Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wild Wings

Intermediate fiction
"Nothing prepared me for seeing her right in front of me. It
was as if the lochs and the mountains and the sky were folded deep
inside of her, as if she was a small piece of this vast landscape and
none of it could exist without her."
Callum, protagonist of Gill Lewis' Wild Wings, knows he is in
the presence of a treasure. A pair of ospreys have built a nest on
his family's land. He and his new friend, Iona, have watched them
from a distance. Sadly the female osprey is in serious danger. With
one of her feet entangled in fishing wire, she swings weakly from a
tree. Callum and Iona know they must get help. But the raptors'
location must remain a secret. People could sell their eggs for a lot
of money.
There is so much good about Wild Wings this humble reviewer does
not know where to start. There's the story line, of course, which is
quite absorbing. It is interwoven beautifully with much information
about the life of a magnificent bird of prey and its amazing
migration. Lewis writes with a voice of deep respect but never a bit
of preachiness.
The human drama is equally compelling. Rob's friends he's grown
up with can't see why he's spending time with Iona. She's quite poor
and different. The grandfather she lives with is considered crazy.
There are rumors that her mother is a patient in a psychiatric hospital.
I highly recommend Wild Wings with one caveat. This book is
pegged for eight to twelve-year-olds. The unexpected death of one of
the main characters might make it a bit disturbing for a very
sensitive child of this age.
On a personal note, I went to a most excellent blood drive recently.
It was put on by the University of Maine (Orono) Upward Bound
students. In all my decades of donating I have NEVER seen a better
run blood drive.
A great big shout out goes out to our nation's Upward Bound students
and the people who work with these wonderful young people.
For readers who don't know, Upward Bound is a program that helps very
motivated young people get ready for college. These are kids who
otherwise may not have the opportunity. They also do a lot of public
service like the blood drive. It makes me very angry that's being
cut. Please let your legislators know it's not acceptable.
Liberals: it's the right thing to do.
Conservatives: this pregram gives you more "bang for the buck" than
just about any other in existence.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Here Comes Trouble

I've been a huge Michael Moore fan since Amber and I watched his
take on health care in the United States. It was, in my opinion,
brilliant. Since then I've read or watched all the offerings in his
David vs Goliath engagements with corporations and other entities that
make human beings an endangered species. I've never failed to be
impressed. I feel that the man tells it like it is, no matter whom or
what (I'm not a believer in corporate personhood) he might offend.
Imagine my delight when I saw a toddler Michael Moore gazing at
me fro
the cover of his Here Comes Trouble: stories from my life on a new
acquisitions shelf at the Orono Public Library. A chance to learn
some about how this hero got his start in life? I snapped that up
like my Joey cat goes for tuna. (No disrespect intended, Michael.)
Moore does not pretend that he's going to deliver his
autobiography in perfect chronological order. Rather he offers up
twenty-four stories from his early years. They are stories in tone as
well as format. Reading them is like going out for a beer with an
acquaintance you'd like to know better. Check out this paragraph from
the first chapter:
"The phone calls to my house were actually creepier. It's a
whole different fright machine when a human voice is attached to the
madness and you think, this person literally risked arrest to say this
over a phone line! You had to admire the balls--or insanity--of
that." (I couldn't place italics where they belonged because my only
computer is my iPod touch).
As a school board member, my favorite of the stories was "twenty
names." In his senior year Moore was paddled by his high school
assistant principal. He decided that man would not be able to
assault other students. Taking a much more mature and demanding route
than most teens, he ran for a seat on his local school board. He
became the youngest person elected to public office in Michigan. As
for the vice principal's fate, you'll have to read the book to see
what goes down.
"Boys State" is another great one. When Moore was sent to that
week long exercise in teen democracy (which he first thought was a
summer reform school) he decided to hang out in his dorm, skip the
formalities, and pursue his own activities. On a snack run he
discovered a flyer about an Elks Club sponsored speech writing
contest. The theme was the life of Abraham Lincoln. In his speech
Moore denounced that fraternal organization for their endorsement of
segregation. Obviously he lived to tell about it. But beyond that--
to discover the very surprising ending--you need to read the book.
Did you know Moore tried to become a Catholic priest and
participated in an exorcism? Did you know that when, as a child, he
was lost in the Senate Bobby Kennedy helped reunite him with his
family? If you're a fan of his or appreciate the fact being stranger
than fiction genre, Here Comes Troubie is a must read.
On a personal note, this book makes me feel hopeful. If Moore can
start where he did and become a force for good in the world, imagine
how far an outspoken mom and school board member can go!
A great big shout out goes out to the cats, dogs, and other critters
who add so much to our lives with an admonition to remember their
special hot weather needs. I've been seeing too many dogs on
overheated cars recently.
Julia Emily Hathaway
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Blizzard of Glass

