Tag Archives: family

Beyond words

drawn togetherSome years ago, I took my then infant son with me to visit a friend and her mother for coffee.  They were both from Bosnia, and my friend’s mom spoke some English, but did not get much of a chance to practice it.  We all chatted for a while, and then my son woke up, happy and ready for attention.  My friend’s mom picked him up and toured him around the house, happily describing everything to him in Bosnian.  Did he care?  No.  Was he suddenly in love with my friend’s mom?  Yes.  She tickled his belly.  She made faces.  She was a dream.  Little ones really don’t care what language you speak as long as you are speaking to them.  Being the center of attention works in any language.

Once you’re a little older, having a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak the same language can be a little more challenging until you find the ways you can communicate beyond words.  And that’s pretty much this book.

It is a perfect and wonderful book.  The words are perfect; the art is perfect.  And there is so much love in it.  What a joyful reminder of the special relationships grandparents can have with their grandchildren, no matter what lives they’ve left behind.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

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A boy on the run, a man struggling with grief, a special bird

boy bird coffin makerThere is an island with flowers made of rubies.

It’s not where Tito, Fia, and Alberto live, but it’s out there, either in someone’s imagination, or maybe just maybe across the horizon – away from an abusive father, far from grief and sadness, just a boat ride away.  But how to get there?

A beautiful, sweet story about love, trust, and the things that make us a family.

The Boy, the Bird, the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods

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Throw it all in a blender

The-2BParker-2BInheritance-2Bfinal-2Bcover-2B-25281-2529-202x300History, mysteries, love, friendship, sacrifice, mistakes, an homage.

I’m telling you, people, I think I’m out of superlatives for this one.  That’s why I had to start with a list.  There’s so much in it – from today’s bullies all the way back to those from the past, choices we make every day to stand up or shut up, right on down the line to lost love and finding the people who become your family.

This one’s a keeper, and its love for one of my favorites – The Westing Game – is just one more way it reached out and grabbed me.  Books like this are gateways to all kinds of things – learning about the real history that inspires them, reading other books of all kinds, asking questions about our own families and who we are – and it’s all good.  It’s all good.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

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Dreamers and doers

reboundare your choices still bronze, not quite perfect but trying?

when you leap for an apple, do your fingers touch air?

 

do you smile at a challenge, at the roxies and cjs?

do you trust too much, when your voice isn’t clear?

 

strong women, strong men

they make up a family

you are part of that, too

young charlie, chuck bell

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Rebound, Kwame Alexander’s stellar new novel in verse.

 

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That whole big world outside your window

frances pauleyFrances Pauley, a.k.a. Figgrotten, mostly lives in a world of her own, although she moves through what passes for the real world.  She’s created a rocky living room outside her house, and she prefers to be there – rain, snow, or shine – over most other places in the world, even though she’s got a loving family and an awesome teacher and all.  Well, most of her family is loving.  Teenaged sisters can be wild cards when they live in an uncharted swirl of anger and drama.  Figgrotten also has a best friend, her bus driver, who makes her think about things in new ways and exposes her to a kinder way of interacting in the world.

Reality has a way of intruding on routines, though, and when things start to upend Figgrotten’s life in uncomfortable ways, it’s stressful and sad and upsetting.  Recognizing the good around her might bring her some awareness, some peace, something new to think about.

This is a wonderful book about a quiet and thoughtful kid.

Recently, there’s been a bit of an uproar in northwestern Iowa over some folks who’d like to have more control over what’s accessible to everyone at their public library.  They seem to think that removing or labeling the materials that fall under their umbrella of someone else’s agenda will make it better for everyone because they think they know what’s better for everyone.  They apparently haven’t read the Library Bill of Rights.

This book is an example of what they might want to label or remove.  Why?  Because it mentions a male teacher maybe having a boyfriend or husband.  It’s one conversation towards the end of the book, and it actually shows the character’s growing empathy for others.  She wants her teacher to have love in his life, like most of us want for our friends and families and teachers.

We all live in the same world, people.  You can live your life.  I can live mine.  If you don’t want your kid to read that book, you’re the parent.  Parent.  I don’t believe stopping your kids from seeing it will make it not exist,  It won’t mean they don’t seek it out on their own later, but go for it.  That’s your right as a parent.  It’s not your right to make that choice for me or my kid or anyone else, however.

And by the way, you’d be missing out on a whole lot of wonderful lessons about community and caring and family if you missed this book.  That’s what I want my kid to learn.  Sigh.  Rant over.

The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley by April Stevens

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War. What is it good for?

playing atariSay it with me — “absolutely nothing.”

Ali has been through one long war – Iran vs. Iraq – and now is living through the short, first Gulf War.  He and his family are not fans of Saddam Hussein, but what can they do?  Like many, they are just trying to survive.  He and his parents can remember a time when it was safer, at least, and he could go to school, but his new normal is hiding out in his house and trying not to engage with the neighborhood bullies, who just happen to be the kids of government leaders who can and do disappear people.

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein is about a childhood in an unsettled time and place, where turning the wrong corner might mean witnessing a mass execution, helping an old woman who’s fallen, being teased for being a Kurd, or playing soccer with your best friend.  It relates a child’s impressions of war – from watching for planes to being annoyed that your brother is suddenly the man of the house and can boss you around.  There are jokes and games of Monopoly, too, in a loving family like his.

Saddam Hussein might not be a name that many children today know well, but the world seems to keep creating similar types.  This could be a powerful way to talk about our troubled world with kids and to highlight how different a child’s life might be in another neighborhood, city, or country.

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein: based on a true story by Jennifer Roy and Ali Fadhil

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Uni-sensors, FARTs, and Mr. X

incredible magicWow. Just wow.

Julian is special, but in so many ways that you don’t really even want to label them individually, because it might just make the greatness of who he is a little less.  His older sister Pookie is an angry teenage drama queen.  His moms have issues of their own.  And then there’s Mr. X, a neighbor who’s lost his wife and turns out to be special and mysterious in his own ways.

Julian is in the middle of all of them and on the outside all at once.  He loves science, space, and astronomers.  He wants to get a dog and name it Sirius after the Dog Star.  He wants to help his sister, his moms, and Mr. X, but he goes about it in ways that might be unexpected, funny, or slightly dangerous.

There’s a lot to like about this book—Julian’s funny and somewhat combative conversations with Mr. X, his “Facts and Random Thoughts,” also known as FARTS, Pookie’s fascination with Matt Damon and her biological father, the whole crazy family they are…

Just wow.

The Incredible Magic of Being by Katherine Erskine

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Clayton, Cool Papa, and Wah-Wah Nita

I cclayton-birdan relate to Clayton Bird.  I may be a middle-aged white woman living in Iowa, but I understand his pain.  I might not have grown up with a blues-playing grandpa–mine was known to ride a banana seat bike now and then, but wouldn’t have known what to do with a guitar—but I know how important people other than parents can be when you’re growing up.  I remember being angry about injustice when I was a kid, or at least what I saw as injustice in my own life.  And I know grief, really crushing grief that hides out in unexpected places and hits you at all the wrong times.

Clayton is the kind of character everyone can relate to on some level, although he might not look like many of the kids I knew growing up.  That’s what’s so wonderful about Rita Williams-Garcia’s work.  Her characters are simultaneously universal and completely unique.  The small details make you think of your Uncle Rich or that kid you went to school with who had a goofy nickname or your best friend’s mom or whoever.   His story, like many of Williams-Garcia’s, celebrates an ordinary life with extraordinary moments—moments which reveal quite a bit about our society as a whole and how kids navigate it. Her characters’ experiences reach out to you, whoever you are, wherever you live.  It’s a gift we are so, so lucky to be able to witness and enjoy.

And if all that weren’t enough, Ms. Williams-Garcia mentions Kathi Appelt in her note at the end of the book.  We all know (or maybe we don’t) just how crazy I am about Kathi Appelt.  I’ve practically thrown her books at the 5th graders I visit if I find out they have somehow managed to miss them.  And  I don’t stop at once a year – she comes up repeatedly.  Actually, I’ve kind of done the same with Rita Williams-Garcia’s books (One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama) because they are a different and wonderful brand of fabulous.   Clearly, I’m just going to get worse.  Prepare.  Beware.

Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

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The Penderwicks in Spring and other gentle reads

Cover-Penderwicks-Spring-450wSometimes you don’t need a book with mountain-climbing teenage spies or vampires in love. You’re just fine with a book that doesn’t involve kids fighting each other in arenas or desperately trying to escape evil villains. And you’re ok without the mean girls and the inspiring teacher who can change the world.

For me, there’s a definite time and place for more gentle reads, books that tell stories of daily life without quite so much drama, books that are so realistic you can imagine the people being someone you really know. Jeanne Birdsall’s latest, The Penderwicks in Spring, is like that. The Penderwick girls have aged, and now the youngest, Batty, is the center of the story. Her life is full of supportive family and good neighbors who care about her, but she still struggles sometimes. She worries about her neighbor who’s in the military, wonders whether her parents can afford vocal lessons for her, and tries to figure out how to handle her changing relationship with her family and friends. There are moments of humor and moments of sadness, but it’s a regular person’s life, and it ends like a regular person’s life would. There are no last-minute rescues from rebels in hovercraft.

If you’d like other less flashy, but still wonderful, feel good stories, try these:

The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall

Absolutely Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick

Bo at Ballard Creek, Kirkpatrick Hill

Turtle in Paradise, Jennifer Holm

One Year in Coal Harbor, Polly Horvath

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, Michele Hurwitz

A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, Sheila Turnage

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