Category Archives: Parenting

The Book Whisperer Chooses 4 Picture Books for Crime Stoppers

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During the month of September, the Tulsa Press Club is collecting books for readers age 8 – 14. The Tulsa Press Club, https://www.facebook.com/pg/TulsaPressClub/posts/, will give the books to Tulsa Crime Stoppers for distribution through revamped Tulsa World dispensing boxes; the boxes will be in various places around Tulsa. Children are then encouraged to take a book from the box and read. Also, Tulsa Police officers will be reading to children in a variety of places around the city. People are invited to donate new and gently used books for readers age 8 – 14. These locations are accepting donations of books: Tulsa Press Club, Tulsa Crime Stoppers, and City Vet.

Since I have always enjoyed reading, I like to promote reading among all ages. When I learned of the book drive, I wanted to contribute. I purchased four picture books from the South Broken Arrow Library’s book sale to donate.

The middle picture is of Diana Cohn and the third picture is of Amy Cordova.

Namaste! by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Amy Cordova is a beautiful book about Nima Sherpa, a little girl who lives in Nepal where Mt Everest looks down on her village. Nima’s father is a tour guide for many foreign visitors who come to see Mt. Everest, called Chomolongma by the villagers.

Namaste! follows Nima on her journey through the village. As she meets people, she “brings her hands together with her fingers almost touching her chin, bows her head slightly, and says ‘Namaste!’”  Namaste means “the light in me meets the light in you.”

Through Nima’s journey, readers see other villagers and learn about life in Nima’s village. Amy Cordova’s illustrations are colorful and delight the eye.

At the end of the book, readers will find information about Nepal, the Himalayas, the Sherpa people, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and preserving mountain cultures. Namaste! is truly a book to savor and from which to learn.

Diana Cohn has published seven books for children and has received awards for her work. She continues to have a strong interest in social justice and environmental issues.

Amy Cordova is an artist and art educator. She has won awards for her work as well.

John Stadler’s Catilda takes readers on a journey to find a lost toy, a stuffed bear. Father tucks Catilda into bed and leaves her singing “a song about Ollie,” her bear lost on a trip to the city. Stadler illustrates the book as well. The drawings are whimsical and inviting. The colors are muted shades on one page and darken on another.

Catilda misses Ollie and wants to find him. Unbeknownst to her mother and father, she goes on a night-time journey to find the lost bear. Through the story, we see Catilda being bandied about by a giant wave only to land on a flagpole. She finally reaches The Statute of Liberty and then we see her clutching Ollie to her heart and smiling as she floats on a cloud. See more about John Stadler at this link: http://www.johnstadler.com/.

Haircuts at Sleepy Sam’s by Michael R. Strickland and illustrated by Keaf Holliday portrays three brothers off to get a Saturday haircut. Mother gives them money and hands them written instructions for the barber: “Trim. Keep the hairline natural. Clean back of neck. And please – not too short on the top!” Mark and Randy beg for a different cut saying, “We’re tired of Afro cuts.” Mom is not budging, though.

Before the boys reach the barber shop, they look across the street at the candy store and debate the merits of going there first. They decide, however, they should get to the barber shop first.

Sam calls Mark to sit in the barber’s chair. Sam wants to give the boys a different cut, but they remind him of their mother’s instructions.  However, “Sam smiles to himself and goes to work.” When all three boys have had their haircuts, they return home.

Mom looks at her sons and “a slow smile appears. She laughingly says, “That Sam…. He gave you guys just what you wanted!” The boys have “a bald fade” hair cut and all of them are happy.

Keaf Holliday has created realistic pictures of the three boys and the people they meet on their way to the barber shop. The colors are soft. Each boy is distinctive, but share features as brothers would.

Do All Bugs Have Wings? And Other Questions Kids Have About Bugs by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Cary Pillo will thrill young readers with information about bugs. The format is simple. On each page, we see one or more questions posed by children whose first names and ages appear with the questions. This touch add realism to the questions.

The pages are full of facts, but not so overwhelming that readers will become bored. For example, in answer to the question “how many insects are on Earth today?” readers will discover this answer: “Too many to count! Scientists think there are about 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects in the world. There are about 6.8 billion people on Earth. This means there are 1.5 billion insects for each person!”

The book is one to be read and reread. Cary Pillo has illustrated the book with drawings of a wide variety of bugs. The drawings are fun and yet fit with the information on each page.

Suzanne Slade has written a number of children’s books—more than 100! Her background is in mechanical engineering; she wishes to share her passion for science with young readers. See more of her work at this link: https://www.suzanneslade.com/.

