The Book Club – Dystopian or Apocalyptic?

It’s not an annotated bibliography, but a short plot summary for each should do.

Phoenix Rising, by Karen Hesse. Nuclear meltdown in a nearby power plant puts a whole community at risk of fallout contamination. Told from the perspective of a teen girl, this story will both touch and frighten readers. Masks, Geiger counters, and other protective gear become everyday items. When her family takes in a boy with radiation sickness, the girl starts to see the disaster with new eyes.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you’ve seen the movies, you’ll like the books even more. By telling the stories in first person, Collins helps readers understand Katniss’ point of view and how and why she becomes the reluctant role model for the revolution.

1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale would have to be on the high school or college list. The more recently published Cyberstorm could join those. If you’re really brave, try Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and don’t forget Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Are you with me so far? Required reading for facing a Trump presidency will show the frightening ways that life imitates art.

I asked some of my friends on social media for suggestions.

Animal Farm becomes more relevant as Russia leans more toward its Soviet Union past. We the Living by Ayn Rand; One Second After. by William R. Forstchen. Brave New World, of course. They listed A Clockwork Orange – shudder.

Why the book list, people might ask. Why? Well, folks, I suggest that reading a few of these, followed by some serious thought and observations, might open some eyes. More than that, analysis of many of these plots has the potential to open minds.

Friends, family, readers, can you suggest other titles?

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Walk a Mile in my Shoes Empathy Book Club

Sanctuary cities. Executive orders. Airport detentions. A border wall. The news is full of negatives, stereotypes, anger, and fear. What’s missing? Empathy. Here’s a book list to encourage empathy for those who come to America from other cultures, whether voluntarily or as refugees. With the exception of the first title, all are suitable for young people.

  • A Step from Heaven by An Na
  • A Korean family moves to America, and the daughter has to find her inner strength to keep herself and her family whole. Despite her intelligence and ability to learn the language quickly, the girl encounters racism and sexism as she adjusts to her new home.
  • The Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang
  • The Hmong people were recruited to help American troops during the Vietnam war. After the war, when the new government began to persecute them, the United States provided a safe haven for Hmong refugees. Kao Kalia tells the stories of several generations as they flee Laos through camps in Thailand and eventually settle in the Midwest. The first person accounts make for a powerful read.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Esperanza is forced to leave Mexico after a tragedy takes her safety and her family’s wealth. She is unprepared for the challenges of living in a new country with no money and no home. Esperanza is Spanish for hope, and 13 year old Esperanza finds her inner strength as she follows a path that leads to hope and a better life. This book won the Newbery Award in 1999.
  • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhja Lai
  • A new home in Alabama means safety from the Vietnam war, but this family misses their old home in Saigon as they adjust to the new culture, new landscape, and strange foods and customs. Discrimination is rampant for their Asian appearance and poor English skills. A Newbery honor book in 2012 – well worth the time for the amazing writing and heart felt story.
  • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
  • The story takes place in Brooklyn, NY, during 1947. The backdrop of Major League Baseball’s integration helps Shirley Temple Wong and her family adjust to being recent immigrants from China. Winner of many awards, this is a valuable read.
  • Grab Hands and Run  by Francis Temple
  • Felipe is twelve when his father is killed and he must grab hands with his sister and mother and flee El Salvador for safety in Canada. This book follows their long and difficult journey, and includes the dangers they face and their doubts about leaving their home.

Readers, what are some other books you recommend – for young adults or those who are grown-ups?

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

And still another key to comprehension: questioning

I kept thinking of the George Carlin quote about reading and questioning, but it didn’t quite fit. I went with Jack Prelutsky instead.

Meanwhile, I shared this post with the online world.

“Don’t just teach your children to read…
Teach them to question what they read.
Teach them to question everything.” — George Carlin, comic genius

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Books – Ambrosia for the Mind

An encore post from several years ago – I still remember the child popping up and looking confused. I would have hugged him, but I’m sure he would have been utterly embarrassed. As we’re saying goodbye to my book-loving stepfather, this post reminds me that books are amazing.

It was a typical class transition, which in my class means a struggle to get everyone to shift gears mentally and physically. Then, guide all 25 of them into the hallway (quietly!) and across the hall for Science, and welcome the other group of 9- and 10-year-olds into my classroom for Social Studies. We made it through these maneuvers, I allowed one girl and one boy to use the rest rooms, and then turned out the lights and turned on the overhead projector to introduce the details of the upcoming research project.
Suddenly a confused-looking face peeked up from the Book Nook corner behind the computers. One of mine, looking confused, stood up and shook his head a little. He had been so involved in the book he was reading, so totally lost in its world, that he never noticed the rest of the class putting away their math books, getting out their science folders, and leaving the room. He smiled sheepishly, gathered his materials and left the room.
No, I didn’t give him grief. I couldn’t. You see, I recognized a little of the fourth grade me in this kid. My mother remembers the time I walked home from school reading a book and I walked right past our house. Books? They’re great. Who needs TV?

