Author Archives: Robin

About Robin

I’m a wife, mother, grandma, retired teacher, gardener, knitter, and passionate reader. I live near Portland, Oregon, USA.

Nasreen’s Secret School

 

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter, is a very moving picture book about the life of a young girl and her family after the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan. She and her family were living happily in one of the ancient cities of Afghanistan when that change happened.

The Taliban changed every part of life in this country and for this little girl. Girls were immediately banned from attending school, and life became very restricted for all women and girls.  “The art and music and learning are gone. Dark clouds hang over the city.”  And then one day her father was taken away, and after days and weeks of worrying about him, her mother left in search of him. Nasreen stayed at home with her grandmother, but didn’t speak after that.

Her grandmother, who narrates this story, was very worried about her. She wanted her to be able to go to school and learn the things that she and Nasreen’s mother had learned when they were young. She heard about a secret school for girls, and took Nasreen there. The girls had to be extremely careful to arrive at the school at different times so that they were not noticed by the soldiers. The neighborhood boys would distract the soldiers when they saw them getting too close to the green gate of the house where the school was held.

At first Nasreen was silent. She didn’t talk with the other girls or her teacher, and her grandmother continued to be very worried. But slowly, she began to make friends with another girl in the class, she began to enjoying her learning, and she began to talk again.

Although a story written for children, this book was eye-opening to me about what life was/is like for the girls and women of Afghanistan under the tyranny of the Taliban.  Jeanette Winter has written numerous picture books about children in other cultures and I’m reading as many of them as I can find.  You might be interested in reading her “Author’s Note” from the ending of this story of Nasreen.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Afghanistan.

 

Fifty Years!

“We are the sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land.
It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize
each other, to learn to see the other and honor one for what
one is: each the other’s opposite and complement.”

~ Narcissus and Goldmund, by Hermann Hesse

Pollyanna

 

Reading Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter, was a delightful experience. It was not what I expected. I thought it would be candy-coated and preachy. It was not. It was a lovely story about a courageous, positive-thinking girl whose cheerfulness and resilience inspired everyone she met.

It was, I felt, a lesson about making choices, and in Pollyanna’s case she chose happiness. Her father taught her to make the most of each circumstance in her life. She took his lessons to heart, and despite many sad losses and experiences, she chose to focus on the positive instead of the negative. That choice was contagious, and everyone who met this young girl was touched by her kindness, her sense of humor, and her positive outlook. One person can change the world! That was clearly demonstrated in how many people were touched and changed for the better in this story.

This story of hope, kindness, resilience, and positive choices lifted my spirits during this time of gloom and doom and negativity. It was a reminder to choose to do the right things and to reach out to others with kindness and caring. It was a reminder that we can choose to be happy.

 

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

100 is a Big Number

When my mother turned 90 years old, my four-year-old grandson was quite amazed when she told him her age. His sweet response was, “That’s a Big number!”  Today would have been her 100th birthday. She always said she did NOT want to get to 100 years old, and she missed it by one year and three weeks. But I am thinking of her today and feeling so deeply grateful that she was in my life for so many years.

A Long Walk to Water

“The fighting was scattered all around southern Sudan, and now the war had come to where Salva lived.”

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, is the true story of ll-year-old Salva Dut, a Sudanese boy who became one of 20,000 “Lost Boys” during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005).

A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about a girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.

Linda Sue Park is one of my favorite authors from my years of teaching Sixth Grade. My students read her book, The Single Shard, when we studied the Pacific Rim countries, and always liked it. So when I was looking for books to read for my “Wanderlust” self-challenge to read more books from or about different countries and cultures of the world, I knew that many of her books would fit well. This one was so well written, and I was captured by the story of this courageous boy.

It is a sobering yet uplifting story to read. The brutality of war is not softened for young readers, but it is also not graphically portrayed. The focus is on the Salva’s courage and his resilience, his leadership and his hope for the future despite severe deprivation and despair.

During Salva’s long walk across the desert to a refugee camp, he finds his uncle who protects and encourages him.  His uncle’s words became his guiding mantra for the rest of his life.

