Stars and rainbows and gun violence

stars beneathI was at work  when I learned about the latest mass shooting.  We heard again that “this kind of thing doesn’t happen around here.”  Clearly, it does happen around here, more and more often.  And it’s been happening around here for a while.  We’re not really even surprised by it.

I’d been reading The Stars Beneath Our Feet for a few days, and while it’s set in New York — which might seem far away to anyone knowing where I live – it’s not far away at all.  I recognize these kids, having worked in a program similar to the one described in the book, just out here in good ol’ Iowa.  They’d lost family members to gun violence and drugs, and some lived every day with traumatic pain, not seeing any way to get out of it all.  Some of my favorite kids could be Lolly and Vega and Big Rose.

I wish they had all known Lolly and this book.  It might have given us one more way to talk about the really awful choices in front of them, things adults all want them to avoid and resist, but which, like Harp and Gully, just kept landing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of them, unavoidable.  My own Lolly, much loved by his family and friends, didn’t make the same choices and will most likely be incarcerated for many years, missing his kids’ birthdays and everything else.  His decisions will ripple out to affect even more people.  The pain just spreads.

After finishing the book, it struck me that these tragedies — mass shootings or gun violence in our neighborhoods – they’re not so far away from any of us, whether we’re in the suburbs or the city or a small town.  We act like one thing is different from another, but maybe it isn’t.  And as a country, we don’t do anything about either, no matter how many lives are ruined and wasted on it all.

This should probably have filled me with sadness and hopelessness, but it didn’t.  Lolly’s story, you see, is like a rainbow of Legos reaching out to us across that pain.  (I like the image, although I know it’s a little silly on paper.)  It needs to be read by all kids, whether they sound and look like Lolly or not.  Kids in small town and urban Iowa may look or sound different, but they live their own stories with strikingly similar challenges.

Can a book change the world or a life?  It can.  This one just might.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

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Steampunk with Mad King Ludwig… where have you been all my life?

castle in the stars

Parents are always doing weird stuff, aren’t they?  Like flying their balloons up into the atmosphere to try to find some weird holy-grail-like thing called aether.

So you lose one parent.  Time passes.  Your dad tries to keep you from tagging along on his trip to follow up the mystery of your mom’s final trip log.  Um, no.  You must jump on that train and head for Bavaria, meet up with Mad King Ludwig in one of his awesome castles, help your dad build a steampunky ship to search for more aether, and then, oh, sure, also reveal a traitor to the king.  And this is just book one.  Book two had better get here fast.

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, book one by Alex Alice

 

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Where is my BEST FRIEND DISCO BONANZA?

snappsy 2Snappsy the Alligator is back, and Bert (a chicken) seems determined to have fun with him.

Snappsy does not seem too worried about Bert’s pressing issues:

  • the previously noted disco bonanza
  • a sleepover
  • pinochle
  • matching shirts

Have you ever had a friend who wants to be your friend way too much?  This would be Bert.  Eventually Bert leaves in a huff – “I’m sure I can find another best friend somewhere.”

I feel like Snappsy could have just let Bert go at this moment, reading in peace and living a quiet life.  But Snappsy is apparently not like me and misses Bert.  They might have to navigate some issues in their journey to best-friendship since they are so very different.  Like that moving truck in Snappsy’s driveway, for example.

Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably) by Julie Falatko and Tim Miller

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How all occasions do inform against me…preschool version

There’s nothing really mind-shattering or new going on in either of these books, but this should not matter to any of us.  It’s always good for kids to see things that can be connected to their real lives, right?  (Blah, blah, pontificate about themes, ramble on about character development, blah, blah.)

Here’s the thing.  Charlie (a rabbit) can’t get to sleep.  Other animals keep messing it up with noisy interruptions.  Charlie has a routine, darn it!  Why won’t they just cooperate?

Meanwhile in another book, someone is trying to get their shirt off.  It’s stuck.  How will we live our lives if we can’t get this darn shirt off?

