Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Last Secret of Fatima

The Last Secret of Fatima provides the finale in the long saga that is Fatima. For those who don't know or have forgotten, the visions of Fatima occurred over 90 years ago, while the world was in the throes of World War I. Three shepherd children, Jacinta, Lucia and Francisco from Fatima, Portugal saw the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 13th of each month from May, 1917 until October, 1917. During these visions the children were reportedly given a special message which comprised three parts, two of which were revealed shortly afterwards. The first part involved a vision of hell and the suffering condemned souls. The second part involved the shoah - that is the outbreak of a second world war greater than the first in which an attempt would be made to wipe out Judaism which "gave the World Jesus Christ, Our Lady, the Apostles, who transmitted the Word of God and the gift of faith, hope and charity."

The third secret was written down by Sister Lucia in Tuy, Spain, on January 2, 1944. It was placed in a sealed envelope and was taken to the Vatican. Although several Popes read the secret, it was not publicly revealed until 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

The book's format is that of an interview of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Giuseppe de Carli. In the book they explore various aspects of the Fatima visions, the ongoing "visions" at Medjugorje, Sister Lucia who was a Carmelite nun and also Pope John Paul II's relationship with Fatima. The timeline of the third secret is explored as well as it's contents and the possibility of it relating to other events either those already past or those possibly in the future.

Although not an "exciting" read, it is interesting for those who have an interest in Fatima, Sister Lucia and Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Bertone refuses to be drawn into certain discussions but provides some wonderful insights into other areas of theology and faith.

For example he states, in a conversation about faith:
You've put your finger on the central point, which is faith. Faith has to do with the most radical question of all: "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" (Ps 8:5). Believers are obliged to wrestle with this issue, because part of faith is the attempt to answer the question about the ultimate meaning of things. Through faith, man discovers his infinite value as a person. God wishes to enter into communion with man. At the same time, God reveals to man the supernatural end for which he, man, was created: union with God. Saint Ignatius of Antioch says: "I hear in me a living water that murmurs 'Come to the Father"."

Book Details:

The Last Secret of Fatima. My Conversations with Sister Lucia.
by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone with Giuseppe De Carli.

Doubleday: New York

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Really Sank The Titanic by Jennifer Hooper McCarty and Tim Foecke

Initially, I took this book out to read the last few chapters, expecting that it would be dry and very technical. While it was very detailed and technical, this book was completely engaging after the first chapter. It's a credit to the writing skills of authors Jennifer Hooper McCarty and Tim Foecke that they can make wrought iron, cast iron, steel and rivets so interesting!

The first chapter provides a background of the luxury shipliner business as it existed at the turn of the last century and places it within the context of major scientific and industrial discoveries (namely, the Marconi wireless and changes in material from wrought iron to steel) of the period. The book reads like a major thesis and progresses logically with the authors stating their thesis in the preface, that
"substandard materials used in some of the riveted joints of the ill-fated liner caused the first six compartments to flood after the iceberg impact and allowed the largest man-made moving object of the time to sink in a little more than two hours on that night in April 1912."

What Really Sank the Titanic is divided into four parts comprising the background, the facts of the sinking and the investigations undertaken over the past 80 years. the analysis of material from the Titanic and the final part which discusses other interesting facts as well as the current state of the wreck.

McCarty and Foecke's presentation is logical, easy to understand, and the book is completed with colour plates and diagrams to aid the reader's understanding. A good read for those not saturated with Titanic information and who want something "authoritative" and new to read on this subject.

Book Details:
What Really Sank The Titanic by Jennifer Hooper McCarty and Tim Foecke
Citadel Press   2009
320 pp.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Wnkatraman, Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Wenkatraman is a novel set in British-occupied India during the Second World War. The plot revolves around Vidya and her family who live in Bombay. They are of the Brahmin caste and are wealthy, with Vidya being driven to school every day in the family's Austin.

When her father is seriously injured in an Indian demonstration against the British, the family's fortunes take a downturn and Vidya, her brother Kitta and her mother must go to live with relatives in Madras, who live a more traditional way of life. This traditional way means that women live separately from the men, with the women living on the first floor and men on the second floor of the home. But it is on the second floor that Vidya learns there is a library - a place she as a woman, is not allowed. Hence the book's title, Climbing the Stairs. Raman, a young student living with Vidya's aunt and uncle, helps Vidya obtain permission to use the library and soon a strong friendship develops between the two.

