JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans. Join now (it's free).
Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.
Blog Posts by Tag
In the past 7 days
Blog Posts by Date
Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Death, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 409
How to use this Page
You are viewing the most recent posts tagged with the words: Death in the JacketFlap blog reader. What is a tag? Think of a tag as a keyword or category label. Tags can both help you find posts on JacketFlap.com as well as provide an easy way for you to "remember" and classify posts for later recall. Try adding a tag yourself by clicking "Add a tag" below a post's header. Scroll down through the list of Recent Posts in the left column and click on a post title that sounds interesting. You can view all posts from a specific blog by clicking the Blog name in the right column, or you can click a 'More Posts from this Blog' link in any individual post.
Politicians are more than anxious over negative public opinion on the National Health Service, falling over backwards to say that the NHS is "safe in our hands." Meanwhile, the Church of England is concerned about losing "market-share," especially over conducting funerals. One way of linking these two extremely large British institutions is in terms of life-style choices.
(Titles fascinate me. The title of this issue of Conjunctions is Affinity: The Friendship Issue. Affinity is something more than friendship. Friendship is useful, it feels good, it glues us socially, and sometimes it may be, yes, an issue. But affinity is more: its etymology [via Latin and French, a story told by the OED] is rich with ideas of relationship: relationship via marriage; any relationship other than marriage; a neighborhood; relationship between people based on common ground in their characters and tastes; spiritual connection; structural relationship; adjacency.)
A character in "Mass" has been reading theoretical physics:
“Not especially detailed theoretical physics, but introductory sorts of texts, popularizations, books for people who don’t really ever have a hope of truly understanding physics but nonetheless possess a certain curiosity. And its words are sometimes beautiful — a tachyonic field of imaginary mass — who couldn’t love such a phrase? I find it all strangely comforting, the more far-out ideas of quantum theory and such. It’s like religion, but without all the rigmarole and obeisance to a god. Or perhaps more like poetry, though really not, because it’s something somehow outside language, but nonetheless elegant, and of course constricted by language, since how else can we communicate about it? But it gestures, at least, toward whatever lies beyond logos, beyond our ability even to reason, though perhaps not to comprehend. At my age, and having spent a life devoted to language, there is comfort and excitement — even perhaps some inchoate feeling of hope — in glimpses beyond the realm of words. There is, I have come to believe, very much outside the text. What is it though? Call it God, call it Nature, call it the Universe, call it what it seems to me now to be — having read and I’m sure misunderstood my theoretical physics — call it: an asymptote.”
Mass. Affinity. Asymptotes.
The OED: b. Relationship by blood, consanguinity; common ancestry of individuals, races, etc.; an instance of this.
"Why did you give it that title?" people ask. There are a lot of answers. (And that, in itself, is an answer.) Here's one: As a child of the early AIDS era, I always knew queer blood is politicized and scary. Scary, thus politicized. Politicized, thus scary.
Until recently, the FDA prohibited any man who had had sex with men since 1977 from donating blood. Now, if you've been celibate for a year, you can donate. The massacre in Orlando brought this policy back into the news, with various outlets reporting that while queers were attacked, and blood was needed, any man who had had sex with a man in the last year could not, under FDA rules, donate blood.
Blood is a reality and blood is a potent metaphor: beautiful and terrifying, wonderful and evil.
Blood is life and blood is death; blood is family and blood is genocide.
Is there an opposite to blood? What is water in our metaphors? It washes blood away, but also sustains us as we live, for much of what we are is water. Tears are made of water, salt, enzymes, hormones. They taste like oceans and look like rain.
Water is what we weep.
I weep for my queer brethren. I weep, too, for the inevitable homonationalism as queer shoulders are put to the wheel of US imperialism and US exceptionalism; as pride is wielded for Us against Them.
But I am not feeling political today.
Sometime looking backward into this future, straining neck and eyes I'll meet your shadow with its enormous eyes you who will want to know what this was all about —Adrienne Rich, "A Long Conversation"
Yesterday, my aunt, after (as they say) a (short? long? relative to what?) illness, died.
We had never lived near each other, but she was a profound influence on my life. She and her daughter, my cousin, gave me Stephen King stories when I was much too young for them. Night Shift, Skeleton Crew. The titles are still magic to me, the covers of the old paperbacks as powerful as any personal icon I have. So much of what I became as a writer is because of those stories. So much of what I became as a writer, then, is because of her.
She was a brilliant artist, a fun and funny person, so smart, so straightforward, saucy, even, and strong as the mightiest metal. She had a magnificent life with magnificent people in it, as well as hardship, oh yes, hardship, indeed, as we all do, yes, but still: she struggled, persevered, survived, didn't let the bastards get her down.
I will miss her forever and cherish her forever. Her husband, my uncle, provided me with my middle name, and I am always proud to have been named for him, one of the best people I know.
(The cover of my book called Blood is a picture of a man with his heart removed.)
At the wedding of my youngest uncle some years ago, my oldest uncle, this great man now a widower, gave a toast in which he said ours is a motley family of steps and halfs, of once- and twice-removeds, of marriages and unions and affinities, but in the end those designations don't much matter, because family is family, and that's who we are, and what we are, and what we have, because we love each other.
Affinity. And even more so that most important of political cries: Solidarity.
I remember that Auden kept revising his poem "September 1, 1939", because he couldn't decide between "We must love one another or die," "We must love one another and die," or nothing at all.
Here, then, my own tentative, inadequate revision: We must love one another or nothing at all.
I loved my aunt fiercely, and I love fiercely all you queer folk out there aching and screaming and scared and willing to fight, and all who dance against the gunfire, hands held together through the pain, lips together in solidarity, lives together as we live and live and live — even if separated by oceans, even if drowning in tears — always striving, even if never reaching, like asymptotes, like believers and holy fools — as we remember and honor the dead, as we go on, as we must, you, me, all — whether strangers or the oldest of lovers, we are — we must be — a mass of friends, family, water, blood.
And I dream of our coming together
not only by love
but by lust for a working tomorrow
the flights of this journey
and necessary as water.
"On My Way Out I Passed Over You and the Verrazano Bridge"
हॉरर धारावाहिक, हमारी जिंदगी और मृत्यु का रहस्य Tv पर चाहे खबरों हो, बहस हो या चैनल पर आने वाले धारावाहिक हो हर तरफ हॉरर ही हॉरर है .. देख कर डर ही लग जाता है… इसलिए सोचा कि थोडी देर मणि से मिल आती हूं… मणि अपने पडोस के घर से अभी लौटी थी. […]
Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved illustrated by Charlotte Pardi translated from the Danish by Robert Moulthrop Enchanted Lion Press, March 2016 review copy provided by the publisher
When Death comes for the children's beloved grandmother, they try to keep him from his task by serving him enough coffee to distract him until dawn, when he would have to leave without their grandmother.
