Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

August Pullman was born with a rare life-threatening condition that makes his face appear deformed.  After a life time of surgery, August is now a lovable fifth grade boy.  Now that it’s time for fifth grade, his parents have decided he should go to a real school for the first time in his life.  

A bright and funny boy, August joins his new school and is quickly shunned.  There are bright spots at school as a couple of kids get to know August and become his friends.  As the year proceeds there are highs and lows.  What does it mean to be kind?  Can middle school kids find it within them to be kind and accept someone who is different?

I really enjoyed this book.  My husband and boys read it for the library youth book club last year, but I didn’t read it at that time.  I did read it this year for the February selection of the Rogue Book Club (aka FLICKS Book and Movie club).  We had a lightly attended book club meeting last week, but myself and the one other person that read the book both really enjoyed it.  The book touched me as it really hit on a lot of great points and made me think about how I treat people now and how I treated people in the past.

I read about the author after I finished the book and she talked about how she wrote the book after she saw a child with a similar condition and rushed out of the situation, so her kids wouldn’t say anything to hurt the child.  And she thought – how would that make the child feel?  It made me realize I have done that as well as I don’t want my kids to make comments about someone different, when I should probably face the situation head on.  She also had an interesting interview where she said she would have been Charlotte in the book while she was growing up.  Nice, but wouldn’t have been brave enough to be Auggie’s friend.  I was similar.

My 12-year-old son Kile said his favorite scene was when the fifth grade went camping and Auggie really got to see the true colors of his class.  I agreed that it was my favorite as well. Kile’s sixth-grade class went to see the movie this year.  I would like to see it as well!  

I’ll admit I was jarred at first when the book switched from Auggie’s point of view to his sister’s and then on to other characters, but I got used to it and liked seeing how others perceived the same situation.

Favorite quotes:

“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.  I eat ice cream.  I ride my bike.  I play ball.  I have an Xbox.  Stuff like that makes me ordinary.  I guess.  And I feel ordinary.  Inside.  But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.”

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

“The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died.  They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs.  Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of you.  That’s why your deeds are like your monument.  Built with memories instead of with stone.”

“I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time.  Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.”

“Jack, sometimes you don’t have to be mean to hurt someone to hurt someone.  You understand?”

“Funny how sometimes you worry a lot about something and it turns out to be nothing.”

“It’s so weird how that can be, how you could have a night that’s the worst in your life, but to everybody else it’s just an ordinary night.”

“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie.  But I really believe, and Daddy really believers, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”

“If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than necessary – the world really would be a better place.”

Overall, Wonder is a special book that really explores kindness and how we can all make the world a better place to live in.  I recommend it to all kids and adults!

Book Source:  I purchased it while out Christmas shopping . . . and I can’t remember where!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Roy has just moved to another new town and school in Coconut Grove, Florida.  He is experiencing bullying on the school bus when he notices a strange barefoot boy running alongside the bus.  He starts to investigate who the boy is and discovers that he is protecting owls that are living on a future construction site.  Will they be able to save the owls?  Will Roy make new friends and learn to love Florida?

Another main part of the story is Officer Delinko.  He is trying to figure out who is vandalizing the construction site with much humor.

My nine-year-old son Daniel and twelve-year-old son Kile read this book for the Kewaunee Library Youth Book Club.  Daniel really enjoyed it and in fact we kept reading it at night instead of his actual book he was supposed to read for school I learned later.    We still “flip flop” read with Daniel reading two pages and then me reading two pages.  Kile reads on his own.  Kile said the book was “meh” although he read it awful fast.  He is more into fantasy and sci-fi books.

Daniel liked the light swearing that was in the novel, much to my dismay.  He really enjoyed the story and had a hard time stopping the reading at night.  Sometimes he would read me to sleep!

I enjoyed that it was a unique story.  I liked that it was a good look at what it means to construct a new facility without looking at the land and what naturally resides at that location – it was a good environmental lesson.  Besides an environmental take, it was a good story of how Roy learned to enjoy his new home in Florida after moving from Montana and to enjoy the natural environment and all its glory.   

Overall, it was an enjoyable story with light humor.  We watched the movie last weekend and Daniel was very irked that the changed the ending so much but enjoyed it as well.

Book Source:  Kewaunee Public Library

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Free land for the taking without a tree to clear – this temptation started the last great migration west where many a person left everything they knew for the “free” land.  Charles “Pa” Ingalls was always yearning to move westward to find that perfect land that would provide his small family with security.  In By the Shores of Silver Lake, after years of grasshopper plagues in Minnesota, Pa took a job with the railroad and then staked a claim on prime land located near DeSmet South Dakota.  After a great first summer on the land, in The Long Winter, the Ingalls family must survive a winter that no settler had seen before, near constant blizzards from October until May.  

