Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dicey's Song (1983)

This book started out with two strikes against it.  It is numbers 2 in a "cycle" and it was in the teen section of the library. I don't have anything against the teen zone per se, but I think the Newbery target audience is not teens. I am happy to say, though, that Dicey's Song did not strike out.  :)
We learn enough about book one that we know 13-year-old Dicey and her 3 siblings, James, Maybeth and Sammy, were abandoned by their mother and that they made their way on their own a couple hundred miles to their grandmother's farm.  Gram took them in and the story begins about when school starts in the fall.
The Tillermans are a quirky family.  Most of the people in Gram's little town think she is a bit crazy. Dicey and her siblings are prickly as well.  Their mother had never married and people in the town they came from had taunted them for that.  Add to that their mother had a nervous breakdown and was basically catatonic in a hospital bed in Boston and you see that the children could very well have troubles.
Dicey gets a job helping at a local grocery store cleaning and helping the owner, Millie, with odd jobs around the store.  Dicey feels responsible for the younger kids and wants to contribute to the upkeep as their Gram doesn't have enough to care for them. 
The story tells of trouble in school, making friends, learning to look past people's differences, holding on to family.  It was really quite good. I would recommend it for older elementary and middle school age kids.
Favorite quotes:
"The sadness of Momma lost to them, maybe forever, was something Dicey carried around deep inside her all the time, and maybe that explained her edginess. Dicey wasn't used to carrying sadness around. She was used to seeing trouble and doing something about it. She just didn't know anything to do about Momma." (p. 21)
Gram to Dicey. "But I'll tell you something else, too. Something I've learned, the hard way...You've got to hold on. Hold on to people. They can get away from you. It's not always going to be fun, but if you don't--hold on--then you lose them." (p. 88)
Dicey to her friend Mina. "If you think about it, everybody has something--wrong about them. I mean, some flaw, or something you just don't like. But some people, it doesn't seem to matter so much. You know there're things wrong, but it's just part of them and you like them." (p. 193)
When Dicey and Gram went to see Momma in Boston for the last time before she died, Gram took care of everything.  On the way home, on the train, Dicey found out that Gram had never left Maryland before that. She said, " 'Gram, but you know how to do everything.'
'I knew how to do nothing. I just did everything. There's a difference. You should know that.'" (p. 231)
Dicey trying to figure out what she should do. "The confusion was like a windy storm. And then she smiled to herself, because she had a suspicion that the confusion wasn't a storm that would blow itself out, it was going to be a permanent condition...She might as well try to like it, she thought, since it wasn't gong to go away." (p. 246)
Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey's Song. Atheneum, 1982.

A Visit to William Blake's Inn--Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers (1982)

This is a fun little book of poems about an imaginary inn run by William Blake, the late 18th-early 19th century British poet, painter and printmaker. The author, Nancy Willard, says in her introduction that she was inspired by William Blake's illustrated books of poetry--Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

The inn is staffed by fanciful animals.  Dragons bake the bread. A bear is a bed. There are rabbits and mice and a tiger too.

A few lines caught my fancy.  "rather a wish that only flew when I climbed in and found it true." (p. 16)

After taking some animals on a walk in the Milky Way,
"The rat was sullen. He grumbled
he ought to have stayed in his bed.
'What's gathered by fools in heaven
will never endure,' he said.

"Blake gave silver stars to the rabbit
and golden stars to the cat
and emerald stars to the tiger and me
but a handful of dirt to the rat." (p. 33)

And finally, "Blake's advice to travelers, 'He whose face gives no light will never become a star.'" (p. 44)

This would be a fun read with younger children.  The illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen are very fun and add to the poetry. Although poetry is not my favorite genre, I am going to check out William Blake's aforementioned works.

Willard, Nancy. A Visit to William Blake's Inn. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1981.

Jacob Have I Loved (1981)

I definitely have more to say about Jacob Have I Loved. Just as in the Bible story there are twins, Louise and Caroline, and like the story of Esau and Jacob, Louise the older sister feels that all her parents interest and care is for the younger Caroline. Caroline was the sickly baby, the sensitive and delicate child. The talented young woman.  Louise was strong, tom-boyish. Told in the first person, Louise says of Caroline and her parents, "She was so sure, so present, so easy, so light and gold, while I was all gray and shadow.  I was not ugly or monstrous.  That might have been better. Monsters always command attention, if only for their freakishness.  My parents would have wrung their hands and tried to make it up to me, as parents will with a handicapped or especially ugly child...But I had never caused my parents 'a minute's worry.' Didn't they realize that I needed their worry to assure myself that I was worth something?" (p. 39)

Growing up on a small island in Chesapeake Bay, Louise feels trapped.  Trapped by the water surrounding her, by her family, by expectations. Her mother had come to the island as a teacher and then met and married her father who was a fisherman.  Louise feels that her mother threw her life away in staying on the island.

There is a lot that happens in this book--war abroad, storms, crazy grandmother to deal with, boys, coming of age. In the end, Louise argues at her mother. (I say Louise argues at her mother because her mother refuses to be drawn in and replies lovingly.)

 "What do you want us to do for you, Louise?'
"Let me go. Let me leave!"
"Of course you may leave. You never said before you wanted to leave...I chose the island. I chose to leave my own people and build a life for myself somewhere else. I certainly wouldn't deny you that same choice. But, oh, Louise, we will miss you, your father and I."
"Will you really. As much as you miss Caroline?"
"More," she said, reaching up and ever so lightly smoothing my hair with her fingertips.
I did not press her to explain. I was too grateful for that one word that allowed me at last to leave the island and begin to build myself as a soul, separate from the long, long shadow of my twin. (228-229)

This is a serious book with lots of anger issues on Louise's part. She does end up in a good place and happy off the island. I would like to see the author write this story from another character's point of view as it would be interesting to see how the other characters view themselves and Louise. I would not recommend this book for elementary aged children.  Good for middle school kids.

Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved. Harper & Row, 1980.

A Gathering of Days (1980)

Aaarrggghh!! I got on to post about the 1982 and 1983 books and found that I had forgotten to write about '80 and '81!! And now it has been probably 3 months since I read them. Well...

A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos, takes us back to New England of the 1830s.  It is the journal of Catherine Cabot Hall, age 13, and tells of her life from 1830-1832.  It is a slow-moving book, but well-written and sweet.  She has hard times--death of a good friend, escaped slave in the neighborhood, choices to make about helping him, the remarriage of her father.  She has good times--school, fun with friends, learning to love her new step-mother.

Blos, Joan W. A Gathering of Days. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1979.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Westing Game (1979)

This was a fun book.  Samuel Westing throws 16 people together who in some way have touched his life.  Many of them feel they have been wronged by him somehow, and he seems to want to put things right but without them knowing it directly.  They have to really work for it.

Mr. Westing "dies" and his will includes a series of clues for the "players" (heirs) to follow to try to find out who killed him.  The implication being that it was one of them.  He has them work in pairs and the way he puts the teams together really helps each individual to realize their strengths and develop their potential.  Even the grown-ups in the game find they have a lot to learn, maybe even more than the children.

The game is cleverly developed and the writing is good.  I don't want to give anything away, as it is a who-dun-it, but I would definitely recommend this book.

Raskin, Ellen.  The Westing Game.  E.P. Dutton, 1978.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bridge to Terabithia (1978)

One of my favorites! I remember when I read this book as a kid.  I was about 11 years old and I was riding the bus home from school.  I cried so hard--right there on the bus.  My bus driver, Miss Nora, saw me and was so concerned, probably since it had not been that long since my parents had died.  The thing of it is, I think I cried just as hard reading it this time as I did then.  :)  I admit, I cry easily.  But really this is silly.  I'm crying now just thinking about writing this blog.  Maybe since the book deals with the loss of a loved one, I was at a time in my life that it powerfully hit me and I am reverting to that time in my life as I revisit this book. (Took a break and under control now.)

Jess Aarons lives in a small, rural town not too far from Washington, D.C. He loves to draw, but gets no encouragement to develop his talent.  His great desire is to win the race held every day at recess between the boys at school.  On the first day of fifth grade, he is ready! But much to his chagrin, he, and all of the boys, are beaten by the new girl, Leslie, who moved in near Jess.

Leslie is definitely different from anyone Jess has ever known.  They become friends and his understanding of how people can interact and love and build a relationship grows and changes.  Lelsie's parents have moved there to get away from the materialism of the big city. As Leslie puts it, "They decided they were too hooked on money and success, so they bought that old farm and they're going to farm it and think about what's important." (p. 47)  Leslie hates it until she and Jess become friends and she opens him up to a world of possibility.

They create a secret, imaginary kingdom of Terabithia, where Jess is king and Leslie is queen.  To get to Terabithia, they use a tree rope to swing over the creek.  Jess is fearful of doing this.  In his own words, "Lord, it would be better to be born without an arm than to go through life with no guts." (p. 140)

Spoiler Alert (This paragraph contains a spoiler)Disaster strikes on the perfect day.  It had been a week full of rain before Jess's music teacher invites him to Washington to see the art at the Smithsonian.  He is in love with Miss Edmunds, so wants to savor the time with her.  When he returns home, he is met with the news that Leslie died when the rope broke as she swung over the swollen creek.

He is devastated and in denial.  The outpouring of love from his family, especially his dad with whom he had a rocky relationship, and friends and teachers is very tender.

Excellent book that would be a good springboard to a discussion about dealing with death of a loved one.  I know the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us the knowledge of resurrection and hope for a future together, but as mortals, we still have the feelings of grief and anger and loss to deal with before we can start healing when we lose someone we love. 

Some good quotes:

Leslie after attending church with Jess's family. "You have to believe it, but you hate it.  I don't have to believe it, and I think it's beautiful." (p. 127)

After Leslie's death.  "Now it occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted.  After you stayed for a while and grew strong you had to move on. For hadn't Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make him see beyond to the shining world--huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile?...It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength." (p. 188)

Paterson, Katherine.  Bridge to Terabithia. HarperCollins, 1977.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1977)

Wow! This is a powerful story of despair and hate, hope and resilience, of the desire for acceptance and equality and love and friendship.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry takes place in 1933 Mississippi.  It is the story of the Logan family and their struggles against the hate and racism that pervaded the South at this time.  The Logans are the only black family who own land in their small town, more of a corner store than a town, and they are determined to keep the land despite the odds. 

The narrator, 9-year-old Cassie Logan, seems to see and hear everything and doesn't always understand what is happening.  She doesn't understand why the white children get to ride a bus while the black children have to walk to school.  Why the books they are given in school are only given to them when the white teachers think they are no longer fit for their students. Why she is forced off the sidewalk and into the road by a rude, uncouth, ignorant white girl and the girl's father.  The list goes on, but Cassie grows up fast in the year the book covers and begins to understand the hate and unfairness of life. 

Cassie also learns of hope and love as her family pulls together, along with other members of the black community, to pitch in to help each other and try to hold on to the tenuous existence that life in the deep South meant for people of color at that time.

Very well written. Very serious themes.  The "N-word" is used frequently, which fits with the setting of the book.

Some favorite quotes:
Mama comforting Cassie after the sidewalk incident.  "White people may demand our respect, but what we give them is not respect but fear...Baby, we have no choice of what color we're born or who our parents are or whether we're rich or poor.  What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we're here. And I pray to God you'll make the best of yours." (p. 129)

Uncle Hammer (their father's brother) to Stacey (Cassie's older brother). "It's tough out there, boy, and as long as there are people, there's gonna be somebody trying to take what you got and trying to drag you down.  It's up to you whether you let them or not." (p. 143)

Cassie's father to her.  "There are things you can't back down on, things you gotta take a stand on.  But it's up to you to decide what them things are.  You have to demand respect in this world, ain't nobody just gonna hand it to you.  How you carry yourself, what you stand for--that's how you gain respect.  But, little, one, ain't nobody's respect worth more than your own." (p. 176)

Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Dial Books, 1976.