The Summer I Wasn’t Me

The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi

We’ve probably all familiar with the premise teen goes to camp and falls in love. But The Summer I Wasn’t Me offers a very different twist as the camp in question is a religious “de-gayifying” retreat.

After Lexi’s father passes away, her mother slips into a deep depression.  When her mother discovers Lexi’s feelings for a girl in town, it seems like this news will shatter their tenuous grip on each other.  Desperate to hold what’s left of her family together, Lexi is willing to accept her mother’s plan to cure her of her gayness.  Raised in a church going community, the religious camp serves to reinforce many of the messages she’s been given her whole life.  What Lexi doesn’t count on is that one of the other campers will be the most beautiful girl she’s ever seen,  a girl who undoubtedly also likes girls.

The summer yields friendships, so much romantic longing and no actual curing of homosexual feelings, but it also uncovers some very dark secrets.

Since I’m reviewing this as a potential Valentine-y love-y read, I can say that it certainly delivers on the longing and the mounting tension.  There are so many delicious moments where you wait, wondering if now is when things will start to happen.  And of course, as is a requirement for a true romance, there is a happily ever after.

However, those dark secrets?  Well, they do bring the book down a bit.  They serve to fully discredit the idea of a camp being able to change someone’s sexual preferences, but it is done through a very dramatic and violent turn of events. I’ll use a spoiler, but I would strongly encourage everyone to read the spoiler.

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Counselors watch kids unpack to make sure they don’t have any “homosexual pornography” with them. People date people of the same gender. A teen reports having been seen in an “inventive position” with a partner.  There’s discussion of same sex marriage (in the book it is not legal nationally as it is currently). Lube is mentioned but not in conjunction with any sexual act. Leviticus is quoted in Chapter 15, including “you must not have sexual intercourse with a man as one has sexual intercourse with a woman”. Two girls kiss during a game of spin the bottle.  Tongues are involved.  The kiss is in front of an audience and one of the participants meant it only for the benefit of the audience.  Campers are advised to avoid satanic influences by not masturbating.  Two teen girls shared the same bed.  A teen had a year long relationship with a same sex partner.  Two teens kiss.  Teens touch under their shirts.
Profanity – Lexi reports that “gay” and “fag” are used as slurs at her school. “crap”, “hell”, “screw you”, “fucking”, “God”, “Jesus Christ”, “Asshole”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Lexi’s father has passed away prior to the start of the book. We learn later it was from pancreatic cancer. An 11 year old is hit across the face by someone he has kissed. A teen is routinely beaten by a parent. Leviticus (a Bible book) states that men engaging in sexual intercourse with other men should be put to death.  A teen was sexually abused by a cousin. An adult in a position of power threatens a teen.  He demands sexual favors.  The teen is able to use violence to escape but is forced to kiss the adult first. There is every reason to believe that this is a pattern of predatory behavior. A teen is violently beaten under the guise of it being an “exorcism”. The teen is refused medical care after this incident.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Teens drank beer (does not occur on page, just a reference to past behavior). A teen’s father is a heavy drinker.  Drugs are mentioned.  Teens drink vodka and get drunk.  A teen mentions drinking beer and mulled wine in the past.
Frightening or Intense Things – Lexi’s mother suffers from depression.  A teen is faced with being kicked out of his home due to his sexual orientation.

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Where Do You Find Love?

Like many teens, I liked reading about love. I loved the classics: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Anne and Gilbert, Betsy Ray and Joe Willard. You see, I’m old enough that YA wasn’t really a thing the way it is now.  But during family pilgrimages to Philadelphia, I discovered a whole series that made me swoon.  My parents would take me to Borders on Chestnut St, which was one of the biggest bookstores I had ever seen and I would make a beeline for the Sunfire Romances.  There I could find exactly what I wanted to read:  a historical setting, an adventure, a choice of beaus, a happily ever after.

Just as I believe every person has a right to love and be loved, I believe everyone should be able to find exactly what they want in a YA romance.  Everyone should be able to find a book that makes them feel as satisfied as I did after reading Anna and the French Kiss. Unfortunately, for some, that’s pretty difficult.  Currently most books, especially those with big publicity budgets and lots of press have characters that are cisgender (anyone whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex as assigned at birth) and heterosexual (feeling sexual desire for the opposite sex).

In the past, I used the really dreadfully inadequate tag of LGBT to mark books that contained characters who were not heterosexual.  In the future, I’m hoping to be a bit more specific.  After all, if you’re looking for a book about a boy falling in love with another boy, you don’t want a LGBT book, which is maybe about girls being in love, or is about a character whose parents happen to be the same gender. If you want a book about two girls falling for each other, you want a f/f, not just a generic LGBT.  On top of that, LGBT omits so many sexual identities that are every bit as valid as those four. For many, QUILTBAG is an acronym that works to include a far greater number of people. QUILTBAG stands for: QUeer/QUestioning Intersex Lesbian Transgender Bisexual Asexual Gay.

So this month, with Valentine’s Day lurking just a few weeks ahead, I want to share some books that spread the love, but not the easy to find, grab any number of books at the bookstore kind of love.  I wanted to some happily-ever-after-ing for people who should have be able to read about exactly the kind of love they want to read about, even if it is a bit harder to find.  I got some great recommendations from Dahlia Adler, who loves nothing more than recommending QUILTBAG books to anyone who asks.  In fact, check out her blog post from February 2014 with lots of lovely links.  As you can see, it’s not that there aren’t books available, it’s just that you may not have heard of them.  And of course, there can always be MORE!

And get ready to fall in love, something that everyone should have the opportunity to do.





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Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

For Ha, the staggering loss of leaving her home and her father, the indignity of life on a refugee ship, the struggle to find her place in a new land are a story that can be told through food.

She grapples with complex situations and emotions and throughout. The story of her journey also one sustenance. As her home in Vietnam is threatened, food becomes more scarce, sweet potatoes stretching rice to make meals last longer. Leaving as a refugee doesn’t just mean abandoning her home and life, it means leaving the beautiful unripe green papayas still growing in her yard.  The journey by ship certainly details the difficulties of bathing and bathroom use, but it is the moldy handfuls of rice stowed consumed while smelling the delicacies hoarded by shipmates that render Ha the most homesick.  Her first meals off ship reflect the trauma of eating an entirely unfamiliar cuisine and the pure relief when someone has supplied fish sauce, nuoc mam, for the use of the refugees.  As Ha and her family settle in, their hopes and aspirations are tempered by disappointments, often reflected in the foods, the fried chicken which has an alluring crust is texturally wrong for people used to eating poultry fresh from their own yards.  As Ha finally begins to feel at home, her crushing disappointment at being given dried papaya is alleviated by her mother’s clever solution to soak the pieces to make them closer to fresh.

Books connect in different ways to each reader.  Some will surely associate most with Ha’s lunches, spent hiding in school bathrooms, her skin color leaving her somewhere in between the two main groups of children.  Others will appreciate her neighbor who provides her a safe environment for working on her English.  The protection given Ha by her brothers will strike a chord many.  I know many young girls will bristle at Ha’s Mother’s proclamation that “only male feet can bring luck” just as Ha does.  As a reader, I cannot resist books about food, the ones that make your mouth water with longing (and yes, if you have good access to Vietnamese food, you might want to plan a dinner out in Ha’s honor after reading this) and so the way that Thanhha Lai used food to help describe Ha’s journey spoke to me.

Great for: We are currently facing a major worldwide refugee crisis, so this is a very timely read.  If you want to get readers thinking about what it means to leave your home, what challenges will be faced by refugees, this is a great starting place.  In particular, the way that Ha’s family was sponsored by an American family is quite similar to how the Syrian refugees are being handled in parts of the world.  Reading this in conjunction with recent articles would provide a great opportunity for comparison, especially with older readers.  A major point of discussion should be how Ha’s family is awaiting sponsorship, longer than some others, because in America people are more willing to help Christians. This is definitely something to reflect upon in relation to the current refugee situation.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3 and up Despite the difficult topic of a father missing during wartime, I would feel completely comfortable reading this with third graders and I’ve certainly taught many who would have been strong enough readers to enjoy it.  I don’t know that there’s really an upper limit on who would enjoy it, I think it could be very useful for even middle school and high school students.  There’s nothing babyish about it and it will resonate with ELL readers.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – War is coming.  The presidential palace in bombed. Bombs fall, gunfire can be heard. A baby chick dies, it is carried dead, with someone for quite some time.  People try to commit suicide (one tries to throw herself off a ship, another stabs himself with a toothbrush).  At school a girl is pushed and touched.  She is followed home. A brick is thrown through a window with a threatening note.  Students are shown a photo of a burned, naked girl, of skeletal refugees. A girl’s hair is pulled, not as a tease, but in violent bullying.  A student fights back after being bullied.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – An American man smokes a cigar and chews tobacco.
Frightening or Intense Things – Her father was captured.  His fate unknown.  Families are poor and don’t have enough food.  The family’s house is egged, their yard toilet papered.  A child is teased and mocked.  They decide to say goodbye to their father despite not knowing his fate.

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Verdict: Just About My Favorite Book to Read Aloud Ever

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah O’Hora

I don’t know if I’ve ever been as in love with reading a book aloud as I am with this one.

Read alouds were always my strength as a teacher and now are one of my favorite parts of sharing books with my own child. I’m good at.  I could show you a stack of teacher evaluations that praised my amazing dramatic reading skills.  Give me a room of small people and I promise I can have them sitting still and relatively quietly, gazing at the pages.

But you can’t do a great read aloud without a great book.  And in all of the picture books I’ve read over the years, I’ve never met characters that I’ve heard quite so clearly as I hear Dot and her well meaning, but perhaps obliviously smitten parents.  There’s something magical in this small family that Dyckman has created.  Stories about a new sibling have been done before, but certainly never like this, never with a small wolf arriving on the front stoop of a bunny family’s home.  While Mama and Papa are immediately enamored with their new addition, Dot is quite rationally skeptical.  Echoing children everywhere, she becomes increasingly exasperated as her warnings to her parents are repeatedly ignored.  Trust me, if you’ve ever spoken with an actual teenager or even (as parents of young children know) a 3 or 5 year old who is going on 13, you will feel her tone in your very soul.

Dyckman’s characters are brought to life by O’Hora’s striking illustrations.  The style and colors are so distinctive that my toddler ID’d the book in a bookstore display while parked outside, and still in his carseat. But O’Hora does more than just contribute notably adorable characters.  He’s your ally in the read aloud game as well, providing the hand-lettered exclamations throughout the text.  Even if drama doesn’t come naturally to you, you should be able to give this an admirable turn.

Age Recommendation: While my toddler adores Wolfie, I know my third grade class would have greeted the book just as warmly.  Definitely a picture book that will be enjoyed by even older children.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – There are concerns about animals eating other animals, but everything turns out well!

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Reading Rut

Somewhere over the past few months, I got off track.  At first, reading, writing and processing were just physically too much, the casualties of my body needing to do all of its work recovering and none of its work actually working.  But then, I became an active participant.  Repeatedly, I walked past the bookshelf filled with titles I’d carefully selected and placed on hold without so much as a guilty glance.  During downtime I chose to sit mindless in front of the computer rather than take the few steps needed to find a new book and fall in.

Most of the times in my life when this has happened, I’ve wanted to go back.  As soon as time and life have allowed I have returned, refreshed and energized, excited for what lay ahead.  But this time?  I’m not so sure.  I find myself questioning whether I should be writing this blog.  Whether I should invest so much time in something that matters to only me.  I know that the answer lies somewhere in exactly how much this matters to me.  Whether it is more fun and fulfilling than the other things I could be doing.  But right now, all I do is give an unsure shrug.  I don’t know.

So I’m going to try to find my way back to loving reading. And writing about reading.  And sharing my love of reading with whomever wants to listen.  So I’m making a plan.  (Literally, right now, as I type this, MAKING A PLAN).


1. Read whatever I want! Those of you who follow this blog know that I do a theme per month. But sometimes, books call to me and they don’t fit with my current theme. So I add them to my goodreads list. Sometimes, I manage to build a future theme around them. Some of them, sit taunting me for a very long time. So this January, I’m just reading what I want. Truthwitch: A Witchlands Novel, A Snicker of Magic, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda who knows what else?

2. Write when I want Writing a blog is work. But when I’m trying to keep tightly to a posting schedule it can really feel like it. Since I’m having so much trouble getting back into things, maybe relieving a bit of pressure is the right away to handle things.

