February 24, 2012

You've been warned: this post is about books

Remember the Summer of George? One of my goals was to read newberry award winners. I read 24 books by the end of August. It was a very interesting journey. I can tell you that most of the books were quite good, and a couple were not worth my time. It seems that the people who determine the newberry winners have an affinity for poor children living through difficult trials. While I agree that these kinds of stories can help broaden horizons and teach children about diversity, I think that in some instances, the subject matter is a little too heavy for children. I believe that children should be allowed to remain children as long as possible- yes it is good to learn about different people and the challenges they face, but perhaps not is such dramatic details. Anyway, I'm glad I read these books and I plan to read the rest of the Newberry winners eventually. For much of my childhood I really hated reading (don't ask me why- I have no idea). But I really want my children to develop a love for reading good books. By familiarizing myself with the best of childrens' literature, hopefully I can help them find books that can teach them, entertain them, and help them develop a love for stories.

So, since I know everyone is chomping at the bit to hear a little about all the books I read, I will give a brief description/analysis of each of them:

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
This book has an interesting format- it s a collection of letters written by a little boy to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw. The little boy has an absentee father and is looking for guidance from this author. The letters are funny and interesting and you get to know the main characters in an interesting way. While the subject of neglectful parenting is indeed heavy, this book deals with it in a fairly light manner and the main character develops a more healthy attitude toward his father in the end. I would recommend this book as a quick read that teaches hard lessons in an acceptable fashion for young readers.

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
This was basically a brief text book with several pictures. If you want to learn about Abraham Lincoln but you don't want to spend hours and hours reading a long biography, this is your book.

Joyful Noises: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman
This a short collection of poems about bugs. The poems are meant to be read aloud by two people (I tried to get Scott to do this with me... we got about half way through one poem when he declared it a stupid book and turned on a basketball game). Not my favorite book at all, but I guess if insect poetry is your thing then this would be a great read.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Ok, so you don't get much heavier than the Holocaust. And this book deals with the subject rather well in my opinion. The main characters are introduced to the cruelty of the time but are not overly exposed. I will introduce this book to my kids when they are old enough to understand (at least in part) the horror of the Holocaust and emotionally mature enough to see the strength of the people despite their extensive suffering.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
This book is about a homeless boy who is really good at untangling knots and making friends. It deals with racial tensions and poverty, but also reads in a tone of lightheartedness. The main character is peculiar and keeps you interested. I liked this one.

Shiloh by Phylis Reynolds Naylor
So this one got me a little bit. Its about a really poor boy who falls in love with a dog who is owned by a cruel drunk. It has a happy ending, but the boy and his dog go through some real tough times along the way. I think children need to be a little bit older than the book's target audience to understand the dichotomy between thoughts and actions, or rather the reality of evil in this world and the fact that sometimes you can't stop it.

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
This book is about a young girl and her uncle who are mourning the loss of their aunt/wife. It deals with death in an accessible way for children and I would recommend it especially to families dealing with or preparing for a loss.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
This was one of my favorite books growing up. I love how different it is. This book also introduces the pain of grieving, but in a healthy way. The main character, Sal, is trying to understand her mother's death while on a road trip with her grandparents. An entertaining tale about Sal's best friend back home is intertwined throughout the book. This is a book for older elementary school children or middle schoolers and I definitely recommend it (though you may want to keep some tissues handy).

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
This book was not my favorite. Unless you have an interest in medieval times (and I don't) and don't mind less-than-savory scenery descriptions, this is a book you can skip.

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
I liked this one! It was so different from the other books on the list. Its about a group of kids who are in a club at school together. The kids are all very different and it is fun to see the way they interact. Not my favorite book, but it was an enjoyable read.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Ok, this one definitely falls under the category of  depressing. Its about the dust bowl during the great depression. The main character suffers and suffers and suffers. And I didn't like it. Also, its format is a bunch of poems that weave the story together which is interesting since its different, but I'm one of those people who only likes poems that rhyme, so I wasn't too thrilled.

Holes by Louis Sachar
We all love this book. Its clever and funny and interesting and I actually cried a little bit at the end when Zero finds his mom (sorry if you live under a rock and don't know the story- go read it right now).