YA historical fiction
While the sinking of the Titanic has captured the public's
imagination for a century, some equally vivid and devastating events
have slipped under the radar. Did you realize that the largest pre
atomic bomb man made explosion happened in Canada? I didn't until
adulthood, as in last week. When I read Sally M. Walker's Blizzard of
Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 I wondered why. I mean we're
talking significant event here.
That December a freighter, Mont Blanc, had entered Halifax
Harbor carrying a very deadly cargo for the war in Europe: TNT,
picric acid, and benzene. She [boats are shes by tradition] had been
refitted carefully to reduce risks. For example, copper rather than
iron nails were used since copper doesn't cause sparks when struck.
But there was no way to prevent or ameliorate the devastation caused
by an unforseen event: collision with another ship, Imo.
Basically what started off as an ordinairy day for residents of
neighborhoods near the harbor, including the families readers are
introduced to, rapidly devolved into Hell on Earth. The explosion of
Mont Blanc's cargo created a huge shock wave travelling over five
times the speed of sound. Buildings were shattered into piles of
rubble. A tsunami with a 39 to 45 foot crest followed. The next day
rescue efforts were hampered by a blizzard.
There's a Titanic connection here. In 1912 Halifax had been the
nearest harbor to the site of her sinking. Unidentified corpses
floating in the water were picked up and transferred there. The
system of rapid identification developed then was sadly needed again
in 1917.
This is a vivid and fascinating description of a really
important historical event that should have more place in public
consciousness. However, it is not for the faint of heart. I, who
have read more disaster narratives than I'd care to admit to, had
On a personal note, at our most recent RSU 26 board meeting we elected
Rose (who will do an awesome job) chair and me vice chair. Life is
A great big shout out goes out to our new Orono Middle School
principal, Mr. Jeffrey Paul, for whom I have high hopes.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Titanic Trinity

Intermediate to YA historical nonfiction
It's engraved in our imaginations a century later: the doomed
liner, the ice berg, the frigid star lit night, the half filled life
boats, the faithful musicians playing to the end... A ship built to
be unsinkable met its tragic end in a collision with a creation of
nature. It was a defining moment for even generations yet unborn like
mine. Why? I have no idea. But there's been a spate of fine new
books including some terrific juvenile offerings.
Barry Denenberg's Titanic Sinks! blends fact and fiction in a
unique and striking format. It is written as a memorial edition of
Modern Times Magazine. The first pages provide a wealth of background
information. The middle section, made to look like water logged
pages, is the voyage journal of a fictitious reporter. It is followed
by accounts of real survivors and an interview with the captain of the
Carpathia, the ship that sped to the rescue of survivors. This book
is a visual masterpiece, perfect for the youngster who has some
previous knowledge.
Stephanie Sammartino McPherson's Iceberg Right Ahead! The
Tragedy of the Titanic makes a great introductory volume. The cover
with its black and green picture of the great ship plunging into the
ocean lures the adventure seeking reader into giving it a try. The
book opens with a vivid description of the fateful night. The
following chapters go into detail and include background and
consequences. There is a good balance between individual narrative
and larger picture. The illustrations nicely compliment the text.
Deborah Hopkinson's Titanic: Voices from the Disaster is a
treat for true affeccianados. Although it is rich with background
information, the focus is on the individual passengers and crew
members. You meet Frank, a teacher about to be ordained to the
Catholic priesthood, Violet, a stewardess devoted to the well being of
her charges, Charlotte, heading with her husband and young daughter to
start a new life in America, nine-year-
old Frankie, and many others. Basically Hopkinson nicely achieves the
purpose set out in her forward, "I hope their stories and voices
remind you, as they do me, that our lives are fragile and precious.
And I hope they make you wonder, as I do, what it would have been like
to be on the Titanic that night so long ago..."
These fine volumes are (sorry--can't resist this) the tip of the
iceberg when it comes to Titanic literature. Between the older gems
and the bumper crop inspired by this year's 100th anniversary there's
more than enough to enjoy and learn from. So head on down to your
book store or library and be prepared to be swept away!
On a personal note, under the leadership of John and Shelley Jemmison,
the Orono Community Garden is thriving. Again we have a wonderful
crew. It's such a joy to be involved.
A great big shout out goes out to all the authors who create so many
fine Titanic books.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Monday, July 9, 2012

There Are No Children Here

Adult non fiction
Today I take a break from pitching new books to try to interest
you in a profound and disturbing (profoundly disturbing?) classic that
came out when my Amber was still in diapers. Why? Well in today's
economic climate it's unfortunately as relevant today as it was hot
off the press--if not more so.
Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here chronicles two years
in the lives of Lafayette and Pharaoh Rivers, brothers growing up in
the Henry Horner projects in Chicago in the late eighties. The title
implies that in that world the smallest inhabitants have witnessed so
much of the dark side of life they are kids in size and chronological
age only. After reading the book I'd tend to agree. Regularly the
boys attend friends' funerals. Family members end up in prison.
Their mother hopes that out of her eight children will make it out of
the neighborhood and succeed. The boys wonder if they will make it to
It took Kotlowitz years to write the book. He became so close
to the boys' family he considers them friends. In addition to
spending lots of time with his subjects he interviewed over one
hundred other people. Half of the incidents recorded were ones he
personally witnessed.
Childhood deserves to be a protected time where needs are
tenderly met and innocence is maintained. For so many youngsters this
is not the case. Inner city projects aren't the only places they must
grow up too fast. Read Carolyn Chute's books, fir instance, to get
insights into rural poverty.
I fear that as the rich gain wealth and the poor lose ground
childhood will become an unaffordable luxery for too many of our
fellow Americans. If this does not deserve concerted action on our
part, I don't know what does.
On a personal note, for the July to June fiscal year I made my goal of
150 Orono Public Library volunteer hours. What should I shoot for
this year? 200?
A great big shout out goes out to all who fight to give kids
childhoods and hope for the future.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Sunday, July 8, 2012


