Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Rating: 5 out of 5
12-year-old Hannah is apathetic and embarrassed by her grandfather's rantings about the Nazis. She knows that her grandfather and grand aunt are survivors from a Nazi concentration camp, but in typical tween fashion, their stories are just white noise and not important to her. However, during a Passover Seder, Hannah is chosen to open the door to the prophet Elijah, and she is transported into Poland in the 1940's as a young girl named Chaya. As Chaya, she is taken to a concentration camp and must live through the terror of trying to survive, and ultimately die in the camp.

My thoughts:

I think that Ms. Yolen does a great job of bringing the horrors of the holocaust to the tween reader.  The tension of Hannah's struggle to survive at camp, as well as the heartbreak as she begins to lose the part of her that is Hannah is balanced off by the twist at the end that ensures that Hannah will never be apathetic toward her family's history again.

Book pairings: if they like this book, what do you give them next?

Similar topic:
Number the Stars by Jane Yolen (same reading level)
Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman (graphic YA novel)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Similar genre:
The Watsons go to Birmingham -- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

Ages 9-12/176 pages/Puffin (2004)/creative nonfiction/source: Hilo Public Library

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hawaiian Fishing Traditions by Moke Manu and Others

In the same way that Americans have folk heroes like Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed,  the Hawaiians have heroes like Ku'ula-kai and his son 'Ai'ai. They fed their communities through their skill and prowess in the sea, and they exhibited supernatural strength to battle their adversaries. Through their actions, they taught the people about conservation, respect and generosity.

My thoughts:
On the most urban of the Hawaiian islands, Oahu, fishing may soon be banned for the non-commercial fishers who are just trying to feed their families. Through overfishing, pollution and a loss of cultural fishing knowledge, the stories of large hauls of fish capable of feeding the community become more legendary. These stories shared by Moke Manu in the 1900's are collections of essays on fishing techniques as well as stories that map the seas around the islands and merge myth and geography.

Many of these stories were orated in Hawaiian, so it's valuable to have a resource like this, and although many of these stories involve the supernatural, on these islands, it's not so difficult to be out on the ocean and feel the mana, the spiritual power that is still alive.

Perhaps the most important lessons from these stories are really abut the ncessity for conservation in order to maintain our lifestyle and independence. Also, in these stories, the three main heroes are adamant about not being greedy and sharing the abundance of fish. These lessons need to be heeded even in these modern times or we will lose the ability to have any kind of control over our waters.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Kalamaku Press/1992/ISBN 0-9623102-3-9

Review: The Girl in the Moon Circle by Sia Figiel

This novella is made up of the fragmented pieces of Samoan life through the eyes of 10-year-old Samoana, or Ana. Her vignettes sway through her village and talk about both the everyday challenges of living (school, friends, having refrigerators and televisions for the first time, crushes on boys), to the harder realities that she can't be shielded from (incest, family violence, suicide, pedophilia). Her observations are perceptive and wise beyond her years.

My thoughts:
This novella is similar to Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street -- young narrator, wise beyond their years, living in a small community where everyone's problems are exposed to the perceptive lens of the narrators. In both pieces, we see the social mores of the minority culture (Hispanic and Samoan) through the actions of the people in the "village" as well as a generous sprinkling of cultural phrases. In both pieces we see that there is both devout Christianity as well as debauchery, and in both, kids are often forced to face very difficult situations by themselves.

What made this novella very interesting is that the ebb and flow of the shorter and longer pieces created a kind of tidal feel to the reading, perfect for a story set on an island. The vignettes are musical, meant to be performed, poetic in their imagery, they lull the reader, even in their violence. Through her poetic prose, I think Figiel pulls up from the deep waters the repressed and tabooed subjects like child abuse, and suicide, exposing these issues not so an outside society can judge, but so that her own society can reexamine itself through her prose. Even as a native Hawaiian, then, I am just a tourist in her world.

On the other hand, there is also an allegorical quality to Samoana. In the piece "Pulu Leaves," similar to Cisneros' "Four Skinny Trees," the narrative shifts to metaphor, the leaves speak to her, and she becomes the repository for all our stories. The protagonist may be a young girl, but I don't think this is meant for young readers. I think the age of the protagonist opens up an ability to tell a story without the censorship and moralizing of an adult character. I think through Ana, the story is open and honest. We as the readers bring the morality and censorship.

Rating 4 out of 5
Mana Publications/1996/ISBN 983-03-0236-X

Sunday, July 11, 2010

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a meme started by Kristi at the Story Siren. Please go to her blog for more book ideas.

This week I'm desperately trying to make a dent in my summer reading list that was assigned to my students. I'm moving islands this year and have a new job teaching 9th grade English. The books were assigned by the department so I got the following from the local library:

The Girl in the Moon Circle by Sia Figiel is a glimpse of Samoan life through the eyes of 10-year-old Samoana.

The Shimmering: Ka 'Olili by Keola Beamer, a slack key guitarist and singer, writes of that place where modern and ancient Hawai'i meet.

Hawaiian Fishing Traditions by Moke Manu is a collection of legends essays on traditional fishing practices.

Ancient O'ahu: Stories from Fornander and Thrum - stories collected by Fornander and Thrum in the 1800's and translated into English.

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

Baby No-Eyes by Patrcia Grace
Baby No-eyes is Te Paania's first child, killed in a car crash before she even leaves the womb. Baby's ghost returns to comfort Te Paania, and when Baby's brother Tawera is born he takes her place in the world although she is always by his side.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

I realize that we lose readers in high school when the demands of the books they must read overwhelm their ability to read the books they want to read, so although there are things that I "must" teach in a secondary classroom, I will try my best to balance that with free choice and the power to show learning in a variety of ways.

Happy reading week to you all!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Follow My Book Blog Friday

Life threw me some curveballs these past six months, but I'm just now starting to carve time from simply surviving to actually being able to do some recreational reading, so I am glad that Parajunkee's meme was at the top of my blog reader. It sounds like so much fun and I get to visit more bloggers!

To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:

  1. Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Host { } and any one else you want to follow on the list
  2. Follow our Featured Bloggers -
  3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments
  5. Follow Follow Follow as many as you can
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love...and the followers
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post! 

Happy Follow Friday!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: Never Let You Go by Erin Healy

Title: Never Let You Go
Author: Erin Healy
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 2010)
Genre: Suspense, Thriller, Christian
Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: phenix & phenix literary publicists (Mahalo Amy!)

About the book: from the publishers
Lexi is a young single mother learning to cope with the aftermath of a family disaster and the decisions of her husband, who left seven years ago. With little left to hold on to, she devotes her life to her only daughter, and is determined to do anything--work grueling hours, sacrifice financially--just to make her happy. But when her estranged husband unexpectedly reenters their lives, her sister's murderer comes up for parole and an unwanted acquaintance returns demanding payment of an old debt, Lexi's world is quickly turned upside-down once again. As hidden sins are exposed and a whirlwind of mysterious forces begin to surface, Lexi is forced to make a difficult choice that could complicate everything.
My thoughts:
The beginning of this book, and the initial entrance of the main antagonist, Warden Pavo, is so horrific and frustrating, that I didn't know whether I should be outraged by Lexi's powerlessness or Ward's crudity and raw evil. Is he Satan on Earth or just a man who knows how to get under someone's skin? I was hoping that this could be a fantasy so that I didn't need to see the inevitable crumbling of Lexi's world. Somehow, if it's a fantasy, I know that I can look away and know that this is not happening in this world, to these characters, it's all just make believe.

Healy doesn't allow me to do this in her book. I had to keep turning away from the psychological and physical violence in this book because it felt too realistic. Most of the violence that happened really could happen, probably does happen in life and part of my enjoyment in reading is that I don't have to see the reality that lives in this world.  I'm tired of reading the newspaper articles about women that are murdered by their husbands. I pass by the soccer field and on one of the fences is a small shrine, erected this month for a woman who picked up her husband from the bus stop in downtown Hilo, had an argument with her husband, then was stabbed multiple times as she ran toward the fence with bystanders trying to help her and cars driving past.  A passerby had to almost run over her husband with his van in order to separate her from him and try to get her help. This book is like that. Lexi by herself  can never protect Molly from Ward. It felt like I couldn't breathe at times, and that there was no hope for Lexi and her daughter Molly.

Ward, though, is only one of Lexi's problems. There's also her husband who abandoned her and is now back for her daughter, her sister's killer who is up for parole (Ward wants her to show up at his parole hearing and speak for her sister's killer or he'll take Molly), her father who lost touch with reality after her sister's murder and is now in a mental health facility, and her own inability to make enough money to get them out of town, or even away from her past. I'm not sure who she can really trust in this book except Molly, her roommate Gina, and cryptic Angelo, Molly's guardian angel who can't really help Lexi, but protects Molly for as long as Molly needs him.

In a sentence. . .
Lexi's 'demons' will keep you up at night in this page-turning thriller. 


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