Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘European or European American’ Category

Talon Come Fly With Me by Gigi Sedlmayer is a quiet adventure about a young girl with special needs who befriends two mated condors. While the story suffers from a weak plot and simple writing, it’s also a heartwarming and informative one.

Nine-year-old Matica has a growth handicap that traps her inside a body the size of a two-year-old. It also causes her to be rejected by the residents in the remote village of Peru where she lives with her brother and Australian missionaries. Size however does not impact how she’s viewed by a local mating pair of condors. After a year of her watching them, Matica attempts to meet them face to face. She does this by visiting them in the same place day after day, until one of them becomes curious and flies near her. After this, she brings them dead lizards to eat. As a way of the male bird saying thank you, he flies up to her and allows himself to be touched.

Seldmayer could have easily filled a book with just the above drama, but instead strips her narrative to a few bare-boned chapters. She does the same disservice to Matica’s encounters with poachers, largely because Sedlmayer fails to integrate any tension, conflict, or surprise twists. Instead she relies heavily on a passive narrative laden with dialog. While this simplistic style might make the story more palpable for reluctant readers, it unfortunately left me at times bored.

After Matica has the opportunity to touch a male condor, her relationship expands to include his mate. When poachers attempt to steal a condor egg, the condor couple turn to Matica for help. She carries the egg home with her, where she keeps it warm. Every day the condors check with her to see if their baby has hatched. When the baby is finally born, Matica feeds it, cleans it, and even helps it to learn to fly. The second half of Talon Come Fly With Me is dedicated to Matica’s relationship with the baby condor, and here’s where Seldmayer’s admiration for these unique birds shines through.

Although Matica is a sympathetic character, a story from the viewpoint of the condors alone may have resulted in a stronger emotional connection for me. The condor family are the stars, and through Seldmayer’s detailed portrayal of them, I learned about their idiosyncrasies and their diminishing numbers. Talon Come Fly With Me is a pleasant way to launch one’s reading of nature books, after which one should turn to literary giants of the genre such as Jean Craighead George.

One-Two by Igor Eliseev is an atypical reading experience. Set in Russia in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the USSR has just ended and Russia is still in its infancy, One-Two takes you into the mind of conjoined twins Faith and Hope. The style is at first disconcerting, being told from an alternating first and second person, but in the end feels like the perfect choice. A psychological drama, the novel reflects on how difficult but also how important it is to remain human.

Faith and Hope do not have an easy life. Their own mother, aghast at the sight of them, signed their death certificate. The twins were handed over to one institute and then another as experimental subjects. When the scientists wearied of the twins, they were transferred to boarding school where they experienced some measure of happiness. The windows had no grids, the air smelled of moss and pine, and the twins felt like normal children for the first time. They even developed friendships. Unfortunately, due to a suicide by one of the boarders, their stay was short-lived. The next stop was an orphanage, where once again the twins were viewed as objects of curiosity and sunk into misery. Their one relief was a library and the news that successful operations were being performed to separate conjoined twins. But again, these comforts were short-lived. One-Two is a hard story at times to read, as there seems be no redemption in sight.

But I want redemption for Faith and Hope, who from start to finish I am rooting for. I like who the twins are. They value friendships from their peers, the knowledge to be found in libraries, and the kindness of strangers. They’re also self-aware and know when they are being cowardly or mean, but also how to be strong in the face of relentless suffering and pain. I empathize with the twins who wish for a different appearance, just as many of us are dissatisfied with our looks. Faith grows up knowing the story of the Ugly Duckling by heart, because she wants to undergo a similar transformation. She treasures artwork of a friend who depicts them as beautiful. Whether accurate or not, I find enlightening the insights into life as a conjoined twin. One teacher tells the class that anyone cheating will be seated at separate desks, and Faith laments how impossible that would be. Then there are the constant questions from bystanders of how the two function day-by-day with bodies that are conjoined. Perhaps the most bittersweet is how the twins at times encourage other and at other times wish desperately to be their own person. Finally, I feel abhorrence at their treatment. When the twins take a bus ride, passengers make comments such as they’ll never get used to them and they’ll one day turn into haggish toads. At the orphanage, when staff see them, the twins are told to cover themselves. And these are among the least cruel reactions.

The style is initially what I least cared for. The first person is used when Faith describes her traumatic childhood, and the second person is used when she talks to her conjoined twin. There are times when I wanted to simply stay inside Faith’s head and times when I wanted to know what her sister thought not what Faith said to or about her. At the same time, the technique serves to increase tension, and thereby creates a frightening foreboding. While narrating her story Faith occasionally presents philosophical truths that seemed too mature for her to know at the age being depicted. At the same time, her emotions swing from optimism to despair, and feel agonizingly real. By the novel’s end, I felt as if the author could not have chosen any other way to tell his story.

