Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Refugees and Migrants/Poverty and Hunger

Barron's     2017/2018
32 pages     Children non-fiction

How do you raise empathetic children? I believe that you raise empathetic children by inviting many kinds of people into your home, practicing grace and empathy in your daily life, and by helping children understand that there are many kinds of people and that because we are very fortunate, we must help those who are not so fortunate.

Recently, Barron's Educational Press published the first two books in their series, Children In Our World. The two that have recently been released are Refugees and Migrants  and Poverty and Hunger. Racism and Intolerance and Global Conflict are coming in 2018. 

I was particularly interested in the book Refugees and Migrants, because of my activities with Justice for our Neighbor, which is a ministry of the United Methodist Church. Additionally, my grandchildren have refugee children in their classrooms, so they wonder about them and don't understand why they don't speak English and need special help in their classrooms.

I found these books to be very helpful in explaining difficult experiences to children. The text is easy to read with a topic on each page. In the Refugees and Migrants book, some of the topics are Leaving Home Behind, How Do They Travel, and Talk about Your Worries. The last two pages of text in each book allows children to "talk about it" and How Can You Help? These are important additions to a fact-based book because children are naturally empathetic and want to help. 

Recently, the mother of my grandson's friend, Frederick, came close to being deported back to Nigeria. Everyone in the daycare was extremely worried about the situation, and Adela, 6, was trying to understand why this could happen. Last week when I read Refugees and Immigrants to her, she immediately identified with Frederick's situation and explained to me that Frederick's mother had gotten a card that said that they could stay in the United States. 

Every Christmas, we have a family project of purchasing ingredients and putting together snack kits for a charity called Kids Food Basket, which is run by a family friend. We have tried to do other projects, but this one works best for us. The children love to go shopping for the kit ingredients and to put the kits together. Then, we take whichever children are available to the headquarters of the charity and deliver our project. Before we do the project this year, I am going to read Poverty and Hunger to my grandchildren to bring the message home.

I also appreciated that there is a table of contents, a glossary, and an index in each book. They are valuable additions to any elementary classroom and social studies curriculum. You might also appreciate the book The Journey by Francesca Sanna. It expresses in fiction what Refugees and Immigrants expresses in fact.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What is Hip Hop?

by Eric Morse
Art by Anny Yi
Akashic Books     2017
32 pages     Picture Book   
They're all here! Every hip hop star from DJ Kool Herc to Nikki Minaj, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Told in rhyming poetry, Eric Morse reminds everyone of the history of this remarkable art form, and all of the offshoots, including break-dancing, graffiti, clothing, and DJs. The book ends thus:

By now the culture's spread
to every corner of the globe.
Inside every head
is a hip-hop frontal lobe.
Break-dancing lives on,
they teach graffiti in schools.
MCs have fashion lines, DJs epitomize cool.
Bu hip-hop remains, deep down at its heart,
a unique expression, an urban form of art.

The artwork is spectacular. Done in clay by Anny Li, each hip hop star is so cleverly created that they are immediately recognizable. Here is a look at one of the pages.
 The poetry is a bit awkward at times; but then, hip hop poetry is sometimes awkward. Morse also acknowledges that hip hop often takes on topics that aren't particularly for children's ears, or it discusses violence and "other bad things too."
Hip-hop has become an important form of art—so important that Lin-Manuel Miranda used the form for the hit musical, Hamilton. I was struck when I saw the musical by how cleverly all the various forms of hip hop were intertwined in the music.

I also liked that the many women of hip hop had presence in the book. I was surprised to find that Queen Latifah got her start as a hip hop artist. 

I would quibble a bit about the guidance that the book is for children ages 3-7. I really see this book fitting well into elementary school curriculums and elementary school libraries. Children will love it, and I think that it could be used in music classrooms, and/or in language arts and history classrooms in later grades. 


What is Hip Hop? is a companion book to What is Punk? which was previously published.

Loved this book!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Atwelle Confession

by Joel Gordonson
Selectbooks     2017
266 pages     Mystery

Joel Gordonson sat listening to a medieval scholar tell of her discoveries at a small church in Norfolk in England. Apparently the researchers had found a set of 12 carvings of demons (gargoyles) in the roof of the nave of St. Clement's Church in the village of Outwell. His imagination took wing, and the book The Atwelle Confession is the result of his imaginings. 

The novel revolves around the building of St. Clements Church in 1532 and the discovery of the gargoyles in 2017. (The actual discovery took place in 2012.) Here is a summary of the plot:
After discovering rare gargoyles mysteriously positioned inside an ancient church being restored in the small English town of Atwelle, architect Don Whitby and a young research historian, Margeaux Wood, realize that the gargoyles are predicting the bizarre murders that are occurring in the town.

Five hundred years earlier when the church is constructed, two powerful families in Atwelle are contesting control of the region in the fraught backdrop of King Henry VIII’s dispute with the pope over the king’s divorce. In the middle of these conflicts, the same bizarre murders are being committed in the town.

The Atwelle Confession is the story of two macabre murders that take place five hundred years apart, and one surprising solution.

Frankly, the best aspects of the book are the premise and the authentic history of the church. It was fun to see how the author's imagination took over and created a plot using the history of the church as well as the "reality" of the church in 2017. However, there are gaps in the character development and dialogue that kept me from being totally captivated. I hope that as Gordonson develops his skills as a novelist, he will work on his character development. On a good note, I was really surprised by the villain, and I always love it when you just can't guess who the murderer is. 

The Atwelle Confession definitely made me want to journey to England and look up St. Clement's Church to see those ominous and creepy gargoyles holding up the roof. Those aspects of the novel were visual and enticing. Gordonson obviously did his research. Currently the church is being restored. It is a unique representation of the medieval church and the controversy between Henry VIII and the Pope. That part of the story line is also well developed.

One of the most enticing aspects of travel is to see the progression of history through the architecture of a country—particularly the architecture of the Christian churches. We witnessed that just recently on our trip to Norway and visited several Stave churches. One of them, in particular, had gargoyles in the roofline. The theology behind the gargoyles remains a mystery, in much the same way that they are a mystery in the St. Clement's Church.
I received this book from the publicist. Thank you.

Joel Gordonson is a novelist, but also an international lawyer. Here is his website:

Friday, September 8, 2017

Bury Your Dead

by Louise Penny
Minotaur Books     2010
384 pages      Mystery

"As Quebec City shivers in the grip of winter, its ancient stone walls cracking in the cold, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache plunges into the most unusual case of his celebrated career. A man has been brutally murdered in one of the city's oldest buildings - a library where the English citizens of Quebec safeguard their history. And the death opens a door into the past, exposing a mystery that has lain dormant for centuries...a mystery Gamache must solve if he's to apprehend a present-day killer."

Louise Penny just gets better and better with each book. Bury Your Dead is the sixth outing for Inspector Gamache and what a mystery (or mysteries) he has uncovered. 

As Bury Your Dead opens, Inspector Gamache has had a tragedy in his professional life and is healing from his injuries by visiting his friend and mentor Emile in Quebec City. He has decided to explore some neglected Quebec history at the Literary and Historical Society, the English language library in the old city.

Shortly after his arrival in the city, an amateur archaeologist, Augustin Renaud, is found dead in the library basement. Murdered with his own shovel. Everyone knew Renaud because they believed that he was crazy; he was obsessed with Samuel de Champlain, and he had searched for Champlain's body all over the city of Quebec. Did he think that the body of Champlain was in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society?

 Even though he is on a leave of absence, Gamache can't avoid being drawn into the mystery, both the mystery of Champlain's body and the mystery of Renaud's death. At the same time, Gamache is keeping tabs on an investigation in Three Pines, which he feels that he may have botched. Beauvoir, his lieutenant, is recovering in the small village, trying to figure out if Olivier, the village hotel keeper, is indeed guilty of the murder of the hermit—the case in The Brutal Telling. (This is book 5 in the series. Haven't read it.) So now we have two cases—the dead archaeologist and the dead hermit. 

But—and this is a big but—Gamache is also trying to reconcile the decisions he made on a botched raid in which some of his inspectors were killed and both he and Beauvoir were injured. He is deeply wounded—both physically and emotionally—and he plays the events over and over in his mind. Because he can't sleep at night, he prowls the Plains of Abraham where the significant battle between the French and the English played out. He compares the failures of Champlain at this battle with his own failures. Oh, and I forgot to say that it is winter and bitterly cold.

