Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Horse lovers will appreciate, as will history buffs and fantasy fans. The first title in a trilogy, Eclipsed by Shadow, tells the story of Meagan and her horse Promise, who just might be the “Great Horse” spoken of in legends. When Meagan attempts to rescue Promise from persistent thieves, the two of them end up taking an unexpected ride back through time in this well-written novel aimed at young people.

In many ways, Royce gets everything right. The ever so-critical first chapter is a gut-wrenching one. In it, Meagan and her parents face the choice of whether to save a pregnant mare or her foal. The mare had been raised by the family and had been their constant companion. But the foal would represent her only legacy, as the mare’s health wouldn’t allow her to have a second foal. The third-person omniscient characterization is meticulous. I knew not only how Meagan and her parents felt, but also how the veterinarian, potential buyer, and crafty thieves felt. This deepened my understanding of everyone involved, as well as heightened the suspense. When the thieves revealed that someone was attempting to collect seven interconnected horses, this made me suspicious until the potential buyer confessed her reason for wanting to own all seven horses. Then I instead felt concern for what might happen should she not succeed with her mission. The multiple settings are described in detail. Primitive North America, ancient Rome, nomadic Asia, and finally medieval Europe all come alive. My favorite periods were Rome and Europe. In the former Meagan encounters a suitor and in Europe she finds kindness from monks. In every situation, she also faces danger, which creates many instances of cliff hangers.

What about the novel doesn’t work? Between the first chapter and the time travel, the narrative drags. The three years between when Promise is sent away to pasture with other horses and is brought back to stay with Meagan are condensed into the about seventy pages, leaving me disconnected to the characters. True, it’s in these pages that I learn about that Promise should never be rode, and so my curiosity is piqued. Unfortunately, it’s also in these pages that Meagan turns rebellious, goes on dates, and turns into a typical teen. This plot line lacks spark. The good news is that once Meagan starts to time travel, John shows his talent as a storyteller. My one overriding concern at this point is not enough is revealed of the reasons why Promise could be a dark horse, and so I’m confused about why Meagan continues to time travel. The novel more closely resembles the episodic nature of a television series where each section contains a new story rather than the unified quality of a movie or full-length book. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve faithfully followed many television series over the years.

Eclipsed by Shadow has won awards for both gifted and reluctant readers. It’s also praised as a novel for readers of all ages. Despite some minor roughness, it’s a diamond in the world of horse books. There are two sequels, and I look forward to finding out what lies in store for Meagan and Promise.

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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?

 

When offered the opportunity to receive an Advanced Reader Copy of When Jackie Saved Grand Central, I jumped at the chance. I have a soft spot in my heart for stories about activists, especially female ones. I also felt intrigued to learn more about America’s former first lady and her role in the fight to preserve a New York landmark. Natasha Wing has written an inspiring story of a little-known part of American history, and the illustrations by Alexandra Boiger are just as delightful.

If Grand Central Station goes all of the landmarks in this country will go as well.—Jackie Kennedy

Even before Jackie Kennedy became the First Lady, she had a passion for historical icons and beauty. She demonstrated this love when she moved into the White House in 1961 by redesigning her new home to showcase not just art but also presidential history. Jackie also helped create the National Historical Preservation Act, which paved the wave for protecting national heritage treasures including that of Grand Central Station. But that’s not all! Jackie also fought to save other monuments too, such as St. Bartholomew’s church, which was at risk of being turned into an office building. Natasha Wing’s picture book focuses on Jackie’s battle, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, to save the famous New York train station.

Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there is nothing left of her history and beauty to inspire our children? —Jackie Kennedy

As part of her battle, Jackie had a lot of work to do: joining city leaders and founding a committee to save the station, speaking at press conferences, inspiring citizens to save money, writing letters to the mayor, and running crusades to gain attention for the cause. One might consider it a negative that a former first lady is leader of this historical fight. After all, Jackie had the advantage of a presidential position to help her. But then if you think of all the steps that even she as the first lady had to take, I view her as a positive role model for all activists today. Saving anything that one considers worthwhile takes work, lots of it, and yet Jackie stuck with it until she accomplished her goal. Her actions should serve as an inspiration to anyone who has faced a challenge.

