Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

CrossoverJosh and Jordan are eighth-grade basketball stars. Twin sons of a million dollar basketball legend, their lives revolve around games and practicing for games. Lay-ups, free throws, and crossovers, the boys’ dad keeps them on it, while their mom—who is also the school principal— makes sure that they keep up their grades.

One day, the guys find a document that reveals the reason that their dad quit playing years ago, and it helps them to understand why their mom is so upset that he won’t take care of himself now. When Jordan gets a girlfriend, Josh loses his best friend, and with his parents’ secretive whispering, he feels very alone. He continues to excel in school and stay committed to the team, but inside, his world is falling apart.

Written in verse that reads like rap, Kwame Alexander has crafted a novel that will resonate with sports-loving boys. Quick, powerful, and relevant, this is a great read for even reluctant middle-school readers. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the main character is academically gifted as well as athletic. Alexander explores adolescent changes through a loving family and the closest sibling relationship possible.

Although sports stories are not my usual taste, the ALA Youth Media Awards are coming up in a few days, and this one is getting lots of buzz. Furthermore, I enjoyed Kwame Alexander’s remarks on diversity in children’s literature at the SLJ Day of Dialog in New York last May. So glad I read this novel; it was well worth it. Recommended.

Update February 2, 2015— It’s a winner! The Crossover just won the ALA’s Newbery Award for most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. Congratulations, Kwame Alexander!

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Reading Roundup

Although I set out to read like mad over the holidays, life got in the way, as you can tell by an earlier post, and I ended up with just a few books read. They are a wide-ranging lot, though! Here are four I recommend and two I had to give up.

Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Olive is not the most likeable protagonist. She’s not the sweet mom, the girl next door, or the Every Woman. In a series of thirteen separate, yet related, stories, we learn about this large, blunt woman from her husband, her students, her son, and her neighbors. Finally, toward the end of the book, Strout circles in to Olive herself, by this time vulnerable and sympathetic. Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and has recently been developed into a television series. Strout’s brilliant construction and fine writing make this a highly-recommended read.

Rain ReignRain Reign, by Ann M. Martin

Rose (rows) has high-functioning autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome, and is obsessed with homophones. The story is told (tolled) in (inn) Rose’s voice, so whenever she encounters a homonym, she puts all (awl) of the related words in parentheses, which gives the narrative a distinctive style (stile). Rose’s large, loving dog is named Rain (reign, rein), because her dad brought her home on a rainy night (knight). Most stories about children with Asperger’s are about boys, and they all seem (seam) to (two, too) have parents who are intensely involved in their children’s lives, working to get them the best care possible. Rose never knew (new, gnu) her mother, and her father deals with Rose’s problems by yelling, “Cut it out!” Thank goodness that Rose has a gentle, understanding uncle in her life. There is some (sum) tension in this novel, at least (leased) for the older reader, because we (wee) are always expecting Rose’s father to snap, and the crisis of the novel comes when Rain runs away during a hurricane. (Just to let you know—since I would want to: the dog does not die. It is safe to read the book.) Rose is such an appealing character, and although the reading is difficult at first, kids will soon get used to the constant homonyms. I would love to see this win the Newbery.

Rosie EffectThe Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion

If you read the sparkling Australian novel The Rosie Project last year, you will want to follow Don and Rosie to America. Spoiler Alert: In the very beginning of the novel, Rosie announces that she is pregnant. Don responds to the news by bolting out the door of their apartment in New York and running across town to the home of his friend. No matter what the situation with Rosie’s delicate condition, Don continues to react completely inappropriately. Perhaps he is trying desperately to be the best father imaginable, but between not knowing how to do that and wanting to keep Rosie from any stress, he puts his job, his relationship with his unborn child, and even his marriage in terrible jeopardy. As an Aussie Sheldon Cooper, Don is completely adorable and lovable. I must admit that I felt that The Rosie Project was a stronger book, but I will certainly read Don and Rosie’s next installment.

Man Called OveA Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

As I have opined before, the wave of Scandinavian books and movies out there these days can’t help being so brutally depressing, considering the far north’s godlessness, six months of darkness, and starkly angular furniture. Can tragedy be funny? As this delightful novel opens, Ove is trying his best to end his miserable life, but he just can’t manage it when all of these pesky people need his help. Ove is a quintessential curmudgeon: grouchy, grumbling, and judgmental. As the story develops, we learn the reasons for Ove’s ornery nature, but it only serves to make us love him more. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this is a novel for everyone, men and women, young and old. Highly recommended.

Amongst these winners of my holiday reading, I must admit that I pulled my bookmark out of two others. I make it a policy not to review books I don’t like, so I won’t mention them by name. I try to read widely, but sometimes a book just doesn’t fit.

The first one was a teenage boy book. The mind of a teenage boy is just not a comfortable place for an old lady to hang out. Now, I loved Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith, earlier this year, because it was brilliant, hilarious, and shocking. However, when a bunch of us teen librarians got together a couple of months ago to chat about the year’s best teen books, we all agreed that we thought it was excellent but could not bring ourselves to recommend it to a kid. Notice that I didn’t write a review. That being said, if it wins the Printz, I will cheer. The writing was just spectacular. (Ava Lavender is still my top pick, though.) However, when I went to read this other teen boy book (by a different author) last month, I just couldn’t go there again. Soon, maybe, but not this book.

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Three of My Favorites

The second book I gave up on was supposed to be a cozy read for female literary types. Me, in other words. I was really looking forward to curling up with it over the holidays, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a man-hatin’ book. I don’t understand man-hatin’ books or Lifetime movies. I have been greatly blessed in my life to be surrounded by phenomenal men: father, husband, son, brother, brothers-in-law, pastors, church friends, co-workers, you name it. They are strong, hard-working, brave, honorable, handy, and able to reach high shelves. They are also loud, self-absorbed, blustering, messy, and, um, not always mannerly. I love that. How boring life would be if we were all the same. So, if a woman wants to live by herself in her fussy, little life where everything is always clean and quiet, and no one ever grunts or slams furniture into her walls (“Oh, sorry about that”), then she is welcome to do so, but I’m not going to read her books.

Whew! So that’s everything I’ve read since Christmas. Right now, I’m reading the Qur’an, so I think I’ll be there for a while. It’s something I must do. In the meantime, I’ll think of something else to write about. Maybe I’ll actually do some crafts in my new craft room!

Disclaimer: I read library copies of Olive Kitteridge, Rain Reign, and A Man Called Ove. I read an advance reader copy of The Rosie Effect. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Goochland Inquisition

Spanish InquisitionIn one of the more outrageous examples of government overreach—and the field is crowded—the Goochland County, Virginia, school board decided to hold inquisitions for every fourteen-year-old homeschooler in their district. This story has me so incensed that I hardly know where to begin.

Virginia law allows parents to teach their own children by either filing a letter of intent or stating a religious exemption. I am not very familiar with Virginia law, but it seems that the religious exemption option would lead to less government oversight, whereas the letter of intent requires some reports of progress. Therefore, for those families who are religious, taking the religious exemption makes sense.

Doug and Carla Pruiett

Doug and Carla Pruiett discuss the homeschooling law with the Independent Sentinel

On January 9th, according to this article, among others, the Goochland school board ruled that when a child being homeschooled under the religious exemption reaches the age of fourteen, they have to make a statement of faith within 30 days of their birthday. If they do not comply, they burn at the stake. No! I made that up. Seriously, their parents can be criminally prosecuted. Furthermore, if the school board has any misgivings about the statement of faith, the child can be called to testify before the school board. In my opinion, it is cruel to force a fourteen-year-old to defend himself—and, by extension, his parents—in front of a bunch of adult strangers.

There are so many problems here. The first is that this governmental body seems to be under the impression that it owns this child, including his soul, and is only allowing the parents to be caretakers for the state. While I might, grudgingly, concede that there are truancy laws in this country, and that parents should make some assurances to the local school board so that they won’t worry, let’s keep in mind that compulsory education in institutional schools is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was not until 1852 that Massachusetts became the first state to pass a law requiring the towns to build grammar schools and force parents to send their children for at least 12 weeks every year—and the parents were not happy about it! Today, if anyone sees a child accompanying her parents anywhere during “school hours,” they will ask her, “Why aren’t you in school?” As if our children are born incarcerated.

