The Wanderer

     In The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech, Sophie, three uncles, and two cousins set off on a sailing adventure from Connecticut to England to visit Bompie, father to the uncles, grandfather to the cousins.  Along the way, the uncles and cousins come to better understand Sophie and what she's been coping with.  The storms on the sea and the storms between the crew are told by Sophie and Cody (a cousin) as they write in their sea logs.  
     Note: I love Sharon Creech.  She is one of my favorite authors.  If this book sounds wrong for you, try another of hers.  You will not be disappointed, I've never been.

What I liked:
  • Sharon Creech hides a secret about Sophie so well that when it started to come out, I had to re-read the last forty pages to see what I'd missed.
  • The chapters all have names, not just chapter 7.  
  • The juggling Cody teaches the crew becomes something more.  It becomes a better way for Sophie to escape unpleasant situations.
  • The chapters alternate between the voice of Sophie and the voice of Cody.  This format makes the book move real fast.
  • Even while writing the two voices, Creech keeps them clear and different.
  • Sophie asks the best and most simple questions to the adults.  Why didn't you marry her if you love her?  Why don't you work at a job you like?  Why can't I be different?  
  • Not all female writers are good at writing for a boy, and not all male writers are good at writing for a girl.  Sharon Creech is good at writing for a boy.  Cody is very believable.  His words sound like a ten year-old boy.
  • Cody reminds me of my younger brother, Jo.  Usually in trouble, always talking, maybe not that interested in school, but very good with people.  It's Cody's patience and love that help Sophie overcome her past and unlock her memories.  He even learns how to handle the snotty cousin Brian.  Like Jo, he occasionally says very profound and insightful things, for a goofball.  Here is his theory on people, pg. 226
  '"You know," he said, "maybe that's all anybody wants, is to be useful... And to have somebody else notice it."

What I didn't like:
  • I know that Creech's work is often set in very beautiful and well described settings.  The Wanderer is.  But I just can't relate to a childhood of rowing and boating and sailing and swimming in natural bodies of water.  It may be because I've lived all my life land-locked, but it was hard to imagine.
  • The kids and uncles are always throwing around words like aft, fore, trysails, and gale.  Since I've grown up land-locked, I don't know much about sailing or coastal weather.  It made some parts a little hard to follow.  


The Borning Room

     I've just finished The Borning Room by Paul Fleischman.  It's a story of a Georgina Lott born in Ohio during the 1850s.  The story is told through the happenings in the borning room, a room set aside for delivering children and death.  As her story is told, Fleischman weaves in issues happening at that time.  Runaway slaves and emancipation, news of the civil war, doctors taking over the role of midwives and their use of chloroform, electricity, sewing machines, and in her later life the Great War.  

What I liked:
  • The midwife speaks in a German/English mix.  A mild reminder that we never did speak only one language in the U.S.  
  • The Lott family discusses what is right vs. what is law.  Should they harbor a run away slave?  Should women have the right to vote?  Should you have to fight if you are drafted into the war?  It shows that things change bottom up and that we don't have to wait for the top.
  • The grandfather and an aunt live in the house, as does Georgina and her husband after their marriage.  Maybe I like my family too much, but I like the idea of a multi-generational household.  It takes a village and it's great that they chose their own village.
  • You always learn a little something from historical fiction.
What I didn't like:
  • The Lott family is always on the side of right.  I don't know anybody that enlightened. 
  • The chapters are long and the dialogue is, well, boring.
  • As the grandfather lies in the borning room dying, he is visited by various ministers who are working to get him to repent of his pagan ways so he can go to Heaven.  It was an uncomfortable scene.
  • Mr. Fleischman writes a scene where Georgina labors through a birth in the borning room.  I just couldn't swallow how he, a man, had written the birth.  He describes it vaguely, but as very painful.  It's very negative. 
What I'm not sure if I liked or not:
     During the mother's last pregnancy her husband convinces her to switch from the care of the experienced midwife to the care of a doctor, fresh from med school.  The doctor uses chloroform and of course has no idea what he's doing, and it ends terribly.  I like that it's the traditional lay midwife with the knowledge and experience and common sense who is vindicated.  I hated that the father is so impressed by a medical degree.  It reminds me too much of how things are today.  Say 'midwife' out loud and men pounce on you for being dangerous and haphazard.  