It doesn't work.
Though "Some people say Death's heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal...that is not true. Beneath his inky cloak, Death's heart is as red as the most beautiful sunset and beats with a great love of life."
So Death tells the children a story about two brothers, Sorrow and Grief, who wind up marrying two sisters, Joy and Delight. After a long life together, all four died on the very same day, because they couldn't live without each other. Death uses this fable to show children that life needs both light and darkness. And his last advice, after the Grandmother dies, is the title of the book: "Cry, heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness help begin new life."
It's never easy to have conversations about death in our classrooms, but I think this gentle and sweet book would reassure students.
This book gives readers a more irreverent version of Death, but also a strong character who resists him. Grandy Thaxter enlists Death's help with her work on successive days -- the cleaning (including the windows), the laundry (including the making of lye soap), making dinner (including grinding the corn for mush), the dishes after dinner, and, the straw that breaks Death's back, the making of linen (of the piles of bundles of wet reeds, he learns "We're going to brake it and swingle the reeds to get the flax"... "We're going to hackle it and spin it"... "So I can weave it into cloth."). Death can't take any more, saying, "I will come back some time when you are not so busy."
Below is my review of the audio book version of Dead Boy by Lauren Gale and read by Robbie Daymond. Great plot with some unexpected turns.
GALE, Laurel. Dead Boy. 5 CDs. 6 hrs. Listening Library. 2015. $35. ISBN 9781101916827. digital download.
Gr 5-7–Crow was once a regular boy who played baseball and had friends and loving parents. But now, he’s dead. At first, being dead wasn’t so bad, but then his rotting flesh began attracting maggots. He couldn’t eat or sleep. His parents divorced. His mother will tell him only that his parents “wished him back to life,” but what kind of life? He’s trapped in a house kept purposefully cold to slow the putrefaction of his flesh. When Melody and her father move in next door, she and Crow become secret friends against the wishes of their parents. Together, they begin to unravel the terrible secret of his parents’ wish. Their forbidden friendship will be tested as they face a series of deadly challenges in their quest for the truth. Though the book’s description promises humor, narrator Robbie Daymond’s presentation of Crow is morose and forlorn. His cheerful portrayal of Melody offers the only break from the macabre atmosphere. VERDICT - Not for the squeamish, this one will be best for middle school fans of ghoulish favorites like The Night Gardener (Abrams, 2014) or The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (S. & S., 2012). [“A great recommendation to middle grade fans of dark humor”: SLJ 7/15 review of the Crown book.]
I’ve been watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt recently. So far the resident husband and I have only made it through two episodes, but I was pleased as punch when I learned that the plot twist in storyline #2 hinged on a Baby-Sitter’s Club novel. Specifically Babysitter’s Club Mystery No. 12: Dawn and the Surfer Ghost. Peter Lerangis, was this one of yours? Here’s a breakdown of the book’s plot with a healthy dose of snark, in case you’re interested.
And now a subject that is near and dear to my heart: funny writers. Author Cheryl Blackford wrote a very good blog post on a comedic line-up of authors recently presented at The Tucson Festival of Books. Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, Jory John, Obert Skye, and Drew Daywalt were all there. A good crew, no? One small problem – we may be entering a new era where all-white male panels cannot exist without being called into question. Indeed, I remember years ago when I attended an ALA Conference and went to see a “funny authors” panel. As I recall, I was quite pleased to see the inclusion of Lisa Yee. Here, Tucson didn’t quite get the memo. The fault lies with the organizers and Cheryl has some incisive things to say about what message the attendees were getting.
Speaking of Adam Rex, he’s got this little old major feature film in theaters right now (Home). Meanwhile in California, the Gallery Nucleus is doing an exhibition of Rex’s work. Running from March 28th to April 19th, the art will be from the books The True Meaning of Smekday and Chu’s Day. Get it while it’s hot!
Boy, Brain Pickings just knows its stuff. There are plenty of aggregator sites out there that regurgitate the same old children’s stuff over and over again. Brain Pickings actually writes their pieces and puts some thought into what they do. Case in point, a recent piece on the best children’s books on death, grief, and mourning. The choices are unusual, recent, and interesting.
Chomping at the bit to read the latest Lockwood & Company book by Jonathan Stroud? It’s a mediocre salve but you may as well enjoy his homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mind you, I was an Hercule Poirot fan born and bred growing up, but I acknowledge that that Doyle has his place. And don’t tell Stroud, but his books are FAR closer to the Nero Wolfe stories in terms of tone anyway.
Over at The Battle of the Books the fighting rages on. We’ve lost so many good soldiers in this fight. If you read only one decision, however, read Nathan Hale’s. Future judges would do well to emulate his style. Indeed, is there any other way to do it?
You may be one of the three individuals in the continental U.S. who has not seen Travis Jonker’s blog post on The Art of the Picture Book Barcode. If you’re only just learning about it now, boy are you in for a treat.
AT RISE: MRS. EVERYBODY IS HAVING AN IMPORTANT CHAT WHILE MR. EVERYBODY IS READING A NEWSPAPER
MRS. EVERYBODY Why? Why must you torture me like this? What did I ever do to deserve this treatment other than heap undying love and devotion to your upkeep?
(MR. EVERYBODY glances up and returns to reading his book)
MRS. EVERYBODY You seem to be dying slowly right in front of my eyes and I'm at a loss how to save you
MR. EVERYBODY (looking around) You talking to me?
MRS. EVERYBODY Fed you top of the line nutritional supplements and this is the thanks I get
MR. EVERYBODY I appreciate your cooking, honey. You make fantastic meals and really, I'm in great shape
MRS. EVERYBODY You are not aging well, sweetheart
(gets up to examine himself in the mirror on the wall behind him)
For the record, I'm in better condition now than I was when we married. Sure there's a few extra inches on my stomach but that's due to your good cooking. Work out on the tread mill...
MRS. EVERYBODY I fear it's time for us to part, sweetheart. You are halfway between this world and the next
MR. EVERYBODY Say what? Is it something I said?
MRS. EVERYBODY You've given me a lot of pleasure over the years. Your nightly performance kept me riveted and it's something I will cherish all my life
MR. EVERYBODY Hey! There's still a lot of life left in this body! Is there somebody else? I can change, y'know!
