Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Review of 'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation's history and current crisis.  Americans have built an empire on the idea of 'race,' a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men-- bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion.  What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?  And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates's attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.  Coates shares with his son-- and readers-- the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children's lives were taken as American plunder.  Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward."

This was a read that was talked about a lot but that also took me a while to get around to reading.  And really, it's such an important read that I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner.  

This entire book is a letter from the author to his son.  This in and of itself is interesting because that means that no one is really the target audience except for his son.  I don't know if it's meant for people like me (white, to get straight to the point) who need to understand just how fragile life is and how it's even more fragile for people of color whose lives tend to be threatened more often than my own or if it's meant for POC who know and understand.  Maybe it's a place where you understand and turn to see that someone else understands too.  Or maybe it's meant for both types of audiences.  Either way, I think it's effective.

I have been trying to read more and more about race especially from people who are forced to think about their race in a variety of contexts that I have the privilege of not thinking about.  I appreciate that Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't hold back.  I'm ready to listen and he was and still is ready to speak and so I feel like I have a better understanding about the threats that face people of color.  I'm trying to be a better ally and that understanding is crucial to doing ally work that matters.  My research is far from over though.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  I can't think of a better way to get the "lay of the land," so to speak and build that understanding, even if I can't fully comprehend everything that is being said.  And that says more about me and what I've experienced.

This is what I'm left with after one read.  I think this book will require a second or even a third reading after I've done more extensive reading and built up my knowledge on this subject more.  It'll be interesting to see if I understand more after another read-through.

I can only speak to my experience, but I think this book is important for white people to read if they intend to be allies to POC.  This ought to be required reading.  I fully intend to return to this book again.

I give 'Between the World and Me':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, February 5, 2018

A Review of 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' by J.K. Rowling (audiobook)

"The war against Voldemort is not going well: even Muggle governments are noticing.  Ron scans the obituary pages of 'The Daily Prophet' looking for familiar names.  Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.  And yet...

As in all wars, life goes on.  Sixth-year students learn to Apparate, and lose a few eyebrows in the process.  The Weasley twins expand their business.  Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love.  Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage on the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter.  Harry struggles to uncover the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, the past owner of a potions textbook he now possesses that is filled with ingenious, potentially deadly spells.  But Harry's life is suddenly changed forever when someone close to him is heinously murdered right before his eyes.

With Dumbledore's guidance, he seeks out the full, complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort, and thereby attempts to find what may be his only vulnerability."

I just love how especially towards the end of the series, J.K. Rowling changes everything.  The best part of this book by far is learning more about Voldemort.  I appreciate this because it gives humanity to the bad guy.  Instead of just fighting him because of the things he did (which of course doesn't change things), Harry and Dumbledore dig into his past.  Their goal wasn't really to figure out what happened to him, they were researching what objects or things could be his Horcruxes.  But you can't have one without the other.  We learn just how effed up of a past and of a family young Tom Riddle he had and how little control he had over his own story.  Maybe in better circumstances he could have turned things around and could have led a positive happy life in an effort to spite his family who cared so little for him... but in actuality, Tom didn't have anyone to care about him.  The orphanage didn't give a crap about him.  I'm not sure what Tom had in the way of friends or friends-as-family when he got to Hogwarts... he had no one because no one showed him he could be better than his violent tendencies.  In a way, J.K. Rowling gave us the reasons and background on just why Voldemort became the Voldemort we are so familiar with.

I don't think there is any way that the series could have ended differently or that Voldemort could have changed.  But there's a person behind all of this madness and the world wronged him from his first day of life.

This was my biggest take-away from the story.  Interestingly, it's not my favorite of the series, but I do appreciate this aspect of the series that doesn't appear anywhere else.

I'll keep it short today.  I give 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Review of 'Yellow Face' by David Henry Hwang

"'A thesis of a play, unafraid of complexities and contradictions, pepped up with a light dramatic fizz.  It asks whether race is skin-deep, actable or even fakeable, and it does so with huge wit and brio.' --TimeOut London

'A pungent play of ideas with a big heart.  Yellow Face brings to the national discussion about race a sense of humor a mile wide, an even-handed treatment and a hopeful, healing vision of a world that could be.' --Variety

The play begins with the 1990s controversy over color-blind casting for Miss Saigon before it spins into a comic fantasy, in which the character DHH pens a play in protest and the unwittingly casts a white actor as the Asian lead.  Yellow Face also explores the real-life investigation of Hwang's father, the first Asian American to own a federally chartered bank, and the espionage charges against physicist Wen Ho Lee.  Adroitly combining the light touch of comedy with weighty political and emotional issues, Hwang creates a 'lively and provocative cultural self-portrait [that] lets nobody off the hook' (The New York Times)."

This play was one that my husband read for his multicultural literature class when he was completing his bachelor's degree (don't get me started on the name of the class "multicultural literature."  It's a rant for a different day).  It's been sitting on our shelf ever since and I vowed to read it one day.  Turns out that day would come later in 2017.

In my own undergraduate education, I had started delving into this idea of Yellow Face and lack of representation of especially Asian men in performance spaces, but this digging was never really completed.  I don't think this book ends that exploration, but rather gives me some direction in that search and more importantly gives me some background.

I don't think I fully realized what a problem lack of Asian representation is, especially in today's day and age.  It's not so much that white people are taping their eyes in order to place some non-descript Asian character in a play (at least not so much anymore... although shamefully that did happen), but it comes down to when Asian people are taking parts in Hollywood roles and big-name stage plays, what roles are they getting?  Roles where Asian men are not seen as being capable of being masculine.  Sidekick roles where they are the comedic relief.  Maybe the mysterious bad guy.  Waitstaff that can barely speak English and are just caricatures.  And Asian women are seen as exotic, likely something delicate that, if you do touch, you need to be ridiculously careful.  It's a much more stagnant world out there for Asian actors than other actors of different racial backgrounds.

I don't want to claim I've been completely enlightened and that I know everything on this topic, but my eyes have been opened.  Lately my students and I have been learning a lot about race as part of our current unit and so I've been thinking a lot about this topic and I've been wanting to learn more about race and how we treat people who are different races other than white.  To a certain degree, I was on that mission at the end of 2017 too.  I'll keep learning about this as much as possible.

Specific to this play, it's a really intriguing because it digs into how we define who fits into a particular race category; how we decide.  It's also interesting because it's written in the form of a confession.  I'd be interested in rereading this again later down the line.  Maybe in 2018.  I'm reading a lot of nonfiction this year so far and have a lot more planned.

If you're interested in seeing the play as opposed to reading this play, here it is in video form:

I give 'Yellow Face':
Thanks for Reading!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Review of 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' by J.K. Rowling (Audiobook)

"Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on.  However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected...

Suspense, secrets, and thrilling action from the pen of J.K. Rowling ensure an electrifying adventure that is impossible to put down."

Things are getting very real in the Wizarding World.

I think this is a slightly underrated part of the series.  If Goblet of Fire was the point of no return in the series, then this is the part of the series where Harry is shouldering more of the responsibility.  But not everyone is ready to hand over that responsibility to him.

This book was hard to listen to.  I've read it before and have watched the film version of it tons of times, so I knew exactly what was coming as I was listening to the audiobook version of this.  But the Umbridge in the movie is nothing like the Umbridge in the book.  I was legitimately getting angry while I was listening to the book to the point where I needed to shut the book off and walk away.  Her cruelty is unlike any other character in this series.  In a lot of ways she's worse than Voldemort because she has the backing of Fudge's ministry, so everything she's doing is, for better or for worse, legal and she's also the person doing the dirty work.  Voldemort has supporters and often has his people take care of things for him.  So coming face to face with Umbridge in her true form was an absolute nightmare.  Things in Goblet of Fire scared me and got my heart pumping, but not the way this book does.

One big complaint that I have is that things go quite slowly in this book.  Part of it is the length.  Longer works just tend to go a little more slowly.  There were things like Apparition lessons and things like that that I felt could have been spoken about, but not have entire scenes devoted to.  The wait time is a killer.

The scene at the Ministry and later in Dumbledore's office is even more devastating than I remember.  I knew that Harry loses pretty much the only parental figure he's ever known during this scene, but it wasn't really until rereading this scene that it really drove home exactly what that means.  These two scenes are also where I wish that the written and film versions were able to combine.  What I appreciated about the book version were seeing Harry realize that what a mistake he made and hearing others acknowledge that Harry's weakness is wanting to be the hero and go and save people.  I loved that in the movie, Harry realizes that, even while he was being possessed, what makes him different from Voldemort is that he has the power to love.  And he sees the people he loves.  I appreciated and was terribly pained by the scene in Dumbledore's office where Harry is sort of hit with this sense of loss-- of important people in his life, of control in his life-- and he starts destroying things.  I preferred this show of feelings rather than the quiet, still Harry portrayed in the movie.