Vidya also begins to assert her strong will and pursue what she wants in life - to be educated. Against the backdrop of World War II, it is world events that help bring about the climax of this story.

Climbing the Stairs is well written and engaging. Readers will be able to develop a sense of the culture of India, especially with regards to the food, dress and customs, but not a good understanding of what Indian society was like during the war years and near the end of the British occupation of India. The lack of a glossary is somewhat frustrating as Indian terms are used throughout the book. In some ways, the book ended too abruptly for me. Several situations were resolved too quickly and without much depth.

A second novel, "Koyal dark, mango sweet" was much more interesting and enjoyable. The story revolves around Jeeta and her family's attempts to marry off three sisters (including Jeeta). Set in modern-day India, the novel opens with Jeeta's family desperately seeking a groom for their eldest daughter, Nimita, who has a serious eye condition. There are interesting descriptions of the family searching through the "matrimonial pages" in search of a suitable husband, followed by the readings of horoscopes and a first meeting. After enduring meeting at least seventeen young men, finally a spouse is found for Nimita - a good young man, Girish Mehta, from a nearby orphanage.

Next in line is Jeeta's sister Mohini. It is during this time that Jeeta meets Sarina, a young classmate whose mother is a lawyer and whose father is a judge as well as a young man named Neel. Sarina has a strong, positive influence on Jeeta. She widens Jeeta's perspective on what she can obtain in life through education. Until she met Sarina, Jeeta looked forward to marriage at a young age with little chance to see the world and participate much in it. As for her growing friendship with Neel, Jeeta must keep this a secret, because any contact with members of the opposite sex outside of family, is strictly frowned upon.

The descriptions of Indian rituals and food, the various religious festivals and customs, the type of dress and descriptions of places make this novel more interesting and help the western reader develop a sense of India. Indeed some of the chapters are named after Indian festivals and there is also a glossary at the back of the book to further explain Indian terms used throughout. As with "Climbing the Stairs" the title, Koyal dark, mango sweet also has significance, which I leave the reader to discover for themselves.

Book details:
Climbing the Stairs by Padam Venkatraman
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008

Koyal dark, Mango sweet by Kashmira Sheth
Hyperion Paperbacks, 2006

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One Thousand Tracings. Healing the Wounds of World War II

Written by Lita Judge, One Thousand Tracings is a fascinating picture book inspired by events in the lives of the author's grandparents. The book jacket and the inside of the front and back covers are a montage of photographs, foot tracings, envelopes and letters from Germany listing the needs of post-war families.

The picture book is set up so in a somewhat diary form commencing with December 1946 with the entry "Papa Came Home" and follows monthly until September 1947 when the entries become further spaced apart. Each entry tells about a little girl and her family and how they first help friends overseas in need of shoes. These friends, the Kramers are so touched by the generosity of their American friends that they suggest they help other German families worse off and send tracings of their feet so that suitable shoes can be found. Soon thousands of foot tracings arrive.
Each entry is beautifully illustrated with exquisite water colour drawings which convey the emotions felt in each entry. There are also various photos accompanying some entries which show items sent overseas.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I learned something new about the post-war period and it was interesting to read about the authors connection to the story portrayed in the book.
Highly recommended.

Book Details:
One Thousand Tracings. Healing the Wounds of World War II
Written and Illustrated by Lita Judge
Hyerion Books for Children, 2007

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Occupied Garden

The Occupied Garden: Recovering the Story of a Family in the War-Torn Netherlands by Karen Den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski is a compelling read filled with both tragedy and hope. Written by sisters Karen and Tracy, this book details the Den Hartog family life commencing immediately prior to the start of World War II and throughout the occupation of the Netherlands by the Nazis. The book opens with the marriage of their grandparents,Cor and Gerrit den Hartog and their establishing a home and market garden.

The Occupied Garden tells the story of Cor and Gerrit as they struggle to raise their young family amid the Nazi occupation and pillage of the Netherlands. Cor, deeply devout tries to understand why God would allow such suffering. Other members of the family are also affected, each in their own way, despite Cor and Gerrit's attempts to protect them.

An unexpected tragedy, the family's resilience in the face of their own and their neighbour's terrible suffering make this story both poignant and tragic. The authors also tell the story of the Dutch Royal Family's sufferings during this time.