In case you’re wondering, the book was a Junior Classic, an abridged version of Robinson Crusoe that I picked up for $1 at a thrift store.
It was a dollar well spent.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Potter Returns

Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place.

What makes a book or series worth re-reading? A good story, believable and likable characters, a unique world so strange and splendid it can’t be imagined – unless described by a brilliant storyteller. Harry Potter is one such series.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a special magic. The shortest of the seven, it introduces Harry and his readers to a whole new world: a world of magic. Witches, wizards, a sport played on flying broomsticks, owl post, powerful potions, and more incredible yet believable things exist in this parallel world. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry first learns of his family and his wizard identity.

Readers can share his awe as he learns that his new school has its own train that leaves from platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station. Somewhere between platforms nine and ten, he encounters the Weasley family, asks them for help finding the train, befriends Ron, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mythology? Legend? Wizardry? Ghostology?

I enjoy rereading The Sorcerer’s Stone because of JK Rowling’s genius. The settings are magically unique, but she describes them in a matter of fact tone so that we readers know this is only the beginning. When she describes the staircases at Hogwarts’ School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, all 142 of them: “…wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday…” it’s simply in a paragraph about Harry attempting to learn his way to his classes.

And the classes! No Intro to British Lit here. Harry takes History of Magic (taught by a ghost), Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, and the cursed (literally, but we don’t know that until a later book) Defense Against the Dark Arts.

The “strange and splendid place” in the first line is the Great Hall as Harry sees it on his arrival at Hogwarts. In his limited upbringing by his neglectful Muggle (non-magical) relatives, he had never even dared imagine a world so wonderful.

Thankfully for all readers, JK Rowling did imagine such a strange and splendid place – a world nearby, yet far different from our everyday Muggle existance. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone stands on its own as a wonderful story and sets up the reading world for an adventure that begins – and ends, several books later – on Platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station.

This is an encore post. On a Saturday night in the cold Wisconsin winter, Chuck and I settled down on the couch to relax, and the first movie in the series came on TV. We enjoyed the details and reminisced about our own Potter-related memories. 

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

All This for a Stack of Books?

It’s not just any stack of books. In my family? Books fill and overflow the shelves until we have book piles – and that’s after I swap away quite a few and deposit a few more in neighborhood Little Free Libraries.

But I’m already getting off topic. La Petite called and asked if I could help her transport a bookshelf she would like to buy. I was going to be there anyway, coming to pick up Amigo after a weekend visit. Of course I said “Sure, why not?”

First: the bookshelf she wanted, a display model, flew off the store shelves before we arrived. It was gone. The store had the item in stock at full price, but La Petite wasn’t quite prepared to pay that much that day. That’s my girl: frugal to the end, even with a bookshelf.

But we had the van. And the shelves were unlikely to fit in her Saturn. Unlikely? Impossible .And the shelf unit was perfect, just perfect, for her apartment and the Big Art Books that needed a home. The shelf unit was a little more than she wanted to pay, but the Momvan was temporarily available, and it was Black Friday weekend, after all. She asked for a manager – nicely, of course.

The manager on duty offered her 20% off – close to $100 discount. We bought the shelves.

With a big box of ready-to-assemble bookshelf loaded into the Momvan, we realized we didn’t have a hand truck or dolly to help us maneuver this big, not too heavy but definitely awkward box from the parking lot to her apartment. We found a nearby Menard’s (doesn’t every strip have a nearby Menard’s?), bought a simple hand truck and a toy for the Toys for Tots box, and we were ready.

It wasn’t easy, and it was punctuated by repeated utterances in the category of “Mom, you’re pushing the wrong way,” but we got the Big Awkward Box to her door and then up to her second floor apartment. Luckily (for me, anyway), she didn’t want the shelves up in her loft bedroom.

And so, all was well with the world. Amigo and I hit the road with a few chips and sodas for a snack and the Green Bay Packers battling the New England Patriots on the radio. La Petite watched the game and put together her new set of shelves.

Home, sweet home.

Home, sweet home.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

She’s baaack – an encore from Grandma Daisy

She couldn’t stay quiet for long. Grandma Daisy is back, just a few weeks before election day. This is an encore, but it didn’t need much modification to be current.

Fiddle-dee-dee. Tomorrow will be another day.

As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!

Big Brother is watching.  

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Wilbur didn’t want food, he wanted love.

I have created a monster!

 

Well, grandkids, all of these are lines from classic books. Let’s see how many you or your mother can identify. What? So few? What are they teaching these days — never mind.

Let’s look at the last one. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,  of course. Truth be told, though, young ones, this particular quote isn’t a direct quote from the novel. It’s kind of like crediting  Buzz Lightyear with “To infinity and beyond!” when he only said it twice in the first Toy Story movie.

