Newbery Challenge- 1940’s

1014090I’m participating again this year in Amy’s Newbery Challenge. This month was the 1940’s. I re-read one of my favorite books from childhood: Eleanor Estes’ The Hundred Dresses. It’s sort of a sad book and I remember liking it somewhat because it was sad instead of despite the sad. It tells the story of Wanda Petronski, a young Polish girl in a small town in Connecticut. Two other girls, Peggy and Maddie, daily make fun of Wanda. This is partially because of her claim that she has one hundred dresses at home even though she only wears the same old dress to school daily. But it is more because she is poor and foreign and because she is different from them.Wanda ends up moving away and the girls later discover that her story of a hundred dresses was true in a way. She leaves behind a hundred sketches of beautiful dresses. The girls try to find a way to contact her and apologize but it’s too late. In the end, they do hear from Wanda and there is some sense of forgiveness on her part but it’s not a completely satisfying ending.

I think the most compelling character in the book is Maddie. The main instigator of tormenting Wanda is clearly Peggy who is sort of a Mean Girl precursor. Maddie is Peggy’s best friend and is clearly less confident. She’s a little conflicted about mocking Wanda but never speaks up. This may be in part because she is also from a family who is poor. But I think most kids will recognize the conflict of knowing what the right thing to do is but not doing it because you don’t want to lose a friend or stand out or become the victim yourself. I think perhaps that is what attracted me to this book as a kid.

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I also read a new to me book: Fog Magic by Julia Sauer. This one was enjoyable; a girl who finds herself mysteriously drawn to thick fog in her Nova Scotia town learns that she can travel back in time through the fog. Her adventures are fairly tame, she mostly just goes back and visits a local family and becomes friends with a young girl in the past. But the story is sweet and appealing to anyone who has ever dreamed of going back in time.

Up next: the 1950’s. I plan to read The Secret of the Andes which beat Charlotte’s Web for the Newbery Medal in 1953 (Charlotte was an Honor Book). I’ve always been curious about the book that bested Charlotte.

A Week of Newbery Winners

I’ve spent the past week reading the 2016 Newbery Award Winners. I didn’t exactly plan to read them all at once, but they all arrived for me at the library at the same time so it seemed serendipitous.

Matt de La Pena’s Last Stop on Market Street is clearly the big topic of conversation this year, as the first true picture book to win the Newbery Medal. It also was named as a Caldecott Honor Book. The book tells the story of a young boy, CJ, and his Nana as they travel on the bus after church to the last stop on Market Street. CJ is a typical young kid who asks his Nana a lot of questions and expressed dissatisfaction with life as it is (Why don’t they have a car? Why do they always have to go where they are going on Sundays? Why can’t he have an MP3 player like the other boys on the bus?) His Nana lovingly and wisely answers his questions and helps to show him the beauty in the everyday world around him. The language is realistic and has the cadence and sound of real people talking but is also sprinkled with lovely and unexpected imagery.

My first impression after reading it was probably similar to a lot of people’s. It is a great book but I was a little confused about why it was deemed the Newbery Medal Winner, an honor I associate with much more complex books. And much longer books. However, the more I think about it the more I like the choice. So often I see parents want to move their kids along from picture books because they are “just for little kids”. As soon as kids start reading on their own we push them towards chapter books and out of the picture book section of the library. But there are so many wonderful picture books out there and I think by giving one of them the Newbery the committee has legitimized the idea that a good picture book is worth reading for all ages of kids, even those who have “graduated” on to much longer books. I love that my seventh grader still reads through the stack of picture books we bring home from the library each week. He likes good books, and I love that he doesn’t see himself as too old to enjoy a good picture book.

After serving on the Cybils selection commitee two years ago, I realize that the very concept of picking the ONE BEST BOOK is just ridiculous. There are so many wonderful books for kids and so many different reasons that a book might appeal to a committee at a particular time. I do think that this book was probably picked partially because the issue of diversity in children’s literature is a very hot topic right now. However, that doesn’t mean Last Stop on Market Street is not also without literary merit. It just happened to be a beautiful book that also fits in with the current thoughts about what is important and desired in kid lit. I’ve been reading along with Amy’s Newbery Through the Decades Challenge for the past year and one thing I’ve learned is how much books reflect their time and place.

