Category Archives: Reading the 50 States

The Call of the Wild

I think I must have first read The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, in high school, and it’s been ages since then, so I put it on my Classics Club list and reread it. Of course, with more life experience since my first time reading it, I found it to be much more profound and powerful than I remembered. The writing is beautiful, and this story of survival is very moving.

From the publisher:

The Call of the Wild is a novel by Jack London published in 1903. The story is set in the Yukon during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush—a period when strong sled dogs were in high demand. The novel’s central character is a dog named Buck, a domesticated dog living at a ranch in the Santa Clara valley of California as the story opens. Stolen from his home and sold into the brutal existence of an Alaskan sled dog, he reverts to atavistic traits. Buck is forced to adjust to, and survive, cruel treatments and fight to dominate other dogs in a harsh climate. Eventually he sheds the veneer of civilization, relying on primordial instincts and lessons he learns, to emerge as a leader in the wild.

A favorite quote (that shows the beauty of Jack London’s writing):

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.

As I reread it, the storyline came back to me. It’s such a powerful story of survival, betrayal, loyalty, trust, the brutality of civilization and the savage beauty of nature. I remembered the cruelty and the kindness, so it had made a strong impression on me. But as I said before, with a lifetime between first reading it and now, I understand the depth of the story much better at this age. So, if you read it in high school and haven’t revisited it since then…it’s a beautifully written book that will touch your heart and leave you thinking.

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

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in Alaska.

Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is an award winning book for young people. It won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming book, and I just wanted to take Bud (not Buddy) home with me.

“A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower-in-waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that’s you.”

— This is what Bud’s mother told him about his name, and is why he always introduces himself as “Bud, not Buddy.”

Bud is an orphan, having lost his mother four years ago, and not knowing who his father was, he was placed in an orphanage. The time was during the depression; the place was Flint, Michigan; and an orphanage during that time was a miserable place to be. After being in the orphanage, and then experiencing an abusive foster home, Bud ran away and decided to try to find out who his father was from the clues his mother left behind. He carried those clues with him everywhere in a tattered old suitcase tied up with twine.

His first stop after running away was the library. The librarian had always been very kind to him, and he knew she would understand and help him. However, he discovered that she had gotten married and moved away, but the new librarian took him underwing and helped him figure out a walking route to Grand Rapids, where he thought his father might be, based on his mother’s clues.

Shucks, this is one of the bad things about talking to librarians, I asked one question and already she had us digging through three different books.

The twists and turns of how he finally got to a destination in Grand Rapids were fun to read, and quite adventurous. It was not easy for anyone to travel during that period of time, and it was especially dangerous for a young black boy to be traveling alone. But he met some Helpers along the way, and what awaited him in Grand Rapids was a new life, but not without twists and turns first.

If you didn’t have a real good imagination you’d probably think those noises were the sounds of some kid blowing a horn for the first time, but I knew better than that. I could tell those were the squeaks and squawks of one door closing and another one opening.

In the Afterword to the book, the author, Christopher Paul Curtis, talked about how he learned about this period of time and how he based some of the characters on his own grandfathers. He had a wonderful piece of advice for his readers:

Much of what I discovered about the depression I learned through research in books, which is a shame—I didn’t take advantage of the family history that surrounded me for many years. I’m afraid that when I was younger and my grandparents and parents would start to talk about their lives during the depression, my eyes would glaze over and I’d think, “Oh, no, not those boring tall tales again!” and I’d find the most convenient excuse I could to get away from them. Now I feel a real sorrow when I think of all the knowledge, wisdom and stories that have been forever lost with the deaths of my grandparents. Be smarter than I was: Go talk to Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad and other relatives and friends. Discover and remember what they have to say about what they learned growing up. By keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal.

This is such an enjoyable book to read, especially during Black History Month, which this year focuses on families. Read it with your family, read it to your middle grade students, or read it by yourself on a snowy afternoon. It will warm your heart.

Bass Player, by La Shun Beal

Classics Club Spin, #24: The House on Mango Street

“She thinks stories are about beauty. Beauty that is there to be admired by anyone, like a herd of clouds grazing overhead. She thinks people who are busy working for a living deserve beautiful little stories, because they don’t have much time and are often tired.”

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, is a beautifully written series of vignettes, very poetic and poignant, about a young Hispanic girl growing up in Chicago. These short little narratives of so many episodes in her life, create a clear view of the culture she grows up in and the struggles she faces in coming of age. It’s not an easy life, but she is one who observes closely and learns from her experiences. She is often lonely on her road to self-discovery, but is also surrounded by family and friends. She seeks beauty and a life beyond where she is growing up. And she describes it all as a poet would.

