Category Archives: Reading the World

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.

The Librarian of Basra

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq, by Jeanette Winter, is a picture book for children that is equally interesting to adults.

…from the Publisher:

“In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.'”*
~ Alia Muhammad Baker

Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra. For fourteen years, her office has been a meeting place for those who love books–until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears the library will be destroyed. She asks government officials for help, but they refuse. So Alia takes matters into her own hands, working secretly with friends to move the thirty-thousand new and ancient books from the library and hide them in their homes. There, the books are stacked in windows and cupboards and even in an old refrigerator. But they are safe until the war moves on–safe with the librarian of Basra.

This moving true story about a real librarian’s brave struggle to save her war-stricken community’s priceless collection of books is a powerful reminder that the love of literature and the passion for knowledge know no boundaries.

 Jeanette Winter, brings us many of these inspirational stories from around the world in picturebook format. I love the idea of introducing children, through these books, to these everyday yet truly inspiring heroes. For me, they pique my curiosity about people I’d never heard of and I find myself pursuing more information and searching for more books about them!

 

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 Iraq.

 

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good is a series of five stories by the Swedish crime writer, Helene Tursten.

…from the Publisher

Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and… no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.

Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.

Over the course of her adventures–or misadventures–this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?

I laughed all the way through this fun little book. Maud is amazingly fit and mentally acute at age 88, and she has no problem taking care of Problems in a unique and lethal way!

 

This was a fun read for my PERIL the FIRST for the R.I.P.-XIV challenge. Highly recommend it!

 

This book also qualifies 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 Sweden.

Water Buffalo Days

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam, by Huynh Quang Nhuong,  is a book of memories of a young boy growing up in Vietnam before the war. The memoir was written for children in the middle grades, but tells such poignant stories that there is definitely no age limit on it. I was quite fascinated with learning about the culture this little boy grew up in, and also learning so much about water buffaloes.

…from the Introduction to the book:

I was born in the central highlands of Vietnam in a small hamlet on a riverbank that had a deep jungle on one side and a chain of high mountains on the other. Across the river, rice fields stretched to the slopes of another chain of mountains…

…Like all farmers’ children in the hamlet, I started working at the age of six. I helped look after the family herd of water buffaloes.

…Animals played a very large part in our lives. Many wild animals were to be feared. Tigers and panthers were dangerous and always trying to steal cattle. But a lone wild hog was even more dangerous than a tiger. The hog attacked every creature in sight, even when he had no need for food. The river held a different danger: crocodiles. Other animals provided food, labor, and often friendship. Watchdogs and water buffaloes were like members of our family.

…I always planned to return to my hamlet to live the rest of my life there. But war disrupted my dreams. The land I love was lost to me forever. These are my memories…

Those memories are told beautifully and are quite remarkable. Although this young boy started working with the family’s water buffalo at age six, it was his ten-year-old brother who trained the animal. The training was fascinating, and I had no idea that water buffalo could be so intelligent, patient, and gentle. This water buffalo also became the main bull in the village and was a fierce protector of the people and the village animals.

It was so interesting to see how the villagers worked together and interacted. And I loved the stories of this boy’s daily life, hopes and dreams, and his deep friendship with the family’s water buffalo.

Although, this is not included in this book, the background on Huynh Quang Nhuong is very interesting but sad. The Vietnam War interrupted all his hopes and dreams. During the war, he was shot and permanently paralyzed. He was sent to the U.S. for treatment and never returned to his home village. The war changed all of that for him.

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 memoir of a boy growing up in Vietnam.

 

Emmanuel’s Dream

Emmanuel’s Dream: the True Story of Emmanuel Osofu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson, tells the story of a boy from Ghana who was born with a deformed leg. He lived in a time and place where there were no rights for people with disabilities, but his mother did not want his disability to define his life. She encouraged his independence, and instilled in him a drive to succeed and to live his life with no “disability.”

Even as a young child, Emmanuel showed great creativity and courage in how he made adaptations that would help him to do the things he wanted to do. He joined in the neighborhood soccer play with the other children by making some makeshift crutches and doing things with only one leg that were hard for those with two legs! They soon developed a great respect for him. When he wanted to learn how to ride a bike, they helped him. Riding a bike would become an important part of his adult life.

As he grew, Life was never easy for him. His mother became very ill when he was thirteen and he left home for the city to find a job that would help his family. At first no one would hire him because of his disability, but he persisted and did find work. Two years later, at Christmastime, he returned home to care for his dying mother. Her last words to him have guided him through the rest of his life!

“Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up!”

Emmanuel had a big dream. He wanted to ride a bike all around Ghana sharing his message with everyone — that disabled does not mean unable!  He wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, in San Diego, California, asking for help to make his dream come true. They sent him a bike, helmet, and all the gear he needed, and he trained and started his long ride. He rode nearly 400 miles in ten days, and talked with everyone he met, including farm workers, government officials, and reporters. He became an inspiration to all and a national hero.

In his own words: “In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.”

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 Ghana.

A Small Place


A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid, is only 81 pages long, but it hits with a powerful impact. The “small place” is Antigua, the country in which she grew up and describes as being nine miles wide and twelve miles long. With sardonic humor and a laser-precision of words, she reveals the devastating effects of colonialism, slavery, and tourism on this tiny country.

The Antigua that I knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now. That Antigua no longer exists. That Antigua no longer exists partly for the usual reason, the passing of time, and partly because the bad-minded people who used to rule over it, the English, no longer do so.

