Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Holy toledo this is some book! It's been on my to read list since the first of January. If I had an inkling it was going to be this good, I would have dropped everything and read it first thing. I might not have gotten to it yet, except for Josh, a certain reader at our school who has been bugging me about it. I'm going to give him a huge hug when I see him next. 

Kate Milford can really really write! This book is chock full of so much for me to gush on and on about. There are the characters, and then there is the atmosphere and setting, and don't forget the plot - what a humdinger it is!! 

It's winter at Greenglass house, a former smuggler's retreat that has been transformed into an inn. Milo and his family run the inn and are just settling in for a quiet winter vacation when a gaggle of unexpected guests start arriving. They are all there for a secretive purpose, and when some of their possessions get stolen, it appears that something nefarious is afoot. It's up to Milo, and their cook's granddaughter, Meddy, to figure out what it is. 

I suppose that might not seem spectacular, but holy crow, I'll spoil it for you if I tell you more. I think you need to go into this book blind and trust me when I tell you that this is well worth the ride it takes you on. 

Here is the thing about this book. It's all so real, it feels like I've spent the last few days at the inn with these characters. I've agonized with Milo about who his birth parents are. I've admired the sensitivity, love and concern his today family have for him. I'm awed that almost all of these characters have depths to discover. I love that, except for the one truly dastardly villain, these are good people who care more about others than themselves. 

The inn itself is a character in this novel. If I close my eyes I can visualize  the many staircases and stained glass windows. I'm sure I was there with Milo and Meddy as they explored the dusty treasures in their attic emporium. I feel like I snuggled under the covers in my room listening to the house creak and groan around me as I listened to the wind howling around in the dark night. I still feel the bitter cold of that relentless winter storm.

I now want to read everything Kate Milford has ever written. 

IMWAYR April 27, 2015

Here it is again, Monday, a time for bloggers to reveal what they've been reading in the past week. Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Rickie from Unleashing Readers host this weekly event. Check out the links on their sites for ideas to enrich your reading life.

I've managed to read a few fabulous picture books, and marvelous novels this week. 

Uptown by Bryan Collier

This book is so gorgeous it gave me shivers and brought tears to my eyes. The text and the images are all about pride of place - bringing to outsiders, like myself, an inside view of what a wonderful place Harlem is to our narrator.

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles and Jerome Lagarrigue (Illustrator)

I had tears in my eyes again by the time I finished this book. It's the story of two best friends growing up together in a town in southern USA in the 1960's. One is white and one is black. When the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964, the two boys thought they would now be able to do everything together. Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple as the white community shut down the pool and closed stores to avoid integration.

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems by Lauren Myracle

I love this whole family. Ty is a sweet boy who  has two older sisters, and a new baby one. Since the new baby came along, it hasn't been easy for him. His mother's time is consumed with the new baby, leaving Ty feeling abandoned. To add to his misery, his best friend, Joseph is in the hospital getting treated for leukemia. On a school field trip to the aquarium, Ty ends up doing something he shouldn't. Luckily, this is a family that helps each other out, and his sisters come to his rescue.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Our library needs this book. Every elementary library needs this book. Once readers connect with a fictional character, it's easier to accept and befriend a real person in the same situation.  This is the story of a transgender girl, Grayson, and how she finds the courage to become who she really is. Click the above link to read my full review. 

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fford

This was my first Jasper Fford novel. Although it took me a bit to get into it, (probably because I've been reading so much intense realistic fiction) by the time I adjusted to a new kind of reading ride, I was delighted. It is reminiscent of Philip Reeves' Larklight series, being unabashedly weird, yet Fford's book is also a critical treatise on our society. It's set "in a society where the ability to see the higher end of the color spectrum denotes a better social standing." All our hero, Eddie Russet, can see is red. This puts him at the lower end of the social strata, just better than greys. He has been sent off to the far end of nowhere (East Carmi) to count chairs and learn humility. Once there he discovers a land full of corruption and bitter truths. Much of the latter is due to his infatuation with Jane, a strong willed Grey renowned for her sharp temper.  I've read rumors that there will be no more of this series.  Whether this is true or not, I'll definitely read more Fford!