“Someday I will have a best friend all my own. One I can tell my secrets to. One who will understand my jokes without my having to explain them. Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor.”

The House on Mango Street was one of my choices for my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

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 I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in Illinois.

The Time Garden

What Ann was thinking was that maybe this summer would turn out to be a wonderful magic one like the summer before. It had a lot of magic-seeming things in it already — parents being called away and four children sent to stay in an old house by the sea. Lots of magic adventures in books started out that way.

Many years ago, I read a fun fantasy novel for middle grade students. It was called Half Magic, by Edward Eager, and was the first in a series of books that are full of fun and magic and are a delight to read. I kept Half Magic in my class library for my sixth grade students to enjoy. Just recently, I read the 4th book in the series, and it was just as delightful. It was called The Time Garden, and had very interesting magic in it, too.

from the publisher:

But you can’t find magic just anywhere. It doesn’t grow like grass. It requires the right place and the right time . . . Or thyme, as the case may be. At Mrs. Whiton’s house, magic grows as wild as the banks of thyme in the garden. Growing there is olden time, future time, and common time. Or so says the Natterjack, the toadlike creature who accompanies the children on a series of hilarious, always unpredictable adventures. “Anything can happen,” the Natterjack says, “when you have all the time in the world.”

Four children, sent to stay with “old Mrs. Whiton” for the summer, had four amazing adventures in time. By picking a different type of Thyme from a magical Thyme garden, the children were able to travel through time to four different locations and time periods. One adventure was to visit young Louisa May Alcott because they loved the books she would eventually write! As with all the books in this series by Edward Eager, the magic is complicated and makes for an even more interesting adventure. 

It’s a sweet novel, a wonderful summer read for young or old.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. The author of this book was from Ohio.

The Turning

The Turning, by Emily Whitman, won the 2019 Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature, Oregon Book Awards. I was completely carried away with it when I read it recently and feel it was a worthy winner of this prestigious Oregon book award, as well as the Oregon Spirit Book Award, which it also won!  A coming-of-age story, beautifully written, it is highly recommended for middle-grade readers. I so enjoyed the magical aura I was immersed in while reading it. A young boy, half-human and half-selkie… where does he really belong? On land or in the sea with his selkie clan?

from the publisher:

Aran has never truly fit in with his selkie clan. He was born in his human form, without a pelt to transform him into a sleek, strong seal. Each day he waits, left behind while his selkie family explores the deep ocean. What if his pelt never comes? Does the Moon even see him? Is he putting his clan at risk?

When his mother undertakes a journey to the far north to seek help, Aran is left in the care of a reclusive human woman on remote Spindle Island. Life on land is full of more wonders–and more dangers–than Aran could have ever imagined. Soon Aran will be forced to decide: will he fight for his place on land, or return to his home in the sea?

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book was written by an author from Oregon and won two Oregon book awards.

Wanderlust: Reading the 50 States


I am enjoying my “Wanderlust: Reading the World” ongoing personal reading project so much that I’ve decided to expand it by also reading a book from each of the 50 states. (That inspiration came from my blogging friend, Cath, at Read_Warbler.)  I’ll call it “Wanderlust: Reading the States”.  I’m not a glutton for punishment, I assure you. I’m just interested in and curious about the world around me, and these personal projects are stress-free, motivating, enjoyable, and a way of expanding my horizons. All from my favorite reading chair (on the porch again before too long, I hope!).

I decided that I wanted the two projects to run side-by-side. They are “ongoing” with no time limit and are just meant to be fun reading journeys. I’ll review most of the books I read, but not necessarily every one.  Please do check back here occasionally to see where I’ve been “traveling.”

Red: Read and reviewed
Blue: Read but not reviewed yet

17/50 States

  1. Alabama:  Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston
  2. Alaska:  The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  3. Arizona:
  4. Arkansas:
  5. California:  The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck
  6. Colorado:
  7. Connecticut:
  8. Delaware:  
  9. Florida:
  10. Georgia:  Our Time is Now, by Stacey Abrams
  11. Hawaii
  12. Idaho
  13. Illinois:  The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
  14. Indiana
  15. Iowa
  16. Kansas
  17. Kentucky
  18. Louisiana:  Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges / The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles
  19. Maine:  The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett
  20. Maryland:  Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
  21. Massachusetts
  22. Michigan:  Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis
  23. Minnesota
  24. Mississippi
  25. Missouri
  26. Montana:  A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean
  27. Nebraska
  28. Nevada
  29. New Hampshire
  30. New Jersey
  31. New Mexico:  Death Comes For The Archbishop, by Willa Cather
  32. New York:  Here is New York, by E.B. White
  33. North Carolina
  34. North Dakota
  35. Ohio:  The Time Garden, by Edward Eager
  36. Oklahoma
  37. Oregon:  The Turning, by Emily Whitman
  38. Pennsylvania
  39. Rhode Island
  40. South Carolina:  Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
  41. South Dakota
  42. Tennessee
  43. Texas
  44. Utah
  45. Vermont:  Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter
  46. Virginia
  47. Washington
  48. West Virginia
  49. Wisconsin
  50. Wyoming:  One Day At Teton Marsh, by Sally Carrighar

