Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers

Kinda Like Brothers

Juvenile Fiction
Think back to a time your life was in limbo. Maybe it was
something as usual as impending college graduation if you weren't sure
what kind of job you'd get or even moving up to that big intimidating
looking high school. Maybe it was more traumatic like divorce or
getting fired. But if you can think of a time when you couldn't be
sure things would work out okay in your life then you will be able to
relate to Jarrett, protagonist of Coe Booth's Kinda Like Brothers.
Jarret is stuck in summer school the summer after sixth grade.
He missed a lot of days during the year due to asthma
hospitalizations. Each time he returned a little further behind. A
lot of the work is difficult. If he doesn't pass an upcoming test
he'll repeat the year, separated from all his friends and the girl he
likes. In his mind that means he'll behind forever. He's overheard
his summer school teacher tell his principal he would benefit from
repeating.
Jarrett's mother takes in foster babies as a temporary placement
until a caseworker can make more permanent arrangements. As the story
starts, a toddler arrives with a most unpleasant surprise: her older
brother, Kevon with whom Jarrett must share his room and his life. He
is to bring Kevon to the recreation center he goes after school and
introduce him as a friend of the family so the other kids won't know
the new boy is a foster kid. Jarrett feels his space has been
invaded. One day when he thinks he sees Kevon making a move on the
girl he has a crush on...
There are other uncertainties in Jarrett's life. His mother and
her boyfriend argue what his mom should be doing with her life. His
best friend comes back from a visit to his father subdued and
changed. He sees a rec center counselor, a college student, stopped
and frisked by the police and realizes that, as an inner city black
preteen, it's a matter of when, not if, this will happen to him.
Kinda Like Brothers is a gutsy, believable narrative about a boy
coming of age under very difficult and challenging circumstances.
It's a very good read for students coming up on middle school,
especially those who face their own challenges.
On a personal note, I can very much relate to Jarrett. I sometimes
wonder what I can do with my life if I can't get into graduate school
with the teaching assistantship I'll need to afford it. It's not as
if there are that many decent jobs in central Penobscot County for
people, even intelligent, talented people, unable to get that all
important valid driver's license. I've been looking for quite
awhile. I so much don't want to be doomed to retail or fast food.
But what if nothing else works out? It's really hard to have a
disability big enough to mess up my life but not big enough to warrant
accomodations.
A great big shout out goes out to all the other folks in transition.
Hang in there and try your best. That's all we can do.


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She's Back!

She's Back!

Children's classic
It's a marriage made in literary heaven. Fans who cherish
childhood memories of Pippi Longstocking (first published in 1945)
will be delighted with a 2007 edition that combines Lindgren's
delightful child point of view with Lauren Child's lively collages.
Most kids, from time to time, are frustrated by all the rules in
their lives. If only they could do just what they want! Pippi does
exactly that whether she's setting the local school on its ear,
outsmarting local gendarmes intent on putting her in a children's home
or worfully inept burglars, or rescuing toddlers from a house fire.
Child's very unconventional art is the best possible accompaniment to
the adventures of home alone Puppi, her monkey and horse, and her
bedazzled and delighted neighbors, Tommy and Anika.
YOWZA!
On a personal note, once in college on Halloween I dressed up as Pippi
on Halloween. My advisor was furious because she was sure it would
make a very poor impression on a prospective big donor. Only he took
one look at me and expressed admiration for a college that would
encourage student imagination. The temptation to make a very Pippi
like face on my way to class was stronger than I could resist. ;)
A great big shout goes out to all adults who have not killed off their
inner Pippi.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Breaking Beautiful