(MRS. EVERYBODY turns around and stares at her husband)
MRS. EVERYBODY It's just so hard to say goodbye! Did you say something?
MR. EVERYBODY You never said a word. I deserve to know who's the new love of your life!
MRS. EVERYBODY Say what? What are you babbling about?
MR. EVERYBODY You're leaving me!
MRS. EVERYBODY Are you insane? You thought that... That is really funny
MRS. EVERYBODY There is nothing funny about being informed that your wife is leaving your for someone else. It's always the husband that is the last to know
MRS. EVERYBODY Husband of mine - I was talking to my prayer plant here that is slowly croaking after 40 years and I'm about to replace her with a new one
MR. EVERYBODY How was I supposed to know? There was only you and me in the room and I never guessed you were talking to a...a... house plant
MRS. EVERYBODY I've raised this houseplant from a small little stalk. Fed her...coddled her...and she gave me years of pleasure but lately she seems to have taken a turn for the worst. The writing is on the wall...or in this case, in all those brown leaves.
MR. EVERYBODY A plant is a plant is a plant. Don't know what the big thing is. Just empty the pot and replace it with a new one. Simple
MRS. EVERYBODY How could you be so cruel and callous! You just can't...discard it like it that!
MR. EVERYBODY I dunno. Never bothers you to do that with your clothes
MRS. EVERYBODY Besides, I read an article that said plants can sense pain and they react to it. How could I betray my friend after all the years we've been together? I feel like a killer! I feel like I'd be ripping out her guts and tearing her apart
MR. EVERYBODY Not that I pretend to feel what you feel but check this out
(MR. EVERYBODY shows her a page of the newspaper)
MRS. EVERYBODY What's this? The Plant-a-atrium is having a sale on houseplants?
(turns to look at plant and at newspaper ad)
(MRS. EVERYBODY cont'd.) 'Parting is such sweet sorrow my formerly green friend. Go meet your other friends in the composter! Do not think badly of me for I shall remember you with great fondness.' I'm ready.
MR. EVERYBODY Ready for...?
MRS. EVERYBODY To make new friends at the Plant-a-atrium, silly! We all gotta go some time. I mean, it's just a silly plant for heaven's sake...
So I’m a snob. A children’s literature snob. I accept this about myself. I do not embrace it, but I can at least acknowledge it and, at times, fight against it as much as I am able. Truth be told, it’s a weird thing to get all snobby about. People are more inclined to understand your point of view when you’re a snob about fine china or wines or bone structure. They are somewhat confused when you scoff at their copy of Another Monster at the End of This Book since it is clearly a sad sequel of the original Jon Stone classic (and do NOT even try to convince me that he was the author of that Elmo-related monstrosity because I think better of him than that). Like I say. Kid book snobbery won’t get you all that far in this life. And that’s too bad because I’ve got LOADS of the stuff swimming between my corpuscles. Just take my initial reaction to Jessixa Bagley’s Boats for Papa. I took one glance at the cover and dismissed it, just like that. I’ll explain precisely why I did so in a minute, but right there it was my gut reaction at work. I have pretty good gut reactions and 99% of the time they’re on target. Not in this case, though. Because once I sat down and read it and watched other people read it, I realized that I had something very special on my hands. Free of overblown sentiment and crass pandering, this book’s the real deal. Simultaneously wrenching and healing.
Buckley and his mama are just two little beavers squeaking out an existence in a small wooden house by the sea. Buckley loves working with his hands (paws?) and is particularly good at turning driftwood into boats. One day it occurs to him to send his best boats off into the sea with little notes that read, “For Papa. Love, Buckley”. Buckley misses his papa, you see, and this is the closest he can get to sending him some kind of a message. As Buckley gets better, the boats get more elaborate. Finally, one day a year later, he runs into his house to write a note for papa, when he notices that his mother has left her desk open. Inside is every single boat he ever sent to his papa. Realizing what has happened, Buckley makes a significant choice with this latest seagoing vessel. One that his mama is sure to see and understand.
The danger with this book is determining whether or not it slips into Love You Forever territory. Which is to say, does it speak more to adults than to kids. You get a fair number of picture books with varying degrees of sentimentality out there every year. On the low end of the spectrum is Love You Forever, on the high end Blueberry Girl and somewhere in the middle are books like Someday by Alison McGhee. Some of these can be great books, but they’re so clearly not for kids. And when I realized that Boats for Papa was a weeper my alarm bells went off. If adults are falling over themselves to grab handkerchiefs when they get to the story’s end, surely children would be distinctly uninterested. Yet Bagley isn’t addressing adults with this story. The focus is on how one deals with life after someone beloved is gone. Adults get this instantly because they know precisely what it is to lose someone (or they can guess). Kids, on the other hand, may sometimes have that understanding but a lot of the time it’s foreign to them. And so Buckley’s hobbies are just the marks of a good story. I suspect few kids would walk away from this saying the book was uninteresting to them. It seems to strike just the right chord.
It is also a book that meets multiple needs. For some adult readers, this is a dead daddy book. But upon closer inspection you realize that it’s far broader than that. This could be a book about a father serving his time overseas. It could be about divorced parents (it mentions that mama misses papa, and that’s not an untrue sentiment in some family divorce situations). It could have said outright that Buckley’s father had passed away (ala Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas which this keeps reminding me of) but by keeping it purposefully vague we are allowed to read far more into the book’s message than we could have if it was just another dead parent title.
Finally, it is Bagley’s writing that wins the reader over. Look at how ecumenical she is with her wordplay. The very first sentences in the book reads, “Buckley and his mama lived in a small wooden house by the sea. They didn’t have much, but they always had each other.” There’s not a syllable wasted there. Not a letter out of place. That succinct quality carries throughout the rest of the book. There is one moment late in the game where Buckley says, “And thank you for making every day so wonderful too” that strains against the bonds of sentimentality, but it never quite topples over. That’s Bagley’s secret. We get the most emotionally involved in those picture books that give us space to fill in our own lives, backgrounds, understandings and baggage. The single note reading, “For Mama / Love, Buckley” works because those are the only words on the page. We don’t need anything else after that.
