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Autumn Beginnings

Posted by Sherry on 8/28/2017 in Autumn, Children's Fiction, General |

Hooray for fall! Here are a few introductory lines from children’s fiction books with an autumn setting—or at least, an autumn beginning:

MoominValley in November by Tove Jansson. “Early one morning in Moominvalley Snufkin woke up in his tent with the feeling that autumn had come and that it was time to break camp.”

B Is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood. ” . . . this morning Betsy was so busy feeling unhappy that she forgot all about the birds. Betsy was unhappy because today was the first day of school. She had never been to school, and she was sure she would not like it.”

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes. “The way Mama could peel apples! A few turns of the knife and there the apple was, all skinned! . . . Jane sighed. Her mother’s peeling fell off in long lovely curls, while, for the life of her, Jane couldn’t do any better than these thick little chunks which she popped into her mouth.”

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater. “It was an afternoon in late September. In the pleasant little city of Stillwater, Mr. Popper, the house painter, was going home from work.”

Freddy Plays Football by Walter R. Broooks. “Jinx, the black cat, was curled up in the exact center of the clean white counterpane that Mrs. Bean had just put on the spare room bed.”

The Bully of Barkham Street by Mary Stolz. “Martin Hastings wriggled at his desk. He squirmed and yawned and wished the bell would ring. It was the last period of the day, a hazy, hot fall day, and he was restless.”

Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson. “He began to trot across the yard. His breath was coming out in little puffs—cold for August. But it was early yet.”

Mystery Over the Brick Wall by Helen Fuller Orton. “One afternoon in late September the four members of the Bond family piled into their car for a very exciting trip. They were starting to a city fifty miles away, where they were to have a new home.”

Flaming Arrows by William O. Steele. “‘I reckon it’s suppertime,’ remarked Chad, letting his ax slip to the ground. He straightened up slowly. He was bone-tired, and his back was one fierce ache. But he was proud of himself. He figured he had never worked so hard in all his eleven years, for he’d spent this livelong day chopping trees and had done a man’s work.”

Sounder by William Armstrong. “The tall man stood at the edge of the porch. The roof sagged from the two rough posts which held it, almost closing the gap between his head and the rafters. The dim light from the cabin window cast long equal shadows from man and posts. A boy stood nearby shivering in the cold October wind. He ran his fingers back and forth over the broad crown of a coon dog named Sounder.”

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. “On a bright Saturday afternoon in the early fall, Tom and Caddie and Warren Woodlawn sat on a bank of the Menomonie River, or Red Cedar as the call it now, taking off their clothes.”

Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary. “It was a warm September day, and Ramona, neat and clean, with lunch bag in hand, half skipped, half hopped, scrunching through dry leaves on the sidewalk. She was early, she knew, but Ramona was the sort of girl who was always early because something might happen that she didn’t want to miss.”

The Great Brain at the Academy by John D. Fitzgerald. “When my brother Tom began telling people in Adenville, Utah, that he had a great brain everybody laughed at him, including his own family. We all thought he was trying to play some joke on us. But after he had used his great brain to swindle all the kids in town and make fools of a lot of grownups nobody laughed at my brother anymore. I think that was why just about everybody in town except his own family was glad to see Tom leave Adenville on September 1, 1897.”

51 Sycamore Lane, or A Spy in the Neighborhood by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. “School starts tomorrow and I bet the first assignment in Miss Nathan’s English class will be a composition titled ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation.’ This would be my third year with the same title.”

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Saturday Review of Books: August 26, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 8/25/2017 in General |

The Hurricane Harvey edition.

“It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading. A reading people will always be a knowing people.” ~John Wesley

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 Jersey Brothers by Sally Mott Freeman

Posted by Sherry on 8/25/2017 in 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, Nonfiction, World War II |

It’s raining; it’s pouring here in Houston, Texas. And Hurricane Harvey is headed for Corpus Christi and set to bring Houston a whole heck of a lot of more rain and possible/probable flooding. And my personal and family life is a bit of a mess, too.

However, if ever a book would cause me to pause and count my blessings, The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family’s Quest to Bring Him Home is that book. I thought the scenes and descriptions in Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand were harrowing and violent and disturbing, but this book tops that one for sheer cruelty and horror, man’s inhumanity to man. It’s not gratuitous, either. As far as I can tell the scenes and events the author describes really happened and were the central truths of the experience of Barton Cross, an American Navy prisoner of war to the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. YOu’ve heard of the “Bataan Death March”? Well, that’s described in this book in excruciating detail, even though Ensign Cross didn’t have to participate in that particular piece of history. (Many of his fellow prisoners did.) And the Battle of the Coral Sea and Iwo Jima and Tarawa—all described, again in horrific detail because one or the other of Barton’s two brothers were there. All three brothers were Navy officers, and the older two, Bill (the author’s father) and Benny, spent the war fighting on Navy ships or working in Washington, D.C. and trying all the time to find Barton, their baby brother.

