Louisiana’s Way Home

9780763694630  The openng lines of Kate DiCamillo’s new book for middle schoolers – Louisiana’s Way Home – reminded me of a resolution I have yet to complete:

“I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatver happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will have an answer. They will know.”

I usually avoid reading memoirs, assuming the writer’s memory will have been embellished and cleaned up. But writing my own story for posterity is appealing, especially because I could embellish and clean it up. What has been stopping me? Probably the suspicion of my story being only interesting to me.

Louisiana’s story begins with the curse her grandfather set in motion; mine would mirror it with my grandmother’s power of bestowing a curse, passed through generations.  Be assured, I have not tried wielding her power – not consciously, anyway – and not yet.

Louisiana’s story is “discovering who you are – and deciding who you want to be.”  For fans of DiCamillo, Louisiana may bring back thoughts of Raymie Nightingale, and Raymie is mentioned, but Louisiana has a more compelling story, leaving her friend behind in Florida and starting over in Georgia with a new friend, Burke, who can climb trees and outsmart the vending machine to get free peanuts.

After Granny and Louisiana drive off for a new life, so much happens: Granny loses all her teeth, tells about finding a baby on a pile of rubbish, and deserts the twelve year old. Nevertheless, Louisiana’s steady and optimistic outlook leads her to a new family, a new life, and a happy ending.  The story is at once a sad lesson in hope and a caution to not wallow in fate.  Destiny is what you make it.   Louisiana is abandoned by someone she trusts, tries to work things out on her own, consults with a minister, and finally chooses forgiveness with a new family.   Burke’s grandfather sums up the point of the story when he tells her to  “Take what is offered to you.”

The curse?  Turns out Louisiana never really had one –    only Granny has to contend with that problem.

And DiCamillo delivers another poignant tale of a brave little girl who gets the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Related ReviewRaymie Nightingale

The Girl Who Saved Christmas

51cf-a9vJjL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_   Listening to the audiobook of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas had me thinking I was listening to Santa.    Haig’s follow-up book this year is The Girl Who Saved Christmas; I was hooked from the first lines:

“Do you know how magic works?  The kind of magic that gets reindeer to fly in the sky? The kind that helps Father Christmas travel around the world in a single night? The kind that can stop time and make dreams come true?  Hope.  That’s how.  Without hope, there would be no magic.”

Maria Russo in the New York Times says:

” If somewhere in the afterlife Roald Dahl met Charles Dickens and they cooked up a new Christmas tale, it couldn’t have much on this fleet, verbally rambunctious, heart-stealing follow-up to “A Boy Called Christmas,” set in Victorian London (with cameos by Dickens himself). Amelia Wishart, the first child to have gotten a gift from Father Christmas, is orphaned and sent to a workhouse. At the North Pole, magic levels plummet. Christmas is in jeopardy, and Father Christmas is in custody. Amelia to the rescue? We’d all better believe it.”

0511-1009-2806-0628 Santa magically delivered this story to my iPhone this morning. Just what I wanted – a book for Christmas.

Did you get a book for Christmas?

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The Twelve Books of Christmas

Unknown   Despite the song, the real twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and continue through the eve of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). But the countdown to Christmas may start as early as December 1st if you have an Advent Calendar and sometimes right after Halloween in shopping malls.

With twelve days left, here is a short list of Christmas themed books you might have missed.

  • Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan

What would you do if you found a notebook in the stacks of a New York City bookstore with a mysterious note, challenging you to solve a mystery?  In this young adult book, the authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist create a quirky and delightful story combining a love of books with teenage first love.

Lily, an avid reader and dog walker, has written a set of clues and challenges in a red notebook and left it on her favorite bookstore shelf hoping for the right guy to find it.  Dash (short for Dashiell), a lover of books and yogurt, finds the notebook and they begin passing it between them with clues, sometimes literary, leading each to new places and experiences around the city during Christmas.

  • Agatha Christie Christmas Mysteries

A Christmas family get-together abruptly ends in a murder with Hercule Poirot called in to investigate in Hercules Poirot’s Christmas, and in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a wonderful BBC audiobook), Poirot finds a scrawled note on his pillow: “DON’T EAT NONE OF THE PLUM PUDDING. ONE WHO WISHES YOU WELL”.  A fun alternative to listening to The Night Before Christmas.

9781509848195  Pablo Picasso’s Noel by Carol Ann Duffy follows the famous painter as he moves through a small town in the south of France on Christmas Eve, drawing the residents and the festive scenes he encounters, accompanied by his small dog.

