Black Dove White Raven

20454599Continuing in the Africa theme for the month of January, I recently read Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein. Like so many people I loved two of Wein’s previous novels (Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire). Like her other novels, Black Dove. White Raven has teenage pilots as the protagonists and takes place around the time of WWII. However, the setting is pre-WWII Ethiopia instead of Europe and one of the two protagonists is a male.

Teo and Em are the children of female stunt pilots who are and also best friends. When Delia, Teo’s mother, dies during  a flying accident, Em’s mother fulfills a promise she made to Delia to take him to Ethiopia to raise him. Teo is the son of an Ethiopian father and Delia wants him to grow up away from the open racism she sees in the United States. Initially their new home on a cooperative coffee far is like an idyllic paradise for the family. However, an impending invasion of Ethiopia by Italy sets in motion events that change their lives.

I knew absolutely nothing about Ethiopian history before reading this book. And I realize that I still only know about a tiny sliver of that history. But know I now that there was a Italian-Ethiopian war preceding WWII in which most of the rest of the world failed to intervene because of the fear of escalating tensions in Europe at the time. I know that the Ethiopian church is believed my some to be the home of the actual Ark of the Covenant. I know that slavery was still legal in Ethiopia until 1942. I think one effect of reading is sometimes realizing all the things that I don’t know.

Black Dove, White Raven is a YA novel but the themes and language are as complex as many of the adult fiction books I’ve read. At the same time, although Wein doesn’t shy away from dealing with complex issues like war and slavery, the descriptions aren’t disturbing or graphic. I would be fine with my 12 year old reading it, although I don’t think he would be interested. (He doesn’t love realistic or historic fiction and will only read them as an assignment). It would have been a book I would have greatly enjoyed as a young teen and I would recommend it for middle school or high school students who like historical fiction or strong female characters.

 

Survival 101

So Jonas is coming. Jonas being a storm that is being called words like “paralyzing” and “historic”. Despite the fact that it hasn’t actually happened yet. Yes, we live in a city that is notoriously wimpy and panicky about snow. But the predictions are fairly consistent that this could be a big one. I’m kind of looking forward to it. We haven’t had any real snow yet this year, or even much wintery weather. The first snow is always kind of fun. And this one which is predicted to start Friday afternoon and go through Sunday could mean a nice weekend at home for all five of us. No pressure to try and make it into work. The list of things that might get canceled is long: ballet, basketball practices x 3, a swim meet, church, basketball games x 3, swim practice. It was shaping up to be a busy weekend but the snow might bring some long lazy days in front of the fire. A girl can dream, right?

As we are apt to do here in the land of snow frenzy, we went grocery shopping last night and stocked up. We have milk, bread and toilet paper. We have dog food and bottled water. We have marshmallows for the hot chocolate and flashlights and candles.

Most importantly, we have books. The library being a much more essential pre-storm trip than the grocery store.

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Random picture books for everyone.

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David’s stack of graphic novels. Did I mention that he is really into this genre right now?

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A little Pinkalicious makes any snow day better.

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Some chapter books for David and John. I pulled Hamster Princess off the new shelf for Ruth. It looked too old for her but looked really funny so I got it anyway for David to try.

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And a few for me. I had told myself I shouldn’t check anything else out since I have an overly full TBR pile already. But I just couldn’t help myself.

Ok, Jonas. Bring it on. We’re ready.

 

 

Africa with Kids

550120This year we are doing a world cultures/geography study as part of our homeschool. For each area of the world we study the geography, talk a little about the history and a bit about the different cultures. This isn’t by any measure a comprehensive study of any one area but instead it’s a survey course where I want the kids to get a taste and feeling for different areas in the world and appreciate just a bit the diversity of the world we live in.

One thing I’ve emphasized with each area is that we are looking at that part of the world with broad brushstrokes. We can’t learn everything about Australia or Canada in three weeks. I also want the kids to realize that when we talk about “South American art” or “Australian food” we are usually talking about something that is a stereotype and not something that is representative of every single person or even most people in that country or continent. I have felt like no where is this more true than our current area of the world, Africa. Too often in the west our view of Africa is one of the savannah with a few nomadic tribesmen roaming the wilderness. When I was planning this unit I realized that if my kids come away with an appreciation for how diverse Africa is then our study will be a success. Maybe the best way to think of it is that I want them to know what they don’t know.

Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight is an excellent book for beginning a study of Africa with kids. Knight begins by explaining that Africa is not one country but instead 53 (now 54 with the addition of South Sudan). She uses the illustration of a pie cut into slices to explain how much of the land is different ecosystems (savannah, desert, rainforest). She then goes on to describe a “typical African day” by highlighting a child from a different country on each page. Some of the kids are in villages, some in cities. There is snow and desert. There are kids playing soccer and kids gathering water and kids going to school. There are dark skinned kids and light skinned kids. It’s a long book to read-aloud but kept the interest of my first grader.

Children Like Me by Barnabas Kindersley looks at kids around the world. Photographic 835178spreads with a little text highlight what kids in different countries eat, how they go to school, what activites they like to do, what their homes are like, what their clothes are like and what their families look like. We read the pages on kids in African countries to again highlight the diversity of the continent. Both Children Like Me (published in 1995) and Africa is Not a Country (published in 2002) are slightly out of date. However, I felt like they were good introductions to the people of Africa, especially for a younger elementary student.

We also enjoyed Africa by Mel Friedman, part of the True Book series and Introducing Africa by Chris Oxlade. Both were good basic surveys that covered physical geography, animals and well-known landmarks.

 

Recently Read

Hear me, Atlanta! I am grinning and tears are flowing down my temples because I know that soon someone, perhaps the Christian neighbors, perhaps Edgardo or a passing stranger, will come to the door and say  Who is there? What is the matter? They will feel the guilt in knowing that they could have done something sooner had they only been listening….

I cannot believe that the clatter has not brought anyone to the door. My frustration is worse than the pain of the bindings, of being struck with the side of a gun. Where are these people? I know that people are hearing me. It is not possible that they are not hearing me. But they see it as beyond their business. ….

This is impossible, than no one would come to this door. Is the noise of the world so cacophonous that mine cannot be heard? I ask only for one person! One person coming to my door will be enough.

from What is the What by Dave Eggers, p 162

A Long Walk to Water

7981456This year the kids and I are studying world cultures/geography. With the return to school in January we began a unit on Africa. With each area of the world we’ve studied we’ve read a lot of picture books. I’ve tried to have John read at least one longer work as well. He is a very good reader but needs to work on thinking more deeply about what he reads and on being able to discuss and write about books. For some of the books I’ve had him write essays or fill out a reader’s guide that I made for him. His view was that doing those “spoiled reading”. I understand his viewpoint, but it is still a skill we need to work on. So for Africa I decided to pick a book and then to meet weekly with him to orally talk about the book. Sort of a mini book club. I’m hoping that this helps him to think about the book more deeply than he normally would but that it isn’t as onerous of a task for him. And that it’s a stepping stone to being able to more easily write about what he reads.

I picked A Long Walk to Water primarily because the author, Linda Sue Park, is the author of many other books we have read and enjoyed. In it, she tells the story of two Sudanese children: Salva Dut, a Sudanese boy who is forced to flee into the bush when his village is attacked by rebels and Nya, a young girl who must spend all day every day walking to and from a water source in order to provide her family with drinking water. Salva is a real person and the account of his journey to Ethiopia, Kenya and ultimately the United States is based on his true story. Nya is a fictional character who is representative of the life of many Sudanese girls. Each chapter in the book is divided into two sections; one tells a part of Nya’s story and one tells a part of Salva’s story. In the end, the two stories come together in a satisfying way.

A Long Walk to Water is not a difficult read but the events are disturbing and so it is probably best for middle-school aged kids. Park does a good job of relaying Salva’s story in a truthful way without sugar-coating the horrible events but also in a way that is manageable for kids. It introduces the topic of the Lost Boys of Sudan and child soldiers and refugees and the effects of war on children. However, by including Nya’s story and the ultimate happy ending for both characters, kids will be left with hope instead of just horror. The book will also challenge kids to think about how they should react to what they read and how they might even help to bring about change in the world.

To read more: 
Salva Dut’s organization: Water for South Sudan
You Tube Video with Linda Sue Park and Salva Dut 

ABC and 123

There are a lot of counting and alphabet books out there. We don’t read many of them these days as my kids have mostly outgrown the genre. But these two newish picture books caught my eye at the library on our last visit. I was glad they did as both are beautifully done and go beyond just a simple ABC or 123 book.

What in the World? Numbers in Nature by Nancy Raines Day is somewhat deceptively simple. Going beyond counting, the text guides the reader in seeing sets of numbers in nature (one moon, two pairs of wings on a bird, ten toes on a boy). Some of the examples are much more complex than I expected (three body parts for a bee, seven colors in a rainbow) which was a nice surprise. The clear colorful illustrations by Kurt Cyrus are a perfect accompaniment to Day’s crisp prose.

Elisha Cooper’s 8: An Animal Alphabet is simply a listing of animals that begin with each letter. Some are expected (D for dog). Some are slightly more exotic (D for dung beetle). The charm comes in Cooper’s illustrations and in the quirky decision to put 8 of one kind of animal on each page. Why 8? Just because. Ruth had fun finding which animal on each page was the lucky “8”. It wasn’t challenging for her but I could imagine that for a 3 or 4 year old it would be quite a fun search. As a bonus, at the end of the book Cooper includes a brief interesting fact about each animal in the book (and there are a lot of them). We all had fun reading the facts and found some that none of us knew. That’s fairly unusual for animal books given that David spends most of his reading time perusing weird fact books or animal encyclopedias.

Both of these books would be most appropriate for preschoolers, although I have to say that all three of my kids enjoyed looking at them, and that includes the 12 year old.

2015 in Books

Last year I didn’t really make any Bookish Resolutions except to read more (which is always a goal for me). I did read two more books this year (73 total) than last year so that’s a success. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the one reading challenge I did in 2015, Amy’s Newbery Challenge, and I intend to join in again this year.

Some years when I reflect back on books read a clear theme emerges. Some years are the year of non-fiction or the year of the short story or the year I rediscover young adult fiction. In 2015 I read more broadly without any clear theme emerging. I don’t like to pick my favorite book of the year or even a top 10. Below are a few thoughts on the one’s that stand out when I look back at the year. If you’re interested here is the full list.
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The Book that I will Never Forget Reading

I read Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocolyptic Station Eleven (about the world post pandemic flu outbreak) while lying in bed feverish and coming down with the flu. I was on my yearly birthday getaway in a hotel room alone and reading about a woman in a hotel room coming down with the flu and wondering what was going on outside her door as the flu ravaged the world. The book itself is fabulous and stands alone but sometimes the circumstances of reading a book are such that you will never forget the actual experience of the reading. This was one of those for me.

Other fiction books that were especially memorable this year:
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Redeployment by Phil Klay

The Author I Was Most Glad to Finally Get Around to Reading:

I have had Rebecca Stead on my TBR list for a long time but finally read When You Reach Me for Amy’s Newbery Challenge. I loved it and also read and enjoyed her newest novel, Goodbye, Stranger. Yes, she writes for middle-grade kids but her books are complex and intriguing and defy the category of “juvenile fiction”. I was very glad to discover how much I enjoyed her this year.

The Author I was Most Glad I Gave a Second Chance:

I listened to Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten-Year Nap on audiobook a few years ago and really didn’t like it. Maybe it was the wrong book at the wrong time but it was just too whiny and navel gazing for me. However, I decided to read Belzhar, her new young adult novel this year and really enjoyed it. I kept seeing it compared to her earlier novel The Interestings so I decided to give it a try, this time on audiobook. This time I was totally captivated by the world of her characters.

Vocation meets Avocation:

I used to read more books about medicine, but in the past few years I’ve gotten away from it somewhat. Maybe it’s because I’ve been looking for more of an escape in reading than reading about something close to what I do. This year I read several outstanding books about the medical profession:

*Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine by Paul Offit.

*Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

*Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

I’m reluctant to make big reading resolutions for the year except again to read more. Semicolon is hosting her usual Saturday Review of Books this week and it’s got oodles of book lists if you’re looking for books to add to your own TBR list.

2015 Read-Alouds

We now have three kids who can read on their own but our family read-aloud time remains a treasured part of our day. Our typical nightly routine is to all sit on our (me and H’s) bed and read for about 30-60 minutes. I usually read two books: one is for the boys and one is for Ruth. In reality, almost always all three listen to both books. John will sometimes read his own book while I’m reading the “Ruth” book but often he ends up listening, or at least listening to the parts that he remembers that he liked when he was that age. We aren’t able to do this every night between my work schedule and swim meets and basketball games and Scouts and other activities. I only imagine that it will get harder as they get older but for now I am enjoying this quiet (relatively) time together at the end of the day.