The truth is that Shelley’s work inspired the phrase.  An English teacher I knew (they’re always handy when you need a good literature quote) mentioned that there is no exact quote in which Dr. Frankenstein says or another character says that he/you have created a monster–it’s more of a thematic draw from the overall text. Frankenstein warns the man who meets him at the end of his life how “dangerous is the acquisition of knowledge,” as a way of saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!” in keeping with the “created a monster” idea.

So, young ones, back to the upcoming election issues – like the state budget. Governor Talks-a-lot claimed to have innovative changes for our fair state’s education system. His changes consisted of a straining-at-the-seams budget for public schools and a significant increase in a program called Vouchers. Vouchers were grants, money, scholarships paid by the state for students to attend private schools. Private. Not public charters, not home-schooling, but private schools. Governor Walk-on-by ignored the evidence that current voucher schools in Milwaukee were not doing any better then their public counterparts down the road. In fact, if they measured success by the standardized tests of the day, voucher schools did a poorer job of educating their students.

Governor Walk-all-over-you decided that his “innovative education reform” would expand the voucher program into other middling to large-ish cities. Make it bigger. Spread the money around. Around the state, that is. One city, one school district at a time.

The Governor, despite his lack of scientific or educational background, had created a monster. He wanted to open up the private vouchers, damage the state’s education budget, and further gut public schools.

Governor Walkerstein was ready to create his monster. He didn’t have the wisdom of my English teacher friend to tell him that just because he could, didn’t mean he should.

Oh, young ones, it was a tough time to be a teacher. In fact, I could use a cup of coffee. Let’s take a break and talk about classic television. Have you ever seen WKRP in Cincinnati?

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Plenty – locavores tell their story

I picked up Plenty: Eating locally on the 100 mile diet because it was mentioned in Low Impact Man. Plenty reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in the theme of the 100-mile diet, but the setting was quite different. Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon wrote Plenty Vancouver. Kingsolver lived and wrote in Appalachia.

I started to draw a comparison to my own location and climate, but Vancouver isn’t like Wisconsin. Vancouver is a temperate rainforest – lots of rain, only a little snow. Here in my locale, we have four clear seasons – or two, if you’re of the crowd that claims Winter and Road Construction.

But back to the story. I laughed out loud reading Plenty because of a parallel to my own life, blog, and locavore ambitions. Alisa and James had bought a large quantity of sweet corn – Wisconsinites also call it corn on the cob for the typical method of serving and eating this favorite. I, too, have been buying a huge bag of corn at its peak every August. Last year I had a hard time finding the time to prep it for freezing, and the final product just wasn’t as tasty as it could have been.  Alisa described a phone call to her mother asking advice on prepping corn. She found out… well, I’ll let her tell you.

“The sugar in corn starts to break down into starch within a few hours of being picked,” she said. “It doesn’t taste as good, and it loses nutritional value.” She was too polite to say the obvious – use it or lose it. She just started describing the process of blanching and freezing niblets. —Plenty; October.

I’d been thinking about corn and considering different ways of attacking this issue. The corn is inexpensive in August (Wisconsin’s corn ripens in late summer), so buying several dozen is a good investment. But here’s the dilemma: do I really have time to husk, blanch, and cut the kernels off the cob within hours of purchase? If I’m honest with myself (and I’m getting better about that), I have to say no. My solution, at least for the current summer, is this: I’ll buy a little extra from the market each week rather than five dozen ears all at once. It’ll cost me a few pence more, but I will be much more likely to get the corn prepped and in the freezer within a reasonable time frame. I handle peas and beans that way; why not corn?

The second laugh out loud moment came during the same corn chapter. It was 10:00 at night when Alisa realized they needed to prep the corn ASAP. Motivated (or mellowed) by a bottle of wine, they went at it. More than an hour into the task, Alisa remarked, “I feel like part of some apocalyptic cult.”

I blog about life, my life, and that includes a lot of gardening, canning, and otherwise preserving summer’s fresh bounty for the long winter months. Every now and then, I get comments or emails from so-called Doomsday Prepper groups. These are people who share my fascination with self-sufficiency, but for different reasons. Many Prepper groups expect the world as we know it to end soon and without warning. Their fears range from the massive changes due to global warming to a complete collapse of our government.

I’m not a doomsday type of person, but I do like to stock up with my own home made goodies now, while I have the chance. This stock-up process gives us good quality jams and pickles and more goodies in the pantry and locally grown vegetables in the freezer. We don’t do it to prepare for some mythical End of the World, but it does ease our winter grocery budget and bring a taste of summer to the table when there is snow on the ground.

Conclusion? I liked the book Plenty. I also enjoyed Low Impact Man and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. One other item all three had in common: the authors were already professional writers when they took on their experiments and chronicled the experiences. Maybe that’s why they were fun to read – and maybe that’s why I’m having trouble finding the time to finish my own manuscript. Ah, that’s another post. I’d better get back to shelling peas for tonight’s supper.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS