Saturday, February 26, 2011

209 (2011 #14). Dreaming in English

by Laura Fitzgerald

This light, chick-lit beach read is a sequel to Veil of Roses, although it's not necessary to have read that book before this one.  In the first book, 27-year-old Tamila Soroush comes to the United States from Iran to visit her sister - and get married. When none of the Iranian-American suitors work out and she's about to go back to Iran with her tourist visa expiring, the all-American Starbucks barista she's fallen in love with, slightly-older too-good-to-be-true Ike Hanson, joins her going-away party in Vegas and marries her.

Dreaming in English (which has a beautiful albeit unrelated-to-the-story cover) continues their tale, as Tami deals with Ike's family's misgivings (especially his mother's), Ike's beautiful ex-girlfriend, their efforts to start their own coffee shop, her sister's difficult pregnancy, her own lack of confidence, and ultimately the oh-so-villianous immigration system. Of course the ending is happy.

This book felt sappy to me and I had problems with it on a lot of levels. Tami (and her friend Eva) and Ike were incredibly immature for people their ages. The story is mostly told in first person from Tami's viewpoint, in rather good present-tense English, with clashed with the idea that she is still struggling with the language.  I was bothered by the notion that Tami came to the United States intending to flout the immigration system, and yet the immigration officials are painted as being in the wrong for being suspicious of her "true love" with Ike.

Give me a break.  I really can't recommend this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This book was provided by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be donated to the local public library nonprofit Friends group for their book sale.]

Sunday, February 06, 2011

208 (2011 #13). Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson,
read by Robert Sean Leonard


This classic, dealing with themes of death, friendship, and imagination, won the (well-deserved) Newbery Medal in 1978. Ten-year-old Jesse Aarons befriends the new girl at school, his next-door neighbor Leslie Burke. They deal with a school bully and their families (Jesse's family is rural, poor and rather uneducated; Leslie's parents are wealthy writers escaping the big nearby city of Washington, DC, and trying to live the simple life. Both of them desire parental and adult love and approval).  Jesse and Leslie create an imaginary world they call Terabithia* near the creek in the woods behind their homes. Then there is a tragic accident.

At the end of the audiobook, Michael Conroy with HarperAudio interviews Katherine Paterson and her son David, sometime in 2006. Katherine explains that "when [David] was seven and eight years old, his best friend was a girl named Lisa Hill, and the summer they were both eight, Lisa was struck and killed by lightning." Katherine said she wrote the book "to try to make sense out of a tragedy that didn’t make sense."

"I figured that David had a right to say whether or not he wanted the book published, because although he was not actually Jesse Aarons, all of his buddies at school would think he was... So I read it to him before I sent it even to my editor, and the only thing he said when I finished was...'I wanted it to be dedicated to me and Lisa,' so that’s why the book is dedicated to both of them."  In a 2007 interview, David says there are "a lot of similarities" between him and Jesse, including being "in love with his music teacher" (the guitar-playing Miss Edmunds in the book).

The songs Miss Edmunds sings with the kids, and Leslie's no-TV, call-me-by-my-first-name parents are among the few clues that the book is set in the 1970s; otherwise the setting feels rather timeless.  Katherine continues in the HarperAudio interview, "There’s some quality in this particular book … that opens itself up for people to bring their own lives to it in a very powerful way so that the story becomes their story, and I have people write to me, long long long letters, explaining how this book is their book and how it is their life that I am telling about. But that’s the reader’s response, it’s not something the writer can consciously do. It’s a magical thing when it happens, but it doesn’t always happen."

I think this is because nearly everyone grew up with a Terabithia, an imaginary world to play in.  David said, "One thing that I found so amazing is everyone remembered Terabithia, but they all remembered it differently. The gift that her book gives the reader is she allows them to imagine, she guides them to their own imagination. But the funny thing is, people remember this so vividly, and ... Terabithia takes place in just a very small amount of the book – I believe it’s 12 to 14 pages – and yet, that’s what people remember. They remember these wonderful, wonderful experiences that Jess and Leslie went through, whereas most of it they made up in their own minds.”  Katherine said, “Terabithia is the creation of the reader, not the writer."

The book is also a classic because it's about a child dealing with the death of another child, his friend.  In the same HarperAudio interview, Katherine states, “Everyone will have to go through death, their own and the death of those they love, ... and a book in which a child dies is sort of a rehearsal for that. We hope the child will not have to go through it as early as David did, but it gives them a chance to go through those emotions vicariously."  On her website, she adds that "though I was not fully aware of it, [I wrote it] to help me face my own death," which I think adds to the book's appeal to adults.

