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News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Posted by Sherry on 8/23/2017 in General |

I guess this novel could be called a Western novel; it takes place in post-Civil War Texas, about 1870. Seventy-one year old Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes his living as a newspaper reader, traveling from small town to small town in north Texas and reading the news aloud to customers who pay ten cents apiece for the privilege of hearing stories from distant places and lands. Captain Kidd, a veteran of the Indian wars and the Mexican American War, doesn’t read much about reconstruction or Texas politics since doing so might get a man lynched, especially if the news isn’t favorable to whatever political side the listeners might take. Kidd just carries his concealed (and illegal) revolver in case of trouble and tries to stay out of politics and controversies.

So, it’s a surprise, even to himself, when in Wichita Falls Captain Jefferson Kidd agrees to deliver ten year old Johanna Leonberger to her relatives near Fredericksburg. Johanna has been a captive of the Kiowa for four years since she was six, and now the girl has been recovered. But, unfortunately for her, Johanna still believes she is Kiowa, but the Indians don’t want her back and the only choice Johanna has is whether or not to go quietly to her unremembered relatives’ home in German country.

News of the World is an oddly emotional and heart-rending novel, even though it’s told in a matter-of-fact, almost philosophical, tone. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is an untethered man, a free spirit, who has lost his beloved wife, lost his printing business in the war, and who lives far away from his grown daughters in Georgia. Johanna, too, has been untethered, twice, first when her parents were killed and she was captured by the Kiowa and now again as she has been forcibly removed from her home among the Kiowa and sent back to a land and a family she doesn’t identify with or remember. As the two lost souls travel through Texas in a broken down wagon, they begin to bond in spite of cultural and language barriers, and Johanna even begins to call the Captain, Kontah, meaning grandfather. What will it be like for this wild Kiowa girl to go to live with her aunt and uncle on a clean and ordered German farm? What will it be like for Captain Kidd to take up his solitary life again without his little “granddaughter” to provide interest and a reason for his existence?

I’d recommend this book to those of you who like Texas stories, to those who enjoy thoughtful Westerns (like Elmer Kelton), to those who sometimes feel a little bit lost, between cultures, or left out. It’s a good story with a good and realistic ending, which I mention because I was afraid all the way through that the ending would either be devastatingly sad or unrealistically happy-ever-after. The author managed to pull off a great ending that is nether of those two disappointments.

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Roll by Darcy Miller

Posted by Sherry on 8/22/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, General |

A boy named Lauren, commonly called Ren for obvious reasons, and Sutton, the girl with red, yellow, and orange striped hair who is Ren’s new neighbor, bond and grow a friendship over a common interest in Birmingham Roller pigeons.

I’m always interested in looking into new worlds and communities that I never knew about or heard of before. Training pigeons and pigeon competitions are certainly a thing that never came to my notice in the many years I’ve been around. How did such a wild and entertaining group of birds escape my attention for so long?

Watch this.

Yes, there are pigeons that turn flips in the air. To some extent, they are trained to fly together and to return to the coop, but they turn flips in the air because they just do. They were bred to do pigeon acrobatics?

“Some fanciers fly their rollers in competition, both locally and nationally. There is even a World Cup competition that includes several other countries. Kits (group of pigeons) are scored for quality and depth, as well as the number of birds that roll at the same time, referred to as a turn or break. The Birmingham Roller is a very popular breed of performing pigeon, with around 10,000 breeders worldwide.”

The book was a decent middle grade read with some good insights about friendship and growing up and making new friends but keeping the old, but I really appreciated the introduction to the Birmingham rollers and to a community of “pigeon fanciers” that I knew nothing about. It’s a crazy and wonderful world that we live in, and as RL Stevenson said, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

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Saturday Review of Books: August 12 and 19, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 8/11/2017 in General, Saturday Reviews |

NOTE: I’m having a bit of a bad week, so I haven’t posted at all since last Saturday. Go ahead and leave your review links for this week on this same link from last Saturday, and I’ll try to have someone content and a new Saturday Review post by next week. Go well, reading friends.