Currently I'm reading Greenglass House by Kate Milford, and listening to As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the most recent Flavia de Luce novel by Alan Bradley.  Up next I've got Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and then Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. Both have to be returned to the library by next weekend!

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Let me begin by stating how glad I am that this book is here. I've been waiting for ages for a good middle grade book that deals with transgender issues. Gracefully Grayson will work perfectly in our elementary school library. 

Grayson is a transgender girl. In her story here, we learn how she became brave enough to start to become outwardly, everything she already was inwardly.

She has lived with her aunt and uncle since her parents died when she was four. Most of the time Grayson tries to be invisible at school, all the while imagining her pants and over sized tops are skirts and dresses. Then she makes friends with a new girl, Amelia. When Amelia catches Grayson taking her first steps towards dressing like the girl she knows herself to be, Amelia not only shuns her, but tells Grayson's secret to everyone. 

A couple of things happen to give Grayson hope. First, she lands the part of Persephone in the school play. Second, she discovers, through her mother's letters to her grandmother, that her parents were aware of her gender conflict and accepted whatever and whomever Grayson was going to be. 

Unfortunately Grayson's aunt and uncle have a challenging time understanding and accepting her. At first they are upset about the letters and angry that the drama teacher, Finn, would offer the part to Grayson without consulting with them first. Eventually Uncle Evan comes to accept that this is what Grayson wants and becomes very supportive. However, Aunt Sally never really seems to figure Grayson out, although to be fair to her, I believe that she cares about her and wants what she thinks is best for Grayson. Unfortunately, for Aunt Sally, this means Grayson should stay the same and be safe. Grayson's older cousin Jack is mortified and angered by her gradual transformation, while her younger cousin, Brett, doesn't see what the fuss is all about. 

In the theater Grayson finally finds acceptance from a diverse group of students. She gets to hang out with, and is accepted by the girls. In spite of this, there are a few students in the rest of the school who go out of their way to bully her, at one time actually causing her physical harm. 

What worked for me:

These characters are exceptionally well developed. We even get to know Grayson's parents through the letters and her memories of them. Even negative Aunt Sally is shown as a real person with complex motivation. Grayson is the kind of individual my readers will be able to connect to and feel empathy for. 

I liked that for the most part, the rest of the adult school population were positive characters. Finn was a remarkable risk taker in giving Grayson this chance. He must have been aware of the fallout that would ensue. 

It's impossible for me to know how realistic Polonsky's portrayal of the transgender experience is, as it is not within my purview. A number of years ago we had a transgender girl at our school. Her experience was as positive as possible. Her classroom peers were accepting as over the few years she was with us she transformed her outer appearance to match who she really was. While some of Grayson's peers ignored her, she experienced some of the same kinds of support in her relationship with her peers in the theater. 

What didn't work for me:

Maybe it's because I was expecting something more like David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy, or maybe it's because I had read so much positive hype about this book that parts of it just dismayed me. 

What bothered me is that this child has so much to wrestle with. Seriously, I would have thought that having a child deal with being transgender would be enough to come to grips with in one book. Having her have to cope with the loss of her parents and her grandmother on top of this, was over the top. It became a bit of a melodrama for me, and this got in the way of my connecting to the characters in the way I had hoped to.  

My siblings, who are also teachers, often tell me that I don't work in the real world, but I believe that if we are prepared to put in the work, we will be amazed to see how respectful, kind and supportive our students have the capacity to be. I wish we had seen more of this kind of work in the book. 

Thank goodness that Ami Polonsky is a very fine writer, and I wanted to love this book, or I might have abandoned it. I'm glad I didn't as I came to care about these individuals. I hope they all find their own happily ever after.