Saturday, September 29, 2007

Book Review: Winter Birds

September 29, 2007

Jamie Langston Turner is the author who convinced me that not all Christian fiction is insipid and trite. I read her novel Some Wildflower in My Heart several years ago and was hooked. I'd forgotten about her until Sherry over at Semicolon reviewed Winter Birds, her newest novel. Turner's novels are not easy reading. She is a phenomenal writer, but complex. Every page is full of uncanny insight into the human soul. She rejects the stereotypical characters that so often star in Christian novels and instead presents her characters intimately and realistically. And she is never didactic. Her theology is carefully woven into the story without ever coming close to being preachy. Really, she is amazing.

This particular novel centers on Aunt Sophie, a lonely and bitter old woman who has chosen to live with her nephew and his wife, on whom she will bestow her inheritance. The novel rotates between reflections on Aunt Sophie's life, including her brief marriage, and her present circumstances. As always, Turner provides a satisfactory, redemptive ending.

Like all of Turner's novels, this is not light beach reading. You have to be prepared to concentrate and absorb--but it is well worth the effort.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Friendship

September 27, 2007

btt button

This week's question from Booking Through Thursday:

Buy a Friend a Book Week is October 1-7 (as well as the first weeks of January, April, and July). During this week, you’re encouraged to buy a friend a book for no good reason. Not for their birthday, not because it’s a holiday, not to cheer them up–just because it’s a book.

What book would you choose to give to a friend and why? And, if you’re feeling generous enough–head on over to Amazon and actually send one on its way!

That would depend entirely on the friend. If I had a friend that was contemplating homeschooling, I would buy him/her John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.
If I were to buy a friend a book of poetry, it might be Li-Young Lee's Rose. If my friend was looking for Christian fiction, I would buy Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series. For the best book I've read this year: The Kite Runner. For perhaps my favorite book of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird.

But the thing is: among my group of friends, we circulate books as soon as we finish them. We are a living, breathing, paperback swap. And for anyone else: I'd probably just buy an gift certificate. Too often we've bought books for friends or family only to discover they already have that book on their shelves. Kindly, they'll say, "That's OK! This hardback copy is nice, too!" And so. The gift card suffices.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Book Review: Helen Keller's Teacher

September 25, 2007

"Teacher, don't talk like that [about your impending death]!" her friend cried out. "You must not leave us. Helen would be nothing without you!"
"Then I would have failed," Annie snapped. For her whole life had been dedicated to making Helen Keller free — free even of Teacher.

I just finished reading this book by Mickie (Margaret) Davidson out loud to Laurel. She could certainly have read it to herself, but I really wanted to share this one with her. I think it was about the 118th time in my life I've read this book about Annie Sullivan, and I still got all choked up. I can think of no other book that I read so often in my childhood. I don't know why this story appealed to me more than the biography of Helen Keller herself, but it was always Annie Sullivan's story that I came back to again and again. The girl with the scratchy eyes and terrible temper, the scenes in the poorhouse, her brother's tubercular hip--all those images were so familiar to me as I read the book to my daughter. And she loved it. I would have been terribly disappointed if she hadn't been enthralled! We have also read Helen Keller's story and watched both the Nest video and The Miracle Worker, but Helen Keller's Teacher is still my favorite.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Curriculum Review: Top Secret Adventure and Which Way USA

September 21, 2007

My friend Tammy, who is a curriculum junkie, introduced me to Highlight's world geography club, Top Secret Adventures. Having joined Book of the Month Club many times in my life with disastrous results, I am always skeptical of mail-order book clubs; however, I was intrigued by Top Secret Adventures. The idea is that your child is a secret agent in the Country-of-the-Month (Japan begins the series), and s/he has to solve the crime/mystery by traveling around the country, finding clues. "Travel" around the country is provided through puzzles of all sorts, map work, and searching the guidebook. The guidebook and puzzle book contain loads of information about the particular country. Laurel was 9 when we began this series, and she was just old enough to enjoy it. She was excited each time one would come in the mail. We didn't get to all of the kits and have moved on from World History for now, so I have stored the unopened countries and canceled our subscription for now.

This year we are studying American History, so I've ordered the Which Way U.S.A instead series instead. Much like the Top Secret program, Which Way USA provides a nice state map and a puzzle book with each state (two come per month). My only gripe so far is that the New York puzzle book spent about 98% of the book on New York City and 2% on the rest of the state, which is disappointingly typical.