As I age I’ve grown very interested in picture books that touch on the nature of grace. “Grace” is, in this case, defined as a state of being that forgives absolutely. Picture books capable of conjuring up very real feelings of resentment in their young readers only to diffuse the issue with a moment of pure forgiveness are, needless to say, rare. Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan was one of the few I could mention off the top of my head. I shall now add Boats for Papa to that enormously short list. You see, (and here I’m going to call out “SPOILER ALERT” for those of you who care about that sort of thing) for me the moment when Buckley finds his boats in his mother’s desk and realizes that she has kept this secret from him is a moment of truth. Bagley is setting you up to assume that there will be a reckoning of some sort when she writes, “They had never reached Papa”. And it is here that the young reader can stop and pause and consider how they would react in this case. I’d wager quite a few of them would be incensed. I mean, this is a clear-cut case of an adult lying to a child, right? But Bagley has placed Buckley on a precipice and given him a bit of perspective. Maybe I read too much into this scene, but I think that if Buckley had discovered these boats when he was first launching them, almost a full year before, then yes he would have been angry. But after a year of sending them to his Papa, he has grown. He realizes that his mother has been taking care of him all this time. For once, he has a chance to take care of her, even if it is in a very childlike manner. He’s telling her point blank that he knows that she’s been trying to protect him and that he loves her. Grace.
Now my adult friends pointed out that one could read Buckley’s note as a sting. That he sent it to say “GOTCHA!” They say that once a book is outside of an author’s hands, it can be interpreted by the readership in any number of ways never intended by the original writer. For my part, I think that kind of a reading is very adult. I could be wrong but I think kids will read the ending with the loving feel that was intended from the start.
When I showed this book to a friend who was a recent Seattle transplant, he pointed out to me that the coastline appearing in this book is entirely Pacific Northwest based. I think that was the moment I realized that I had done a 180 on the art. Remember when I mentioned that I didn’t much care for the cover when I first saw it? Well, fortunately I have instituted a system whereby I read every single picture book I am sent on my lunch breaks. Once I got past the cover I realized that it was the book jacket that was the entire problem. There’s something about it that looks oddly cheap. Inside, Bagley’s watercolors take on a life of their own. Notice how the driftwood on the front endpapers mirrors the image of Buckley displaying his driftwood boats on the back endpapers. See how Buckley manages to use her watercolors to their best advantage, from the tide hungry sand on the beach to the slate colored sky to the waves breaking repeatedly onto the shore. Perspective shifts constantly. You might be staring at a beach covered in the detritus of the waves on one two-page spread, only to have the images scale back and exist in a sea of white space on the next. The best image, by far, is the last though. That’s when Bagley makes the calculated step of turning YOU, the reader, into Mama. You are holding the boat. You are holding the note. And you know. You know.
I like it when a picture book wins me over. When I can get past my own personal bugaboos and see it for what it really is. Emotional resonance in literature for little kids is difficult to attain. It requires a certain amount of talent, both on the part of the author and their editor. In Boats for Papa we’ve a picture book that doesn’t go for the cheap emotional tug. It comes by its tears honestly. There’s some kind of deep and abiding truth to it. Give me a couple more years and maybe I’ll get to the bottom of what’s really going on here. But before that occurs, I’m going to read it with my kids. Even children who have never experienced the loss of a parent will understand what’s going on in this story on some level. Uncomplicated and wholly original, this is one debut that shoots out of the starting gate full throttle, never looking back. A winner.
Nelson Almeyda, one of my best friends, died today after living with cancer for more than a year. He was one of the most big-hearted people I’ve known, one of the funniest, sharpest, most expressive and most beloved, and also one of the most private. He was in fact so private about his troubles, so invested in being the one who helped other people and not needing help himself, that even now it almost feels like a violation to be posting this here.
My thoughts are with his wife and young daughter, and the rest of his family, and also with all his many friends, particularly those who were with him at the end. If you’re Googling around, bereft, because you knew him and cared about him, please rest assured he cared about you too, no matter how long it’s been since you were in touch.
In surface ways Nelson and I didn’t have much in common. We had extremely different temperaments and few shared interests or friends, and only one of us was an irredeemable nerd, and it wasn’t him. But there was always an intuitive understanding between us, a sort of emotional affinity that I’ve had with very few people.
As Max says, there aren’t enough people like Nelson in the world. I will love and miss him always.
A finely woven novel exploring grief, hope and friendship, Storm Horse by Nick Garlick moved me to tears, even though I started reading it with a great sense of wariness, my inner cynic poised to be proved right with the slightest hiccup in plot, writing or characterization.
Having recently lost his parents, a young boy can’t believe he’ll ever feel at ease with the relatives who have agreed to take responsibility for him. But all that changes when he makes friends with a horse. A growing sense of trust and (self) belief enables him to find a place where he’s happy to belong, even though in the process he comes face to face with some of his greatest fears, loss and sadness.
This page-turner, with dramatic, breath-taking scenes worthy of the vast gloomy shore skies under which it is set made me nervous before I turned the first page; Storm Horse is set on the Frisian islands off the north coast of the Netherlands and is partly inspired by a very emotive true life story about a lifeboat disaster that devastated an island community.
Surrounded by huge and exhilaratingly beautiful sandy beaches, the lifeboat on Ameland was traditionally launched by horses who pulled the boat over the sand and then into the tide, enabling launches where no pier existed. But in 1979 eight horses drowned during a lifeboat launch and in this small island community their terrible loss was felt deeply and powerfully and is still remembered with great sorrow, but also pride, for launching lifeboats with horses was something unique to this particular community, long after other Frisian islands had given up on this tradition.
As it happens I know Ameland and this story rather well (the photo above shows M and J visiting the grave and memorial to the eight horses back in 2012, whilst the photos below show a re-enactment I once saw of how the lifeboat used to be launched), and so when I found out about a novel set on the Frisian islands, centered on horses and lifeboat rescues I was both curious and anxious.
Starting a novel when you already have an emotional investment in it is a scary thing. What if it doesn’t live up to your hopes? What if you feel it betrays the beauty / the sorrow / the wonder you feel about certain events or places or times?
But I took the plunge and turned the first page and…
…Well here’s why I think you might enjoy this book as much as I did, even if you’ve never heard of the Frisian islands and have not one ounce of hope at stake when you come across it in your local bookshop or library:
Storm Horse is brilliantly plotted with chapter endings which demand you turn the page and read just a bit more. I actually read this book in a single sitting and couldn’t believe how the time and pages had whizzed by.
Garlick’s characterization is lovely, authentic and satisfying. From the most wonderful Aunt Elly, who exhibits the kindness, compassion and wisdom that we all wish we had, to the silent and imposing (and ultimately big hearted) Uncle Andries, via uncannily spot-on observations about life as a seven year old who wants to be a part of everything, to the thoughtfulness of old and lame Mr Bouten, the cast of this story is rich and not without humour.
Bereavement and how people cope with loss is explored in several different strands, each offering a different light and reflection on the grieving process and being able to eventually see light at the end of a sorrowful tunnel.
Quietly and powerfully Storm Horse gives its readers a sense that they can find a way to hold on to what matters to them, through perseverance, through patience, through resourcefulness and generosity. What a great gift from a book, don’t you think?
This is no literal re-telling of the terrible, heart-breaking events of the 14th of August 1979; Garlick sets his story on an imaginary island (though Ameland is briefly mentioned), and yet all the details ring beautifully true. The challenges of island life are not shied away from, but read this moving, convincing, vivid novel and I think you may nevertheless fall in love.
Now… what will my lifeboat-mad, Dutch husband who spent every childhood summer on Ameland think of this book? Well, somehow I’m going to have to find the time to read it aloud to him and the girls as I now know I needn’t have worried: Storm Horse is a cracker.
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.
I would expect to find this book in the part of the bookshop/library aimed at 8/9 – 12/13 year olds.
If you’d like to receive all my posts from this blog please sign up by inputting your email address in the box below:
It's happening again! Books with similar themes end up on my list right next to each other.
The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is narrated by Suzy who can't believe that her oldest friend could just drown. "These things happen" is NOT an acceptable explanation. Suzy becomes convinced that a rare jellyfish is responsible for Franny's death.
Suzy is a fact person who inundates the reader with math and facts about jellyfish and the people who study them. But this book also chronicles the all too frequent trauma that occurs when one person outgrows another - as Franny outgrows Suzy by the end of 6th grade. This relationship break makes Franny's death so much harder for Suzy to accept.
Her search for someone who can understand the horror of jellyfish - as she sees it - leads Suzy to start out on a dangerous and possibly illegal journey.
Her parents, her older brother and an unexpected friend help Suzy to move into a life without Franny.
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff Ok. In fifth grade, Trent killed someone during an ice hockey game. Total accident. Trent's parents and older and younger brother seem to think Trent should move on. Trent's Dad, especially, has little patience for Trent's surly attitude. Dad's new wife is expecting their first child any time now. So, it was an accident. Get over it already. (Not actual words from the book.)
Trent reacts to the guilt and the anxiety he feels by making sure he gets into trouble at school, and with his Dad. He even refuses to enter into prank wars with his little brother.
Luckily, Fallon, a girl at school with a noticeable facial scar befriends Trent after she peeks into his Book of Thoughts and sees the pictures he draws there - pictures of what the boy he killed might be doing at that very moment. Fallon wants Trent to draw a picture for her.
How Trent manages to make things worse and then how he manages to make them better - with the help of sympathetic outsiders - makes an engrossing and emotional read.
These books have totally different styles, despite their similarities - see below. Jellyfish is awash with facts and musings on facts - the type of book that will lend itself to STEM curricula. But there is an immediacy to Suzy's pain, even as she carefully plans her science report and her journey, and her need to find explanations for her friend's death.
Sun, on the other hand, concentrates on Trent's emotional struggles. Trent speaks in a matter-of-fact voice, referring to the accident almost casually. And all the time he is seething and unable to see that he is till a worthwhile human being.
Here is a list of other similarities: New friends: Both of the new frends have problems of their own that they seem to have overcome. Older brothers: Aaron - yeah, both of them. Nice teachers: Suzy likes her science teacher right away. Trent hates everyone but his homeroom teacher really is pretty old.
Read 'em both, except you might want to read other books in between. OK?
Here are two #YAlit audiobooks that I recently reviewed for AudioFile Magazine. I am not permitted to reprint the reviews here, but have provided the links (which include audio excerpts). Both books offer a unique viewpoint of the adolescent male experience - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl through the medium of film making, and 100 Sideways Miles through the medium of abstract concepts. But now I've had my fill of angsty boys for a bit. Time for a change of pace. Up next: Sci-fi and a new picture book roundup.
Oh, twitter. Sometimes you are a wonderful thing! Last July I was at my daughters' swim lesson reading away, and I shared a shot of the book I was reading online. Barbara, it turns out, was reading the same book and we began somewhat of a back and forth as you are want to do when you find out someone besides yourself is smitten. We decided we would co-blog closer to the publishing date, and here are our thoughts!
Barbara: Gracie Lockwood's voice immediately drew me into the story. She keeps a careful record of the family's journey in a diary, a gift from her mother. It is lovingly inscribed with these words, To Gracie, May this diary be big enough to contain your restless heart. Gracie is a girl with strong opinions, stating from the outset that her purpose in keeping a written record is to "prove that I knew it first." Her friend Oliver's observation, "You're kind of fiery" is an understatement. In addition to Gracie's fire, readers witness her gradually evolving realization that the world is much more complex than she initially imagined it to be. She begins to temper her original strong judgments. "I've realized I may have been completely wrong about my dad." "I wondered about the word 'beast.' I wondered if sometimes, the way everything looks - who's the beast and who isn't - depends on where you're standing." I love this statement of self-realization: "Every year I realize how dumb I was the year before."
One of this book’s striking aspects is the comparisons I made to Homer’s The Odyssey. The book’s 416 pages is itself a reading odyssey. It requires an investment of time, attention to storyline, and a commitment to the characters. Reading Gracie's diary becomes a personal journey for the reader.
The travelogue aspect is certainly an integral part of this family's epic saga. We follow Gracie and her family on an extended journey to known and unknown places, several described in vivid detail. The mode of travel is symbolic. The family first travels via Winnebago, a name reflecting a Native American Tribe who excel in oral storytelling. Later they board the Weeping Alexa. Alexa is a reference to Alexander the Great, the “protector”. These modes of transportation give added meaning to the family’s quest.
The major characters read like the cast from a Greek drama.
We meet good guys, bad guys, both real and mythical. Sea monsters and mermaids inhabit the waters. Dragons and unicorns take flight through the skies.
Homer’s motifs take the form of the individuals the family encounters on their journey: an oracle (Grandma), sirens (Luck City), Penelope’s suitors (Captain Bill).
Not since the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? have I encountered such an imaginative homage to Homer’s epic classic.
Without question, the theme which resonated with me and continues to haunt my thinking is the concept of fate. This also reflects the Greek concept of The Fates: goddesses who controlled the life of every mortal from birth to death and watched that the fate assigned to every being proceeded without obstruction.
Stacy: I read quite a few books. Especially during the summer when I am fortunate enough to be lakeside and poolside depending on the day. So it’s not everyday that a story really makes me sit up and notice it. In the first few pages of MDFTEOTW I found myself looking up from the pages and grinning. Reading bits aloud. And then tweeting this to my friend Barbara -
“@moonb2 thanks for the spotlight on this book, Barbara. I'm only on page 7 and I'm already delighted!”
