Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

5 stars Fiction

I highly recommend you listen to this audio as its wonderful.  Words can’t express how I felt as I listened to Gifty walk through her days.  The burden that she carried on her shoulder was heavy and at times, I wondered how she was going to make it through her day.  I felt as if she was just waiting for something miraculous to happen, for something to rip the baggage from her shoulders and set her free!   

Every day, Gifty works with her mice, trying to understand their behavior.  This is her constant, the thing that keeps her moving.  Nana, her talented, gifted brother, is partly responsible for Gifty’s desire to become a neuroscientist. Their mother is the other reason Gifty is going to school.  It all started when her star-athlete brother got injured while at practice.  The pain killers that he took, eventually led to his death.  Now, with her favorite child gone, their mother slips into depression and Gifty is left trying to pick up the pieces. 

It was a difficult move and the family struggles as they tried to adjust to life in Alabama.  Mother wanted the Chin Chin Man to come and when he finally did, I don’t think he really wanted to live in Alabama. I think he struggled to fit in and when he returned to Ghana to visit, I knew he wasn’t planning on returning to the States. Mother’s grief had consumed her after Nana’s death and it was now consuming Gifty as well. Gifty didn’t know what to do, so she went to work, watching her mice.  I liked the honesty that Gifty showed, her frustration felt real.  A great emotional read. 5 stars

Playing Nice by J.P. Delaney

5 stars Fiction

Does biology trump love?  As I listened to this book, I kept wondering what I would do if I were placed in such a predicament.  After caring for a young child for 2 years, do you think you could relinquish control because someone made a mistake?  Was it a mistake or was it done on purpose?  It’s not like you got the wrong car, or the wrong dog (although this would be hard too), this is a small child who has depended on you, someone that you have cared for, protected, loved and bonded with for over 700 days. How could you walk away from that?  My mind couldn’t fantom how anyone was going to win in this situation. 

So many questions had to be answered after they proved that an error had occurred, and it began with who?  Who would commit such an act?  What did they have to gain from it?  I should have slowed the speed of the audio down as I felt that the book was speeding out of control or was it just the intensity of the situation.  I had my suspects but I didn’t feel that their motives were solid enough.  I felt an emotional connection to the children, how would they feel now and again, later in the future, knowing what happened to them?  Would this mess them up, could they bounce back, or would they need counseling to figure out why they now had another mommy and daddy?  Trying to correct the situation, I found myself arguing out loud, as each set of parents had their own idea on what they felt was the best plan.  Miles wanted to run the show, he thinks that he has everything under control and it frustrated me how he tries to take charge.  As I learned more about the children, the motive of why become clearer and the suspect list dropped to just a few individuals.  It was such a great book to listen to and one that completely took over my morning.  I highly recommend it.

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen

4.5 stars Middle School

This book had a lot of themes going through it but it worked. Miriam, an 11-year-old girl is the protagonist in the story as her family moves into a rundown motel, in the hopes of creating a new future for themselves and the business. They had only planned this to be a short-term plan, hoping to save some money and then move on. Moving into a small community was different than New York City and the longer I read, the more I realized what this family was hiding internally.

As the family moves into The Jewel Motor Inn, the two children live in one of the rooms and the parents’ take-up residence in an adjoining room. As an 11-year-old, I thought that would be fun but I could understand the novelty wearing off. Maria, continues to work at the Inn, taking care of the housekeeping issues and helping the family become familiar with the motel. I loved how she helped Miriam learn Spanish and I felt that Maria was a very kind and tolerant individual. As her parents start the clean-up process, Miriam pitches in. On an errand to the diner next door, she meets Kate. Kate’s grandmother owns the diner and eventually, Miriam ends up helping out at the diner making pies.

Now that Miriam has met a friend, the two girls start hanging out together. While talking about their small town, they come up with a plan that they think will benefit everyone in it. Now, if only they don’t get caught creating their plan! An innocent plan which when you think about it, was harmless. I thought the girls were rather clever. As guests arrived to the hotel, Miriam meets Anton. This child was a gem! Anton arrived with his mother and his wheelchair. Miriam saw the wheelchair. I really think she saw the wheelchair before she saw Anton until Anton met her in the swimming pool. After that, Miriam changed how she looked at him. Anton was not the only person who tried to help Miriam with her fear of water, Uncle Mordy tried his hand at that, too. Uncle Mordy arrived to help out the family so he decided to help Miriam. Slowly, he introduced her the water, letting the water touch her upper thighs, it was a start.