I think this book and Goblet of Fire are the points of transition in this series.  So much change happens over these two volumes and this is when the series really grows up and takes on that much darker tone than has previously existed.

After this second reading, I realized that I really do like this book and it doesn't deserve all the hate it tends to get from people.  It's not a perfect read, but there is so much going for it all at the same time.

I give 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, January 29, 2018

A Review of 'How To Build A Girl' by Caitlin Moran

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"The New York Times bestselling author hailed as 'the UK's answer to TIna Fey, Chelsea Handler, and Lena Dunham all rolled into one' (Marie Claire) makes her fiction debut with a hilarious yet deeply moving coming of age novel.

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn't enough?  You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes-- and build yourself.

It's 1990.  Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there's no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde-- fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer.  She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer-- like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontes-- but without the dying young bit.

By sixteen, she's smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper.  She's writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she's built Dolly with a fatal flaw?  Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease.  How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it."

I have mixed feelings about this book.  But I found some things harder to buy into about this story than others and I was concerned about a few things, even though Johanna is a fictional character.  I'll start with the positive things first.

I appreciated Johanna trying to take her life, and in some ways, those of her family's, into her own hands.  It was getting harder and harder to make ends meet and even though Johanna felt like it was her fault this was happening, she didn't just let her family flounder.  She worked hard until she got a job and then worked hard at getting better at that job.  No matter what she was writing, she was ultimately successful at her craft.  I also appreciated that there was a level of... permission to enjoy sex.  It's not a shameful act and it's okay to enjoy pleasure.  I think too often it's seen as something done out of necessity and particularly if the woman enjoys it, it's saying something negative about her.  I don't agree with this point of view and I think it's damaging.

Unfortunately, this is where my cheerleading squad ends the routine.

I thought this book was wholly unrealistic.  And yes, you can make the excuse that this is a fiction novel and it doesn't need to be realistic, but I think given that this is not a fantasy novel, there should be some level of believability.  A lot of my skepticism revolves around Johanna's age.  By the time the book ends, Johanna can't be much older than sixteen.  So when she starts her job and is then asked to go out and party with the people she works with... how can they not know her age?  I don't know about this employer, but I've had to put my date of birth down on job applications... before I'm even hired by anyone!  Why is it that her age is completely ignored?  And then we crossed a line when Dolly/Johanna becomes sexually active... she is maybe 15 or 16 and she is having intercourse with grown men... I'm not so naive to think that teens her age are thinking about and even having sex at their age... I'm a teacher, I teach 14-16 year olds for a living.  But I'm pretty sure it's illegal and technically, Johanna can't legally consent to someone much older than her.  Not at this point in her life.

So what really bothers me about this book, and the reason why I'll be sending this book to Goodwill or Half-Price Books rather than putting it in my classroom now that I'm finished with it instead of my classroom is because her age is confused so badly and her maturity is, in a lot of ways, fake.

So yeah... this book is a mixed bag for me.  I wanted to like this book because I really liked How To Be A Woman which is also by Caitlin Moran, but I just can't bring myself to even pretend.

I give 'How To Build A Girl':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Review of 'March: Book One' by John Lewis

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement.  His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper's farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim crow and segregation.  Rooted in Lewis' personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis' youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book 'Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.'  Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations."

When my husband and I went to California, we went to the San Diego Comic Art Gallery and this was the first place where I had heard of this book.  The guy running the place that day raved about it and so I thought that I would pick up the first book and see how I liked this series.

Now I'm looking for the remaining two books at a good price.  This is a series that I will keep on my shelf and encourage everyone I meet to read.

I think no matter how many times you have heard about what happened during the Civil Rights Movement, there's always something new to uncover and understand that just wasn't taught in history class.  To hear the lead-up to this movement, even from just one perspective, is powerful because it's one that I can never piece together on my own.  It's something I need to seek an education to understand.  I'm grateful that Congressman Lewis was willing to share his story so that others might understand.

I feel like I can't say a ton about this story yet because I still have two more parts to read.  But I'm excited to pick them up.  I'll be adding them to my "Read in 2018" shelves.  Even though my shelves are really full already, this is a series I will always make room for.

I give 'March: Book 1':
Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Review of 'Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from a St. Paul High School' by Green Card Youth Voices

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from a St. Paul High School is a collection f thirty personal essays written by immigrant students from LEAP High School in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Included with each essay is a link to a first-person video narrative.  Coming from thirteen different countries, these young people share their life journeys in their own words.  Some fled xenophobia, others came to be reunited with family, and all left behind loved ones: parents, children, friends.  Throughout it all, each of these young people exhibits tremendous resiliency, courage, and unabashed hope as they imagine their futures in this new country.