Cary Pillo is an award-winning illustrator.

The Book Whisperer Read Wonder

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I am an avid reader and enjoy finding new books to read and recommend. I would not have read Wonder by R.J. Palacio if not for a book club to which I belong. I received the book at the last meeting; yet, I put off reading until the week of the book club—which meets this week. I did finish the book four days before the meeting. I can’t quite put my finger on why I was reluctant to read Wonder.

Once I started reading, I could hardly stop. I found myself caring about Auggie and wanting to know more about his friends. Clearly, his parents and his older sister love him deeply and see him as a little boy who needs extra care, but also that he is funny, smart, and mischievous. He loves Star Wars and playing games on his Xbox like many other boys his age. The difference is that Auggie was “born with a severe facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school.”

When Auggie is ready to go into fifth grade, he and his parents decide he will enter school for the first time instead of having his mother continue to homeschool him. They choose Beecher Prep. All three, Auggie, his mom, and his dad, struggle with the decision. They alternate between thinking it is a good idea and the worst idea possible. In the end, the decision to go to Beecher stands. Auggie reminds his parents they have told him he can stop going at any time. Perhaps that promise is one of the most important and one that keeps Auggie trying.

In order to help ease Auggie into a new experience, his parents set up a meeting at the school with the principal, Mr. Tushman, prior to the first day of school. Mr. Tushman also asks three students, Jack, Julian, and Charlotte, to come to the school that day and show Auggie around the classrooms. All four of the children are wary. Jack, Julian, and Charlotte want to show Auggie around the school and tell him about some of the teachers and other kids who will be his classmates, but they are uncertain how to react to the way Auggie looks. Auggie knows they will be put off by his appearance, so he is uneasy too.

Ultimately, Auggie decides he will attend Beecher Prep. He encounters the usual stares to which he has become accustomed. At least, he knows three of his classmates. At lunch, however, Auggie finds himself alone until Summer a girl in some of his classes sits with him. They talk about the other kids and how they are sitting alone. Summer starts a list of kids she and Auggie would ALLOW to sit with them. They first decide the kids should all have names to do with the summer season since they are Summer and August.

Summer’s act of kindness in sitting with Auggie starts the school year off well for Auggie. Also, Jack is in several of Auggie’s classes. Naturally, Auggie will experience ups and downs over the course of the school year.

Wonder begins with Auggie’s point of view, but Palacio switches to other children’s points of view to give readers a full perspective of what happens.

The Choose Kind movement developed out of Wonder. Many schools have adopted the book for multiple grades to read. Cities have also used Wonder as the community read.

Wonder was on the New York Times bestseller list for over five years. It also received many awards and has been made into a movie. Learn more about the book and find resources for discussing the book at https://wonderthebook.com/books.

Palacio also recommends teachers check out Mr. W’s Annotated Wonder: http://mrwreads.blogspot.com/. Mr. W created a number of video resources and has shared those on the Web.  

The Book Whisperer Reads a New Take on an Old Favorite

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Troy Wilson, writer, and Ilaria Campana, illustrator, teamed up to create a new version of Little Red Riding Hood: Little Red Reading Hood and the MISREAD Wolf. I have always loved the story of Little Red Riding Hood and even played Little Red Riding Hood in an elementary end-of-school-year play once upon a time. I still have the red hood attached to a cape along with the green apron I wore with it to prove it!

With the word reading in Little Red’s name, one might guess that reading and books will play an important part in the story.  That assumption would be entirely correct. Part of the fun of reading any book involves anticipation.

How many of us look at a title and start to speculate on the book’s contents? The cover art also has a great deal to do with our anticipation of the story as well. Just today, I was reading about some novels and the cover of one, which shall remain unidentified, was so creepy that I knew I would never the read the book. And last week for our library book club, one of my friends put a sticky note over part of the cover because she did not like the picture even though she did read the book.

The cover of Little Red Reading Hood and the MISREAD Wolf gives readers many clues. Books anchor two corners, upper left and lower right. The wolf is in the upper right corner behind a vine and Little Red Reading Hood’s basket is in the lower left corner. In the middle, we see Little Red Reading Hood wearing her hood and sitting cross-legged doing what? Reading a book, of course!

The back cover is equally intriguing. We see Little Red Reading Hood holding her basket and walking up the path to grandmother’s cottage. The mailbox, stuffed with letters, reads Grandma. Campana has made the woods prominent by drawing tall, slender trunks towering over the house.

