2 Memoirs of Change Makers

Memoir is a hard genre for me to embrace, but these books were powerful eye openers. Both of these men stopped the cycle of poverty and abuse, through their choices and owning their stories. Never victimizing their misfortune, but simply stating the truth of tough circumstances. Their lives are somewhat parallel, despite cultural differences, I recommend reading both, they are fascinating to compare and contrast.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

you dont have to say you love meSherman Alexie’s book helped me recognize and rectify the stereotypes I had formed about Indians and life on a reservation. Sherman grew up in Spokane on a reservation.  I had never understood all layers of pain, loss, and abuse that built the foundation for many Indians in America. I cried reading his childhood memories of white teachers abusing him and his classmates daily during school. The atrocities are horrific, the potential for evil against our fellow human beings is overwhelming.  As I read I kept rejoicing in knowing this story so I can choose the light, instead of the dark.  Sherman grew up in a half-finished barely insulated home. He endured winter months without light or heat, waiting for Sherman’s mother to sew a quilt, sell it, and pay the utility bills.

Sherman Alexie endured such immense pain in his youth, some inflicted by his mother, some by the reservation community. Sherman retells  his mother’s history as best he can, she was a consistent liar, so he has pieced her years together through siblings and relatives stories mixed with his mothers.  He chronicles the abuse she survived, his memories of her, and his journey to forgive her. He captures the essence of loving and being loved by deeply flawed people. Pain mixed with tender adoration, mixed with rage, mixed with mourning. If you read only a few books this year, put this on your list. It is necessary to understand the evils others have endured to fight for the good in this world. Read it with your book club, it is moving, hard, tender, and wonderful, and gut wrenching. Worth every moment spent reading.

To Purchase this book, click here:You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir

The Hillbilly Elegy 

hillbilly elegyI can see why Hillbilly Elegy struck such a chord with readers. As a West Coast resident for twenty years, it helped explain the hopelessness of towns left with no economy. J.D’s story could be told from any poor part of the United States. At the heart, it is the story of growing up with violence and trauma in your home and those residual effects. I have met children in Seattle who have stories like J.D.’s. However, his story is intensified by the culture of drugs and joblessness in his rural residence. This book reads like a story, at times you cannot believe his experiences, but also cannot stop reading. I thought a lot about the recovery process, the healing an abused brain and heart has go through. Reading J.D.’s story, it is inspiring to see his tenacity for creating healthy habits, and breaking away from patterns of destruction. His story ended with an impressive degree from Yale Law. However, after living through J.D’s story,  going to college, staying off drugs, and contributing to society is simply impressive. This book led to very thoughtful discussion, a thoughtful book for book clubs.

To Order on Amazon, click here: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

 

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

the alice networkCharlie boards a ship to Europe with her mother, pregnant, unwed, and a little angry. The Second World War has just ended, and nothing is right in Charlie’s life, or the world. Fed up with her mother, she sets out on her own as soon as she reaches England. Charlie’s cousin Rose, is missing in France.  She has one lead, a woman named Eve, and all the determination in the world.

Eve worked in a ring of women spies in World War One. Her job left her broken, bitter, and alone. Along comes Charlie, with questions Eve does not want to hear, much less answer. However, Eve must face the past eventually. Charlie and Eve form a very unlikely relationship and set out to find Rose.

The Alice Network flips back and forth between Eve and Charlie, and the First and Second World Wars. It is thrilling, distressing, and intriguing. There are many World War Two novels, however the timelines from each war weave together to deliver a fresh twist. The work of female spies is impressive, the author’s research at the end of the book is fascinating. An entertaining story from beginning to end.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The Alice Network: A Novel

Outstanding September Read Alouds

Fresh takes on classic back to school books are my favorite. First day of school nerves are universal. Books that find creative ways to help children work through the anticipation, excitement, and fear the first day, and after they get settled into school. When children can look back and see they conquered a challenge, it builds confidence. Here are my new favorites for back to school.

Back to School with BigFoot- by Martha Brokenbrough

back to school with bigfootWhen you are big, hairy, and maybe a little scary, back to school comes with its own special challenges. Bigfoot takes on the challenges, and makes school the best it can be. This book is brilliantly clever and funny, but it can also lead to great discussion about their own challenges and strengths. The freshest version of a classic back to school theme.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Back to School with Bigfoot

I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard- by Jennifer K. Mann

Mrs. BensonRose wants a star on the blackboard, but her reading voice is too quiet, her desk is always messy, and she worries and worries about desk inspection. It turns out Rose has talents all her own, her worries are unfounded, and her teacher sees her for the shining star she is. In my classroom experience children struggle with anxiety. This book is an example to children that worries typically are just worries. I think this is a good conversation starter to help children cope with unnecessary worry.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here:I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard

Planet Kindergarten- by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

planet KindergartenDylan faces the typical back to school stresses and routines. However, he imagines his new school as a space station, and he is the astronaut on a mission. A fun book, ignites imagination, and appeals to any space lovers in your classroom.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here:Planet Kindergarten

I Am Too Absolutely Small for School –by Lauren Child

I am too small for schoolLola presents her argument, she certainly cannot attend school this year. Charlie presents his counter arguments. This dialogue explains all the universal Preschool and Kindergarten experiences.  It is comforting, all the problems are real for children. It contains rich vocabulary, a perfect Preschool or Pre-K first day book.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here:I Am Too Absolutely Small for School (Charlie and Lola)

The Teacher’s Pet -by Anica Mrose Rissi

the teachers petMr. Strictor’s class hatched tadpoles, and gets to keep just one for the class pet. The class pet gets out of control, but the students don’t know what to do. Their teacher loves the pet and won’t let it go. The children ban together to find the perfect solution.  I love how the class solves the problem.  A humorous, endearing book for primary grades.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here:The Teacher’s Pet

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten- by Candice Ransom

amanda pandaIt is nice to find longer picture books, I think it is beneficial for children’s attention span. Amanda Panda is eager for her first day of school, but nothing goes quite like she expected. I noted that the main character was the unkind friend, I think this creates good discussion with children. In the end, she learned to be a good friend even when she didn’t feel like choosing to be kind. A great first month of school read aloud.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here:Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

 

vinegar girlThis book kept me completely content through a long plane ride, the sign of a good read.

Our protagonist, Kate, is stuck in her spinster existence. She lives at home with her quirky, scientist father, a self-centered much younger sister. She has a dead-end job teaching preschool. Her life is ripe for romance. However, the road is never easy, and it proves to be rough in this story as well. Her father is convinced a green card marriage is the perfect solution for his daughter. It will keep his lab assistant in the country, and keep his daughter close to home. This plan is insulting to Kate, to say the least, but a bit of an exciting prospect for the lab partner. A sweet story of love and softening of hearts ensues, it is funny, quietly beautiful, and satisfying to the end. A lovely re-telling of a Shakespeare classic. It is compact and endearing.

To Purchase this book on Amazon click here:

Vinegar Girl: A Novel (Hogarth Shakespeare)

3 Books for Summer Reading

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman 

eleanor Oliphant is completely fineThis was a book of pure delight, and deep tragedy, I savored every moment. The main characters possess such charming quirks I felt like they were my friends, and I was sad to see them go at the books end. Eleanor works in the same office she has for years, her lunch, dinner, and weekend routines are the same. She is utterly alone in the world, and she manages just fine. Sort of. One day, poorly dressed, unshaven Raymond from tech support comes to fix her computer. Through random circumstances they save the life of a stranger, and thus begins an unlikely friendship. Eleanor is unimpressed with Raymond, and Raymond is delightfully confused by Eleanor. She has been through unimaginable circumstances, some of her story will crush your soul as a reader, however, this is a story of unrelenting hope.

Eleanor Oliphant is best written character I have read in a long time. Through her eyes, the reader gets to see what it is to step completely unprepared into social society. Her observations of figuring out the social norms of a dance party, to the song YMCA were hilarious. “Free form dancing, letters over your head, free form dancing, letters over your head.” Eleanor’s journey of healing is hard, she is forced to face horrible demons, and she triumphs. This book with break your heart as hard as it makes you laugh. I simply loved it. I like to think of the author as a kindred soul who would talk, laugh, and cry with me over tea in a tiny café.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel

Poison’s Kiss by Breeanna Shields

poisons-kissMarinda has been trained to kill. Without a weapon or struggle, with a single kiss, she can take someone’s life away. Marinda has been forced to endure tiny bits of poison injected into her veins. Bit by bit, she became immune to the poison, but a kiss from her will leave a person dead within three hours. Marinda hates the life she has been sold into, she fears for her brother, and desperately wants to escape. When she meets a kind man in a book store, everything changes, and Marinda is motivated to finally plan her own exodus to freedom. Her road is not easy, and the obstacles make for a thrilling story. A creative plot, unusual premise, and fantastical world make this a quick and entertaining summer read. If you like to read books that are a little edgy, but not too far into the darkness, give Poison’s Kiss a read.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Poison’s Kiss

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

homegoingThis epic novel of African American history spans over a century of history, tracing the voyage of slaves being captured, and the long road to freedom. The book opens with two half-sisters born in an African Village. They grow up, and their family tree is split down the middle. One sister is married to a slave trader, and taken to the Cape Coast Castle, living upstairs as a prize wife. The other sister ends up in the castle basement, sold as a slave and shipped to America. The book follows the lineage born from these two women’s lives across the miles of land and sea. The sweeping journey rambles through American history under Jim Crow laws, to the great migration of free blacks, to Harlem during the Jazz era. The story tells such hard and gut wrenching history, yet it is necessary to know and not forget, lest we begin to repeat it. The rich writing and vivid characters wrap you in the story, but the history is accurate and fascinating. This is the type of book that leaves you with questions to research and wonder about after it is finished. The lives in Homegoing are sad, but there are glimpses of happiness and joy gleaned from finding true love, and forgiving the past. I would consider this a must read of 2017.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Homegoing

 

 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

the underground railroadColson Whitehead uses an actual railroad under the ground as the center of the affecting tale of a slave’s s fight to be free. Cora is the lowest of all slaves on the plantation. Living in the hob, where the least desirable and most abused slaves are sentenced to live. She tends one small plot of dirt and grows a handful of her own vegetables. Even this pitiful plot of land is destroyed by a fellow slave. One night Cora takes her chance, and runs, beginning her journey on the train to freedom. With a fellow slave, her journey begins rough, and proves to be a grueling fight to live in peace. Stories of the horrors of slavery are nothing new in our literature, yet this book gets deep into the core of the depraved beliefs that kept freedom from so many people. Slave catchers hunt for Cora the entire book, bent on revenging her betrayal, and ultimately cleansing the world of black people. These horrors need to be read about and thought about, because prejudice is still alive today. This book is a sad journey, you will feel the depths of despair with Cora, but also clutch to hope alongside her. The Underground Railroad is an impeccable work of fiction. Let us all never forget the history before us and work to right the wrongs.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The Underground Railroad (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel