Saturday, December 24, 2011

War Horse: A Novel (Review of a book now a movie)

 Note: I wrote this review for Amazon, on January 18, 2009.

"War Horse" is a story of courage and endurance by horse and man, conveyed through the destruction that is war. Told from the viewpoint of the horse, the story can draw in the most reluctant reader, as children often feel more empathy for animals than people. Because of descriptions of grueling labor and unsound working conditions for the horses, the book is best directed toward fourth grade and up.

Joey, a gorgeous bay with four white stocking legs and a white cross on his forehead, is the War Horse. Albert is his 15-year-old human who trains and loves him. When his father sells the horse to the cavalry for service in World War I, Albert swears to join when he is old enough and find Joey.

The insanity of matching a cavalry of horses and riders with sabers against soldiers with rifles and machine guns has to be one of the most insane moments in war history!! One-fourth of the horses are killed in the first battle. All but two die in the next battle this cavalry faces. Joey and his equal, Topthorn, a huge black Arabian, survive, only to be taken as prisoners by the Germans.

What Joey and Topthorn face as part of the team to pull the hospital cart to the battle front over and over is made right by kind treatment their German masters give to their wounds and injuries, and treat their fatigue at the end of day. Joey's worse experience comes when he and Topthorn and others must pull the artillery. Because these soldiers are dead tired themselves and also starving, they are not as attentive to the horses.

The most horrifying scene occurs when Joey is totally alone and runs and runs from the sound of cannons until he is trapped in No Man's Land, a barren area between the French and English on one side and the Germans on the other. Two rolls of barbed wire separate the land from the trenches. Joey finds himself in this area. What transpires is an incredible and beautiful moment in the midst of an insane war.

SPOILER ALERT! Read no further if you don't like to know anything about a book's ending.)

Of course, you must know that Albert is re-united with Joey. How that comes about is purely contrived, but welcomed by a reader weary of the horrors of war for both man and horse.

Last week a fourth-grader asked me (I'm the school librarian) for a really good book to read. I showed him several. When he saw "War Horse," he wanted it at once. The next day he told me, "This is a great book." He was already half-way finished. So I went home and read my copy.

You will never look at a horse the same way again. Joey tells us about the people who tend him. Are they heavy-handed, hard, tender, kind, caring? What is it like with each type of person? What is it like to be a horse? But the best lesson is that horses are no longer used in battle (until a reader commented that horses are being used in Afghanistan! Barbarity in a barbaric place. What can one expect? Note: I'm speaking of war and war conditions, not the Afghan people or soldiers.)

Now the film version is getting rave reviews. I look forward to seeing it!

Washingto Square: a film version

Darwinism, selective adaptation, rationalism, a stone cold universe--these are the main characters in the film adaptation of Henry James' novel "Washington Square." I wept for the futility of the motives of the players. Forlorn-ness, weariness, desperation--these are feelings Henry James (author) passed out with plenitude to both Morris and Catherine, the exquisitely needy main characters.

Catherine, an only child, who lives at Washington Square, under the strict supervision of her doctor-father, is a most emotionally deplete character at the begining. Played with utmost perfection, with downward stares, gazes from under obedient eyes, a shrinking of body in the presence of men, Jennifer Jason-Leigh lived that character. So does Chaplin as Morris with perfect beauty, necessary emotional repertoire and glib talent with tongue and ready story. He is as extraordinarily handsome as she is plain. Yet, by steady and intense tender attention, he brings out a lively Catherine no one has ever seen, least of all her domineering father.

This is a story of want meeting need, with each discovering in the other the answer to each dilemma, with one (Morris) knowing what is needed, the other (Catherine) just feeling what is wanted. They meet at an engagement party (so ripe a setting for possibility). It is amazing to watch Morris see Catherine and fall instantly in love with her. Or is it a game? Her father, the wealthy doctor, thinks so and discourages her at every turn. Personally, I watched carefully for any slippage in his facial control to detect a false face or mocking smile. But never. He seemed genuinely to care. On the other hand Catherine refuses--initially-- to accept or believe his intentions. Her father has well-trained her to believe she is stupid and plain and desired by men only for her future fortune.

At the beginning when I spoke of despair and weariness, I mentioned these in accordance with the scientific and philosophic views of the day: the cold indifference of the universe, the non-involvement of the religious with daily life, almost a cold, calculating universe in its own way.

There is in some religious circles today the belief that prayer not only changes the one prayed for, but the one doing the praying. Although an anachronism, surely the context is the same: Morris does fall in love with this poor creature he is wooing. That is my impression. Of course, she loses herself passionately.

That's all I need say about the film. For sure, it is a powerful drama that unfolds before one's eyes and, for sure, the ending is both expected and incredibly sad. Yes, how can we ever push ego into the bushes and seize the moment and take a chance? Why are we so stubborn? Can there occur a merging between these two? What would it take? Everything? Nothing? Can we go too far past a certain point? Oh, I could keep asking these questions, but the answer remains the same: It is what James made it to be. His book reflects the values not only of his day, but our day as well. The story could go differently today, but should it? Can there be too much in a relationship to return to its purer moments?

Addendum: Added in response to a reader comment:

I accept as valid the reader-response (in this case, the viewer-response) genre of criticism. The author/director presents to his/her audience a version of some form of the Truth. The viewer can accept that view as one of the Truths of the universe or not. James was presenting the idea of the possibilities available to plain, but wealthy young women. In this film there was only one, Morris wants Catherine for her money. That's it. If she didn't have money, he would never have shown interest. One particular line shows this: "I wasted two years of my youth courting you AND your money (my emphasis)"-- Just recently I heard a phrase that really stuck in my head: "I settled." Compromised, accepting less than what is truly desired. Catherine would have settled at that moment. Years later she refused to take less. Maybe I did read more into the story than what James intended (rationalism, Darwinism), but I think I can justify my declaration. Morris was willing to "settle" with plain Catherine BUT wads of money (survival of the fittest?) and she, too, with such a charming and handsome man, having decided he did love her (the Watchmaker is sitting in the heavens, so we live life as we find it, not relying on a god to intercede--or is this Ann Rand-ism/objectivism?)

My final question is: Do we take love in whatever form we find it OR do we live by moral and ethical values, for self-respect which is cold and empty. Which causes more pain? Less? The film deeply disturbed me--on a personal level, not as a random viewer-- because of its lack of acceptable alternatives, indeed as life is often lived!

