“I read books in all the obvious places—in my house and office, on trains and buses and planes—but I’ve also read them at plays and concerts and prizefights, and not just during the intermissions. I’ve read books while waiting for friends to get sprung from the drunk tank, while waiting for people to emerge from comas, while waiting for the Iceman to cometh.” ~Joe Queenan
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. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.
Storyformed.com is both a literary online resource, and the home of a new publishing imprint, Storyformed Books.
We’ll be republishing excellent out-of-print classics, releasing new fiction by contemporary authors, and publishing a series of essay collections on reading and imagination. My book, Caught Up in a Story, written largely to explain the Storyformed worldview, is the first to release with the imprint. We’ll follow it soon with Just David, one of the favorite children’s classics of my childhood.
I love book lists. If you have a summer reading list that you’d like to see linked here, leave me a note in the comments. Meanwhile, enjoy the following Summer Lists of Reading before summer runs away from us and inevitably turns to autumn.
Thirteen year old Nina Ross is feeling at loose ends this summer. Her best friend, Jorie, is changing into a boy-crazy clothes horse. Her beloved grandmother, the only person who really got Nina, died last year. Nina’s parents, divorce lawyers, work all the time. And her brother Matt is consistently either holed up in his room or gone to work.
Even though Nina isn’t “the type of person who goes out of her way to help people,” she decides to start a project: one good anonymous deed, small but remarkable, each day for the sixty-five days of summer vacation. Will it make a difference? Will Nina’s project change the neighborhood? Change the world?
This middle grade novel told a really sweet story, maybe too sweet for some readers, but I enjoyed it. Nina surprises herself and is surprised by the new truths she discovers about her neighbors and about her own family. The pace of these revelations and of the story itself is just right–not thriller pace but just enough suspense and charm to keep me reading. (There is mention in the story of a possible kumiho (Korean fox spirit) and a supposed ghost, but you can take or leave those possibilities.) All in all, The Summer I Saved the World . . . is a pretty good and encouraging summer read, a remarkable good deed and inspiration in itself.
The author tells about her purpose in writing the story in the end note:
“I started this story with a question: does doing good really do any good? Random acts of kindness are everywhere, but I wondered, so they really have an effect on people? Can small acts of goodness change our world?
The answer to my question—does doing good really do any good—I will always hope, is a resounding and undeniable yes!”
Well, I would say, yes and no. Yes, doing good is good, and of course, even small deeds of kindness and encouragement change the atmosphere of any neighborhood or workplace or home. The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Also, there are all the “one anothers”:
Bear with each other and forgive one another. (Colossians 3:13)
Be kind and compassionate to one another. (Ephesians 4:32)
Love one another. (John 13:34)
Be devoted to one another in love. (Romans 12:10)
Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
Encourage one another and build each other up. (I Thessalonians 5:11)
Spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2 Corinthians 13:12)
Be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)
Serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
Receive one another. (Romans 15:7)
Rejoice or weep with one another. (Romans 12:15)
Admonish one another. (Romans 15:14)
Care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Pray for one another. (James 5:16)
Accept one another. (Romans 14:1; 15:7)
Be truthful with one another. (Colossians 3:9)
Confess your faults to one another. (James 5:16)
If even just Christians obeyed all of those commands, the world would definitely be a “saltier” and better place. However, the world is made up of sinful people (like me), some of whom are unrepentantly evil, and it’s not going to be redeemed and transformed by small acts of “random” kindness. Random kindness is good, but it isn’t enough to save the world. It’s going to take something BIG to change the world: a large act of perfect love and sacrifice.
“Adults have never stopped us before . . . All they are is bigger than us. That doesn’t mean much when you’ve got the right plan.”
Hideout is the fifth book in Gordon Korman’s “Man with the Plan” series about Griffin Bing and his five friends who solve mysteries, foil crooks, and have adventures while each using his or her special talents(s) to implement the Plan.
Griffin Bing is The Man With The Plan, the master planner for the group.
Savannah Drysdale has a special affinity for animals. She’s a dog-whisperer, especially for Luthor, her over-sized and ferocious-to-everyone-else Doberman.
Ben Slovak, Griffin’s best friend, has narcolepsy and a pet ferret, maybe not so much skills as idiosyncrasies. However, Ferret Face turns out to be a secret weapon in times of crisis.
Logan Kellerman is a consummate actor. Call on him to play a part, and he’s there.
Antonia “Pitch” Benson, the climber, can scale any cliff, climb any mountain, and ascend just about any house or tall building.
Melissa Dukakis has the tech skills. She’s a computer whiz and sometimes hacker.
Hideout has the six friends off to summer camp while the evil S. Wendell Palomino is busy stealing, or dog-napping, Savannah’s best friend, Luthor. Can they come up with a plan to save Luthor while keeping the camp authorities in the dark about the presence of a hundred and fifty pound Doberman in camp?
Griffin Bing: “Nothing is impossible if you have the right plan.”
I liked the way the kids banded together to work the plan and save Luthor. There is some law-breaking, lying, and disobedience involved, however, and the kids never do really reap any consequences for their ill-advised and sometimes illegal actions. It makes for a good story, but I have some qualms about children who read these books and take Griffin and his friends for role models. At least, the kids are adventurous and feisty. Maybe a dose of that intrepid spirit in our over-protected children’s reading wouldn’t be a bad thing. After all, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn couldn’t be said to be anywhere near law-abiding, either.
QOTD: The kids in this story aren’t superheroes, but each one does have a special skill or ability. What is your special gift or ability? What ability or interest or expertise do you add to any team or a group that you join?
Set during the summer between eighth grade and high school, this middle grade on the cusp of YA novel was absolutely a great read, but you have to know going in that it’s very meta-book-lovers with lots of inside jokes about first lines of novels and interpretations of To Kill a Mockingbird and nominations for the Great American Novel. Mr. Acampora must love kid lit and adult literature and books in general, and his characters do, too.
Those characters are a trio of friends, Lucy, Elena, and Michael, who have attended school together at St. Brigid’s Catholic School since kindergarten. Lucy’s mom has just miraculously recovered from a bout with a “rare, aggressive, and generally fatal” cancer (“sometimes it just happens”). Her dad is the principal at St. Brigid’s. Michael is a neighbor, a friend, and Lucy’s newly discovered crush. Elena is “certain that high school is going to swallow us up, spit, us out, and crush us like bugs.” Elena lives above a bookstore with her Uncle Mort since her parents died in car crash when she was a baby. I Kill the Mockingbird tells the story of how these three created a conspiracy to make Harper Lee’s famous novel into the hottest property on the shelves of all of the libraries, bookstores, and other book distributors in the state of Connecticut, maybe the whole U.S.
“Even in kindergarten, Michael, Elena, and I obsessed about books. Not only that, the three of us believed that characters like Winnie the Pooh and Ramona Quimby and Despereaux Tilling actually existed. We fully expected to meet all our favorite characters in person one day. Books carried us away.”
As I said, it’s a very bookish book, a fact which made the story twice as endearing to me because I, too, am carried away by books. In fact, I had a couple of good friends in junior high who planned a date and a time to go through the wardrobe to Narnia. They were serious, and although I was skeptical, I did call them that night to make sure they were still in Middle Earth, rather, on our Earth.
The book is, by the way, also very Catholic, in a cultural sort of way. The teens who are the main characters pray to saints and to Jesus, discuss books and religion, and generally behave themselves like good Catholic kids. They aren’t perfect, and they aren’t overly pious, but they are definitely Catholic. THey also discuss theology and the after-life with parents who are also very Catholic, but who hold their Christian beliefs rather loosely. The general attitude in the book is that religious devotion can’t hurt and Christianity may even be true.
The three friends in I Kill the Mockingbird get themselves into some trouble when their conspiracy/project grows beyond their ability to control it due to the power of the worldwide web. But everything ends well, and the summer ends well, the trio head into high school with the courage that a huge summer adventure can give to three friends who are willing to try Something Big. There are worse ways to spend a summer than obsessing over books and bonding through shared adventures.