“[M]ost of what one reads and does has no effect at all; but there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there.” ~W. Somerset Maugham

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight

Posted by Sherry on 8/9/2017 in 1940, Children's Fiction, England, General, Young Adult Fiction |

I finally read this justly famous and best-selling dog story, and the first surprise was the title. It’s not “Lassie, come home!”, a plea or a command for Lassie to return to home and hearth, as I always thought it was. Instead, “Lassie Come-Home” is a nickname for the faithful collie who does return home, through many miles and obstacles, from the highlands of Scotland all the way back to the Yorkshire country family in the south of England who were her original masters. Lassie is a “come-home dog” in the Yorkshire vernacular.

Perhaps Lassie Come-Home is the template for many books that came after: The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron, and other stories of faithful dogs and other animals finding their way home after a series of adventures and difficulties. Or maybe the plot mirrors Black Beauty and other earlier books that show faithful animals making their way back home to the owners they love. Lassie’s journey home is certainly an adventurous one.

The author note in the back of my book says:

“Lassie first appeared in a short story published by the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. The story was so popular that Mr. Knight expanded it into a full-length book, which was published in 1940 and instantly became a best-seller. In 1942 the MGM movie based on the book launched the career of Elizabeth Taylor.”

All those survivors of economic depression and war-weary readers and movie-goers most likely needed a hopeful story about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, the kind of victory through suffering that is depicted in Lassie Come-Home. The story itself is pretty incredible: a dog somehow finds his way home form Scotland to Yorkshire, 400 miles as the crow flies or over 1000 miles with the obstacles such as lakes and rivers that Lassie has to skirt around or find a way over.

Eric Knight was born in England (in the Yorkshire country that her writes about), came to the United States as a teenager, and died in an airplane crash while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II—but not before giving us this classic dog story. It’s well-written, hopeful, and —-spoiler here—the dog doesn’t die!

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Flaming Arrows by William O. Steele

Posted by Sherry on 8/7/2017 in Children's Fiction, General, Historical fiction, US History Project |

Another book that is well-written and sure to appeal to adventure-loving kids, with good themes of reserving judgment and not visiting the sins of the fathers on their children, BUT it’s full of guns and violence and “savages” who are all bad and practically discounted as not human.

If you can get past the fact that this book presents a very one-sided view of the wars between the settlers in Kentucky and the Native Americans who were being displaced from their lands, it’s a good book. Mr. Steele doesn’t set out to tell a story about the Native American view of these events, and indeed, he doesn’t tell us anything about the Chickamauga “Injuns” in this story, except that they come every year to kill and burn and destroy.

The story is about Chad, an eleven year old boy who is forced to take refuge along with his family in the fort when the Injuns come on their yearly foray. Chad’s family and the other families in the fort are joined by the Logans, a woman and her children whose father, Traitor Logan, is in league with the Chickamauga. When the others in the fort want to throw the Logans out because of their father’s traitorous ways, Chad’s father and the scout, Amos Thompson, stand up for the Logans, saying, “I reckon they’re harmless. They’ve left Traitor to home. Or maybe he’s left them.”

The rest of the book is about Chad’s growth, both in courage and in understanding and empathy. He becomes more mature as the settlers suffer together and fight off the Indians, and this maturity is accomplished both by Chad’s courage and steadfastness in fighting and guarding the walls of the fort and by his growing understanding of what it must be like to be Josiah Logan, the Logan boy whose father has not provided for the family.

If you want a book in which the protagonist grows to learn that violence is not the way to deal with problems, that story is not in this book. If you want a book that presents the realities of frontier life as the the frontiersmen experienced and thought about them, Flaming Arrows does a good job. The settlers on the Cumberland frontier just didn’t have time or inclination to spare much thought for the Indians who were attacking their homes and their fort: they were too busy trying to stay alive and protect their families. Illustrated by the famous and talented illustrator, Paul Galdone, Flaming Arrows shows that reality in the text and in the pictures. I will keep this book in my library because I believe it speaks the truth about one perspective on the lives our early American forbears. And it’s a good story, taken on its own terms. It shouldn’t be the final word on this subject, but it is a valuable look at how people of the time period thought and lived and grew.

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Saturday Review of Books: August 5, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 8/4/2017 in General, Saturday Reviews |

“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” ~Jo Walton

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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The Mississippi Bubble by Thomas B. Costain

Posted by Sherry on 8/4/2017 in Landmark history project, Nonfiction |

I’m on a mission to read all of the Landmark series of children’s history books, and Thomas B. Costain is one of my favorite authors, especially his series of books on the medieval history of England: The Conquering Family, The Last Plantaganets, The Magnificent Century, The Three Edwards. I love those books and have read through them more than once. So I was excited to read Costain’s Landmark history (#52) of the founding of Biloxi and New Orleans, The Mississippi Bubble.

It was an exciting story of intrepid explorers and land speculation and fortunes made and lost, with both heroes and villains, winners and losers, and a narrative thread of consistent and faithful service on the part of one man in particular with the goal of building a “New World” in America at the mouth of the Mississippi River. However, the book shows the strengths and weaknesses of its date of publication, 1955, as Mr. Costain loses his attention to historical detail and his concern to portray all of the parties to the situation fairly and accurately when it comes to Native Americans and enslaved Africans.

The story begins with a “group of Indians . . . busy fishing in the mud-colored waters of Mississippi.” These “savages” encounter Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, and although at first they are wary, they “liked La Salle.” These Native Americans are then compared to the Iroquois of Canada and the north, with whom the French had already met and fought and allied and co-existed. According to Costain:

“And while the Indians of the delta country—the Bayougoulas, the Quinipissa, the Moctobys, the Tensas, the Pascagoulas—were not more fierce or brave than the tribes of the north, they were sly and treacherous and with a brand of savagery all their own.”

Readers are left to imagine what that “brand of savagery” looks like, but Costain does say many pages later in the story that “the savages worked swiftly and cunningly” to attack the French forts in various places, incited by the English or the Spanish. Then, a few pages later, we read that “many times the Indians had saved the lives of the colonists with supplies of food from their own stocks.” By treating the Indians as a monolithic group and by stereotyping them as savages, mostly, Costain gives a very confusing and contradictory picture of the Native Americans of the Louisiana and Mississippi regions and of their relationship with the French invaders. In other words, the Native peoples and individuals in this version of history are stereotyped and written off as foils to the conquering French European heroes who are the real story.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t write off this book because Mr. Costain has another story to tell: in addition to giving us his account of the exploration and settlement of the Mississippi River delta, Mr. Costain in his little book also tells of an economic bombshell back in France. So, in the meantime back in Paris, c.1719-1726, while Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville was literally holding down the fort in Louisiana, a Scotsman named John Law was busy taking over the financial system of France. I read about John Law’s financial plans, ideas, and schemes both in The Mississippi Bubble and on Wikipedia, but I can’t say either source successfully explained his theories and his financial dealings in a way that I could fully understand. But the history is exciting with kidnappings and violence and huge fortunes made and lost and gambles and success and disgrace all combined. It’s worth reading about, and Costain tells this story of financial chicanery, speculation, and panic with a great deal of drama and human interest.

Here’s an animated short movie that deals with the economics of The Mississippi Bubble in France in as straightforward a way as I could find:

The Mississippi Bubble is not the best of the Landmark books I’ve read, but it’s a worthwhile introduction to the history of Louisiana and New Orleans and Biloxi with a lot of economic history throw in. John Law is the villain of the piece, and Bienville is the hero. And the Native Americans and the black slaves? Marginal and mostly disregarded or stereotyped.

Other books about the early history (antebellum) of Louisiana and the Mississippi delta region:
The French Explorers in America by Walter Buehr
The Explorations of Pere Marquette by Jim Kjelgaard.
LaSalle And The Grand Enterprise by Jeannette Covert Nolan.
The Louisiana Purchase by Robert Tallant.
The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans by Robert Tallant.