How does James present Morris in the novel? Does he come to love Catherine at all or is his behavior all a game for gain? After such a film, reading the novel becomes necessary...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Best 10 Books( I read) in 2011 (regardless of publication date)

10. Sartoris by William Faulkner or Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth
Why two books here? Because I could not make up my mind. A classic by a Nobel winner in literature or a thoughtful, fairly philosophical book by a children's writer? Sartoris is the first novel by Faulkner that I've read in a many, many years. See Choice #2 of my Top 10 for the reason why. Sartoris claimed my full attention with its tale of characters who represent the Old South and the rising of other classes among them.  Zen Ghosts is sheer mastery of both logic and magic, words and illustrations. It also requires attention to detail to contemplate its depth of meaningl

9. Ultimatum by Matthew Glass
A slow-paced, detail-setting first half with a hurtling-beyond-belief second half. A political agenda by a very hope-filled president who truly wants to solve problems, find solutions, especially for the eminent, ongoing climatic devastation. His plans are disrupted by one little decision that changes the course of his presidency. A fascinating read, especially the ever-developing conflict between this president and the Chinese leader, who represents a totally different way of approaching the world and his own leadership. Too late he learns why presidents have various kinds of advisors. Frankly, be prepared for a slow beginning which builds to a powerful and provocative second half and raises most disturbing issues and questions.

8. 61 Hours: A Reacher novel by Lee Child
I could have picked any of the Reacher novels, but this is one of two I read in 2011, the other being The Affair (which is not nearly as strong as 61 Hours). From page one, this novel is non-stop action, a book difficult to put down for any length of time. Reacher finds himself in North Dakota, the coldest state in a cold period. As usual he finds himself helping local law officers, the sheriff and a particular deputy, keep an important witness safe until she testifies. As usual it is one murder after the other with violent and evil characters contrasted with a couple of good people. The story takes place within 61 hours and concludes with the most puzzling ending of any Reacher novel.

7. Young Samurai: the Way of the Warrior by Chris Bradford
Since serving as a children's librarian, I have come across a number of really fine series of books written for older children. The Young Samurai series is one of the best. The story is set in feudal Japan in the late 1500's. Jack Fletcher is a monkey on his father's ship which is beset by ninja off the coast of Japan. The only survivor is Jack, who is "adopted" by the local samurai lord and is then trained in samurai school. You can begin to imagine the adventures and momentous times he has in each book of the series. I read the six in the series one after the other. The seventh and final book should be published soon.

6. Conspiracy 365: December by Gabrielle Lord
This is another of the fabulously exciting series for older children. Young Callum is told on New Year's Eve by a total stranger to run away and stay away for one full year or 365 days or he would be killed. A conspiracy is tied in with his family's name. He needs to find it and solve it before the year is up. There is not one dull page or a single false note in the story. This is a wowzer--and there are 12 books in the series, each for a month of the year that he is away from his home. Lord throws in a few red herrings along the way. Usually good at solving these riddles, I didn't this time. I suspected several of the characters as being the "villain." Of course, one of my choices was guilty.

5. Crocodile Tears (Alex Rider) by Andrew Horowitz
This is the last, until recently, novel in the Alex Rider series. Alex is forced into becoming a fifteen year old spy for jolly ol' England and the queen's service (mainly because both his dad and uncle were also spies). I almost must rate this one as my most favorite (after Paulsen's Hatchet series, which I read in 2009). Alex Rider can do anything--and it's all believable because Horowitz slips in the necessary  bits of information that prepares the reader for sometimes utterly fantastic things that happen to Alex or he causes. Another wowzer!

4. Lucky's Lady by Tami Hoag
Normally, I don't read bodice rippers--too unrealistic. Does a man really totally love a woman like those found within cover of such a book, that is. Looking for a book, I found this on my Hoag shelf and did not remember buying it or how it got there. Took it down and was hooked on the first page. No matter the genre, I want to be hooked on the first page. This is a delicious book. Here's the benefit. Imagine exactly what you want in a man, both physically and emotionally, intellectually,  professionally, and Lucky is it!! Even with a ponytail (which I do like!). This Lucky is a Cajun who lives in the South Louisiana swamp and makes his living mysteriously, at least he likes his life secret after being a POW for too long. Serena and Lucky, of course, immediately bristle up to each other, while simultaneously develop deep attractions which must be answered. The surrounding story is a worthy ecological one: save this particular swamp. Developers have it on radar to buy and build. An exciting read without unnecessary details.

3. In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke
Do you read books that--swish--go right through your brain and are forgotten minutes after reading them? Some linger and linger. "In a Perfect World" is one that lingers. It begins quite chickish and quickly becomes apocalyptic. The airline flight attendant is attracted to the handsome pilot,  who gives up others for her. However, she must be willing to take on his kids. Their relationship is fine until a pandemic strikes the world and he is confined to Europe while she is stuck with his kids--at his insistence. Meanwhile, Jiselle takes in an elderly neighbor and her own mother, with whom she has had a struggling relationship. This is a story of struggle, survival, and building community within one's own home. A profoundly affecting story!

2. William Faulkner: the Cofield Collection by Jack Cofield
I've had this book for 30 years. I actually bought it at a bookstore in Oxford, Mississippi, within hiking distance of Faulkner's home. I've looked at the photos many times over the years, but recently, I took the book out again and actually read the print. I felt I was tracking Faulkner's life from beginning to end. I thought I "knew" him, but learned so many more details of his life. He was a horseman to the end, and eventually died from injuries, the results of a fall. He courted Estelle, but she married another, who died in WWI. Faulkner pursued again, they married, then produced their beloved daughter Jill. Faulkner's story is based entirely on the photographs in the book, collected and arranged by one of his close friends.  That's how the reader knows if the truth is being told. I took my time and studied each photo. Then I got out all my Faulkner novels and stories. I stopped reading halfway through "The Sound and the Fury." When I retire, I'll finish it.

1. The Terror by Dan Hawkins
This book is a stunner! Out of a slow beginning come the details of searching, searching by explorers/adventurers, trying to find a waterway from the Atlantic to the Pacific--there, at the top of the world in the frozen Arctic. The novel is historical fiction at its very best. A friend tried to read the book and became bogged down in the details and gave up. After I read it, I insisted she try again because of the sheer imagination of the author in inserting a mythical monster into the story. At the first mention of this huge monster in the pages of a superlative explorer book, I was very disappointed. However, the last 100 pages are the most satisfying of any book I've read in a long, long time. Utterly fascinating!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Action series for boys!

Finally, I'm taking time to write a blog feature I've had on my mind a good while. Action series for boys! There are so many series of books  for boys--and so entertaining and thrilling, page-turners all!

At school in the library where I tend the books, I am delighted each time I find a new series in a catalog or online. Usually, the boys have not yet become acquainted with them; sometimes, they tell me about a series. And, no, I'm not a sexist--I encourage girls to read them, too. So, in no particular order, are these series, the books therein, and a brief synopsis.