The girls felt guilty for what they did for the town but they didn’t want to admit to anyone what they did. Just as the family is enjoying their new home, they discover something painful and disturbing at the motel. This event has a snowball effect on the community which all began because of emotions and the lack of accountability. I cringed to see this happened to them and I had to hope that somehow, they found find strength to fight it.

And what do you see? Just one of many that are out there.

A middle school read that packs religion, faith, friendship, disabilities, and family all in one book. I found it to be a fast read and I really enjoyed it. 4.5 stars

” They stand with their arms around each other. The man points and traces somthing in the air. The woman nods and smiles and I see tears rolls down her cheeks. “
“Is what we did good or bad? Yes, we fooled people, but if it makes them happy and gives them hope and saves the motel and the diner, is that so bad?”

All He Knew by Helen Frost

4.5 stars Historical Fiction

I started to get all frustrated and concerned as I began reading this book.  I felt so helpless as I read about Henry.  He had begun his life alone and misunderstood.  The label they slapped on him, became a wall.  I felt some relief that Molly had never forgotten her brother, although he wasn’t living with her.  She loved him whether he was physically present or not.  The author’s creative way of expressing this factual event makes this a very powerful story. 

Henry was four when he becomes deaf after falling ill. They had hoped that Henry could get his education at the State School for the Deaf.  Needing to pass a test, Henry arrives for the test but he is unable to understand the tests’ directions.  Failing the test, he can’t attend the state school and they label Henry, “unteachable.”  With WWII on the horizon, they soon decide to place him in Riverview, a school for mentally disabled individuals.  Talk about sad! Little time and effort are spent on the patients and Henry sinks further down.  If I could just reach into this book and grab him out, I and I think plenty other readers would have.

As I read Henry’s thoughts, his hopes and his sadness, it’s beyond sad.  I’m wondering how the other patients feel about life in Riverview.  Molly is the only bright spot until I hear Victor’s footsteps mark the halls of Riverview.  Is Victor a real person or is he an angel? Where did he come from?  It’s sad to think that, finally one professional, seems to care.   

With short chapters, this true event story is a story that will definitely make your think.  Told through verse, it’s a fast read about this time period in history.  

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

5 stars Children’s Book

This book is beautiful!  This book says it all.  If you were to buy one book to have in your library, this should be the one!  It’s almost brought tears to my eyes as the author explains how we are all unite on this one big planet. 

I really enjoyed the illustrations inside this book, from how much detail was included, to the color choice, to how much there was to look at, these illustrations were wonderfully done.  I was impressed with how the author used an assortment of each topic to get her point across.  When she addressed how individuals traveled:  she included a rowboat, tugboat, skateboard, taxi, tractor, airplane, hot air balloon, camper, police car, ambulance, race car, wheelchair, pickup, bus, etc.  The two pages were full.  The author covers a variety of subjects in this book including families, weather, food, what people do, feelings, etc.   There was this feeling of love and community that came over me as I read this book, that we all are together on this planet, breathing and hopefully working together. 

This is an oversized book (11.25 x9 approx.) with 74 pages.  This is not one book that will be read once and put away as the illustrations again, are interesting and many of them have lots of look at.  I think this one is a keeper.  I highly recommend this one and make sure you read the last page of the book as the author talks about how she arrived at writing this book. 

” There are lots of things we don’t know.  We don’t know where we were before we were born or where we go when we die.  But right this minute, we are here together on this beautiful planet.”

“We humans define ourselves be where we are born, where we live, what we believe, by the clothes we wear, and the languages we speak.  But there is no “typical” person.  We are all different.”

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

5 stars MIddle School

The ending of this book was fantastic!  That was one adrenaline rush! I seriously don’t think I took a breath as the minute-by-minute action played out.  As I reflect back on this book, I realized just how much I enjoyed it.  After I had been introduced to the characters, I didn’t want to put this book down. 

Zoey didn’t want to be on the debate team, nor did she want to be a part of the debate club. It’s not like she didn’t have an opinion, its just that she doesn’t like to talk out loud in class and isn’t that important in debate?  Zoey’s teacher sees something in her and she motivates her to join.  As Zoey attends a few of the meetings, I had to laugh as she begins scribbling information down and it seems as if she’s just “existing” while she’s there.  You can tell she’d rather be anywhere else then, sitting there in these meetings.  Yet, she’s listening and she’s grasping what’s really transpiring all around her, is anyone else doing the same?  

Zoey’s life at home is complicated.  She has three younger siblings (Hector, Bryce, and Aurora) which she helps care for when her mother works at the Pizza Pit.  Zoey doesn’t see her father and Bryce and Aurora don’t visit their father either.  Her mother is trying, she really is. With a roof over their heads and a bed to sleep in, her mother is trying to make a better life for her children. They’re all currently living with Hector’s father, Lenny and his grandfather in a trailer.  Sounds cozy, doesn’t it? 

I could see myself in Zoey’s mom, so much that it hurt. Her mom saw a goal and she was trying to reach it.  In-between her and that goal were her kids -that’s it……nothing else.  She was trying to make a better life for them and that was her goal.  Zoey: her view through the lens was different. With everything that Zoey is juggling, she wants to help her mom now.     

This is an excellent story that addresses the issues of poverty and abuse through the eyes of a middle-schooler. I really enjoyed how Zoey’s knowledge of debate came into play and how Zoey’s character matured in this book.  Zoey relationships with her peers and her family played a huge part in her life.  The responsibility she shouldered and her attitude was remarkable.  I loved how realistic this book felt and how smooth the writing was.  It deserves more than 5 stars!   

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

5 stars YA

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain.  This has been my precept lately and when I read about August’s language teacher giving his students precepts to reflect upon monthly, I was moved. In fact, there were many characters in this book reflecting back on their actions and/or their comments because sometimes, individuals act spontaneous. I enjoyed all the characters in this book, each one of them was important to this story.  August may have been the common thread that linked them all together but they were all needed, to make August into the best person that he could be. 

I can’t tell you how many times I have read parts of this book over the years.  As a substitute teacher, I would read this book in various classrooms when I would do a read-aloud with the students.  I never heard a student tell me they didn’t enjoy the book, in fact, most kids got excited when I read it to them.  They would try to tell me different parts of the story and I could definitely feel their enthusiasm.  I had no desire to read this book after reading the disjointed version over and over throughout the years.  Book Club came to my rescue and dang, what a book!  I laughed, cried, and gave my copy of the book a good talking to, a few times as August ventures inside a school building.   Don’t go to school, go to school, don’t go, go, heck…..I don’t know.  I wobbled back and forth, as August tried to decide what he should do about attending school in a building vs. being home schooled again by his mother.

August knows the reaction that he’ll receive when he goes to school, he’s been getting it his entire life.  He wants to think that he’s used to it but in reality, he knows he’s not.  His mom feels that since it’s 5th grade, all the students will be new to the building and it’s a perfect transition time but August knows that he still has the disadvantage.  After the school tour, August feels that it’s not as bad as he thought yet, when he actually attends the school, it’s harder than he thought. 

I wasn’t ready for parts of the story as I read them.  In the back of my head, I’m thinking positive thoughts but I know that negative things can happen, when “it” happened.  They made me feel as if I’ve been run over by a bus.  I know kids can be cruel, I know they can be truthful and honest but wow, seriously? I loved August’s sister, Via.  She’s the real deal.  She tries to toughen him up as she throws punches at him and he has the choice to either fight back or walk away.  I believe that Via hoped that he’d confront her, she wanted him to push back, as that made him stronger. 

Being a kid is hard, you want to fit in, but where?  There’re many examples of this in the book, and the reality of it hits home.  Kids want to be accepted, they want to a part of something, I think everyone has this feeling sometime in their life as I read, I understood the position they took.  Sometimes I didn’t like it but I understood it.  I think both his peers and August matured in this book.   I liked how the teacher was trying to get his students to think on their own when he assigned the precepts.  He wanted them to apply the various concepts and form an opinion, then they were to express themselves on the various subjects. I think this is a great exercise will help the students grow internally. 

