Category Archives: Reading the World

Deep in the Sahara

Deep in the Sahara, by Kelly Cunnane and illustrated by Hoda Hadadi, is the story of a young Mauritanian girl named Lalla. She desperately wants to wear a malafa like her mother, her older sister, and her grandmother. But a malafa is not to be worn until a young girl understands why they are worn.

from the publisher:

Lalla lives in the Muslim country of Mauritania, and more than anything, she wants to wear a malafa, the colorful cloth Mauritanian women, like her mama and big sister, wear to cover their heads and clothes in public. But it is not until Lalla realizes that a malafa is not just worn to show a woman’s beauty and mystery or to honor tradition—a malafa for faith—that Lalla’s mother agrees to slip a long cloth as blue as the ink in the Koran over Lalla’s head, under her arm, and round and round her body. Then together, they pray.

This was such a sweet and interesting story with beautiful illustrations. I didn’t know much about Mauritania, except that it is a West African nation. And I didn’t know much about the practice of Islam there, or the customs of dress, so this was an interesting learning for me. It would be a wonderful addition to a class library or a family’s collection of books on diversity and world cultures. Here is a photo of the author’s notes on writing this story, which I thought were as interesting as the book itself! (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

 

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 story from Mauritania.

Ada’s Violin

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, is a true story told in picture book form. It’s a very heartwarming story about the power of music and creativity to bring hope to the slums of Paraguay.

from the publisher:

Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.

It’s so nice to find a story of inspiration and hope. Ada’s dreams of playing the violin were fulfilled beyond her imagination, thanks to the work of Favio Chávez. Here are some links to more information on both Mr. Chávez and the Recycled Orchestra.

Click here to see a live performance on YouTube of the Recycled Orchestra.

Click here to see an NPR report on the Recycled Orchestra.


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 Paraguay.

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna, by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, is a wonderful introduction to the culture of Kenya, and a fascinating memoir of a talented Maasai boy. Mr. Lekuton tells his boyhood stories and tells how, with the help of his tribe, he was sent to study in an American college, St. Lawrence University in New York.

from the publisher:

Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton gives American kids a firsthand look at growing up in Kenya as a member of a tribe of nomads whose livelihood centers on the raising and grazing of cattle. Readers share Lekuton’s first encounter with a lion, the epitome of bravery in the warrior tradition. They follow his mischievous antics as a young Maasai cattle herder, coming-of-age initiation, boarding school escapades, soccer success, and journey to America for college. Lekuton’s riveting text combines exotic details of nomadic life with the universal experience and emotions of a growing boy.

After graduating from St. Lawrence, he taught middle school in Virginia for many years, and then was accepted at Harvard University where he earned a Master’s degree in International Education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

He returned to Kenya in 2007, and was elected as a representative in the National Assembly of Kenya. He was reelected in 2013. His work has been dedicated to improving the lives of young Kenyans through education.

To bridge cultures you must mix people together,” he says. “Education and travel are the best teachers.

This was a very enjoyable book, a wonderful introduction to Kenya and to a young boy who grew up to be an inspirational man.

Click here to listen to Joseph Lekuton’s TED Talk, “A Parable for Kenya.”

 

I chose to read this book 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 about Kenya.

A Tiger for Malgudi

A Tiger for Malgudi, by R. K. Narayan, is an unusual book, a story about humanity from the viewpoint of a captured tiger. It is a compelling story, with much humor, very well written and enjoyable to read. But it is much more than an entertaining read. It is full of insight and wisdom about human beings and the human condition, and I found it refreshing and uplifting.

Summary of the story from the publisher:

A venerable tiger, old and toothless now, looks back over his life from cubhood and early days roaming wild in the Indian jungle. Trapped into a miserable circus career as ‘Raja the magnificent’, he is then sold into films (co-starring with a beefy Tarzan in a leopard skin) until, finding the human world too brutish and bewildering, he makes a dramatic bid for freedom.

R.K. Narayan’s story combines Hindu mysticism with ripe Malgudi comedy, viewing human absurdities through the eyes of a wild animal and revealing how, quite unexpectedly, Raja finds sweet companionship and peace.

To give you a good idea of the wisdom of this little book, here are some of my favorite passages:

  • You are not likely to understand that I am different from the tiger next door, that I possess a soul within this forbidding exterior. I can think, analyse, judge, remember and do everything that you can do, perhaps with greater subtlety and sense. I lack only the faculty of speech.

 

  • For one used to the grand silence of the jungle, the noisy nature of humanity was distressing.

 

  • Tigers attack only when they feel hungry, unlike human beings who slaughter one another without purpose or hunger …’

 

  • All growth takes place in its own time. If you brood on your improvements rather than your shortcomings, you will be happier.’

 

  • We have lost the faculty of appreciating the present living moment. We are always looking forward or backward and waiting for one or sighing for the other, and lose the pleasure of awareness of the moment in which we actually exist.

 

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

 

 

I also 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 story from India.

The Upstairs Room

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
― Elie Wiesel

My husband and I started our stay-home/stay-safe time, due to the Covid-19 virus, thirty-seven days ago (yes, I’m keeping track). A little over a month feels like forever, so I understand the growing unrest nation-wide with the lockdown. But I wish all of us would practice more patience (for all our sakes) and try to keep these life-saving measures in perspective. Thirty-seven days isn’t anything compared to the 25 months that Anne Frank spent in hiding, or the author of the book I recently read, who was in hiding with her sister for almost 3 years!

That book was an autobiographical story of a young Jewish girl and her sister who survived the Holocaust by being hidden in the home of some kind villagers! The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss, is a book for young people and was very well written. It won numerous awards, including the Newbery Honor Award, and is an excellent story for children to read and learn about the Holocaust, and perhaps to help them understand self-isolation.

from the publisher:

When the German army occupied Holland in 1940, Annie was only eight years old. Because she was Jewish, the occupation put her in grave danger. Most people thought the war wouldn’t last long, but Annie knew that if she wanted to stay alive, she would have to go into hiding.

Fortunately, a Gentile family, the Oostervelds, offered refuge to Annie and her older sister, Sini. For two years they hid in the cramped upstairs room of the Oostervelds’s remote farmhouse. There, Annie and Sini would struggle to hold on to hope—separated from their family and confined to one tiny room—as a frightful and seemingly endless war raged on outside their window.

 

It was a very moving book to read, and I recommend it highly if you haven’t heard of it.

Honors for The Upstairs Room:

Newbery Honor Book 1973
Outstanding Book of 1972 (New York Times)
Notable Children’s Books of 1971-1975 (American Library Association)
Best Books of 1972 (School Library Journal)
Children’s Books 1972  (Library of Congress)
Jewish Book Council Children’s Book Award
School Library Journal Best Book
Jane Addams Book Award Honor Book
Buxtehuder Bulle  (Outstanding Children’s Book Promoting Peace, Germany)

Johanna Reiss

I also 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 about Netherlands.

Icelanders

As part of my ongoing project of reading books from different countries of the world, “Wanderlust,” I found a delightful and humorous book about Icelanders. When I was teaching sixth grade many years ago, I had a lovely Icelandic girl in class. She sparked my interest in Iceland and it’s spectacular geological history, but I actually know very little about the people and the culture, so this book was a fun introduction to both!

The book is called:  The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people, written by Alda Sigmundsdóttir.

After more than 20 years away, Alda Sigmundsdottir returned to her native Iceland as a foreigner. With a native person’s insight yet an outsider’s perspective, Alda quickly set about dissecting the national psyche of the Icelanders. This second edition, from 2018, contains new and updated chapters from the original edition, reflecting the changes in Icelandic society and among the Icelandic people since the book was first published in 2012.

It was an interesting way to learn about a culture, through humor. Alda Sigmundsdottir has written a whole series of little books about Icelanders, and I’d like to read them all! I laughed a lot while reading this book, not AT the Icelanders, but at ourselves as human beings. By the end of the book, I was totally taken by the quirkiness and warmheartedness of the people, and would love to visit there (but not until after I read her book called The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland: Tips, tricks, and what the Icelanders really think of you.).

Here are some quotes from the book, that give you a glimpse of the people and culture of this country of starkly beautiful landscapes.

“Grasping the national psyche of the Icelandic people is like trying to catch a slippery fish with your bare hands.”

Hláturinn lengir lífið, the Icelanders say – “laughter prolongs your life”. There is no doubt in my mind that laughter has not only prolonged the life of individual Icelanders, but has been a source of formidable strength for the nation as a whole.”

If there is one phrase that captures the Icelanders’ innate sense of optimism better than any other, it is this: Þetta reddast. Þetta reddast should be emblazoned across the nation’s coat of arms, for it is a phrase that captures the essence of the Icelandic national character perhaps better than any other – their optimism, their irreverence, their faith, their tenacity. It also happens to be a phrase that the Icelanders use constantly. Þetta reddast basically means: This will all work out one way or another. Just lost your job? Þetta reddast. No money in the bank? Þetta reddast. Economy just melted down? Þetta reddast. Volcano just spewed ash all over your arable land? Þetta reddast líka. I love the phrase þetta reddast. To me, it incorporates a profound philosophy. Because when things are totally dark and you really can’t see the way out, often the best thing you can do is let go and trust that somehow, some way, things will work out for the best. And the amazing thing is that … they almost always do.”

 

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 about Iceland.

Manuscript Found in Accra

Manuscript Found in Accra, by Paulo Coehlo, reminded me a lot of The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, but I liked The Prophet much better. There were some nuggets of wisdom in this one, but it bothered me that it was styled so much after Gibran.

I liked this passage from the book:

“Love appears and says: “You think you’re heading towards a specific point, but the whole justification for the goal’s existence lies in your love for it. Rest a little, but as soon as you can, get up and carry on. Because ever since your goal found out that you were traveling toward it, it has been running to meet you.”

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 book was written by a very popular author from BRAZIL.

Stepping Stones

During this week of unspeakable horror in Syria, I found a little book at the library that shone with beauty and hope. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, written by Margriet Ruurs and with illustrations created by Nizar Ali Badr, is a honest and poignant story of a Syrian family’s experience of having to leave their beloved home and country and flee for their lives. Fortunately, they find open arms and help in a new country. This book would be a wonderful teaching tool for families and classrooms to help all understand the refugee crisis worldwide. It also gives information about how one can give help during this humanitarian crisis.

from the publisher, Orca Book Publishers:

This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. The author was immediately impressed by the strong narrative quality of Mr. Badr’s work, and, using many of Mr. Badr’s already-created pieces, she set out to create a story about the Syrian refugee crisis. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story.

from Social Justice Books:

This bilingual children’s picture book (English and Arabic) is worth reading for the illustrations alone. The three dimensional characters, made from beach stone by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, are so expressive and exquisite that they tell a story of their own. Badr conveys the plight of refugees, although he himself has never left Syria. He explains, “How could I leave the country that gave to humanity the world’s oldest writing, the cuneiform alphabet?”

What can you do to make a difference?

 

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

September Reflections 2019

Have a told you that I love Septembers? This retired teacher finds particular pleasure in the warm and lovely freedom of Septembers without having to start a school year! I do miss the kiddos, but I am so happy to have time now to read, travel, volunteer and simply enjoy setting my own agenda for each day.

This September was full of books. I’ve been reading books that fit in with a variety of challenges that I either joined or created for myself. Mysteries have been the major focus of the month due to the annual Readers Imbibing Peril challenge, which I love. But I have read a book for my Official TBR Pile challenge, and read a few things that fit with my Embracing Seventy self-challenge, and my Wanderlust self-challenge. So it’s been a productive month as well as an enjoyable one. Here are some lists of books read in September.

Mysteries I read this month for R.I.P.-XIV:

  1. Christmas in Absaroka County, by Craig Johnson
  2. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  3. The Religious Body, by Catherine Aird
  4. An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten
  5. The Case of the Famished Parson, by George Bellairs
  6. Rose Cottage, by Mary Stewart
  7. The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier (review pending)
  8. Trouble in Nuala, by Harriet Steel (review pending)

Other books I read in September:

  1.  Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside, by Edward Abbey
  2. Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam, by Huynh Quang Nhuong
  3. Legends of the Maori, by Witcombe’s Story Books
  4. The Librarian of Basra, by Jeanette Winter
  5. Lonely Road, by Nevil Shute

September was also filled with walking and exercise class, gardening, volunteering with Moms Demand Action, and a wonderful trip to the Washington Coast in celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary in August. Life is full and it’s a happy time for us. How nice to be able to say that. I hope your own September was a full and happy one.