Juvenile historical fiction
"The buzzard knew. He gave the first warning." The first two
sentences of Barbara Wright's Crow give a razor sharp glimpse into one
of the dilemmas faced by its protagonist, Moses. He is caught between
old ways of thinking espoused by his grandmother and new ways
championed by his father.
Boo Nanny, Moses' mother's mother, was born into slavery. Never
given the chance to read the printed word, she is an acute observer of
nature and believer in omens. She's understandably pessimistic about
race relations. Trusting a white person, in her mind, is like playing
with venemous snakes and trusting them not to bite.
Moses' father is a college educated reporter for a black daily
newspaper. He's sure racial equality will come in time. Education
and integrity are the keys to success. After all he's a duly elected
As summer heats up racial tensions rise. Moses' father's
newspaper's editor responds in print to a speech advocating the
lynching of beasts (blacks) to protect white women's purity. Many
whites want to lynch him. Elections are coming up. Drastic measures
are being taken to scare as many blacks as possible out of voting.
Moses sees a Gatling gun wheeled into his neighborhood.
Moses' father is determined to vote. He feels passions will
cool down after the election. Boo Nanny, however, sees the worst kind
of trouble headed their way.
On a personal note, we had a really hot, humid Saturday. The hubby
took us for a ride in the truck--breeze coming through the windows,
oldies on the radio. Heavenly. I was very pleased that we got subs
and I didn't have to cook.
A great big shout out goes out to those scientists who discovered the
new particle. Talk about rock stars!
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Friday, July 6, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone

Intermediate historical fiction
Christopher Paul Curtis has done it again. The author of Bud,
Not Buddy has, in The Mighty Miss Malone, created yet another spell
binder. Going back in time to the Great Depression for a visit with
Deza Malone and her family is well worth the journey.
As the story opens Deza's father hasn't worked regularly for
months. The economic hardship is taking a toll on the family.
Oatmeal with bugs can't be thrown out. Deza's teeth are full of
cavities there isn't the money to fix. Still, they are a close knit,
loving family.
Unfortunately the family's loyalty and strength are put to
severe tests. Deza's father is badly injured in an accident. He
leaves the family to seek steady employment. Then her mother loses
her job keeping house for rich white people and decides she and her
children must move to be near extended family. Nothing involving a
moving van like we'd do it. Try riding the rails, ending up in a hobo
camp, and finding that the hoped for relative has vanished.
In an afterward Curtis writes that Deza can be a spokesperson
not only for the children of her era, but for the fifteen million
children today who live in dire poverty in America. I just hope her
unique and poignant voice inspires the rest of us to change things.
On a personal note, Bangor's 4th of July parade was wonderful. The
fireworks were stupendous--over an hour with a grand finale that
really lived up to the name.
A great big shout out goes out to all the folks who worked hard to
make the festivities a success.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Monday, July 2, 2012

R My Name Is Rachel

Intermediate historical fiction
Intermediate fiction is the genre I have the most difficulty
finding exemplary books in. Much of what is put out for kids that age
seems to me dreadfully formulaic. Who knows? Maybe it's what they
want and need. Witness the popularity of series like Babysitters
Club. At that stage I was a huge fan of Nancy Drew who was about as
predictable as one can get...
Anyhow, Patricia Reilly Giff is one of those rare writers with the
ability to consistantly nudge intermediate readers out of the
familiarity comfort zone. Her R My Name Is Rachel is a gem.
The Great Depression is heart breaking for Rachel. Her father
has lost his job. Almost all their money is gone. Food is hard to
come by. Then there is devastating news. For her dad to get hired,
they'll have to leave her beloved New York and move west.
The farm house the family moves into is in pretty bad shape with
no heat other than a wood stove. The stray cat they have taken with
them vanishes instantly. The school and library are closed, much to
book lover Rachel's dismay. Could things get worse?
Of course they do. A blizzard that keeps him from getting to
work on time costs Rachel's father his job. One day she sees him in
tears. They need money to survive. However, the only available job
will take him away from his family for at least a month.
If you want a story of courage, resilience, and family love you
can't do better than this coming of age novel...
very relevant in the current recession.
On a personal note, the hubby fired up the grill last night. Way to
go! Veggie Burgers and Chik Patties always taste so much better
cooked over a fire than in a microwave.
A great big shout out goes out to the hubby for grilling a lovely
Julia Emily Hathaway

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