The style and illustrations of When Jackie Saved Grand Central equal in quality to the story. I appreciate how the vocabulary is both appropriate to younger readers, but also contains challenging words such as conferences, magnificent, demonstrate, and influential. As for the ink and watercolor illustrations, the colors have been carefully chosen. A flaming red highlights moments of struggle, while dark grey emphasizes moments of sadness, and soft yellow shows happier moments. When Jackie Saved Grand Central will educate and motivate readers of all ages.

Natasha Wing grew up in Connecticut, not far from New York City. After graduating from Arizona State University, she worked in advertising for a number of years. In 1991, she decided to write children’s books, and sold her first book within six months. Now she’s the author of many picture books, including the best-selling Night Before Series. Below is an interview with Natasha Wing, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. Please return tomorrow for my review of her latest picture book, When Jackie Saved Grand Central, which I received as an Advanced Reader Copy.

Q. If you weren’t an author or illustrator what would you do for a living?

I’d flip houses. I love resurrecting neglected things and making them beautiful. Hey! That’s like polishing up old manuscripts!

Q. What is the first book you remember loving as a child?

The Cat in the Hat.

Q. What’s your favorite word?

pickle

Q. If you could have any super power what would it be?

Erasing fear.

Q. An ice cream sundae is not complete without _____

Warm chocolate sauce!

Q. The best thing about my job is______

The freedom to explore any topic.

Q. What’s the best snack to eat while reading a good book?

Cheese and crackers with a glass of wine. I eat potato chips when I’m editing since the crunch seems to address my frustration.

Q. Picture books are important because _____

They are portals into other worlds.

This photo of Jackie on the train helped the illustrator see what Jackie was wearing during her Landmark Express train ride to Washington, D.C.

What Natasha thinks is the most beautiful part of the terminal and one of the reasons why she’s glad this building was saved–the ceiling!

 

And here Natasha is at the renovated train station in Denver near where she lives in Colorado.

Reyna Grande is the author of The Distance Between Us, a novel about family. Born in Mexico, Reyna was two years old when her father left for the United States to find work.  Her mother followed her father two years later, leaving Reyna and her siblings behind in Mexico. When Reyna was ten, she and her siblings entered the U.S. with their father as undocumented immigrants. Reyna become the first person in her family to graduate from college and today she is well-known speaker and author. To find out more, check out my interview.

ALLISON: Tell readers something about yourself that they won’t learn from reading The Distance Between Us.

REYNA: I love gardening. I especially like creating butterfly gardens. My daughter and I raised monarch butterflies for a while and it was the most amazing experience. I think every child should have a chance to witness the transformation of a butterfly with their own eyes. It’s powerful. One of my favorite quotes, that I actually have framed and hanging on my wall, is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” It inspires me.

ALLISON: You were born in Mexico. What is a favorite memory from Mexico?

REYNA: One of my favorite memories that I didn’t write about in the book is the time when I went on a pilgrimage with my grandmother, Abuelita Chinta. We went with the group from our local church. The procession walked to the churches in nine different towns. It was long and tiring to walk there, especially since I was only eight years old, but the people at every town would welcome us with a delicious meal cooked over an open fire. I can still taste those meals–pork in green chile sauce, rice, beans, and hot oatmeal drinks we call atole served with a piece of sweet bread. The pilgrimage was one of those times when we ate very well! I went there to pray for my mother’s return. I don’t think my prayers were answered, but at least I still have the memory of the food I ate.

ALLISON: When you returned to Mexico, you found yourself almost a stranger. Have you taken your children to Mexico? What has been their experience?

REYNA: I take my children almost every year because I want them to know the place where I came from, so that they can have at least a small connection to the place and the family I have there. I hope that by seeing the poverty I came from will help them appreciate what I’ve been able to give them in the U.S. They enjoy going to my hometown but they also complain about the lack of luxuries that they are used to here–like running water!  Over there, they have to boil their bath water on the stove, then put it in a bucket and throw the water on themselves with a small container. On the other hand, they very much love the food that my aunt cooks for them and they like the freedom that children have over there–such as being able to walk around the neighborhood, to go to the store by themselves, to play in the street with other children, things that here in the U.S. children don’t get to do because parents tend to be over-protective and their isn’t as much a sense of community as there is in Mexico.