I still also read a book at lunchtime, although that has gotten harder also. I often find myself reading other books at lunch. Sometimes poetry or picture books or something to go with what we are currently studying. And sometimes we are eating in a hurry or we do a popcorn lunch (which really means we watch a movie).

We also pretty much always have an audiobook that we are listening to in the car. We drive a fair amount, although not as much as some families I know, so we have plenty of time to get immersed in a story together.

So that’s the how we do it.

Here’s the what:

Bedtime Read-Alouds

Redwall by Brian Jacques
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
Taran the Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
The High King by Lloyd Alexander
The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bergman
Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary


Ramona and her Mother
by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary
Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Matilda by Roald Dahl

Lunch-Time Read-Alouds:
Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
Return to Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

 

Audiobooks: 
The Sisters Grimm (all 9 books)
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsell
Nurk by Ursula Vernon
The Sixty Eight Rooms series (all 4 books)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

 

 

 

There weren’t any books listed above that we didn’t enjoy. This seemed to be the year of the series. The boys and I loved Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series. Zoe loved both Ramona and Laura, two girls that she would love to know in real life. We spent many happy months with The Sisters Grimm in Fairyport Landing. I feel like I should also point out that our list reminds me that good stories don’t need to stay in categories of age or gender. When asked what their favorites of the year were both boys mentioned On the Banks of Plum Creek. Now admittedly, the 12 year old likes it solely for the leech scene, but he still likes it.

We are still finishing two of our books from the year: The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The latter is only for the boys as Ruth found it too scary. Next up we have waiting Mossflower by Brian Jacques (at the request of David) and The Doll People by Ann Martin. And for the car we have Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliott.

Voracious

A friend suggested Cara Nicoletti’s Voracious to me. The combination of great books and recipes/meals inspired by those books sounded intriguing but I admit that at first it also sounded a little too much like yet one more “let me pick something to do and blog about that will get me a book deal” books.

Well. I certainly couldn’t have been more wrong. Nicoletti is the granddaughter of a butcher who grew up loving food and books. She worked her way through NYU studying English and working in kitchens in New York City. She has been a baker, pastry chef and now works as a butcher in Brooklyn. Voracious was born from her blog, it’s true. But the blog, Yummy Books came from a book club that she had with friends that evolved into a supper club where she cooked a meal for the book club somehow inspired by or related to the book they read. In other words, she’s the real deal, without even the hint of gimmick.

Beyond all that, it’s a wonderful read. The book is divided into three sections: Childhood, Adolescence and Adulthood, with each section comprised of books for that age range. You get pancakes from Pippi Longstocking and Biscuits with Molasses Butter from To Kill a Mockingbird and a perfect soft-boiled egg from Emma. The recipes are fun to read. For someone at my stage of life, many of them were too difficult or time-consuming but I still enjoyed reading them. The real treat for me was reading Nicoletti’s reflections on each book. She weaves in biography and how the books influenced her with thoughts on food in literature and with stories from the various kitchens she’s worked in.

The best thing about books about books is that you come away with multiple additions to the every-growing to-be-read list. If you like growing your TBR list or you are just looking for a light, fun and altogether delicious read, Voracious is a great choice.

Other Great Book about Books:
Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby
My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
The Pleasures of Reading in the Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs
The Heroine’s Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore
Booked by Karen Swallow Prior
Walking a Literary Labyrinth by Nancy M. Malone
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen
So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Recently Read

Reading together can happen in a living room or a dining room or in a back yard, in a classroom or in a car or in a Florida room or on a wrought-iron couch. Within the confines of a story shared aloud, we get to see one another in new ways. Our hearts are open to the story and open to one another- and because of this, some kind of subterranean magic occurs. Reading aloud binds us together in unanticipated ways.

It brings us home.

Kate Di Camillo, “An odyssey guides the heart of its reader,” in The Washington Post, Style Section, Nov 19, 2015, pg 1.

For the full essay: Go here. It’s a beautiful ode to books and reading aloud.