Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #25 - Award Winner

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Won the Pulitzer and Carnegie Prizes.

Review to come.

I DID IT!  I read 25 books in ten weeks!

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

515 (2015 #72). Bug in a Vacuum

by Mélanie Watt

This is a wonderful picture book that not only has an amusing story about an insect (and a dog's toy) sucked up into a vacuum cleaner, but also a primer on the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, as the bug (and the dog) go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in turn.

This book could be used with many ages to explain the stages of grief and help one going through death or another loss, disappointment, or traumatic event.  The very first page (even before the title page) sets the stage:

Bug (buhg)
  • An insect
  • An unexpected glitch

Vacuum (vak-yoom)
  • A cleaning machine
  • A void left by a loss

Each stage of grief is presented as a household item.  Denial is a can of repellent spray that “wipes out the ugly truth.” Bargaining is a box of detergent to “wash away your troubles.” Anger is a frozen dinner that is “quick and messy.” Despair is a book with "an unfair tale with an unhappy ending." Acceptance is a box of "gentle and comforting" facial tissues.  Then the reader sees the bug's reactions to each stage inside the vacuum cleaner, and the dog's reaction just outside it.

Mélanie Watt uses mixed media to create a winsome bug (and dog) against a background of old-style furnishings and equipment (like the vacuum cleaner). Children will enjoy spotting items, on the floor in the earlier pages, inside the vacuum cleaner (and used in delightful ways by the bug) as the story progresses.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this hardbound edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be added to my university library's collection.]

Monday, September 21, 2015

514 (2015 #71). Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Saenz

A story of coming out and coming of age in El Paso, Texas, in the late 1980s, Aristotle Mendoza and Dante Quintana are two third-generation Mexican-American boys.  Ari is quiet and upset that his parents, a teacher and a Vietnam vet postman (himself very quiet), won't tell him anything about his much-older brother who is in prison.  Dante is more outgoing, but just odd enough that he is a loner too.  He's an only child whose father is an English professor.  The two boys meet in the summer when they are fifteen, and become friends.

This book won four major awards in 2013.  It was named a Printz Honor Book as it "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature."  It also won the Pura Belpré  Author Award for the narrative that "best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."  Other awards included the Stonewall Book Award for "English language books that have exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered experience," and the Lambda Literary Award for best LGBT Children’s/Young Adult.

This book is considered a "high-low" book because it has a reading level (late second-grade) much lower than the average reading ability of the intended age range of its readers (high school). This book's shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary would work well for struggling or reluctant readers with an interest or need to read about the serious issues in the story.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  The Hood County Library has it on order for its young adult section.]

513 (2015 #70). The Midwife's Apprentice

by Karen Cushman

The Midwife's Apprentice won the Newbery Medal in 1996 as "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." Only 122 pages, it packs in a lot of historical detail, an engaging heroine, and a story of perseverance.

Brat is an orphan girl found on a dung heap by Jane, a medieval village midwife in England, who takes her on as a helper and calls her Beetle.

Beetle has lots of experiences that illustrate typical life in the 1300s, as well as increasing her self-confidence and her determination of what her "place in this world" should be.  Eventually she names herself Alyce, and even learns to read.

Despite its short length, the reading level (6.0) and some of the subject matter (women and animals giving birth) make this book more appropriate for middle school and up.  A number of other Newbery Medalists are set in this era and could be used in a history unit on the Middle Ages.

The copy of the book I got at the Hood County Library had the cover pictured above.  This would be the Alyce cover.  The one just below, from my university library, would be the Beetle cover.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Saturday, September 19, 2015

512 (2015 #69). To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

I first read this book in the eighth grade, and we discussed it in my literature class.  I was even one of three students to be among the first users of our K-8 Catholic school's closed-circuit TV and tape system, recording a program about the novel, where I discussed the story from Scout Finch's point of view.

I'm not going to try to review this well-known novel.  In re-reading it 45 years after I first read it, and shortly after reading Harper Lee's recently released Go Set a Watchman, the precursor to this book, I can say that what I most noticed was the wry humor of Scout's recollections of her childhood.  Yes, there was this serious trial going on, but much of it is a story of an otherwise rather idyllic childhood. in mid-1930s Mississippi.

A couple examples of the humor:

On page 16, Scout talks about her first grade teacher:

"...I am Miss Caroline Fisher.  I am from North Alabama, from Winston County."  The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.)  North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other people of no background.

And later, on page 18, Jem calls the "new way they're teachin' the first grade...the Dewey Decimal System."

The book begins in the summer of 1933 when Scout is six and her brother Jem is ten- there's a reference to Roosevelt's nothing "to fear but fear itself" speech on page 6, and to The Gray Ghost on page 13, published in book form about 1926. (The book is also referenced in the last two pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.)  It ends in the fall of 1935 - there are references to Hitler on pages 244-247, ending with Scout's observation about her third grade teacher:

"Miss Gates is a nice lady, ain't she?"
"Why sure," said Jem...
"She hates Hitler a lot..."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Well, she went on today about how bad it was him treatin' the Jews like that.  Jem, it's not right to persecute anybody, is it?  I mean have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?"
"Gracious no, Scout.  What's eatin' you?"
"Well, coming out of the courthouse that night [after Tom Robinson's trial], ... I heard her say it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us.  Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home--"

I'd also like to note that Atticus Finch wasn't really some perfect non-racist in this book.  He treats Calpurnia, the housekeeper who is practically raising his children, quite well - but not as an equal.  He's appointed to defend Tom Robinson - he doesn't volunteer.  He defends Tom because he believes in the law, and because he believes there's very good evidence Tom did not commit rape.  Heroic, yes, particularly because it was dangerous for him to do so at the time, but it doesn't make him an anti-racism god.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I own this copy of the book.]

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #24 - Freebie

Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart

I would recommend this book to a friend!

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

511 (2015 #68). The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly,
read by Natalie Ross

This is a sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly's 2010 Newbery Honor Book, but you don't need to have read it in order to enjoy this one.

It takes up right where the previous book left off - the beginning of the year 1900, in the Tate home in Fentress, Texas.  Twelve-year-old Calpurnia Virginia ("Callie Vee") Tate, the middle child among six brothers, is thrilled to find it snowing - a rarity in Central Texas in the winter.

This book continues the Darwinian theme with epigraphs for each chapter from Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle.  Fitting, too, because this time, Callie's scientific explorations - mostly conducted with her grandfather - focus on animals instead of plants, as well as the weather and stars.

Callie's younger brother Travis (all but the oldest brother are named for various early Texas heroes) plays a big part in this book, with his quest to find the ideal pet.  He adopts a series of inappropriate ones - an armadillo, a blue jay, a raccoon - and finally a half-coyote dog he names Scruffy. Callie's involved in (trying to) help him keep them hidden from their parents, and in caring for them when they are ultimately discovered.

In an interview, Kelly said she'd wanted to write a sequel,  "but our big old house in Fentress, Texas, which served as the inspiration for so much of the first book, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 2010.  It was a horrible experience and it took me some time to get over it."  She also said she "drew a lot of inspiration from our dog Laika, a stray living near the San Marcos River, who we are pretty sure is half-Chow and half-coyote." Laika is the inspiration for Scruffy.

Kelly, who lived for a while in Galveston, works the 1900 hurricane that devastated that city into the story. Callie sees a coastal gull that's flown far inland, and her grandfather has her build a homemade barometer and make observations.  They predict the big storm and try to warn their family in Galveston.  After the storm, Callie's father and oldest brother go to help, and return with Callie's older cousin Agatha who comes to live with the Tates for a while - getting the bed in Callie's room while our heroine sleeps on the floor - while her family home is being rebuilt.  They are accompanied by a veterinarian who sets up practice in Fentress.  Callie assists him with some of his patients, and is frustrated by 1900s customs that would seem to prevent her from becoming a veterinarian herself.

The gentle reminders that girls didn't have the kinds of opportunities in the early 1900s that they do today, plus Callie's interest in science, encouraged by her grandfather (she even dissects a worm and a frog, and builds astrolabe to learn about latitude and longitude), make this book especially appropriate for girls age 11 and up, as well as "all nature lovers, and all curious kids, and all strong readers," according to Kelly.

Once again, the beautiful silhouette on the cover was designed by the talented Beth White.  And native Texan Natalie Ross also reads this audiobook, with her soft but musical Southern-accented voice, perfect for Callie, who tells her own tale.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #23 - #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This multiple-award-winning book has Latino characters whose close friendship ultimately develops into a romance.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Saturday, September 12, 2015

510 (2015 #67). The Lady and the Unicorn

by Tracy Chevalier

The book cover initially caught my eye.  It has two cut-outs, through which you can see the Lady and the Unicorn of the famous six Middle Ages tapestries upon which this historical fiction novel is based.  The blurb on the back of the paperback says, "The Lady and the Unicorn is Tracy Chevalier's answer to the mystery behind one of the art world's great masterpieces."

Little is known of the background of the tapestries, but Chevalier has taken those bits of information and supposition and woven an imaginative tale about the creation of the tapestries around them.  For example, they were likely woven in Flanders, the center of expertise in the millefleur style of that period (1480-1520), which is when the tapestries were likely made.

The story has multiple narrators: Nicolas des Innocents (ironic as he's not at all innocent), the (fictional) painter who designed the tapestries; Claude Le Viste and Genevieve de Nanterre, the (real) oldest daughter and wife of the wealthy Paris man who wanted the tapestries made; as well as the fictional weavers and and artist in Brussels who made them a reality:  master weaver Georges de la Chapelle, his wife Christine du Sablon and daughter Alienor de la Chapelle, and the cartoon painter Philippe de la Tour.

Nicolas is a vain womanizer who probably sees himself as the unicorn (although it supposedly symbolizes Christ).  The women in the story end up appearing in some of the tapestries, which each represent one of the five senses, plus a sixth called "À Mon Seul Désir" (To My One Desire).  The book is fascinating with its detailed descriptions of the art and process of weaving, and Chevalier's story is clever. I liked the way she used the names of religious seasons (Lent, Easter, Whitsuntide, May Day, Septuagesima) to mark the passage of time over the two years it took to create the tapestries.

My paperback features six full-color plates with detail of the lady and the unicorn from each tapestry.  The hardbound copy I got at the library for comparison does not have those plates, but underneath the dust jacket (with cutouts like the paperback has) is a reproduction of "À Mon Seul Désir" that wraps around to the back of the book:

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I own my copy of this book, but it is also available at the Hood County Library.]

509 (2015 #66). Little Bee

by Chris Cleave

I've had a paperback copy of this book sitting on my TBR (to be read) pile for a while - I think I picked up the copy, which was water damaged, for a quarter somewhere.

The Little Bee of the title is a Nigerian refugee in England.  Mistakenly released after two years in an immigration detention center, she seeks out the only two people she knows in England, journalists Andrew and Sarah O'Rourke.

The three met on a beach in Nigeria, and terrible things happen.  Andrew and Sarah thought Little Bee was dead, but when she turns up at their home, more terrible things happen.

The story is told alternating between Sarah's and Little Bee's viewpoints.  Little Bee is likable, Sarah not particularly so - too naive and self-absorbed.

Author Chris Cleave worked briefly at a detention center in the early 1990s, and says that is why he wrote the book.  "I knew I had to write about it, because it’s such a dirty secret. And I knew I had to show the unexpected humour of these refugees wherever I could, and to make the book an enjoyable and compelling read – because otherwise people’s eyes would glaze over."

A few quotes from the book (all by Little Bee) that I liked:

page 9:  "...a scar is never ugly...We must all see scars as beauty...a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived."

page 131:  "I could not stop talking because now I had started my story, it wanted to be finished.  We cannot choose where to start and stop.  Our stories are the tellers of us."

page 182:  "Even the missionaries had boarded up their mission.  They left us with the holy books that were not worth the expense of shipping back to your country.  In our village our only Bible had all of its pages missing after the forty-sixth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew, so that the end of our religion, as far as any of us knew, was My god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?  We understood that this was the end of the story."

I love the silhouette-style cover of this book. Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich designed it as well as the similar American covers for Cleave's other books, Gold and Incendiary.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I own my copy of this book, but it is also available at the Hood County Library.]

508 (2015 #65). Absolutely Normal Chaos

by Sharon Creech,
read by Kate Forbes

If you've read Sharon Creech's 1995 Newbery Medalist, Walk Two Moons, you might recognize some characters from that one in Absolutely Normal Chaos, Creech's 1990 novel, which is built around the journal assignment that also appears in Walk Two Moons. The Finney family, as well as some of Phoebe and Sal's classmates from Walk Two Moons, made their first appearance in this book.  Absolutely Normal Chaos did not seem to have much press until after Creech won the Newbery, which is why many seem to think it was written after Walk Two Moons.  Nope.  It came before.

Mary Lou Finney, the second of the five children, is the journal writer in this book.  And what a journal it is!  She writes "on and on" sometimes, just like her best friend Beth Ann talks "on and on" about her latest boyfriend.  I would hope thirteen-year-old Mary Lou just got caught up in the journal writing and didn't really intend to turn all this in to her teachers.

Author Sharon Creech says the inspiration for the book came when she was living in England and missing her family.  Just like Mary Lou, she actually has three younger brothers named Dennis, Doug, and Tom, but the book characters' behavior is fictional, just like those of her parents, older sister, and cousin (the latter two not named Maggie and Carl Ray in real life).  Creech "did have a cousin who came to live with us when I was Mary Lou’s age, and he was quite like the character Carl Ray is," and "Mary Lou gives her address in this book as 4059 Buxton Road—and that was my real address," although it was in South Euclid, Ohio, and not the fictional Easton of the book.

While some of the plot isn't too plausible (especially Carl Ray's story), the portrayal of family life at the unnamed time is.  I think there's a bit of timelessness in the setting of this novel that makes it appealing even today, 25 years after it was written, and nearly 60 years after the author was Mary Lou's age.  For me, the only real clue it's not set in the present is the many references to telephones that are *not* cells (or smart) - the kids call each other and don't text.

The book addresses some serious issues - death (the next door neighbor, who is not elderly) and poverty (Mary Lou travels with Carl Ray back to his home in Appalachia - no electricity, no flushing toilet).

Besides the summer journal to keep, Mary Lou also has a summer reading list.  She picks out a book of poems by Robert Frost and the Odyssey to read, and makes comments and writes notes about them in this book as well.  Her commentary is quite amusing.

Probably the funniest part of the book for me was the stretch in the journal where Mary Lou's mother tells her to stop saying "God," "stupid," and "stuff" so much, and to expand her vocabulary.  So Mary Lou uses a thesaurus to find synonyms and starts using those instead, even in her journal.  The results are hilarious (from page 139):

Not much elixir happened today.  Alex had to work all day, so I stayed home, watched Tommy, read some more Odyssey, and quintessence. 
Mrs. Furtz came over again, all crying and nub, about some cabbageheaded letter she got....I do feel sorry for her and all, I really do, but Omnipotent!

Actress Kate Forbes does a fine job narrating the audiobook - she makes a perfect Mary Lou for the first person diary entries.  The audiobook has the cover illustration pictured at the beginning of this post, which I prefer (with its flying pages and pages of journal-writing).  The second illustration (just above) is from the print book cover, and it's not clear to me if the boy pictured sitting next to (the girl I assume is) Mary Lou on the front step is her cousin Carl Ray, or her boyfriend Alex.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to the Hood County Library and my university library respectively.]

Friday, September 11, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #22 - Banned or Challenged Book

The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman

The ACLU in Texas does a report on books banned and challenged in Texas schools every year, using information requested funder the authority of the Texas Public Information Act, Texas Government Code Ch.552 (commonly known as the Open Records Act). I've always thought it interesting that a number of these books are Newbery Medalists, an award given for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."

The Midwife's Apprentice was challenged in the 2007-08 school year at Coldspring Intermediate School in the Coldspring-Oakhurst Consolidated Independent School District for sexual content and mysticism or paganism, apparently because of  a "reference to 'a roll in the hay' as well as unspecified pagan ideas (or at least ideas in conflict with Christianity)."  At the time the report was published, action (whether or not to ban or restrict the book) was pending.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #21 - From Childhood

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I first read this at age 13, as required reading in eighth grade.  It affected me profoundly then, but I have a much greater appreciation for it now.

Below is an article from the student-created newspaper, The Troubadour, from my K-8 school, St. Francis de Sales in Houston, Texas.  I was the news editor, but I'm not sure if I wrote this article, as it doesn't have my byline.  The article appeared on the top of page 2 of the December 18, 1970 issue.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #20 - Set in Texas

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.

Historical fiction set in Fentress, Texas, in 1901-02.

Below is a 1911 map of the Fentress area.  You can also see towns of Lockhart and Prairie Lea which are mentioned in the story, as well as the San Marcos River that plays a part.  The map is from the United States Geological Service (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #19 - From the FOL Bookstore

The Lady and the Unicorn, by Tracy Chevalier

I bought this at the Hood County Friends of the Library book sale in October 2006, mostly because I liked the cover and the blurb on the back.

The cover has two cut-outs, through which you can see the Lady and the Unicorn of the famous six Middle Ages tapestries upon which this historical fiction novel is based.  I'd never heard of this masterpiece until I read the blurb on the back of the book.  That, the cover, and the price (it was among a number of books I filled a box with on the last day of the sale for only $5) are what inspired me to buy it.

At the time, I'd only read Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring, and this sounded similar.  Since then, I've read two more of Chevalier's books, and now I finally got around to this one, which had been sitting on my TBR (to be read) shelf for while.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015