Category Archives: YA books

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.

Cherry Ames, Nurse

Many many years ago, I found the book series Cherry Ames in the library. I read the first one and was hooked. I was determined to read every single one that was published, and I’m pretty sure I did.

During another trip to the library, 60 years later, I found the first one on the shelf and decided it would be fun to re-read it. It was fun! And since the library had a four-books-in-one ebook available for my Kindle, I went ahead and re-read the first 4 books in the series!

I can easily understand why the young me liked this character so much. She was an intelligent, independent, compassionate young woman with a strong sense of purpose. She wanted to be a nurse to help people, and that’s what she did, even if it got her in to trouble. She had a great sense of humor, and also a temper that would flair when she perceived injustice. She was a natural leader, and was not afraid to speak up to authority when she thought it was important. And she was an excellent nurse!

I thought I would describe her as a “woman ahead of her time,” but I actually think that she was vey much a woman of her own time. The first books were written during World War II, a time that called on the strengths of women as well as young men. It was so interesting to see the attitudes toward women at that time, and how doors of opportunity were opened to women because they were so needed during the war. I wonder if I keep re-reading the series if I will see within the stories the closing of many of those doors when the war ends and the men return home?

It was interesting to revisit something that had a powerful influence on me as a young person. Do we have series like this these days that encourage young people to make an impact on the world?

This Star Shall Abide

Long before many of the dystopian books that are so popular these days were written, Sylvia Engdahl wrote a very compelling young adult science fiction trilogy. The first volume was called This Star Shall Abide, and I read it last week. It’s a book that has been on my TBR shelf for a long time and I’m so glad I finally got to it! It was a read I couldn’t put down, and I was very impressed with the ideas that were the basis of the story. The idea of “truth”, for example, and how important it is to be true to oneself. Such a timely concept!  It’s what I used to call a “thinker book” when I was teaching. Books that were full of very human dilemmas and problems to be solved, and books that make for very thoughtful discussions. Those are the kind of science fiction books I really like.

Synopsis of the story from the author’s web site:

Noren knew that his world was not as it should be–it was wrong that only the Scholars, and their representatives the Technicians, could use metal tools and Machines. It was wrong that only they had access to the mysterious City, which he had always longed to enter. Above all, it was wrong for the Scholars to have sole power over the distribution of knowledge. The High Law imposed these restrictions and many others, though the Prophecy promised that someday knowledge and Machines would be available to everyone. Noren was a heretic. He defied the High Law and had no faith in the Prophecy’s fulfillment. But the more he learned of the grim truth about his people’s deprivations, the less possible it seemed that their world could ever be changed. It would take more drastic steps than anyone imagined to restore their rightful heritage.

From The School Library Journal in 1972:

“Superior future fiction concerning the fate of an idealistic misfit, Noren, who rebels against his highly repressive society….  Although there is little overt action, the attention of mature sci-fi readers will be held by the skillful writing and excellent plot and character development.”  It received the Christopher Award in 1973,  for its “affirmation of the highest values of the human spirit.”

Some interesting quotes from the book:

…“Wherever he went he would be a stranger, for there was no home in the world for such as he.”

…“But as long as he kept on caring, nothing could touch the freedom of his inner thoughts.”

…”Knowledge was what he’d longed for, and he could not believe that the process of absorbing it would be anything but a joy.”

About the Author:

Sylvia Engdahl is an Oregon author, which is another reason I like reading her books. A few years ago, I read her book, Enchantress from the Stars, and loved it. That book received a Newbery Honor Award in 1971. You can read more about her and her books at her web site. http://sylviaengdahl.com

 

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

Kidnapped

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is one of my favorite adventure stories, so I had high hopes for liking his book, Kidnapped, equally as much when I chose it as one of my Classics Club reads. We have a lovely copy of the book, with those wonderful illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, that’s been sitting on our shelf for years, so I read it eagerly but I’m sorry to admit that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Treasure Island.

