Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Hired Girl, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Hired GirlFourteen-year-old Joan scrubs, cooks, and does laundry for her father and older brothers on their farm in 1911 Pennsylvania. She adores her teacher and spends her few spare minutes reading Jane Eyre and other books Miss Lang has given her, as well as writing in her diary, which forms the content of this novel. When her father forces her to quit school so that she can concentrate on her work, and then burns her books when she resists, Joan takes the money her late mother had sewn into her doll’s skirt and runs away to Baltimore, where she takes up a new life as Janet, the hired girl, in the home of a wealthy Jewish family.

The Rosenbachs already have a housekeeper, Malka, who would never admit that her advancing age prevents her from completing many of the tasks she has performed for them over the decades. They have two grown sons and an eleven-year-old daughter, and since Joan is pretending to be eighteen years old, all sorts of uncomfortable predicaments come up with crushes and faux pas that are perfectly reasonable for a much younger girl fresh from the farm. Joan’s mother was Catholic, although her father had no religion, and Joan is taking catechism lessons from a local priest so that she can become a Catholic, too. Her earnest pursuit of spiritual knowledge is punctuated by surprising revelations about Judaism and, as she says, “the anti-Semitism.”

Joan’s voice reminds me most of Anne of Green Gables, a bookish girl who lives in the stories she reads and has a hard time reconciling her romanticism with the sometimes harsh realities of the world around her. Both girls have a sweet innocence about them that enables them to endure hard labor and transcend their humble station in life. Laura Amy Schlitz uses the time period to highlight themes of feminism and religious tolerance. Many children’s writers handle these issues clumsily, but Schlitz weaves them into an absorbing, sometimes humorous narrative naturally and gracefully.

I have been a fan of this Newbery-winning author since her first book, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, but this is by far my favorite book she has written. The endearing heroine, fully-developed secondary characters, and captivating story made me wish this book would never end. Coming in September, and very highly recommended for tweens, young teens, and adults.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reading 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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Ian Quicksilver: The Warrior’s Return, by Alyson Peterson

Ian QuicksilverIan is a scrawny foster child, one of the smallest kids in his high school. When burly Mr. Corbin takes the job as gym coach, Ian is sure that his life is over. Coach Corbin seems to push Ian harder than any of the other kids, so much so that even Ian’s inhaler isn’t enough to help him breathe.

Eventually, Corbin tells Ian that he isn’t human, but rather is a prince from another planet, sent to earth as an infant along with his betrothed princess from the neighboring planet when both their worlds were being destroyed. Ian and his princess must pledge their love for one another before his sixteenth birthday in order for their planets to be saved. There are a few small problems with this plan, however. For one thing, Ian has no idea who or where this girl is! Secondly, he will turn sixteen in just two months. Thirdly, an evil magician has cursed the girl with loss of memory, so she will never believe him when he tells her, “Oh, by the way, you’re not human. You’re a princess from another planet.” And lastly, he’s Ian, a hopeless loser. Who would fall in love with him, anyway?

Alyson Peterson has created a lovable cast of characters and a rollicking plot that includes an evil school board superintendant, snarky horse, multi-talented veterinarian, enchanted sword, and a conflicted, electrified princess. Peterson manages to keep the humor going right through breathless battles and evil schemes. Since this is the first of a series, readers will soon get the opportunity to see whether Ian will get his crown and rule another world!

An action-packed, fun adventure for 10- to 14 year-olds, and anyone else who loves wild and twisted tales. Bonus: It’s by Sweetwater Books, so it’s also a “clean read”!  Highly recommended.

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

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Librarian Shoulder and Other Hazards of San Francisco

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San Francisco as seen from the Pacific side of the Golden Gate Bridge

The last week of June, I made my way to California for the first time ever! The American Library Association held its annual convention in San Francisco this year, and I was thrilled to be invited to several functions by various groups. Since I left North Carolina when temps were over one hundred for days on end, I walked for miles on the waterfront (just days before Kate Steinle was shot there) and all over the city, reveling in sunny, mid-sixties weather. It didn’t occur to me that the sun is still sending out those UV rays even when it feels great, and I ended up peeling for a week.

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The Ferry Building, located at the “bottom” of the waterfront, now a foodie paradise with lovely shops. I walked for hours on the waterfront!

