Brown Girl Dreaming

brown girl dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming is an autobiographical poetry collection by Jacqueline Woodson. Written at about a middle-grade level, the book follows her early childhood experiences, and how she came to love writing.

This book is simple and beautiful. It explores what it’s like to be a child, to not really understand your parents’ decisions, and what it was like to be a Black girl—in both the North and South United States—during the sixties. It also talks about friendship, family, and self-exploration.

I would recommend this book to anyone, especially young Black girls who love to write. ♦

Esperanza Rising

Okay. First of all, I should probably clarify something.

I’m not reading a book a day, guys. I’ve been publishing one book review every day for the past week or so, because I finally kicked my butt into gear and started blogging about the books I’ve been reading for the past few months. Maybe I can blame my toddler, and claim he’s taking all of my spare time. Maybe I can blame my brother’s death, and claim I’ve been dealing with crippling grief. Or maybe I should just admit that I forgot (again) that I had a blog.

At any rate, the book-a-day posts should only continue for the next 14 books (give or take.) I won’t be insulted at all if you don’t read them. (Like I would be insulted normally.)

Anyways!

esperanza rising

Esperanza Rising is a great book. It’s written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and apparently she based it loosely on a grandmother or something. It’s a darn good book. That’s probably why it’s won some awards: the Pura Belpré Award for Writing, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards for Book for Older Children. If you want to be precise.

The story is about a girl named Esperanza, who lives in Mexico in the 1930s. After her father dies, her no-good uncles try to take the ranch (and Esperanza’s mother), so what’s left of the family flees to California, makes it through immigration (legally or illegally—I’m still not sure,) and finds a low-paying job picking produce. The rest of the book is about Esperanza getting rid of her spoiled, childish attitudes and coming to terms with the world around her, good and bad.

It’s beautifully written, culturally eye-opening, and it’s a great coming-of-age story. I think it’s in my top 5 favorite books of all time right now. So go read it. ♦

The Trespassers

the trespassers

The Trespassers, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, was a thrift-store impulse buy.

First of all, I can’t just bypass the fact that at some point in human history, two grown adults looked at their precious baby and decided that “Zilpha” was going to be the word that best described her.

Aside from the name of the author, this was a great book. It has a lot of the same suspense as The Turn of the Screw, but with a much better ending. And it’s written on a middle-grade reading level (I think), so it’s a really fast read.

But it’s not just a fast read. It’s got some really good character development, realistic kids and adults (you rarely get both in the same book, I’ve found), and what might be the most realistic and down-to-earth treatment of special needs I’ve ever seen. I say it’s realistic because the narrator’s younger brother is… different. And that’s about the only way he’s ever described. His behavior suggests he might be autistic, but he might also just be a little odd. You don’t ever really know, because the main character doesn’t really know.

Oh, and also, said brother may or may not be able to see ghosts. You never really find out. The story is about a brother and sister exploring a “haunted” house, then meeting the new family who’s moved in. And then the new kid who lives there starts acting really weird, and they have to figure out why.

I would recommend this to anybody who enjoys/enjoyed Goosebumps, but wants something a little more well-constructed. ♦

How to Eat Fried Worms

how to eat fried worms

I picked up How to Eat Fried Worms (by Thomas Rockwell) at a thrift store, because I remembered my teacher reading it to the class in 3rd grade. In 3rd grade, at least, it was awesome.

It was just as awesome as I remembered it. I mean, you do have to keep in mind that it’s for kids. But it’s still a great story. Basically, two friends start a bet about whether one of them can eat 50 worms over 50 days. And when the worm-eater (whose name I can’t remember—I read this back in February) turns out to be quite adept at suppressing his gag reflex, his friends have to come up with new schemes to make the worms even less appetizing.

It’s a silly book, but it’s quick and it’s fun to read. ♦

Love That Dog

Love_That_Dog

Okay, confession time. This one made me cry.

It’s a kid’s book. A kid’s poetry book. Well, sort of. It’s a kid’s poetry journal. It’s a story told through a kid’s poetry journal for his English class, and he doesn’t want to write poems (because boys don’t write poems, girls do), but he does it anyway and ends up writing some really good poems.

