"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Monday, October 31, 2022

TTT: Unlikable Characters I Can’t Help but Like (or at least feel sorry for)


Top Ten Tuesday: Unlikable Characters I Can’t Help but Like (or at least feel sorry for)

It is a common debate between me and my husband -- Is it possible to like a book if you don't like the characters? He argues that it is possible that the author wants us to like the plot or the setting no matter what happens with the characters. I'm more inclined to not the book if I can't find someone in it to love, or at least like, possibly feel sorry for. 

Here is a list of characters who are downright unlikable, yet I find myself incapable of not liking, or least feeling sorry for them:

Olive Kitteridge
 Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
Funnily, the author said she had no intention of writing a second book about this bossy, nosy woman from  Maine, but Olive Kitteridge insisted on a sequel! Ha! 

Draco Malfoy

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. 
In the beginning I hated Draco, but as the series progressed I found myself feeling sorry for him. He seemed trapped by his upbringing to do the bidding of he-who-shall-not-be-named. Yet, I always thought there was a tiny glimmer of good in him.

Amy March

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Amy, the bratty, spoiled youngest sister who burned Jo's manuscript and ended up with Laurie, seemed the least lovable. Yet, she had to work hard and was a member of the four sister team of actors, too.

Mike Teevee

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
All the other kids with Charlie in the Chocolate Factory were either spoiled brats or just weird. Mike Teevee just loved TV. Why not shrink down and live inside it? I found him entertaining.

Miss Havisham

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I don't hate Miss Havisham for the way she treats Pip. I feel sorry for her, how she lost her love and can't let go of her pain.


Emma by Jane Austen
Emma is really insufferable in the beginning, playing with people's feeling like they are her toys. But I always cheer her on, especially as we see the growth she makes in the novel/life.


Henry Crawford 

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Henry is one of Austen's cads. Yet, I end up liking him and wishing, wishing he will choose to become the man he professes to be when he falls in love with Fannie Price.

Jacob Finch Bonner

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Jake steals a student's great idea for a novel when he discovers the student has died. He is self absorbed yet I still cheer for him and want him to thrive.


Reviews of three very different novels/memoirs-in-verse

Reading. Blogging. Blogging. Reading. I am trying to keep up or catch up. Today I am reviewing three very different novels-in-verse/memoir-in-verse.

 The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson
Versify, 2022
Audiobook read by Juliette Goglia
HarperCollins Audio
Target audience: YA

Set in Berlin in 1932 at the end of the Weimer Republic before Hitler comes to power. Hilde, an orphan, finds friends and a family of sorts, in a gay cabaret. There she learns to use her voice to sing for wages and finds love at the same time. However, the new world is brewing outside the doors of the Cafe Lila, one that is not friendly to gays or Jews. Of course, we all know the horrors of the Holocaust, but you may not be aware that the Nazis aimed their ire at gays, also.

This is the first novel-in-verse that I've ever listened to the audiobook version, with the print version available if needed. Poetry is meant to be read aloud so this format should have been a good medium for the book, and in some ways it was, but not so others. First, the flow of the story was choppy in the audiobook. Naturally there are fewer words, so each word carries more weight. The book, for example is almost 400 pages long, yet the audiobook is only 4 1/2 hours long. Anyone who listens to audiobooks often knows that is the length of very short books, not ones of 400 pages. I actually stopped listening 3/4 of the way through the book and returned to the print version. 

Since the book was set in Germany, it was lovely, however, to hear to German pronunciations of words. I also enjoyed hearing the narrator sing the song Hilde wrote for Rose, her love interest.

Overall I found the book to be quite satisfying. I like learning new information or information about a known topic but from a different angle. The author, Kip Wilson, likened what was happening in Berlin in 1932 to what is happening in some parts of our country today "Where certain parts of the country still impose restrictions on individuals based on gender and/or sexual orientation and where it's still dangerous to be out and free." It was a timely read.

Rating: 4 stars.