The books are colorful (but not too busy) and filled with facts and tidbits of information about people and places. The information is presented in a way that is appealing to my 5th grader--short snippets and not terribly overbearing. (She's my "bells and whistles" girl.) My 1st-grader is not terribly interested, and my 9th-grader would rather just find the capital and a few major cities, as well as famous people from the state, and be done with it. We use these Highlights' clubs in conjunction with Geography Matters' Trail Guides and Mark-it Maps to round out our geography program.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Reading Challenge Completed

September 14, 2007

I've finished my first-ever reading challenge. If you haven't yet visited Sherry at Semicolon, you should. She posts a fabulous Saturday Review of Books each week, and I've added many books to my list from the reviews there. Her challenge was to read 6 books from the Review list between now and December 31. Several of these books are on my reading list anyway, but I picked up a few extras. I picked more than six in case some weren't available, and indeed, I never did find one so I took it off my list.

1. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Reviewed by Framed and Booked. Reivewed by 3M. Reviewed by Stefanie at So Many Books. Reviewed by Stephen Lang. Reviewed by Lisa at Breaking the Fourth Wall. Reviewed by Booklogged. Reviewed by Sherry at Semicolon. Reviewed by Krakovianka.
My review here.

2. Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman. Reviewed by Leslie at Abiding.
My review here.

3. The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer. Reviewed by Literary Feline. Reviewed by Bookfool.
My review here.

4. Night by Elie Wiesel. Reviewed by Jane at Much Ado. Reviewed by Sherry at Semicolon.
My review here.

5. The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, A Death, and America’s Dilemma by Alex Kotlowitz. Reviewed by Wendy at Caribous Mom.
My review here.

6. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Reviewed by Carol at Magistramater.
My review here.

7. Wrapped in Rain by Charles Martin. Reviewed by Jewellspring.
My review here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Book Review: Night

September 13, 2007

"Night had fallen. That evening, we went to bed early. My father said: 'Sleep peacefully, children. Nothing will happen until the day after tomorrow, Tuesday' ....It was to be the last night spent in our house. ...At nine o'clock...policemen wielding clubs were shouting: 'All Jews outside!'...
That was when I began to hate them, and my hatred remains our only link today. They were our first oppressors. The were the first faces of hell and death."

Author Elie Wiesel was 15 when he and his family were taken from their home in Transylvania to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald. This book is the haunting account of the horror of his life in the camps and struggle for survival as he and his father and millions of Jewish people had their humanity stripped away in a single night. Woven throughout the memoir are Wiesel's battle with the guilt of survival, the unbelievable reality of the attempted annihilation of an entire race of people, and his despair at losing his faith. This is a tremendously powerful book and one that I would absolutely recommend to everyone--so that we never become complacent.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Book Review: Peace Child

September 12, 2007

Phew! All I ever wanted to know about cannibalism and more is included in this true missionary story, which is part of Sonlight's Core 100 curriculum. In spite of the gore, this book by Don Richardson tells the amazing story of the Stone Age Sawi people of New Guinea and the Richardsons' adventures in the 1960s and 70s in bringing the gospel to this headhunting tribe. The Sawi people seemed impenetrable. In teaching the story of Jesus, the Richardsons kept running into obstacles. The people applauded Judas Iscariot for his treachery and laughed and believed that Jesus got what he deserved because he wasn't a master of treacher and betrayal. They were taught from an early age to kill, betray and cheat. But eventually the Richardsons figured out the key to the Sawi people using a redemptive analogy from the Sawi's own mythology: the Peace Child. With this breakthrough, the Richardsons were able to bring the gospel to the Sawi people. In addition, the Richardsons began preparing the Sawi for the tremendous changes that were to take place in the next decade in the jungle as the government began regulating the native peoples, stripping the land, and propelling them into the modern world. Gruesome reading. I wouldn't recommend this for kids younger than 12.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Book Review: Between, Georgia

September 2, 2007

I was thinking this would be a sweet and sappy break after reading the extremely intense The Book Thief. It wasn't nearly as sweet and sappy as I assumed it would be; as a matter of fact, there wasn't much of either in this book by Joshilyn Jackson. The story is a familiar one--a Hatfield and McCoy battle in a small southern town. But the characters were terribly compelling. Nonny, the narrator, is more than just living in Between, Georgia. She is also in-between two feuding families: the Crabtrees (her biological family) and the Fretts (her adopted family). To add more conflict to the story, her adopted mother is blind and deaf, and her two aunts are quirky enough to merit being characters in southern literature. Much of the novel revolves around Nonny and her many relationships (familial, romantic, and internally), but the story of her mother and her aunts is wonderful. I can't say I'd rush out and tell my friends, "You must read this novel!" but it was a good filler between other novels.