But in all fairness, it was a different kind of story from the pirates adventure of Treasure Island. This book is a work of historical fiction with characters that were actual people involved in an important part of Scottish history, so even without the pirates there was a lot of intrigue. I thought the beginning  and the ending of the book were quite good and definitely kept me interested.  The story slowed down a bit too much in the middle for me, perhaps because I didn’t know much about the history that inspired this story. The idea that this story could possibly drag a little in the middle seems strange considering the rip-roaring description on the title page.

 

I may have to give it another chance at some time because I really like the other books I have read by Robert Louis Stevenson. He’s a wonderful writer and storyteller, so perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for me to read it. That happens to me sometimes and, when I reread the book later, I love it. Does that ever happen to you?

 

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

Currently Reading: March

 

img_2512On a trip to the library today I picked up two books that I think are very important right now. The one I started first is March, by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.  It is the first volume of a three part autobiography in graphic novel form. I’m already caught in the first volume and look forward to reading all three.

The second book I checked out and will read next is 1984, by George Orwell. When I first read it in high school it seemed so impossible (thank goodness!) and the year so far away. Not in today’s America, though. How sad to say that it seems chillingly timely right now!

Click here to read a NY Times article about 1984.

1984

 

Greensleeves

Greensleeves

Nancy Pearl is one of my reading heroes so when she recommends a book, I listen!  Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries  is her project, alongside Amazon Books, to reprint books for kids and teens, books that were out of print but that in her opinion should not have been out of print!  This series for teens is a recent offshoot of her adult series, Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Rediscoveries, “devoted to reprinting some of the best (and now out of print) novels originally published between 1960-2000.” I love her idea of rediscovering old treasures! I have enjoyed each of her suggestions, and look forward to reading more books from her rediscovery series.

One of the books included in her Rediscoveries series is a book called Greensleeves, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, an author I love.  A few years ago I read her book, The Moorchild, and wrote a review of it here. So when I found another book by her on Nancy Pearl’s list, I knew it would be worth reading and I was not disappointed!

Greensleeves is a story about a young woman searching for her own identity in a confusing world. It is a timeless coming-of-age story, although written in 1968. Shannon Lightley, the daughter of a famous actress and a famous journalist, divorced and both remarried, splits her time between  two very different households. She is a “different person” in each household, overwhelmed by the strong personalities of both her parents, and simply doesn’t feel that she “belongs” anywhere. So rather than spend the summer with either parent, she turns to a close family friend, “Uncle Frosty” who has always been very supportive of her. Listening to her woes and confusions, “Uncle Frosty” gave her some wise advice:

“The chief thing is to get busy enough with something else to quit thinking about yourself for a while.”

He offers to help her get an apartment for the summer so that she can do some “undercover” work for his law firm. An elderly woman had just died and left a rather unusual will. In her will, she left all her money to her neighbors instead of to her daughter, who is now contesting the will. Shannon will move into the old woman’s apartment and see if she can find out whether or not the neighbors coerced her into changing her will.

So Shannon moves in, finds a waitressing job in the neighborhood, and assumes another “persona” for her sleuthing. Her summer is spent getting to know all about the old lady and her neighbors… and herself.

A fascinating read, this was a book I couldn’t put down, and I highly recommend it.

“That’s the beauty of a novel like Greensleeves: it might have been written almost half a century ago, but its heroine, and the choices she faces, are totally modern.”
~Nancy Pearl

Bubo, the Great Horned Owl

Photo from the San Diego Zoo website. Click on the photo to visit their wonderful site!

Photo from the San Diego Zoo website. Click on the photo to visit their wonderful site!

My family is fascinated with birds of all kinds, but especially with owls!  We have learned so much by watching the web cams of nesting birds this summer.  In March, we followed an owl family in Northern California (click here to read my post), but then we found the Texas Barn Owls cam on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site, and we’ve watched them all summer long. Fascinating!