After dire warnings from nature and a wise Native American, Pa moves the family to town to make it through the winter.  He is glad he did as the winter is fiercer than anyone could imagine.  Without trains coming to DeSmet, the town runs out of food and supplies to burn for fuel.  The Ingalls family is forced to burn twisted hay and to grind wheat in a coffee grinder to make a basic bread.  As the town slowly starts to starve, young Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland decide to risk heading to a claim that is rumored to have wheat to save the entire town.  Will they make it back before the next blizzard hits?

The Almanzo and Cap wheat rescue is a very intense and exciting scene.  I was reading it to my seven-year-old daughter Penelope, but my nine-year-old son Daniel could hear me from the adjoining bathroom where he was taking a bath and he had to come out and join us, so he could find out what would happen.  Reading this as an adult, it is amazing to realize just how close the Ingalls and entire town came to starving to death during these blizzards.  Wilder masterfully writes the small details just as the Wilder brothers noticing how skinny Pa is getting and how the family is struggling to make it on potatoes and wheat.    They are very grateful for the small things, like having tea to drink.

I had read lately that The Long Winter is Wilder’s masterpiece and I would agree.  At this point in the series, she has fine-tuned her writing style and has beautiful passages about the snow and the hardships faced.  She doesn’t sugar coat what is happening.  I just finished reading The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin (review to come shortly) and he stated that The Long Winter is accurate per other accounts from pioneers living in Dakota at the time and describes that experience in precise detail.

We visited DeSmet as a family this past summer.  I loved camping on the Ingalls family homestead and it really made the story come alive when we were reading it to know where everything was at and what it looked like.  I can’t imagine living in the claim shanty and can see why they moved to town.  It gave me an even greater appreciation for the settlers that came before us and had to make it through some very tough times to survive.

I also must admit that that while I loved the beauty of the writing and the struggles of the protagonist, Penelope did not enjoy the novel as much as she had the previous books in the series.  I think she more enjoys the interactions between the characters, especially when they go to school and she is really looking forward to romance between Almanzo and Laura.  Hopefully Little Town on the Prairie meets her expectations.

I wish there was more in the novel about the native American community.  As a child, I always liked the mystic all-knowing native American that warns the towns people about the “heap big snow, big wind” that is coming, but as an adult, I can see that it is a caricature of a Native American.  What were they feeling and doing into this time?  I need to find a novel about that!

Favorite Quotes (I had a lot in this book!):

“It was wonderful to be there, safe at home, sheltered from the winds and the cold.  Laura thought this must be a little bit like Heaven, where the weary are at rest.”

“Brains and character did not depend on anything but the man himself.  Some men did not have the sense at sixty that some had at sixteen.”

“The politicians are a-swarming in already, and ma’am if’n there’s any worst pest than grasshoppers it surely is politicians.”

“A lamp could shine out through the blackest darkness and a shout could be heard a long way, but no light and no cry could reach through a storm that had wild voices and an unnatural light of its own.”
“Work comes before pleasure.”

“He went to the windows but he could not see out.  Snow came on the wind from the sky.  Snow rose from the hard drifts as the wind cut them away.  It all met in the whirling air and swirled madly.  The sky, the sunshine, the town, were gone, lost in that blinding dance of snow.  The house was alone again.”

“Laura thought of the lost and lonely houses, each one alone and blind and cowering in the fury of the storm.  There were houses in town, but no even a light from one of them could reach each another.  And the town was all alone on the frozen, endless prairie, where snow drifted, and winds howled, and the whirling blizzard put out the stars and the sun.”

“’I am not afraid of the dark,’ she said to herself over and over, but she felt that the dark would catch her with claws and teeth if it could hear her move or breathe.  Inside the walls, under the roof where the nails were clumps of frost, even under the covers where she huddled, the dark was crouched and listening.”

“Next day was exactly the same.  The stillness and the dusk and the warmth seemed to be a changeless dream going on forever the same, like the clock’s ticking.”

“The sun was rising.  The sky was a thin, cold blue and the earth to its far horizon was covered with snowdrifts, flushed pink and faintly shadowed with blue.”

“There was something mocking in the glitter of that trackless sea where every shadow moved a little and the blown snow spray confused the eyes searching for lost landmarks.”

“And as they sang, the fear and the suffering of the long winter seemed to rise like a dark cloud and float away on the music.  Spring had come.  The sun was shining warm, the winds were soft, and the green grass growing.”

Overall, The Long Winter is a masterpiece of fiction that tells the experiences faced by the settlers in the Dakotas during the long hard winter of 1880-81.  Wilder has come into her own with her writing in this one, and the sequence where Almanzo and Cap try to outrun a storm to save the town is riveting.  If you’ve never read this as an adult, I highly recommend it.

Book Source:  I purchased the series from Amazon.com as my childhood set from my Great-Grandpa and Grandma Kile is falling apart.  I didn’t want to destroy them on the reread.  I loved reading these books with my Great-Grandma as a child and love reading them to Penelope now.