I also read the three Newbery Honor Books this week and thought all three of them were very deserving of the honor. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan were both WWII era stories. Echo has some fairy-tale and fantasy elements that weave together three different tales about three children in difficult circumstances during WWII. Music is the theme that binds together all three stories. I enjoyed it but I really loved The War that Saved My Life, which tells the story of Ada, a young girl in London with a clubfoot who has been locked inside a room her entire life by her mother. When WWII begins Ada finds a way to escape with the other child evacuees to the country where she slowly begins to find a new life. I loved that the happy ending is not something that is easy. Ada struggles with being afraid of being happy and loved as it might all be taken away from her again. It’s a book that felt very real.

Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl also felt very real. Almost too real, like experiencing all the angst of middle school all over again. Perhaps this is the year of the graphic novel for me as I was totally charmed by this story of Astrid, a girl who is trying to figure out where she belongs. Her best friend is becoming interested in fashion and boys and ballet and Astrid feels left out and unsure of who she is until she finds her tribe at a roller derby camp. One thing I really liked is that Astrid is complex, not always likable, but always realistic and sympathetic. Similarly, we see that the friend isn’t all bad. It isn’t that girls who like ballet and fashion are bad and girls who like roller derby are good. It’s more how do you figure out how to become your own person while still hanging on to the friends you had when you were little and things were simpler. I would highly recommend this one for anyone in the middle school or almost middle school age.

Cybils!

Happy New Year! I’m sure you all know what that means, right?

The Cybils shortlists are being announced today, of course! Head over and check out the best of children’s and young adult literature in 11 different categories. There is something for everyone, I promise.

Having served as a first-round panelist this year in the Elementary and Middle Grade Non-Fiction category, I can say I don’t envy the job of the second-round panelists. We took 96 books and narrowed it down to an outstanding list of seven. They have to somehow pick the one finalist and I don’t know how I’m going to wait until Feb 14th to find out which one they choose. And I’m even more excited to see the shortlists in the other categories.

The main thing I learned from this process is that when you take 96 books and narrow them down to 7 there will inevitably be really great books left off the list. Books I loved were left off the list. I had to leave books I loved off my own shortlist that we had to turn in. What better way to discuss what was shortlisted and what wasn’t than by participating in the Armchair Cybils over at Hope is the Word. What better way to ring in the New Year than by talking about books! I hope to be back later today with some of my thoughts.

Read Aloud Thursday: The One and Only Ivan

David’s current bedtime book is the 2013 Newbery winner, The One and Only Ivan. I picked it to read with him because he loves animals and any kind of animal story and because unlike other recent Newbery winners it looked like a book that had appealed to an award committee of librarians and that would also appeal to kids. Overall, we’ve really enjoyed the book although I have some ambivalence about it as a choice for David (a 1st grader).

Ivan is a silverback gorilla who has lived as long as he can remember at an odd zoo/circus/shopping mall “at Exit 8 off of I-95”. His friends are Stella, an aging ex-circus elephant with a wounded leg, and Bob, a stray dog who likes to sleep on Ivan’s stomach. Ivan eats yogurt raisins and watches TV. He likes watching Julia, the young daughter of the custodian, when she comes to visit. He considers himself an artist and his crayon drawings sell for $25 (with frame) in the mall gift shop. He thinks his life is ok.  He has never seen another gorilla and he can’t remember the past at all but he doesn’t really think much about either of those things or about life outside his “domain” until a baby elephant named Ruby arrives at the mall. Ruby’s arrival catapults Ivan into the role of protector for the first time in his life. He makes a promise to try and help Ruby have a better life and as he cares for her he begins to remember more of his own past.

The book is told from Ivan’s point of view, which is intriguing. Ivan isn’t anthropomorphized in the same way that the animals in a book like The Wind in the Willows or Redwall are. He is still very much a gorilla.  The point of view didn’t totally work for me. I kept wondering why Ivan could talk to Bob and Ruby but not to Julia. (Maybe I’m comparing to Charlotte’s Web which we also recently read. I like that Fern can understand the animals. In fact, E. B. White implies that anyone can if they take the time to listen. Adults just don’t listen.) However, my boys are more accepting and they liked Ivan. They thought he was really funny and smart and rooted for him to succeed in his plan to save Ruby.