Regardless of age, readers do anticipate contents from looking at the cover and the title. That’s part of the fun of reading the book too. Then once we have completed the book, we can think about how closely we imagined the story from the title and the cover or how far off the mark we might have been.

Little Red Reading Hood and the MISREAD Wolf follows along with the original story including Little Red Reading Hood making a treat for her grandmother who is ill and encountering a wolf in the woods as she walks to grandmother’s house. The wolf is even in grandmother’s bed.

However, the story deviates from the original Little Red Riding Hood all the way through as well.  Readers must discover for themselves what those differences are between Little Red Riding Hood and Little Red Reading Hood and the MISREAD Wolf. That discovery will be a pleasure to experience over and over as one reads alone and to others.

Troy Wilson has written seven books. Many of the adjectives used to describe Wilson’s books include fun, ridiculously entertaining, sensational, playful, and imaginative. See his other books and more about Wilson at this link: http://www.troystory.ca/. The item below is from Wilson’s Web site and gives a hint into his sense of humor.

Be sure to look up Ilaria Campana’s Web site too: http://astound.us/artists/ilaria-campana. Her artwork is astounding.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Another Middle-Grade Winner

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Jasmine Warga has written three books: My Heart and Other Black Holes, Here We Are Now, and Other Words For Home. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Warga now lives in Chicago with her husband, two daughters, and dog and a cat. Other Words For Home is her debut novel for middle grade readers. Discover more about Warga from her Web site: http://jasminewarga.com/.

Warga has written a moving story about Jude and her mother who leave Syria, the only home they have known to move to America to live with Uncle Mazin, Jude’s mother’s brother, and his family. Jude is reluctant to leave her father and her brother, Issa behind, but her father knows the family is not safe. He remains to run his store. Issa is involved in activities which worry his parents and Jude, but he feels he must do what he can to restore order to his country.

Jude’s mother is expecting another baby, so the family decides the safest place for Jude, her mom, and the unborn child is America. Uncle Mazin and Aunt Michelle welcome Jude and her mother. Jude’s cousin Sarah, Jude’s age, is not so welcoming even though the family has a large house which easily accommodates the extra family.

Warga’s style of writing Other Words For Home is poetic. Visually, the words on the page look like poetry. This style lends itself to Jude’s first-person narrative because she is describing her feelings and reactions to her new environment along with her fears for her brother and father left in Syria. See the sample below.

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Jude experiences the normal feelings of being an outsider. As she becomes better acquainted with her classmates and feels more practiced speaking English, Jude adjusts to her new home. She makes friends with Layla whose parents own a middle east restaurant within walking distance of Uncle Mazin’s home. Layla is a year older than Jude, but they become fast friends.

Jude is also in an ESL class with three other immigrant children: Grace from Korea, Ben from China, and Omar from Somalia. Mrs. Ravenswood, the teacher, is kind and welcoming. Jude recognizes that this ESL class will be important to her even though she already spoke English before arriving in America. Grace, Ben, and Omar become her friends through shared experiences.

Jude takes a leap of faith and auditions for a part in the school play. She wins the part of a feather duster! It is a speaking part while her cousin Sarah is part of the chorus. As part of the audition, Jude has had to give a monologue and sing a song. She immediately chose Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as her song because of her loving memories of singing it with Issa, her brother. She thinks to herself, “when I sing it, alone in the upstairs room, staring at those old plaster beige walls that are becoming more and more familiar, I do not feel like I am singing it alone. I hear my brother’s voice in my head, filling in the melody.”

For her monologue, she chooses from Notting Hill, a movie she and her best friend Jasmine loved watching in Syria. Jude picks “the part where [Julia Roberts’] character is explaining that her life has not been as charmed as everyone at the dinner party thinks it has been.”

Other Words For Home is a story for our time. As immigrants come to the US, we need to welcome them, for most of us were immigrants ourselves!

 

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Loves Ban This Book!

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I am an eclectic reader as I have mentioned before in this blog. In college, I took a course in children’s literature, a library science course where I went to college. Later, I had the opportunity to teach children’s literature in the English Department at MO State, Springfield. I have continued to enjoy reading picture books, chapter books, juvenile books, and YA books ever since. When my children were in school, I tried to read along with them to keep up with what they were learning and enjoying.

Recently, I discovered Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. As an advocate of having the freedom to read books of one’s choice without restriction, I wanted to read Gratz’s book to see what happened. I have always been a voracious reader. When I was a thirteen, I wanted to read a book my mother thought was “too old” for me. My dad, himself a reader, said, “Let her read it. If she doesn’t understand it, then she will put it down. If she does understand it, she is old enough to read it.”

