Category Archives: Wanderlust

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!

Georgia O’Keeffe in Hawaii

Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i , was an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden of her work created during nine weeks spent in Hawai’i in 1939.  This accompanying book, edited by Joanna L. Groarke and Theresa Papanikolas, was a very interesting chronicle of O’Keeffe’s time spent there. She was hired by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole Food Company) to visit the territory and create a series of paintings that could be used in print advertisements. During the nine weeks she spent in the islands, she created numerous paintings that were very much in her style, took many snapshots, and wrote wonderful descriptions of her experiences in letters sent home to her husband, Alfred Steiglitz.

 

Also included in this book are interesting background essays about the culture and ecology of Hawaii, and of how the territory of Hawaii was perceived in the 1930s as a tropical paradise, an “alluring fantasy.” It was all very interesting to read, as a view of Hawaii through the talent of an artist I love and through stories about what life was like at that time on the islands.

 

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

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming is a lovely memoir written by Jacqueline Woodson. Written completely in verse, she chronicles her growing up years in South Carolina and New York.

From the publisher:

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

It may seem unusual to write her story in verse, but the beauty of poetry is that a story can be told so powerfully in few words. Reading this book was a delight, and it was well-deserving of the awards and honors it won. 

  • 2014: National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • 2015;  Coretta Scott King Award for Authors
  • 2015:  Newbery Honor Book
  • 2015:  NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Young Adult Fiction
  • 2015: Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal

Here is an example of her beautiful and poignant way of sharing her memories with us:

“Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,
it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness
until you look up and the earth stops
in a ceiling of stars. My head against
my grandfather’s arm,
a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.
Its whine like a song.

You don’t need words
on a night like this. Just the warmth
of your grandfather’s arm. Just the silent promise
that the world as we know it
will always be here.”

I should have read this book years ago!  It is definitely one of my favorite books read so far in 2021.

Jacqueline Woodson

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. Part of this book was set in South Carolina.

I also read this book as part of My Anti-Racist Education project.

 

Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish

During the quarantine, I started rereading Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series, a cozy mystery series I enjoyed reading many years ago. Mrs. Pollifax is an elderly lady who got bored with her orderly life of garden groups and tea with friends, and decides to join the CIA and do something more exciting with her life. Most people don’t get hired by the CIA by walking in and offering their services, but by a twist of fate, that’s what happened. Mrs. Pollifax, with her keen intelligence, little-old-lady look, and top form karate skills is the perfect spy!

In this 9th book in the series, Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, she is called on to travel to Morocco.

From the publisher:

All Mrs. Pollifax has to do is to masquerade as the aunt of an inept CIA representative while he confirms the identities of seven undercover agents in Morocco—and keep him from making an unpleasant ass of himself. Immediately, things go horribly wrong. The first informant is murdered minutes after Mrs. Pollifax and her companion identify him in his brassware stall in Fez. Worse, she senses that her colleague is not who—or what—he says he is.

As in all the Mrs. Pollifax books, author Dorothy Gilman sends her character into different cultures and situations. We travel along to learn a little about each culture, and the respectful research done into each of them always makes for an enjoyable journey. These books are just plain fun, and they are extra fun when you listen to the audiobook version, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat!

 

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 that takes place in Morocco.

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

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.