By page 7 we know this: Cliffden Maine isn’t the Maine that we know in 2015. It is a Maine where there are the expected things like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, schools and houses. But people in town are scuttering around because the dragons are on their way to hibernate and they’ve been quite destructive this year. Protagonist Gracie is out at her favorite spot (where she’s not supposed to be) on top of the hill overlooking town and writing in the journal her mom gave her for her 12th birthday.
Dragons aren’t the only odd things in the sky in Maine. There are also Dark Clouds. These are not the storm clouds we know that release the likes of lightning and rain. Rather they come to town and take away the people who are meant to die. And now a Dark Cloud is settling right in Gracie’s yard. Gracie is worried about her little brother Sam, who is often ill. Complicating family matters is the fact that Gracie’s dad’s crackpot theories about the Extraordinary World have just ousted him from his job. So when Gracie comes home one day to see a Winnebago in the front yard, she’s not too surprised that her dad means to pack up her mom, sister, brother and Gracie and head out of town.
Obviously this is a story about a journey, but it wasn’t until I had back channeled a bunch with Barbara that I could see the Odyssey’s tracks. For me, the Lockwood family was running from crisis and desperately grasping at possibility.
Gracie truly makes this books shine. Whether it’s seeing her witchy grandmother’s house through her eyes, feeling her affections for Sam, seeing her longing to have a relationship with older sister Millie, or having those moments of embarrassment followed by yearning to believe in her father, if Gracie’s voice was less Gracie, the story wouldn’t work half as well.
The other high point for me was Anderson’s world building. The magical mixing with the mundane is presented so matter of fact, that readers simply have to buy it. The journey has them landing in places like Luck City, Big Tex’s Circus, The Crow’s Nest, a broken down L.A. and even Cliffden itself and of the places contain different magic, but the magic follows the same rules.
And then there’s the idea of hope. Inextricable hope tangled up with fate. Which one rules the day?
What a pleasure it was to virtually read My Diary from the Edge of the World with Barbara across geography and time. Clearly, both Barbara and I love this book, and though we both approached it differently, it worked for us. I can’t wait to share this with a big cross section of readers. It works on so many levels that I am sure it will be a crowd pleaser!
A big note of thanks to Barbara Moon for co-blogging with me this time. Barbara is a retired librarian who reads up a storm! Member of 2009-2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, 2012 Odyssey Award committee, 2014 Margaret A. Edwards Award committee. Currently servicing on the 2016 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award committee. You can find Barbara blogging at Reading Style.
Through NetGalley, I had the opportunity to read The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, a middle grade book that will debut mid-September 2015. In this book, Suzy Swanson processes the death of her old friend Franny and the end of a friendship. She grieves the way that she and Franny grew apart before Franny drowned. Suzy’s way of making sense of this loss is to fixate on jellyfish: she reads about them and believes that Franny must have drowned after being stung by a jellyfish because otherwise Franny’s death makes no sense.
When I worked in children’s publishing many years ago, I remember that we had specific educational books and then we had fiction. Years after I left that industry, I learned that even fiction books need some kind of educational component in order to sell them to the school and library market…I say that to say that this book has a lot of educational material. The author really packs in the scientific info and uses a science teacher’s explanation of the scientific method to introduce each chapter. This is not a bad thing but it is noticeable. When you choose fiction do you consider its academic as well as its storytelling merits?
At the end of the book, the author explained how the book began with the copious research she did for a different project that was rejected. She repurposed that research to create Suzy, a character who finds subjects she is passionate about but misses the social cues that would tell her when others may not be quite a interested as she is.
As a reader, I came to feel a lot of compassion for Suzy because she is so lost. The first half of the book alternates between the present and Suzy slowly narrating just how she and Franny went from young BFFs to sitting at separate lunch tables and no longer hanging out in middle school. As a parent, the book is a reminder of a child’s rich inner life: you just can’t know all your child is going through. Suzy’s well-meaning parents put her in therapy and try their best but they aren’t really reaching her.
The tone of the book changes when Suzy decides to embark on a trip to see the one person she thinks will understand her interest in jellyfish. While I’m not one who believes that every wring must be severely punished, I was surprised at the lack of consequences in this book. Suzy steals significant amounts of money from family members but I guess they feel that she has been through enough so they don’t address the theft in a punitive way.
Towards the end of the book Suzy finally reveals her rather disturbing actions that may have done away with any chance that Franny would reach out to her again. Suzy is never found out and doesn’t get to speak to Franny again before Franny dies but clearly Suzy feels a lot of guilt, which can be its own punishment.
Charlotte’s Web is is one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. It is about a barnyard pig named Wilbur that can talk, a barn spider named Charlotte that can write, and a young girl named Fern that stands up for her beliefs.
One of Glasgow’s best-known tourist highlights is its Victorian Necropolis, a dramatic complex of Victorian funerary sculpture in all its grandeur and variety. Christian and pagan symbols, obelisks, urns, broken columns and overgrown mortuary chapels in classical, Gothic, and Byzantine styles convey the hope that those who are buried there—the great and the good of 19th century Glasgow—will not be forgotten.
But, of course, they are mostly forgotten and even the conspicuous consumption expressed in this extraordinary array of great and costly monuments has not been enough to keep their names alive. And, of course, we, the living, will soon enough go the same way: ‘As you are now, so once was I’, to recall a once-popular gravestone inscription.
Is this the last word on human life? Religion often claims to offer a different perspective on death since (it is said) the business of religion is not with time, but with eternity. But what, if anything, does this mean?
‘Eternal love’ and ‘eternal memory’ are phrases that spring to the lips of lovers and mourners. Even in secular France, some friends of the recently murdered journalists talked about the ‘immortality’ of their work. But surely that is just a way of talking, a way of expressing our especially high esteem for those described in these terms? And even when talk of eternity and immortality is meant seriously, what would a human life that had ‘put on immortality’ be like? Would it be recognizably human at all? As to God, can we really conceive of what it would be for God (or any other being) to somehow be above or outside of time? Isn’t time the condition for anything at all to be?
If we really take seriously the way in which time pervades all our experiences, all our thinking, and (for that matter) the basic structures of the physical universe, won’t it follow that the religious appeal to eternity is really just a primitive attempt to ward off the spectre of transience, whilst declarations of eternal love and eternal memory are little more than gestures of feeble defiance and that if, in the end, there is anything truly ‘eternal’ it is eternal oblivion—annihilation?
Human beings have a strong track record when it comes to denying reality.
