Category Archives: List

Lists of books and lists of resources that are interesting and relevant.

Books that Help Us Remember: Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States: our three-day weekend that often consists of BBQs, family, and the onset of summer, but – more importantly – provides us with the opportunity to stop and honor the men and women who have died serving in the Armed Forces.

I am fortunate enough not to have lost any of my own loved ones to war, and I am a book nerd. Because of this, I turn to literature to help me slow down and think about the cost of war and about those who serve and give their lives. Here are four books I’ve read this year that help me hold the fallen soldiers of America more clearly in my memory.

1. Doing My Part by Teresa R. Funke
(For ages 9-12, according to the book cover. WWII historical fiction. Set in Illinois.)
Summary
Helen is 14 years old, working on a factory assembly line over the summer to contribute to her family’s coffers and to the war effort. The story is elegant, realistic, and deeply entrenched in history. Helen is trying to prove how grown up and responsible she is, but doing the right thing consistently proves to be more complicated than she’d thought it.
During the book, she increasingly tunes in to what is going on in the war, especially as her cousin and her best friend’s older brother go off to join the fight.

Why It Helps Me Remember
Helen’s neighbor is Mrs. Osthoff, a German immigrant who has experienced deep losses and withdrawn from the world. Helen begins to connect with Mrs. Osthoff after accompanying her grandmother to deliver the news that Mrs. Osthoff’s son has died in the war.
Because of this direct brush of family and community with the death of a young soldier, this book aimed at young readers helped me sympathize with the many families in our modern era and in our past who are dealing and have dealt with just this sort of loss.
Doing My Part by Teresa R. Funke

2. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
(Young Adult literature. Fiction. Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2011), Andre Norton Award Nominee for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (2011))

Summary
Lucky Linderman isn’t so lucky. In fact, he’s depressed, and he might be going crazy. He is the target of a particularly pernicious bully. His dad is never home and isn’t that present when he is: his restaurant is his life. Lucky’s mom swims, swims, swims and pretends things are okay. When he sleeps, Lucky visits his grandfather in a Prisoner of War camp in Vietnam. When he wakes from these dreams, he finds physical manifestations of them, which he then hides.
This is the summer where something changes. His mom takes him to stay with relatives (who have a pool) for a few weeks. Lucky makes unlikely friends and an unlikely enemy. He stands up for someone. Connects with his mom in a new way. Faces fears. Faces the ants that constantly mock him.
This books is part dream and part reality, but all excellently and intensely written.

Why It Helps Me Remember
Lucky’s grandfather fought in the Vietnam War, and he never came home. While this story is about much, much more, the Vietnam dream sequences and the impact of the loss of Lucky’s grandfather on him and his own father (the child of the man who didn’t come back from Vietnam) bring the cost of the ultimate sacrifice to life.
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

3. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (book 3 in the Chaos Walking Trilogy)
(Young Adult literature. Science Fiction. Teen Buckeye Book Award Nominee (2012), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy (2010), Carnegie Medal in Literature (2011), Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of the Year for Fiction (2010))

Summary
War dominates the final book of this trilogy, and many lives are lost.
Since this is book three in a trilogy, please go visit my review of the excellent first book. I don’t want to ruin any of Patrick Ness’s perfect storytelling for you.

Why It Helps Me Remember
While the war in this book happens on a fictional and very unusual planet in the future, Patrick Ness weaves a compelling and realistic story within that frame, and it is a story in which you care about people who are giving their lives in a war. Because of the quality of the writing, you connect deeply with the main characters and care about the people they care about. You see what is happening, how people serve, how they die. It impacts you. I have never been to war, but it is through books like this that I am most able to empathize for those who have lost someone and to see, dimly, what making the ultimate sacrifice might be like.
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

4. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
(Adult. Fiction. Set in New Hampshire and Canada.)
Summary
Narrator Johnny Wheelwright’s life is shaped largely by the powerful voice of the tiny Owen Meany, his boyhood friend. Owen dies young, as he’d predicted as a boy, but the narrator never lets go of Owen’s memory. This is the story of their growing up together, of Wheelwright’s odd faith in Owen Meany, and of Wheelwright’s bizarre Canadian adulthood.

Why It Helps Me Remember
The narrator is obsessed with the Vietnam War, and it is because of this book that I have a sense of the scope of lives lost by American soldiers in that war. As odd and imperfect a narrator as Wheelwright is, it is through this book that the costs of that war came to life in my mind in a way they never had in text books or political discussions. Irving has his narrator obsessively tracking the increasing body count as the war goes on and the boys get closer to and past draft age, and that combination of true data mixed with a unique, compelling narrative hit a nerve for me and helped me see the lives lost in that war.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

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Magical Mr. MacDonald

On Thursday, my favorite blog will have a post from me! It is a Retro Review of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I had a ton of fun re-reading The Princess and the Goblin, and I also re-read the sequel (The Princess and Curdie), read MacDonald’s short story “The Light Princess” for the first time, and googled George MacDonald to learn more about him. Thus, this is my spillover post, featuring what I learned about this author who was so important to me as a child.

A picture of George MacDonald, who lived 1824-1905.
George MacDonald

Here are my favorite facts about MacDonald that I picked up from introductions to the books, his Wikipedia page, and a couple of author biographies.

1. Three of my other favorite authors were inspired by MacDOnald’s work! According to my reading, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L’Engle all found George MacDonald’s reimagining of older fairy tale tropes instrumental for their own wonderful creations.

2. One of the most influential children’s books of all time was written by a reverend who was friends with and mentored by George MacDonald. MacDonald encouraged him to keep writing, as did his 11 children (can you tell he liked children? Wow!), and that family friend published Alice in Wonderland with the penname of Lewis Carroll. (!)

3. MacDonald was originally a minister, but his views were too humanist for his church; he did not buy the idea that you either were in or were out of heaven (the Calvinist predestination doctrine), and that you couldn’t really do much about it – just work to keep your seat if you’d been elected. Reading his books, where he constantly writes about people’s capacity to grow and improve, you can see how he would chafe under the doctrine of predestination. I think it’s fascinating that he was booted from preaching and instead turned to writing fairy stories and helping to spark a whole fantasy genre.

4. He was totally in a Nerdy Book Club of his own! Or, a Nerdy&Awesome Writer’s Club, really. I guess writers all knew each other, so while he and Mark Twain took a while to become friends (frenemies, perhaps?), MacDonald knew all the literary folk of his day, brushing elbows with Tennyson, Dickens, and more.

If you choose to read more MacDonald, there is a sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, but it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the first book (read my post Thursday to see what I thought about The Princess & the Goblin…)

The Princess and Curdie
The Princess and Curdie is heavy on the moralizing, and MacDonald spoils his story’s ending completely and depressingly in the last paragraph. On the plus side, you find out what happens to Curdie and the Irenes post-Goblin, and it features marvelous, monstrous animals who would have been worthy of illustration by the late, great Maurice Sendak.

The Light Princess
Or, check out a very light read: MacDonald’s short story “The Light Princess.” It is the silly tale of a princess cursed to possess no gravity (of either kind! Haha, it’s a pun because she’s not serious and the earth’s gravity doesn’t work on her!). Of course, you can always read Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, too, who follow beautifully in MacDonald’s footsteps. (L’Engle’s amazing books go off in a different direction with their science fiction take, while Lewis & Tolkien’s stories inhabit the same sorts of fantastical worlds as MacDonald’s.)

I can’t speak to the merits of At the Back of the North Wind, which I loved as a child, but I’ll let you know when I get around to re-reading it. Visit the Nerdy Book Club, today and everyday – but on 5/17/12 it will have a post from me! 🙂

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Mini-Reviews: Books of the Week

This week, I read three new books and re-read one.

A longer post is in the works about the re-read (Ender’s Game, which I gave away 20 copies of on Tuesday), but I thought I’d do mini-reviews for the other three.

What I Read this Week

1) Slam! by Walter Dean Myers
Slam by Walter Dean Myers
(Read a library copy.)

Greg Harris – better known as Slam – is most at home on the basketball court, but not very comfortable anywhere else. Not in his mostly-white, mostly-not-from-Harlem magnet school. Not with his childhood friend, Ice, who he is sure isn’t in the drug scene (he knows better!), even if he is driving an awfully nice loaned car. Not with his mother, who is dealing with her mother’s illness. Not even with his girlfriend, Mitisha, who seems like she is always expecting something from him.

This is a great book for basketball lovers – I enjoyed it because Slam is a compelling character and is beautifully written and plotted like all Myers’ work that I’ve read, but it was sometimes hard for me to follow the detailed on-the-court action, since it used basketball jargon. It definitely brought back memories I’d forgotten I had of my own middle school, B-team basketball experiences! Slam’s love for basketball is magnetic and catching, and you definitely root for him as he struggles to gain the same confidence in the rest of his life. No easy answers, but a positive and hopeful ending. It felt real.

2) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
(Read a library copy.)

What if a girl who is fully, oddly herself showed up in the middle of your school and started serenading people with her ukelele on their birthdays? AND, she’s named Stargirl! What would you do?

If you are protagonist Leo, the answer is: awkwardly, slowly, and then fully fall in love. And then, as the initial haze wears off, wonder if you can handle being fully yourself, too.

This book is beautiful. It’s a love letter to everything in it: the desert, high schools, young love, making mistakes. It is readable and lively. Highly recommended.

3)Loser by Jerry Spinelli
Loser by Jerry Spinelli
(Read a well-loved copy loaned to me by the youth who had recommended Stargirl, after I gushed about it to her. :))

Zinkoff is not a cool kid, but by golly he is enthusiastic and earnest! This book, told in a semi-omniscient narrator viewpoint, chronicles Zinkoff’s life from his first, free steps outside through 6th grade. In its pages, you see the world through Zinkoff’s eyes and marvel at his simplicity, innocence, and beauty.

Not as plot driven (although there is a plot), I can’t help but compare Loser to Stargirl, which I read first and Spinelli wrote AFTER Loser. I liked Stargirl more, personally, but I see the ways in which the two books are similar and different and find them fascinating. Stargirl is much more talented and aware than Zinkoff, but both reveal Spinelli’s fascination with the nonconformists and those who don’t note or care what others think about them.

Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading in the Near Future:

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