Allison's Book Bag

Just over a year ago, inspired by the Academy Awards who annually during the Oscars recognize those entertainers who have died, I decided to start paying tribute here to those authors for young people whose loss will be felt in the literary world. One that stands out to me is that of Bonnie Christensen, who died of ovarian cancer at just age 63, because I had the opportunity to interview her through email.

After the photo collage, you’ll find a list of each author whom we have lost in 2015. If the author had a website, I added the link to the author’s name. Besides the name is a description of the works that made the author famous. On the next line, I added a photo credit. If I’ve reviewed any books by the author, I added a note on the third line, along with any relevant links.

Authors_2015

  1. Marcia Brown, a three-time Caldecott Medalist and six-time Caldecott Honor illustrator, as well as winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for the body of her work.
    Photo Credit: NY Times, Marcia Brown, 96, Dies
  2. Bonnie Christensen, picture book author
    Photo Credit: School Library Journal, Celebrated Author and Illustrator Dies
    You can read my review of one of her books here: A Single Pebble
  3. Ellen Conford, award-winning author of Annabel the Actress and Jenny Archer series. Her children’s book And This is Laura and the story Revenge of the Incredible Dr. Rancid and His Youthful Assistant, Jeffrey became ABC Weekend Specials, while her young adult novels Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate became an ABC Afterschool Special and The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations was a CBS Schoolbreak Special.
    Photo Credit: Publishers Weekly, Obituary
  4. Gene Kemp, British author best-known for her children’s books
    Photo Credit: Love Reading 4 Kids
  5. Mal Peet, author who came to children’s fiction at age 52, and is best-known for the books Keeper, Tamar, and Exposure
    Photo Credit: Mal Peet, About.
  6. Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series
    Photo Credit: Terry Pratchett, Home.
    You can read a selection of the many tributes to him here: Tributes
  7. Vera Williams, children’s book author and illustrator, artist, educator, and social activist
    Photo Credit: Publisher’s Weekly, Obituary

The above list is based on searching many web pages for reports about those young people’s authors we lost in 2015. If you know of others I missed, please add them in the comments. Thank you!

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartolli looks beyond the tabloid scandal of Mary’s life. This well-researched narrative provides an objective yet sympathetic portrayal of not only Mary but also of the other main players in the drama that become Mary’s life. Scientific beliefs of the time about germs are explored, as well as the issue of human and civil rights. An absorbing read, this text of less than 200 words both informed and intrigued me.

One admirable aspect of Terrible Typhoid Mary is the balance that Bartolli achieves in her depiction of Mary. On one hand, here is a cook who prides herself on the quality of her food along with the cleanliness of both the preparation and clean-up of meals. On the other hand, here is a carrier of typhoid who refuses to allow doctors to take samples of her urine, feces, and blood. Not only that, but Mary becomes brutish and violent when anyone tries to approach her with suggestions about how she might take proper precautions to avoid being a carrier. How does one reconcile these two sides of Mary? Bartolli shares how Mary’s past might have led her to show extreme caution, as well notes that many people (even today) remain skeptical of the medical and scientific community.

Besides Mary, another significant character is George Soper. A sanitary engineer at the time, he was often hired to improve living conditions and public health and to try to prevent the outbreak of epidemics. On the one hand, here is a conscientious man dedicated to finding the truth. Just as important, he is also passionate about protecting society. On the other hand, here is a man who believes that in find a healthy carrier of typhoid, he just might be on the verge of a medical breakthrough that could make him famous. How does on reconcile those two sides of Soper? Bartolli shares letters from the sanitary engineer that show him as originally sympathetic of Mary as well as that over time reveal his growing confusion over how anyone presented with facts could choose to ignore them.

Another admirable aspect of Terrible Typhoid Mary is how well-grounded it is in an accurate setting. A complaint that I sometimes have about historical accounts, especially those which are portrayed on the screen, is how they ignore beliefs of the time to make a point. In contrast, Bartolli takes time to explain the varying viewpoints about the germ theory that had existed before the 1900’s, some of which may have influenced how ones reacted to Mary. She also makes clear how risky and uncertain treatments for typhoid were back in Mary’s day, and so why Mary may have been reluctant to listen to doctors. In addition, Bartolli takes time to explain the legal powers in place in the early 1900’s, ones which allowed the medical community to imprison Mary on a secluded island, but which would not have allowed such a practice today. While Bartolli does point the questions which arose about the ethical treatment of Mary, she never imposes our modern-day values on any of the characters.

That Terrible Typhoid Mary is accurate in setting will come as no surprise to anyone who looks at the book’s back page. Over twenty-five pages are dedicated to crediting sources and providing additional reading lists. Moreover, not only is a source provided for pretty much every page and every chapter but Bartolli also elaborates on the text. As for the additional reading lists, there are ones about Mary, George Soper, typhoid and other diseases, public health law, and even about tabloid journalism. Wow!

Bartolli has won honors and awards for her various nonfiction books. If Terrible Typhoid Mary is an example of the quality of her work, I can understand the accolades. For anyone interested in reading the story behind the tabloid scandal of Mary’s life, Bartolli has offered an excellent option.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

The author of poetry, picture books, novels, and nonfiction for young people, Susan Campbell Bartoletti didn’t know that she’d grow up to be a writer. Bartoletti grew up liking books, stories, and art. The latter she majored in, but then switched to a teaching career which she pursued for eighteen years. How then did become the award-winning author she is today?

SusanBartolettiBorn in Pennsylvania, Bartoletti’s life started with early tragedy. She lost her dad only two months after her birth. However, after kindergarten, her mom remarried. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Bartoletii not only wrote and drew, but she also explored nature, rode horses, and raised a variety of animals.

In school, Bartoletti most liked her art classes. So much so that she elected to study art in college. Yet Bartoletti also liked to read. When in 7th grade, Bartoletti writes in her Biography, the middle school librarian told her, “You have read the library out.” In college, Bartoletti also filled her schedule with literature classes. In middle school, she also discovered a passion to write. Bartoletti made such progress in writing that she became the editor of her school newspaper by eighth grade.  She took creative writing classes for the first time in college, as well as interned at a local newspaper. But art remained her focus. She switched to creative writing only after realizing the harsh competition on the drawing field and receiving praise from her creative writing professor. She then decided to major in English and Secondary Education instead.

All of these things changed Bartoletti’s mind on what she wanted to be and yet a writing career would still be years down the road. In her sophomore year, Bartoletti married her husband, a history teacher. Within days of her graduation, Bartoletti was offered a job teaching eighth grade English, which she accepted.

When Bartoletti accepted, she thought that teaching was going to be a short term job. It turns out, she was wrong. For the next eighteen years, she taught eighth grade. “It seems funny now,” Bartoletti tells Scholastic, “I never intended to teach, but kids are easy to get hooked on—even junior high kids.”

Bartoletti’s students wrote poems, stories, and essays. They researched, wrote, and illustrated their own nonfiction picture books. And, as her students grew as writers, they inspired Bartoletti. She joined a writer’s group and got serious about her own writing. At her Biography, Bartoletti credits her students with “… helping me find my voice and my audience—and lighting a passionate desire that would lead me to writing books for young readers.”

In 1989 she sold her first short story in 1989, followed by her first picture book in 1992. For the next several years, she got up at 4 a.m., in order to have time to work on her writing before she left for school. By 1997, Bartoletti was achieving success as a writer. She had published short stories, picture books, and her first nonfiction book, along with having a novel and another nonfiction book under contract. Scholastic quotes Bartoletti, “I knew the time had come for a difficult decision: either teach full-time or write full-time. I already had one career that I loved – teaching. Was it time for another? Could I make it as a full-time writer?”

“Leap and the net will appear,” her friend told her.

And so Bartoletti did.

Today Bartoletti resides in Pennsylvania with her husband and their pets. The couple have two grown children. Bartoletti also writes, teaches writing classes for Master of Arts programs at various universities, and leads workshops offered through the Highlights Foundation. Her work has received dozens of awards and honors.

You can read a fun biography of her from a student at: Nonfiction Author Studies

The Place Where You Live by James Luna is an easy-to-read attractive picture book with a universal message of what makes a place a home. The simple rhyming text contains a recurring refrain and feels comfortable to read. Vibrant illustrations lovingly celebrate families and neighborhoods. In addition, although I would have appreciated seeing even more of them, there are some multicultural elements.

On one level, this is a pleasant and enjoyable book. The first page contains just this opening line: “This is the place where you live.” Each subsequent page expands on that sentiment. The place where you live comes alive in the morning with hot chocolate and warm foods. It includes the family garden, neighbors, the store across the street, as well as of course school. It also includes after school recreation in the form of libraries, parks, baseball fields, and even a street vendor. The place where you live also winds down in the evening with the yard, the porch, and the loving arms of family. Each spread contains a soft-pink background and boasts cheery folks and blue skies. Over all, wonderful thoughts wrapped in warm colors!

All these compliments aside, there are other aspects to consider. First, will this book stand out in a sea of other picture books? For younger readers, I think an overwhelming yes. The limited text, reassuring repetition of the line “here in the place where you live,” and the lavish colors should have high appeal. Older readers, who have not yet graduated on to chapter books, might wish for more of a story line.

Second, as a reviewer of multicultural books, I have to wonder about the diversity. English text is placed at the top, followed by Spanish text (which according to Kirkus Reviews is a direct translation and loses its rhymed format) at the bottom. The breakfast menu includes tortilla, but otherwise the majority of the foods are American. In fact, nothing about the text really stands out as being diverse. The place where you live could be my neighborhood, your neighborhood, or the neighborhood of the author or the illustrator.

The Place Where You Live was chosen by Texas children as the winner of the 2012 Tajas Star Book Award. Books on the award list are intended to encourage children ages 5-12 to explore multicultural books and to discover the cognitive and economic benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism. The Place Where You Live is a light-hearted picture book that doesn’t particularly teach anything about other cultures, but will positively promote the feeling of belonging to a community and to family.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

AwwwMondays-Puppy-AvatarWith our household of critters having expanded to include three cats and a dog, I thought it fitting to join a meme related to pets. After searching around, I came across Awww….. Mondays. The one rule is: “Post a picture that makes you say Awww…. and that’s it.” Every photo seemed to feature a pet and so the meme is a perfect fit!

Now that you know how the Cat Trio and the Solo Dog became my family, let me back up and tell you some of their individual adventures. Cinder is probably the one who had to most adjust to the new family members. She came to our home in time to usher in the year 2014. For two years, she had my husband, our dog, and me all to herself.

In this time, Cinder naturally grew used to quiet and uninterrupted meals. Also, if you didn’t count Barnaby, she was the only one coaxing for food. Cinder also liked to sleep wherever she wanted. Normally, that did not involve sleeping our the bed with us. To convince her to come anywhere near the bed at night, I had to lure her with treats. Even then, half the night, she preferred the tower in the living room or a spot by a window anywhere else in the house. Why not? She knew that whenever she wanted, she could get our attention.

Despite her disliking to snuggle, she did enjoy playtime with Andy and me. Cinder and I would run around the house, under and over furniture. My main obstacle, for which I felt bad, happened when Cinder would run behind furniture. Normally, I couldn’t squeeze into those narrow spaces. Well, another obstacle occured on those days when she decided to dart to the top of her tower. I couldn’t reach that high, a problem that Andy solved by buying a stool for me. From those heights, Cinder enjoyed wrestling with Andy and me.

When the other cats arrived, everything changed. Even though we gave all three separate eating areas, Rainy didn’t respect those boundaries. Should she deign to grace us with her presence at bedtime, Cinder could no longer trust that our bed would be available for just her. Finally, there was the matter that now two other cats wanted to play with her owners, with Barnaby, with her….

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Cinder turned into a sourpuss. That naturally led us to correct and scold her more, which led her to even further retreat. In response, we tried to push her into accepting more attention, which didn’t go over well either. Then one day, Andy and I talked, and we make two decisions. First, we began acting cheerful all the time to see her. Second, we backed off demanding time with her. And, miraculously, these two decisions seemed to make a difference. After a long day of Cinder hiding out in the basement, Cinder bounded up the stairs to play with us and the other cats. Our girl had adjusted!

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February: Best Sellers

A new month and a new theme! I've selected a couple older best sellers to review, which my husband and I will both read. I've also selected a few recent best sellers to review. I'll also review books for our local dog club and our local diversity committee. Enjoy the variety!

  • Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog by Mike Dowling
  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan

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Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row.

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