Book Details:
The Occupied Garden: Recovering the story of a family in the wartorn Netherlands
by Kristen Den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski
Toronto: McCelland & Stewart 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Snow Falling in Spring by Moying Li

Snow Falling in Spring written by Moying Li, a native Chinese born in Peking, is a factual account of her life in China before, during and after the Cultural Revolution. Moying Li paints a picture of a communist China which still had retained some of its charm, social structure and traditions.

In 1958, at the age of four, Moying Li experienced the Great Leap Forward, followed by the Cultural Revolution which began in 1966. As a teenager, she saw her opportunities for education thwarted and her dreams shattered. She witnessed the humiliation of teachers and her school's headmaster who hung himself. Her own beloved Baba (father) was sentenced to a labour camp and her mother, dean of students at a nearby university.
Moying writes of her baba's books and how he taught her to love books, reading and learning. One day in 1968, soldiers showed up at their home and systematically destroyed all of her families copies of books, some old and valuable.
"After everyone had left, I closed the door and all the windows and sank to the cold stone floor, my face buried in my arms. The sun was setting, and darkness was creeping into the house. Our bookshelves now stood naked in the shadows - like proud but defeated warriors."
His strength of spirit is shown when he sent Moying Li a secret letter outlining books she could read to develop her mind during this dark time, complete with a list of which friends still retained copies. In this way, he prepared his daughter for the day when the Cultural Revolution would be over and maybe things would return to normal.

Moying Li's prose is easy and fluent. This well written account of a person now approaching middle age gives cause for Western readers to reflect on how different our lives have been. A highly recommended read for those interested in 20th century Chinese history.

Book Details:
Snow Falling In Spring: Coming of Age in China during the Cultural Revolution
by Moying Li
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lesia's Dream by Laura Langston

This was a wonderful quick read. Langston manages to teach the reader about a historical period in Canada in a riveting way that combines history, suspense and romance. Lesia is a 16 year old Ukrainian who comes with her family to Canada, "the land of milk and honey" to find happiness and become rich. Instead she finds the people unwelcoming, hostile, the land poor and conditions as hard as they were in the Ukraine. When Canada enters World War I, her father and brother are declared "enemy aliens" and are sent to an internment camp. The book describes Lesia and her family's struggles to survive during these difficult years. If not for the help and kindness of Andrew who has been here 13 years, Lesia and her family would not have succeeded.
Although the book begins with Lesia in 2003 writing as a great-grandmother and then remembering the past, this is really only a small part of the book. I was unaware of internment camps for Ukrainians in Canada so I feel I learned something of what Lesia must have faced. My mother's family endured this kind of bigotry during World War II as Canadians of Italian heritage were also sent to internment camps. My uncle was imprisoned during the war, but went on to become the first Italian-Canadian elected to the House of Commons during the Diefenbaker years. My aunts have often spoken of changing their names and dyeing their hair to get work during the Second World War.
This is a well written book that holds the reader's interest without being too heavy handed. Highly recommended.

Book details:

Lesia's Dream
by Laura Langton
published by HarperTrophy Canada, 2003

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Book Review: The Last Girls of Pompeii

I anticipated a great juvenile fiction read when I signed this book out of my library. The story line was interesting: it follows two young Pompeiian girls, Julia and her slave Sura just prior to the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Filled with lots of detail about the customs of Roman society and specifically the city of Pompeii, it was fascinating to read.
The reader knows that the eruption will be part of the book, but the ending was exciting and yet sad simultaneously.
I have one very strong criticism of this book which is marketed for ages 9 to 12 years. There were a number of scenes with strong sexual overtones and innuendo in the first half of the book which I felt were completely unnecessary. I was left wondering WHY the author incorporated this into what otherwise was a really great story.
Because of this, I cannot recommend this book for this age group. Unfortunately, older teens my not find the book will hold their interest.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Burning down the house by Russell Wangersky

I decided to read this book for two reasons:
1. my brother worked as a volunteer firefighter for the New Minas Volunteer Fire Department in the late 1980's (maybe Russell Wangersky knew him) and
2. I have an interest in the fascinating world of firefighter culture

"Burning Down the House" by Russell Wangersky is a fascinating, well written book about being a volunteer firefighter in Canada. Wangersky became a firefighter when he was 21 signing onto the Wolfville Department. He didn't meet the physical criteria for working in a paid position, a situation similar to my own brother who at the time worked for Acadia University as a librarian! So, he joined as a "vollie". Eventually, after leaving for one year, Wangersky returned to volunteer firefighting in the town of Portugal Cove- St. Philip's in Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula.

What Wangersky didn't realize was that firefighting was more than just going to fires - it included all kinds of calls from traffic accidents to farm mishaps. It meant seeing some truly horrible situations and seeing people at some of the most private and personal moments in their lives. Some of Wangersky's descriptions are visceral but they do portray what it must have been like to be exposed to these situations on a regular basis.

Eventually Wangersky found he could no longer just leave behind what happened to him during these calls. He experienced the classic symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome, having nightmares and questioning his own usefulness on the job. He told no one what he was experiencing, not his wife nor his firefighting colleagues.
Wangersky writes about the silence within the profession about what goes on during calls. What he himself terms the "mythos of firefighting" that firefighters are always big and strong both physically and mentally. That, although psychological care was always available, firefighting staff didn't avail themselves of this because of the concerns that it could marr their careers and their working relationships with other firefighters.

Wangersky writes about the fiction that surrounds the firefighting profession - that firefighters are heroes - always. About how when a firefighter dies, he's a hero whether his actions were an act of stupidity or of legitimate bravery.

"Firefighters don't make bad decisions; what they make, so the fiction goes, is brave ones. They are expected to keep doing it, time after time. Everyone else is supposed to keep up that pretence. And for the most part we do.
There's no one to blame. You're put in extremely high-stress situations, where lives depend on you making the right decisions; but more than that, they depend on someone making a decision, any decision. So a lot gets swept under the carpet, mistakes along with it.
" p.227

I would have liked to have known more about how Wangersky's colleagues reacted to him leaving. Were they aware of how much he was affected by his work as a firefighter? How long did it take him to recover from his experiences. It will be interesting to see just how the firefighting profession responds to this book. Will his claims be dismissed because he was a "vollie"?

Overall, a great read for the guy in your life.

Listen to CBC Maritime Magazine's interview with author Russell Wangersky.

You can also check out Wangersky's blog at Burning down the House.

Finally, just as an aside. I've only had to deal with the fire department once in my life to date. That was when my son, then 2 years old, put on a pair of handcuffs he found in the park behind our house in Hamilton. I tried picking the first handcuff lock and finally after trying unsuccessfully to contact the local police I called 911. (I know, it wasn't an emergency, but I was pretty panicked by this time!) Well, the fire truck came roaring down our suburban street, siren blaring, lights flashing. Two very large firefighters came stomping into our livingroom with a huge axe! My son's eyes were huge. They cut the handcuffs off him. It was pretty darn funny, but I was pretty darn grateful!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Broken Chords by Barbara Snow Gilbert

I enjoyed reading this novel for young adults because it provided a unique look into the world of music, especially that of serious musicians. But, this book is much more than just a story about young musicians, as it touches on many "coming of age" issues which young aspiring musicians and their parents must face.

The story revolves around Clara Lorenzo, a brilliant, young aspiring concert pianist whose mother and father are both professional musicians. Gilbert gradually shows us just what Clara's life is really like. Her mother, whom Clara calls the Maestra, is conductor of the symphony and her father was a well known opera singer who gave up his career to further Clara's music education. She has been studying piano since the age of three. Her home has not one but two grand pianos in the livingroom which is lined with cereal boxes filled with music.

We meet Clara as she is performing in the opening competitions of the Nicklaus Piano Competition. It is here that she meets Marshall Hamonnd Lawrence, also a brilliant pianist and her only real competition. Clara's developing friendship with Marshall shows her another aspect of life she hasn't considered. Clara's parents have such control over her and are so obsessed with developing their daughter's talent that they are not aware of the inner struggle Clara is undergoing. They don't realise that she is growing up, with her own interests and plans. When Clara goes against her parents and attends tryouts for a part in the Nutcracker ballet, things only get worse.

Woven into all this is the story of her teacher, Tashi (Natalia Petrovna Volkonskaya) who also had to make a major life decision which involved music. When Clara comes to understand Tashi's decision and her reason for making the decision she did, this helps her make her own decision regarding her music career. She takes courage from Tashi's story even though the outcomes will be much different.

I enjoyed this book because it was relevant to my life both as a former music student and as a parent to a young gifted musician. I believe that many young musicians struggle with the same kinds of decisions Clara faced. Ultimately, the decision to become a dedicated professional musician must be the young person's and theirs alone. The story was believable and well written. I would have liked Marshall's character to have been more developed. His presence in Clara's life made her seem more real and believable.