One of the best things about library conventions is that all of the publishers are there, handing out advance copies of their newest offerings. They know we can’t wait to get our hands on them, and they’ve become convinced of our canvas bag addiction, so I ended up walking for miles with canvas bags full of books on my left shoulder. By the end of my trip, I was having a hard time sleeping on my left side, and I ended up taking aspirin every night before bed. Little did I know how serious that would become after I got home.

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The iconic Phelan Building, which I passed every day on my way to ALA workshops.

Of course, the last week in June is Pride Week in San Francisco—every year. When I opined to someone that perhaps the American Library Association could have picked a more propitious week to pour several thousand librarians into a city that would soon receive 500,000 extra visitors for the Pride Parade, I was informed that the ALA holds its annual convention the last week of June every year. I can’t say that they should have held it elsewhere, though, because San Francisco is incredibly beautiful and easy to navigate, despite the one of the worst homeless problems I’ve seen anywhere—and I’ve spent a good bit of time in New York. The architecture, the Bay, the weather, the cable cars, and the variety of cultural influences all combine to create a charming city, and even though my hotel was lovely, I always wanted to be outside. Plus, it’s very healthful: considering that a salad costs $30, I lost five pounds that week!

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“When the lights go down in the city, and the sun shines on the bay….” Sunrise from my hotel window.

Getting outside on Sunday was a problem. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency, with gorgeous Bay views like the one above changing all day and night. I had an important meeting across town on Sunday afternoon, but when I got out of the shower and opened my drapes at 7:00 AM, the parade crowd was already forming, and by 9:00 AM, I could not get out of the hotel. No public transportation was running near us, so I sat back and watched for a few hours. Since the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage had been handed down on Friday, estimates were that over a million people had come to the city, double what had been expected. Some of the texts that I sent to my family back on the east coast were: “There is a very large, tattooed male motorcyclist below my window wearing a fluffy, lime-green tutu.” “There is man on the street below me wearing nothing but a hat—and it’s 58 degrees.” My sister texted back, “Where are the police?” I said, “In the float behind him.”

Around 12:30, the floats behind my hotel ran out, and the beginning of the parade moved down one block, so that the cable car beside the hotel started to operate again. I ran down and asked a native whether it went to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and she said it would get me within three blocks. Great. I had intended to ride a cable car once during my visit as a touristy thing, but I ended up using them twice out of necessity. This car took me to the top of an impossibly steep hill, and then I had to turn left and mince my way ever so slowly down (and I do mean down) three blocks of sidewalks that had been grooved so that pedestrians would not fall on their faces and roll all the way down.

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“My” Cablecar

I made it on time to my 1:30 meeting, but when we got out at almost 3:00, the parade was still going on—five hours after it started!—and I ended up walking back to my hotel right through the parade crowd. Again, there goes my shoulder, but who notices the pain when there is a 300-pound, hairy man walking toward you, wearing nothing but a strategically-placed rainbow-colored sock? I just let him have as much sidewalk as he wanted.

The whole day was surreal. It’s like your hometown parade on crack. Here comes Pacific Electric and Gas, followed by Dykes on Bikes. There, in the convertible, is a local politician, doing her best Queen Elizabeth wave. Right behind her is the Bondage Group, carrying whips and waving the Bondage Flag. (Yes, there’s a flag.) Here are hundreds of Apple employees, all in white, and next comes the nudist group, carrying a banner that reads: “Saint Francis was a nudist.” Someone should tell the Franciscan Friars. Think of all the money they could save on those brown robes and rope belts. Some of these guys are far, far past the age when they should be seen in public naked. Do they not have any friends to say, “Dude, this look is just not working for you anymore”?

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The Pacific Ocean peeking through the trees at the Land’s End Lookout

After all that excitement, I spent my last day with my friend, Valerie, having the total tourist experience. We went over the Golden Gate Bridge, drove through Sausalito, and had dinner on the Pacific at sunset, each view more beautiful than the last. If you have not been to San Francisco, let me recommend June and July as perfect months to visit! I was not sure how I would fare, since I was still in deep mourning at the time, but there was enough beauty to salve my soul and enough activity to keep me attached to the living. But then, that was before I knew that I would pay for ignoring the pain in my shoulder when I got home!

To be continued….

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