Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Title: Ozma of Oz
Author: L. Frank Baum
Pages: 272
Finished: 3/28/17

First Sentence: The wind blew hard and joggled the water of the ocean, sending ripples across its surface.

Summary: While on a trip to Australia with her Uncle Henry, Dorothy gets blown overboard in a storm. She floats to shore in a chicken coop along with a hen named Bill (soon to be named Billina) where she starts a new adventure. They disembark in the Land of Ev, a place populated by the "terrible"Wheelers, a mechanical man named TikTok, and the beautiful Princess Langwidere who wishes her Aunt and her 10 cousins would come back so she won't have to rule anymore. Soon, Ozma of Oz, comes across the deadly desert with some of our familiar friends to take on the challenge of freeing the rulers of Ev from the Nome King.

Thoughts: This is my favorite Oz book. I love the story. All of it. I remember the trees with Lunch and Dinner pails absolutely fascinating me as a kid. Princess Langwidere with her numerous heads was another particular fascination. And I wanted to hear all about the palace of knick knacks and bric-a-brac. Some things that bugged me: Dorothy's sudden proclivity to speak in contractions. First book, this didn't happen. Here? She's dropping vowels left and right, and we're meant to see it all in contractions. Annoying. Other continuity issues: Scarecrow is back to being stuffed with straw even though they made a big deal of him being stuffed with money in the last book. Also, Dorothy's account of how the Tin Man became the Tin Man differs from the story he originally told. She mentions he became the tin man a little at a time (by finger and ear and neck) on account of him being careless with his axe. In the first book, he tells the story that his bethrothed's mother asked the Wicked Witch of the East to bewitch his axe and it took off his arms, his legs, his trunk, and his head. AND, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man were so against puns in the previous book, but both make plenty of puns in this one.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

Title: Hour of the Bees
Author: Lindsay Eager
Pages: 360
Finished: 3/21/17
First Sentence: Something flies too close to my ear.
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads) Things are only impossible if you stop to think about them. . . .

While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina — Carol — is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she’s never met into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge. But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots.

Thoughts: I'm starting to get concerned. I picked these four Caudill books to read first because I thought for sure I would dislike them. And I've loved them all.
Strikes against this book - grandfather suffering from dementia and a awful sister. This last summer, my grandmother died from a long battle with various illnesses. She also suffered from dementia. I really didn't want to read about it. 
But this book wasn't bad. The dementia really took second place to the unexpected fantasy. And the fantasy was lovely. I found myself completely caught up in Serge's stories wondering how real they were. I was incredibly impressed at how no one was really a good guy or a bad guy. Everyone was a very human shade of gray. At first I hated Rosie for ruining the good thing the village had, and then I switched to hating Sergio for keeping her home. 
But it was the story about the village and the tree that drew me in. Book recommended for 5th grade and up.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Title: Wives and Daughters
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Pages: 630
Finished: 3/14/17

First Sentence: To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood.

Summary: After a brief opening of an event in Molly Gibson's childhood, the novel begins with her at 17. Her widowed father, intercepting a love letter to her, sends Molly away to the Hamley estate as a companion to Mrs. Hamley while he figures out how to cool her lovers feelings. In the end, he decides to remarry. His new wife, a widower who also happened to be the governess at the Cumnor estate. The book then follows the families Gibson and Hamley as well as a bit of Cumnor and the gossip of the town Hollingford. 

Thoughts: First and foremost, I'm so glad I decided to forego my 100 page rule. The first chapter was interesting enough, but then there were quite a few chapters explaining the setting that I was rather bored by page 100. But I had seen the lovely BBC adaptation over a decade ago, so I decided to stick the story out. And I'm glad I did. 

I loved Molly. So good and steadfast, though I wonder how she managed all these ideals when her father was so often from home. I know Roger's speech to her when she found out her father was to remarry really struck her, but there was quite a lot of good in her before that. 

In general, I loved the characters. Not Mrs. Gibson so much - she was so selfish. Many have compared her to Mrs. Bennet, but I found Mrs. Gibson ever so much worse in my mind. She was more calculated with less ridiculousness than Mrs. Bennet ever was. 

I found Cynthia far less odious then I recall from the t.v. series. Of course, the series could have made her more selfish than the book, and in a way, she was very selfish. But she did like Molly and did try to be good to her. 

The one thing I wished for most is that Gaskell had lived just long enough to write that final chapter or two. I shall have to be content with the editor's write-up in the end.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

Title: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans
Author: Written and Illustrated by Don Brown
Pages: 93
Finished: 3/13/17

First Sentence: A swirl of unremarkable wind leaves Africa and breezes toward the Americas.

Summary: (From Goodreads) On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina's monstrous winds and surging water overwhelmed the protective levees around low-lying New Orleans, Louisiana. Eighty percent of the city flooded, in some places under twenty feet of water. Property damages across the Gulf Coast topped $100 billion. One thousand eight hundred and thirty-three people lost their lives. The tale of this historic storm and the drowning of an American city is one of selflessness, heroism, and courage—and also of incompetence, racism, and criminality.

Thoughts: I was just starting my senior year of high school when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. I don't remember much about it other than hearing that the city wasn't prepared, that the response to the disaster was awful, and that our leadership really screwed up. I remember a West Wing episode that everyone said was made to show how President George W. Bush should have responded to Katrina. But I couldn't tell you much of what had happened.

This book really brought home just how horrible the disaster was. And somehow, the added illustrations in the graphic novel made it even more tragic. The first body in a panel made me tear up. And then others came. The description of conditions at the superdome was hard to stomach. The added illustrations just hurt. Reading this reminded me of a quote from Dr. Julian Bashir on an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when he said, "Causing people to suffer because you hate them... is terrible. But causing people to suffer because you have forgotten how to care... that's really hard to understand." 

That's pretty much the way I felt through this whole book. I just couldn't understand how this could have happened. 

Excellent book, for 5th through 8th grade, though be ready to help your child digest the human suffering. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Title: Orbiting Jupiter
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Pages: 183
Finished: 3/12/17

First Sentence: "Before you agree to have Joseph come live with you," Mrs. Stroud said, "there are one or two things you ought to understand."

Summary: When Jack's parents agree to foster Joseph, Jack knows three things about his foster brother: he almost killed a teacher, he was in Stone Mountain incarceration, and he has a daughter named Jupiter. Jack has Joseph's back through the trials of middle school - teachers and students who refuse to look past Joseph's troubles to see the boy underneath, an abusive father, etc. And when Joseph asks for help finding his daughter Jupiter, Jack agrees, and finds himself drawn into Joseph's life more than he ever expected.

Thoughts: Warning!! Here be spoilers!!
 I will admit, I did not plan on enjoying this book. I've avoided a lot of Gary D. Schmidt because I don't like depressing books, but I was so drawn to the story of Joseph. I loved Jack for standing up for his foster brother even though the vice principal clearly didn't want to believe Joseph could be anything but trouble. I loved Jack for aiding Joseph in the fight against the other kids in school. And I felt so much pain for Joseph as he laid out his story of a life was so alien to what I knew. How he was a product of a system that really lets people slip through the cracks.
And then I made the mistake of thinking everything might turn out okay.
Spoiler alert, it doesn't. Joseph's dad comes to take him away, and while trying to avoid getting caught, he drives over a derelict bridge which collapses under the truck. After all the heartache, Joseph still ends up dead. It's rare for YA books to rip my heart out the way this one did.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Title: The Boy on the Wooden Box
Author: Leon Leyson
Pages: 231
Finished: 3/6/2017

First Sentence: I had to admit, my palms were sweaty and my stomach was churning.

Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson's life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory - a list that became world renowned: Schindler's List.

This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler's List child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Most notable is the lack of rancour, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr Leyson's telling. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a legacy of hope, a memoir unlike anything you've ever read.

Thoughts: Novels about the Holocaust are one thing, but reading a first hand account is a completely different experience. It's easy to read a novel and remind yourself that it's fiction, even though it's about a real event. In a memoir, you don't get that comfort. These things actually happened to the person who's writing this story. The Boy on the Wooden Box is excellent for middle school kids wanting to know more about the Holocaust who aren't quite ready for the horrors they will encounter in Elie Wiesel's Night. That's not to say this book is without its own horrors. The time Leon spent in the Plaszow work camp was full of plenty of moments to make a person wonder how humanity could ever sink so low. The round ups of Jews in the ghetto were terrible. 

One of the hardest things about reading books about the Holocaust is trying to figure out how vast numbers of people could possibly let something like this happen. And yet... and yet even now, my government is doing its absolute best to demonize members of a certain religion, and people seem to be turning a blind eye to it. Please, read this book, but don't  believe that these things are just in the past.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

March Reads

1. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell - Classics Challenge Written by a Women Author
2. The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson - Caudill Challenge
3. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt - Caudill Challenge
4. Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar - Caudill Challenge
5. Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum - Wizard of Oz Read Along
6. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker - Personal Reading Challenge To Be Read List
7. The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey - Retellings Challenge
8. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown - Caudill Challenge

Ambitious. Actually, last month was the ambitious month. Normally I would only read two Caudills in a month, but we don't have the Bluestem list yet (another children's challenge) so I'm going to knock four out of the way this month and maybe four Bluestems next month.

The Lackey and the Wecker didn't get read last month, primarily because it took me SO LONG to read Jungle Book and Moonheart. I didn't realize how long Wives and Daughters is (600+ pages!), so I think I'm going to break it up every 100 pages or so with another book.

Ideally I'd like to get through all of these. Reality? I anticipate managing all the children's books, and possibly one of the adult books. Of course, if any of the Caudills don't grab me, it'll take longer. Wish me luck!