Ivan is at times a funny book and in the end, it’s a book with a satisfying and even happy ending. It’s also a quite sad book, which is where my ambivalence comes from having chosen it for David. He’s quite sensitive, especially about animals. (He’s a newly proclaimed vegetarian. Well, a vegetarian who eats bacon. But that’s a whole other post.) He gets very upset about cruelty or death. We hadn’t read very much of the book before I realized it was going to be sadder than I realized. I skimmed ahead and was a bit concerned about him so I warned him that it would be sad but that it would end ok. And then I cut out one particularly gruesome scene from Ivan’s past.

I would recommend the book, even for animal lovers. However, I would definitely recommend pre-reading or reading aloud to younger or more sensitive kids. It’s a fairly easy book to skip parts as the chapters are very very short (often less than one page or consisting of just a few sentences). It may be an especially good book for kids who love animals. Beyond the sadness and the basic storyline there are interesting questions about whether or not places like zoos can serve a purpose and be a good place for animals. I admit to being a little conflicted about our own visits to zoos. On one hand, I dislike seeing animals in cages. On the other, I know that often the zoos can do very good work for animals that are endangered. Also, I think our kids have learned from visits to the zoo to love and be curious about animals and to be more interested in animal welfare and protection than if they had never seen an elephant or sea lion or gorilla. I liked that Katherine Applegate doesn’t make the zoo issue black or white, instead she focuses on how the animals are treated. That’s something I’ve tried to be more aware of in our own zoo-going as well.

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And in honor of Ruby, a picture from a recent trip to the opening of the new Elephant Community Center at our local zoo.

Stop by Hope is the Word for more Read Aloud Thursday (and adorable baby photos).

Read Aloud Thursday: Two Tiger Tales

In this first book, Mary Logue gives us a gentle story of a little girl who doesn’t want to fall asleep. I love the patience of the parents who wisely don’t try and argue with their daughter when she insists she is not tired at all. “Ok,” they say “but you still have to brush your teeth.” And put on your pajamas. And get in bed. Along the way she wonders if everything has to sleep. Her parent assure her that yes, everything does. Whales and bats. Snails and, yes, even tigers. I loved the very realistic back and forth conversation between the girl and her parents. Sleep Like a Tiger was a Caldecott Honor Book this year and Pamela Zagarenski’s illustrations are both lovely and strange. They are slightly surreal but not at all frightening. Ruth especially seemed to like this book, I think she may have identified just a bit with the crown-wearing, not-wanting-to-go-to-sleep little girl.

However, Ruth liked this next tiger book even more than the first one. It begins with a little boy telling a story about monkeys. Monkeys swinging on trees. But wait a second, that isn’t a monkey tail….it’s a tiger! The boy runs from the tiger only to find him pop up again and again on each page.  It’s a Tiger! is a perfect toddler or preschooler book with just the right amount of repetition. Ruth loved yelling “It’s a Tiger” at the right time on each page. The story reminded me just a bit of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (another favorite here) with the repetition and just the right amount of scariness. This tiger is more cute than fierce and in the end readers will be happy to find that he’s really not trying to eat the boy. The book ends with a funny twist that Ruth really liked. She asked for multiple readings of this one and proclaimed it “FUNNY!” each time.

 

Stop by Hope is the Word for more Read Aloud Thursday!

Shelf Discovery Update

I’m still participating in (and enjoying) the Shelf Discovery project at Girl Detective but I haven’t blogged about it much in the past few weeks. Chapter 3 was “Danger Girls” and of the books that Lizzie Skurnick mentions in Shelf Discovery I chose to reread The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and a book by Lois Duncan. The Westing Game was one of my favorites as a child and I’ve reread it probably a dozen times in my lifetime so there wasn’t a lot in it that surprised me. I enjoyed reading it again, just as much for the pleasure of remembering all the other times I’d read it as for the enjoyment of this reading. The other thing I realized when reading it this time was that it shouldn’t be surprising to me that this was a favorite of mine. I’ve always loved puzzles and logic games and mysteries. Clue has always been one of my favorite board games and I love those brainteaser kind of games you play on a road trip. I spent large parts of 3rd, 4th and 5th grade immersed in the world of Trixie Belden and in 4th and 5th grade me and two other girls wrote, directed and starred in two plays about Trixie. As an adult my favorite kind of light reading is mysteries or suspense. I think part of what attracts me to science and medicine is that at the best of times it is somewhat like solving a puzzle. All that to say that in rereading The Westing Game is was kind of neat to see how the child me was attracted to some of the same things that the adult me enjoys.