There is a lot going on in Bury Your Dead, and it is significant that Penny is able to keep all these balls in the air in ways that keeps the reader fascinated. Penny and her husband spent a month in Quebec fitting all the details together in order to make the city of Quebec come alive for the reader. So, the Champlain body narrative connects to the dead archaeologist, which is completely interwoven with the murder in Three Pines and  Gamache's mental fatigue. The book is brilliantly constructed, and our understanding of Gamache deepens as he faces these enormous challenges.

As you will read in the next article, I met Louise Penny at the launch of her newest book, Glass Houses at the end of August. She  is a remarkably gracious woman, and a crowd of nearly 500 greeted her at the launch. In Quebec City, my friend and I took an Inspector Gamache tour of all the sites mentioned in Bury Your Dead. Extremely nerdy, but also extremely cool.  

Miriam and Patricia's Excellent Adventure: Following Chief Inspector Gamache

My friend Patricia wanted to have an adventure for her upcoming significant birthday. She had recently read nearly every Chief Inspector Gamache mystery novel by Canadian author, Louise Penny and decided that we should do a Louise Penny tour of the Eastern Townships of Quebec, the setting for all of the Chief Inspector Gamache novels. Penny was launching her new novel, Glass Houses, at the park in Knowlton, Quebec, better known as Three Pines, and that is where our adventure began. We checked into Aubergue Knowlton above the bistro, scene of many of the Three Pines events in Penny's novels. In the morning, we headed to Sutton, where we visited the frequently mentioned boulangerie and the small Episcopal church where two main characters were married. The scenery was magnificent everywhere. 

In the afternoon we joined several hundred other Louise Penny fans to meet and greet her as well as to hear her talk about her newest book. Her charm and grace was infectious. People stood in line for over two hours to get books signed. The book launch was sponsored by Brome Lake Books—owned in the books by Myrna, but in real life by a charming family with several teenage boys. Evening took us to Theater Lac Brome, where we saw a fascinating cabaret show.

Sunday, we visited the morning service at the Abbaye de Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, the setting for The Beautiful Mystery, Penny's eighth Inspector Gamache book. Gregorian chants played a large role in the 11:00 am service which took place in an arts and crafts sanctuary. In the basement, the monks sold cheese and other products from their extensive farm.

We then toured the countryside until we came upon the Manor Hovey, Manor Bellechasse in A Rule Against Murder.  The resort was still all a-buzz because Louise Penny had just finished a week there, which she spent with Bill and Hilary Clinton, and Chelsea and her family. We had a lovely lunch on the beautiful bistro's porch and talked to the excited waitress, who told us, among other things, that Hilary doesn't drink. Very funny.

Monday morning, we began our journey to Quebec City. About half of the trip was through beautiful countryside, which smelled of lavender—a product of the area. Then we hit the interstate which we took to a ferry across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City. The first thing that came into view was the Chateau Frontenac. It was a great way to enter the city. Our hotel was in the middle of Old Quebec, which we explored that afternoon. We ate supper in one of the restaurants mentioned in Bury Your Dead. Next day I wandered around the old city a bit and met Patricia for lunch at the Chateau Frontenac.

 The highlight of the trip was the Bury Your Dead private tour, with Marie, an outstanding tour guide. We visited all the important sites in the book, including the Literary and Historical Society, called the Morrin Center in real life—really cool. Also visited the cathedral, several houses mentioned in the book, the Plains of Abraham, and ended up at the small restaurant where Louise Penny sat as she gathered information for the book. All in all, a fascinating way to tour that great city.

When I got home, I read Bury Your Dead. Although Marie had mentioned the killer, it didn't matter to me because in my mind, I was able to follow every scene that took place in Quebec. Very satisfying and fulfilling. I would heartily recommend this type of literary adventure. Minotaur Books, Louise Penny's publisher, has done a remarkable job of creating web pages for each of her books. You can find the cultural settings pages here. We followed their guidance as we created our tour.