The digital and written narratives in this book are exceptional resources for anyone looking to learn more about the human side of the immigrant experience.  By seeking ourselves reflected in each of these stories, we begin to build the necessary bridges that will bring us towards a deeper understanding of one another."

I think I've mentioned this before, but my kids are working on a unit about immigration and race.  The ESL teacher let me borrow this book.  I didn't use it as a tool for the students this year, but with some minor adjustments, I would like to use this with my students next year when they take on this unit.

This was a really neat book because all of the people featured in this book live in my neck of the woods and it was interesting to see how, even though a number of these people come from different places, their experiences were similar in a lot of ways.  I don't think I really expected that.  Of course, emigrating to another country is a life-changing move, but because the experiences overlapped in a number of ways, it kind of drove home in my mind that this is something we (as in people) have always done and will always do.  It's not something to be treated as weird or strange.

The other special thing about this book is that all of these stories talk about how they made it to where they are and even talk about their hopes and dreams for the future.  Emigrating to a new country is not the be-all and end-all goal.  There is still work to be done after you arrive and that work is acknowledged in this book.

I don't know if I would go and read any of the other additions right now just knowing that, as special as each individual included (and not included) in this publication is, the stories are similar, I would instead recommend that other people pick an edition of this book that is in their school district (if available).  Because I'm a teacher in St. Paul, the students in this book resemble the population that I teach and that's another thing that meant a lot to me-- I'm able to get more insight into some of the students I serve.  If I change school districts later in my career, I will look for an edition of this book close to where I work.  I does seem like a number of these editions center on different areas of Minnesota, but not all of them.

I give 'Green Card Youth Voices':
Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Review of 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' by J.K. Rowling

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Harry Potter is midway through his training as a wizard and his coming of age.  Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup.  He wants to find out about the mysterious event that's supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn't happened for a hundred years.  He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard.  But unfortunately for Harry Potter, he's not normal-- even by wizarding standards.

And in his case, different can be deadly."

I'm not going to lie, this book is in my top 3 Harry Potter books, so this review will be a little biased.  It's right up there with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  And here's why:

1. I love this book because this is the moment where everything changes.  It's so different from the other books because there is a focus on the tournament and the different tasks that accompany.

2. I love this book because Harry, Ron, and Hermione are older and they're beginning to come into themselves.  For Hermione, I love that she is able to show a different side of intelligence.  Namely that you don't have to choose between being smart and being good-looking.  And it's not even that you should want to be one or the other, but just showing that these two worlds can come together into one if you would like it too.  It defeats the trope that the most intelligent person in the room, especially if they're female, is also the least attractive and least worthy of love and appreciation.  Way to go, Hermione, for breaking down barriers for young women coming into their own.

3. Everything changes in this book.  The entire series as we know it has been turned on its head.  Suddenly these nervous murmurs about You Know Who turn into fully realized fears (albeit slowly because of the stupid Minister of Magic).  Suddenly there is this heavy focus on the body that there really hasn't been in the past, since J.K. Rowling was so busy setting up the story over the course of about three books.  And a lot of this has to do with Voldemort's focus on the body.

4. This is sort of related to number 3... the entire tone of this story becomes super intense.  Literally, Hogwarts will never be the same again.  I was talking about before in my reviews of the earlier Harry Potter books that I love returning to this charming and fairly innocent Hogwarts filled with wonder, but starting at this point, the school will never be shed in the same light.  As much as I grew to miss this light and happy tone to Hogwarts, this was the point in the series where my interest was cemented in this series.  Nothing will ever change that.

There are many reasons why I love and will always love this book.  It's not perfect, but it's very dear to my heart.

I give 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire':
Thanks for Reading!


Friday, January 19, 2018

A Review of 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001.  The protagonist, Piscine Molitor 'Pi' Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age.  He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker."

This book has been sitting on my shelf forever, so I wanted to read this in 2017.

The book started off alright.  I was drawn in by life living in a zoo and in a family whose job it was to take care of the animals.  I loved hearing the story about how Pi got his name.  It was a part of India that I have never read about before so that was also fascinating to me.  I also loved that this books explores spirituality how how it can play an active role in our lives.  As someone who has struggled with their spirituality since they were a pre-teen, this was a valuable experience for me to read about.  This is largely due to the fact that Pi is not just a blind follower to whatever religion he was born into (I believe his family is Hindu).  He is okay with exploring other religions, in his case Christianity and Islam.  One big misconception I have about religion and spirituality is that you have to pick one to follow and that's that.  But it's okay to explore and it's okay to take bits and pieces of other religions and spiritualities that help you live the life you're meant to be living.  It's very freeing for me to hear.