I was also a big Lois Duncan fan as a teen, which makes sense as Duncan is the queen of teen suspense. Skurnick reviews a different Duncan book in the Danger Girl chapter, Daughters of Eve, the dark look at 1970s feminism. I decided when doing this project to only go with books I could get from the library and my library system only had a few of Duncan’s books. They Never Came Home was always one of my favorite of hers so I picked it. I’m not sure it’s the best representative of Duncan’s work as it’s less dark and has no element of the supernatural that you see in most of her other works (Which may have been why I liked it. Some of her books I still remember as being ultra-creepy.)

They Never Came Home is the story of two boys, Larry and Dan who go missing on a weekend camping trip. The families all believe they are dead when one of their canteens is found by a river. Joan, the sister of Larry and girlfriend of Dan, is left to mourn and deal with her devastated family. It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that the boys are actually alive in LA, Dan is suffering from amnesia and believes his name is Dave and that Larry is his brother Lance. How they got there and why is something of a mystery that Dave/Dan starts to piece together as bits of his memory come back. In alternating chapters Joan is also discovering things about her brother that provide the reader with clues as to what happened to the boys.

This one has the amnesia theme which seems to have always interested me based on my reading choices of the past year or so and my love for movies like Memento. I think as a teen I liked it because Joan is the not all that beautiful girl who gets the most popular boy in school as a boyfriend just because she has a great personality.

The big surprise to me in reading this one was how conservative it was. I admit to being a Duncan fan with a bit of embarrassment, they certainly aren’t great literature and in my memory they are somehow slightly naughty books to have read. This book however completely affirmed what we would call today “traditional values”. The shocking revelation about Larry is that he was involved in selling marijuana. I can’t imagine a book today using this as proof of his evil character, even if it isn’t exactly smiled upon today. Further evidence against Larry is that he is too pretty, likes nice clothes too much and doesn’t like to do manly things like go camping. His Mom is clearly at fault since she babies him too much and has “made him soft”. I don’t think he’s supposed to be gay since he is also portrayed as being something of a ladies’ man but it’s interesting that these attributes are used to show his depravity.

The next chapter in Shelf Discovery was “Read ‘Em and Weep” about tearjerker teen books. I ended up reading two books by Katherine Paterson, both Newberry winners. The first, Jacob Have I Loved, was not a favorite of mine as a teen. I’m not sure I’d even read the whole thing prior to this reading. Elements of it were familiar but a large part of the plot was completely unfamiliar to me. I’m guessing but I think that Sara Louise’s jealously of her beautiful and talented sister Caroline may have been too uncomfortable to read about during those awkward teen years. I’m an only child so sibling rivarly wasn’t a problem for me, but I often compared myself to others and came up feeling like I was lacking. Sara Louise is also not a particularly sympathetic character. Her blind jealousy makes her so prickly and difficult that she ends up alienating many of the people who want to love her. I think at that age I tended to enjoy books more with heroines that I admired or related to. Or maybe it was none of those and was just the right book but wrong time. Regardless, I enjoyed this one very much this time around. An added bonus for me was that the setting is familiar to me. I’ve never been to the two islands in the Chesapeake Bay that Paterson based Rass on but I’ve been to the Bay and the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This book made me even more interested in visiting the real islands.

Is there anyone that doesn’t know this classic Paterson novel? I remember liking it as a child, although it certainly made me sad. I think even at that age I appreciated the story even if it wasn’t a feel-good book. If anything, I liked it better as an adult. It’s not just the ending that is sad (I found myself again crying over the last few chapters) but the book doesn’t ignore the everyday sadnesses in Jess and Leslie’s lives. The bullies, the poverty of the Aarons family, the ways that Jess has to act older than his age.

The setting of this book was also interesting to me, as it takes place in rural Virginia. Lark Creek is not a real place but is based on Paterson’s experience teaching in a rural Virginia town. The interesting thing is that it can’t be that far from Washington DC based on the end of book trip that Jess goes on to the National Gallery with his music teacher. I’m guessing maybe an hour away, which would be in Loudon County perhaps. I would imagine that in the 1970s there were very rural poor areas of Loudon like the town depicted here but it would be much harder if impossible to find them an hour away from DC today. I’d bet it’s impossible to find somewhere where a girl who brings yogurt to school for lunch is made fun of today.