  • The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus by Dr. Hannah Fry provides mathematical proof of Santa with puzzles and games.
  • Christmas: A Biography by Judith Sanders gives a social historian’s examination of the origins, myths, legends and history of the season.
  • Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive, a funny children’s story based on real events and people, is seen through the eyes of a prim eight-year old girl in a large Edwardian country house.
  •  Christmas Remembered (audiobook) by children’s author Tommy dePaola shares his love for Christmas in fifteen vivid memories, spanning six decades – as a teenager in Connecticut, an art student in Brooklyn, a novice monk in Vermont, and an artist in New Hampshire.

To get to twelve, try some Charles Dickens:  The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, A Christmas Tree, and The Holly Tree – all available on line at Dickens on Line.

 

 

 

 

 

Eight Books for Hanukkah

queen-of-the-hanukkah-dosas   In Maria Russo’s review of holiday books for children in the New York Times, she included Pamela Ehrenburg’s Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas.  Downloading the book to my iPhone for this first night of Hanukkah, I found its bright and colorful pictures. Instead of the traditional latkes, this family makes Indian dosas, and the big brother sings a dreidel song to calm his little sister – with a revised verse changing the recipe for latkes from potatoes to dal.

To continue through the Festival of Lights, I looked for seven more books:

way-too-many-latkes   Way Too Many Latkes 

Aleksandar Zolotic’s version of the classic “Strega Nona” stories by Tomie dePaola, changing magical pots of pasta for latkes.

The-Chanukkah-Guest  The Chanukkah Guest

Eric Kimmel’s story starts on the first night of Chanukkah when Bubba Brayna, who is nearly blind and deaf, mistakes a bear for the rabbi she is expecting for dinner. She innocently tries to tug off the “rabbi’s” coat and then feeds the “rabbi” latkes – it gets funnier and funnier – a great read aloud book.

513FaNOVG8L  The Golem’s Latkes

Eric Kimmel writes a Hanukkah story connected with the legend of the golem, a lump of clay magically come to life.  When Rabbi Judah hires a new housemaid to clean house and make latkes for the coming holiday, he gives her permission to use the golem as her helper – but things get out of hand.

61xY828PRiL._AA300_  Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel

A 1990 Caldecott Honor Book – Hershel of Ostropol approaches a village on the first night of Hanukkah but a group of goblins has taken over the synagogue, and the villagers cannot celebrate. Hershel outwits the goblins in a story mixing a Ukranian folktale with Charles Dickens.

220px-Latkewhowouldntstopscreaming The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket

Instead of the gingerbread man escaping from the cookie pan, a latke runs away from the skillet. As he runs into assorted Christmas characters – a candy cane, pine tree, Christmas lights – he tries to explain the Jewish holiday but his attempts are always in vain and he runs away from each encounter in a fit of frustration until he is finally rescued and returned. In Lemony Snicker form, the latke gets eaten.

DreidelsontheBrain_Comp4.indd Dreidels on the Brain by Joel Ben Izzy

A finalist for 2016 National Jewish Book Award, this middle school book follows Joel, a twelve year old, through eight nights of Hanukkah. “Joel, who only wishes to live unseen, is on display at the winter holiday assembly with his parents and older brothers…With each succeeding chapter, the reader loves Joel more, cheering for him to star in his magic show, get the best of the dreidel spins, and find his miracles in dreidels, candles, or other signs (Ellen Cole for the Jewish Book Council).”

And finally, listen to Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Bownon for free on Storyline – here …

225x225bb    Molly Ephrain reads this children’s book:  “…A little girl finds a moose camped out in her backyard, right near her favorite blue swing. She tries everything to lure it away: apples, carrots, even cookies. But it just keeps eating… It’s not until the last night of Hanukkah that a familiar holiday tradition provides the perfect–and surprising–solution…(Publishers Weekly)”

happy-hanukkah

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Books

This year, for the first time in their 65 years of identifying the best illustrated children’s books for the year,  the New York Times partnered with the New York Public Library.  The books range from informative historical notes to mesmerizing introspection.  I found one in my local library, and ordered two for my shelf – a Christmas present to myself.
51Q0bHbJwzL._AC_US218_My favorite is Feather written and illustrated by Remi Courgeon, about a feisty girl who learns how to box to defend herself from bullies.  After she wins a match, she returns to her first love – playing Mozart on the piano.

518znkdSPNL._AC_US218_      In Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin’s King of the Sky, a racing homing pigeon and an old man help a lost immigant boy from Italy finally feel at home in the United States.

51JvlVhTAPL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_  In Beatrice Alemagna’s On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, a little girl is sent outside to play on a rainy day.  After she accidentally loses her handheld video game, she discovers the wonders of the world around her.

The Ten Best Illustrated Books of 2017

        from the New York Times and the New York Public Library

  1. Muddy: The story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters 
  2. Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Case of R.B.G vs Inequality
  3. Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
  4. On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
  5. The Way Home in the Night
  6. King of the Sky
  7. Town Is By the Sea
  8. A River
  9. Plume
  10. Feather