I read an ARC of this novel, obtained from NetGalley for the purposes of review. The release date for I Kill the Mockingbird is May 20, 2014.
Q(uestion)O(f)T(he)D(ay): Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? Have you seen the movie version with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch? (Atticus Finch is my Hero. I want a T-shirt that says that.)
“The young couple found the child asleep in an old cushioned chair on the front porch.”
When John and Mary find a six year old boy asleep on their front porch, they are naturally curious to know who he is and where he came from. But the boy doesn’t talk. He does hear, and he draws and paints beautiful pictures, and he plays wonderful music. But he says not one word.
The Boy on the Porch is an odd sort of book. I can see it being the kind of book that an adopted child or a foster child might latch onto and love. Newbery Medal and Carnegie award winning author Sharon Creech (she’s the first author to win both the British and the American awards for children’s literature) writes of her inspiration for the novel:
“I discovered that the boy, who does not speak, is like all characters that do not have a voice until a writer is ready to listen to them; and he is like so many children who do not have a ‘voice’ in this world; and he is like all children who come into our lives: when they arrive—at any age—we wonder who they are and what they think and fear and feel and who they will become.”
So the theme is children without voices, both literally and metaphorically, and the adults who love those children who in turn need someone to see and hear their unique beauty. John and Mary are the stand-ins for all of the many, many adults who foster and adopt and care for children who are abandoned and in need of a caring family. The style is almost hypnotic: you can read or listen to a sample here. It’s a short book, 151 pages. It’s not a verse novel, but it almost has a poetic feel to it. It’s also not fantasy, but the boy who is found on the porch, Jacob, is a fantastic magical realism kind of character. He paints and makes music with abilities way beyond his years, but he never speaks and later in the book, he simply disappears.
This book tells a story that would be just right matched with just the right reader(s). However, they’re probably going to have to find it serendipitously because it’s going to be a hard one to sell—or to peg the right child to sell it to.
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking: A 14 Day Mystery by Erin Dionne.
“Early in the morning of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers overwhelmed the security guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and then spent over an hour alone in the building, stealing thirteen pieces of priceless art. These masterpieces have yet to be found.”
Now, if that’s not a set-up for a middle grade mystery adventure novel, I don’t know what is. I read this one just after reading Hold Fast by Blue Balliet, and I had to keep reminding myself that Balliet’s novel was the jewel heist. This one was by another author, Erin Dionne, and took place in Boston, not Chicago. Nevertheless, fans of Balliet’s Chasing Vermeer or The Calder Game would probably be drawn into this tale of Moxie Fleece and her friend Ollie and their dangerous, but exciting, search for the artworks stolen from Gardner museum more than twenty years ago.
I’ve read a couple of other books by Ms. Dionne, and I really think she’s hit her stride with this story. Moxie is a little too sassy for my tastes, but no worse than my own twelve year old gets sometimes. And Moxie’s friend, Ollie, is a delight: a science geek who’s into geo-caching. I wanted to adopt Ollie.
“It’s a race against the clock through downtown Boston as Moxie and Ollie break every rule she’s ever lived by to find the art and save her family.” (from the cover blurb)
Other “art theft” middle grade novels: Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Marvin the Beetle and his eleven year old human friend, James, work together to foil an attempted art theft and forgery of priceless works by the great artist Albrecht Durer. Chasing Vermeer and The Calder Game by Blue Balliet. Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce.Framed is a kid caper comedy about Fine Art and Mutant Ninja Turtles. And small town life. And slate mines. And insurance fraud. And family unity. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Heist Society by Ally Carter. Katarina Bishop is determined to leave the family business behind, but when the family business is art theft, it’s hard to get away–with anything, including a law-abiding life. Stealing Magic: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure by Marianne Malone. “Ruthie and Jack thought that their adventures in the Thorne Rooms were over . . . until miniatures from the rooms start to disappear. Is it the work of the art thief who’s on the loose in Chicago?” The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt. “A never-before-seen Rembrandt painting has been discovered in Amsterdam. The mysterious man that Kari and Lucas observed must have been working on a forgery! Convinced that no one will believe them without more evidence, the teenage sleuths embark on a madcap adventure to find the forger. But is bringing the criminal to justice worth the price of their lives?” The Mona Lisa Mystery by Pat Hutchins. “Class 3 of Hampstead Primary School takes a school trip to Paris and lands right in the middle of a mystery.” Vidalia in Paris by Sasha Watson. “Teenage Vidalia’s summer in Paris studying art settles into a stimulating and enjoyable routine until she becomes romantically involved with a mysterious young man who seems to have ties to an art-theft ring.”