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round: My Story of the Making of Martin Luther King Day by Kathryn Kirkwood
Versify, 2022
Target Audience: Middle grade students
Kathryn was seventeen and in high school in Memphis, Tennessee the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in her very town. Prior to his death she had joined in the March for Freedom and Justice in support of the Sanitation Worker's strike in her town. When suddenly agitators broke up the peaceful protest and Kathryn was scared for her life. That was the beginning of her life long activism as a foot soldier for Black justice and to see to it that Martin Luther King would be honored with a National Holiday. 

This a deeply moving memoir-in-verse written by a woman who was on the front line for most of the fight to see to it that MLK received the honor he deserved for his work for voting rights and civil rights. The book is short with lots of photographs and other primary documents that related to the movement or were from Kathryn Kirkwood's private collection. Like all good nonfiction books that would be useful for class projects it has a glossary of terms, a bibliography for further reading suggestions, a diagram of how a bill becomes law, and other source notes. I recommend this book for all elementary and middle grade libraries.

Rating: 4 stars.

Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi
HarperCollins Children's Books, 2022
Target Audience: Middle grades

Aafiyah lives a very privileged life in Atlanta as Pakistani-American whose father makes plenty of money, she has every physical thing she needs, yet she can't seem to stop herself from stealing, it is almost like scratching an itch. She must do it. When her father is arrested at the airport for embezzling money, and her mother is forced to support the family and pay the legal bills, her compulsion to steal gets tangled up with wanting to do something for her family, to help out.

What I liked about the book:
The simple, short poems.
The weird facts that Aafiyah collects in her little notebook.
The way that religion, Islam, is incorporated into the family's life.
The resolution.
Rating: 4 stars.


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Sunday Salon --- Halloween-ish edition

My Hoppys and Muffys are dressed up for Trick-or-Treating

The weather has finally turned fall-ish with cool temperatures at night and moderate ones during the day. The leaves in our deciduous trees have all started the process of turning colorful and some are dropping them. Sunsets are now officially before 6 pm and our days are getting shorter and shorter as we march slowly toward winter solstice. Monday is Halloween and we have lots of candy but few decorations. In fact, we've decided to not even carve a pumpkin this year, opting for the few decorations we've acquired over the years to make our porch look welcoming to those trick-or-treaters who brave the rainy weather that night.

My Spotify Halloween Playlist: I love so many halloween-ish pieces of music so I made myself a Spotify list to have them all in one place. You can listen to it, or play it during in your house as trick-or-treaters come by in the evening, for atmosphere. Here is the link to Anne's Halloween Favorites Playlist.

I'm feeling hopeful about the upcoming election: Need to get a boost? Take a look.  Things are looking up for Democrats in the polling and voting. This is all taken from a twitter thread by Simon Rosenberg  You can find the twitter thread here

-At this point in 2018 Rs had 300k early vote lead. Today Ds have a 2m vote lead.  😁
-Ds outperforming averages from 2020 in GA, MI, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI.  
-Polls have been good for Dems this week, some upwards of  3-4% movements to Ds.
-New @nytimes polls in 4 key House races are encouraging for Dems.  
-There are encouraging polls of Hispanics/Latinos in NV, TX.  
-A new @HarvardIOP poll of 18-29 year olds has very encouraging news. "Definitely voting" matches/exceeds record breaking 2018 midterm numbers, Ds lead 57-31 (+26) with this group.
-Abortion, gun safety, climate, loan forgiveness, strong recovery = reasons to vote
-Liz Cheney will now be openly campaigning for Democrats.  The rejection of MAGA by more traditional Republicans is happening across US, could end being a few points in key races and really make a difference
  -@POTUS has been a good President. // We can do this. Vote and encourage a friend to vote with you!

Reading, books, and blogging: So I did it. I read a book every day this week for my Cybils judging responsibilities and I also managed to finish two other books, too. (That it is the most astonishing thing!)