Amy Anne Ollinger is in the fourth grade and loves to read. Amy Anne is quiet, studious, and obedient. Readers soon learn that Amy Anne is the older of three girls.  Angelina and Alexis, the younger sisters, have very different interests from Amy Anne. Alexis is obsessed with ballet and she practices in the room she shares with Amy Anne, thus shutting Amy Anne out of the room. Angelina loves ponies and often pretends to be a pony, “galloping on all fours.” She has a room of her own which she spreads with shredded paper to form the paddocks for her horses.

Amy Anne has been carrying a secret from her parents: she tells them she stays after school to participate in a variety of clubs. The truth is she reads in the library until the second bus arrives because she has no quiet place of her own at home. At home, she’s reduced to using the bathroom as her place of escape to read at home, but often, she must leave it too.

One day, Amy Anne does into Shelbourne Elementary Library to check out her favorite book: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Mrs. Jones, the friendly librarian, tells Amy Anne the school board has banned the book and removed it from the library shelves because a parent, Mrs. Spencer, has complained about it. Amy Anne is baffled. What could Mrs. Spencer find offensive in Konigsburg’s book? Amy Anne soon discovers Mrs. Spencer believes the story encourages children to lie and run away from home.

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Then much to her horror, Amy Anne learns Mrs. Spencer, “a pillar of our fair community,” has only begun to have books removed from the library. At first the list is limited to Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn, It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, all of the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park, all the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and all the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine.

But the list continues to grow as Amy Anne discovers when she visits the library and sees Mrs. Jones reluctantly taking more books from the shelves.  Amy Anne gathers her best friend Rebecca Zimmerman and Danny Purcell to form the Banned Books Locker Library (BBLL). Amy Anne, Rebecca, and Danny will acquire the banned books and Amy Anne will check them out to other students from her locker; the BBLL is born.

Of course, readers recognize that this method will work only for a time until a teacher or parent discovers the banned books. However, Amy Anne and her friends are clever. They engage a fifth-grade student who is a whiz with computer graphics to create fake covers for the books. That, too, works for a time. The BBLL group has fun thinking up funny, engaging fake titles, and by this time a few other students have joined the BBLL.

As one might expect, the whole plan come crashing down when Principal (Banana) Banazewski discovers the Banned Books Locker Library. Amy Anne, who has never, ever been in trouble, is suspended for three days! Mr. and Mrs. Ollinger are disappointed in Amy Anne for lying to them about her extracurricular activities and they are upset about her checking out books to others even though they support her desire to stop the banning of books.

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Amy Anne sees Trey McBride, Mrs. Spencer’s son, and her arch enemy, carrying a sheaf of forms used to identify books to ban and the forms give Amy Anne an idea. In the process of developing her idea, she learns that she has been mistaken about Trey and he becomes part of the plan along with many other students at Shelbourne Elementary. Read Ban This Book in order to discover the children’s grand plan and to see if it works!

Amy Anne and her friends’ courageous actions will inspire readers. I wanted to cheer at the end of the book.

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Learn more about Alan Gratz at his Web site: https://www.alangratz.com/.

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Likes One Crazy Summer

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Rita Williams-Garcia received the Tulsa Library Trust’s 2019 Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers’ of Literature. She came to Tulsa May 3 to receive the award and to present awards to the 2019 Young People’s Creative Writing Contest winners. Williams-Garcia has received many other awards over the writing career including the Newbery award for One Crazy Summer.

Garcia-Williams writes “bestselling novels for young adults that inspire imaginations, dreams and pride in all ages. Her books encourage cultural awareness and the importance of believing in yourself.”

One Crazy Summer gives readers the story of Delphine, 11, Vonetta, 9, and Fern, 7, three sisters, who visit their mother in Oakland, CA. The sisters live in Brooklyn with their dad, Pa, and his parents, Big Ma and Papa. Cecile, their mother has left them shortly after Fern’s birth, so the girls do not know her at all. Only Delphine has vague memories of their mother, and she is uncertain about those.

Pa feels his girls need to know their mother, so he puts them on an airplane from NYC to Oakland. Cecile is less than enthusiastic about having her daughters spend 28 days with her. The girls have visions of warm hugs from their mother and at least one visit to Disneyland. Their dreams are dashed almost as soon as they arrive.

Cecile is not a hugger, not even of her own young daughters whom she has not seen since Fern was an infant. She also demands that Delphine give her the money Pa has given Delphine for the trip, money the girls think will take them to Disneyland.

