Why "The Search for..."?

I got my title from the book The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt. where there is a wonderful quote--

" 'Of course it's silly,' said the Prime Minister impatiently. 'But a lot of serious things start silly.'"

This particular quote stuck out for me as I was reading The Search for Delicious to my kids this past fall, and I put it aside knowing that I would use it somewhere, sometime. It seems like the perfect subtitle to this blog as many of my musing probably are silly, but may turn serious at any moment!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Food...my favorite topic

A few years ago, I read Animal,Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, which chronicles a year that the author spent eating only foods that had been grown, raised, harvested, etc. within a 100 mile radius of her home.  The book has been credited with beginning what is known as the “local-avore” movement in the United States.  Kingsolver argues that food grown within that 100-mile radius is healthier for us and for the planet. 

Around the same time, the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan hit the New York Times bestseller list, and since food fascinates me, I meant to read it but never did.  I recently picked it up.  One of the great things about this book is that it was popular enough that the author adapted it for a younger, middle school, audience.  So, young readers have a choice: read the original or read the easier adaptation.  I’ll admit I was pressed for time when I requested the download from the library, and so I read the shorter one.  I can’t completely compare because I did not read the original, but the adaptation was quite interesting. 

Pollan traces four meals from field to plate, as best he can…The first meal is a fairly traditional American meal, then an industrial organic one, a more “pure” organic meal, and a meal hunted and gathered.  Pollan’s point is that we are so disconnected from our food that we have lost sight of what we are really eating.  Is that healthy for the planet or us?  

Matched by Ally Condie

I was planning to skip this 2012 Rhode Island Teen Book Award nominee, but then it won…Between that and the fact that Amazon offered it as one of their Kindle daily deals, I decided to give it a whirl, very much prepared to read yet another dystopian fiction book for teens.  Ho hum.   I was pleasantly surprised, very pleasantly surprised. 

Yes, this is dystopian fiction, but the story of Cassia discovering that the Society is not the perfect place that she thought it was makes a great story of self-discovery.  Besides, it includes some great snippets of poetry from Dylan Thomas, the greatest poet that Wales ever produced, like

 "My birthday began with the water -
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
  Above the farms and the white horses
         And I rose
     In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days"
'Poem in October' from Dylan Thomas' Collected Poems  (London: Phoenix, 2003)

Any excuse to expose young adults to great poetry!  

I'd recommend this book to young adults from about 6th grade up.   The book is a lighter, less violent Hunger Games.  Looking forward to reading the next two books in the series.  


Interested in a little New England history?  One of the more fascinating episodes of colonial Massachusetts was the infamous Salem Witch trials.  Rosa Schanzer capitalized on the interest in this fascinating subject in her new book Witches:  The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem.    This short, but interesting book chronicles the circumstances surrounding the young girls who began accusing local Salem citizens of witchcraft.  It’s a story of mass hysteria, revenge, and evil that we should all know.  It’s all too easy to point fingers and blame, but when we do, we need to realize that innocent people often get hurt.  

Primary sources on this topic are available at a number of places on the web, and visiting Salem is an easy day trip from southern Rhode Island.  I recommend this book for all students; you need to know your history!

Friday, August 10, 2012

PB Grandfather's Journey

Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey won the Caldecott Medal in 1994.  I love this book particularly because I identify with the grandfather who, by book's end, always feels homesick for somewhere.  When he is in the United States, he misses Japan.  When he is in Japan, he misses the United States.  I really get that.  After spending much of my adult life moving, I have found that sounds, smells and images can often make me "homesick" for somewhere else I have been.  When I'm in Rhode Island, I miss the mountains.  But, when I've lived in the mountains, I missed the ocean.  When I lived in England, I missed the United States, but watching the Olympic coverage makes me long for England.  Whispering pine trees and rainbows transport me to Germany, an extremely hot day makes me long for the cooling water of Barton Springs in Austin, and a perfectly ripe peach takes me to Georgia.  Yup, I "get" what grandfather is saying.  

I can see using this book as a way of beginning a discussion of immigration even though grandfather is not what we think of when we think of the typical immigrant to the United States.  In the first pages of the story, students would have to infer that grandfather is quite wealthy, and this is something that I would use as a topic of discussion.  He doesn't really come to the United States as the "tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free" that we think of when we think of immigration at the turn of the twentieth century. He comes as a tourist who settles.  How would that change his perception of America?  How many first generation American immigrants would produce a book that is such a lovely tribute to the beauty of a bygone American era?  No tenement buildings here.    

Tamar by Mal Peet

I've been reading a lot on my kindle this summer, and Amazon does a very nice job of feeding my reading addiction by sending me a daily email with a bargain priced book.  I quickly delete about 99% of these emails because they are mostly adult genre fiction that I don't often read (I make an exception for the occasional cozy mystery).  Still, every once in a while, Amazon throws me something I can't resist for $1.99, and Tamar was one of those titles.  I had never heard of Mal Peet's Carnegie Medal winning novel...not a surprise since Peet is a largely British writer.  Still, the plot teaser intrigued me, so I bought it.  I'm glad I did; Tamar is one of those rare novels that I think would appeal to a large cross-section of readers.

Broadcasting suitcase used by espionage agents 
Historical fiction lovers will enjoy the realistic portrayal of the difficulties of life in Nazi occupied Netherlands.  Mystery lovers will enjoy the parallel plot of young Tamar trying to understand her grandfather's suicide and the box that he left her.  Realistic fiction readers will key into the enormous psychological tension in the novel.  Those who prefer the espionage thriller will thrive on the sections about British espionage during WWII and the Dutch Resistance movement.  And, yes, there is a complicated romantic situation.  Something for everyone!

I will admit that I guessed at least part of the ending, but I still very much enjoyed the journey getting there.  I would recommend Tamar to mature 8th grade readers mostly because of the complicated plot and a few vulgarities.  I look forward to reading more from Mal Peet!