1. The Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen. I must confess that, although I love all the others, this one probably sticks out in my memory best for its raw and very chilling adventure in the Canadian wilderness. Brian is almost 13 when his plane goes down--the pilot had a fatal heart attack in flight. During his miraculous attempt at flying and landing, the plane goes off course hundreds of miles. Brian is not rescued for many weeks and manages to survive with just his wits and a hatchet.

In chronological order

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Let's look at series for boys...but we will share with girls!

During library class last Friday Mark share with the class something that happened in one scene in one of the Alex Rider books.
"Mark!" I declared. "How do you remember what happened in a particular book in the Alex Rider series?"
"Because I've read every book three or four times each..." he excitedly told us

Series for boys (and girls, if they watnt great reading!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Let's look at series for boys...

"I've read all of them three or four times," exclaimed Mark when I brought up the topic of novels in a series, mentioning specifically the Alex Rider series. I was thrilled and certainly did not know that any of my students had been so engaged!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Excellent series reading for middle school students

That's "series," not serious, but who's not to say that these series are not serious--they are. Enough word play. On to serious matter--

I'm both reporting and expousing here. I'm reporting what the middle schoolers read, thus sharing a love of books with me--I read each series first. The books are located in the library where I am the librarian.

In no particular order (unless they fall into MY favorites):


Friday, September 23, 2011

Final comments on my fasciitis

It's been a week since I had that horrendous injection to rid myself of a very painful condition --inflammation of the fascia tendon that runs along the bottom of the foot, heel to that expanse of foot we call the ball. Stress it and you'll see --or feel--what I mean! Excruciating pain so intense a person cannot walk on it!

I tried a celestone shot (hip shot), physical therapy, a foot orthodic, massage, crutches--each helped, except the crutches, and even all together, I still limped along with pain.

It's time--so I got the shot--yeah, the one with a needle going straight into the heel. As soon as the doctor came into the little room, I started crying from anticipation. EVERYONE, including that doctor, warned me how painful that needle is! Then I started sobbing--I was so fearful!

He injected my foot. YES, the pain was so bad that I actually screamed. The scream was already out before I could do anything to stifle it. I apologized and the nurse tried to make me feel better: "You're not the first to scream!"

Did that shot work? Yes, almost immediately the pain lessened (but did not disappear). It's been a week and I made it through Book Fair, but went home every night with excruciating pain, which lessened after I put my feet up and gave them a rest.

Here's my advice: Get the shot. Don't wait! I could have had relief a week earlier! The pain is real but lasts--what?--maybe three seconds. It was over in scarcely the time I had to scream. I'll know (if there's a next time) not to wait. Pain relief is good even if it takes pain to get that relief!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Update on my fasciitis

It's been over a month since I awoke that awful Saturday morning and could not put weight on my right foot. Later at the local quick care clinic, I discovered I had the dreaded, terrible planter fasciitis (I have stopped saying "planter," because, inevitably, people think I have warts on the bottom of my foot. Of course, that comes from NOT knowing about the word "planter" that is followed by the word "fasciitis." Even this computer doesn't know the term--it underlined it to tell me I had misspelled it. Alas, I haven't.)

So what about my update? I had some choices for treatment when I did go to an orthopedic doctor: a shot right smack in the middle of the pain and physical therapy. The doctor told me I would have faster relief, maybe immediately, with a shot. But wait, he said, there's a kicker: the shot is VERY painful. Well, yeah, I thought, a shot in that meaty part of the foot. I would think so. Of course, I went with physical therapy.

My therapist was such a darling, delightful young man. Ah, too bad I'm an old lady. Oh yes, pardon me. The therapy. Heat wraps, painful exercises, deep laser treatment, and, oh joy--deep tissue massage. It was very painful, but the relief was wonderful. He also taught me exercises to do at home to strengthen and stretch that ol' fasciitis.

That bottom of the foot tendon that is connected to the well-known Achilles tendon screams with pain when it has been strained and abused. Runners of all ages often learn of this condition and anyone who repetitively stresses the foot. I had been limping from the pain of an old injury with my left foot, thus placing undue stress on the right. Thus, that awful Saturday morning.

Physical therapy didn't work fast enough for me. The pain remained, not that original searing, sharp needles pain, but enough that walking on that foot was terrible.

That brings me to the needle, that two-inch long needle filled with--hopefully--relief. In the little room the nurse kept telling me that it was a painful shot. Yes, I've been told. EVERYONE I talked to who had had the shot warned me, but the relief was worth it. OK, let's see.

EVERYTHING anyone had told me, warned me about is absolutely true! The pain was hideous.  I cried. I actually felt myself scream. I sobbed. What a whiny baby I was! Actually, I think my horror was more anticipation than actuality. No, the pain is awful.

Yes, I did get immediate relief, then that thudding pain returned. Also, a heel injected by a long needle does become deeply tender. Is the pain gone? Not quite yet--

Monday, September 5, 2011

Farmer's Market

I found out late in the game that I could sell my crafts in our local Farmers Market. So I applied, was accepted, and participated the last two Saturdays. Last Saturday, Sept. 3 was the last day untill the fall season begins.

It is quite different being a strolling buyer and a stationary vendor. The buyer can shuffle along, glancing to and fro, stopping just where the eye, the interest, and whim takes her. The vendor has the advantage of meeting a variety of people who come to his/her booth.

In between customers I watched all the people around me, both vendors and shoppers. Here is my list:

1. Many friends, male and female, made it a twosome to shop, just look, or actually buy something.

2. People who attend Farmers Martet go, intending to spend money

3.People liked my items and told me so. I even sold a few things, enough to make it worth my time.

4. There are two kinds of marriages, whether the couples are old or young. One type walks apart, never touching, rarely speaking. Sometimes the husband walked ahead, sometimes the wife. I was saddened by most of them. The other kind held hands or leaned into each other, chatting, stopping together, looking at merchandise together. Most of the happy couples still had separate money. Cool. Sometimes the wife had to ask permission to buy; only one man did and his wife coldly told him no.

5. What was available for sale? All those vegetables and fruits, to be sure: tomatoes, red potatoes, onions, eggplant, purple, green, and white, squash, zucchini, okra, peas, beans, peppers of various colors, and so on. Jellies, jams, preserves galore, breads of all kinds. Specialty ethnic foods: Italian sausage, Turkish foods, Lebanese foods, Indian curries, Mexican burritos, coffee drinks, Louisiana wine. Then vendors like me: I have totes, wall hangings, purses, toy bags, stuffed cats, pillow cases. Other vendors have little girls' dresses, play outfits, nightgowns, pajamas. Birdhouses with fabric for outer wall decorations. Beef, pork, and chicken, home raised, frozen for sale, and a brochure explaining the benefits of grass-fed animals for food.

