Friday, August 11, 2017

Sibling Rivalry

I’m reliving my childhood. My tormentor, aka younger brother, loved to sneak into my room and string my Fozzie Bear stuffed animal onto the cord of my ceiling fan. I would turn red with range, only fueling his fun, and plot my revenge.

My daughter (who just turned twelve) prefers screaming bloody murder when she finds that her carefully constructed toyscape has been destroyed or her phone’s wallpaper has been changed by her little brother.

Most of the time, like my brother and I did, they do get along and play well together. One of the most enjoyable conversations I overhear while they’re in the backseat of the car is a shared love of certain book series.

Roald Dahl books fly back and forth from their rooms at bedtime. The Giver Quartet is on its way. So far, my son has only read the first one, but my daughter has been encouraging him to read the others.

The following two series, however, are ones they’ve both read, and argued about, recounted favorite scenes from, and figured how to reserve at the school library.

Myth-O-Mania by Kate McMullan
The nine books in this series are narrated by Hades, King of the Underworld. Trying to dispel the “myths” (pun intended) promulgated by his brother Zeus, he retells each story with his own unique twist. My son’s favorite is Say Cheese, Medusa! My daughter likes Phone Home, Persephone!

The True Story of… by Liesl Shurtliff
The three books (so far) of this series are Rump, Jack, and Red.  “It’s like you took a fairy tale and modernized it, pretty much,” my daughter said. But more exciting. And funnier. My son recommends Rump. My daughter’s favorite is Jack

Friday, August 4, 2017

Vamos, patojos

One of my high school Spanish teachers showed this movie in her class. Made in 1983, it follows the journey of a brother and sister fleeing their homes in Guatemala to try and make a new life in Los Angeles. It was the first time I thought about what it might mean to start over without family support or even legal documents.  

I never thought almost 30 years later my daughter would be reading a book, published and set in 2016, that follows a similar premise, but with a cast of much younger characters.

In The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz, Jaime Rivera and his cousin Ángela are being threatened by the gang that killed Angela’s brother Miguel. Their family members scrape up enough money to send them from their small town in Guatemala to a relative in the United States. Ángela is fifteen. Jaime is twelve years old. 

Jaime, an avid artist, sketches their perilous journey aboard pick-up trucks, buses, and freight trains as they cross into Mexico and make the long journey north to the Rio Grande. They encounter other children along the way traveling in pairs or alone. Pooling their resources, they figure out who to trust. They pray they won’t be separated, lost, or even killed. The kindness of strangers puts food in their bellies. Veterans of the journey offer advice for survival.

Perilous and eye-opening, the novel introduces us to fictional characters who, unfortunately, are based on the stories of actual young people. Kids who fear for their lives. Kids who have no choice but to try for a better life.

To find more social justice books for kids, click here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Profusion of Tropical Life

I’ve never been on a boat smaller than a ferry or larger than a speedboat. Therefore, sailing from Long Island to Australia on a fifty five foot catamaran sailboat is probably something I’ll only ever read about. Reading this week’s challenge, travel memoir Black Wave by John and Jean Silverwood, pretty much ensures that.

Experienced sailors, John and Jean, set out to fulfill a life-long dream when they boarded their new sailboat, the Emerald Jane, along with their four kids (ages 14, 12, 7, and 3).

Encounters with pirates, John’s alcoholism, and shady dock dwellers were balanced out by amazing sunrises, swims with dolphins, and lessons only the sea could teach their children about navigation and hard work.

Little did they know their trip would be abruptly shattered by a coral reef near the Polynesian Islands. Jean tells the story from her perspective and astutely begins with the page-turning event of the journey – the shipwreck.


Knowing how the trip ends, but not the outcome, I was turning pages at a furious clip.  I found the description of the trip’s preparation fascinating and enjoyed (vicariously) the idea of living on a sailboat and living off the fruits of various islands. (Homeschooling and sharing close quarters with five other people seems less appealing.) 

Despite the nail-biting disaster that befalls them, the book does have a happy ending – a must for an armchair traveler that doesn’t have the solace of a pina colada to soothe frayed nerves. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Braiding Sweetgrass

Botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about humanity’s damaged relationship to the natural world in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

“If time could run backward, like a film in reverse, we would see this mess reassemble itself into lush green hills and moss-covered ledges of limestone. The streams would run back up the hills to the springs and the salt would stay glittering in underground rooms.” 

“Never take the first plant you find, as it might be the last—and you want that first one to speak well of you to the others of her kind.” 

“The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness.” 

“We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the earth’s beings.” 


Just as I finished reading Kimmerer’s book, I came across this article which only reinforces her thesis. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer Reads

The high temperature lately has been 77 degrees, which counts as sweltering in the Seattle area. However, the sun is shining. Brightly! Consistently! So midway through July, I’ve conceded it’s summer.

These books have just become available on my Overdrive wait list, and so by default, comprise a summer reading list of sorts. Whether historical or contemporary, fiction or memoir, they all captured my attention and provided the most essential quality of any good summer read – escape.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Who thought this was a good idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

We were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter


Need a second (or fifth) opinion?






Friday, July 7, 2017

Tell the Wolves

I suspect this week’s challenge intended for me to read a romance of the bodice-ripper variety. However, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a romance of the not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house variety.

It’s 1986. Greta and her sister June are having their portrait painted by their uncle Finn. When Finn’s farewell kiss on the top of the head causes June to wash her hair three times, the reader is reminded of the early, fearful days of the AIDS epidemic.

Finn dies. June mourns the loss of not only Finn, but their trips to the Cloisters and afternoons spent listening to his Requiem recordings.  

When Finn’s prized Russian teapot shows up on her doorstep, June discovers Finn had kept his relationship with Toby a secret during all those visits to his (actually, their) apartment in the city.  
Toby and June begin meeting to share stories of Finn and to help one another through their loss. As Toby’s own health begins to deteriorate, the whole family must come to terms with the man Finn loved.


Carol Rifka Brunt captures perfectly not only June’s teenage rebellion and sadness, but the complicated relationships that make up a family. Through Finn’s loss, she begins to realize her parents are people with feelings and dreams, not just stressed-out accountants. She learns more of her mother’s sacrifices and the artistic gifts she shares with her brother. Most importantly, she learns she doesn’t have a monopoly on love.

Friday, June 30, 2017

“Everything is under control”

I first read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in July of 1992. It was the summer before my senior year in high school. Along with reading, my diary recounts days spent babysitting my two-year-old sister, practicing piano and typing, making dinner using a new-fangled product called Boboli, taking tennis lessons, listening to Janis Joplin, and accompanying my mother to her doctor appointments for the baby due that August.

My 17-year-old assessment of the book? “Very, very creepy. It seems almost possible.”

My 42-year-old assessment? “Very, very creepy. It seems almost possible.”

Using my new-fangled Kindle, I highlighted the following as plausible:

“It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time. Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.”

“Better? I say, in a small voice. How can he think this is better? Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.”


“As the architects of Gilead knew, to institute an effective totalitarian system or indeed any system at all you must offer some benefits and freedoms, at least to a privileged few, in return for those you remove.”