3. Snacks Don’t snacks help everything? Really, there’s no treat I like better than a cup of tea or hot cocoa, something delicious to nibble and a good book.

4. Ask? For help? What do you do when you’re stuck and can’t get back into reading (or something else you’ve always loved?) Strategies and alternate plans welcome!!

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How to Read Greenglass House, A Guide

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Step 1: Purchase Greenglass House.  Go to your local indie bookstore or click on the link and order it, but it’s best to own it.  That way you can read it at the perfect moment and not worry about library fines or hoping your hold comes in.  Also, you can then re-read it whenever the mood strikes.

Step 2: Lay in provisions.  You will absolutely need hot cocoa.  Probably some whipped cream, the real kind if you can manage it, not the spray kind in a can.  Maybe marshmallows.  Possibly a cake?  But certainly nothing with blue frosting.

Step 3: Prepare your reading nook.  Ideally, you will have stained glass windows and a high backed loveseat. But if that’s not possible, aim for a cozy chair or sofa.  Maybe near the fire, but ideally also near a large window.  You may want a candle, or better yet, an old fashioned lantern nearby just in case.

Step 4: Wait. If it is at all possible, arrange for a pre-Christmas blizzard. A snow day would be ideal. Really, any snow day.  Trust me, this would be an amazing way to spend one, either curled up alone or as family read aloud.  IF you live in a part of the world where it does not snow, arrange a vacation to a ski lodge or the like.  If that is impossible, turn up your air conditioning and bribe someone to sprinkle shredded toilet paper around you while you read.

Step 5: Read!  Greenglass House is part mystery, part scavenger hunt and thoroughly engaging.  Milo is ready for a quiet Christmas holiday with his parents when unexpected guests begin to turn out at their inn, Greenglass House.  It’s certainly curious that so many people have come at once and Milo’s definitely wondering about the mysterious map he’s found, but once they discover there’s a thief in their midst, things really get interesting.

Greenglass House is truly special.  Milo manages to have his adventures while living in his own home with two parents who love him very dearly.  In books, far too often parents are either killed off or woefully absent in order to give children the freedom to explore.  It’s great to see an example where a kid can be loved, taken care of and never really outside of his parents’ care but still manages some excitement!  Milo is also a great character.  He’s adopted, which comes up frequently, but this book is not about finding a pat solution to his adoption story (I’ll admit, I worried periodically, but Milford did not let me down).  Milo also has some issues with anxiety.  It’s clearly part of his daily life, but it doesn’t define him, it’s one of his many characteristics.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3 and up.  On the surface this should be a scary story. There’s a mystery, some sabotage, smugglers and a ghost story.  At one point weapons are drawn and people are in danger. There is some violence, drama and death, but most of it takes place in the past. Despite everything the tone just isn’t dark and threatening.  It’s fun and exciting!  The hardest thing for readers will be the fact that two characters are playing a game which requires they create new names for themselves.  These sobriquets are used interchangeably with their own names sometimes within the same page.  Less experienced readers may find this to be too complicated.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A story is told about two people who fall in love with the same person.  A couple holds hands.
Profanity – “heck”,  “hell” at least twice, “darn”, “crap,” “good God”,
Death, Violence and Gore – There’s a mention of swords in a game-playing sense. Meddy speculates that a trap that decapitates you could be set, but this idea is deemed ridiculous. In a story Milo reads a cat is sacrificed.  We are told the cat is about to be killed and then later it says “when all that was left of the cat were its bones”.  A smuggler was supposedly captured and killed when Milo’s mom was little.  A man died under suspicious circumstances in the past.  A man with a knife was looking for someone (again, this happens in the past, so there’s no real worry for current characters). An illustration shows someone holding two knifes. A man was beaten, tortured for information (also something that took place in the past).  A man pulls a gun on a group of people.  A character’s mother died when that character was young.  A few people died in the past, one both by falls.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A character smokes a pipe. Adults are offered whiskey in case they would like a hot toddy.  A woman (who is referred to as a girl, but seems to be an adult) drinks whiskey in her coffee.  Another character smokes a cigarette.
Frightening or Intense Things – Milo’s mom tells a ghost story which of course, includes ghosts, one of whom was a child. <spoiler>A character is a ghost. </spoiler>

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What’s Happening

So.  November didn’t exactly turn out to be as bookish as I’d hoped.  And that is in no way the fault of the subject I chose.  I have lots of great books about Native American characters out from the library.  That wasn’t it at all. The problem is simple.  I got sick.  There was an urgent care visit and an afternoon in the ER and lots and lots of medication.  And when I got better, I was just so overwhelmingly tired.  I’ve always had asthma and every once in awhile I get something lung-related like bronchitis or pneumonia and it just shuts me down.  And so, trusting in so many people I believe to be wise, I didn’t force myself to buckle down and blog.  Reading?  That I can do even when sick, but the structure of this blog, where I report content to you as accurately as I can, is not easy to do without my full focus.  And when I’m sick it’s also pretty near impossible for me to string coherent sentences together when trying to recommend a book.  So…I just didn’t.

So what of December?  I’m going to try.  There’s a lot on my plate this month, which I’m sure is true for many people.  And I am still not feeling 100% myself. But I hope to have some great wintery books for you, of course, in keeping with the season.

Instead of admonishing you to have a happy whatever, I’m simply going to wish you all some peace and joy as you close out 2015.


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In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III Illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk

Author Joseph Marshall III is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse is an exciting journey through history, as Jimmy McLean’s grandfather share stories about the famous warrior and hero.

Jimmy McLean’s light brown hair and fairer skin have always set him apart from his fellow Lakota.  At school, he is accepted by neither Lakota nor whites.  Smaller and younger than his bullies, Jimmy chooses to avoid confrontation rather than stand his ground.

His grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, has the perfect summer plan to help Jimmy gain confidence while learning about his heritage.  He takes Jimmy on a road trip following in the footsteps of Crazy Horse, a Lakota warrior who had lighter coloring, much like Jimmy.  At each stop, he shares stories, detailed accounts of battles, and observations about how Crazy Horse fought back against the white encroachment on tribal lands.  Jimmy soon learns about courage, struggle, facing impossible situations and what it means to be a hero.

For many readers, this will be a first opportunity to gain a non-white perspective on the settlement of the west and one that it is critical that they understand.  Too often stories of western expansion choose to omit details regarding the US government’s actions to force Indians from their own lands and the tactics that were used by white settlers to achieve their goals.  In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse provides a valuable counterpoint, showing the heart of the resistance by the Indians and the ultimate tragedy of their final decisions to surrender.

Although set in the present, when Nyles shares tales about Crazy Horse, his stories draw the reader into the past. The stories capture the mood and tension surrounding some of Crazy Horse’s most important life moments, often battles.  As such, there are many highly detailed battled scenes throughout the book.  While not explicitly gory, Marshall does not minimize or skim over the absolute devastation and loss that occurred on both sides.  Because of this honest portrayal, this book will be best for readers who are mature enough to handle and discuss this.  This makes it an excellent choice for classroom use or discussion.

The choice to frame the historical tale with the modern story of Jimmy and his grandfather is an excellent way to draw in readers who might otherwise not consider themselves fans of historical fiction, which is fantastic as this book deserves a large audience.

My review was done based on an e-ARC.  As such, there may be slight discrepancies between the version I read and the hardcover publication.  I checked out the printed edition and was delighted that it comes with maps that help readers follow Jimmy and his grandfather on their journey.  The book does offer a comprehensive glossary, which from the perspective of a teacher is always a huge bonus.

Great for: All libraries should examine their holdings regarding American Indians.  If the highly problematic Indian in the Cupboard is constantly displayed and showcased, it is time to re-evaluate.  Books like this and Tim Tingle’s excellent How I Became a Ghost, written by Native American writers, should be taking the places of outdated, often racist texts.  Although it offers an invaluable look at history through the eyes of the people most affected by it, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse will appeal to many readers for the action and battle sequences it presents.  While I personally struggle to reconcile with violence in children’s books, I believe the book does an excellent job of providing both context and honesty regarding the pain and loss involved.  There is no glorification of the violence here.

Age Recommendation: I would recommend this for Grades 5-8, primarily due to the violence, although I do believe the comprehension level would be manageable for some fourth graders as well. The flashbacks are not always in chronological order which may be confusing to some readers.  There is quite a bit of background knowledge that I drew on as an adult that younger readers may not have and In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse may raise lots of questions for them.  This is a good thing!  Be prepared to research and discuss together!