One fashionable book of the post-war period was dramatically entitled The Denial of Death and it argued that our entire civilization was built on the inevitably futile attempt to deny the ineluctable reality of death. But if there is nothing we can do about death, must we always think of time in negative terms—the old man with the hour-glass and scythe, so like the figure of the grim reaper?
And instead of thinking of eternity as somehow beyond or above time, might not time itself offer clues as to the presence of eternity, as in the experiences that mystics and meditators say report as being momentary experiences of eternity in, with, and under the conditions of time? But such experiences, valuable as they are to those who have them, remain marginal unless they can be brought into fruitful connection with the weave of past and future.
From the beginnings of philosophy, recollection has been valued as an important clue to finding the tracks of eternity in time, as in Augustine’s search for God in the treasure-house of memory. But the past can only ever give us so much (or so little) eternity.
A recent French philosopher has proposed that time cannot undo our having-been and that the fact that the unknown slave of ancient times or the forgotten victim of the Nazi death-camps really existed means that the tyrants have failed in their attempt to make them non-human. But this is a meagre consolation if we have no hope for the future and for the flourishing of all that is good and true in time to come. Really affirming the enduring value of human lives and loves therefore presupposes the possibility of hope.
One Jewish sage taught that ‘In remembering lies redemption; in forgetfulness lies exile’ but perhaps what we it is most important to remember is the possibility of hope itself and of going on saying ‘Yes’ to the common, shared reality of human life and of reconciling the multiple broken relationships that mortality leaves unresolved.
Pindar, an ancient poet of hope, wrote that ‘modesty befits mortals’ and if we cannot escape time (which we probably cannot), it is maybe time we have to thank for the possibility of hope and for visions of a better and more blessed life. And perhaps this is also the message that a contemporary graffiti-artist has added to one of the Necropolis’s more ruined monuments. ‘Life goes on’, either extreme cynicism or, perhaps, real hope.
Featured image credit: ‘Life goes on.’ Photo by George Pattison. Used with permission.
On March 5, Marie Mutsuki Mockett and I will be reading and talking about exorcising the past (all meanings of exorcise possible) at McNally Jackson at 6 p.m.
Marie’s wonderful new book, Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye, is about death and grief and family and ghosts and so much more. She’ll read from it, and I’ll read from the working introduction to my book on the science and superstition of ancestry, and then we’ll talk about all of that and take questions and comments from you. Hope to see you there!
“Griffin came into the Silk family after Scarlet, Indigo, Violet, Amber and Saffron. He came early in the morning on that uncommon day, the twenty-ninth of February. His father’s prediction, considering the date of Griffin’s birth, was that he would be an uncommon sort of boy.
Perhaps he was, thought Griffin ruefully. For the first time in his life, he wished he’d been born on the twenty-eighth day of February or even the first of March. Maybe then he would have been an ordinary boy instead. If he were an ordinary boy, maybe Mama wouldn’t have gone away. Maybe his secret thoughts wouldn’t have changed everything.
Griffin is a member of the somewhat unusual and perhaps slightly bohemian Silk family, who live on the outskirts of a small Australian town. Griffin carries a secret deep inside him, a huge worry that he finds hard to share until he meets Layla, instantly recognisable to him as a princess because she is wearing a daisy-chain crown. Thanks to the thoughtfulness shown by his new friend, Griffin’s courage grows and together they do something that heals the sorrow which all the family has felt after a terrible event no-one has been able to talk about for months.
Just like Griffin, this is a truly “uncommon” short novel, the first in a seven part series. From unexpected characters to profoundly moving themes threaded together with sometimes astonishingly lyrical writing, this book is something utterly different and incredibly beautiful. I have never before come across such delicate and yet powerful writing in a novel for children. Unique, breathtaking and full of fierce love and deep sorrow, The Naming of Tishkin Silk is the sort of book that changes you forever, the sort of book you are just so glad to have inside you, to enrich even the happiest of days and to sustain you on dark nights.
The dual aspect of this novel – intense sadness and intense happiness – reminded me of a passage in The Prophet by Khalil Gibran about joy and sorrow; “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.“. Whilst this book deals with some of the most difficult themes you’re likely to come across in books for its target age range (approximately 8-12), Millard does it with such quiet tenderness that it doesn’t overwhelm. Indeed, like the adult characters inside the book, Millard enters the world children inhabit without patronising them, but rather with immense respect, sincerity and creativity.
The stories we tell ourselves in an attempt to make sense of the world around us, adjusting to different family setups when new babies are born, sibling jealousy, and the value of having space and taking time to think form some of the varied threads woven throughout this precious book. Never once soppy or sentimental, Millard writes with honesty and integrity about deep and loving emotions. This is a tremendous book for exploring kindness and empathy.
It’s Australian setting is lightly but evocatively worn, grounding the somewhat enchanted story in a very real time and place. Yes, my praise for this book goes on and on! And yet, when this book first arrived in my home, I shelved it in a dusty corner. I judged the book by its cover, and the cover did not work for me at all (Caroline Magerl illustrated this first book in the series, but subsequent volumes have been illustrated by Stephen Michael King). It looked airy-fairy, hippy-dippy, saccharine and syrupy and not like something I would enjoy. Someone whose judgement I trust, however, kept telling me I should read the book. Pig-headedly, I kept ignoring this advice. But what a fool I was! Tishkin could have been part of me for two whole extra years if I had listened and not let my prejudices sway me.
For once I had read the book, I was utterly smitten. I could not get hold of the rest of the series quickly enough.
If, however, I still had a niggling doubt, it was about how children would respond to these books. Subtle and yet emotionally complex, featuring an unusual family, and dealing with issues as varied as death, illness, fostering, immigration and dementia over the course of the books now available in the UK (the 6th title in the series, The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, is published next week on World Book Day, and the final will be available in September this year), I was very curious as to how young people, rather than adults would respond to these books.
I only have one child’s response to call upon, but M, my ten year old, has taken these stories to her heart as much as I have. She’s read each one in a single sitting, and whilst she agrees they are indeed full of sadness, they are also “really funny and playful”, “just the sort of family I want ours to be like”. She has SO many plans for implementing aspects of these stories into our lives, from making the recipes which feature throughout the series, to adopting the special breakfast rituals the Silk Family has into our own home, from making our own paper to consecrating an apple tree for tea parties, from collecting shiny foil to painting special poems on walls and doors. I think I shall be posting our activities, our Kingdom of silk playing by the book for a long time to come on the blog!
As it is, we’ve already got our own green rubber gloves with red nail polish…
…we’ve painted our toes like Layla…
… and we’ve started having hummingbird nectar and fairy bread when we come in from school.