Most of all, he remembered how Uncle had encouraged him in the desert.  One step at a time … one day at a time…Just today—just this day to get through . . .   Salva told himself this every day. He told the boys in the group, too. And one day at a time, the group made its way to Kenya. More than twelve hundred boys arrived safely. It took them a year and a half.

At the end of the book, there is a short piece written by Salva for the readers of this story:

I overcame all the difficult situations of my past because of the hope and perseverance that I had. I would have not made it without these two things. To young people, I would like to say: Stay calm when things are hard or not going right with you. You will get through it when you persevere instead of quitting. Quitting leads to much less happiness in life than perseverance and hope.     ~Salva

I highly recommend this book, and it is definitely one that could be used in the classroom for helping students understand the complex issue of refugees. There is so much hope in this story, with its messages of courage, perseverance, and resilience. And the life that Salva has built since those days in truly inspiring.

You can learn a lot more about both Salva Dut and Linda Sue Park by watching interviews with them, watching a Ted Talks by Salva, and visiting the web site of the life-saving organization he and some friends started: Water For South Sudan. Here are some links that I found very interesting after reading the book.

Salva Dut and Linda Sue Park

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book from Sudan and South Sudan.

Reunion

One year ago, we lost Mom. After we celebrated her life, we decided that, as a family, we would continue to get together at least once each year. So my brothers and their wives, and Byron and I, all met in Salt Lake City once again last week for our first annual get-together. What a wonderful reunion!

It was nice that this first get-together was in Salt Lake City. We were able to visit Red Butte Garden and spend time at our memorial bench — our memorial now for both our parents. They both donated their bodies to the University Medical School, so we don’t have a gravesite to visit. Instead, we have a memorial bench in the rose garden of Red Butte Garden, and it couldn’t be a lovelier, more uplifting place to sit and remember them.

During the week, we also enjoyed time at the Natural History Museum, always a favorite; went on long morning walks; hiked around Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon; went out to eat at all our favorite restaurants; visited The King’s English Bookshop; and spent a lot of time reminiscing.

Books are always part of our discussions when we get together as a family.  We shared about books read and then, of course, some of us bought new books. Here’s a bullet list of books discussed and/or purchased during the week.

  • On Immunity, by Eula Biss
  • Chances Are…, by Richard Russo
  • Dark Money, by Jane Mayer
  • My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor
  • Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
  • Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
  • Furious Hours, by Casey Cep
  • Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
  • Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
  • Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren
  • The Sadness of Beautiful Things, by Simon Van Booy
  • Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman
  • The Natural World: Portraits of Earth’s Great Ecosystems, by Thomas D. Mangelsen

Such a fun week! Good people, good food, good books, and a beautiful location for a reunion. We also decided that next year we’ll meet on the east coast!

Waiting for the Biblioburro

Waiting for the Biblioburro, by Monica Brown, is based on a true story from Colombia about the children who live in remote areas and don’t have access to libraries or even school books.

In this picture book story, a young girl, Ana, longs to have books to read but she lives too far away from a library. But one day she hears the clip-clop of a burro approaching. She looks to see who is coming and sees a man leading a burro, and the burro is loaded down with bags of books!

This is a wonderful little book that can start many important conversations in a classroom, and is a sweet read for any of us who simply love books and libraries!

To learn more about Luis Soriano Bohórquez, the man who started the biblioburro, a real-life mobile library, click here.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Colombia.

On the Road Again

Road trip! We are heading to the Intermountain West to meet up with my brothers and my sisters-in-law. We have so much fun when we all get together! I am looking forward to lots of reminiscing, sharing photos of grandkids, endless talking about books and music, hopefully not too much time spent discussing politics, eating out, hiking in the canyons, walking in Red Butte Garden, shopping at The King’s English Bookshop, going to the Natural History Museum. I’m taking my Kindle and a couple of library books, but I’m sure I’ll come home with more books than I started with, and my TBR list will definitely be much longer. On the road again!

Books I’m taking with me: