This 2010 debut novel by Kimberly Chang is a wonderful immigrant story with the young protagonist (based on the author, herself),coming of age under the worst of circumstances and overcoming, magnificently,the highest of obstacles. She is from China, surrounded by a foreign language and culture as she enters the U.S.  Her misunderstanding of words and phrases she hears in English are almost humorous to the reader as she enters seventh and eighth grade to discover that she has a “talent for school”, especially in the areas of math and science.

She and her mother are sponsored by a spiteful, jealous aunt to whom they are indebted and forced to live in squalor in a condemned apartment in the Bronx. The girl finds herself “growing up between two worlds” and experiencing the thrill and anxiety of young love. The love story has an unusual but satisfying ending. As she “staggers under the weight of her family’s expectations and the depths of her culture confusion” she keeps her integrity and high ideals, always true to herself. Only she can and must find a way out from under all this for her and her mother. The story takes her through the first year of college, then has an epilogue that occurs twelve years later which wraps things up nicely.

It is a good read, and I am pleased to recommend it.


RECENT READS: Reviews of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and Church of the Dog

Kathleen Rooney has written a fascinating book about a fascinating woman in Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. The novel is based on a real person, Margaret Fishback, who lived in the 1930s and published witty poetry and several books. Like Margaret, Lillian, the fictional character works for many years as an ad writer for Macy’s Department store.The story takes place in one evening and night, New Year’s Eve, 1984, in Manhattan, as Lillian Boxfish walks alone for a total of ten miles.  As she walks, she considers her life, which covered ” ” from “the jazz age to the AIDS epidemic,” “from the Great Depression to the birth of hip hop.” It not only explores the changes in Lillian Boxfish,but the changes in N.Y. specifically, and the US in general.  Lillian is extremely openminded for an octogenarian, and is flexible to at least accept change as it throws itself at her. As a reviewer said, “There is a little of Lillian Boxfish in all of us. And if there isn’t, there ought to be.”

Another book I finished this week was Kaya McLaren’s Church of the Dog.  Interestingly enough, it was originally published in 2000, then after input and advice from fans and book club appearances, the author re-wrote it, making extensive changes and re-published it in 2008. The novel is set in Oregon farm country among the many cattle ranches and “good country people” who occupy them. One such couple is the McRaes, whose lives are turned around and upside down by the appearance of Maura O’ Shawnessey, who has the “gift,” as the Irish say. She fixes up an old bunkhouse on the McRaes’ property which comes to be called “The Church of the Dog” by the neighbors because of it’s arched entrance and mural of a  friendly dog on the front. Surprisingly, a real dog, who looks exactly the same as the mural arrives one night in the middle of a thunderstorm, which Maura names Zeus, appropriately, since Zeus was the god of the thunderbolt and storm. The novel holds many surprises and completely redefines the concept of “family.” However, no surprise is bigger than the surprise ending. It is available in large print at the Alvin Library.

Sunday (Evening) Post

What I finished this past week:  Sea Change, reviewed yesterday; Church of the Dog and Miss Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, soon to be reviewed.

What I am continuing to Read: Girl in Translation,read a few chapters today, and Traveling Mercies by Ann Lamott.  On the latter I am rationing out one or two essays a day to make the  book last and to have time to ponder over each essay before moving on in this book of essays.

What I watched on TV: “Emerald City,” two episodes including this season’s finale, and two episodes of “Bull,” a fascinating show for it’s concept and also it’s plots and relationship sub-plots.

Have mostly been sitting marooned on the couch first by plantar fasciitis and today by the steady rain.  Only got out once today to take supper to a sick friend.  It was just down the road, and there was little traffic out and about.  I did get a little wet, so I took a vitamin C with a zinc chaser (boots the immunity system and the absorption of the C), so I should be fine.

Have a good evening and a good read tonight.

Quotes About Reading

Not too long ago, I included on this blog my favorite quotes about writing.  Today, I offer some of my favorites on reading:

“But do not read, as children read, for fun, or like the ambitious read, for training purposes.  No, read for your life.”      Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, in a letter to a friend.

The habit of reading, I make bold to tell you , is your pass to the greatest, the purest, and the most perfect of pleasure that God has prepared for His creatures.  It lasts when all other pleasures fade.  It will support you when all other recreations are gone. It will last until your death.  It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live.” Anthony Trollope, Victorian novelist (1815-1882).

And, a couple of more modern ones:

“One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” Cassandra Clare (author)

“Only a generation of readers will spawn a generation of writers.”     Steven Spielberg

Add your favorite(s) to the comment section that follows.


Review: Children’s Book on Adult Subject–Something for everyone

As the book’s cover says, “One summer can change your whole life”, and Frank Viva in his texts and “toons” proves it can change the individual as well. Sea Change, a children’s book written and illustrated by Frank Viva, is one of the best “reads” I’ve ever been able to get through in one day. More a coming-of-age (both physically and maturity-wise)story, than a children’s book, the story deals with Eliot, a twelve year old boy. It is a chapter book, but also aimed at “the visual learner” by Toons Graphics.  It is cartoonish, but in an artsy way.

Eliot is upset that his parents plan for him to spend summer in Port Aconi, Nova Scotia, with his Great Uncle Earl, in a tiny fishing village where Uncle Earl is a professional fisherman living in an old house. The first friend he makes is Happy, Uncle Earl’s dog, who connects to the feeling-sorry-for-himself Eliot. He gradually does make new friends, including Mary Beth, who gives him his first-ever kiss.

Many of the scenes are told by graphic drawings; for example, the time the fishermen see the Great White Shark impresses the reader with the size of the creature and the danger of the situation. The lines of text often swirl and move all over the page as one reads, but never to the point where the reader loses the continuity or “loses his place” and has to re-read.

During the course of the summer, Eliot discovers Uncle Earl’s “hidden library” and shares his time there with a younger new friend, Timmy. Eliot learns a lot from Timmy, and Timmy idolizes Eliot. Problems arise, of course, in the form of juvenile delinquent, Donnie, and the fact that Eliot can’t swim and is afraid of spiders and thunderstorms.  “Old Miss Gifford,” a school teacher, manages to fix all the problems, including the very adult one of child abuse. The lesson children learn from this book is, “Tell an adult!”

The most interesting part of the book is the change this one summer brings about in Eliot. On the flight to Nova Scotia, the stewardess treats Eliot as the little boy that he is, giving him plastic pilot’s wings and inviting him to the cockpit to meet the pilot. Eliot’s reaction is a little boy’s–delight and glee at both.  On the flight home, the same stewardess sees a pensive, almost troubled individual, whom she does not recognize and addresses Eliot as “young man;” for indeed over the single summer Eliot has grown up.

RECENT READS: Reviews of Two Children’s Books

The two books I read this past week are both love stories from a child’s point of view but with very different messages and very different viewpoints.

The first, The Day I Became a Bird, written by Ingrid Chabbert and illustrated by Guridi, a Spanish artist, was published in 2016 by Kid’s Can Press.  It is a very special book. The story goes: Boy meets girl and wants to catch her eye.  Girl cares about nothing but birds, “…There are birds on her pants and dresses.  She wears birds barrettes in her hair.  She draws birds on her notebooks and folders.  And when she speaks, her voice sounds like birdsong.” So, the boy makes a bird costume and wears it to school despite all the teasing and hard-to-maneuver times, for he has eyes for her. Then, attracted by the costume, their eyes meet, and the rest is a beautiful story of young(est) love.  Done in greys and blacks on beige paper, the drawings, and especially the grey cover are simply lovely and convey the gentleness and guilelessness of the story.