With incising wit, she reveals the personal toll of the subjugation of the people of Antigua, and the racism and corruption they were and are still faced with on a daily basis, even though now “self-governed.” The “masters” from colonial times, she calls “human rubbish,” and the slaves, she calls “noble and exalted.” And it becomes clear that this beautiful but troubled country continues to struggle with its tortured past and it’s difficult path to self-government.

Here is how she describes Antigua and the people of Antigua today:

Eventually, the masters left, in a kind of way; eventually, the slaves were freed, in a kind of way. The people in Antigua now, the people who really think of themselves as Antiguans (and the people who would immediately come to your mind when you think about what Antiguans might be like; I mean, supposing you were to think about it), are the descendants of those noble and exalted people, the slaves. Of course, the whole thing is, once you cease to be a master, once you throw off your master’s yoke, you are no longer human rubbish, you are just a human being, and all the things that adds up to. So, too, with the slaves. Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this was a very powerful read. I was fascinated by Jamaica Kincaid’s style of writing in this book. Sardonic, bitter, hard-hitting and very effective in helping the reader really understand the long-term devastating impacts on the country of Antigua of colonialism, slavery, post-independence corruption, and racism. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like the little book before, and I admire the power of this writer’s words.

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 Antigua.

 

I also read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. Jamaica Kincaid was born in the same year as me, 1949!  Happy 70th Birthday year to you, too, Ms. Kincaid!

Island Treasures

Island Treasures, by Alma Flor Ada, is a collection of two of her books, Where the Flame Trees Bloom, and Under the Royal Palms, plus a new set of stories called “Days at La Quinta Simoni.”

I read the two books that are included in this collection many years ago, and I read this new collection in February of this year but didn’t review it. A few weeks ago, I found that it was available as an audiobook on Audible, so I downloaded it and listened to it. What a lovely way to experience this book! The narrator, Trini Alvarado, is absolutely perfect! She has a beautiful voice for both reading and singing! It was fun to hear the little songs included in the book…a wonderful addition to the experience of reading these beautifully written stories.

from the publisher:

The author of My Name Is Maria Isabel offers an inspiring look at her childhood in Cuba in this collection that includes “Where the Flame Trees Bloom”, “Under the Royal Palms”, five new stories, and more. These true autobiographical tales from renowned Hispanic author and educator Alma Flor Ada are filled with family love and traditions, secrets and deep friendships, and a gorgeous, moving picture of the island of Cuba, where Alma Flor grew up.

Told through the eyes of a child, a whole world comes to life in this audio: the blind great-grandmother who never went to school but whose wisdom and generosity overflowed to those around her; the hired hand, Samone, whose love for music overcame all difficulties; the beloved dance teacher who helped sustain young Alma Flor through a miserable year in school; her dear and daring Uncle Medardo, who bravely flew airplanes; and more.

Heartwarming, poignant, and often humorous, this wonderful collection encourages listeners to discover the stories in their own lives – and to celebrate the joys and struggles we all share, no matter where or when we grew up.

I discovered Alma Flor Ada’s work while I was teaching because one of her picture books for young readers was included in our second grade reading text. My students and I both loved the story, and I followed up my own interest by researching the author. I discovered a dedicated educator, wonderful award-winning writer, and delightful human being!  And I found a treasure trove of stories for young and old!

about Alma Flor Ada (from her Amazon page):

Alma Flor Ada, Pro­fes­sor Emerita at the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco, has devoted her life to advo­cacy for peace by pro­mot­ing a ped­a­gogy ori­ented to per­sonal real­iza­tion and social jus­tice. A for­mer Rad­cliffe Scholar at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity and Ful­bright Research Scholar she is an inter­na­tion­ally re-known speaker and the author of numer­ous children’s books of poetry, nar­ra­tive, folk­lore and non fic­tion. Her books have received pres­ti­gious awards; among many: Christo­pher Medal (The Gold Coin), Pura Bel­pré Medal (Under the Royal Palms), Once Upon a World (Gath­er­ing the Sun), Par­ents’ Choice Honor (Dear Peter Rab­bit), NCSS and CBC Notable Book (My Name is María Isabel). She is also the author of a book of mem­oirs, Vivir en dos idiomas, two nov­els for adults, En clave de sol and A pesar del amor, and sev­eral pro­fes­sional books for edu­ca­tors, includ­ing A Mag­i­cal Encounter: Latino Children’s Lit­er­a­ture in the Class­room, as well as a wealth of edu­ca­tional mate­ri­als. Her work, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with F. Isabel Cam­poy in pro­mot­ing author­ship in stu­dents, teach­ers, and par­ents is the con­tent of their book Authors in the Class­room: A Trans­for­ma­tive Edu­ca­tion Process. Alma Flor Ada has been awarded the Amer­i­can Edu­ca­tion Research Asso­ci­a­tion [AERA] His­panic Issues Award for Research in Ele­men­tary, Sec­ondary and Post­sec­ondary Edu­ca­tion and the Cal­i­for­nia Asso­ci­a­tion for Bilin­gual Edu­ca­tion [CABE] Life Long Award. She has received the Virginia Hamilton Award, for her body of work, as well as the OHTLI Recognition from the Mexican Government for her support of Mexican communities abroad.

These stories are full of beauty and wisdom and poignant memories of growing up in Cuba. Each one is a little gem.  I have my copies of Where the Flame Trees Bloom, and Under the Royal Palms, that I bought years ago. Now I have the audiobook of Island Treasures, and I have ordered a hardcopy of the book, as well. Alma Flor Ada has a special place on my bookshelves and in my heart!

Please read my review from 2008 of her book Where the Flame Trees Bloom. (And if you read the comments to that post, you will see that after I published it, she wrote me a sweet note!)

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 Cuba.

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.

 

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.