See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

This book is sure to leave you filled with hope for our species. 

Alex lives in Rockville Colorado. He is a precocious eleven year old, who is at least thirteen years when it come to responsible. He is the caretaker for his mother who 'has quiet days.' His much older brother lives in Los Angeles, but pays their bills for them. Alex is crazy about rockets and space. He's even built a rocket that he plans to send out into the universe. It will carry his golden ipod filled with information about his life, so that other life forms will know something about earth. This book is composed of these reflections. 

When Alex and his dog, Carl Sagan, head off to SHARF, a rocket festival near Albuquerque, New Mexico, he expects to be picked up at the train station by other people and carpool with them to the site. In spite of his train being 2 1/2 hours late, it all works out because someone he met on the train has a friend meeting him and they are on their way to the same festival.

Alex is so open and friendly that he charms his way into many hearts at the event. Even though his rocket crashes almost before it is off the ground, he is able, with the help of one of the organizers, to look forward to building a better one next time.

Through Ancestry, an online family history resource, he discovers that someone with the same name as his dead father lives in Las Vegas. He fantasizes that this is his father, not really dead, but suffering from amnesia, and gets it into his head to go and see him. From there he plans to visit his brother. His new friends are headed that way and he manages to catch a ride with them. By the time his journey is over, Alex ends up learning much more about his family than he could have imagined.

As an adult, there were times when I was terrified for Alex. Thankfully he is lucky enough to connect up with basically kind people. Sometimes they make mistakes, but ultimately, it is their goodness that shines through. There is a deeply philosophical aspect to this novel that fills us with important lessons about life, family and friendship. It reminds us that world is filled with wonder if we open our hearts and minds to it.

The Art of the Possible: An Everyday Guide to Politics by Edward Keenan & Julie McLaughlin (Illustrations)

This is a thorough, thoughtful exploration of politics.

It begins by proclaiming that, "You are a politician," and then continues on to show us how this is true. Near the end, Keenan pulls it all together in a chapter on citizenship and the power of knowledge. In between the book looks at why we need politics, unpacks different levels and types of government, explains the difference between policy and process and shows the reader how to understand different kinds of arguments. He examines different kinds of conflicts and the problems with polarization. There is even a section on selective perception and confirmation bias.

Keenan explains that you don't have to be grown up to engage in politics, and then highlights a number of young people who have changed their world for the better without having the ability to vote. 

I especially appreciate that Keenan focuses so much on how important it is to be a knowledgeable citizen as well as how to become one. My suspicion, given the state of truthism in North America today, is that we are sorely lacking people like this. I have a few adult friends who I would like to give copies of this to. 



There are all kinds of text features that make this a stellar resource. Julie McLaughlin's illustrations enhance and add some humour to the text. The case studies provide real life examples of the issues being discussed and make the ideas easier to understand. 
  
 

Definition boxes are set out in coloured boxes. There are all kinds of graphic organizers to make the information more accessible. The sidebar in the section on arguments recaps and reinforces how to think critically about issues. The book also includes a glossary, a bibliography (called sources) an index and a page of acknowledgements.

Every school library in North America should have a number of copies. Since many adults will also find it informative, copies should be in both the adult and children's sections of public libraries.  Everyone can learn something from this book. I discovered where the terms left wing and right wing come from. If you don't already know this, you will have to read the book yourself to find out. 

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

I read this book through Netgalley. It will be published on July 11, 2017. Preorder your copy now. 

I am fascinated by historical fiction that takes place in my lifetime. On the one hand, it takes me back to my youth where I can re experience the events I lived through. On the other, novels like this show me this time through the eyes of someone who inhabited a vastly different reality. Because of this, they expand my perceptions so that I experience and understand my own history anew. 

Sophie, her older sister, Lily, and their parents live in Los Angeles in 1965. They are a well to do black family who have just moved into a primarily white neighbourhood. Their parent's relationship is tenuous. Both are well educated professionals. Their absent, philandering father is a defence attorney, and their controlling mother runs an art gallery. Sophie has a lot to deal with as she anticipates Lily leaving at the end of the summer to go away to college. 

The story begins with the family hiring a new housekeeper, Mrs Baylor. Sophie and Mrs Baylor don't hit it off. Sophie misses their previous housekeeper while Mrs Baylor assumes that Sophie thinks she is better than her because her skin is lighter. 

Skin color, and shades of color play a significant role in this novel. Lily passes as white and manages to get a job in a salon that is reputed to not hire colored people. When Lily begins a relationship with Nathan, Mrs Baylor's son, their mother does not approve. She claims that it is because they are too different, but the reality is that Nathan, who is a student at Berkeley, has darker skin. The two continue a clandestine relationship that Sophie keeps secret. Nathan introduces the girls, both advertently and inadvertently, to new ways of looking at themselves in relation to the white world around them. The backdrop of the Watts Riots show them that no matter how well off they are, and where they live, they are not immune to the racism that surrounds them.

Sophie's best friend, Jennifer, is a white girl who lives across the street. She sticks up for Sophie when a group of other white girls reveal their racism. When Jennifer befriends one of these girls, Sophie begins to understand that Jennifer really doesn't understand what life is like for her.

Karen English has created a brilliant cast of complex characters. They are fully realized, nuanced people, flaws and all. She manages to highlight their humanity, no matter what happens. I appreciate that Jennifer and her family try hard to not see skin color as an issue, but that we also understand how impossible this is. It's only in the past few years that I have come to see my own ignorance in claiming to not see this difference. 

This is an important coming of age novel. Sophie has a lot to come to terms with: who she is and wants to be, her changing family circumstances, her sister leaving home, and what it means to her be a person of colour. At the same time, it's sure to educate and open the eyes of readers as well.