David pointed out, “I think that one reason the book has been so resoundingly successful throughout the years is that it was, when it first came out, one of the first books to really address... the death of a child, and the death of a friendship, and it still resonates today because it introduces the concept at a young age for young readers, which is also why it’s banned a lot of places, because adults don’t feel that children can handle issues such as this."  Katherine added, “I even had a letter from someone who said death is not age appropriate for a ten-year-old. No, it’s not, but it happens.”

Indeed, in a 2002 interview, Paterson notes that the book has been challenged for more than being "not age appropriate" in discussing death. "Initially, it was challenged because it deals with a boy who lives in rural Virginia, and he uses the word 'Lord' a lot, and it's not in prayer."  (Katherine taught for a year in a rural Virginia school, and on her website, she notes that "Jess and his father talk like the people I knew who lived in that area. I believe it is my responsibility to create characters who are real, not models of good behavior. If Jess and his dad are to be real, they must speak and act like real people. I have a lot of respect for my readers. I do not expect them to imitate my characters, simply to care about them and understand them.")

"Then there are more complicated reasons. The children build an imaginary kingdom, and there was the feeling that I was promoting the religion of secular humanism, and then New Age religion." Additionally, Jesse's family only goes to church at Easter, although the Bible "s'bout the only book we got around our place" (page 109).  Leslie's never been to church before, and there's an amusing yet thought-provoking scene after she accompanies Jesse's family at Easter.  I imagine this scene is likely to offend some fundamentalist/conservative Christians.

Actor Robert Sean Leonard (best known for playing Dr. Wilson on the TV show House) does a fine job narrating the audiobook. All in all, this is a wonderful book for about age 10 and up, and I highly recommend it.

*On her website, Katherine explains, "I thought I'd made up "Terabithia."  I realized when the book was nearly done, that there is an island in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis called Terebinthia. I'm sure I borrowed that unconsciously, but, then, so would Leslie who loved the Chronicles of Narnia. And, by the way, Lewis got Terebinthia from the Biblical terebinth tree, so it wasn't original with him either."

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This audiobook and a print copy for reference were borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Saturday, February 05, 2011

207 (2011 #12). Expiration Date

by Sherril Jaffe

I REALLY liked this book.  For one thing, I LOVE the cover!  Click on it to see a larger version and read what's on the baby's bottom.

The blurb for this novel really intrigued me.  Protagonist Flora has a dream at age 35 that a heavenly court has set her expiration date - the date of her death - for 25 years later, the year she turns 60.  Fast-forward 24 years, to 2004, and Flora wonders if the dream might come true.  Thing is, her mother Muriel was present at the heavenly court with other family members who have since passed on - and Muriel is very much alive at age 86.  Perhaps this means Flora's dream won't become a reality just yet.

This may sound like a morbid subject for a book, but it's not.  The book is quite funny and very thought-provoking.

The story moves back and forth between Flora and Muriel.  Muriel is recently widowed and trying to adjust, trying to decide what needs to change (where she lives?) and what can change, now that she is not tied down at home caring for her invalid husband.  She hates (fears?) being alone and lonely.  Flora has a good life, a loving rabbi husband with whom she shares an interest in Zen Buddhism, great sex and heartfelt discussions.  Her concerns about her dream come across more as the natural fears and concerns about death (that increase as we age), rather than as some morbid preoccupation.

Muriel and Flora are both extremely likable characters.  At age 53 myself, with an 82-year-old mother, I could really relate to this book.  I can only hope to be as truly alive as these two women are at their respective ages.  There's much to think about here, in living one's life to the fullest.

This is a book that I will encourage my friends to read, and will re-read periodically myself.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This advanced reader edition was sent to me by the publisher and will be passed on to someone else.] 

Thursday, February 03, 2011

206 (2011 #11). Round Robin

by Jennifer Chiaverini,
read by Christina Moore

This was the second book in the Elm Creek Quilt series (which fortunately, after the first book, doesn't really need to be read in order). The Elm Creek Quilters - Sarah, Diane, Agnes, Judy, Bonnie, and Gwen - decide to make a "Round Robin" quilt for their friend and mentor Sylvia, owner of Elm Creek Manor.  Agnes volunteers to make the central square, and the other quilters take turns adding a border.  The borders end up relating to some crisis going on in each of their lives - Sarah's frustrations with her critical mother, Diane fighting for her son's right to skateboard, Bonnie's husband's infidelity, Judy's contact with the family she didn't know she had, and Gwen's realization that daughter Summer, another Elm Creek Quilter, is grown up and can make her own decisions about her life.  And Sylvia rediscovers love in her life and faces a health crisis.

The stories will touch on many readers' personal experiences.  I was sympathetic to most of the characters, except philandering husband Craig, and Carol, Sarah's mother, who comes across as self-absorbed.  Narrator Christina Moore as usual does a fabulous job bringing the characters to life.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This audiobook and a hardbound copy of the book for reference were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

205 (2011 #10). Lafayette and the American Revolution

by Russell Freedman

This 88-page biography was named a 2011 Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book.  The Medal "is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year" by the American Library Association.

