At a recent library staff-development event we were introduced to local author Belle Boggs and her colorful collection of short stories that comprise Mattaponi Queen. It’s telling that Ms. Boggs started her talk by giving us a slideshow tour of her hometown of Walkerton in King William County, Virginia. When I had the opportunity to read my copy of the stories, I was impressed that the setting was so strongly communicated in each story that it carried the same weight as characterization, plot, and other pillars upon which a story is built. The characters--lively, quirky, and in some cases, doomed--pigeonhole neatly into this clearly envisioned landscape and truly come to life.
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Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones: On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, on which survival is a daily struggle, eccentric Mr. Watts, the only white man left after the other teachers flee, spends his day reading to the local children from Charles Dickens's classic "Great Expectations."
If you enjoyed this book's portrayal of teachers in the learning process of reading and its connection to classic literature, here are some other titles you may enjoy:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel--a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors. (worldcat.org)
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This book traces the coming-of-age of a young orphan, Pip, from a boy of shallow aspirations into a man of self-possession. Raised by a humble blacksmith, Pip is recruited by the wealthy Miss Havisham to be a companion to her ward, the cold but beautiful Estella. There, Pip learns to despise his rough origins as Estella torments him about his low prospects. When Pip is informed that an unknown benefactor expects to make him his heir, he sets off to London to realize his "great expectations." But true gentleman stature, he will find, is a matter of character, not fortune. (catalog description)
During October, I start finding drawings of jack-o-lanterns, haunted houses, bat attacks and grotesque witches all over the house, which my kids draw in anticipation of Halloween. Some of these spooky scenes are quite elaborate, and we hang them up to do double-duty as Halloween decorations. Therefore, when I saw that we had recently added the new Ralph Masiello’s Halloween Drawing Book to our collection at the library, I put it on hold right away so our family could check it out.
Looking for a spooky story to read in October? Wait ‘Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn, is a great book for brave readers ages 10 and up. It’s narrated by 12-year-old Molly, who has moved into a new house out in the country with her 10-year-old brother Michael, her mom, her new stepdad, and his 7-year-old daughter, Heather. The home just happens to be a converted church bordering extensive grounds, ruins, and even a graveyard. Sounds like the perfect setting for something sinister to happen, right?
Did you know that dogs are the top pet owned by U.S. households (46.3 million dogs, to be exact), and that beetles have the most species identified of all insects? How about the fact that extreme weather in January 2012 broke U.S. records for cold, snow, and heat? All of these facts, along with colorful pictures, are contained in the 2013 Almanac for Kids from Scholastic. Kids ages 8 and up will love to tote around this compendium of trivia, which puts more than 300 pages of statistics, charts, tables, maps, and more at their fingertips.
On Wendy Everly’s 6th birthday, her mother tried to kill her with a butcher knife in Switched, by Amanda Hocking. This was after claiming that little Wendy was a monster and baby murderer...sentiments that didn't win her the Mother of the Year award but landed her in a mental hospital. After that, Wendy and her protective brother, Matt, went to live with their loving Aunt Maggie. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much easier for Wendy. She was kicked out of almost every school she attended, and school administrators and kids alike seemed equally hostile to her. At 17 years of age, Wendy still feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, and she has difficulty even eating food that most kids seemed to love, like cake and pizza.
In Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr, Sadako is a sixth-grade girl who loves to run in school races and spend time with her friends and family. One day she begins to have dizzy spells, which worsen until she ends up in the hospital. She is diagnosed with leukemia, or the “atom bomb sickness.” Sadako grew up in the aftermath of the atom bomb, dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima when she was just a baby in 1945. Many people got sick in the years after the bomb from its radiation.
“If war can ever be said to be just, then this war is so; it is action for a moral cause, with the most rigorous of intellectual underpinnings. And yet everywhere I turn, I see injustice done in the waging of it. “ - March
In Louisa Alcott’s Little Women, Mr. March’s largest role in the narrative is that his daughters are perpetually waiting for his letters home. In March, Geraldine Brooks traces his story as he enlists to become a Union chaplain, experiences many horrors of war, and eventually finds himself tutoring freed slaves (“contraband”) on a destitute cotton plantation. His cheerful letters home to Marmee contrast with the terrible details he confides to the reader but does not write home about: the pervasive racism; cruelty; and suffering that he encounters in a number of different encounters.
In A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World, we are introduced to 18 children from different continents, such as Mahasin and her family, nomadic cattle herders in Sudan. Mahasin is nine years old and attends a traveling school for children. When she’s not learning lessons, she likes to weave baskets and help her mother and sisters cook their staple meal, asida, a dish of vegetables and grains mixed with spices. We also meet Isa, age 10, who lives in Sierra Leone and was taken by fighters in the country’s civil war for two years. Now he is back with his family, attending school, planting a few crops, and playing checkers with his friends. The stories and photographs of these children’s lives are fascinating and will appeal to any child who wonders how the world’s children are alike and different.
So, we all know the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea, right? She shows up at a castle late one night in the middle of a snowstorm. The prince falls in love with her beauty (evident even under the wet, bedraggled appearance), but the king and queen want to make sure she is a real princess. So, they put a single pea under a pile of 20 feather mattresses and wait to see if she notices. And, sure enough, the real princess emerges in the morning bruised and sore from the tiny pea. The prince and princess get married and live happily ever after. Except...well, did you ever think what it would be like to live with someone like that? Someone who couldn’t even stand a pea under her mattress? What about when she was hot? Disappointed? Challenged by some problem?
The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson, takes the traditional Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and stands it on its head. Prince Henrik doesn’t like the idea of marrying a princess who is sensitive. His brother is married to a very real, very high-maintenance princess who complains day and night about things that don’t suit her. Frankly, it’s a drag being around her, let alone married to her.