  • Read for Cybils (27 down, 33 to go!):
    • The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson. A YA novel-in-verse set in Berlin in 1932.
    • Maya's Song by Renee Watson. A children's poetic biography of Maya Angelou.
    • Counting in Dog Years and Other Sassy Math Poems by Betsy Franco. A delightful children's poetry book.
    • Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round: My Story of the Making of Martin Luther King Day by Kathlyn Kirkwood. A memoir-in-verse for middle grade kids. Plenty of primary documents.
    • The Lost Language by Claudia Mills. A middle grade coming-of-age novel-in-verse.
    • Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi. A novel-in-verse about a young Pakistani-American girl who has a problem with stealing.
    • Yuck, You Suck!: Poems About Animals that Sip, Slurp, and Suck by Jane Yolen.
  • Read for self, not Cybils:
    • Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. A book club selection about the court case concerning involuntary sterilization of minors. Audio.
    • Victory. Stand! : Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith. A graphic memoir by one of the runners from the 1968 Olympics who raised his fist in protest. Excellent.
  • Blog reviews this week (I'm having a tough time getting caught up. (Read, I'm behind on my blog reviews.)

 On a lighter and Halloween-ish side:

and this...

Enjoy a little Halloween music to get you in the mood--

Have a good week. Vote early, if you can!


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Two more children's book reviews with help from a five-year-old reviewer

Once again, Ian, my five-year-old grandson, lends a hand on these reviews of fun and colorful children's book. Both of the books have silly titles and outrageous illustrations, both things that make books more attractive to Ian who really enjoys humorous books.

Yuck, You Suck! Poems about Animals that SIP, SLURP, SUCK by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illustrated by Eugenia Nobati
Millbrook Press, 2022

"Dare to open these pages and you'll find ticks, mosquitos, stingrays, elephants, jellyfish, and the particularly sucky lamprey. Sixteen slurpy poems from Yolen and Stemple introduce a suction-filled selection of animals, and spectacularly sticky illustrations from Nobati spotlight these stupendous suckers" (Publisher).

This nonfiction book may have a silly title but it contains some serious, factual information about animals who suck, slurp, and sip blood. The back pages offer additional facts about animals that suck for a reason, a bibliography of books to sink your proboscis into, definitions of anatomical terms for body parts that suck, additional information about the suckers highlighted in the poems, and a glossary of science-y words that don't suck.
Ian was really into this book. He asked if he could take the book home to reread with his parents. His favorite animals are bats, any kind, so he was pretty impressed that one of the animals included here was the vampire bat, but he wants everyone to know that vampire bats don't actually suck, they slurp. By his reaction, I'd say that Ian would give the book 4-4.5 stars. I gave it 3.5 stars. What do I know?

Counting in Dog Years and Other Sassy Math Poems by Betsy Franco, illustrated by Priscilla Tey 
Candlewick Press, 2022

"Betsy Franco explores a range of math topics—from fractions and time measurements to geometry and graphs—in a way that relates math to the daily lives of children. Even the most mathematically disinclined will warm to these innovative poems, illustrated with game-changing wit and whimsy by Priscilla Tey. From multiplying mice to missing socks, from stinky scales to bug races, this collection of imaginative verse subtracts the mystery, fear, and loathing from mathematics, making it engrossing and fun for all" (Publisher).
Ian's mom is a math teacher. She requested the book from me to share with her students. Ian liked the illustrations in this book better than the actual poems. But I have to admit, though it looks like a young children's book, it is certainly above his grade in knowledge, with multiplication, division, mathematical shapes playing a big role in the poems. Ian and grandpa were having fun with the poem about the palindrome-y math numbers: 11 x 11= 121; 111 x 111= 12321; etc. But when I asked him if he liked the book and wanted to take it home, he wasn't so sure. The book is too old for him. My rating 5 stars, Ian's 3.5 stars. I thought he'd like it better than the Yuck, You Suck book. See what I mean? I don't always know what is best for kids.
Grandpa was in his lounge chair so Ian is awkwardly sitting on his chest, not the usual reading position.


Thursday, October 27, 2022

Review and quotes: WAVE (with an update)

"If you don't take the drop, you miss the ride."

Title: Wave by Diana Farid (See update at the bottom of this page!)

Book Beginnings quote: (Note, the print in the book doesn't photograph well,so the photos aren't as clear as I had hoped. Note the shape of each poem and read all the way to the bottom of the page/photo.)