I’m so glad that I was forced to read this book for book club as I don’t think I would have read this book otherwise. I now want to see the movie as I heard it was good and was close to the book. 

There were many great quotes in this book but these stand out as my favorite:

“Now, unless you want to be treated like a baby the rest of your life, or like a kid with special needs, you just have to suck it up and go.”    (guess who said that?)

““Do people go out of their way to avoid touching you, Vic?” he answered, which left me momentarily without an answer. “Yeah, right. That’s what I thought. So, don’t compare your bad days at school to mine, okay?””

Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar

5 stars Children’s Picture

Let me tell you a story….and with that, she saw herself and tried to change.  I like it when a story says it all and for this young girl, she heard the story and understood.

She had arrived to this country, alone.  Her family, friends and her cats were still back home and she misses them so much.   Her Auntie and Uncle were thrilled to have her with them and they showered her with love and presents. She wanted to make some friends, but how?

Her Auntie notices the young girl’s quietness and she asks her if she would like to take a walk together.  As they walk, the aunt unleashes a story filled with adventure which draws the girl in.  It begins with a group of Persia refuges who were traveling via boat, who had finally arrived on the shores of India.   The local king was refusing to let the Persia refuges stay.  The refuges were begging the king but unfortunately, they couldn’t understand what each of them were saying to each other.  The king decided to visually show them what he meant. The refuges saw what the king was doing and they too, responded to the king in a visual way.  Now, they both understood each other.

What a clever story and a clever technique!   What a surprise to both parties.  I thought the ending was great!   I loved the illustrations in this book too!  I enjoyed how the edges on each page of the Auntie’s story were artistly created.  These fancy edges, framed each picture and made it a notable journey.  The relationship between the girl and her Auntie was special and I liked how the couple tried to make the girl feel comfortable in their home.  A great story!     

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda Child

3 stars Children’s Picture

Windy Girl likes to hang out in her Uncle’s pickup truck.  She hears the best stories while sitting in his truck.  Her uncle can remember when he was a young child but Windy Girl’s favorite stories are when he talks about the powwow.   I thought this was so sweet that she sits with her uncle in his truck and that they have some bonding time. Without any outside forces, with just the two of them together, they can focus on each other.  As her Uncle talks about the powwow, this story reminds her of her own dog, Itchy Boy. 

Windy Girl and Itchy Boy loved their days at the powwow.   Everyone was happy at the powwow as they sang, danced and spent time with each other.  Typically, the celebration would last until late into the night and the night sky would dance with the Northern Lights.  The children and the dogs would fall asleep to the beating of the drums.   Windy recalls a time when she had a weird yet wonderful dream about a powwow.  Windy explains her dream and I do have to agree that this dream was weird and the illustrations make her dream, even more unusual.  It was after she had this dream that Windy made some observations about powwows.  

I liked how the story was written in two different languages, I thought that was interesting.   I liked looking at the Ojibwa language that was written out below the English language.  It seemed the language had longer words and it was hard to pronounce, at least I thought so.   I was disappointed in the illustrations.   I would have liked the illustrations to have been more realistic and softer to create   a more secure feeling.  I did enjoy reading the Author’s notes at the back of the book yet I wanted more of them.     3 stars

A Day With Yayah by Nicola Campbell

5 stars Children’s Picture

This was a nice picture book that is also an educational book as a Yayah (grandmother) spends time alone with her grandchildren, passing down the traditional natural world of their culture.   Although the scmem’i?t (children) don’t like to eat everything Yayah gathers, they love to be with her, when she collects her harvest and I understand why.  Yayah’s patience and knowledge flows freely from her and just being with her and learning from her is a wonderful day.

Yayah teaches the scmem’i?t new words every day and she reinforces those words as she speaks to them throughout the day.  Teaching them the Indigenous language, Yayah speaks to them calmly and in a gentle tone as she mixes this language with the English language, as they look and gather for the first spring crop.  Yayah teaches them, she educates them not in just the harvest but in the environment around them so that in the future, they will be able to gather their own harvest successfully.   There’s a Glossary of Words at the back of the book that helps.  I would love to hear this book being read.  A wonderful, good feeling book.   5 stars