The Country of the Pointed Firs

During my junior year in high school, we were required to read Sarah Orne Jewett‘s, The Country of the Pointed Firs. I remember that it was a “quiet” book, but I don’t remember much else about that reading of it. It must have struck a chord within me, though, because when I was putting together my list of 50 classics to read in 5 years for The Classics Club, I put it on my list. I’m so glad I did!

I bought both the book version and the audiobook so I could both read and listen at the same time. At first, the audiobook almost put me to sleep and I thought I wouldn’t be able to listen to that particular narrator. I was wrong. I’m so glad I listened to it because it was such an authentic reading of the book, Maine accent and all!

The Country of the Pointed Firs, written in 1896, is a series of stories, vignettes, of a small town on the coast of Maine. There isn’t much of a plot, but the vignettes are all interconnected stories of the inhabitants of the village. Through those interconnected lives, you get a real feeling for the tough gentleness of the villagers, the strength they share, and the struggles they faced with that climate and way of making a living from a rugged ocean.  With her beautiful and honest language, Jewett captured a time gone past and created a deep sense of place.

I found the book very nostalgic, quite profound in its simplicity and direct storytelling. I was most moved by the story of the brokenhearted Joanna, abandoned by the man she loved, who withdrew from the life around her and lived alone for the rest of her life on a small island off the coast. The island became her hermitage, and the townspeople watched over her from afar, respecting her decision to withdraw but helping her out in whatever little ways she would accept.

My high school self appreciated the beauty of Jewett’s writing, but my seventy-year-old self deeply appreciates so much more. It is a book that you must read slowly, you cannot be in the hurry of modern life. You must read each word, because the dialect is just as important as the story itself. And you must take the time to let the sense of place and the timeless LIFE within this book soak in.

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

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in Maine.

Death Comes for the Archbishop

“During those last weeks of the Bishop’s life he thought very little about death; it was the Past he was leaving. The future would take care of itself.”

Death Comes for the Archbishop is my favorite book written by Willa Cather so rereading it for my Classics Club challenge was a pleasure. It’s such a beautifully written book. It is an historical fiction, based on the life of Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who served as the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and of his friend, Joseph Projectus Machebeuf.

From the publisher:

There is something epic–and almost mythic–about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows–gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Out of these events Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.

The character of Father Latour was of a gentle, caring, intelligent and introverted man. This man’s personality was in stark contrast with the rugged western landscapes and the “wildness” of the west at that time, but he showed courage, perseverance, and kindness toward all through the experiences of his life.

But Jean, who was at ease in any society and always the flower of courtesy, could not form new ties. It had always been so. He was like a very few. To man’s wisdom it would have seemed that a priest with Father Latour’s exceptional qualities would have been better placed in some part of the world where scholarship, a handsome person, and delicate perceptions all have their effect; and that a man of much rougher type would have served God well enough as the first Bishop of New Mexico. Doubtless Bishop Latour’s successors would be men of a different fibre. But God had his reasons, Father Joseph devoutly believed. Perhaps it pleased Him to grace the beginning of a new era and a vast new diocese by a fine personality. And perhaps, after all, something would remain through the years to come: some ideal, or memory, or legend.

The stories of the Archbishop’s interactions with the Mexican and Indian peoples and their cultures were poignantly and honestly told. The political problems of both cultures with the American government were complex, but reflecting towards the end of his life, the Bishop said, “My son, I have lived to see two great wrongs righted; I have seen the end of black slavery, and I have seen the Navajos restored to their own country.”

Cather’s  descriptions of New Mexico are exquisite. She uses her words as if a painter and the visions she creates in our minds are full of color and emotion.

“The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, — and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!”

I do love this work of art and the artistry of Willa Cather. Reading this book fills me with sunshine and deep emotion. I am in awe of her mastery of language.

“Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!”

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also a book on my list for my personal reading journey, “May Sunshine Light Your Day.”

 

I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in New Mexico.