Friday56 quote:


Summary: (From the publisher)

Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital, to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person that make her feel like she belongs. With ocean-like rhythm and lyricism, Wave is about a girl who rides the waves, tumbles, and finds her way back to the shore.

Review: Sometimes the publisher's summary is way better than anything I can think to say. That is the case with this summary. Ava, a Persian-American, lives to surf and loves to sing. But her mother wants her to be a doctor like herself, even though Ava faints at the side of blood. Her life seems to lift and crash down just like waves do as they near the shore. The poetry is so good and the shapes of them remind me of waves and the comings and goings of life on the beach. (Not all are shape/concrete poems, but many are.) 

Ava is surfing with friends -- Up! Ava's father is absent from her life -- down. Ava is asked to sing a solo -- Up! Ava's mom makes her volunteer at the hospital -- down. Ava meets a man at the hospital who introduces her to Rumi poems -- ride that wave! Phoenix, her best friend and fellow surfer seems to be interested in her -- Up! Phoenix's cancer returns -- crash down. Ava wants to fix things but can't -- falling off the board. Ava finds love and acceptance after grief -- climbing back up.

I love this book. Of the ten+ novels-in-verse I've read so far this year, it is my favorite so far. Target audience: 5th grade and up.

Feb. 14, 2023 Update

Wave was selected as the Cybils winner for the novels-in-verse category. I am thrilled. I loved this book so much. Here is what the Round 2 Cybils judges had to say about this winning book:

Wave is everything a verse novel for young readers should be. The story of first-generation Persian-American Ava, caught between her family’s expectations and her own love for surfing, singing, and her friends, is engrossing in its own right. The ancient poet Rumi features prominently within Wave. This is perfect for the narrative as Rumi is both Persian and a poet. His poems are effectively woven in and mentioned by Ava throughout the book. Prejudice, divorce, parental pressure, and grief are balanced beautifully by the brightness of poetry, mixtapes and music, and most of all beloved friends and the joy of riding the waves. “I fall with the song / into the hollow / of the wave, / as it covers me with its curl. / We ride the barrel toward the light.” Having this story told in poems full of beautiful language, careful formatting, and clear voice makes it even better. Poetry and life blend together to make a strong, moving whole that speaks to the universal theme of growing up while still being a story of one unique, captivating heroine. (Cybils Award Winners)



Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Three children's poetry books about nature with reviews from a five-year-old

Children's poetry books about aspect of nature

Today I am highlighting three children's poetry books about nature with review input from Ian, a five-year-old boy. 

At the Pond by David Elliott, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford
When the red-winged blackbird sings its friendly song, a new day has begun for all the animals who live in it and around its watery edges. The friendly duck family, the mysterious water striders, and the busy beaver are a few of the many animals included in this poetic tribute to the ecosystem of the pond. At the Pond brings readers to the pond’s sun-dappled shores, pairing David Elliott’s witty and enchanting animal poems with Amy Schimler-Safford’s luminous and evocative scenes of pond life. Back matter notes about the animals and plants will further captivate young nature lovers. (Publisher)

I honestly thought of the three books here that Ian would like this one best. As it turns out the only poems where he seemed to connect were two -- one about pollywogs and another about water snakes. When we got to the poem about the beavers, which I knew he'd like, he announced that he liked snakes better than beavers. Based on his reaction, I'd say Ian would rate this book with 3 stars. After reading this aloud to Ian and noting his reaction, I amend my initial rating down to 4 stars.

Alaska is for the Birds!: Fourteen Favorite Feathered Friends. Poems by Susan Ewing, illustrated by Evon Zerbetz
Playfully told in quick, witty verses and illustrated with gorgeously colored linocut art, Alaska is for the Birds! features 14 feathered friends found across Alaska. Willow Ptarmigan, Belted Kingfisher, Tufted Puffin, Bald Eagle—these are only a few of the incredible birds found in the cold wilds of Alaska. Explore the forest tops and open sea as you learn about residents like the Great Horned Owl, migrants like the Arctic Tern, and everything in between—from seabirds, shorebirds, and wading birds to songbirds, upland birds, and raptors. Included at the back of the book is a glossary, plus more information about each of the birds mentioned. (Publisher)
Ian seemed to be delighted with Alaska is for Birds! He is a junior ornithologist, after all! When I turned to page for the bird featured on the cover, Ian pointed and told me that bird was a puffin. Later we had to watch a video about sandpipers as their 'murmuration' swept the sky. Neither of us knew what that word meant until we read this book. It is when birds fly closely together, shifting back and forth as if they are one being. Ian was most interested in the poems about birds he knew -- the bald eagle, the great horned owl, and the rufous hummingbird -- but the poems about all the birds delighted us both. We both rate this book with 5 stars.


Behold Our Magical Garden: Poems Fresh From a School Garden by Allan Wolf, illustrated by Daniel Duncan

There’s a lot more to gardens than meets the eye! In this collection of poems filled with fun facts, young nature enthusiasts and budding gardeners are called on to help solve a mystery by the compost bin, join a Wild West–style standoff between some good bugs and a few bad ones, interview the sun to find out what happens when it drinks a glass of water, and learn the fancy names of plants to spice up dinner conversation. They’ll be spurred to grab their own gardening tools, drop in some seeds, encounter a few insects, gather fresh vegetables, and find a whole lot of magic. Allan Wolf’s playful poems and Daniel Duncan’s whimsically detailed, welcoming illustrations combine in a charming celebration of the many wonders and lessons to be learned from a school garden. For further inspiration, engaging notes on the poems and an author’s note on jotting down observations can be found in the back matter. (Publisher).

I got it wrong twice. I thought the poems too long and the illustrations too elaborate to capture the attention of my busy five-year-old. I was wrong. He seemed to enjoy each of the poems about a school garden and the tasks required to grow one. At one point Ian turned to me and said, "Grandma, my preschool had a garden." That seemed to explain everything in five words. Of course he was interested. His class had a garden last year. The witty and inspiring poems covered so many topics about gardening, too, right down to what the students did when someone stole their gardening tools. I rated the book with 4 stars. Based on his reaction, Ian's rating is higher than mine -- 4.5 to 5 stars.



Monday, October 24, 2022

Reviews: Four novels-in-verse and one visual poem about multicultural experiences



Four novels-in-verse and one visual poem about multicultural experiences


The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
Little, Brown, and Co., 2022
Target Audience: 5th grade and up
Themes: Life in Ghana before slavery; cultural pride
Kofi has heard the call on the banks of Upper Kwanta, in the village where he lives, in what today is Ghana, on the Gold Coast of Africa. He loves these things above all else: his family, the fireside tales of his father’s father, a girl named Ama, and, of course, swimming. He is told repeatedly to never go the river at night, but he is never told why. When he figures it out, it is too late, and his life is turned upside down as he finds himself on a ship heading to a new land and a new future.
When author and poet Kwame Alexander was young his parents read him books about his heritage in Africa. "[They] showed me that while the brutal captivity and bondage of Africans was a part of my story, it was not the first chapter, or even the second...What a gift they gave me." The Door of No Return is a story Alexander wrote for himself about a possible relative who landed in a new land against his will, a boy with a happy and full life before he got to America and an unknown future. 
4.5 stars

 When Winter Robeson Came by Brenda Woods
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022.
Target audience: 5-8th grades
Themes: Coming-of-age; civil rights; family; music

In 1965 Eden's cousin, Winter Robeson from Mississippi, comes to visit her family in LA. In addition to vacationing, Winter is interested in finding his father who disappeared over ten years ago in LA. He involves his younger cousin Eden in his scheme and the two set off to solve the mystery of 'where is the missing father.' Along the way they meet a woman, Betty, who lives in the Watts area in the house which was the last know address for Winter's father. Betty doesn't remember him but think she knows who will. Days later that very area devolves into a terrible riot, known later as the Watts Riot of 1965. This time Eden and Winter make their way back to Watts on a bicycle to save Betty.
This short novel-in-verse tried very hard to take its readers back in time to 1965 with plenty of cultural references to the music, the food, and the events of the day. Little was revealed about why the Watts riot broke out, but the reader is viewing the event through the lens of two pre-teens, who may not have been aware of the racial tensions in the area, though they and most of their neighbors were black. What the book did well was present information that could be used as a springboard to jump into more information on your own.

4 stars

They Call Her Fregona by David Bowles
Kokila, 2022
Target audience: 5th grade and up
Themes: Coming-of-age; immigration; family and culture
They Call Her Fregona is a companion to the 2018 award-winning novel, They Call Me Guero. When author and poet David Bowles was out doing presentations in schools after its publication students would often tell him that he needed to write a novel about Joanna (the fregona) because she was so tough and strong. They liked her best. This novel-in-verse is that book. Fregona, which means 'tough girl' in Spanish, actually named Joanna, becomes Guero's girlfriend. Guero is still the poet-narrator of his own story about what it is like to live in Texas, near the Mexican border: the racism coming from some students, the joy in celebrations from their community, the music, and his friendships. Guero and Joanna's experiences seemed very realistic according to today's politics and headlines.

Of the five books I am highlighting today, I like the poetry the best in this one, They Call Her Fregona. Bowles, I mean Guero, writes mostly in free verse but every once in a while he will use a poetic form which is identified before the poem, such as a rondelet, haiku, or sedoka. I appreciated the poetic help very much. In addition, a glossary in the back translates all Spanish words and phrases used in the book, though most could be understood through context. I wish I had started with They Call Me Guero, because there were a few references to information I didn't have, but by in large I was able to enjoy this read as a stand-alone.
5 stars

 In the Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo
Quill Tree Books, 2022
Target Audience: 5th grade and up
Themes: Immigration; Dreams and goals; coming-of-age
In the beautiful Country about a young Taiwanese immigrant to America who is confronted by the stark difference between dreams and reality. Anna, her Americanized name, can’t wait to move to the beautiful country—the Chinese name for America. But the beautiful country isn’t anything like Anna pictured. Her family can only afford a cramped apartment, she’s bullied at school, and she struggles to understand a new language. On top of that, the restaurant that her parents poured their savings into is barely staying afloat. The version of America that Anna is experiencing is nothing like she imagined. This lyrical and heartfelt story, inspired by the author’s own experiences, is about resilience, courage, and the struggle to make a place for yourself in the world. (Publisher)
After reading books like In the Beautiful Country it amazes me that anyone would ever want to move to the United States. Many people are just awful to immigrants: teasing, bullying, and often worse. It was never very clear why the family moved to the US in the first place, but it becomes clear why they stayed eventually. I think young teens, especially those of Asian descent, will find a lot to appreciate in this immigrant's story.

4.5 stars

Inheritance: a Visual Poem
by Elizabeth Acevedo, art by Andrea Pippins
Quill Tree Books, 2022
Target Audience: YA
Themes: Love and pride in self 

Sample page from Inheritance
Elizabeth Acevedo, the award-winning author of Poet X, embraces all the complexities of Black hair and Afro-Latinidad--the history, pain, pride, and powerful love of that inheritance. It is beautifully illustrated by Andrea Pippins.

I reread this poem this week after reading it aloud to my husband a few weeks earlier. I'd recently read a book which touched on the topic of Black hair, So You Want to Talk About Race, so I found this poem reinforced my new knowledge about respecting differences and allowing people to express their personal beauty without any judgement from me! It was a quick read.


Visual poem, not a poetry collection
4 stars


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Sunday Salon with an assist from Emily Dickinson's poems

Our whole family gathered for the Hoot-n-Howl event at the local wildlife park this past weekend. I grabbed the photos from my daughter's Facebook page. I didn't take very good photos. Ian is Spiderman; Jamie is Mickey Mouse.

There's a certain Slant of light, 
Winter Afternoons–

The light this time of year is golden, invading the backyard with its glow as it filters through the leaves which are changing color but still clinging to the trees. Emily Dickinson's poem about the certain slant of light is more about the oppression that can descend on some people this time of year as the days shorten, but I can't help thinking of her poem as I step outside each time, bathed in a golden, slanted light.