(Descriptions of books I have not read or reviewed come from GoodReads.)
A sequel featuring Moxie and her geo-caching friend Ollie is in the works: Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting by Erin Dionne, due out summer of 2014.
Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays: Your Favorite Authors Take a Stab at the Dreaded Essay Assignment, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.
These 38 essays by children’s and YA authors such as Elizabeth Winthrop, Rita Williams-Garcia, Kirsten Miller, Laurel Snyder, and Wendy Moss, are not your average English assignment, get it written and turn it in, essays. These essays sparkle. From the introduction to this collection:
“For too long, we have held essays captive in the world’s most boring zoo. We’ve taken all the wild words, elaborate arguments, and big hairy ideas found in essays, and we’ve poached them from their natural habitat. We’ve locked essays in an artificial home.
Essay, we must tame you We must squish you into five paragraphs, and we must give you so much structure that you cower in the corner, scared for your life.
The essay’s fate has long looked bleak. But do not despair, for change is brewing. In the following pages, you’ll catch a glimpse of something most people have never seen in the wild. We’ve let essays out of their cages, and we’ve set them loose. We’ve allowed them to go back to their roots.”
So, in this collection we have a variety of essays, all written with creativity and flair.
How about a personal essay: Ransom Riggs on “Camp Dread, or How to Survive a Shockingly Awful Summer”? It’s a new twist on “What I Did Last Summer.”
Or perhaps a persuasive essay on why we should (Chris Higgins) or shouldn’t (Chris Higgins again) colonize Mars or why the author (Kirsten Miller) believes “Sasquatch Is Out There (And He Wants Us to Leave Him Alone)” or “Why We Need Tails” by Ned Vizzini.
A character analysis essay on Princess Leia (Cecil Castellucci, who is a female, by the way) or Super Mario (Alan Gratz).
The authors take on subjects such as memories (Rita Williams-Garcia), time machines (Steve Almond), life before television (Elizabeth Winthrop), invisibility (Maile Meloy), humpback anglerfish (Michael Hearst) and names (Jennifer Lu).
Did you know you can write graphic essays with pictures (“Penguin Etiquette” by Chris Epting) or cartoons (“On Facing My Fears” by Khalid Birdsong)?
My favorite essay of the bunch, because it spoke to me as a parent, was Lena Roy’s “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll”. I won’t tell you the details of Ms. Roy’s adolescent adventures with being “cool”, but I will refer you to the essay in which her dad makes some very wise parenting decisions and gives the young Lena some very wise words to live by:
“Words matter, Lena. What we say about ourselves matter. The words we use to represent ourselves matter. You know that. We only have so many ways we can express ourselves, and words are the most powerful.”
These essays are examples for teens (and adults) of how words can matter in a good way, how, to use the title of yet another essay in this collection, “A Single Story Can Change Many Lives” (Craig Kielburger). It’s time for us all to start writing those stories— in un-squished, wild, and powerful essays.
What a great tool for teachers and what a great illustration of what the essay can be for students of all ages!
6. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day, July 4, 1826, fifty years after adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
Adams’ last words were: “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”
Jefferson’s last words: “Is it the fourth?”
I highly recommend both David McCullough’s biography of John Adams and the PBS minseries based on McCullough’s book.
7. Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872. He is supposed to have said, “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it,” and “I have never been hurt by anything I didn’t say.”
Also, “we do not need more intellectual power, we need more spiritual power. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen.”
Amen to that. More on Calvin Coolidge and the Fourth of July from A Quiet Simple Life.