Cecile begins issuing orders. The girls may not go into the kitchen and they are to spend all weekdays at the nearby People’s Center, run by Black Panthers. That’s where the girls must go for breakfast if they wish to eat. They also spend the day there, out of Cecile’s way.

Cecile allows Delphine to keep $10 of the money Pa gave her before they left Brooklyn and directs the girls to Ming’s to get “four egg rolls, and a big bottle of Pepsi” along with a large shrimp lo mein. Delphine is astounded that Cecile expects the three girls to navigate the strange streets and to buy food for dinner. Cecile gives one more order: “And tell Ming to give you four plates, four forks, four napkins, and four paper cups. No sense dirtying dishes. And you’re not coming inside my kitchen!”

While they wait for the food, Delphine says “I made up my mind about Oakland. There was nothing and no one in all of Oakland to like. I would get on a plane and fly back to New York if Big Ma showed up wanting her grandbabies. I wouldn’t even tell Cecile ‘Thanks for the visit’.”

Once they have the food, Delphine has coins so she uses the pay phone to place a collect call back home. Big Ma answers the phone and berates Delphine for calling collect since it will certainly be a big charge.

As a result of Big Ma’s anger over the collect call, Delphine cannot tell her that Cecile is no mother and the girls are mostly on their own. Cecile has no telephone and no TV. The girls are to sleep on a bed with a trundle.

The next morning, instead of preparing breakfast for the girls, Cecile reminds them they can get free breakfast at the People’s Center. When the girls arrive at the Center, they see “a line of hungry kids” waiting for breakfast, “except they weren’t all black.” Inside, the girls eat breakfast and then meet Sister Mukumbu who directs the activities each day.

Delphine acts as a mother to her younger sisters, watching over them, keeping them from fighting, and making sure they are fed. Realizing they are stuck for twenty-eight days, Delphine figures out how to make the best of the situation. After eating the take-out food from Ming’s for many nights, Delphine saves the money and the girls go to the Safeway store on their way home from the Center one evening.

Delphine buys chicken pieces, potatoes, and onions. Back at Cecile’s, she persuades Cecile to allow her into the kitchen to “cook real food” and assures Cecile she will clean up the kitchen, leaving no mess at all.

The story told through Delphine’s eyes is funny, a big poignant, and ultimately uplifting. The girls do learn a bit about their mother. They have adventures on their own in Oakland with Delphine saving money from the grocery trips and then asking Cecile for more so the three girls can take a trip to Chinatown. Delphine has the whole adventure planned from what they will eat to riding a cable car.

Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern do learn about their mother and about their own heritage. One Crazy Summer is a story well worth reading for adults and children.

Learn more about Rita Williams-Garcia at her site: https://rita-williamsgarcia.squarespace.com/.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Pure Fun

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Above, the cover of the book, Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I can Correct It? and the collaborators: Patricia Marx on the left and Roz Chast on the right.

To get a notion of the funny interaction between Patricia Marx and Roz Chast, longtime friends and now collaborators, read Penelope Green’s interview with the two friends, “Roz Chast and Patricia Marx Mine the Mother Lode”: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/14/books/roz-chast-and-patricia-marx-mine-the-mother-lode.html.

Marx and Chast have just published Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? The book cover gives readers insight into what to expect: “Every mother knows best, but Patricia Marx’s knows better. Patricia has never been able to shake her mother’s one-line witticisms from her brain, so she’s collected them in this book.”

My favorite illustrations of Marx’s mother’s one-liners are below:

Marx and Chast have created a laugh-out-loud funny book. The only complaint is that it is too short.

Marx is a contributing writer at The Huffington Post. Read about her here: https://www.huffpost.com/author/patricia-marx.

Roz Chast maintains a Web site at this link: http://rozchast.com/. Readers can see examples of her work and discover more about the illustrator there. Some examples of Chast’s work below:

The Book Whisperer Reviews Anissa Gray’s Debut Novel

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Readers familiar with An American Marriage by Tayari Jones will find familiarity in The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. The story opens with Althea and Proctor Cochran, reputedly successful restaurant and grocery owners, being arrested for fraud. With Althea and Proctor in jail awaiting trial, the care of their fraternal twin daughters Kim and Baby Vi to family, mirroring another family tragedy early in Althea’s life.

At twelve, Althea becomes surrogate mother to her younger siblings, Viola, Lillian, and Joe Butler when their mother dies of cancer. Their father, a traveling evangelist, often leaves for weeks at a time, so Althea is father and mother to the younger children. When the father is home, he is abusive and violent with his children.