We picked all the tomatoes we thought had a chance of ripening inside.

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw;
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

Don and I spent a frantic few hours in the garden this past Thursday afternoon harvesting the last of the tomatoes and pulling up the plants. We were assured that a big rain storm on was its way and wanted to finish the task before it would have to be accomplished in the mud. I made several batches of a pico de gallo/salsa hybrid with the ripe tomatoes. Yum. Emily Dickinson's poems were not titled but the quote comes from one that most people call "In the garden." (BTW-The rain did arrive but wasn't a storm and made no mud in our garden.)

Fans and family!

One Sister have I in our house,
And one, a hedge away.
There's only one recorded,
But both belong to me.

Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poet/emily-dickinson/
One Sister have I in our house,
And one, a hedge away.
There's only one recorded,
But both belong to me.

Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poet/emily-dickinson/
One Sister have I in our house -	
And one a hedge away.	
There's only one recorded,	
But both belong to me.	

Emily Dickinson had one brother, one sister, and one beloved sister-in-law. I have a brother and two sisters. This week I get to see both sisters. My eldest sister was with us for a fun time in Eugene at a UO v UCLA football game, seen in the photo taken by my cousin and his wife. We are dining tonight with my younger sister, who lives in Idaho but is visiting her daughter in Seattle. We don't get as many chances to be together. Near or far, often or rare, we cherish family and visiting when we can. 

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
As I talked about in my last Sunday Salon, I am currently acting as a first round judge for the Cybils Awards, poetry category. To date 60 books have been nominated and I've managed to read 20. Each book accomplishes the goal of putting me inside the head of characters so I can walk "in their land" for a while. That is one thing I love about my role as judge, reading books I wouldn't normally pick, about people and places that aren't me or those who live elsewhere in the world.

In addition to reading these Cybils nominated books (see my Goodreads list here), I've also completed these book in the past two weeks:
  • Red Scare: A Graphic Novel by Liam Francis Walsh -- I expected the anti-communism message but was surprised to find there were also aliens. Lots of fun.
  • Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok -- a book club selection about family secrets. We had a decent discussion. Watch for my review this coming week.
  • A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders. -- Don and I listened to the audiobook together and both of us were very impressed. I highly recommend it.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
Politics and the upcoming election is zapping a lot of my spare energy and attention these days. I had intended to do my normal read this and that advice, highlighting what I found during the week that interested me. But I decided to share only one article with you because I remain hopeful that the election will have a good outcome, protecting our democracy. Emily Dickinson's most famous poem here indeed reminds me to keep up my faith and remain hopeful.
Read this article: "'I'm Deadly Serious.' Why filmmaker Michael Moore is confident of a Democratic win in November." The Guardian, Oct. 23, 2022. 
Read the whole thing but here is just a little teaser:

Moore’s call-to-arms then is to reach the non-believers. “Everyone of who does care, and feels like our democracy could be hanging on by a thread” now “has to do something in these last three weeks”. In his case, he says, it could be as simple as calling a cousin who doesn’t vote to give them reasons why, this time, it’s important and that “she can go back to non-voting after this.” What would he say to them? “Aren’t you tired of nothing getting done? All this deadlock bullshit. One way to undo this logjam is to give Democrats a chance to pass legislation and let’s see how it works out.

Emily Dickinson didn't write anything about alligators and crocodiles so I will. 
Read it out loud if it doesn't come to you right away.

Have a good week!


Friday, October 21, 2022


: The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Book Beginnings quote:

Friday56 quote:


Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen year old Lenni living on the terminal ward. But as she is about to learn, it's not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.

Dodging doctor's orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eighty three year old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.

To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.

As their extraordinary friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet. (Publisher)

Review: I have to say that I was completely charmed by this story of friendship and grief. In the midst of so much despair there was also so much love. I cried for the whole last quarter of the book but felt joy instead of sadness at its end. It was a lovely audiobook, too, read by Sheila Reid and Rebecca Benson. The story was set in Scotland, where apparently, one stays in the hospital for months and months if you are unwell, instead a day or two like here in the US. Fortunately the long stay for both Lenni and Margot allowed for the development of a dear friendship.