Crayons and rulers and chalk, oh my!

     Yesterday I received my Shopko flyer from the post person.  First page in?  Back to school specials!  24 pack Crayola: $0.20, limit 4.  Tool boxes (pencil boxes): $0.50, limit 4.  Composition notebooks: $0.50, limit 6.  Elmer's glue: $0.20, limit 4.  
     You probably noticed that those prices are unbeatable.  You may have noticed that there is a strict limit on all the items I need.  Saying, "Please?  I'm a teacher in a needy school." Does not work on the hardened Shopko employee.  
     I get around this issue with the help of my family.  Mom, husband, and three younger brothers absolutely love to take a big trip where we all put the same thing in our basket, then check out one right after the other, then repeat. Dad and older brother are not interested in helping.
     So, if you need school supplies, and you live near a Shopko, there's a great sale that lasts Friday, July 16 to Saturday, July 24.  Check it out.    


A Close Shave

I thought I'd try the new grooming, vet, boarding all in one pet center that opened near me.  The vet was wonderful, she was friendly and knowledgeable.  I'm sure the boarding is great.  But the groomer butchered my dog.  Now you may look at the picture above and say 'Hey, that's not so bad.' But it is.  It is not what I asked for.  The one best thing I love about Toby's features is his beard.  I asked them to leave his beard.  It's gone.  So are his whiskers!  Now instead of my shaggy JRT he looks like a spotted Italian Grey Hound with deer ears.  Looks like it's back to PetCo next time.  The picture on top is his before.  The bottom is his after.  


I finally finished Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff.  Here's the review:

What I liked:
  • I didn't read the dust jacket before I started it, so everything was a surprise.
  • Hollis and Josie (her elderly foster care provider) develop a really interesting relationship.  Hollis has never cared for anybody much, until she finds someone who really needs some care.  Hollis protects her, feeds her, handles her money, and learns to love her.
  • The "pictures" of Hollis Woods are the pictures she draws as a talented artist, and the author describes each with an accompanying memory.
  • The picture, chapter, picture, chapter lay out helped transition between past and present without my thinking "Wait, is this now, or a different time?"
  • Hollis has great emotions through the book.  It's hard to imagine a twelve-year-old feeling so much guilt and anxiety about her behavior.  But Giff writes it very convincingly.
  • There's a great happy ending that is a perfect picture of unconditional love.
What I didn't like:
  • Waiting in suspense for one-hundred twenty pages to find out what Hollis did while living with the Regans.
  • That Steven doesn't tell his parents where Hollis and Josie are.
  • Hollis calls Mr. Regan "the Old Man."  This drove me nuts. Nuts.



Yesterday I finished Flush, by Carl Hiaasen.  

What I liked about it:
  • Love that it's about a rogue environmentally vigilant family.  Their native Florida Key waters have been polluted, and the Underwood family is going to make it right by proving it was that unscrupulous Dusty Muleman and his Coral Queen casino boat. 
  • It's a little bit of a mystery.
  • The kids' parents are having marital problems (which gives us kids something to relate to.)
  • Noah and Abby (the Underwood children) live a kid's dream-life.  They live right on the water and fish and boat all summer. 
  • I love the Shelly character.  She's a large peroxide blonde with tons of tattos who occasionally beats up her live-in boyfriend.  I like her because she's rough around the edges. It's a nice reminder that someone whose lifestyle makes us nervous can still stand up and save the day.
What I didn't like:
  • Noah and Abby have too perfect a relationship for a brother and sister. It was too syrupy.
  • I didn't like when Shelly took back Lice, even after he stole her money and ran away.
  • I HATED that even though the Underwood family finds proof that Dusty Muleman is contaminating their water, and even though it's a big crime, and even though he should be locked away and his business license revoked, he gets nothing more than a slap on the wrist.  This part of the fiction was too realistic for me.