When Althea is nineteen, she leaves her childhood home and responsibilities to marry Procter Cochran, her childhood friend. Her father’s parting words to her are “you think you’ve got it all figured out. Don’t come running back her or to the Lord when you find out you don’t.”

With Althea and Proctor in jail, Lillian, the youngest child becomes caretaker for Kim and Baby Vi. Lillian has moved home to New River Junction, MI, from NYC a few years earlier, following her divorce from Sam and then his subsequent death in a car accident. Lillian has already become caretaker for Nai Nai, Sam’s elderly grandmother. Lillian and Nai Nai live in the house where she and her siblings grew up, but she has had the home extensively renovated since her father’s death.

As with all families, the stories are complicated. The ravenously hungry girls include all of the women in the story in one way or another: Nai Nai, Althea, Viola, Lillian, Kim, and Baby Vi. At twelve, Althea certainly was not prepared to become mother to her siblings. She does the best she can, especially in her father’s absence.

Gray spools out the story by allowing the three sisters to speak, describing the events and trying to understand both the past and the present. Occasionally, Proctor has an opportunity to weigh in through letters he writes to Althea. Currently, they are being held on different floors of the same jail, but they will soon be sent to separate prisons to serve out their years.

By giving readers perspective from each woman’s point of view, Gray has provided a complete story, filling in gaps that one narrator would have omitted because she would not have known the full story.

Obviously, the family is in upheaval with the arrests. Then Kim, an already troubled teen, continues to cause trouble, being put into detention at school and being surly and uncooperative at home. Meanwhile, Baby Vi simply becomes more and more withdrawn. Viola, a therapist, lives in Chicago with her wife Eva. However, their marriage is floundering and Viola has returned to binging and purging as a way of coping.

When Viola comes home to New River Junction to try to help the family, all the old wounds begin to fester. The sisters must come to terms with the past in order to sort out the present. The secrets of the past must be exposed in order for all of the family to move forward.

Anissa Gray grew up in western Michigan and has a master’s in English from New York University. She worked for Reuters in Manhattan, reporting on global financial news. Later, she lived in Atlanta where she worked for CNN as writer, editor, and producer. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is Gray’s first novel after twenty years as a reporter.

Anissa Gray’s Web site gives further information: https://anissagray.com/.

 

The Book Whisperer Recommends The One-in-a-Million Boy

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After reading The Guardian’s article “Up Lit: The New Book Trend With Kindness at is Core,” https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/aug/02/up-lit-the-new-book-trend-with-kindness-at-its-core, I began researching books in the genre. The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood came recommended as both a good read and an example of Up Lit. After wrestling with Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, a book for a book club that meets soon, I turned to Wood’s book for a pick-me-up. I have never given up on a book chosen for a book club until now, but give up, I did, on The Orphan Master’s Son.

Thus, turning to an Up Lit choice gave me a boost. The One-in-a-Million Boy turned out to be just the right book to take the bad taste of Johnson’s book away. In “Q&A With Monica Wood,” Wood says, “I write about assembling families out of broken parts.” She certainly does that in The One-in-a-Million Boy. Watch and listen to the full interview at this link: https://youtu.be/jh-SHpEUud8.

The One-in-a-Million Boy begins with Quinn Porter, 42, a guitar player, going to Ona Vitkus’ home to do routine chores for the 104-year-old woman. Quinn’s son, age 11, has been going to Ona’s every Saturday to do chores in order to earn a Boy Scout badge. On page two of the book, readers learn the boy has died a few weeks prior to Quinn’s arrival at Ona’s home. Belle, the boy’s grief-stricken mother, and twice divorced from Quinn, the boy’s father, has sent Quinn to complete the work that their son had engaged to do for Ona.

Ona does not know the boy is dead and Quinn does not tell her; he simply says he has come to do the work his son has promised. Ona feels annoyed that the boy has not come himself, but she reluctantly agrees that Quinn can do the chores. Quinn is equally reluctant to be at Ona’s, but Belle, his former wife and the boy’s mother, has guilt-tripped Quinn.

Quinn is not “a deadbeat dad, but an absent one,” according to Wood. His guitar-playing gigs keep him on the road and away from home too much. Belle divorces Quinn for that reason—twice. After the first divorce, Belle decides to try the marriage again for the sake of their son, but she tells Quinn she wants a husband at home with her and their son. Quinn does what he considers his best, sending money and seeing his son on occasion.