I felt this book was an accurate portrayal of how some parents can lose sight of what music really is - a gift to be shared with others. It remains to the musician to discover just how to accomplish this task.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Book Review: Mountain Solo

Mountain Solo by Jeanette Ingold is an easy read for grades 7 to 10, although it may not hold the interest of older teens in this age bracket. The story is about Tess, a 16 year old virtuoso violinist who attends a school for the performing arts in New York City. A child prodigy, Tess's mom had directed and micro-managed her development and career as violinist. However, when Tess bombs her concert debut in Germany, she flees to her dad's home in Montana. During her stay with her dad and his new family, Tess is drawn into her stepmother's archaelogical investigation of Fredrick Bottner's homestead. Bottner's story is interwoven with Tess's in separate chapters which makes for interesting reading. The time away from the stresses of developing her musical career help Tess re-evaluate her career and what happened in Germany. Away from the pressures of concert performances, Tess can take the time to re-evaluate her life.

On the whole, this is an interesting story and I enjoyed the separate chapters focusing on Tess in the present, Tessie as a young girl, and Fredrick Bottner. We never learn the complete story of Frederick Bottner which makes this novel somewhat unsatisfying. But, we do see Tess reach some decisions of her own.
Some aspects of the story stretch the envelope of believability, for example, Tess and Ben skipping school to wander around New York City. One wonders why it took the school so long to figure things out. Tess's mother is a generally unlikeable character - a controlling "music mom" who is bent on her daughter becoming a virtuoso and who destroys her marriage for the sake of Tess's career. This aspect of her character, I found particularly annoying. In contrast, Tess's dad is developed as a likeable, reasonable man who is genuinely concerned for his daughter.

Overall, this book will be enjoyed by younger teen readers who have an interest in music and the performing arts.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Book Review: Three Million Acres of Flame

Three Million Acres of Flame is a well written, interesting fictional account of one of Canada's great national disasters, the Miramichi Fire, which destroyed 3 million acres in New Brunswick in 1825. The story opens with the main focus on the recent turmoil Skye Haverill's family has endured with the death of their mother and the remarriage of their dad to Hannah, a young widow with a son, Stewart.
However, their lives are forever changed on October 7, 1825 when a wildfire roars through New Brunswick and devastates numerous communities including Skye's town of Newcastle (which is now part of the city of Miramichi). Skye's stepsister is born during the conflagration as were 12 other babies. The Haverill's along with virtually all of their fellow inhabitants of Newcastle lose everything in the fire. How they struggle to cope with the immediate aftermath of the fire becomes the focus of Sherrard's first historical novel. The courage, resiliency and the faith with which the townsfolk respond to their dire circumstances is vividly portrayed by Valerie Sherrard.
I enjoyed reading this book as it was well paced and has a positive ending despite the horrific circumstances. Sherrard incorporates many facts of the Miramichi Fire as well as the experiences of those who endured this tragedy to produce a novel that will make this historic event very real to young readers.
It is to be hoped that Valerie Sherrard will produce more excellent historical novels for young Canadian readers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Review: Canadian picture books

Featured in this post are two delightful picture books with stories from very different areas of Canada.

First off, is The Market Wedding by Cary Fagan. This story is about two people who work in Toronto's Kensington Market at the turn of the century and who fall in love. When their extravagant marriage plans go awry, it's their friends who set them right. Regolo Ricci's rich and colourful art help bring this story alive.

The second picture book, Under a Prairie Sky by Anne Laurel Carter tells the story of a young boy who wants to be a Mountie when he grows up. The dynamic watercolours of Alan and Lea Daniel add to the suspense of this story as the young boy searches for his brother.

Book Details:

The Market Wedding by Cary Fagan
Published by Tundra Books, 2000

Under a Prairie Sky by Anne Laurel Carter
Published by Orca Book Publishers, 2002

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray

A Dog's Life written by Ann M. Martin, is a delightful but poignant story of a stray called Squirrel, who starts life as a wild dog born on a farm. Written in the dog's own words, she begins her story as a puppy on the Merrions farm. When something happens to her mother, Squirrel's brother Bone decides to leave the farm and she has no choice but to follow. The two remain together for only a short time as Bone is eventually taken by humans when the two dogs wander along the edge of a highway.