6. The remarkable thing about Farmers Market is the individual expression of hard work, creativity, tenacity, and the American Dream of success in these individual endeavors. I felt privileged to be among these people.

It was a great day! I'm looking forward to Fall Market, beginning in October!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beware--planter fasciitis

When I was 30 years old, I played tennis with some college kids, 18, 19 years old. I had always been agile. After a game I jumped over the tennis net. No big whoop until that awful day. I jumped--no problem, but when I landed, I landed, bam, on my heel bone, the left heel. That was the most extraordinary pain--extraordinary as in horrific, torturous, terrible. Someone took me to the emergency room. The way the x-ray was taken showed a sprain only--no heel damage. Would it have made a difference if the doctor had known my heel bone, that tip of the skeleton, had been crushed one-half an inch? Well, of course, I'll never know.

I went to Europe three months later, still in pain, and still on crutches. I managed luggage and carrying all my own personal items. Age, I was young, independent and capable. I could get around on those crutches better than most people on foot.

Summer was over, school started, and the football coach demanded to know why I was still on crutches. "Get a shot," he told me. Cortisone. I did and began walking the next day. That's when I learned the magic of cortisone, but that's another story.

My body had to learn to re-align itself to the new dynamics of one leg one-half inch shorter. Believe me, there is a difference. The use of monthly feminine products became painful--new alignment. Even intimacy became painful until my body adjusted.

The year went by with periodic flare-ups of heel pain. During these flare-ups, I learned that I had cracked another bone on the side of the same foot playing basketball a few years before the tennis episode. I knew it was painfully sprained, but a new x-ray showed a slight realignment where that crack was.

Soooo--this past spring, both injuries, done so long ago, declared war on my aging body. I limped painfully for weeks, through cortisone shots, through pain medicine. Painfully. Then one Saturday morning I awoke to a new raging pain in the heel of my right foot. What??!! My right foot?! Could not be. No, no! How will I walk if BOTH feet are in pain? I could not walk on that right foot--literally, I had to crawl. I massaged, rubbed on arthritis gel, cried, but nothing worked. I managed to get myself to a clinic where I learned about the terrible planter fasciitis. A terrible thing.

I keep thinking about early humans. What was it like to develop this condition if there are no clinics, no doctors, no medication, nothing? What did they do? Through the centuries, right up to today. Why do I ask? Because there is no surgery, no relief, except time. Yes, I can go to physical therapy, which is absolutely wonderful for what?--a few hours? Gotta work. Means gotta walk. Back to square one. Pain.

So, what is planter fasciitis? I'll start with what it is not. It is not planter's warts. People have heard of that condition--it's totally different. "Planter" means "bottom of the foot," and that's the only thing the two conditions have in common. Warts are on the bottom of the foot, or planter. The fascia is a thick tendon that connects from the Achilles tendon, which itself runs along the back of the leg--they connect at the back of the hell, the two tendons--then to the toes. The worst tear or strain or inflammation occurs in the heel. Oh, to exacerbate matters, the heelbone spins out a spur to counteract the pain of the fascia. That spur can be removed (if one wants another boatload of pain), but one must simply wait for the fascia to heal.

Again, therapy and medication are good, but so temporary. There is one more means of alleviating the pain: a horrific cortisone injection into the heel itself. I by-passed that when the orthopedist himself told me it was painful, and get this, does not help some people. I opted for physical therapy. The therapist gave me exercises to do to stretch that fascia tendon, plus ice and heat treatment.

One more thing, I saw an ad on television for an orthotics device conveniently at this time and ordered it. I've walked around the house with it and think it may help. If so, I'll come back and say what it is.

My experience with planter fasciitis confirms what my mother always told me: Time will heal all wounds. Not all, but you know what she means.

For more information, here are a couple of links about planter fasciitis:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer time in the library

Sometimes I just have to put on my shoes, throw a few things in the car, and drive to my school library to work a while. Something there is about a silent library in the summer when no one else is around.

What's a school library without children in it? A really quiet place! I can get probably three times as much work done in one hour when the building is deserted as when children are bop-bopping through.  When I say the building is deserted, I mean really really quiet. No one is there at all! My principal allowed me a key so I could come in the afternoons. That's when I dive into work. Know the phrase: "In another world?" That's how I feel.

But, ah, the incredible number of books I can process and automate! It's truly phenomenal! This summer I completely rejuvenated the Louisiana Collection (eighth grade must study Louisiana history) by weeding, repairing, cleaning, and adding new books. It is now neat and organized and ready for eighth grade assignments.

I found several books that I want to review and Louisiana writers that I want to celebrate. Until next time, I remain--a quiet librarian!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What? Not read a book?

What? Is it possible? Never read a book? Read, present tense, definition:  "to read or peruse written or printed matter." But what does that mean? Perhaps an answer becomes clear when we look at etymology (word source and origin).
"Origin: before 900; Middle English reden, Old English rǣdan  to counsel, read; cognate with Dutch raden, German raten, Old Norse rātha;  akin to Sanskrit rādhnoti  (he) achieves." (source:
What's most interesting to this librarian is the Sanskrit: "achieves." What does it mean to "peruse written or printed matter"? If one knows all the skills and applies them to a process of deciphering (basically, reading is deciphering), then meaning occurs. Thus: achievement.
What's the point of finding meaning? I don't know about you, but I would not find life worthwhile if I didn't learn something new, then apply or find meaning, using knowledge gained during that skill-using, deciphering that printed matter, and achieving a new level of existence.
What brought on all this musing are two separate conversations. A week ago a friend from the past called and left two frantic messages on my answering machine. "May I use you as a reference? I have to submit my application right away!" It was hours later when I returned home and this frantic call. I called immediately. My friend from the past was seeking a teaching position in the same school where I taught so long.
During the course of our conversation, I told him about my new personal reading project: Faulkner's novels from beginning to end to look for growth and change. He was so pleased as he, too, is a Faulkner fan. Then he told me his shock: He could not believe that teachers don't read, including English teachers. (He is also an English teacher, as was I.) That's right, I agreed. They don't. There is always some excuse: too many papers to grade, children to raise, husbands, church work, one thing and then another. I told him during all those years of my own lesson plans and paper grading that I always found time to read both for personal relaxation and professional growth. I didn't have to ask--I knew he is also a reader. That teachers, as a whole and generically speaking, don't read is, indeed, shocking. (I'm sorry to reveal this about my profession.)
The other day I connected through Facebook with another friend from the past, a local, public official. He called and we chatted awhile. I asked if he read (remembering my other friend's shock). He said he never reads, other than professionally--reports and such. He named his high school and said students were never required to read a book. I told him if he didn't read, his brain would dry up. He said, exactly. He knew his brain was "dried up" and laughed at himself.
So, it seems to me that, as a librarian, I should do something to keep students interested in reading. Nearly all children love books, their pictures, the pages, turning pages, holding the book. Books are treasures to them and I'm the book goddess. As they reach middle school age, first boys, then girls start dropping books and the reading process. I recommend books, keep displays out that highlight both popular books (Wimpy Kid, Underpants Boy), and lists of books. By 8th grade there are those who are done with books and I cannot convince them otherwise.