Here is how responsible parents should interact with the local school board when they plan to teach their children at home.

Parent: “Hey, we’re going to homeschool Suzi Q. next year, so you don’t have to expect her at the local public school.”

School official: “Thank you for letting us know.”

That’s it. Just informing, not asking for permission, because they’re your kids!

The second, screamingly ridiculous problem is that the school board is setting itself up as a theological examining board. Is an M.Div. a requirement for Goochland School administrators? As I understand it, the point is to see whether the child agrees with her parents’ religious convictions, and if not, the school officials would probably consider themselves the great liberators of this child from her parents’ backward notions. If your fourteen-year-old has cemented his spiritual convictions already, he should go set up his own church. Most of us find this to be a lifelong journey. Furthermore, I’d give my last indulgence to watch the school board respond when the child stands before them and says, “My parents are paedocommunionists, but I have to confess that I am not sure that their position can be supported by Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.” If they could figure out what that meant, would it be grounds for terminating parental rights? Will they start in on straightening out all those quibbling denominations next?

It is so ironic that this is happening in Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, in a letter to the Danbury Baptists:

Thomas JeffersonBelieving with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Many people misinterpret this “wall of separation” to mean that the church cannot interfere with the government, but it was obviously meant to affirm that the state cannot interfere with the church. Jefferson wrote this letter in response to one he received from the Danbury Baptists in which they worried that the state was going to collect taxes from them to support a state church, which would probably have been Anglican, but in any case would certainly not have been Baptist. Jefferson reassured them that this would not happen, based partly on the First Amendment to the Constitution.

It was announced Wednesday, after the case was taken on by the Home School Legal Defense Association and became national news, that the Goochland School Board suddenly realized that perhaps this was not such a good idea after all. We should all be alarmed, however, that this incredible bit of arrogance ever passed a vote by people who were at least respectable enough to have been elected to their positions.

I fear that the people of our nation have become too willing to surrender their rights to those in power—or if not their own rights, the rights of their neighbors. Perhaps they think that it could never affect them, but the government is a ravenous creature, ever seeking more power and never satisfied. Freedom of conscience and freedom of thought are enormously important to our liberty. In the same way that I do not have to enjoy Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons to support their right to publish them, we do not have to agree with our neighbors’ religious beliefs or educational choices to support their right to live according to their own values. Not only does the government have no right to decide whether our religious beliefs are correct, they have no right to even ask what they are! And they certainly have no right to question our children’s opinions about this or anything else.

Teach. Believe. Be vigilant.

__________________

Spanish Inquisition drawing from Getty Images.

Photo of the Pruietts taken from the Independent Sentinel website at http://www.independentsentinel.com/virginia-school-board-demands-home-schooled-teens-justify-their-religious-beliefs/, accessed January 14, 2015.

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Zoom Zoom Zoom

2014-12-25 18.44.56Sometimes, when we expect things to be really difficult, they’re worse. I knew my time between Thanksgiving and New Years would be challenging, since I had all of the usual holiday obligations and activities, plus our county’s annual booksale, plus our son’s move out of our house into his own house, but there was more! On Thanksgiving, the very first day of holiday festivities, my mom fell and broke her hip. It was almost eleven o’clock at night, and she just turned to get up from her chair, and over she went. We followed the ambulance to the hospital, where the staff very kindly ignored the fact that some of us had obviously been celebrating quite a bit and were wandering aimlessly around the emergency area. Everyone was fine by the time we left at six in the morning, and we all spent much more time over the next few days than we ever expected at the fabulous Parkridge Hospital (Resort & Spa?) while Mom had surgery. Seriously, I have never seen a hospital this gorgeous, with marble floors, fountains, and firebowls in the pools. Mom is still in rehab, but she was able to come home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for all the festivities. Here she is on Christmas night, snoozing after a big day.