Between the three of them the Jersey Brothers, called that because they were from New Jersey, had a sweeping view of the war in the Pacific, from FDR’s War Room in the White House to Pearl Harbor to the battles across the Pacific to the prisons and camps of Mindanao and Leyte and other Philippine islands. As I read about the experience each of the brothers and of their mother, Helen Cross, at home in New Jersey, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness both for their sacrifice and that of many, many others and for my relatively easy and uneventful life. We may have our problems, but not many of us since World War II have had to suffer or endure anything near what those “greatest generation” men and families did.

I was also convinced again that maybe the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the best solution for an intractable problem—that of ending the war with the least possible loss of life for all concerned. The Japanese were employing suicide bombers (kamikaze) to a much greater extent than I ever remember reading about, and they were not willing to surrender. General MacArthur was intent on invading the Japanese islands, but the predictions of 600,000 American casualties—or more—convinced Truman that the threat of the atomic bomb would save many American and Japanese lives. The army was predicting Japanese casualties during an invasion to run over a million. The Japanese civilians and military were instructed to fight to the death, and many, many were willing to do so. Deaths from both atomic bomb blasts were much, much fewer than any of those estimates and many times fewer than the deaths already sustained by both the Allies and the Japanese in the battles across the Pacific. As horrific as the atomic bombs’ destruction and devastation were, they were not nearly as cruel as the terror and savage brutality that the Japanese visited upon the prisoners of war and the subject peoples that they conquered and ruled over in the Philippines and elsewhere. Take what you’ve read about the Holocaust and the concentration camps in Europe and transfer it to jungles of the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and you will have some idea of the absolute evil that was put to an end by the evil of two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, the atomic bombs were vicious and horrible, but maybe it was God’s mercy that allowed it to happen.

I recommend The Jersey Brothers, if you are able to read about the savagery and the suffering that went on during the war in the Pacific. It did make me thankful for the problems I have and the ones that I don’t.

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The Song of Glory and Ghost by N.D. Wilson

Posted by Sherry on 8/24/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, General |

I could just say that everything I wrote about the first book in the Outlaws of Time series is true of this one, in spades. If you read and liked The Legend of Sam Miracle, you’ll probably like this second book, too. If you had some issues with the first book —pacing, confusing time shifts, complexity, violence and clutter— then, you’ll find those same issues in The Song of Glory and Ghost.

In this volume, Sam and his friend/sidekick, Glory, and the boys of SADDYR, are at their home base on an island near what’s left of Seattle in the year 2034. (Warning to N.D. Wilson from George Orwell: those exact years in the future catch up to you, finally, if your book lasts that long, and before you know it, it’s 1984, or 2034, and the future is no longer the future.) Well, they are mostly on the island, when Peter and Glory aren’t practicing time travel or hunting for The Vulture (El Buitre) or riding a motorcycle back in time to look for supplies. 2034 is a bleak year. Since Sam didn’t kill The Vulture, history has made a turn for the worse, and Seattle and most of the west coast has been destroyed in a series of apocalyptic events. Millions have died, and it’s all Sam’s fault. If he can only find The Vulture in one of the time gardens that is left and destroy him once and for all, maybe the timelines will right itself and Sam will have fulfilled his purpose.

But it’s Glory who takes center stage in this book. When she meets up with Ghost, a sort of Grim Reaper character, he tells her that she is the one can save Peter Atsa Eagle, guide Sam to the time and place where he can confront The Vulture, and defeat the desert demons called the Tzitzimime (somebody pronounce that one for me!). The Vulture has teamed up with the Tzitzimime and their zombie-like army of evil creatures, and their mission is to destroy, decimate, and rule the world. Only Sam and Glory can defeat them and save the world. Yes, the plot sounds a lot like a comic book, and the repeated references to comic books and drawing comics and Sam Miracle as a superhero reinforce the graphic novel feel. But it’s not a graphic novel, or a comic book, and there’s an undercurrent of theme and foundation that makes this story more than just another superhero story.

The problem is that the book tries to be many things: superhero myth, apocalyptic novel, spiritually significant story, and just a not-so-plain time travel adventure, just to name a few. Mr. Wilson draws on Spanish legend and language, Aztec religion and mythology, Christianity, and tales of the Pacific coast and the southwestern United States, again to name just a few sources. And in the middle of serious world-changing scenes, he can’t resist throwing in wry or corny joke or two:

“The two of you are permitted to see me only twice,” Ghost said. “The third time we meet eye to eye, I will be carrying your soul away. Then you may see me as often as you like.”
“Perfect,” Sam muttered. “Let’s hang out tons after we’re dead.”

It’s either comic relief or a distraction, depending on your sense of humor. This book introduces a new character, Samra, and I’m not sure what her purpose is. Maybe she’s Everyman (woman), the one who observes the action and the crazy time travel and snake weaponry from the vantage point of an ordinary human being. Glory, Sam and Peter (Father Tiempo) have become a sort of trinity of gods or super-beings by now so maybe we need an ordinary person to round out the cast.

The Song of Glory and Ghost won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is indeed full of interesting and arresting scenes and themes and characters. If you haven’t read The Legend of Sam Miracle, do read that book first. I don’t think this book would be a good introduction to the series. But again if you liked Legend, you’ll probably like this one, too.

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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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