The Tadpole’s Promise, on the other hand, published in 2005 in the US; 2003 in Britain, by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ress, is downright depressing.  Or maybe it was me; I was a bit “down” the day I read it. It is the story of a tadpole and a caterpillar who leans out over the pond on a blade of grass.  Their eyes meet, and they fall in love. The caterpillar makes the tadpole promise he will never change, as she calls him her “shiny black pearl,” and he agrees to his “beautiful rainbow” (Her stripes are multi-colored). He promises with good intentions, but breaks his promise three times as he goes through the development of a tadpole into a young frog.  She is broken hearted and is so sad, she breaks off the romance and crawls into a cocoon. You guessed it!  They both change and no longer recognize each other.  As a butterfly, she glides over the pond, the frog zaps out his tongue and swallows her! The depressing ending has the frog sitting on a lily pad, longing for his “beautiful rainbow” and waiting, waiting, waiting…

Two very different endings. Two very different emotions conveyed. Both worth reading for the illustrations alone.

Monday Morning Musings

Back in the summers of ’83 and ’84, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop on teaching poetry to a group of fourth through sixth grade teachers from small schools all over Texas. My theme song throughout this workshop was that nothing kills an appreciation or love of poetry quicker than arranging it as a “poetry unit”. To me, poetry should be an integral part of the curriculum, not only the language arts curriculum, but the entire academic curriculum.  I feel that poetry is felt most effectively when it occurs spontaneously, ingeniously, and naturally.

In the elementary school, especially, the recognition or celebration of occasions can be marked through poems of occasion.  Although much bad poetry has been written about “Holidays, “some good holiday poems exist.  However, merely remarking on what day it is we are celebrating and then reading the poem seems rather artificial and an isolated way of presenting the poem. Ideally, the poem can be integrated into the activities and assignments for the day.

For example, our sixth grade language arts class used a basal reader which had a story about Abraham Lincoln which described Lincoln’s early relationship with his stepmother as she cut his hair, but it also explored how she influenced his love of books and reading.  I saved this story for February twelfth and supplemented it with anecdotes and jokes from The Abe Lincoln Joke Book, a scholastic publication. It also included a poem by Eve Mirriam that I feel gives the students a sense of the persona of Lincoln and what the appropriate child’s response to it might be.

To Meet Mr. Lincoln

If I lived at the time

That Mr. Lincoln did,

And I met Mr.Lincoln

With His stovepipe lid

And his coal black cape

And his thundercloud beard,

And worn and sad-eyed

He appeared:

“Don’t worry Mr. Lincoln,”

I’d reach up and pat his hand,

“We’ve got a fine President

For this land;

And the union will be saved.

And the slaves go free;

And you will live forever

In our nation’s memory.”


Not only can the traditional occasions be celebrated, but also the lesser known, everyday ones will lend a light note to a sometimes dreary week.  One year on a calendar of trivia, I spotted the birthday of the Earl of Sandwich.  It came up right after a week of testing–the perfect time for some relief.  The entire class brought peanut butter sandwiches for lunch that day.  One of the mothers had baked a decorated birthday cake, complete with candles.  After our makeshift lunch in the cafeteria, we sang Happy Birthday, and when we got to the line, “Happy Birthday, Earl of Sandwich,” the other children began to “Who?” like a chorus of owls.

Other activities back in the classroom involved writing How-To paragraphs on “How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” and a reading of Shel Silverstein’s poem, “Peanut Butter Sandwich.” It tells of the king who loves peanut butter sandwiches, but his jaws locked and he couldn’t speak because the peanut butter stuck to the roof of his mouth. As I read the poem, each student was eating half a dry, peanut butter sandwich.  They listened to such lines as “Oh darn that sticky peanut butter sandwich!” Very few of the students, after chewing and chewing, had the same response the king did when his jaws were finally pulled apart, “The first word they heard him speak/Were, How about another peanut butter sandwich?”  Instead, I heard many pleas asking, “May I get a drink of water?”

Poetry, whether for an occasion or celebration can give students many memorable moments. You can write a limerick about each child, using his name, or like this one  I wrote about my Kid’s class in Reading Improvement.

There once was a class called reading,

And to Mrs. Longest we’re pleading,

Please no more tests;

We have done our best,

So, tell us what else you are needing.