Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do Not Pass Go

Do Not Pass Go

Juvenile fiction
Alaskan writer, mother of six and grandmother of eight
Kirkpatrick Hill had a family member in jail at one point. Visiting
this person, an experience that most people would want only to put
behind them, was the impetus for her to write a book. Do Not Pass Go
looks at a man's incarceration through the eyes of his not-old-enough-
to-drive son.
Deet is a super organized young man who gets frustrated by the
way his folks waste money and fail to plan or follow through with
stuff like cleaning the furnace or shoveling snow off the roof.
Sometimes he feels like he's the only adult in the family. He
discovers that things can get worse, a lot worse, when his step
father, taking uppers to have energy to work two jobs, is busted for
drugs and incarcerated.
Things start to go to Hades in the proverbial handbasket. Even
with Deet's mother working the family finances are a mess. His step
dad was working two jobs to compensate for over spending. Not to
mention Deet's two very young half sisters he and his mom must protect
and care for.
Deet had always thought only bad guys went to jail. When he
first visits his step father he is surprised by the ordinariness of
the inmates. "...Where were the perverts, the steely-eyed hoodlums,
the disgusting underbelly of society? They were prisoners, in jail,
but they looked like anyone else you might see in the streets..."
That's just the beginning of the thought transformation dilineated in
Do Not Pass Go.
It's a poignant novel of a boy and a man coming of age under
much less than ideal circumstances.
On a personal note, when I was quite young I acquired a baby sitting
client who told me her husband was ill in the hospital. I believed
that until his trial hit the newspapers. He was in prison for
homicide. People told me I should quit lest he have someone on the
outside kill me. Actually he was glad that I was helping to give his
son and daughter the happy experiences they deserved.
A great big shout out goes out to all who reach out to help children
with the person or people they love the most incarcerated.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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The Extra

The Extra

YA historical fiction
When you think of movie production, images of splendor and
ritziness probably pop into your head. When you imagine the
circumstances of imprisoned Gypsies during the time of Adolph Hitler,
you probably imagine anything but. If you're anything like me, you
probably never imagined those two worlds ever colliding.
Guess again.
Filmmaker, dancer, actress Leni Riefenstahl was a favorite of
Adolph Hitler, getting Third Reich backing for her artistic
endeavors. She wanted to direct and star in a movie, Tiefland, that
would bring to the big screen a Spanish folk opera. She planned to
produce it in Spain but was stymied by the Spanish Civil War and the
start of World War II. Germany did not boast a Spanish population,
but the Gypsies who were being rounded up and murdered along with Jews
and other enemies of the Reich had a strong resemblance to Spaniards.
This very little known historical episode inspired master
storyteller Kathryn Lasky to pen The Extra. "...It is a Holocaust
story, but one that has for the most part slipped between the cracks
of history. It is the story of two people, one real and one
fictionalized; Leni Riefenstahl, a real person who rose to prominence
during the early 1930s as Hitler's favorite filmmaker, and Lilian
Frewald, a fictional Gypsy girl who became Riefenstahl's film double
in the making of the film Tiefland."
As the story begins, Lilo (Lilian's nickname) is a 15-year-old
student in
Vienna. The Nazi Nuremberg laws are altering life for Jews there and
worse is rumored to be in store for them. But she still lives in a
comfortable home with her master clockmaker father who plays violin in
an exclusive restaurant and her lacemaker mother.
That is until officers of the dreaded SS imprison them in a
holding camp for Gypsies. They're crammed into a primative and filthy
facility with hundreds of others. Rumors of their destination
multiply. Lilo is told of a surgery being done to Gypsy girls and
women.
"Lilo felt all the blood suddenly drain from her face. It was
as if the future had been erased, any hope for a future obliterated.
Being in this barbed-wire cage was nothing compared with the utter
darkness of the black wall of sterility, of a childless world, of a
family that simply ended forever and ever. The Friwalds would be
extinct."
Imagine facing that at fifteen.
One night, separated from her father with no idea where he might
be or if he is even alive, Lilo and her mother arrive at a camp.
Standing in formation under watchtowers where guards train guns on
them, they and the others glimpse a shocking and surreal sight: a
glamorous movie star making her way toward them.
"...It was not supposed to be this way, Lilo thought. Leni
Riefenstahl belonged on the billboard, hovering in the moonlight of
the clock-tower square, or on the movie screen in the Palace Theater,
but not here--not here with them, dirty Gypsies, women still bleeding
from terrible operations."
Riefenstahl is casting extras for her new movie. Lilo is chosen
and gets her fragile mother included. She is under no delusions of
safety. Now she must search for a way to use this opportunity to help
them not become part of Hitler's final solution.
When it comes to YA novelists, Kathryn Lasky is in a small
special league. In my book reviewing years so far I've read the work
of many good to great authors. Some very frustratingly show real
potential and then vanish. Some produce a steady supply of
commendable work. Lasky keeps improving with publication. Her plots
and characters become richer and more nuanced. Her ability to show
rather than tell grows beautifully, as you can see in the piece quoted
above where Lilo encounters Riefenstahl.
Can even Kathryn Lasky top The Extra? I'm certainly eager to
find out.
On a personal note, last Saturday my church held the fund raising
supper and silent auction I designed to help girls in Tanzania get
education. It was a rousing success. Everyone had a wonderful time.
We are sending Jane Goodall Institute over $300. People are already
talking about next year.
A great big shout out goes out to all who help people recognize and
treasure our common humanity. It is when we objectify those who are
different from us that demogogues like Hitler have a chance to prevail.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Monday, October 27, 2014