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Our county’s annual book sale took place two weeks later, and all the normally sedentary librarians had the experience of standing, walking, and carrying 450,000 books on a concrete floor all week long! We shared naproxen sodium tablets and tips for easing muscles. I began a love affair with Blue Emu. For those of us in administration, it was a fun time of customer service. Who doesn’t love a huge building full of readers?

2014-12-21 15.33.35Our son was happy to move into a new townhouse, and his realtor’s wife was happy to have a December closing!* His move was somewhat more stressful than anticipated, though, and was delayed several days. Here is a Public Service Announcement: When you buy a phone from AT&T and ask to make payments, they open up a $5000 line of credit for you! Our son did not know this, but his lender found out the day before closing. Even though the new phone was paid for, he had to produce a document that proved that the credit line was closed, and that document had to cross numerous desks before he closed. Because of that, he ended up moving the furniture in the middle of the week, when all of his helpers were at work. However! He now has a lovely townhouse located right near the city—just where he wants to be. First order of business: Get that NC State Christmas tree up with just a week to spare!

In the meantime, I now have a guest room and a craft room! We moved all of Michael’s furniture out of his office, along with three truckloads of furniture and stuff from the garage, and then we started cleaning. I took every single book off the three ceiling-to-floor bookcases, dusted them, and placed them on the floor. When each bookcase was done, I wiped it down, and then David pulled it out and vacuumed behind it. Then I put every single book back on the shelves. Ten thousand squats! I could hardly walk the next day. We cleaned up an antique chest of drawers and moved David’s grandmother’s dining room table in there. It had been in the garage for three years! Murphy’s Oil Soap is a wonderful invention. I spent some of the Christmas money I received from my mom on art supplies and moved all of my old art supplies and my sewing machine into that room. While I was looking for old paintings, I found a substantial length of dark red fabric, so I turned it into window treatments and a matching seat cover for the chair. I rounded up some favorite mugs and repurposed them, too. Here are some before and after photos.

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Like most of you, we also spent more time than we would ever want staring at the television screen, stunned at the news. People were in the streets in Missouri, New York, Paris…. The mind boggles.

Even with all the undecorating and return to work, we did find time to grill salmon in the dark,

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make the best New Year’s Day pork roast ever, thanks to Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead cookbook,

Make It Ahead and sip tea in our new teal tea pot,

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also compliments of my mom. I’ve spent some time on resolutions and plans, which I will share with you in another post, coming up soon. Here’s hoping for a nice, dull 2015.

______________

*Note: For those of you who didn’t know, my husband was our son’s realtor.

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Noggin, by John Corey Whaley

NogginTravis was one sick teenager. At the age of sixteen, he and his doctors agreed that he was losing his battle with cancer, and it was time to say goodbye. At the last moment, though, a doctor from the Saranson Center for Life Preservation stopped by their house to pitch the brand-new option of having Travis’ head cryogenically stored, waiting for the day that science was able to reattach it to a healthy body or a robot body. His parents were repulsed, but Travis decided to go for it, and at the beginning of this novel, he has just reopened his eyes. To Travis, it seems that he just closed his eyes five minutes ago, but for the rest of the world, five years have gone by.

Science has moved along more quickly than expected, and rather than having a Rip Van Winkle story, Travis is struggling to deal with the same people that he knew before, only they have changed, while he is just a healthy version of his former self. His best friend is in college, his girlfriend is engaged, and Travis has to repeat tenth grade. His parents stripped every single item out of his bedroom, so Travis is living in a sterile IKEA space, although he does find an urn with his ashes—his ashes—in the back of a closet.

As Travis gets used to traveling in the body of Jeremy Pratt, who died of a brain tumor, his main objective is to make the world go back to the way it used to be. His most urgent goal is to get Cate, his old girlfriend, to see that she still loves him and needs to leave her fiancé and return to him. His repeated attempts are variously sweet, pathetic, annoying, and frustrating. The reader hopes that Travis will come to see all of the loving people he is blessed to have in his life, and that he will eventually reorient himself and move forward.

Printz-winning author Whaley uses an outrageous concept to highlight universal struggles. Noggin was a National Book Award finalist. Recommended for teens and adults.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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