If you haven’t read any of these I’d highly recommend the two Paterson books to anyone of any age. I’d recommend The Westing Game for anyone who enjoys mysteries.

Read Aloud Thursday: Gardens

One of my favorite Five in a Row books is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. It’s a great book all alone but it’s also a perfect way to begin a spring study on gardens. This year I was thrilled to discover And Then It’s Spring, a new book by Julie Fogliano. It’s a simple book about a boy and a dog who wait and wait in the brown world for their garden to grow. They grow tired of waiting and despair that the world will always be brown, only to find one day when they wake up that it is green. And suddenly it’s spring. I loved this description as it’s often the way I feel about spring. It often feels to me like I look around and suddenly the world is green overnight. The illustrations are by Erin Stead, who did the illustrations for the Caldecott winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee. I like her style, it’s sweet but with just enough quirky to keep from being saccharine.

Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou was another new book for us. Mrs. Spitzer is a wise and experienced teacher who receives a packet of seeds every fall from her principal. She nurtures and feeds and waters these seeds until the little plants grow and flourish. The seeds and plants are of course her students and each description of how she gardens (getting rid of weeds, knowing that some seeds need special attention, knowing that plants all have different appearances and characters) all refer to the children and how she teaches. My kids did not get the book on the first reading but I asked some gently leading questions and John figured it out quickly. We then read through it again and had a great discussion about all the different analogies (what are the weeds she has to get rid of). It ended up being a really good lesson for multi-ages. Ruth just liked the pictures of little flowers with funny faces. David liked the story and enjoyed getting the “joke”. John got into it more and really enjoyed discussing it a bit more in depth.

In this endearing book by Andrew Larsen, a little girl loves visiting her grandfather’s garden. When he moves to a new apartment without room for a garden she is sad until they decide to create their own imaginary garden. Using a giant canvas and paints they create a world for the two of them to share. After reading it I had my kids go out and make their own imaginary garden with sidewalk chalk.

This beautifully illustrated book by JoAnn Early Macken (illustrations by Pam Paparone) focuses on the different ways that seeds are spread. From coconuts to dandelions to burdock seeds, a different seed is highlighted on each page. David is not a huge fan of non-fiction books so I’m always happy to find one that holds his interest. This one had a lot of good information but told in way that was engaging to him. I think the illustrations and the use of frequent onomatopoeia helped make this more than just a bunch of dry facts.

More garden and seed books:

Mortimer’s First Garden by Karma Wilson
Mortimer the mouse plants his first garden and is amazed at the miracle of a small seed turning into a huge plant. I love Wilson and although this book is different from her others, it doesn’t disappoint. 

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
I’m a huge fan of the husband and wife team of Sarah Stewart and David Small. This 1998 Caldecott Honor Book tells the story of Lydia Grace, a young girl who must go live in the city with her uncle during the Depression. While there she creates a secret special garden for him. It’s a fantastic companion to Miss Rumphius as it has the same theme of bringing beauty to the world. 

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
A classic and really, you can’t go wrong with anything by Ehlert. 

A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Ashton
Ashton’s non-fiction books with Sylvia Long’s illustrations are some of my favorites.The drawings are gorgeous and the information is detailed. 

Yucky Worms by Vivian French
Really, what gardening study is complete without mention of worms. One morning Ruth and I went worm hunting outside and then read this really fascinating look at some of the most important inhabitants of the garden. 

Be sure to check out what others are reading at Hope is the Word.

What I’ve Been Reading

The past few weeks have found me finishing up a bunch of books. I went on a women’s retreat for church which afforded me extra time to read (heavenly indeed). I’m not sure I want to do full reviews of any of these but I thought I’d offer a few brief thoughts on each.

The Shallows:What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
Overall, I found this book very interesting. I liked that Carr is neither an alarmist (he admits to a fondness and reliance on technology) nor in denial about the effect of technology on the way we think. More than anything this book underlined to me the differences between my generation (that grew up without computers) and the generation of my children. I wished that Carr had spent a bit less time on discussing the neurological effects of technology and a bit more time on discussing the implications of what those effects might be. For example, I couldn’t help by think about the increase of diagnoses of ADD when reading about how something like Google is designed to make us inattentive. I also thought that Carr overstated how difficult it is to choose to “unplug”. Yes, technology is here to stay and we are dependent on it. At the same time, most of the people I know have found various ways of limiting its impact. Carr describes a scenario where a user is online only to have alerts telling them when their email, Facebook, Twitter and readers have new content and how difficult it is to ignore those alerts. Yet, it is quite simple to choose not to be alerted. Or even more, to choose not to use Facebook or Twitter or a reader.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
I read this one mostly out of curiosity at what won the Newbury last year. It’s one of those very quirky books with a lot of weird characters and situations. The main character is Jack Gantos (yes the same name as the author),a 12 year old living in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, who is “grounded for life” after accidentally shooting one of his Dad’s Japanese rifles from WWII. Jack is a strange kid whose nose bleeds constantly at any stress and who is afraid of death. He gets mixed up with Mrs. Volker, one of the original Norvelt residents, when she asks him to help her write obituaries for the town. There is also a gang of Hell’s Angels, Jack’s best friend Bunny who is a foul mouthed Girl Scout and daughter of the funeral director, a homemade bomb shelter and a mystery of sorts involving the death of many of the original residents.

For about the first third of the book, I thought this was another Exquisite Corpse Adventure and I still do think there was an element of quirkiness just to be quirky. But in the end this one won me over a bit. There is a lot of history woven into the book and the theme is that you have to know your history if you don’t want to repeat it (or “do stupid stuff” again as the narrator says.) There is also more character development as Jack goes from being scared and somewhat disgusted by the elderly Mrs. Volker to being her friend. One of the reasons I read this was to see if maybe it would be good for John. He certainly could read it now, but I think this is one best left until older. Partially due to some of the themes (war, death, fighting parents) and partially due to the fact that while he’d think some of the quirkiness was funny he just wouldn’t get the bigger ideas yet.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai
A 2011 Newbury Honor Book and the winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, this is a really beautiful book. It tells the autobiographical story of a year in the life of Ha, a young Vietnamese girl who leave Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and settles in America. The story is told through narrative poems. The poems are lovely but Ha’s story is what is really touching. Some of the story is funny (the inconsistencies of the English language). Some are heartbreaking (realizing that her missing in action father is dead). Some are uncomfortable (the baptism by her family of well-meaning but misguided Christians). I was able to read the book in one setting which I think made the experience that much better. Ha’s voice was strong and beautiful and I came away feeling lucky to have spent time with her.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
This is yet another “person does something quirky and then writes a book about it” books. Think Julie and Julia or The Year of Living Biblically or even Moonwalking with Einstein. In this book, McClure sets out to visit as many of the Laura Ingalls Wilder related sites as she can. Along the way, she tries her hand at some Little House on the Prairie type of tasks like butter churning and does a lot of ruminating on what Laura means to her personally. This book has been reviewed in a lot of places. Amy had mixed feelings, so did Janet, 5 Minutes for Books loved it. Overall, I thought is was just ok. I found it hard to identify with McClure’s Laura obsession. Although I’ve always been a big reader and as a girl imagined myself in books I’ve never felt the way she feels about Laura. And though I’ve dreamed of visiting some of the Little House sites myself (or Prince Edward Island or Mantako, Minnesota) I’ve always seen those as fun places to go, not places that might hold some deep meaning or answers about life. McClure’s tone has been described as irreverent and that didn’t bother me that much but I did think she was unnecessarily mocking of the other people she met along the way. She pokes fun at her own geeky obsession but in a sort of “oh, I’m such a geek, aren’t I cool” kind of way. But when she meets a stereotypical homeschooling family she’s shocked to actually like them. And when she ends up in a group of fundamentalist homesteader Christians preparing for the apocalypse she becomes completely freaked out for reasons I couldn’t quite understand.

The main problem with the book is that it’s hard to put McClure’s voice aside and I didn’t find her voice all that interesting. But if you can put it aside there are some interesting questions raised. Which version of Laura is the “real” one? The actual historical details or the details that Wilder chooses to remember and put down for posterity in her books. Why do we Americans embrace a certain ideal of the pioneer? What does our obsession with things like Laura Ingalls or American Girl dolls say about our vision of American girlhood? I wished McClure had explored some of these ideas in more depth. It would have taken a “I’m so geeky cool” memoir and made it into a much better book.