Eventually, Squirrel makes a good friend with another dog, Moon and together they travel to various small towns in order to survive. Squirrel's encounters with humans continue to be unfavourable throughout the book until the very end. My guess is this aspect of the story reflects the authors work with an animal rescue organization in upstate New York. This type of work would undoubtedly result in seeing dogs who have experienced some very sad situations. However, Martin's book has a satisfying conclusion and shows us a dog who is both intelligent, sensitive and fiercely independent.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to children aged 10 to 13, especially those interested in animals and working with animals.

Other books which may be of interest include:

Michael Morpurgo's Born to Run:The many lives of one incredible dog and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.

Book Details:

A Dogs Life. The Autobiography of a Stray.
by Ann M. Martin

Scholastic Press, New York, 2005.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Book Review: Carolyn Marsden Books

I started with "Silk Umbrellas" and then read "When Heaven Fell", "The Jade Dragon" and finally, "The Gold-Threaded Dress". "Silk Umbrellas" captured my attention because of its subject, a young Thai girl, Noi, who likes to paint and hopes to avoid her sister's fate of working in a radio factory.
Written in vivid prose with a sprinkling of Thai words throughout, I felt Marsden captured the exoticness of the Thai people and their culture in the modern world. For example, the wonderful descriptions of the harvest festival Loy Krathong, giving food to the monks in their orange robes, sleeping with mosquito nets and other features of rural Thai life paint a vivid picture of Thai culture.
Noi and her sister Ting watch Kun Ya (their Grandmother) as she paints silk umbrellas which are to be sold at the market to supplement the family income. But, when Kun Ya can no longer paint, Ting, the eldest sister must go to work in a radio factory. When Noi visits the factory one day, she comes to the realization that this is where she too is destined. The beauty of her world is shattered, "Now that she'd visited the factory, the whole world seemed broken into pieces...". As time passes Noi feels that the factory work goes against what it means to be Thai. "The sight of the radios made Noi slow down. They seemed out of place in the market. The other goods - Kun Ya's umbrellas, the wooden carvings, the embroidered cloths - were all made by people. The radios looked as if they were made by machines."
She becomes determined to avoid this fate but doesn't know how she will accomplish this. Through her Grandmother's patient instruction, she learns how to really look at the world around her and then to paint these images onto silk umbrellas. The way Marsden describes Grandmother's teaching of Noi is completely delightful. In the end, Noi's talent brings peace and satisfaction to her. And, a path different from Ting's.
This book is a delightful, short read for the 8 to 12 set who will learn a little about a culture very different from North America.
"When Heaven Fell" is a story about the clash of culture between a half- American half-Vietnamese young woman, Sharon Hughes, who returns to her native home to visit her mother who gave her up for adoption at the end of the Vietnam War. But to Sharon's half-sister, Binh and her family, America is heaven, where people drive fast cars, have beautiful clothes, maids and very white teeth. When Sharon or Di Hai as she is known to her Vietnamese family arrives, Binh and the rest of her family are confused by what they learn about her. Di Hai is not rich, has no children, is not married, teaches a "useless" subject and is very tall! In the end, this sensitive story tells how both cultures are able to see something positive in the other.
"The Jade Dragon" deals with some of the issues young Americans of oriental heritage may have in being true to their values of their family heritage. Ginny is a Chinese girl with Chinese parents who struggle to pass on their language and culture to their daughter. But,Ginny meets Stephanie who was born in China, but adopted by American parents who are doing their utmost to help her reclaim her oriental heritage. Stephanie however, hates everything Chinese. Marsden's story centers on how Ginny's parents teach her that she must remain true to herself, thus allowing Ginny to help Stephanie see the value of her heritage. Suitable for ages 8 and up.

Book Details:
Silk Umbrellas
by Carolyn Marsden
2004 Candlewick Press

The Jade Dragon
by Carolyn Marsden
2006 Candlewick Press

When Heaven Fell
by Carolyn Marsden
2007 Candlewick Press

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

You're The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

by C.S. Lewis

You were just looking for some decent clothes when everything changed quite dramatically. For the better or for the worse, it is still hard to tell. Now it seems like winter will never end and you feel cursed. Soon there will be an epic struggle between two forces in your life and you are very concerned about a betrayal that could turn the balance. If this makes it sound like you're re-enacting Christian theological events, that may or may not be coincidence. When in doubt, put your trust in zoo animals.

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