Breaking Beautiful

YA fiction
"It wasn't always bad. Especially in the beginning. I remember
long walks on the beach, going off-roading in his truck down narrow
forest trails, the night Grandma died and he sat on the couch and held
me while he cried. Even now, all I can think about is what I could
have done differently. If I wasn't late all the time. If I wasn't
always messing up, or doing something to make him mad. If I had been
perfect like Mom and Hannah, maybe things would have stayed good
between me and Trip."
When we think of domestic violence, we tend to envision an
enraged guy taking out an estranged wife or girlfriend and maybe her/
their children. Jennifer Shaw Wolf's Breaking Beautiful is an
eloquent and timely reminder that cruelty and manipulation in
relationships can start quite a bit earlier.
As the story begins, Allie, Wolf's protagonist, has lost Trip,
her boyfriend. She had fallen out of his Chevy pickup right before it
went over a cliff. Now she stays in bed, unable to face the prospect
of going back to school without him. Her parents think she's
paralyzed with grief. They tell her she can't stop living because of
his death.
Not all was peachy in their relationship at the time of the
crash. Gradually hints of trouble in paradise pile up: injuries that
were followed up with expensive presents, his control over every
aspect of her life, and a deliberate isolating that has Allie
returning to a small town school where she will be the top entree on
the gossip menu desperately alone. Actually Allie herself may be in
peril. Not everyone was fooled by the facade of relationship
perfection Trip worked to hard to create. There was some evidence
that the accident was not all that accidental. Trip's best friends
have seen the abuse hidden from the rest of the town. They may feel
she should pay for what they believe to be her crime.
Trip's father, a very rich and influential businessman, a man
who is accustomed to getting his way, does not believe that his son's
death was an accident. He's pressured the police chief into bringing
in a detective to investigate. Of course he's going to insist on
talking to Allie, finding out exactly what she knows.
Breaking Beautiful is a very timely book that combines a real
cliff hanger of a suspense story with a realistic portrayal of the
roller coaster nature of a relationship in which a girl's significant
other is also her tormenter.
"At first I thought it was cool: I was the center of his world,
and he was the center of mine, and I was flattered by his jealousy.
But being the center of Trip's world was exhausting. I never knew
what kind of mood he would be in or what would set him off. Things
would be great for weeks and then I'd do something wrong and he's lose
it. I could never predict what it would be."
The story is fictional. In real life, however, too many
relationships are built around this walking on eggshells dynamic.
Breaking Beautiful is perfect for teens who find much of YA
literature to be babyish but aren't quite ready for an all adult
diet. It's also a must read for high school teachers and guidance
counselors and residential life college staff.
On a personal note, I am very impressed with the work student leaders
are doing at the University of Maine to raise awareness of
relationship violence and other related issues.
A great big shout out goes out to those bright and dedicated students
and their counterparts in other colleges and universities.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Monday, November 24, 2014

Anybody Shining

Anybody Shining

Juvenile historical fiction
These days a 12-year-old girl wishing to contact a cousin she
has been prevented from meeting by family dynamics would do so simply
and quickly by using the Internet. Back in the 1920's, though, that
was so not an option. A lot of people, particularly in rural areas
lacked not only computers with Internet connections, which had not
been invented, but plain old land line phones.
Arie Mae, narrator of Frances O'Roark Dowell's Anybody Shining
is a very lonely 12-year-old girl. Her siblings have chums But there
is no one for her. In her words,
"This morning I told Mama how I might have to run away and marry
a bear if I don't find someone to call my own true friend. Those
mountains are near to spilling over with children, and none of them is
worth two cents. They are all too old or too young or just plain
disappointing."
Reading that first paragrph, you know anyone as spunky as Arie
Mae isn't about to give up. She does have some ideas. She has a city
dwelling cousin she has never met due to the estragement of her mother
and aunt. She is sure that mail correspondence will lead to visiting
and friendship. The book, in fact, is a series of letters she writes
very eloquently to this mysterious girl. Then there are some people
coming all the way from Baltimore for a month. Maybe they'll have kids.
Anybody Shining is a very luminescent novel to transport our
children back to a time before Facebook, Google, or even
television...a time when many beautiful and useful items were crafted
by artisans rather than mass produced...a time when parents and
children would eagerly anticipate a barn dance with local fiddlers.
On a personal note, a number of community gardeners still appreciate
fiddle music and square dancing, your hopefully favorite book reviewer
included.
A great big shout out goes out to all who help keep the old customs
and arts alive.
Julia Emily Hathaway




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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Body In The Woods

