Tag Archives: diversity

Ringing in the New Year

What an interesting year to work in a book store! Annie Blooms is in a neighborhood with the largest Jewish community in Oregon and also a sizable immigrant African population. Here’s what I’ve found uplifting in a year full of ugly politics. Time and again, readers came in looking for a book that would help them make sense of their opponent’s point of view.

The conservative who just doesn’t understand what black people are so upset about, was willing to walk out of the shop with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Willing to look into it. Eager, in fact, to understand better.

The talk of several local, and generally liberal, book clubs has been Hillbilly Elegy by S.A. Vance. “How can a bunch of white men feel so discriminated against,” say the bookclub ladies. “Where on earth can all these Trump supporters be coming from?” I don’t know either but these earnest bookclub members are searching for insight and talking about what they find.

Nearly everybody who comes into the shop talking about some crisis or other, the Standing Rock Sioux and the oil pipeline or the tide of refugees fleeing into Europe, has an opinion to start with. But here’s the cool part; they know they need to know more. They know that what is online masquerading as news is often not reliable. They already know what they think, but they want to know what the other guy thinks. They want to know the context, the history, the back story, the supporting science. And very often they want to know how to talk about these issues with their children. And yes, there are books for that! 

Although we need more than a few good books and people reading them to solve the mountain of issues we will need to address in the coming years, I do believe that books are a good beginning. A jumping-off place. An invitation to conversation. I’m grateful to have a shop full of good books to share, and a community open to new ideas.

My hope for the new year is that I will continue to listen and to and learn what I can, not to erase our differences or compromise on values I hold too dear to let go. But that I can see opponants more clearly and understand issues more fully, and rededicate myself to doing as much good in the world as possible–and maybe even a few good things that are impossible.

The Great Reads Campaign

The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) has just launched  GREAT READS, a new project aimed at connecting kids with great books. A GREAT READ can be a page turner, a funny-bone tickler, a wild adventure ride, a slow drift down the river, a snuggle-under-the-covers. A GREAT READ may, or may not, be great literature, but sharing GREAT READS is the best way to turn kids into lifelong readers.
I was very honored this year to be asked to participate in this literacy project. I had no trouble at all picking a book I wanted to share. It’s Echo by Pam Munóz Ryan. I reviewed the book on the blog earlier this year.
Here is my contribution to the book recommendations of the NCBLA Great Reads program. It was great fun to see several Portland authors also in this group. Susan Blackaby, Heather Vogel Frederick, Eric Kimmel, Virginia Euwer Wolff, and Graham Salisbury.
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You can see all the other Great Reads posters at  thencbla.org. There’s a ton of great literacy resources on the website, so whether you’re a teacher wanting to promote reading in your classroom or just a family looking for the next great read aloud, I hope you’ll give it a look.

Middle Grade Monday book review: The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

I’m going to try to read all the books that are on the 2015-16 OBOB list with me and I’m so happy to start with a wonderful book by my friend and fellow Portlander, Deborah Hopkinson. This is a story after my heart because epidemiology was my 9780375848186mother’s field. It’s an account of how the enterprising Dr. Snow and a couple of street urchins proved that a cholera epidemic that a broke out in Victorian London was caused not by the heavily polluted air but by the contaminated water in the Broad Street pump.

Three things for a kid reader to love:

1. Any kid who lives Bones or CSI or other tv crime scene procedurals will love this. It’s full of real nitty gritty details of how to prove that disease is water-borne when the water tastes fine and the air stinks. Great fun, and not “teach-y”

2. Cool historical maps of the epidemic are in the back matter. Love Maps!

3. The narrator, a kid who goes by the name Eel, is appealing and keeps the events on a very human scale. In finding and answer to the riddle of the Broad Street pump, Eel finds a home and protection and education for his beloved little brother.

Something for the writer to think about:

Any story about an epidemic is going to be tragic and this one doesn’t shrink from death. However, and this is the important distinction to me, it doesn’t revel in death or glamorize suffering. It’s a fine line to walk and I think it’s handled beautifully. Well worth a read just to see how Deborah gets the balance just right.

Also I’m going to tag this as a diverse book in terms of class. It addresses very directly the injustices Eel faces because of his economic status. It’s easy to over-look or romanticize the poor. Here’s a book that in my opinion does them justice. The low-income characters are a mix of good and bad actors and the upper-income characters are an equally mixed bag in terms of personal virtue. Bravo!

 

 

Middle Grade Monday book review: ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Ordinarily I just take the jpeg of a book cover from the internet, but for this one I just had to take a picture of the book with my Hohner vest pocket harmonica. It’s smaller than the instruments referred to in the story, and I haven’t played it in ages, but it reminded me how much I loved having music in my pocket as a child. Echo is hard story to sum up briefly but it’s got the best flap copy I’ve read in a while so here’s that.

IMG_1610 (3)Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo. 

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, ECHO pushes the boundaries of genre and form, and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. The result is an impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck

3 things for a young reader to love

1. This is a really intriguing mix of realistic historical and fantastical elements. There’s lots to learn about the history of the 20th century here but wrapped as it is in a mythic prophesy, it doesn’t feel “teachy” yet it brings to light some really interesting and dark and difficult aspects of American and German history.IMG_1612

2.There is some truly beautiful book craftsmanship here: decorated pages, a lovely cover under the dust jacket, and three songs with harmonica notation in case you want to learn the music from each section of the book.

3. It’s long! I know some people are going to look at that as a disadvantage in the supposedly attention deficit MG market, but I disagree. MG readers have time to read. Some of them love long books, love the seriousness they imply, love getting wrapped up in a tale that carries them along for hours and hours. And yet there’s nothing here IMG_1611to edge it up to YA. This is the perfect book for that tender-hearted teenaged reader who is not interested in sexual relationships and blatant violence. It’s also great for that really young high level reader who needs a challenge and a story with substance but isn’t up for YA content.

4. Okay I cheated 4 things. It’s diverse, seamlessly interweaving Jewish, Irish, Japanese and Hispanic experiences.

Something for the writer to think about

Prologues and epilogues are routinely discouraged by writing instructors and there are good reasons to be cautious about including one. But here’s an example of one that has been done beautifully. It’s a bold choice to mix the fantastical elements of the prologue and epilog with straight up historical fiction in the other three sections. I think it works brilliantly here making it a true bridge to the more complex and layered stories they will read as adults. And the book has something lovely to say about the nearly magical power of music to give the musician comfort and courage. I’m not a big believer in predictions, but here is a book that’s going to be on lots of best book of the year lists.