Fiction:
Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling.
Swift Rivers by Cornelia Meigs.

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Born August 3rd

Posted by Sherry on 8/3/2017 in --August, Adult Fiction, Birthdays, General, Historical fiction, Mysteries |

Two of my favorite novelists have birthdays today: Baroness Phyllis Dorothy James (b. 1920, d.2014) and Leon Marcus Uris (b. 1924, d. 2003).

Although I like her detective novels very much, my favorite P. D. James novel as of now is Children of Men, a dystopian novel about a world where no children are born. I suggest that those who are prone to look askance at large families and pro-life ideals read James’ rather chilling picture of a future with no children at all. Read my review here. The movie version of Children of Men skews the themes and the plot of the book to make it more about refugees and anti-refugee sentiments than about fertility and the tragedy of a world without human reproduction.

Leon Uris is sometimes described as a “Zionist” and one obituary in the British newspaper The Guardian referred to him as a racist for his portrayal of Arabs in his admittedly pro-Jewish novels. I think this is an unfair accusation, but if you are Palestinian, or sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, you might not enjoy Uris’ novels as much as I do. Exodus, Mila 18, and QB VIII are all great stories with lots of historical information about Israel and the experience of modern Jews in Europe during and after World War II.
My thoughts about Uris and James and their books on this date in 2004.

Uris’ most famous book,Exodus, was made into a move with Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint in the lead roles. Reviews of the movie are mixed (I’ve never seen it), however, composer Ernest Gold won the Academy Award for Best Original Score of the movie Exodus at the 1960 Oscars. I recommend both the movie music and the book.

Pat Boone wrote the following lyrics for the Exodus main theme:

“The Exodus Song”

This land is mine, God gave this land to me
This brave and ancient land to me
And when the morning sun reveals her hills and plain
Then I see a land where children can run free

So take my hand and walk this land with me
And walk this lovely land with me
Though I am just a man, when you are by my side
With the help of God, I know I can be strong

Though I am just a man, when you are by my side
With the help of God, I know I can be strong

To make this land our home
If I must fight, I’ll fight to make this land our own
Until I die, this land is mine

Also born on this date:
Mary Calhoun, picture book author of Hot-Air Henry and other books about Henry the Adventurous Cat. I like the story of Henry getting trapped in a hot air balloon and going for a wild ride.
Ms. Calhoun also wrote Cross Country Cat, High-Wire Henry, Henry the Sailor Cat, and Henry the Christmas Cat—all about Henry, a cat of many adventures. And she is the author of the Katie John series of books about a girl growing up in a midwestern family in the 1960’s. The books in order are Katie John, Depend on Katie John, Honestly Katie John!, and Katie John and Heathcliff. Be aware that Katie John grows over the course of the four books from tomboy and president of the “Boy-Hater’s Club” to a fan of Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) and a boy admirer. The books were published over fifty years ago, however, and the boy-hating and the romantic elements in the final book are quite innocent and unobjectionable. And Katie John is a lovable and irrepressible character throughout the series.
I have High-Wire Henry and the first three Katie John books in my library, available for check out.

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Holling C. Holling, b. 1900

Posted by Sherry on 8/2/2017 in --August, Birthdays, Early Chapter Books, Education and Homeschool |

August 2nd is the birthdate of author Holling Clancy Holling, who wrote several books that are wildly popular among homeschooling moms and their children:

Paddle-to-the-Sea. A native American boy carves a small canoe and sends it off on a journey from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean. It takes four years, an many mishaps and adventures, for the canoe with its tiny carved paddler to reach the ocean. And there’s something fascinating about tracing the journey through the Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, and the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean at last. Paddle was a Caldecott Honor book in 1942.

Tree in the Trail. A cottonwood tree grows near the Santa Fe Trail somewhere in Kansas, and as it grows events and travelers make history from the time of the native Americans and the buffalo hunts to the time of the American settlement of Kansas in the early 1850’s.