The best books are those that transform the way you see the world. 
This is one of those. 
It begs to be paired with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 



#IMWARY June 19, 2017

#IMWAYR time again, when readers share what they have been reading and find out what others have been up to in the past week. Kathryn hosts the adult version of this meme at Book Date. Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host the kidlit rendition. Whatever you are looking forward to in your next great read, these are fabulous places to start your search.

The waiting is over.
Our granddaughter, Ada Jimin, was born Wednesday morning at 1:30, and our grandson, (name to be determined), arrived late Saturday evening. They are both healthy and beautiful!
We are a tad ecstatic. 



PICTURE BOOKS

5 stars
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp & Julie Flett (Illustrations)

I've posted about this book before, but want to highlight it again, since I purchased copies for the new babies and their parents. Julie Flett's illustrations are gorgeous while Van Camp's text speaks to the special magic that a new baby brings. It has a special poignancy now that we are all in the process of welcoming new babies into our family and experiencing how profoundly terrifying and life affirming it is.

4 stars
The Tiny Tale of Little Pea by Davide Cali & Sébastien Mourrain (Illustrations) (Netgalley)

This title, to be published in September, is a delightful retelling of the Tom Thumb tale except with a unique twist at the end. Sébastien Mourrain's illustrations are charming in shades of green.
Little Pea's parents ensure that he has a wonderful childhood. He turns out to be a precocious child who enjoys the same kinds of activities other children his age enjoy like climbing & wrestling, but Little Pea also taught himself to swim and engages in tightrope walking.
This might be my favourite image...

It isn't until Little Pea starts school that he realizes how different he is, and how his size limits his ability to participate in the activities of his peers.
At the end we learn that Little Pea may be small, but when he grows up he can still live a rich life and contribute to the world in a surprising way.

GRAPHIC

While my son and his partner were sleeping, I held my granddaughter in my arms and read at least parts of these two graphic novels out loud to her. I stopped when it came to the scary parts. (I also tried reading Bill Bryson's At Home, but there are too many words to read out loud.) When people passed through the lounge they either smiled or looked askance. I told the latter, "We're raising a reader."

4 stars
Good-bye Marianne: A Story of Growing Up in Nazi Germany by Irene N. Watts & Kathryn E. Shoemaker (illustrations)

In 1938 Germany, after Kristallnacht, Marianne is forced to leave school because she is Jewish. Terrible things are happening. She sees death and destruction all around her. She misses her father who has gone underground to hide from the Nazi's. Her mother manages to arrange for Marianne to leave Germany on one of the Kindertransports to England. The story ends unfinished, but is picked up and completed in Seeking Refuge, the sequel that I read earlier this year.
Shoemaker's black and white illustrations hint at the evils Marianne experienced, without revealing the true depths of horror, thus making it appropriate for intermediate aged students. If I can carve out the time, I'm going to now read the print based version of this story.

4 stars
Lola by J. Torres & Elbert Or (Illustrator)

I am so thankful to Earl Dizon, at The Chronicles Of A Children's Book Writer, for introducing me to this book at his blog. In this novel a young boy travels to the Philippines for his grandmother's funeral. His Lola had supernatural powers that terrified him. (Lola is the tagalog word for grandmother) On this journey he has to come to terms with his own ability to see beyond ordinary reality.
I appreciated that while this is a great story, it also teaches us some tagalog terms and introduces us to Filipino culture. I adore how Elbert Or's illustrations capture a balance between sweetness and suspense. It's a little bit creepy, and that ending is a shocker. I can think of at least a half a dozen readers who I know will love this.

NOVELS

4 stars
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff & Ramon de Ocampo (Narrator)

This is my favourite Lisa Graff novel so far. I am absolutely infatuated with these characters. They are complex, authentic beings who are dealing with traumatic events. In a freak accident when he was in grade five, Trent accidently killed one of his friends with a hockey puck. He is in middle school now and still having a lot of difficulty dealing with this. He seems has developed an aversion to sports and alienated his previous friends. His new friend, Fallon Little, has her own issues to deal with. I was delighted to see that most of the adults around them are sensitive and helpful. His father isn't exactly role model material, but does his best. His mother is a rock. Ms. Emerson, the"wrinkled old crone," reminded me of my favourite high school teacher.

5 stars
It All Comes Down to This by Karen English (Netgalley)

I'm working on a full review for this. Right now, here is what you need to know.
This is one of those books that transforms the way you see the world.
Make sure you get a copy when it is published on July 11th.


3.5 stars
Home Sweet Motel by Chris Grabenstein & Bryan Kennedy (Narrator)

The beginning didn't work for me, and at first I wasn't sure if I would finish this. I persisted because many of you have spoken highly of it. It snuck up on me and before I knew it, I was hooked and couldn't stop listening. P.T. Wilkie and his family are in trouble. They have a $100,000 loan coming due in one month or they will lose Wonderland Motel, their home for generations. I appreciated the entire collection of characters, especially the old grandfather. I love that P.T. can be goofy, but also serious about saving the motel. His new friend, Gloria, has the business acumen to support his storytelling talent. Together, the two of them come up with some impressive money making schemes. The book is loaded with plenty of humor, crazy antics, and enough action to keep young readers fully entertained.

CURRENTLY

I'm reading Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and Jack Cheng's See You in the Cosmos. I'm listening to Cavern of Secrets by Linda Sue Park.

UP NEXT

I have a lot of library books to get to.

PROGRESS ON MY READING GOALS

#MUSTREADIN2017 13/36

#MUSTREADNFIN2017 5/12

50 Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors 13/50

Chocolate Lily (CL) 51/51
  
Goodreads Reading Challenge 196/333