It's a very readable account of the life of the Marquis de Lafayette, illustrated with mostly-period paintings, drawings, and documents (but unfortunately, no maps).  As the title indicates, Freedman focuses mainly on Lafayette's involvement with the American Revolution, but also addresses his early life and his later involvement with the French Revolution.  Freedman ends the book with a time line, source notes, selected bibliography (with commentary), picture credits, and index.  The book made me want to learn even more about Lafayette (and especially his wife Adrienne, who sounds particularly intriguing).  It's an outstanding addition to Freedman's fine repertoire of biography and history.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.] 

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

203-204 (2011 #8-9). Two Award-Winning Beginner Readers

When the American Library Association announced its annual Youth Media Awards on January 10, 2011, I went to my local public library and checked out the winners and honor books they had.  The following are two of the three books that won Geisel Award designations.  The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the "most distinguished American book for beginning readers."

Bink & Gollie took the top honor in 2011.  Written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, and illustrated by animator Tony Fucile, this 81-page, three-chapter book was also named one of the ten Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2010 by The New York Times.  Tiny Bink and tall Gollie are friends who sometimes disagree (pages 20-21):
"The problem with Gollie," said Bink, "is that it's either Gollie's way or the highway."..."The problem with Bink," said Gollie, "is her unwillingness to compromise."
Fucile's comic-like illustrations remind me of Calvin and Hobbes and are very engaging.  The stories - not so much.  I'm also a little surprised that this book won the Geisel.  Gollie in particular uses big words (as in the example above) and complex sentence structure that would be hard for beginning readers to handle independently.

A better choice for the award, in my opinion, would have been one of the Honor Books, written and illustrated by Grace Lin, Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!  Ling and Ting are identical twins who, while wearing (adorable!) matching dresses, display their individuality in other ways.  This 44-page book has six very short, humorous, interrelated chapters.  The twins' heritage is highlighted in the chapters about chopsticks and making Chinese dumplings.  Lin's bold-colored paintings are eye-popping.  Lin went to a lot of effort to make the vocabulary and sentence structure appropriate for beginning readers, who should be able to read this book on their own.  There's even a 14-page educator's guide and paper dolls available!

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[These books were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.] 

200-202 (2011 #5-7). Three Award-Winning Picture Books

When the American Library Association announced its annual Youth Media Awards on January 10, 2011, I went to my local public library and checked out the winners and honor books they had.  Here are three picture books that won awards:
The Randolph Caldecott Medal, which "honors the illustrator of the year's most distinguished American picture book for children," went to A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, and written by her husband Philip C. Stead.  This was Erin's first foray into book illustration.  She used "woodblock printing techniques and pencil" with, in her words, "subtle color and specifically for this book limited palettes," to illustrate this sweet fantasy of a zookeeper and his animal friends.  The soft but detailed drawings are reminiscent of children's book illustrations from my own childhood in the 1960s.  This book was named one of the ten best illustrated children's books for 2010 by the New York Times.  It's a bedtime story appropriate for younger children.

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards "honor African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults that communicate the African American experience."  One Illustrator Honor Book was named in 2011, Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (daughter of John Steptoe), and written by Gary Golio.  The narrative stops before Hendrix' untimely death, but an afterword and author's note address some of those issues.  There are also a number of websites and books listed about substance abuse as well as about Hendrix, and a selected discography of music and video by and about him.  Steptoe used mixed media, including paint, collage, and silkscreen, and in an illustrator's note, says,
I thought about guitars--their sound, their vibrations, their look and feel--so I used plywood...I thought about how Jimi saw the world and how that differed from other people's views, so I painted Jimi one way and his surroundings another way.  I thought about the depth and texture of his music, so I layered and used bright colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple--rainbow colors.
The subject matter and complex illustrations make this book more appropriate for older children.  It would appeal to reluctant readers and could be tied into art and music curricula.

The Schneider Family Book Awards "honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences."  The 2011 award for children ages 0 to 10 went to The Pirate of Kindergarten, written by George Ella Lyon and illustrated by Lynne Avril.  In this simple yet empathetic story, the main character, Ginny, suffers from double vision, remedied with "exercises, glasses, and for a while, a patch."  She becomes a "Kindergarten Pirate."  The genius of this book is the combination of Lyon's descriptive text and Avril's chalk pastel, mixed with acrylic medium, and colored pencil drawings that let the reader see what Ginny sees - two of everything.  The only wish I have for this book would be for a brief afterword that explains more about double vision (diplopia), patching (used to treat other eye problems too), and author Lyon's "own experience" on which the book is based.  The book is obviously appropriate for kindergarten, but would work for children slightly older and younger as well.  This was my favorite of these three books.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[These books were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]