9. On July 4, 1970 Casey Kasem hosted “American Top 40″ on radio for the first time. I cannot tell a lie; in high school I spent every Sunday afternoon listening to Casey Kasem count down the Top 40 hits of the week. Why not make up your own Top 40 All-American Hits List and play it on the fourth for your family?
14. Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. Subtitled “The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787,” this book is the one that gave me the story of the US constitution. It’s suitable for older readers, at least middle school age, but it’s historical writing at its best. I loved reading about Luther Martin of Maryland, whom Henry Adams described as “the notorious reprobate genius.” Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts who was”always satisfied to shoot an arrow without caring about the wound he caused.” (Both Gerry and Martin refused to sign the final version of the Constitution.) Of course, there were Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, George Washington, who presided over the convention in which all present knew that they were creating a presidency for him to fill, and Ben Franklin, the old man and elder statesman who had to be carried to the convention in a sedan chair. Ms. Bowen’s book brings all these characters and more to life and gives the details of the deliberations of the constitutional convention in readable and interesting format.
15. Watch a movie. Getttysburg is a tragedy within the tragedy that was the Civil War, but it’s also patriotic and inspiring. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has Jimmy Stewart demonstrating what’s wrong and what’s right about American government and politics.
I like 1776, the musical version of the making of the Declaration Of Independence, but it does have some mildly risque moments. Other patriotic movies.And a few more.
35. Start an all-American read aloud, such as: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit. Tolliver’s Secret by Esther Woods Brady.
39. We always attend the Fourth of July parade in Friendswood, Texas, except not this year since some of us will be traveling. Anyway, find a parade and take the kids or grandkids or neighbor kids. A Fourth of July parade is a celebration of American patriotism in a capsule.
43. Check out A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet. It’s a great book of poems about various famous Americans, and I think lots of kids would enjoy hearing it read aloud, maybe a poem a day in July.
45. Spend some time praying for our nation’s leaders: President Barack Obama, your senators, your representatives, the governor of your state, your state representatives, and others.
46. Wear red, white, and blue. Or put red and blue streaks in your hair. When I was in junior high, flag pins and ponchos were in style. I had a flag pin and a red, white, and blue poncho, both of which I wore together. I was stylin’!
48. Any of the following nonfiction books for children would make a good Fourth of July history lesson: The Story of the Boston Tea Party by R. Conrad Stein The Story of Lexington and Concord by R. Conrad Stein The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence by Dennis Brindell Fradin The Story of the Declaration of Independence by Norman Richards The American Revolution (Landmark Books) by Bruce Jr Bliven The War for Independence: The Story of the American Revolution by Albert Marrin The Story of Valley Forge by R. Conrad Stein Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold by Jean Fritz The Story of the Battle of Yorktown by Anderson Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. The Story of the Constitution by Marilyn Prolman In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights by Russell Freedman An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy George Washington and the Founding of a Nation by Albert Marrin The Story of Old Glory by Mayer
49. Host a block party or potluck dinner.
50. Take a picnic to the park.
51. Read 1776 by David McCullough or the two companion novels, Chains and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson. All three would make great Fourth of July reads. Semicolon thoughts here.
Peggy Noonan on government surveillance and data gathering“There is no way a government in the age of metadata, with the growing capacity to listen, trace, tap, track and read, will not eventually, and even in time systematically, use that power wrongly, maliciously, illegally and in areas for which the intelligence gathering was never intended. People are right to fear that the government’s surveillance power will be abused. It will be.”
All I can say is have they read Orwell’s 1984? No, I mean really, have they read it, or have they read these booksby Cory Doctorow? Or any of the dozens, nay, hundreds of dystopian novels that have been all the rage in YA fiction for the past several years? Don’t they know that the systematic invasion of everyone’s privacy by the government will come back to bite them in the you-know-what?
How to Discourage Artists in the Church by Phillip Ryken. The church needs artists and needs to affirm artists. If some of the items in Mr. Ryken’s list of “ways to discourage artistic giftedness” make you think of something that your church is doing wrong, maybe you can help to create change in this very important area.