Layla and Griffin and all the Kingdom of Silk clan are now part of our lives: We are all the richer for them. These books are alive with wonder and warmth and they’re some of the best I think my family has ever shared.
In the closing pages of The Naming of Tishkin Silk , this gently heart wrenching, heart-soaring short novel, Millard writes, “There are some days when heaven seems much closer to earth than others, and Friday the twenty-seventh of February was one of them.” By introducing you to this book today, also a Friday the twenty-seventh of February, I’ve tried to offer you a slice of such beauty, kindness and wonder as will indeed make today (or at least the day you start reading your own copy of The Naming of Tishkin Silk ) one of those days where heaven really does seem a little nearer by.
The Flat Rabbit Bárður Oskarsson Owlkids Books 9/15/2014 978-1-77147-059-9 40 pages Age 4+ x
“What do you do with a flat rabbit? A dog and a rat come across a rabbit. A flat rabbit, lying silently on the road. It all seems rather sad, so they decide to move her. But where to? They can’t just return her to her apartment, completely flattened. What would the neighbors think? The dog and the rat try to figure out what to do. Then the dog gets a brilliant idea. They decide to give the rabbit the send-off she deserves.”
The Flat Rabbit deals with a serious subject most young child, under age 6, are incapable of understanding: the finality of death. The author uses humor in this gentle story of two friends sending off another friend—the flat rabbit—in a respectful manner, honorable and pleasing to the rabbit. They find their friend in the middle of the road and decide it cannot be much fun lying there. The dog and rat decide to help the rabbit move to a better place.
“Do you think she is having a good time? the rat finally asked . . .
As a social worker, The Flat Rabbit would be a great tool for helping kids process not only death, but also separation. Nearly every page can provoke discussion. The abrupt ending demands discussion. The Flat Rabbit can open up discussions on the mysteries of life, the finality of death, and the use of compassion and respect.
I also love the simple illustrations and the gentle humor.
“Do you know her?” [The rat asked the dog.]
“Well,” said the dog, “I think she’s from number 34. I’ve never talked to her, but I peed on the gate a couple of times, so we’ve definitely met.”
The Flat Rabbit may not be a typical picture book, but it does a great service for children dealing with, or asking about, death. Parents will have a platform for discussion and a gentle way to help their child cope with a difficult subject. The most important aspect, as this social worker sees it, is the respect and compassion for life and death that the author deftly deals with in The Flat Rabbit. The dog, after brainstorming most of the day, comes up with a brilliant plan to help the rabbit. The dog and the rat gently lift the rabbit off the road then spend the rest of the day and night on their plan to honor and care for the rabbit.
On 25 February 1603, Queen Elizabeth I’ s cousin and friend - Katherine Howard, the countess of Nottingham - died. Although Katherine had been ill for some time, her death hit the queen very hard; indeed one observer wrote that she took the loss ‘muche more heavyly’ than did Katherine’s husband, the Charles, Earl of Nottingham. The queen’s grief was unsurprising, for Elizabeth had known the countess longer than almost anyone else alive at that time.
I would never think of "North Carolina fiction" as a genre in children's literature, but I seem to have read quite a bit of it lately. I picked up Three Times Lucky because my daughter is attending college in North Carolina. I loved it!! Later, I had the good fortune of reviewing The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (also by Sheila Turnage) for AudioFile Magazine. I can't say enough how quirky and wonderful and timeless these books are!
Another North Carolina book caught my eye last year (I love the cover art!) but I just got around to reading it.
The Sittin' Up by Sheila P. Moses (Putnam, 2014).
The premise for The Sittin' Up is an interesting one. The year is 1940, and former slave, Mr. Bro. Wiley has died. Stanbury "Bean" Jones is 12 years old, finally old enough to attend his first "sittin' up," an area tradition with similarities to an "Irish wake" or Judaism's "sitting shiva." There is not a lot of action in The Sittin' Up - something I've seen it knocked for in other reviews. I, however, loved the opportunity to take my time and get to know the rich personalities of the Low Meadows community, where they treat death with sorrow, remembrance, practicality, and humor.
Mr. Bro. Wiley lived with Bean and his parents, Stanbury and Magnolia Jones, and was revered by the everyone in the closely-knit African American community. Bean's father, a stutterer, is generally accepted as a leader of the community and is a foreman on the tobacco farm where many of the Low Country men work for the white, wealthy, Mr. Thomas. Bean's mother is Magnolia, a kind, commonsense woman with a baby on the way.
Other characters include Miss Florenza (the bootlegging sinner who dares wear red to a sittin' up) and Miss Lottie Pearl (Pole's busybody mother and Magnolia's best friend),
"Yes, Lord. Please help us," Miss Florenza said. Miss Lottie Pearl rolled her eyes at Miss Florenza. Poor Miss Florenza can't even talk to Jesus without Miss Lottie Pearl putting her two cents in.
Bean's best friend is Pole (they go together like a bean to a pole), and there's the preacher (who is more concerned with fancy clothes, cars, and women, than his parishioners),
"I thought we were in a Depression," Pole whispered to me. "We are." I whispered back. "Look like to me Reverend Hornbuckle should have been thinking about how the folk at Sandy Branch Baptist Church are gonna eat come winter instead of buying a new car," Pole said. Wasn't sure if the preacher heard my sassy friend, but she didn't seem to care. She got a whole of Miss Lottie Pearl in her as sho' as Mr. Bro. Wiley was dead in the house.
There's also Uncle Goat the liar,
Ma swears Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in Northampton County. Papa said that ain't so. He said Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in the state of North Carolina. That's how he got the nickname Goat. Ma says he eats the truth up faster than a goat eats grass.
Even Mule Bennett has a personality,
"I will never forget Mr. Bro. Wiley," I thought as we headed to town. Mule Bennett must have felt the same way. He was slowing down and barely lifted his head. Papa kept saying, "Get-get, get up, mule, get up." But Mule Bennett took his own sweet time.
Mr. Bro. Wiley,the reader gets to know through the remembrances of the living.
Yes, this is a story about segregation and how a great catastrophe serves as a catalyst for change, but that is the backdrop for a story that is mostly about people - wonderfully flawed people - people who sometimes do the wrong thing, but choose the right one when it matters - people who know the value of dignity and community - people who find sorrow and joy and humor in the small occurrences of daily life - people - just plain people - just like us.
I may have nothing in common with North Carolina sharecroppers of 1940, but these people "spoke" to me, nonetheless. If you enjoy historical fiction with a character-driven plot, you'll love The Sittin' Up.