Writing this blog has determined my goal for next school year: Keeping books alive, keeping reading alive, keeping that perusal of printed matter going, and keeping brain achievement alive for the rest of their lives. 

Reading as personal pleasure. Reading to develop professionally. Reading for the joy it brings. Reading for a glimpse of human truths, both beautiful and ugly, considering their truths in order to make a difference in the world. In my personal setting (Catholic school), reading to enhance spiritual growth.

Reading is a wonder. I want to be part of a child's discovery and maintenance of this wonder. I'm looking forward to a good year!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Addendum: Those bad roots!

At the end of my last post, I described this root system that destroys plants. It seems to exist independently of actual plants that are attached to roots and is simply an entity of its own--just roots. It is very pervasive, determined, and very destructive.

Here's what it does:
1. Wraps its roots around the root system of another plant.
2. Exudes this product that looks like tiny styrofoam balls found in some potting soils.
3. Totally takes over like in the corporate world.
4. Poisons big chunks of the soil, making it resemble sawdust.
5. Has a root system that grows acros the top couple of inches of soil.
Here's what it looks like (my photos are not very clear)
See the little clumps at the ends of the little tendrils (although that word is too sweet for this hateful root!).
Here is an example of the top couple of inches being turned over, showing how the soil has merged into this amorphous blob.

 This is, believe it or not, a lantana. It's just short and squatty. Normally, lantanas grow prolifically and bloom all summer in those tiny trumpet flowers grouped together to form a cluster. Not this one. This is its third year and never does it bloom. Why? That nasty root system keeps wrapping around the lantana's roots. Now that I've removed them, it will try, but will show flower buds that won't bloom!

I've tried to tell a story here: one of vicious, pernicious behavior, one of destruction and murder. I've tried to build empathy for the plants in its path and a vivid picture of the root's own suffocating path, but at long last--and probably only temporarily, I have uprooted (at least in places!) and removed this fiend!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why do I need to work all time?

Summer, ah, summer, that time of rest and relaxation, renewal, refreshment--OK, well, maybe for other people. I seem to have lost the ability to relax and renew. I am stuck in the workaholic mode.

I spent a total of 40 years as a teacher or librarian and lots and lots of school children. Ah, I remember--in my youth--hearing that such and such had taught for 40 years before retiring. I thought--again, at the time--that anyone who spent that long teaching, that, well, something was wrong with them. I mean, come on, 40 years?!!

Now that I am now that teacher, I just want to know where the years went. Where? And why didn't I do something else. Was it destiny? Lethargy? Fear of the unknown? Love of the job? I don't know. I did look and found a couple of things, but at the last moment, returned to the classroom. Once I was offered a job as a flight attendant with a major airline and turned it down at the last minute and returned to the lesser paying job of English teacher. Another time I could have taken a pay cut as a publicist for a national motel chain. Chickened out on that one. Lesser pay? You've got to be kidding!

In August I will return for my 41st year as a teacher, this time my seventh year as a librarian. For the first time ever, I kind of look forward to it. Maybe cooler weather will return.

But to the point at hand: This is the sixth week of summer and I have spent the entire time painting my house. I've owned it (with the bank) for nearly seven years and this is its first new coat of paint. Actually, my house has vinyl siding. I know it is silly and anti-productive to paint vinyl siding, but I tell you the siding is pale yellow, maybe you will understand. Frankly, I don't like yellow, especially pale yellow. Additionally, it is paired with chocolate. Yep, my house was pale yellow and chocolate, the color combination I most dislike in  house color. Plus, dark green doors and grill work in front and peach shutters (my doing). Ug, I am so tired at looking at those colors and --

Since I plan to live here until the end, I want to live in a house with pleasing colors (to my eyes), even on vinyl. Sooooo, I picked a nice lavender for the siding, a deep grayish purple for the gutters, and a pleasant, cool, low-key chartreuse for the door and shutters. I love how everything looks now! Here are some before and after shots:


Not only have I been painting, but I am digging out this horrid root system in ALL my flower beds and vegetable garden. The thing has these hairy roots with little balls which wrap around any other "invading" root system (you know, flowers, vegetables, even new trees) and tries to suffocate it by poisoning the soil. This root system sucks out all the nutrients in the soil, hoping to kill the invader. Any flower, if it doesn't die, just sits there and does not grow. It just exists. Weird--

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An affair of the heart and mind--

I have so many books in my house--more books than any one else I know. I mean, I have a huge personal library with bookcases in every room. Take that literally! Actually, multiple bookcases in most rooms.

OK, what's my point? I picked up a book the other day and sat down with it. I haven't looked at this book in several years. It's  William Faulkner: The Cofield Collection. After reading the caption(s) on each page and studying every picture over a couple of days, I wrote a review on Amazon, which follows:

"I bought "William Faulkner: The Cofield Collection" in that little bookstore in the town square in Oxford, Mississippi some 20 years ago. It's been one of my treasures, a book that I've looked through time and time again and used to show photographs of Faulkner to my high school English classes when we read something by him. In re-organizing my house this summer, I found this treasure and finally sat down and read the captions and studied the photographs page by page as they reflect his life year by year. What I wish is that every devotee of Faulkner had a copy of their own. It has certainly revived my interest in Faulkner's fiction yet again.
What does a writer look like? Where does he come from? What are his influences? What was Faulkner the man like? His interests? His loves? What made Faulkner, well, Faulkner? Cofield, another Oxford resident, actually touches on the answers through this pictorial essay, but note: There is not one whit of gossipy information.
Starting with the preface by the one responsible for this particular photographic volume (there are other volumes) and ending with a wonderful, full-page, half-smile close-up of Faulkner, a succinct but revealing eulogy, and a genealogy chart, this book swept me through Faulkner's life, almost as if I was there.
Quick now: What did you learn about Faulkner by studying the photographs and reading each accompanying brief caption? In no particular order:

