Category Archives: Reading the World

Bronze and Sunflower

Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan, is a book about two young people growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. During that period of time, many artists were relocated to “Cadre Schools” (labor camps) in the countryside. Sunflower’s father was an artist, a sculptor that created beautiful bronze sunflowers, (he loved sunflowers and that’s why he named his daughter after them) and he was one of the artists that was removed from the city.

So Sunflower moved with her father, along with many other relocated city people, to the shores of a big river. Directly across the river was a small country village, and she watched the people, and especially the children, from the reed covered riverbank. When Sunflower’s father died, there was no place for her in the town, so some of the aunties in the town took her across the river to the village, and sat with her in the village square hoping that someone would take her in. There were two families in the village that showed an interest in “adopting” her. One was a wealthier family, but their son had been a bully to her. The other family was an impoverished family, and their son, Bronze, wanted Sunflower to become his sister. Bronze was a strong, kind, and  intelligent boy, but he was mute since a traumatic experience when he was younger. Sunflower had come to know him through interactions on the river bank, and when the decision as to which family would become her new family, she chose Bronze’s family.

And she became a dearly loved member of that family — a family that was poor, but with a huge heart. Life was not easy for this family, but they had great dignity and compassion, were hardworking and resilient, and they loved Sunflower deeply.

The story of this family facing the difficulties of poverty and famine, and the warm relationship between Sunflower and her new brother, Bronze, is both heartfelt and moving. Bronze protected her and kept her safe from the town bully; they worked together to help to grow and gather food for the family; Sunflower taught Bronze how to read and write (because he was mute, he was not allowed to go to school); and they shared the joys of being children of the countryside.

It is a lovely story. One reviewer said it should be considered for a Newbery honor, and I would agree with that idea. It certainly was an honest and heartfelt immersion into a different culture and time.

I recommend it highly.

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 much loved children’s book author from CHINA.

The Aye-Aye and I

An Aye-Aye

In the gloom it came along the branches towards me, its round, hypnotic eyes blazing, its spoon-like ears turning to and fro independently like radar dishes, its white whiskers twitching and moving like sensors; its black hands, with their thin, attenuated fingers, the third seeming prodigiously elongated, tapping delicately on the branches as it moved along, like those of a pianist playing a complicated piece by Chopin. It looked like a Walt Disney witch’s black cat with a touch of ET thrown in for good measure. If ever a flying saucer came from Mars, you felt that this is what would emerge from it. It was Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky come to life, whiffling through its tulgey wood.

This is the beginning of Gerald Durrell’s book, The Aye-Aye and I. It is the story of the trip to Madagascar he and his wife, Lee, took to capture healthy specimens of this amazing and rare endangered primate to place in breeding centers around the globe in an attempt to save them from extinction. Aye-Ayes are the largest Lemur, nocturnal primates, and they spend most of their lives in trees. It hunts for grubs by tapping on the wood and then gnawing a hole to get to the grub, and then uses its long narrow finger to pull the grub out.

I had never heard of an Aye-Aye until I found this book. My curiosity, as well as my love of Gerald Durrell’s writing, prompted an immediate purchase of the book, and I very much enjoyed reading it. If you have ever read a book by Gerald Durrell, you know he has a wonderful sense of humor and a wonderful way with words. In reading this book, you learn a lot about life on Madagascar — flora, fauna, and human! — and get to know this amazing creature and the struggles it faces for survival.

 

 

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

The Living Reed

It is our fate, lying as we do between many powers, to be influenced to an extent by all and many. It is our task to accept and reject, to weld and mingle and out of our many factions to create ourselves, the One, an independent nation.

Pearl S. Buck is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is elegant, and she’s a consummate storyteller. With my new fascination with all things Korea, I was particularly interested in reading her novel, The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea. It has taken me awhile to read it because I’m much slower reading actual books these days (eye fatigue) and it was not available on audiobook. But I’m glad I stuck with it, reading a little bit each day, and therefore enjoying it even more than if I had rushed through it.

from the publisher:

“The year was 4214 after Tangun of Korea, and 1881 after Jesus of Judea.” So begins Pearl S. Buck’s The Living Reed, an epic historical novel seen through the eyes of four generations of Korean aristocracy.

As the chronicle begins, the Kims are living comfortably as advisors to the Korean royal family. But that world is torn apart with the Japanese invasion, when the queen is killed and the Kims are thrust into hiding. Through their story, Buck traces the country’s journey from the late nineteenth century through the end of the Second World War.

The story begins with Il-han, scholar and advisor to the queen. In order to be a better advisor, he leaves his family and travels around Korea. Throughout his travels, he finds a deep love for his country and his people.

With what words shall a man tell of love for his country? Before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, Il-han was conceived in the earth of his native land. His ancestors had created him through their life. The air they breathed, the waters they drank, the fruits they ate, belonged to the earth and from their dust he was born.

…He went his way swiftly then, content to do so as he perceived each day now fully the quality of his people. They were brave, they were strong, enduring hardship not only with courage but with a noble gaiety. Expecting nothing either of gods or rulers, they were grateful for small good fortune. Their strength was in themselves and in one another. They could be cruel and they were kind. They fought nature in storm and cold and under bleak skies, but they fought side by side and together. He loved them.