Jessie Elliot Is A Big Chicken

Jessie Elliot Is A Big Chicken

Juvenile fiction
Do you remember the summer before starting high school with at
least a little recollection of apprehension? If so, you were
definitely not alone. Have you experienced this transition with your
own kids as I have? If one of your kids is headed towards this big
event, I would strongly suggest Elise Gravel's Jessie Elliot Is A
Chicken. It's a wonderful blend of narration and illustration.
Designed to look like it's created on the pages of a composition book,
it's very believable as a fourteen-year-old's journal.
Self-described nerd extraordinaire Jessie Elliot is about to
start her last summer as a child. In the fall she'll be attending
Hochelaga High where the students, "...look like bored wannabees.
They hang around with sultry faces, call each other names, paint their
eyes like raccoons, and smoke cigarettes, imagining I guess that they
look like rockstars. Maybe there's some kind of chemical reaction in
human brains that's triggered when we turn thirteen that makes us
instantly stupid."
Of course this won't happen to Jessie. No one who still has a
My Little Ponies collection, reads too much, and enjoys playing
Scrabble is in danger of being SUPERCOOL. And she'll have best friend
Julie to hang out with. Or will she? Following a misunderstanding at
Julie's cottage, the girls aren't speaking to each other. Worse yet,
Julie is hanging out with Jessie's nemesis, mean girl Isabelle Lemoine.
So what is Jessie to do? Get her nose pierced, start smoking,
and dress sexy or face high school alone?
Shakespeare it's not, but Jessie Elliot Is A Big Chicken is a
great comfort read for kids on the verge of high and even some of us
who made that transition quite awhile ago.
On a personal note, my family moved from the fishing and shoe factory
based coastal city I grew up in a week or so before I started high
school. It was so my sister, who had incurred brain damage as a
result of spinal meningitis, could try another school. So I entered
high school not only not knowing a soul, but feeling guilty for having
mixed emotions, having told about a gazillion times to think about
Harriet's suffering. I remember one moment as clearly as if it were
yesterday. It was a lovely fall evening. Mom, Harriet, and I were
walking to our new apartment. We passed an outdoor party--all boys
and girls about my age. I thought, if we'd stayed in Beverly I'd be
in there, not on the outside. Then I looked at Harriet and felt like
the most evil sister in the history of the universe.
A great big shout out goes out to the young women and men navigating
the transitions to high school and college.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Hidden Like Anne Frank

Hidden Like Anne Frank

YA nonfiction
In a haunting black and white photograph a wide eyed little girl
with carefully styled ringlets stands with her arm around her smiling
mother. In a real life plot more horrific than the writings of Mr.
Stephen King himself, the little girl and legions of her peers had to
be sent away from parents to live with strangers in a desperate fight
for survival. Adolph Hitler was on his quest for world dominion. It
was not a safe time to be Jewish.
Little Rita was one of the children who survived. She went on
to have a son, Marcel Prins. She shared her experiences candidly with
him. Fortunately for us, they piqued his curiosity.
"But what did going into hiding actually involve? Where did you
go? How did you know who to trust? How did you find money to pay for
your hiding place? What did you do when you were frightened?...
He asked these questions of the elderly men and women who were
the frightened and confused children in the 1940's. Their stories and
very poignant photographs are the text of Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14
True Stories of Survival. These children, some as young as three,
basically had everything children take for granted--home, school,
family, food, safety--wrenched from them. They had to make life or
death decisions most adults don't have to. Even after the war some
returned to the news that their family members had been murdered.
Living parents were sometimes too traumatized to be the loving people
they had been before the war. Donald De Marcus observed,
"Father was able to deal with the pain better than Mother, who
was never as affectionate as she was before the war. She was troubled
by nightmares for years. She used to dream about the concentration
camp where her only sister was murdered along with her husband and
children. She was destroyed the mother I had known."
As a mother, I found this book both enlightening and very
difficult to read. I would recommend it even more to adults than to
the teens who are its target demographic. Those who don't learn from
history are doomed to repeat it. America does not do a very good job
learning from history. This summer there was a great hue and cry
about young illegal immigrants smuggled into this country in desperate
attempts to save their lives. Governor Paul LePage, for example, had
a major league hissy fit when he learned that eight had infiltrated
Maine. A lot of people demand that these innocent children be sent
home. I would strongly urge them to read Hidden Like Anne Frank and
really take it to heart. How would they feel if it was their children
in peril, if they knew the only way to keep them safe was to send them
away, possibly to never see them again? Hidden Like Anne Frank is a
very powerful book in its ability to evoke a sense of how humanly
alike we are and how we must do somthing when others are in peril.
On a personal note, one of the things I am enjoying the most about the
fundraising dinner/silent auction my church is doing for girls'
education in Tanzania is the dialogue it is creating and the great
enthusiasm people are showing for this worthy cause. With any kind of
luck it will be an annual event.
A great big shout out goes out to all who are working to protect the
refugee children.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saving Lucas Biggs