1. Faulkner was a horseman. Jack Cofield, fourth-generation photographer and curator of this book, states that Faulkner would have been a fine veterinarian.
2. Faulkner was a very private man (I knew that but not the extent). Example: He would not have gone to Sweden to accept his Nobel Prize. His wife Estelle convinced him to take their college-age daughter Jill and make it an European tour. He agreed to that. There's a photo of him as he works on his acceptance speech during the flight over.
3. He and his animal groomer had a mutual admiration and respect for each other. In fact, Andrew had his own horse for his own personal use. Faulkner had many spills during his riding days. The last one led indirectly to his death when he was 65 years old.
4. Faulkner considered himself a moderate in race relations. It annoyed him to no end to be called a racist.
5. Although I loved all the photographs, one really stood out: that of the swollen river most likely the river in "As I Lay Dying." The very idea of Anse trying to cross that river was sheer madness. But no, he really had his own hidden agenda and it was not to fulfill his dead wife's last vengeful request.
6. The photos of Faulkner and Estelle have always bothered me. Their poses show them as having a restrained relationship, but now I see them as witness to his demand for privacy. She does give him a goodbye hug before he and Jill leave for Sweden.
7. The family asked for privacy--and got it--for his funeral.

Taking this photographic journey through a favorite writer's life was a pleasure. I have stood in that town square, walked the path up to Rowan Oak, oogled the wall where he wrote notes for the time line in one of his novels, viewed his old shoes under his bed. The photos in the book reflect those images. One cannot always stand in a special place, taking in surroundings, wondering this, that, and the other. However, a book of photographs is the next best thing to being there.
"The Cofield Collection" is a true treasure that I can re-visit any time I want."

That ends the review. But more happened. I kept thinking about Faulkner and felt a strong desire to dig out all my Faulkner books and read the ones I haven't read and reread the ones I have. So now I'm beginning my own Faulkner marathon, beginning with his third book, "Sartoris," or the book which piqued his own interest in serious writing. He loved how his characters stood up on their own legs and looked around (that's a paraphrase). He had created a livng being he could control. How he controlled them and what they had to say and do and live and act are things he loved.

When someone (ignorantly--my own word) accuses Faulkner of racism, I know that person has not carefully read Faulkner's works, if at all. In "Sartoris" he infuses his black characteris with humanity and realness.

I will say more after I finish reading "Sartoris." The point I want to make in this blog is how careful a reader should be.

I also want to say that maybe, in your senior years, you might want to fall in love with a favorite writer of your youth all over again. I know I have---

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Update for blueberry farm

It is just about time for blackberry picking in Louisiana. My favorite place to pick is Shuqualak (sugar-lok) Farms. I'm writing this update because people are looking for places to go. I'm getting several clicks a day about my blog written last year.

I received a post card (I'm on their mailing list) about prices and availability. I am SO disappointed that a notice at the bottom of the card reads: "U-pick closed for 2011." No reason cited. One of the reasons I chose this particular place is the opportunity for self-picking. I love that--it brings back memories of childhood and summers and grandparents.

Anyway, I like this farm, the people who own and run it, the product. I will return, but I will also look for another place to go out into the fields, under the hot, blazing sun, and pick my own blackberries.

Shuqualak Farms: From Shreveport, take I-49 South, then Exit 186 to Highway 175, go North 2 miles. Turn right on Gravel Point Road, then right at the farm. Their phone number is 318-797-8273. The owners are Broox and Judy Harris. Open June 4-July 4.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The trouble with neighbors

"Good fences make good neighbors." Taken from the poem "Fences" by Robert Frost. (As a side note: Is it true that writers, by the very nature of their occupation--and I use the word both economically and metaphorically)--a breed apart, a breed most difficult to live with?) But that's an aside and better treated later.

My point is literal: good neighbors and not-so-good neighbors. Like Scarlett O'Hara, I consider land sacrosanct, If it's mine, ask before coming on it. Of course, if you're going to knock on my door, please do so without permission, but step back and don't present a threatening presence in my face when I open the door (although I always look out before opening). This is simple courtesy and an indicator of safety rules being followed in today's society.

My land juts down to the bayou--my house at the top of a 35 degree slope. My deck has steps that go down to what I call "Down Below." The man, two owners before me, built up this slope, leveled it off, and installed a swimming pool, meaning the top of my hill is flat. Imagine my surprise and deep dismay to open the gate to go "Down Below to work in my garden which is established along that incline only to discover a couple sitting just beyond my garden along the bayou fishing.

All I could think to say was: "I beg your pardon." The young man, maybe early college, turned and said, "Yes, m'am?" (That's how we talk and behave in the South towards people older than we are) No movement to move, no scurrying. Just "Yes, M'am?" as if he had every right to be there.

"Who are you and why are you in my yard?" I still maintained my composure.

"We're fishing. We always fish along the banks and have since we were little kids." He told me he was my neighbor's grandson. He explained that all the kids along the bayou had fished like buddies all these years. I wanted to say, well, not in the eight years I've lived here because I had never seen him up close. I maintain a casual, neighborly relation with the older man who lives next door. He is my mother's age. His wife died not long after I moved in. He and I used to chat the first couple of years, then he began having trouble walking and had to rely on one of that little walking devices. You know, you lean on its handles and its legs walk with you. It's basically a stabilizer. My mother now sometimes uses one.

Even though I saw the grandkids only from a distance, I could hear them every summer, all summer on the other side of the wooden fence, playing. laughing, and splashing in his swimming pool. I used to laugh with them at their antics, so basically I knew this young man. OK, I said, fish ahead.

I don't know who lighted up, but the smell of cigarette smoke disgusted me. Should I say something? I held my tongue, jumped up and went to the nearby nursery to purchase a few more plants. Lo and behold, let me repeat, lo and behold, when I returned, it wasn't just two of them--I bet there were a dozen people sitting in my back yard (Down Below) along the bank, fishing, and one even casting a net for crawfish. I thought, Oh my goodness! What the heck do I do now?

Luckily, the neighbor's son, with whom I have had many little chats, was there. A more even-keeled man you could not find. Someone asked, Do you want us to go? Well, yes, I did. I was about to do more digging and I didn't care for them to hear me grunt and groan as I worked--and yes, talk out loud to myself. I didn't say anything, but the son did, and they all dispersed. He stayed and we talked gardening and possums and raccoons and snakes for a while.

So far, the story ends well. If I go back down and find my garden all torn up, that will be another ending. But here's the kicker and the reason I maintained my cool: My older neighbor was the first person to move in a house on the street in this new subdivision way back 40 years ago. He had the developer change the initial property line. Imagine you're standing on the street right between the houses. Wouldn't you think that the line would go right between the two? Well, it does not. The neighbor in what I call a horrible act of selfishness had the developer slant that line to give him more of the bayou. His property line takes in a good third of what should be my back yard and, conversely, one-third of his front yard is "mine." You see what a hideous problem it is?

That owner who put in the swimming pool also built a pool house  as if the reasonable line were there. The entire back quarter of the pool house is on his legal property. And the dividing fence the previous owner of my house put up?--entirely on my neighbor's property!

My neighbor informed me of the property problems early on and has never said another word about any of it since then, but you may understand my reluctance to demand anything yesterday. Besides, pleasantness is always better and he has always been helpful to me!

If anyone reads this and has any suggestion about any legal way I can change the property line, I would be so happy to hear/read them!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Childhood's End--a classic sci-fi novel, but also apocalyptic

Childhood's End (Del Rey Impact)"Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke is one of those unforgettable novels. Nearly sixty years after it was written, the novel remains on student reading lists and sits among the classics, not only of science fiction, but also provocative literature.

For what is better than a novel which demands thought and a resulting discussion? Even though reading is a solitary experience, discussing novels creates a communal experience. "Childhood's End" provides great shared experience of many minds focused on one book.

That's just it: "Childhood's End" is more than science fiction--it is also apocalyptic, but most importantly, and, appropos to this discussion, it is a novel of ideas. The irony is how many of Clarke's ideas, or at least some form of his ideas, have come to fruition.

Case in point: the hit television series "V" features two of his visions: the Overlords ("aliens") and a hidden agenda. In "Childhood's End" Clarke focuses on one family: a mother and a father and two young children, who come to represent the uninitiated, the pure or nearly pure of mind (depending on age), the modeling clay, metaphorically speaking. For gradually, each child learns new skills which develop into powers.

In "V" the aliens have come for dark purposes; in "Childhood's End" for birthing purposes. Each time I taught this novel at the high school level, I always felt so sad at the end, when the children merged to become something else. It is this something else that I am here to review.

Note: Spoilers ahead!

In the last couple of years there has been much talk, much speculation, much re-examination of history and the Bible. Many believe the earth as we know it will end in 2012, according to the Mayan calendar system. Many talk of wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, the world in chaos, signifying that the Rapture is near and Christians will be taken up to Heaven, leaving nonbelievers on Earth to face what will come. There are second chances.

Clarke proposed some 60 years ago a scenario of the end. The physical world was the Earth with people still in chaos. The Overlords bring peace and prosperity. What they don't know is that this peace allows for the development of ESP and other paranormal activities of the children to heighten, then develop. There are even hints of "Lord of the Flies" with the movement of the children to a central location to become. Finally, their minds cocoon and when they leave their bodies, they join the Overmind "out there." Their leaving the Earth pulls out all energy and the Earth--pow! is obliterated.

Although Clarke is proposing something much grander than death and destruction, or even deconstruction--a figurative and possibly a literal joining with the Overmind as a wonderful thing. The movie version even shows a giant fetus, almost fully developed, floating in space, as if in preparation for the next phase of existence.

Although Clarke eschewed religion, allowing only possibly for a mild form of Buddhism, his final image of a pure mind about to join a super mind does have biblical overtones.

Reading and discussing with others ideas contained in a work of literature is a very communal experience. It brings people together for a sharing and exchange of ideas. It opens minds to new possibilities, or in a contrary manner, tears us further apart.  I offer this review as a gift--my mind to yours and whatever may happen afterward.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Witches of Worm
Note: I've been away from my blog for several months now, working on other things. I'm back.

"The Witches of Worm" was selected as an Honor book as part of the 1973 Newbery Awards.  As with any awards or honors bestowed at set intervals, I sometimes question choices. This time, not! "The Witches of Worm" deserves its honor.

In fact, "The Witches of Worm" is shockingly good. It's a thriller for children ages 9-12, the target audience of the Newbery books. The only reason this book is in the children's section is that the main character is 12 years old. In fact, this book is transitional to the young adult category which can visit more controversial subject matter, which is the case here.

Witches. Hmmm, an unusual topic for children 9-12. Jessica checks out from the public library a book about the witches of Salem. She's reading it in her favorite place--a nook, a cave in the face of a hill near the apartment she shares with her mother. Twilight comes. Then a rustle, then a mew. There's a tiny kitten wriggling along the dirt. Where did it come from? Where is its mother? And those eyes, or lack of eyes. What's wrong with it? But the landlady is a cat lover, so Jessica scoops it up to show Mrs. Fortune, a woman who knows, let's say, many things.

Thus begins "The Witches of Worm." Mrs. Fortune almost forces the kitten on Jessica, to her care, although Jessica has never liked cats. The kitten is not eyeless--it's just a kitten whose eyes have not yet opened. Jessica must feed it every two hours and wipe its bottom. Jessica calls it Worm because it wiggles like a worm and is also hairless. It's an Abyssinian, according to Mrs. Fortune, the hairless Egyptian cat. You see? Mrs. Fortune knows many things.

Are you beginning to feel the hairs along the back of your neck shiver just the tiniest bit?
Jessica spends much of her free time alone. Her former best friend, Brandon, who also lives in the small apartment building, has moved on to male buddies and trumpet lessons. Her two best girl friends are also gone. And Joy, her beautiful mother? She spends her evenings elsewhere with Alan, her newest boyfriend who is talking commitment (but not as a father).

That leaves Jessica and Worm. Worm, Worm, Worm, that troublesome cat. Why, he has begun to talk to Jessica, invade her thoughts, make her do things. Joy finally has Jessica talk to the school counselor who gives her a photo as basis for a psychological story, a story that becomes profoundly disturbing. The photo, a black and white, shows a baby on a blanket near an older woman. As Jessica describes the story, several people come along. The baby's not theirs. Then the old woman leaves. It's not her baby either. No one knows who the baby is, where it belongs, or why it's there. Finally, someone covers it up. End of story.

This is not a book for the tender-hearted. In fact, as librarian, I would put this book only into the hands of that upper age group, as a provocative book meant for a mature reader. I don't want to reveal anything more, except to declare there is a "happy" ending to this story about serious things. There's redemption but without the hammer of didacticism.

Julie of the Wolves (rack)For such a powerful book, why didn't "The Witches of Worm" win the gold medal in 1973? Julie of the Wolves did. Gold and Honor--yep, a mighty combination. Both are must-reads!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shooting Kabul

Shooting Kabul (Paula Wiseman Books)I am often very kind in my assessment of particular books because of their purpose. Such is the case with Shooting Kabul by newcomer to writing, N. H. Senzai, who grew up in San Francisco and Saudi Arabia. She tells the reader it is a story that had to be told, one that continued to niggle at the back of her head until she got it out.