Barn Owl

Barn Owl on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web cam. Click on the photo to visit the site!

One of my favorite publishing groups, Open Road Media, has recently published a wonderful series of e-books by the award-winning naturalist/author, Jean Craighead George, who wrote Julie of the Wolves, and whom I admire a lot. This series of books for young people (of all ages!) is called “American Woodland Tales,” and each book focuses on a different animal from the woodlands. Of course, I chose to start the series by reading Bubo, the Great Horned Owl, because I actually saw a Great Horned Owl once, and it was a thrilling experience! This little book is beautifully written and so interesting. I look forward to reading all the others in the series!

Bubo, the Great Horned Owl

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World

Endurance

Photo by Frank Hurley

January 1915. One hundred years ago, Ernest Shackleton‘s beautiful ship, Endurance, became completely locked in the ice of Antarctica. The story of this extraordinary expedition and the survival of the entire crew, despite being stranded for two years in one of the harshest environments in the world, is a fascinating story. All the men survived that experience because of the phenomenal leadership skills of Ernest Shackleton.

When I taught 6th grade many years ago, my teammates and I put together a January unit of study on the Shackleton story. We used Jennifer Armstrong’s book, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, as the basis of the unit, and the 6th graders became as fascinated by the story as we (the teachers) were!, It was a unit in which we focused on some very important life lessons–lessons and discussions about leadership, compassion, hope, and endurance.

So in the middle of January, I stopped everything I was doing and revisited that story in honor of my hero. I loved sharing that book and story with my students, and, if you haven’t read anything about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated ship, Endurance, I urge you to pick up one of the many books about this expedition and discover why this man is one of my heroes. There are quite a few books to choose from, but I’m very fond of the little, nicely written book I used to introduce him to young people. It is also available as an audio download through Audible.

Shackleton

Seedfolks

seedfolks

My first read of 2014 was Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman. It was a quick read, a short novel told from the viewpoint of 13 different residents of an inner city Cleveland, Ohio, neighborhood. The vacant lot had been a nuisance for years, a place for garbage to be thrown out of windows, for drug deals and rats. It is a thoroughly awful place. But one day in very early spring, a young Vietnamese girl, in memory of her father, plants six bean seeds in the lot, next to the abandoned refrigerator, out of sight. Neighbors notice her activity and wonder. And from that curiosity emerges a glimmer of hope, and a community garden is born.

A lovely novella, this story has sparked the creation of many community gardens and much discussion about diversity and community-building. It was a lovely way to start the new year! A story full of hope and caring, this little book takes a positive look at what IS possible.

Our local Community Garden...

Our local Community Garden…

Couldn’t Put ‘Em Downers

As busy as I am at the end of a school year, I can’t not be reading!!  So, although the last month has been extremely intense with grades and our school district’s new electronic report card, I’ve also read two books that I simply couldn’t put down!

First one was the young adult book, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, which I picked up out of curiosity when I discovered that an 8th grade teacher friend was using it for a teaching unit in her classroom. I knew nothing about it, (didn’t know it was going to be a movie, too!) but once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

From Scholastic:

Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The second one was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. I’ve been curious about this book for a long time, and started it last week thinking it would be a good diversion from those overwhelming electronic report cards.  Understatement of the year!  Good diversion = total page turner!

From the Stieg Larsson website:

Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece Harriet. Henrik suspects that someone in his family, the powerful Vanger clan, murdered Harriet over forty years ago.

Starting his investigation, Mikael realizes that Harriet’s disappearance is not a single event, but rather linked to series of gruesome murders in the past. He now crosses paths with Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker, an asocial punk and most importantly, a young woman driven by her vindictiveness.

My report cards are done; there’s only 1½ weeks of school left.  Summer is coming quickly now, and I can’t wait to start my summer reading, which will most likely be filled with sequels to some great “couldn’t put ’em downers!”