Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Everyone Should Read

I've been meaning to do a book review post for ... are you ready for it? ... the last year and a half. There is simply no way I can write about every book I've read in the last year and a half, so we'll go with some favorites.

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Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

This book was a Christmas present to my daughter from a very dear friend. Little did she know that we're big fans of Kate DiCamillo, an author who also hails from Minnesota, and who wrote other greats such as The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie. Flora & Ulysses is the story of a young girl named Flora who is obsessed with comic books, much to her mother's dismay (you see, her mother writes romance novels). Flora happens upon a squirrel who nearly gets killed by an out-of-control vacuum, but emerges a superhero - which is something only Flora recognizes because of her deep affection for the comic book. 

In general, it is a story of true friendship, of having a cynical heart but opening up to the love around you, of dealing with divorce and also with parents who are deeply focused on their own issues, and feeling like your mom actually loves a lamp more than you. Near the end of the book, Flora's mother is overcome with emotion at having found her baby, and it takes Flora a few moments to realize "her baby" is Flora and not the lamp.

This book had our whole family laughing, and I enjoyed seeing all the sub-plots work their ways into our days and our imaginations. At one point I told Rosemary, "I know sometimes you think I'm mean, but I promise I will never, EVER try to kill your superhero squirrel;" and I was pleased to have the opportunity to say such a ridiculous sentence. 

I highly recommend this book, and hope to see more adventure of Flora & Ulysses in the future.


Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Book club chose this book and I wasn't sure I was going to read it (so much to read, so little time), but for some reason the cover pulled me in. This work of historical fiction focuses on the mind-boggling concept of the Orphan Train. A train that took orphans west from New York on a train. The trains would stop in certain cities where hoards of people would be waiting to choose an orphan. The adopters had to promise they would raise the children well and send them to school ... and that was it. The orphans were handed off to their new parents without a background check and with rare follow-ups. As you can imagine, a few children were lucky and others were incredibly unlucky. 

This book was not as good as I wanted it to be. It bounces back and forth between the stories of an older child whose parents died in a fire and a modern child who is stuck in the foster care system. The first child eventually found herself on an orphan train and was bounced around from place to place until she finally found a family who treated her well, and the modern child had a sad story of being in a home where the foster parents were just in it for the money. 

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and it's worth the read for the history. The author clearly does better with historical fiction than plain old fiction because the modern parts seemed trite and poorly thought out. However, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the fascinating phenomenon of the orphan trains and think the idea of two hardened orphans finding peace and comfort in each others stories was, at least, a good idea.


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The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

Bonaventure Arrow was "conceived in love and possibility" and he brings healing and wholeness to those in his life who are open to it. It seems futile to write a review of this book. There is so much depth to it that I don't want to minimize any of it. It's one of those stories that makes me marvel at the author's ability to weave so much together with such craft. The many characters were real to me as I read them. I laughed, loved, hated, hurt, and cried with them all.

Read this book.


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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Another book club read, Wonder is The story of a boy named August Pullman who was born with a rare genetic condition that leaves his face misshapen. He's had so many surgeries in his life that his parents have chosen to home-school him until the 5th grade. In reading this book, we get to experience Auggie's reluctance to begin school and journey with him all the way through the last day. The book is told from Auggie's perspective, but also switches to the perspectives of his friends and family. It's truly an eye-opening story that will give many young adult readers a beneficial perspective of what it must be like to be so different. 

I read this book to my 9th grade reading students and appreciated the empathy and compassion that exuded out of them. 

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Well, there are 4 books I've read lately. You can rest-assured there have been many more and hopefully I'll sprinkle in some more reviews here and there. This year I've had to take a bit of a break from book club. A phrase I keep saying is "so many books, so little time." You see, by the end of April I will have finished my 3rd semester class in the past year. Add that to teaching, parenting, and the rest of life and sometimes the good books get put on the back burner.

These days I'm reading books, books about the books, books about teaching the books ... and sometimes I don't have the energy to read another book just for fun. I'm currently reading the following books: 100 Essential Modern Poems compiled by Joseph Paris, Saved by a Poem by Kim Rosen (in my future, there is a blog post about what a joy it has been to teach poetry this year), The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1) by Lemony Snicket, and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown.

There was a time when I was a 1 book at a time kind of reader ... I can barely remember what that was like. 

What are you reading these days?

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