ALLISON: You concluded in your memoir that despite the strain immigration put on your family, the hardship was worth it. What would you tell young people about overcoming challenges?

REYNA: I would tell them to do everything they can to overcome those challenges because otherwise, their lives would get worse instead of better. If you find yourself in a hole, try to climb out of it–you do that by making the right choices. Focus on school, on your dreams, on your future. If you make bad choices out of desperation, you only dig yourself deeper.  Remember, things don’t always have to be that way–they can get better, they can change. You just have to keep focused, stay strong, and above all, don’t lose hope.

ALLISON: You gave a special tribute to a teacher who changed your life. Have there been other mentors in your life? If so, what has been their influence?

REYNA: I had another teacher at UC, Santa Cruz who was very important to me. Her name is Marta Navarro, a Spanish and Chicano Literature teacher, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She–like my former teacher that I write about in the book–also encouraged me to keep writing. She introduced me to more Latino authors, and she was always available to talk whenever I needed someone to listen. I’m still in touch with her too, and she even came to my wedding!

ALLISON: The Distance Between Us is based on your adult memoir. What process was involved in rewriting it for young people?

REYNA: I didn’t want to water down the story for young readers so I did my best to stay true to the original. Mostly what I did was to put the book on a diet–meaning–I trimmed off all the extra stuff, details, backstory, inner thoughts, and only left what was essential. I cut out about 100 pages. I took out my  crazy uncle, and also some details about my love life that was inappropriate for young readers.

But by cutting 100 pages, it gave me some room to expand on things that young readers would find interesting, such as the border crossing. In the original, my border crossing is only one chapter long. In the young reader’s version, it is three chapters. I added more details so that young readers could really have a chance to experience that moment in my life that was very traumatic but also life-changing.

ALLISON: You’re open in your memoir about both the highs and lows of your family’s life. What has been the reaction of your family to your memoir?

REYNA: My siblings have been very supportive of my writing and they really loved the book. My mother didn’t read much of it because she said it was too painful. My father passed away before the book was published. My aunts from the Grande side got mad at me for writing about how mean my evil grandmother had been. But, that is how she was, and I wrote the truth of my experience living under her roof. I don’t feel guilty about what I wrote, and I understand that since she’s dead, my aunts would rather I had honored her memory by writing more positive things–but unfortunately, I had nothing positive to write about because all my memories of her are unpleasant and painful. Writing memoir is very tricky because you are writing about your family and they might never speak to you again if they don’t like what you wrote! Ultimately, if you write memoir, you have write your truth and no one else’s. You aren’t writing to please anyone. You are writing so that you can heal from the wounds of your experience.

ALLISON: You wrote The Distance Between Us to provide an awareness. What would like people who are not immigrants to understand? What books would you recommend a person starting out in their awareness of diversity to read?

REYNA: I would like for non-immigrants to remember where they came from. Everyone here–except for native Americans–came from somewhere. Perhaps it was a great-grandparent or grandparent who immigrated, who went through the trauma and heartbreak that new immigrants go through. If people honor the memories of those who came before them–their ancestors–I think it will make them more compassionate and understanding towards new immigrants. The U.S. has a history of discrimination against specific immigrant groups. Even those who managed to assimilate very well into American culture (like the Irish) at one point or another were heavily discriminated. I think it’s time that we accept that we are a multi-cultural society. We have people from all over the world who live here, and that is a beautiful thing!

Recommended Reading:

1) Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami

2) The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

3) Broken Paradise by Cecilia Samartin

4) Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

5) A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez

6) Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli


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Fall 2017: Focus on Cats!

All things cats ahead! I will post roundups of cat training books, cat Trap-Neuter-Release books, cat coloring books, and cat cozies. For all other animal lovers, I will also post roundups of dog cozies and zoo books.

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