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Well this one was set in Michigan so I tried hard to like it. Its about a black boy during the depression who lives in Hoovervilles and tries to find his father (his mother is dead). This book was just a little too heavy in my opinion.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
I liked this one. It was about a girl who goes down to the south to live with her relative down there for a while. It was heart-warming in its own way and slightly romantic at the end- you know I'm a sucker for any ounce of romance in a book. I would recommend this one- its kind of a blend of Little House on the Prairie and Gibbs from NCIS.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
I had a hard time getting into this one. Its about a poor orphan who goes to work for a pottery maker. The entire book chronicles his efforts to please the potter and you can bet he has a hard time of it. The boy learns that he can do hard things and eventually there is an ushy gushy ending (as ushy gushy as a 19th century man can get that is). Again, this one was a little dry for my taste and it took a while to get into it but I did appreciate the journey the boy goes on.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
HATED this one. HATED HATED HATED it. For real. It was about this orphan boy who is taken as an apprentice by a man who travels from village to village conning people. Its set in the middle centuries and doesn't have a single redeeming quality in my opinion.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
I'll blame the fact that I was in my third trimester when I read this one for the buckets of tears that I cried while I read this book. It's about a Japanese family in America trying to make ends meet. The parents work at a hatchery doing very hard work and the older sister (there are two girls) has cancer. Very very sad. It was an interesting and captivating story (I read it in a day) but again, not sure it as worth the emotional turmoil. Maybe you should read it when you're not hormonal.

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
This was a weird one. I'm still not too sure what it was about... The characters were mostly teens and the setting was the 1970s. I guess the plot was centered mostly around the way their lives all intertwine and "criss cross." I don't know, read this one at your own risk I guess.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
I liked this one- it was different and unexpected. I guess it was expected that the main character would be a poor orphan, but the progress of the story was unique. I couldn't help but think of Barstow as I read this book  (the story takes place in a desert city). It wasn't the best book in the world, but I enjoyed it.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schiltz
Another text book wannabe. Now, I'm not a fan of the middle ages, so maybe that's why I wasn't feeling this one. Its a quick read, more factual that interesting.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Probably the oddest book I read. Its about a baby boy who's family is murdered. He sneaks out of the house and runs away to a grave yard where a bunch of ghosts adopt him. All along a man named Jack is trying to kill him. Weird weird weird. But vaguely interesting. I'm not sure I would recommend it, but it wasn't the worst book I've ever read.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I LOVED THIS ONE. Its about time travel, which isn't my usual area of interest. I just loved the uniqueness of the story, the way the characters interacted, everything. I read A Wrinkle in Time last month and I really think it would have been good to read first. The main character of this book loves A Wrinkle in Time and I'm sure I wouldn't have understood it better if I had read it first.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Another book set during the depression. This book tells the stories of two youths in a parallel fashion even though they live in very different eras. This book was a little long, but I liked it overall.

So congratulations if you've made it this far. I clearly love reading and I always appreciate a good and honest book recommendation (or warning for that matter). So if you're looking for a good read, particularly if you're looking for a good read about a poor orphan, you'll likely love many of the books that I read. I think that my annoyance with the poor orphan theme wouldn't be as pronounced if I had read all of these books singularly, but as a group the commonality is more pervasive.

February 9, 2012

I need a new camera

But until I get one, here are some blurry pictures of our life as of late.

We got to go see Elmo Live! at the Fox theater here in Detroit. The theater was Ahmazing. The Elmo show was... well Ellie loved it. Ev and I mostly hung out in the wings of the theater because the show was a little too loud for our taste.

On wednesday nights Scott is now helping out with the young mens activities, so that means I get to have some girl time with Ellie and Ev.

And sometimes when Scott is at work we get a little crazy and do art projects (hint, if you are a grandmother of these two cuties you may be getting the fruit of our labors in the mail soon). Also, the first 4 photos here are the process of trying to get Ellie to smile for the camera. I thought it was pretty funny.

(the money shot)

And this is the best picture I could get of them on Christmas day. Seriously people, I need a new camera.