So really, nothing is new or exciting here.  But kids will love these books.  Why?

The stories are simple but funny and perfectly illustrated to bring out even more smiles.  That is all.  That is all we need some days.  Today.  So, perfect for today.

Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Sleep Tight, Charlie by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo

 

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Big hearts, big feet

little-bigfoot-big-city-9781481470773_lgIt’s kind of sweet that this book came out on Halloween, since several of the characters are putting on masks or wearing metaphorical disguises.  Those smartypants publishing folks were probably planning that whole connection, right?

Even if they had, it wouldn’t take away from this book.  Sequels and trilogies can be problematic – the characters don’t hold up with more observation, there’s a temptation to do too much, or you find yourself realizing that the future you imagined for a character after the first book is wildly different from the author’s.  Maybe, just maybe, you still think yours is better.

What’s nice about Little Bigfoot, Big City is that the characters do grow and change, and they do it in realistic ways that didn’t bug me.  There are challenges, moments of confusion, misunderstandings and many mistakes to be made.  Deep down, however, you believe that each one of the main characters wants to do what’s best and what’s right, even if that isn’t easy.  They might be on what look like opposite sides of an issue, but they are really trying.

And that’s all we can expect of ourselves some days.  Am I perfect?  No way.  But when I mess up, I try to make amends.  I try to see the other person’s point of view.  Does it matter if I’m Yare or human?  Maybe not.

Little Bigfoot, Big City by Jennifer Weiner

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These feet are made for walking…

her right footIf you are looking for fun facts about the Statue of Liberty and her history, it’s here.  If you’d like a reminder of our country’s diversity and ideals, that’s here, too.  If you’d like to know about one of her feet – also here.  Is it a beginning?  A reminder?  A call to action?

Never forget we are a people in motion.  Never forget we have a choice which direction we go and what we take with us.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris

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Love your books. Love your friends. Together.

hoorayTurtle loves a book and must read it now.  Just that one book.  Why are our favorites never where we left them?  What happens?  Do we lend them?  Do they move off on their own?  Seriously, what’s the deal here?

The search begins, and along the way friends will mention their own favorites.  And somehow we’ll all end up reading together.  Always a good thing.

Hooray for Books by Brian Won

 

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Oh, Mary Anne, sweet Mary Anne

big machinesMike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel and The Little House were favorites of mine.  Imagining Mary Anne digging out a building in just one day – whew! – and watching the changing world grow up around the little house – oh my!  Such fun for a little kid back in the day.

So it’s a joy to see Mary Anne (steam shovel), Katy (snowplow), Maybelle (trolley) and the Little House all over again, and to learn more about the clearly joyful woman who created them.

Big Machines: the story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco

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Mega-awesome

megaprincess1Maxie and Justine, princess and pony, have a moment with a fairy godmother, but it’s not cute and filled with rainbows and sunshine.  It’s spunky and silly and there’s a quest of sorts – find a baby or a bunch of babies, bring people together, be a friend, kiss a few frogs.

So fun.

Mega Princess by Kelly Thompson, Adam Greene, and Brianne Drouhard

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Resistance is futile

wishtree

Or not.  The pen is mightier than the sword, right?

What do we do in times of strife?  When neighbors and good people are being singled out for persecution or isolation or bullying?

Some writers write.  Katherine Applegate writes.

She’s written about cruelty to animals (The One and Only Ivan) and homelessness and hunger (Crenshaw).  Now Wishtree seems to be calling out to a moment troubled by anger and anti-Muslim sentiments, among other things.   Does it solve any problems?  No, not really.  Could it start some discussions?  Maybe.  In 211 pages, it manages to weave together a history of caring for each other with a tree, its residents, and the people of a neighborhood who might be on the edge of forgetting how we live together and care about each other.  It does this all quietly, with exactly the kind of stillness and humor you’d expect from a red oak.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

 

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