Follow by Email

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Batty Growing Up


How comforting it is to read about a familiar character and her family! The past few days Batty Penderwick, her sisters and brother, her parents, the neighbors, and her sort-of-adopted brother Jeffrey have inhabited my mind, much as the real people in my life do. When I tell people I am reading Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks in Spring and that beloved Batty is in fifth grade, those in the know gasp and say, "Batty? In fifth grade? How can she be so old already?" It is as if they, too, love and know this quirky girl as I feel I do.

Batty is still musically inclined, still opposed to participating in sports, still needing reassurance from Jeffrey, and still inclined to snuggling Funty (though now she listens to music on the old record player bought for her by Iantha while doing so). Yet she is changing, growing to be a wise big sister to Ben and Lydia and starting her own business: Penderwick Willing to Work. With growing up comes knowledge of things heartbreaking and difficult to comprehend. So sad are some of these things that I had to be by myself to read at times! But those Penderwicks are nothing but supportive. They carefully seek to tell the truth and bring Batty to light and love again. 

I loved this fourth book in the series. I especially liked Batty's aversion to book reports. 

"She was reading Masterpiece, about a boys named James and his friend Marvin, who happens to be a beetle. It was high on her list of books she refused to ruin by writing about in a book report." p. 132

"The Phantom Tollbooth was yet another book much too wonderful to wreck with a book report." p. 146

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Black Dove, White Raven


Traveling through the last few days, Elizabeth Wein's latest novel Black Dove, White Raven lingered in the background of my thoughts. Emilia Menotti and her brother Teodros Dupre are "in the soup together" as Italian forces invade Ethiopia in 1935. Strapped into the same cockpit seat at age five, the children of flying partners Cordelia Dupre (Black Dove) and Rhoda Menotti (White Raven) have grown up together, despite the "Delia-sized hole" created when Teo's mother was killed in a bird strike. They instinctively reach for each other's hands when frightened, squeezing three times to communicate "Are you scared?" and feel the returned four squeezes, meaning "I am not scared."

The novel begins, however, with Em's declaration of acknowledgement that she is the only person who can help her and her brother. And so she writes to the emperor of Ethiopia, begging for forgiveness for Teo and a passport to help him leave the country. As evidence of his goodness and innocence, she sends the essays, stories, and flight plans the two have composed for their teacher and their mother. The book, then, is a chronological record of their experiences, joint and single, that go from their arrival from Bucks Country,Pennsylvania to the Beehive Hill Cooperative Coffee Farm in Tazma Meda. The people who love them in Ethiopia range from the clinic doctor and his wife to Teo's biological uncle to Habte Sadek, the priest at the nearby church who teaches them to throw spears and is guarding ancient treasures. Yet Teo and Em are eventually thrust into war, defense, and secrecy. They must work to make right a terrible debt owed while learning that "spiderwebs joined together can catch a lion". 

Gripping in the descriptions of events and in emotion, the story is told so well in the young people's voices that their fictional nature is in question in my mind. The author's notes separate the real events and people with those of her imagination. But once again, my interaction with a book enlightened my mind about a period in history I had not previously know. Read this book. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Huzza, huzza


Yesterday afternoon my mind and heart were gloriously filled with beautiful words as I listened to Sharon Creech's acceptance speech for the 2015 Kerlan Award at the University of Minnesota and later contemplated her words in some of my favorite books. Listening to the story of her own journey into writerhood, I savored the snippets of background information that shaped the books she has written and explain her writing process. Like all journeys in life, there was not straight course, she said, to becoming a writer. Most of my life's journeys have taken curved paths, too. Salamanca Tree Hiddle noted early in Walk Two Moons, "...if people expect you to be brave, sometimes you pretend that you are, even when you are frightened down to your very bones." Insert numerous other adjectives for brave, and finish the sentence to correspond to them. That sums up many lessons I have learned in life. My three favorite books by Sharon Creech sit apart from the other on my shelf now, waiting for my to reread and appreciate more of her wisdom and compassion.