Shooting Kabul is loosely based on her husband as a child and his family leaving Afghanistan because of the Taliban. It involves degrees in agriculture earned in the United States and a return to Afghanistan to improve farming techniques. After the Taliban's return to primitivism and total control of government and culture, the family's efforts (and efforts of many other families) were no longer wanted. It became unsafe to stay, thus a dark-of-night escape to asylum in the United States.

But that's not why I gave this book five stars. The writing, plotting, characters, plot conflicts--all would rate four stars. Ends are too conveniently tied and plot events are manipulated. But guess what? I don't care.  Here's why Shooting Kabul is a five-star book for children 9-12 and any older audience who wants to know more about Afghan culture.

1. The novel provides an up-close look at a typical Afghan family, actually, a Pukhtun family. The Pukhtuns make up the largest ethnic group of the Afghan peoples, comprising 42 percent of the population. The reader learns a little about religion, language, food, daily habits, family life. A "little" means just enough to weave into the story without overdoing it. The glossary of unfamiliar names and Afghan factos is included in the back of the book, as well as a further reading list.
Extra Credit
(Extra Credit is one of the recommended books, a book I recently reviewed.)

2. The plot is timed during the Sept. 11 attack on American soil, thus "forcing" American attacks on the Muslim people in American and how they dealt with those attacks.

3. Friendships that cross racial and religious lines. Both Fadi, the main character, and his older sister, form relationships with others: Fadi with a Chinese-American classmate and his sister with an Anglo.

4. Good family relations. Children cannot possibly get enough examples of good family relationships in life or books.

5. A photography component. Fadi's father Habib taught him how to photograph while they were in Afghanistan and gave him his old Minolta camera. In San Francisco Fadi joins the photography club in his middle school and enters a competition with one of his photographs. Seeing photography as an art form being promoted is a real boon for this book.

The most serious problem in the novel is the loss of the youngest child, Miriam, while the family is leaving by dark-of-night. During the mad rush to climb into the escape truck, Miriam is left behind. A six-year-old girl. There was no turning back with the Taliban hot on their trail. One of the prizes of the photography contest is a trip with a let's-call-it-National-Geographic photographer to one of three countries for a photography shoot (with a parent, of course). One of the countries is India. Fadi believes he can win that trip and find his sister.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would like to see it in the hands of good teachers. librarians, home-schoolers, and parents to begin a dialogue to improve American-Muslim relations.

Shooting Kabul? A photography term, of course, to tie all components together. Fadi and his dad "shot" many photographs of their city in Afghanistan, starting his love of photography and the twist it plays in the story.

The inimitable Mr. Clements

Extra CreditAllow me a bold statement: Andrew Clements is, quite simply, an excellent writer--among the very best for children! His earlier novel for older children (9-12 and above), Frindle, WAS his best creation, but now, I'm thinking that Extra Credit belongs right there on the shelf next to Frindle as Clements' tour de force novel.

Frindle is about the creative impulse and the impetus behind an idea to make it FLOW. Yet--when Clements made me get down on the floor in this novel and "see" those mountains-- wow, there are no words to express that moment of discovery that makes Abby see those mountains with Sadeed.

Abby Carson is a sixth grader in the middle of the year, who is advised that she will probably need to repeat sixth grade. Her scores are just too low and she has shown no signs of improving or even wanting to improve. Such a fear becomes her wake-up call. Please, what can I do? An extra credit project--write to a pen pal and create a display of your letters on the bulletin board.

So Abby gets a pen pal in Afghanistan--a pen pal chosen by the village elders. They pick Sadeed because his English and his writing skills are the best of all pupils in the village--however, Afghan culture prevents boys and girls from communicating, so his younger sister becomes the front as the letter writer.

Cultural differences await and will spill over into each other's neighborhood, becoming the focus of a situational divide. That is absolutely all I can reveal about this deeply impacting short novel. If I were in the classroom, I would make Extra Credit required reading.

Reasons why this novel should be read by middle school students:
1. It's an excellent story.
2. The implications cause the reader to consider his/her own life in comparison
3. It's a great cultural introduction to a totally different way of life
4. It teaches geography and a bit of history
5. By happenstance, it raises the issue of compassion and encourages the reader to stretch one's sense of unique place in the universe

Bottom line: Extra Credit is most highly recommended!

Frindle  I also highly recommend Frindle as a wonderful addition to school, classroom, and personal libraries.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Messin' with a classic!

Soooo, we're really going there? We're gonna change that ever-awful, offensive N- word to "slave?" "N-" (I can never ever bring myself to write that word, even in a blog for academic support of a classic): (from
1. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive.

a. a black person.
b. a member of any dark-skinned people.
2. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. a person of any race or origin regarded as contemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc.
When Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884, he used the first sense of the word: "a black person," the "acceptable" term of the time, although Twain probably used the word sardonically. After all, the most contemptible people in the Midwest and South are treated in his novel with only the slightest humor and more with Juvenalian satire, contemptuously, revealing their callous and inhumane selves.

As long as Huck and Jim, the "N" of the narrative, are on their raft, in the arms of the mighty Mississippi, they are safe. Touch land, touch evil. Meet it in the flesh. When Huck decides to go to Hell by freeing Jim, he shows his true color (pardon the pun). One of the kindest, most compassionate characters in literature is Jim.

"Slave": (from
1. a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; a bond servant. 
Technically, within context of the novel set during the time of slavery, Jim could be referred to as a slave, but that changes Twain's intent: satire. Satire is a hard master and only readers with the strongest stomachs can take this tonic/toxin. The way of life of the South with people as slaves--as property, as subjects to others--was certainly offensive, abusive, murderous. How else to lull the sensibilities of ignorant, racist readers if not with the practice of the "n-" word. Did Twain know he would one day  offend? That's not the question: Did he care? The novel and Twain's use of the "n" word are part of American history as reflected in its literature.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Original Unabridged VersionHuckleberry Finn stands as it is. Leave it alone. If not, what's next? The Bible?

 For further discussion of using the "n" word in a class setting:


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Wynton Marsalis

I have long followed the career of Wynton Marsalis, a New Orleans native. I just viewed a "60 Minutes" segment, featuring Marsalis in Cuba. Everywhere he goes, he teaches the importance of music, especially as it applies to children. His main thrust--after the music, of course-- is spreading a love of jazz.  Wynton Marsalis is a national treasure through his promotion of the arts, music in particular.

Here are some ways to get to know Wynton Marsalis:
Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your LifeClassic WyntonBlack CodesMarsalis on MusicJazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits with Art Print

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.