When the boy, who is nameless in the story, dies of a one-in-a-million previously undetected heart condition, Belle is so grief-stricken she can hardly move. Quinn, too, is heartbroken, but he punishes himself by holding his grief in check since he believes he has not earned the right to grieve for his son.

Although the boy has died before the story opens, we learn a great deal about him. He is obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records. He can quote many, many records. He decides that Ona should seek the record of oldest living person in the world. Then the two of them discover a number of elderly people older than Ona by as much as 16 years. Then the boy decides she should go for the record of oldest living licensed driver. But first, she will have to regain her license since she lost it at age 100 when her doctor took it away.

After the boy completes his chores at Ona’s, the two of them sit together at the kitchen table for cookies and milk. During that time, the boy persuades Ona to tell her life’ story which he meticulously records on a cassette tape recorder his aunt has given him. The boy will write Ona’s life story for a school assignment. Through these recording sessions, readers learn more about Ona and about the boy as well.

Before Quinn’s next Saturday visit, Ona discovers the boy has died by reading his obituary in the newspaper. She allows Quinn to take care of the chores, but the two are still wary of one another. Meanwhile, Quinn continues his gigs, often with a group of teenagers who have formed a Christian rock band. The guitar-player in the band had a drug problem, so when he is in rehab, the boys call on Quinn whom they affectionately call Pops. In addition, Quinn does solo performances as well as reuniting with his old high school band buddies from time to time.

Quinn completes his son’s obligation to Ona and tells her he will not be back. Then Ona springs a request on him: she needs a ride to Vermont to see a son she gave up when she was only 14. Quinn rearranges his schedule so that he can drive Ona to Vermont. He thinks she is going to see her son, but her objective is to get her birth certificate which she thinks he has. Ona had run away with a circus when she was 14 and she came home in disgrace, pregnant.

Maud-Lucy, who rented an apartment upstairs from Ona’s family, taught Ona English since Ona’s family had immigrated from Lithuania. Her father was a doctor in Lithuania, but he and his wife both took menial jobs in the US. They wanted their daughter to speak perfect English and forbade her to speak Lithuanian at all. Ona describes Maud-Lucy “whose rooms smelled of ink and lavender. Who claimed to have no use for a man. Who longed for children and took Ona as a surrogate. Who fed adjectives to Ona like drops of chocolate.”

When Ona comes home pregnant and alone, Maud-Lucy agrees to take the baby and move back to her home in Vermont and raise the child there. Because Ona’s parents are distrustful of others, they give important documents including Ona’s birth certificate to Maud-Lucy for safe-keeping. Maud-Lucy is long dead, but Ona thinks the son Maud-Lucy raised will have the birth certificate.

Ona needs the birth certificate in order to prove her age and move forward toward claiming the oldest licensed driver title. The boy has impressed upon Ona the need for documentation in order to receive the Guinness record. Quinn and Ona are all set for their road trip when Belle shows up and insists upon going with them and doing the driving because she says Quinn is a terrible driver.

This road trip and quest for Ona’s birth certificate will surprise the readers and reveal more about all of the characters, including the boy.

Monica Wood maintains a robust Web site: http://monicawood.com/. There, readers will learn about her other books including books for teachers and tips for writers. In reading material on her site, I discovered an interview she did with a podcast on Radio Gorgeous: https://audioboom.com/posts/4326651-monica-wood-author-the-one-in-a-million-boy-with-donna-freed-on-radio-gorgeous.

The Book Whisperer Explores a Novel About a Transgender Child

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The Books Sandwiched In committee, part of the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries Board, nominated 26 books to be considered for six review slots in the spring 2019 series. The committee members nominate books; members then read as many of those books as they can before voting on the six for the reviews. The books selected for the spring 2019 series are listed below along with the reviewers of each book.

March 4 – Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover; Reviewer: Krista Waldron, long-time TPS English teacher

March 11 – Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency by Dan Abrams and David Fisher; Reviewer: Bill Kellough, former District Judge and retired lawyer

March 18 – This Is How It Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel; Reviewer: Chaplain Steven L. Williams, All Souls Unitarian Church

March 25 – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari; Reviewer: Eldon Eisenach, retired political science professor and Friends board member

April 1 – The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow; Reviewer: John Hamill, his most recent book, co-authored with John Erling, is “Voices of Oklahoma”

April 8 – Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World-and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling; Reviewer: Rich Fisher, “Studio Tulsa” host, KWGS Public Radio 89.5

 This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is the focus of the Book Whisperer’s review today. Frankel’s novel has received much praise and numerous awards including People Magazine’s Top 10 Books of 2017, BookBrowse’s The 20 Best Books of 2017, and Amazon’s Best Literature and Fiction of 2017. Reese Witherspoon chose This Is How It Always Is for her online book club.

