Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Like A River

Like A River

Juvenile historical fiction
"American history and the Civil War have interested me since
seventh grade. I read every book I could find on the subject. But
several years ago, while visiting the Ohio River Museum in Marietta,
Ohio, I learned about the Sultana disaster for the first time. It was
hard to believe that a steamboat (built in my home city of Cincinatti)
blew up and killed more people than died on the Titanic--and I had
never heard of it!..."
Fortunately for historical fiction addicts (mea culpa) Kathy
Cannon Wiechman did not just tell a few friends about her discovery or
do a little personal fact finding. She put a lot of time into
research including visiting historical sites and attending
reenactments. The result of this labor of love is her Like A River,
one of the finest Civil War novels it has ever been my pleasure to read.
Like A River is the narrative of two characters who plunge quite
early in life into the living Hell of armed combat and come to meet
each other in the struggle for survival.
Leander is the overlooked younger brother in a farming family.
Unlike older bro, Nate, he is constantly criticized, always treated
like a child. When Nate becomes paralyzed, unable to go into combat
against the Rebs, Leander sees his golden opportunity.
"The war effort wasn't what mattered to Leander. Working in the
foundry wasn't something to admire, not like being a soldier in
uniform, a soldier who'd risk his life facing enemy guns. Pa had to
see he was doing a manly thing. Ma, too. And Lila."
Polly had lost her mother when she was born. In the third year
of the war when West Virginia split off from Virginia to join the
union side her father enlisted. When she refused to stay with a woman
who was determined to turn her into a "real lady" Pap, realizing the
futility of trying to change her mind, let her join him disguised as a
boy.
"If a Rebel ball pierced her heart, would they bury her without
looking too close at what lay beneath her uniform?"
Like A River is a perfect summer read for an action plot loving
boy or girl. Perhaps coupling its reading with a visit to a Civil War
reenactment could really help kickstart an interest in history.
On a personal note, after not being reelected to school committee and
having time to think things over I've decided to make a clean break.
More time for family, friends, and interests; being able to live
without public scrutiny; and NO MORE ELECTIONS WITH MY NAME ON THE
BALLOT are some of the great benefits of having completed my tours of
duty. Civilian life feels great.
A great big shout out goes out to the 99 people who voted for me.
jules hathaway


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States And Capitals

States And Capitals

Juvenile non fiction
"I'm snappy, happy, and totally crabby--crab-crazy in fact. I
fish out these clawed critters, sprinkle 'em with Old Bay, and even
crown a Miss Crustacean every year."
Are your memories of learning about the states a little less
than fond? In second grade I had to memorize capitals, major products,
and other information I'd never use in real life and give a report
with a hand made map. Other than not having to memorize, not much had
changed by the time my kids got to primary school.
This is really too bad. States are unique, quirky, and
interesting.
Dan Green's States And Capitals: United We Stand gives a taste
of the rich geographic and cultural diversity our melting pot nation
serves up. Each state and territory gets a two page spread featuring
a personafied map incorporating information (Missouri holds an ice
cream cone), an inset showing its place in the nation, a sparkly
introduction (Maryland is quoted above), and a sizeable helping of
information in both traditional and interesting formats.
Whether a family vacation is on the horizon, a book a child
reads is set in a different state, or curiosity sets in, States And
Capitals is a fine and reasonably priced investment for home, school,
or public library.
On a personal note, back in second grade I was a victim of my own
success. I added three dimensional products like toothpick oil rigs
to my Texas map. As a reward for my innovation I was assigned one of
the left over states there weren't enough kids in the class to cover.
A great big shout out goes out to teachers who can overcome curriculum
standardization to create actual interest in the states.
jules hathaway


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No Safe Secret

No Safe Secret

Adult Fiction
One of the most powerful, hard to put down books I have read
this year is Fern Michaels' No Safe Secret. In a gripping narrative
that segues seamlessly between a woman's past and present, it argues
very cogently that secrets one spends decades running away from can
exert a noxious influence for decades and reveal themselves at the
worst possible times.
Molly is a woman lots of folks would envy. She and her dentist
husband have all the accoutrements of success: the fine house, the
pricey clothes, the top of the line cars. What they spend on
entertaining alone is probably more than what many people subsist on.
Then there are the children: twin boy Harvard graduates and a daughter
about to start her college education.
There is, however, a lot of rot beneath the veneer of
perfection. Molly's dentist husband is self centered, demanding
perfection of all around him and punishing for anything less. He is
verbally and physically abusive to her. His first wife died under
suspicious circumstances. Molly's stepsons, following in their dad's
footsteps, are cruel and disrespectful. Her only family ally is
daughter Kristen.
As if things weren't bad enough, an anonymous caller informs
Molly that he knows who she is and what she did in a past she has done
everything possible to put behind her--a past in which she was Maddy
Carmichael, the grossly neglected daughter of a promiscuous drug
addict, and a long awaited prom turned into a night of tragedy and
terror.
No Safe Secret is a must read on two levels. It's a perfectly
paced suspense story. Additionally it emphasizes the scars inflicted
by rape. In a country where a mam can be sentenced to a mere six
months for raping an unconscious woman that is a message we can never
get too much of.
On a personal note, I've found out that there can be a difficult
balancing act when there are secrets that can effect how a parent
feels for decades. You want your kids to understand there are reasons
you have areas of weakness and vulnerability. However, it can be hard
to believe they are ever old enough to know about say a father who was
never capable of parenting putting you in danger and not just once.
A great big shout out to all who, through no fault of their own, have
secrets.
jules hathaway


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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Unbecoming

Unbecoming

YA fiction
Harper Lee once said it was a good thing her To Kill A
Mockingbird was published when it was because these days it would have
been categorized young adult instead of adult adult. It's amazing how
many of today's most read worthy novels end up on the YA shelves.
Jenny Downham's Unbecoming, the narratives of three generations of
women, is a prime example of this.
Grandmother Mary was the wild child of an impoverished family.
Of two sisters, she was the one who clashed with their dictator
father. She was also the one who received his gifts of contrition.
Oddly enough, despite his suspicions that she would come to no good
end, he favored her over her obedient sister. In his eyes, she was
the one who had fire.
More recently life has not been kind to her. A dementia patient,
she has just lost the devoted boyfriend who kindly and diligently took
care of her. Told she can no longer live in her home anymore, she has
been taken in by family members who don't seem to want her.
Granddaughter Katie is on the cusp of young adulthood, unsure
what she wants to do with her life. The reliable sister of a brother
with disabilities, she resents her mother's taking her and her
sensible future for granted. She'd like to escape to a big city, full
of possibilities where she could reinvent herself and make her own
decisions.
Daughter/mother Caroline is the put upon filling for this
generational sandwich. Out of the blue a mother she hasn't seen in
ages, a very demanding person who frequently escapes and must be
tracked down, has become her responsibility as if working and
parenting was not enough. Social services will not have the decency
to take the older woman off her hands. Old forgotten grievances
fester. To add insult to injury, her daughter seems to be on Mary's
side, adding to the drama instead of taking off some of the pressure.
Told in turn from Mary and Katie's perspectives and alternating
between the present and key moments in the past, Unbecoming explores
family dynamics vividly and realistically. It's a good read not only
for its target demographic, but for the generations parenting and
grandparenting them.
On a personal note, the second UMaine marathon went off without a
hitch. Even Mother Nature cooperated in contrast to last year which
featured pouring rain.
A great big shout out goes out to the runners, my fellow volunteers,
and, of course, Lisa Morin, who was in charge of basically everything.
jules hathaway



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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hip Hop Speaks to Children

Hip Hop Speaks to Children

Juvenile poetry
A lot of youngsters, particularly those who have not been
exposed to truly inspiring poetry, groan when this genre is assigned
in school. It's too boring, childish, stilted...nothing to do with
them. This can be very frustrating for teachers. How can they kindle
a passion for poems in a very resistant class?
Hip Hop Speaks to Children: a celebration of poetry with a beat,
edited by Nikki Giovanni, would be a good place for a poetry loving
teacher or parent to start. This book and CD combo enables children
to absorb its message through words, pictures, and sound. Poetry and
music are intimately intertwined and have everything to do with the
life of the people.
Before today's kids (and many of their parents) were born
Gwendolyn Brooks commented on pool players:
We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon."
Queen Latifah speaks up for women.
"Ladies first, there's no time to rehearse
I'm divine and my mind expands through the universe
I'm a female rapper with a message to send
The Queen Latifah is a perfect specimen"
Gary Soto describes the joy of making his own musical instruments.
Nikki Giovanni paints a poignant picture of little girls strive toward
adulthood.
"They look so grown up
With that high heel wiggle.

Their pearls are flapping.
Their dresses flow.

They are so sorry
They have no place to go.

Mother refuses to drive them
Anywhere
Looking like that."
You can go through the book front to back or skip around. There
are a wealth of educational activities that will help kids make the
verses meaningful and personal. This is a very good book for a
classroom or family library, especially next April when poetry month
comes around again.
On a personal note, I lost.
A great big shout out goes out to the people who voted for me.
jules hathaway


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The Tortoise And The Soldier

The Tortoise And The Soldier

Juvenile biography
On the battlefield humans have often had the company and help of
four footed or winged beings. Before tanks and other mechanized
vehicles horses bore warriors into combat. Carrier pigeons delivered
vital strategy messages. Dogs did and still do everything from
detecting dangerous devices to providing much needed companionship.
But a tortoise?
Yes, a tortoise. Young Henry Friston survived World War I with
a reptilian roommate (actually shipmate but I never pass up a chance
to alliterate) he named Ali Pasha. Michael Foreman brings us their
incredible story in his The Tortoise And The Soldier: A Story Of
Courage And Friendship In World War I.
As a lad, Friston was mesmerized by the world map on his
schoolroom wall, daydreaming of going to places that even had exotic
names. He left school at thirteen. (Many boys did then.) He became a
deckhand on his fourteenth birthday. When the North Sea became too
small for his daydreams he joined the (British) Royal Navy.
A year after Friston enlisted, now an able seaman and one of the
caretakers of Number Two Gun, war is declared on Germany. Instead of
hauling fish he's shelling and trying to not get shot. His ship heads
out to Belgium and continue on to Gallipoli. Landing--wading through
an ocean full of floating corpses and then dashing for cover--he
becomes a stretcher bearer, bringing the wounded to the beach for
evacuation "with bullets whistling past our ears."
One day, thrown off his feet by the force of an explosion, he is
alone and terrified. Something hard hits him on the head...something
with four stubby legs and a head it can pull into its shell.
"We lie like that for ages, the tortoise and me, side by side.
Somehow having another living, breathing thing next to me in that
crater calmed me right down. The python [fear] relaxed its grip on my
heart, and I was able to imagine myself far away from Gallipolli,
lying in a cornfield back in Carton instead, dozing and waiting for Ma
to call me in for my tea, with the summer sun warming my body."
That was the start of a beautiful friendship...one that lasted
longer than most marriages these days.
The Tortoise And The Soldier beautifully evokes a time before
the Internet and television when a young man could go off to war with
a knowledge of foreign lands limited to grammer school maps, when
contact with home was limited to cherished letters, and when combat
was up close and personal. The pictures, I believe watercolors, are
perfectly suited to the narrative. I would recommend it not only to
the targeted demographics, but to some more vintage folks with war
experience like my friend Paul Lucy who flew a Corsair in World War II.
On a personal note, Artsapalooza is coming up fast. It's an Orono
tradition: a festival of music, writing, and the visual arts. Last
year, my first year as a performer, I read 40 minutes of my poetry.
This year I'm back with Thai Orchid restaurant as a venue. I've gotta
get ready to entrance my audience who deserve nothing but my best.
A great big shout out goes out to the folks who make Artsapalooza
possible.
jules hathaway


Sent from my iPod

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Belzhar

Belzhar

YA fiction
"'...But it's not like you can ask anyone about it now, because
no one who was in that class is still at school. It's mixed grades,
but the last of them graduated or left. I swear, it's like one of
those secret societies.'"
There are five students at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic
boarding high school, who are admitted into a Soecial Topics in
English, the most hard to get into class. On the surface they would
seem to have little or nothing in common. But each has lived through
a tragedy.
*Jam (Jamaica), narrator of Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar, is a cute, sweet
girl, not A list, but not nerd, who fell apart when her British
exchange student boyfriend died.
*Ballerina Sierra, originally from New York, let her beloved little
brother, Andre, get off the bus four blocks from their apartment. He
never came home.
*Rich girl Casey became paralyzed and wheelchair bound when her drunk
mother crashed into a stone wall driving home from a neighbor's house.
*Student council president/debate team captain Marc looked up to his
lawyer father until he found graphic evidence of dad's infidelity.
When he told his mother their family fell apart.
*Hostile seeming farmer's son Griffin carries a hidden psychic scar.
The class lasts just one semester. It revolves around the study
of the writings of Sylvia Plath, a poet who took her own life at an
early age, a sort of strange choice given the setting. In addition to
reading and discussing her work, they are to write in journals they
are given twice a week. Although she will never read them, their
teacher will collect and keep them at the end of the class.
But the old fashioned, red leather covered journals are not like
the random volumes I scribble in daily and adorn with stickers and
pictures. These volumes have very strange magical powers...powers
that may prove dangerous as well as alluring.
Alluring is also the best word to describe Belzhar. The
seamless path from realistic fiction into plausible fantasy
transforms what could otherwise be a more maudlin or didactic work.
The characters are complex and believable. The plot is engaging.
What more can I say?
On a personal note, today is election day in Veazie. After six weeks
of campaigning for reelection to school committee (that has felt like
carrying a 350 lb. gorilla on my back) I will know if I'm still chair
or even on the committee.
A great big shout out goes out to people who have to live with
seemingly insurmountable tragedies in a world where magic journals
don't exist.
jules hathaway



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