Saving Lucas Biggs

Juvenile fiction
Margaret O'Malley, one of the narrator/protagonists of Marisa de
los Santos and David Teague's Saving Lucas Biggs, has an intriguing
genetic trait. Members of her family can time travel. However, each
generation is strongly admonished not to. In fact they must take a
solemn pledge:
"There is one Now: the spot where I stand,
And one way the road goes: onward, onward."
Time strongly resists revisionists attempts. In fact a time traveler
begins to weaken the moment she lands in another time and could end up
dying in both.
So why would Margaret even consider taking these risks?
Love, pure and simple. Her father is a whistleblower in a fuel
company owned and run town. He's been framed for arson and murder.
The judge has sentenced him to death.
Margaret would do anything to save her dad--even going back on
her sacred vow to travel to a time when the sentencing judge was an
idealistic boy rather than a cynical old man and prevent the incident
that hardened his heart.
Youngsters who choose to go with her will find it a fascinating
journey.
On a personal note, my benefit dinner/silent auction to raise money
for girls' education in Tanzania is only two days away. Two major
complications have arisen. I've been elected official Veazie School
Committee delegate to the annual Maine School Management Conference.
I'll be in Augusta the two days I can least afford to, getting back
hours before the event. Also I have a pesky urinary tract infection
which has me constantly needing to pee. Suffice it to say it's been a
week since I've slept even two hours in one block. I may be a few
fries short of a happy meal. Will the event succeed? This story may
be as fascinating as the books I review.
A great big shout out goes out to the fine folks who are putting time,
effort, and energy into this cause which is so dear to my heart.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Don't Tell

Don't Tell

YA fiction
A lot of the books for older teen girls that don't involve
glittery vampires or other elements of the supernatural are painfully
superficial and materialistic. She lands a fabulous internship, meets
the perfect boy, only he hasn't gotten the memo that they're meant to
be together. Puhleeze. Nothing has changed in decades other than she
being a cheerleader and he being football team captain.
Lava Mueller's Don't Tell is a striking exception. Told in four
voices, set in 1979, it follows four girls, best friends seemingly
forever, as they navigate the end of their anything but ordinairy
senior year of high school. There's:
*Mary who starts the book off by ingesting toxic substances and hoping
she won't be found too soon. Only what looks like a suicide attempt
may be a much more complex plan;
*Zana, daughter of famous psychiatrists who thinks her parents are as
crazy as their patients. She knows they have a major league secret
housed at the local psychiatric hospital and resents their refusal to
acknowledge the truth;
*Berrie, who has her own secrets. She pretends the family dog has
just wandered off rather than tell her parents she ran over and buried
it. Her choices of boys for intimate relations could get her in deep
trouble;
*and innocent Lili, track athlete and school play lead, who must carry
Mary's secret even believing that her best friend's plans are not in
her best interests.
The story is set in a small town in Maine. But it could be anywhere
young women come of age.
On a personal note, I played detective while reading it. For some
reason I was sure it was set it Orono. I kept finding these clues--
steam plant, College Avenue, University--than confirmed my intuition.
Still don't know, but it was fun.
A great big shout out goes out to our daughters as they navigate their
complex and compelling worlds.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Volunteer Vacations

Volunteer Vacations

Adult travel
I've never been all that interested in the kinds of vacations
most people seem to covet. A trip to the "magic kingdom" would having
me thinking on all the workers ironically pulling down decidedly
family unfriendly wages and benefits. Put me on a luxury cruise and
I'd be wondering exactly what ills we were inflicting on the
environment. And tours seem a huge waste of money, going to tourist
spots with a gang of other tourists.
It's not that I dislike travel. I very much want to see other
cultures and get to know the people without leaving a humungous carbon
footprint. That's why I was OVERJOYED to see the Eleventh Edition of
Bill McMillon et al's Volunteer Vacations. For people like me who
would be thrilled to do good while learning and exploring this volume
is a treasure trove. One hundred fifty agencies are profiled in its
pages. There are locations all over the world that need people with
passions for agriculture, community and economic development,
education and children, health, women's issues... Some require
specialized training; some require little more than a caring heart and
willing hands. You can skim through the book as I did or use the
index to customize your search. The pages give enough information to
help you decide which adventure is best for you; contacts are listed
to help you pursue it in more depth.
So if you're seeking an extraordinary travel adventure and the
chance to pursue your passions...good luck and bon voyage!
On a personal note, I want to eventually do some of the vacations in
the book. I want to start out on an organic farming one. Someday
when I can afford it. Actually when I'm in grad school maybe I can
chaperone alternate spring breaks.
A great big shout out goes out to people who spend their vacations
helping others and folks and organizations that make this possible.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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