice Saturday morning sleep-in on 27 February this year, or contemplating what other aspects of the WA Writers Festival to enjoy, I was savouring a windswept breakfast at the Matilda Bay Tearooms with members of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
Among those present was Western Australian children’s author, Sally Murphy. I chatted to her about her latest book: ‘Toppling’, released by Walker Books that week. ‘Toppling’ is Sally’s second verse novel and since I had been lucky enough to receive a review copy, I took it with me for Sally to sign.
Everybody needs a hobby, and in‘Toppling’ the main character, John, is intodomino toppling.He admits to it being a kind of a strange endeavour.
‘Some kids collect model cars
1 Comments on ABOUT TOPPLING AND VERSE NOVELS, last added: 4/9/2010
Well, I loved Crossing Stones so much, I wanted to read more of Frost's book. When Willow makes a mistake with her dogsled team, the family's favorite dog is seriously injured. In her guilt, Willow is determined to make things right, which leads to adventure and long-held family secrets, but without being as melodramatic as it sounds.
Willow lives in a small village in Alaska, and is part Athabascan. Her racial and cultural identity are very minor parts of the story, and I can't speak to the authenticity of it, but a cursory search doesn't throw up any criticism and I do like seeing modern stories about Native American characters, especially because this book isn't about being Native American.
Diamond Willow is a type of wood found in northern climates, where diamonds with dark centers form where injured branches fall away. The injury makes the wood stunningly beautiful, but one must remove the bark to find it. Willow is named after Diamond Willow and is serves as a fitting metaphor for her character. Most of the book is told in verse, in her voice, diamond shapes with bolded words to get at what she's really thinking. We also get interjections from the animals in Willow's life, all of which are the souls of her and her friend's departed family members, one of which is a character in The Braid, which has been on my TBR list for a loooooooooooong time.
What I love about dogs: They don't talk behind your back. If they're mad at you, they bark a couple times and get it over with. It's true they slobber on you sometimes. (I'm glad people don't do that.) They jump out and scare you in the dark. (I know, I should say me not "you"--some people aren't afraid of anything.) But dogs don't make fun of you. They don't hit you in the back of your neck with an ice-covered snowball, and if they did, and it made you cry, all their friends wouldn't stand there laughing at you. (Me.)
Hours Spent Reading: 3.5 Books Read: 2 Pages Read: 410 Money Raised: $594 What I'm listening to: Judas's Death (although, given the book, it would be much more appropriate if I had been listening to Mercy House. Sadly, my life is soundtracked by iTunes shuffle right now, not a well-thought out playlist.)
Keesha's house is set off the street s if you don't know what you're looking for you might not even see the wide blue door half hidden by a weeping willow tree.
Using sestinas and sonnets (and even a crown of sonnets) several kids tell how they became lost, and sometimes, found. They tell of the safe place they found at Keesha's house, where people just let them live and be. Where they're allowed to exist. We also hear from the adults in their lives, the ones that care, the ones that see what's happening, the ones that don't.
There is tragedy here, and hope. Like the other books written by Frost, I'm always struck by the absolute poetic craft she puts into her work, but her words and story shine through so much that you don't notice it while reading. (Ok, so, I knew it was Frost, so after reading a first poem, I analyzed it and quickly recognized the sestina, then looked at rhyme schemes for the sonnets. BECAUSE I AM A DORK.)