The Body In The Woods

YA mystery
Young adult suspense lovers are in for a real treat. April
Henry's The Body In The Woods, through a combination of character
development and a masterfully crafted plot, draws the reader in
quickly and doesn't let go til the very surprising ending.
Alexis, Nick, and Ruby are a very unlikely trio involved in a
Search And Rescue team. Alexis has a psychologically challenged
mother who is very unpredictable when she's off her meds. SAR has the
potential to help her escape her situation via college. Nick
desperately wants to be brave like his dad who died in military action
in Iraq. Ruby is painfully aware that she does not fit in with her
peers. Maybe in SAR she will finally find friends who share her
unusual interests.
They are put together on an evening search for an adult male.
Instead they find the dead body of a teen age girl. She's been slain
by a serial killer who puts one of them on his to kill list.
Although the SAR team in the book is fictional, it is based on a
real life counterpart: Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and
rescue. This youth led group engages in rescue searches and hunts for
crime scene evidence. (Principals, superintendents, teachers--can you
imagine the real life, motivated STEM experience involved?) When she
was looking for an idea for a real life mystery series, Henry learned
about this group and found the inspiration she was seeking. YOWZA!
On a personal note, tonight's the night! As Jules LaMagnifique I
compete in UMaine's Got Talent, reciting my poem, Silver Foxes. My
first time performing from memory (instead of reading) in front of
such a large audience. Wish me luck.
A great big shout out to all volunteers who spend time, often under
quite adverse conditions, finding lost folks.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Monday, November 17, 2014

The Last Best Days Of Summer

The Last Best Days Of Summer

Juvenile fiction
I've met people who are losing parents or even spouses to the
long slow fading out of Alzheimers. There may be no harder way to be
parted from a loved one. Now try to imagine being a middle school
child and, on a solo visit to a beloved grandmother, experiencing
frightening changes in her abilities, changes that put both of you in
danger. This situation is covered quite lovingly and poignantly in
Valerie Hobbs' The Last Best Days Of Summer.
For Lucy her artist grandmother's cabin in the woods where she
spends a week each August is a treasured haven. It's not only a
chance to spend one on one time with someone she adores, but an escape
from the pressures of the rest of her year life. The summer she is
twelve it is a much needed escape. Her mother seems way
overprotective, something that is especially frustrating for middle
schoolers. Her best friend, Megan has sent her off with twelve top
tips for popularity to memorize. Lucy is not sure that is the end all
and be all of middle school life. Finally there is Eddie, a boy with
Down syndrome she is sometimes paid to spend time with. He considers
her a friend. She isn't sure what place he occuppies in her life.
This summer feels different. Her grandmother seems not quite
herself. At first it's little things. But when they are stranded on
an island in the middle of a storm with only a cave for overnight
shelter they must both confront the older woman's decline and the
imminent sale of her beloved cabin.
This book would be a godsend for young people in a similar
situation. For other kids it might be a way to gain compassion for
scary looking older people they encounter in their neighborhoods and
communities.
On a personal note, Saturday night was the gardeners dinner for Orono
Community Garden volunteers. There was wonderful soup, rolls, and
desserts (all home made), lively conversation, and perfect background
music. A good time was had by all. I won the most social gardener
award again. Also for the first time I won the longest standing
volunteer award.
A great big shout out goes out to my fellow gardeners for creating
memories as well as awesome veggies and to John and Shelley Jemmison
for recruiting us and making us a team to be reckoned with.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Fraidyzoo

Fraidyzoo

Picture book
For me it was the basement at night. I bet when you were little
you had a place that you did NOT want to go. Maybe as a parent you
remember trying to persuade a terrified child that nothing terrifying
lurked in a certain place. That's the predicament of Little T's
family. They want very much to go to the zoo. She's afraid.
Rather than downplaying her fears, her parents and very bouncy
sister try to discover just what animal creeps Little T out. They use
household odds and ends to create a variety of animal costumes--a
whole alphabet of costumes to be exact. Kids can have fun guessing
what the various varmints are.
There's a visual treat for younger kids too. The family has a
very handsome tuxedo cat...very much like my own dear Joey. That cat
appears in the pictures, hiding in some pretty clever places.
And if one is ever hard pressed to come up with a costume on
short notice...
On a personal note, the place I am terrified of is what I call retail
hell. I don't even like to shop at first hand stores, especially of
the big box variety. The thought of being doomed to work in that
environment paralyzes me with fear. No kidding.
A great big shout out goes out to the people who will decide if I get
accepted to graduate school with a teaching assistantship. Hopefully
they will decide in the affirmative. Then I won't have to worry as
much about retail hell.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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