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

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

 

Mo Willems – When a Pig Meets an Elephant

Catching up with the New Yorker recently, I not only laughed out loud at Rivka Glachen’s profile of children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems – Funny Failures – but also connected to this children’s author’s wry outlook.  I needed to find his books.

A quick search showed ninety-eight of his titles in my local library system, so I returned to the article to note those highlighted in the five page article.  Two have won Caldecott Honors – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (2004) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005).  Another I added, just to meet the elephant and the pig in We Are in a Book.

Knuffle Bunny may remind you of the last time you lost something in the laundry; the pigeon is hilarious – what’s the first thing any child wants to do when told not to?  As for the elephant and the pig, I dare you not to say “BANANA” when you read their book.

Although Willems’ books are identified as Easy Readers, in the same vein as Eric Carle  or P.D. Eastman, his animals are funny in their anxiety and resilient in their failures – a lesson for adults as well as children.  Give yourself a laugh; find Mo Willems.

9780786819881_p0_v3_s192x300   9781844280599_p0_v1_s192x300   9781423133087_p0_v3_s192x300

 

Children Get to Know Charles Dickens

Tomorrow is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens!  In honor of the celebration, books about Dickens are everywhere.  The New York Times listed four in their Children’s Books section – “to introduce young readers to {the author} whose life was as fascinating as his  work.”

A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson (40 pages).

This illustrated story of 12-year-old Dickens making shoe polish to support his family hints that his observations will later bring characters to life in his stories; the story includes pictures of Victorian London.

Charles Dickens: Scenes from an Extraordinary Life by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (48 pages) includes the author’s entire life, including funny anecdotes to endear him to readers, e.g., “Dickens leaping up from his writing desk to check the expressions on his own face as he wrote…”

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London by Andre Warren (156 pages).  This young adult study focuses on the sad state of the working child, supposing that Dickens’s perceptions brought the issues to public attention; however, the author concentrates more on the welfare of poor children today than the life of the author – too long and off topic.

Charles Dickens: England’s Most Captivating Storyteller by Catherine Wells-Cole (32 pages) sounds wonderful, and it is the one book I decided to buy, since my library has no copy.   Simon Callow describes this illustrated children’s book in his article Getting to Know Charles Dickens:

“…many of {the} features {are} in advent calendar form, with flaps to be opened.  Included is a letter Dickens wrote to his former girlfriend Maria Beadnell: you have to take it out of its envelope to read it…

The book repeatedly brought a smile to my lips, which, after all, is one of the things Dickens most liked to do.”

Children’s Books for Christmas

Lists are everywhere.  This one from the Honolulu Star/Advertiser suggests books for children – all good ideas for gifting.  Click on the title to read my review:

Every Thing On It  by Shel Silverstein

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

The Hunger Games  by Suzanne Collins

Bumble-Ardy  by Maurice Sendak

And one I haven’t read yet – Goodnight iPad