Emily Dickinson wrote “If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Clearly, Frankel’s book is a novel, not poetry, but Dickinson’s sentiment came to mind as I was reading This Is How It Always Is because Frankel writes with such honesty and strength about a difficult subject.

Reese Witherspoon describes the effect of Frankel’s book: “Every once in a while, I read a book that opens my eyes in a way I never expected.” I felt the same way as I read This Is How It Always Is since I had little experience in reading about transgender children.

After having four boys including identical twins, Rosie and Penn, but especially Rosie, hope for a girl. Rosie moves the bed to the middle of the room and puts a wooden spoon under the bed in order to enhance her chances of conceiving a girl.  Now, Rosie is a physician, so she knows these attempts are merely old wives’ tales, but she thinks it won’t hurt.

When Claude, the fifth boy, is born Rosie and Penn are glad to have another healthy child and give up on their dream of having a girl. Rosie has a name chosen for the girl who did not arrive: Poppy. Poppy was Rosie’s younger sister who died of cancer when she was ten and Rosie was twelve.

Life for Penn and Rosie is busy with five boisterous boys. While Rosie works in a local hospital ER at night, Penn stays home with the boys and works on his novel. Each night as he puts the boys to bed, they all gather in one room, varying from one boy’s room to another according to their moods, so that Penn can tell them a bedtime story. He creates Grumwald and each night tells fairy tales about Grumwald and his kingdom.

When Claude is five, he comes downstairs one morning, ready for kindergarten, but wearing a dress. Now, Claude and the other boys are all precocious, but Claude has a particularly large vocabulary for a young child; he can also cook with supervision. Claude’s brothers don’t mind that he is wearing a dress, but they do not want him to be ridiculed at school.

Finally, Claude is persuaded that he can wear whatever he wishes at home, but he has to be more circumspect outside the home. As the days go on, Rosie and Penn a well as Claude’s brothers realize that Claude is not playacting or playing dress-up: he feels he is a girl and wishes to dress like one.

Ben, oldest brother, says, “They [other kids] will make fun of him. It’s okay for him to wear what he wants at home, but you can’t send him out in the world like that. You don’t understand.”

Roo, the next brother chimes in with “you’re his parents. It’s your job to protect him.”

This issue of dressing like a girl is only the beginning of the questions all of the family will eventually have to address. What if Claude is not simply going through a phase, but genuinely sees himself as a girl; he even chooses Poppy as his name because he says that “I love Poppy even though I never met her.”

Poppy lets his hair grow out. Rosie and Penn talk with the teacher, principal, and Mr. Tongo, a counselor. They agree that Claude will now be Poppy; he will use the restroom in the nurse’s office, so that’s one hurdle crossed.

Rosie and Penn recognize the dangers that Poppy will face, especially when a young woman is brought to the ER when Rosie is on duty and the medical personnel discover the young woman has male genitalia and that is the likely cause of the attack she sustained.

Rosie becomes more and more frightened for Poppy. She and Penn decide to move the family from Milwaukee to Seattle where they will start fresh and everyone there will always know Poppy as Poppy. Obviously, readers can understand the family’s plan even with its flaws. Readers will also be astute enough to recognize that simply moving to another state far away will not solve all the problems.

We all know that families keep secrets. We also know that those secrets come back to haunt even those we hope most to protect. What will happen when Poppy’s secret is revealed?

Frankel has written a compelling story about a family with a child who knows that he has arrived as the wrong gender. How the family copes with that knowledge creates a story worth reading.

At the end of the story, Poppy, now ten, is talking with her friend and next-door neighbor Aggie, also ten. Aggie asks, “Are you a boy or a girl?”

Poppy responds, “I don’t know. Something else instead. I’m all of the above. And I’m more to come. It’s complicated. I guess I’m complicated. I’m hard to explain. I’m kind of a weirdo.”

Both Aggie and Poppy are smiling by this time and Aggie explains, “I’m the weirdo.”

They agree they are both weird and perhaps that’s why they are such good friends.

Laurie Frankel has written two other books: Goodbye For Now and The Atlas of Love. On her Web site, http://www.lauriefrankel.net/, readers will discover Frankel’s blog and a section titled “Bits and Pieces” which includes interviews and essays.

Frankel has a transgender child, but This Is How I Always Is is not autobiographical. She created a whole new family facing the difficulties and joys of raising a child who is different.