Tragic events befall Pi wherein he loses his family, most of the zoo animals, and so much more when the Tsimtsum, the ship helping him and his family emigrate to Canada, sinks unexpectedly and seemingly without reason, leaving him stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, left to fend for himself.  Suddenly, his days are reduced to fighting for his own survival and trying to make sense of all that happened to him.

There is a bit of a lull in the story as Pi focuses hardcore on basic survival: getting food, clean water, keeping things clean as much as one can in the middle of the ocean, staying sane, and feeding the tiger that has managed to survive this long on board the lifeboat that he and Pi now call home.  It was this focus on basic survival that really slowed down the story for me and why it took me so long to finish this book.  Once basic survival was fairly under wraps though, the book picked up a little bit.  Looking back now, I think this was a very immersive read.  As you go along, you're experiencing that struggle to engage your brain and stay active the way Pi struggles to stay engaged.  As soon as he latched onto something that kept his brain engaged, so did you.

Overall, even though there was a great lull in the story, this was a book that took you on a ride and demanded that you be part of Pi's story.

I give 'Life of Pi':
Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Review of 'The Arrival: Sketches From A Nameless Land' by Shaun Tan

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean.  He's embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life-- he's leaving home to build a better future for his family.

Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant's experience through a singular work of the imagination.  He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images.  Because the main character can't communicate in words, the book forgoes them too.  But while the reader experiences the main character's isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy."

My students are in the middle of a unit on Immigration and Race and so one way we have worked towards the goals of our unit was to read this book.

It's nice because it's really accessible to readers of all levels.  There are no words, at least no words that anyone in our world can understand.  Since students have some background on the immigration process in the U.S., they were able to easily see the different steps in action (especially after learning about Ellis Island, which was where decided to start).  We also used this book to talk about settling in a new country and how you begin to find your 'new normal' once you've resolved to settle permanently.

The illustrations are fantastic and highly detailed.  This is just a beautiful book that readers of any level and kids and adults of any age can enjoy.  It's a great way to begin a conversation about immigration, which so many of us in the U.S. and other countries around the world can find threads of our own stories in.

I give 'The Arrival':
Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Review of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' by J.K. Rowling (Audio Book)

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts is full of new dangers.  A convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban prison, and it seems he's after Harry.  Now Hogwarts is being patrolled by the dementors, the Azkaban guards who are hunting Sirius.  But Harry can't imagine that Sirius or, for that matter, the evil Lord Voldemort could be more frightening than the dementors themselves, who have the terrible power to fill anyone they come across with aching loneliness and despair.  Meanwhile, life continues as usual at Hogwarts.  A top-of-the-line broom takes Harry's success at Quidditch, the sport of the Wizarding world, to new heights.  A cute fourth-year student catches his eye.  And he becomes close with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who was a childhood friend of his father.  Yet despite the relative safety of life at Hogwarts and the best efforts of the dementors, the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer.  But if Harry has learned anything from his education in wizardry, it is that things are often not what they seem.  Tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant third installment of the beloved series."

For the longest time, this was as far as I could read in this series.  I must have read it three, four times or even more in a row before I temporarily moved onto other books and finally onto Goblet of Fire.  As I've been rereading this series, I've realized that this is actually one of my favorites of all the books.  I'd say it's in my top three.  Here's why:

1. I think it's nice that we get at least a little bit of a break from Voldemort.  I know he's always a constant threat in Harry's world, but this is the one year where Harry doesn't have to face him directly.  We can worry about other things for once.

2. Harry has some wins in this year that he doesn't get again, especially the further into the series we get.  I mean, he gains a father figure who legitimately cares for him and doesn't try to use him to accomplish a task (ahem, Dumbledore).  He is reunited with the better half of his father's friends which, because he was ripped away from his parents, I can only imagine is an incredibly positive connection to make.

3. We understand a little more about Harry's parents and the circumstances surrounding their death.  While knowing these things doesn't change anything about what happened, it's nice to have the information if nothing else just so you know.  In my experience, that has helped me a little bit.  In mid-December last year, a friend of mine from college lost her life in an accident.  As a way to get closure, especially since I wasn't able to go to the funeral, I tried to get as much information about what happened surrounding her death as I could find.  It doesn't change the fact that she's gone forever, but just knowing that information is good for me to know.  There are no mysteries around her death anymore.  I can start finding closure in other ways.