One-Two by Igor Eliseev is one of those books that need to be reread due to its complexity. The twins manage to struggle past thoughts of revenge, suicide, and other dark emotions to hold on to the belief that their life has been amazing and full of miracle, and therein they teach us how to be human. Upon the initial reading one will grasp the essentials of the plot and the characters, but an additional reading will be needed to fully comprehend all the truths being imparted.

Ever wonder why cats have nine lives? Catatlantis by Anna Starobinets offers one explanation. Good and bad guys dot the landscape of this fun fantasy hailing from Russia. Friendship and romance also mark its chapters. Highly imaginative, Catatlantis is a madcap adventure that kept me enthralled from start to finish.

At first glance, our hero Baguette seems like just another ordinary housecat. He’s well-fed and loved by his human owners. His most outstanding concern is exactly how safe that window ledge on the twelfth floor is. Oh, and whether the slender and striped female neighborhood cat loves him. The family’s dog didn’t understand the allure. Nonetheless, out of respect for the friendship that existed between him and Baguette, the family’s dog agreed to act as a messenger between Baguette and his love. Soon he becomes witness to a marriage proposal, counteracted by a rival suitor, and a challenge. Baguette’s life quickly becomes anything but ordinary, when he travels back in time to find the flowers that once used to allow cats to live nine lives.

The good and bad guys aren’t necessarily whom you’d expect. Yes, the fate of Purriana’s great-great-grandmother lays in Baguette’s paws. But without the help of a spotted cat princess that he encounters in France during his time travels, Baguette might not have discovered the real reason no one can recall what the magical flowers from Catatlantis look like. Just as important to Baguette finding his way back home is a French baker. True, Baguette’s rival suitor is villainous enough to care more about the magical flowers than Purriana. But Baguette finds more than more one bad guy in his jaunts during time such as Trash Man, a sickly yellow-toothed man raised from the dump to defeat Baguette. Just as disturbing are the greedy and arrogant cats that Baguette encounters on the magic island of Catatlantis itself.

At times, Catatlantis is outlandish and even illogical. To travel back in time, Baguette simply stared at a clock and willed time to stop. If time travel were that simple, why hadn’t any other cat performed this trick? On the other hand, Baguette is a descendant of the magic Catlanteans who lived long ago in peace and happiness on the island of Catlantis.  Perhaps this ancestry endowed him with unusual capabilities. Over all, Catatlantis is delightfully weird. Case in point, Purriana’s great-great-grandmother life is not the only one at stake. Should she die in the middle of spring, the whole line of striped cats will die with her.

Author Anna Starobinets is a Russian novelist. Catatlantis is her first children’s book to be translated into English. Referred to as a European classic, Catatlantis should find a home here in America too in the hearts of all lovers of animal stories, folklore, and fantasy.

Gene Lune Yang, the 2017 National Ambassador for Children’s Literature picked the platform “Reading Without Walls”. As part of it, he challenges readers to:

  1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.
  2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.
  3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun.

With these criteria in mind, I’ve started posting roundups once a month on the theme of diversity. This is my third post highlighting picture books about the immigration experience.

We Came to America, written by Faith Ringgold, is dedicated to all the children who have come to America. A refrain emphasize that the children were of different colors, races, and religions. The rest of the text tells readers that the children came by boat and by airplane, and were from every country in the world. Once they arrived in America, they brought their own songs, dances, art, stories, and fashion. A final scene depicts a gathering of diverse children paired with the moral: We are ALL Americans, Just the same.” The text is simple, reminding readers that United States has a multifaceted lineage. My favorite part is the illustrations. Places and faiths are never named in the text. Rather, Americans’ global origins are portrayed through the artwork. Each vibrant two-page spread has a vibrant backdrop, providing contrast for the parade of bold patterns and styles of various traditional attire from across the world.

Their Great Gift by John Coy, with photographs by Wing Young Huie, tells the story of immigrants whose courage and sacrifice provided hope in a new land to their children. The immigrants came from far away to land of plenty. Their journey was difficult. And when they arrived, they faced even more hardships. No one understand what it cost them to move to a new country, work long hours, and shift between languages and customs. There was much about this picture book that I liked. The text is easy to read. One line made me think of my step-mom who came from the Philippines. To this day, she sends from her earnings to her siblings and relatives in her home country. The switch in the narrative from talking about the parents to the children is particularly poignant. Now the young ones are in America, all with their own stories. One line made me think of how rich of a heritage I have from my dad. All of us, wherever our roots, would do well to do the best with the lives our parents gave to us. The end pages include “arrival stories” from the author and the photographer, which are just as touching as the book’s narrative.

Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen contains two parallel stories. The first is of a family who decides to move to America. The dad says that life will be better across the ocean. There will be no more burning of houses, killing of family livestock, and taking sons into the army without permission. But to have this better life, the family must give up their home, their names, their language, and everything familiar to them. They must also endure long train rides and filthy packed boats. The second story is of M. Edouard de Laboulaye, who lives in France, and wants to celebrate America’s birthday in a big way. He decides to build a memorial to their independence, a monument that we now know as the Statue of Liberty. The nonfiction text serves as both a lovely account of Yolen’s parents’ immigration experiences and of the origins of Liberty’s journey. I’d recommend it for older readers due to the demanding style. The narrative is presented as stanzas even though it does not read as poetry. In addition, the vocabulary is complex. The end pages provide a little more background to both stories, along with details about Yolen’s research.

Stick up for what you know is right. This land was made for you and me.—Woody Guthrie

This Land is Your Land is a picturesque version of the famous folk song by Woody Guthrie. Although I am Canadian, this song has long been a favorite of mine. It’s also of late become a protest song for those who support immigration, and so seemed appropriate to include in a round-up of books about immigration. The detailed paintings by Kathy Jakobsen burst with color and invite readers on a lively journey across the United States. In several multi-paneled spreads, Guthrie is shown carrying his guitar from landmark to landmark and coast to coast. Some of the spreads are also bordered with geometric corners that contain hand-lettered snippets of Guthrie lyrics and quotes. The end pages contain a tribute by Pete Seeger, who played with Guthrie, and an illustrated biography of Guthrie. The musical score and lyrics to the song are also provided. A real keepsake!

Yang concludes his “Reading Without Walls” challenge by encouraging readers to take a photo of themselves and their books and post to social media. In doing so, he says, readers will inspire others. Will you join me over the next year in reading books that take you outside your comfort zone?

 

According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.—Open Doors

Persecution of Christians is a topic I don’t often hear about, but the above quote shows that it happens more than most of us probably realize. For that reason, I decided to read Hearts of Fire, which tells the story of “eight women in the underground church and their stories of costly faith”. The book is a publication of Voice of Martyrs, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting the persecuted church worldwide.

There are many aspects I appreciate about this riveting collection. The eight women featured come from different countries: Indonesia, Bhutan, Russia, Romania., Pakistan, China, India, and Vietnam. Each of them also comes from various religious backgrounds, with some starting out as atheists, others Christian, and a few converting from such faiths as Islam or Buddhism. The form of persecution takes many forms too: abuse, kidnapping, and/or imprisonment. Because Voice of Martyrs included a diversity of stories, its collection never felt as if any one country or group of people were being targeted. Instead the collection made clear that persecution of Christians is a worldwide issue that needs attention.

In contrast to some biographical collections, instead of providing snippets from several role models, each chapter in Hearts of Fire instead consists of a full-fledged story of about 40 pages. Some stories start by recounting the events in the childhood of a featured heroine that led to her decision to take a stand for Christ and how that decision put her life in constant jeopardy. Other stories began with a featured heroine already in her adulthood and daily having to choose whether to risk being arrested for sharing her faith. By the end of each chapter, I felt as if I knew the entire testimony of every featured heroine.

There are some aspects of this gritty collection that I disliked. The first is the book feels outdated. Although it’s been reprinted about ten years after an original publication date of 2003, there were no updates made to the original stories–some of which happened decades before. Consequently, the stories aren’t all that current. The second is how violent some stories were. I almost didn’t make it through the first story. It told of Christina being lifted in the air by her hair, tobacco leaves being set on fire and put in her mouth, her son being beaten with a machete, and other tortures. I understand that if change is to happen, there’s a need to depict the depth of atrocities that can happen. At the same time, the human mind will only accept hearing about so much horror before it becomes numb. In addition, the other natural response is to feel hatred for the persecutors, which lessens the impact of the heroism of the Christian women.

I found of special interest the story of the wife who became the founder of Voice of Martyrs. Sabina’s story began in Romania, 1945. The Russians had driven the Nazis out of Romania, but they were now themselves attempting to control how the state ran. The couple however refused to silent about their faith. February 1948, Sabina’s husband went missing, and was believed at times to have been arrested and other times to have been killed. Eventually, Sabina herself was also taken by authorities to jail. There, she was forced into slave labor, and risked being shot. Even when injured and sick, she was forced to work outside and in extreme weather. In 1965, the couple were reunited and eventually escaped to the United States. In this country, they began The Voice of Martyrs newsletter, a monthly publication that to this day is distributed across the world in many languages.

Years ago, I watched a true story of a missionary who died for her faith. In college, the missionary had searched for a reason to live, and found it in God. Hearts of Fire is filled with stories of women who similarly found their purpose. I’ll be looking for more books in the future that both challenge how I live and inspire my faith. If you have recommendations, please post in the comments.


Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:

Categories

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 125 other followers