Seabird. Similar to Paddle in some ways, in this story an ivory scrimshaw gull carved by a young sailor travels the world on a whaling vessel, clipper ship, steam ship and finally on an airplane.

Minn of the Mississippi. A three-legged snapping turtle swims south from the source of the Mississippi to the Mississippi delta, and readers find out all about the geography of the river and the life cycle of the snapping turtle.

These four books I have in my library, available for check out. These others by Holling, I don’t have, but I would like to own them. If you happen to have an extra copy of any of these, please send it my way.

Pagoo. Explore the ecosystem of the tide pool with Pagoo, the hermit crab.

Book of Cowboys. Lots of information about cowboys and cattle drives, folded into a simple story.

Book of Indians. A review from my blog-friend, Amy at Hope Is the Word.

Rocky Billy: The Story of the Bounding Career of a Rocky Mountain Goat. Doesn’t this one sound interesting–just from the title?

Mr. Holling wasn’t always known as Holling Clancy Holling. He was born Holling Allison Clancy, and his he only changed his name to the “pen name” that he is know by today as a result of a signature misapprehension. He wrote his first name, Holling, in fancy letters underneath his printed name “Holling Clancy” on his paintings, and people assumed his name was Holling Clancy Holling. So he had it legally changed. Oh, and his wife, Lucille, also an artist, helped with the books and their illustrations.

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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Posted by Sherry on 8/1/2017 in 1967, General, Young Adult Fiction |

So, here’s the backstory for this famous YA novel, according to Wikipedia:

The Outsiders is a coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton, first published in 1967 by Viking Press. Hinton was 15 when she started writing the novel, but did most of the work when she was 16 and a junior in high school. Hinton was 18 when the book was published. The book follows two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (pronounced by the author as soshes, short for Socials), who are divided by their socioeconomic status. The story is told in first-person narrative by protagonist Ponyboy Curtis. The story in the book takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1965, but this is never stated in the book.

I read this book a long time ago, probably when I was in high school. This year, by the way, is the fiftieth anniversary of its publication date. Now, reading it forty or more years later for me, I am struck by several things about the novel and its author:

First, like everyone else, I am surprised and impressed that this book was written by a teenage girl. It’s a bit melodramatic, I suppose, but the voice of Ponyboy, a fourteen year old boy from the wrong side of the tracks, is pitch-perfect. I don’t think anyone would guess, who didn’t know already, that S.E. Hinton was a teenage girl.

Second, the book is about boys who are gang members from the lower socioeconomic class in a town in Oklahoma. The only thing Ms. Hinton had in common with her characters was her hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m fairly sure from reading her bio that Susan Hinton would have been more of a “Soc” than a “Greaser” when she was in high school. And yet she doesn’t make her Greaser characters into stupid stereotypes or even air-brushed, sympathetic victims. They are both criminals, to some extent, and scared kids.

Third, I grew up in West Texas in the 1960’s and 70’s, and although there were several social groups in my high school, I could identify with the social and socioeconomic tension between the two groups in this novel. We had what we called “rich kids” who held all of the leadership positions in the high school, were featured in the yearbook, and often spent their weekends partying and getting drunk. Then, there were the druggies, the goat-ropers or kickers, the band kids, and the smart kids. And the Hispanic kids mostly stuck together, as did the black kids. There was some overlap in the groups, but Hinton’s picture of poor kids and rich kids not understanding each other and not associating with one another is pretty accurate.

I watched the movie based on this book after I re-read it, and I would say that the movie script stayed very close to the book. I’m not sure that was a good thing because even though I didn’t get the sense of melodrama and sentimentality when I was reading the book, I did get that sense from the movie. I’m not sure why. Watch the movie along with Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story to get a feel for the Hollywood version of the rise of youth culture and youth rebellion in the fifties and sixties in the United States. If all of the kids weren’t exactly as alienated and rebellious as the kids in those movies and in this book, many of them were.

Anyway, The Outsiders is a good book, a tear-jerker, but also thought-provoking.

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