Read The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot with a box of tissues nearby!

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.  



Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Reviews: Two historical fiction novels-in-verse by the same author

This year as part of my role as a Cybils judge for the Poetry division I, and the other judges in the same division, are also evaluating novels-in-verse as a separate category. I was pretty excited about this prospect since I am very familiar with this type of YA novel from my time as a teen librarian. I was always on the hunt for new and excellent novels-in-verse for my voracious readers who got hooked on the format by reading books like Crank (Hopkins), Shout (Anderson),  The Crossover (Alexander), and many others. I didn't have much luck getting my readers to move over and read memoirs-in-verse, though there were so many excellent ones to choose from. My favorites were Black Girl Dreaming (Woodson), How I Discovered Poetry (Nelson), and Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle. Of the three memoirs I liked Engle's best not because of her story but because I thought her poetry was the best. Heck, in my opinion, if I read a novel/memoir-in-verse I expect good poetry or the author might as well have written in prose.

Imagine my delight when I found two of Margarita Engle's historical fiction novels-in-verse on our list to evaluate: Rima's Rebellion: Courage in a Time of Tyranny -- about the suffrage movement in Cuba and a brave young heroine -- and Singing with Elephants -- incorporating information about the first Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriela Mistral, into a fictional story about a young writer who helps save an elephant baby. I'd say by the length of each book, under 200 pages, and the age of the protagonists, that both books are targeted at middle grade students, 5-8th grades.

In Rima's Rebellion a young girl, Rima, lives with her mother and grandmother on land owned by a wealthy man, her father. She is his illegitimate daughter (called natural children), which means she cannot have his last name, cannot inherit any of his wealth, and it makes her subject to all kinds of bullying from people in the community and the church, often being shunned by them. In addition, during this time period (1930s and before) Cuba had an archaic adultery law where the women caught in the sexual act could be killed, but not the men! Rima, her mother, and her famous grandmother all joined the rebellion to fight for the vote for women (suffrage) while at the same time fighting for social changes to remove these archaic laws. Change takes a long time and the story occurs over almost a decade, though women had been fighting for the right to vote much longer than this. When the women finally won the right to vote in 1934 they weren't actually allowed to vote until 1936. 

Rima is trained as a typesetter and ultimately works at publishing subversive poetry flyers and books. Here is an example from page 126:

When poets start asking for me as their favorite
typesetter, I feel flattered but confused -- why me?
Because of my name, is the universal answer: Rima.
They think of me as a walking, living, breathing

Singing with Elephants, the second book Engle published in 2022, is a charming story about a young girl, Oriol, who recently moved from her beloved Cuba. She wants to become a writer but has to work at her parent's veterinary clinic. One day Oriol happens to strike up a conversation with a new neighbor and tells her about her desire to become a writer. The neighbor, who is later identified as Gabriela Mistral, a famous Latin American poet and humanitarian, offers to help Oriol. Here is a poem about Oriol's gratitude toward her new teacher, from page 99:

Ode to My Poetry Teacher

is a dance of words
on paper
as graceful as an elephant
the size of love

thank you
for metaphors
and similes
vowel rhymes
counted lines
and flowing ones
free verse
and formal

Oriol shares with Ms. Mistral about the pregnant elephant, Chandra, that her parents are tending and how she is on baby-watch with the rest of the family. During her time with the elephant, Oriol learns that the breed sings or hums as one of their forms of communication. This aspect of the story was so beautiful to me. After the birth Oriol writes a poem about the experience, from page 121:

Dreams of Humming

Chandra's language come back
while I'm asleep, all the hmmmms
that sounded as if she were
pleading with the air
to transform
her pain
into music.

New life
from ancient,
she seemed to announce
inside the dream world
where words
are not needed.

I am not an expert on all the poetic forms but I do know good poetry when I read/feel it. That is how I know that Margarita Engle is a wonderful poet and her novels-in-verse are so excellent. I especially loved the poetry in Singing with Elephants.