And also, his dog died.

Sharon Creech made it sound a lot better than that, okay? I cried. That poor dog. He loved that dog so much.

Seriously, though, Love That Dog is a fantastic book. I still feel a little silly crying over it (I’m tearing up now. Stupid yellow dog.) – but I still hold that this is a wonderful book, especially for someone who’s not that into poetry, or a kid just learning about poetry. It’s wonderful. You should all go read it. But maybe grab a Kleenex. ♦

Silver On the Tree

Silver-on-the-Tree

This is rare, folks – but I’m pretty sure the series finale was my least favorite part of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising.

The series overall gets a two enthusiastic thumbs up. Loved it. It was great fantasy, great children’s adventure, well-written, almost poetry in an action-movie plot line. It was great. But the thing is, it just got progressively weirder.

Over Sea, Under Stone: A great children’s adventure, with a splash of magic.

The Dark Is Rising: Magic-based children’s adventure.

Greenwitch: Magical, a little weird, but definitely worth the ride.

The Grey King: This is getting weirder, but I trust Cooper. She’ll pull it all together in the end. (And she does.)

Silver On the Tree: Wait – did I take drugs? What is happening? I feel like I just waded through a literary drug trip, and then ended with the good guys winning predictably, and then about two paragraphs of preaching about how human beings need to solve their own problems from here on out. And then all the main characters forget it ever happened, so we might as well be back at the beginning. Ugh.

I realizing I’m being really polarizing here. It wasn’t all bad. It’s just that the other ones were so good, and then this happened. I just didn’t see it coming. I was reading a fantasy series, and then I got blindsided by surrealism. Or maybe it all makes perfect sense, and I just don’t understand enough English and Welsh mythology to get the obvious literary references in here. Maybe someone in the UK is reading this, thinking, “Stupid American. She missed the whole point!”

Sadly, though, I did miss the whole point. If you’re a good reader, it’s worth the time to finish the series – but if you can’t burn through the book in a few hours, I wouldn’t recommend it. ♦

The Grey King

the grey king

Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence continues (after Greenwitch) with The Grey King, possibly the most confusing but also inexplicably well-constructed book in the series so far. While this book has had less to explain than any of the other books (since I’ve been reading this series for about four books now), it still manages to have bafflingly new elements to it.

Welsh, for example. I don’t know who invented this language, but I’m really glad Cooper decided to sneak in a pronunciation guide of sorts within the first few chapters.

Memory loss – Will Stanton spends the first few chapters unaware that he’s an Old One, due to a rather nasty bout of hepatitis that left him with some amnesia. So for a bit, he’s just wandering around Wales, wondering why he has these silly rhymes beating about in his head.

An albino boy with a mysterious past, a mystical dog, and an arch-nemesis.

Oh, and a cameo from King Arthur. Also, hints that Merlin and Merriman Lyon might just be the same person. (But can we be sure?)

As Will goes traipsing around Wales with his new friend Bran, he has to find a magical golden harp that will help the Light in the final battle against the Dark. And he has to find it in a specific place that he hasn’t figured out, and it has to be on Halloween. Also, the Grey King, an ancient spirit who lives in the hills of Wales, is pretty determined that Will not get said harp. Apparently, the Grey King is a lord of the Dark. Who knew?

Most of these books, you spend some time wondering what’s going on, guess fairly well who the bad guy is, and get a few surprises. This one, you can guess fairly well who the bad guy is, and spend most of the book trying to figure out who exactly the good guys are. And by that, I mean you know who the good guys are, you’re just trying to figure out who they are, really. And sometimes even they don’t know. So it’s the most confusing so far to read, but the most impressive when it all somehow makes some sense and all the loose ends are tied up in the last few chapters.

Overall, I was impressed with the writing and story. I was even more impressed with the characters and their complexity, and now I just keep thinking how much I need to learn about British mythology and folklore. Apparently, I don’t know diddly-squat. ♦