His sons become the next focus of the story, and their story is of the transition from the brutal ending of the Joseon period through invasion by the Japanese. Despite rebellion and revolution, the new order in the 1900s became a long occupation and suppression of the Korean culture. My husband and I had recently watched the Korean drama, Mr. Sunshine, which takes place during this transition time in Korea. It is a series (on Netflix) well worth watching — beautifully written and filmed! It provided a wonderful visual understanding of that tumultuous period of time, and went beautifully with Ms. Buck’s epic story.

The surviving son of Il-han became a revolutionary, and his story, and the story of his son, takes us through the Second World War, with all the complexities of the struggle for Korean independence. A conversation between the old scholar and his son best described the strength of the Korean people over time, and why they survived continual invasion and oppression by the surrounding countries.

“I remember the day my brother was born, and I broke the bamboo shoots, and you told me they would never come up again. You were right, of course, those broken shoots did not grow again. Hollow reeds, you called them. I felt my heart ready to break at what I had done. But then you told me that other reeds would come up to take their place. And every spring I went to the bamboo grove to see if what you said was true. It was always true.”

…“What do you tell me?” Il-han demanded. “This,” Yul-chun said, “that if you never see me again, or never hear my name again, remember—I am only a hollow reed. Yet if I am broken, hundreds take my place—living reeds!”

This book was truly an epic story, and knowing very little about Korean history, I enjoyed learning about it through Pearl Buck’s research and insightful understanding of the culture and character of the Korean people.

This book was one of my choices on my list of 50 books in 5 years for The Classics Club. It is also part of my personal challenge to read the works of Pearl Buck. And it add to my education about Korea!

Idia of the Benin Kingdom

Idia of the Benin Kingdom, by Ekiuwa Aire, is the first book in a new picturebook series for young children. The series is called “Our Ancestories,” and the stories will all be from African history and legends, with beautiful illustrations, and will be “free of the racial prejudice inherited from the slave trade and colonization.”

At Our Ancestories, we know that there is a deep divide between the truth of African history and the common understanding of it. We strive to bridge this gap through various means including stories, merchandise, and other informational content. Our desire is to make African history more mainstream filling a void that has been missing for years. We believe this will positively affect the modern generations in providing identity. Ultimately, we know that rediscovering African history will help create a better future.

In this first book, Idia is a young girl in the Benin Kingdom who loves to dance. She dreams one night of a queen leading and winning a battle, and after the battle, the queen helped the injured by using her healing powers using special herbs and potions. She was a great leader!

Idia never forgets that dream, and as she gets older, the dream guides her. She asks her father, a great warrior, to teach her the skills needed to become a warrior. He agrees if she promises never to stop having fun with her dancing. Later, she also asks her mother to teach her the healing skills of their people. Her mother thinks she is too young to learn those skills, but agrees to teach Idia about medicine and magic if she does her chores every day.

Idia grew up with all these wonderful skills, but it was her beautiful dancing that caught the eye of the King, and he asked her to marry him. Idia remembered again her childhood dream, and realized that she was the “queen” in that dream, and her son she would have would also to be a King. So she agreed to marry, and in doing so, she became “a queen, a warrior, the first woman to fight for the kingdom, and the first lyoba (Queen Mother) of Benin.

This was a fun book to read, and beautifully illustrated! I highly recommend that parents and teachers share it with the children and students! 

I chose this book to read for two of my personal challenges. It was a great choice for my “Wanderlust challenge” 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 Benin.

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It also was a great choice to read for my Antiracist Education challenge. 

 

A Week in Winter

A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy, was a reread for me. I don’t know what happened the first time I started reading it, but I just didn’t connect. This time, however, it was enjoyable listen for me during the holiday week. The pace was slow and relaxing, the characters fun to get to know. I guess that timing of when we choose to read a book is everything.

The story as described by the publisher:

Stoneybridge is a small town on the west coast of Ireland where all the families know one another. When Chicky Starr decides to take an old, decaying mansion set high on the cliffs overlooking the windswept Atlantic Ocean and turn it into a restful place for a holiday by the sea, everyone thinks she is crazy. Helped by Rigger (a bad boy turned good who is handy around the house) and Orla, her niece (a whiz at business), Chicky is finally ready to welcome the first guests to Stone House’s big warm kitchen, log fires, and understated elegant bedrooms. John, the American movie star, thinks he has arrived incognito; Winnie and Lillian are forced into taking a holiday together; Nicola and Henry, husband and wife, have been shaken by seeing too much death practicing medicine; Anders hates his father’s business, but has a real talent for music; Miss Nell Howe, a retired schoolteacher, criticizes everything and leaves a day early, much to everyone’s relief; the Walls are disappointed to have won this second-prize holiday in a contest where first prize was Paris; and Freda, the librarian, is afraid of her own psychic visions.

“Stoneybridge” is a place I’d love to visit! It certainly was enjoyable to visit it this week via Maeve Binchy’s wonderful imagination and storytelling. The lives of so many different people converged for that week in winter, and I loved getting to know the backstory of each person and how they ended up coming to Stoneybridge.

A terrific holiday read!

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 set in Ireland.

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.