I think this was J.K. Rowling's gift to Harry.  Even though it's not an easy year, there is a certain amount of reprieve that comes with this year that Harry won't get for years now.  If nothing else, this is a fantastic read just for that.

I give 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban':
Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Review of 'Like Water on Stone' by Dana Walrath

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Blending magical realism and lyrical free verse, this is an intense survival story of three siblings caught up in the horrific events of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence.

Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York.  Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love.  At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen's way.  But when the Ottoman pashas set their plans to eliminate all Armenians in motion, neither twin has a choice.

After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, Shahen and Sosi flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam.  Shahen keeps his parents' fate a secret from his sisters.  But the children are not alone.  An eagle named Ardziv watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood."

This was a book I had to read for my Middle Eastern book club but didn't finish until many months later.  I like this book because it's poetry and therefore short.  I thought this was an interesting way to begin to understand the Armenian genocide that occurred.  I have found through reads like this that I like poetry that is ultimately telling a story (fictional or nonfictional, it doesn't matter).  So I don't regret reading this book at all.

The trouble with reading poetry as narratives, however, at least in my experience, is that it can be hard for me to engage with the characters and therefore take the story to heart.  So after reading this book, I'm interested in reading more about the Armenian genocide, but I don't have a better understanding of this period of time after reading this book.  Poetry has a lot to do with communicating emotion and I think in order to understand one's emotions, you need some context and I don't really get that from this book.  Definitely not after the first read.  So that's rather disappointing.  I'd be interested in seeing if this book means more to me after a bit of an education on my part about this part of the world and about this part of history.

I give 'Like Water on Stone':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, January 15, 2018

A Review of 'Rules' by Cynthia Lord

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"A heartfelt and witty debut about feeling different and finding acceptance-- beyond the rules.

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life.  Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability.  She's spent years trying to teach David the rules-- from 'a peach is not a funny looking apple' to 'keep your pants on in public'-- in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors.  But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?"

I read this book with the boy I tutor during the week.  Normally when we read together, I think the books he picks don't normally engage either of us, but this book was a gold nugget among middle school reading duds.

While I'm curious about what goes on in the mind of someone with autism, I think, as Catherine points out just by being a character in this story, the family of someone with autism matters too.  They still need to be heard and listened to even if their needs might not be as high.

I thought it was really sweet that Catherine tried to help her brother in a way that he could understand through the creation of rules.  Catherine and David have this really special connection than he has with anyone.  I'd even go so far as to say that it's more powerful than the connection David has with either of his parents.

I love this book, but a number of things bothered me (but in a way that I think helped make the story better).  The dad bothered me.  I'm sure he works hard, but he didn't seem to make nearly the effort that Catherine's mother or Catherine herself makes on behalf of David.  He wouldn't arrive when he said that he would arrive where he needed to be.  Like when he was coming home from work, it's not that he'd be a minute or two late.  I find that understandable.  But he would show up half an hour, forty-five minutes, or even an hour later than when he promised.  That's entirely unfair and he knows how important promises are to his son.  Why would he do that?  And speaking of parents, I hate that Catherine has sole responsibility for David when either parent is not available.  That's not inherently wrong, but it's often at the expense of Catherine as it's often rather last minute that this responsibility is given to her.  I was so angry when Catherine was trying hard to become friends with Kristi (although she is rather manipulative and just plain no fun, so I don't think she'd make a good friend anyway), the girl next door, and suddenly she is asked to watch David.  That hardly seems fair and it's a complete disregard for what would be good for Catherine at the time.  Her parents are so unthinking it feels like...

And then my favorite part.  Catherine's relationship with Jason.  Jason is really sweet and I love that she makes the effort to communicate with him even when it can take an extra step to do so.  She showed him that his personhood matters and went so far as to make more communication cards that are more age appropriate for him (rather than just regular cards with hum-drum words).  Jason was able to express frustration and just generally what he was feeling with the help of Catherine's cards.  Every time I read an interaction between these two, my heart warmed and sped up with happiness.  I don't think you could find a sweeter pair out there.

Overall, this is a great book for younger readers and it's good if you're a parent reading with your child.  It's a good read if you're interested in learning more about developmental disabilities and how you can honor the personhood of those living with these conditions.  It's a fantastic read.

I give 'Rules':
Thanks for Reading!