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Crazy Horse’s father had two wives at the same time.  It is explained in the book that it was just something some men did in those days.  No fuss is made about it, just a clean statement of fact.  Crazy Horse had a girlfriend but he did not marry her because her father didn’t like him.  He married someone else.
Profanity – “darn”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Crazy Horse’s mother died when he was little. People are killed in a village.  White soldiers, known as Long Knives were likely responsible for deaths and setting fire to a village.  The Lakota find bodies of people, including children, killed by the soldiers.  A woman must bury her baby.  Others are wounded.  Sicangu fight back.   People have rifles, bows and arrows.  People on the wagon trains would shoot at Indians.  There is a fight between the soldiers and Indians.  The soldiers fire a cannon at a village. In turn, warriors attack them. People die in this fight. There’s mention of how people can lose fingers, toes, even the tip of the nose to frostbite.  An ambush conducted by the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne is detailed.  Some warriors are hit by friendly fire.  Many white soldiers are hit, killed or injured.  We’re told that the fight ended with hand-to-hand comment and was gruesome, but no gory details are provided.  The white soldiers were all killed.  Many warriors were killed as well.  Crazy Horse had a close friend die in the battle, he had been shot through the chest and his blood froze in the cold.  Animals are hunted for food.  Crazy Horse’s daughter tied of cholera.  Jimmy’s uncle died.  There were concerns that white soldiers would kill or capture Crazy Horse and his people if they did not surrender. Warriors are armed with guns, bows, arrows, war clubs and lances.  In several battles there are no survivors of one side of the combatants.  Soldiers fall from their horses, shot. In some cases, the soldier’s dead bodies were stripped, robbed and mutilated (and yes, mutilated is explained).  The same thing had been done to Indians previously.  Wounded men scream and moan in pain.  Men have dried blood on their clothes and bodies. A man is stabbed with a bayonet and mortally wounded.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – a grandfather has pipe tobacco.
Frightening or Intense Things – A boy is bullied.  A village is burning.  We learn how the settlers from the east forced his people off their own lands.  White kill many buffalo, making food scarce.  Indians were sent to prisons in Florida.


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Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, which could not be better timing as far as I’m concerned.  I’ve been avidly following recommendations from Debbie Reese, who writes over at American Indians in Children’s Literature.  Before last month, I had reviewed only a single book on this blog that was written by, or primarily about, a Native American, at least one that was done properly.  And as I grew more aware of this exclusion, I became more determined to remedy it.  Obviously, no group deserves to only have their books featured in a special section just about them.  Ideally, books about people of color, Native people, characters belonging to religious minorities would all be featured mixed in with my usual picks every month.  And going forward, I will be making an effort to do that. But the fact is that I have a lot of catching up to do.  And honestly, so does the publishing industry.  Sometimes, it’s simply not possible to find books with the diversity I’m looking for, within the theme that I’m using.  So this month, I’m featuring books about Native American characters, in honor of Native American Heritage Month. But the important thing is, I’m going to read books that have been recommended by Dr. Reese, because if I’m going to fill a gap in my reading, and introduce you to new books, I want them to be the most appropriate, faithful representations of Native Americans I can find.  And as white reader and someone who has not devoted years of study to the topic it is critical that I rely on the guidance of an expert in the field. I am very excited for this months offerings and I hope you are too.

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A Curious Tale of the In-Between

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

Looking for your next stay-up-late, just-a-minute-mom, only-one-more-chapter-I-swear, read?  Look no further.

The circumstances of Pram’s birth have left her a bit different. As long as could remember she’s been able to see ghosts, one of whom happens to be her closest friend.  Since her mother died at her birth and her father has never been around, Pram lives with her terribly overprotective aunts who worry about her dreadfully.  In fact, they have shied away from sending her to school, worried that she won’t fit in with the other kids.

But when the schoolmarm appears at their home and insists that Pram attend school, they don’t have a choice.  Off she goes.  Soon enough, she befriends Clarence, a boy who has recently lost his mother.  Their losses and interest in the spirit world soon bonds them together. Clarence repeatedly seeks out people who might help him contact his mother and Pram is looking for a friend to help her find her father, so they become a team with Pram’s ghostly friend Felix forming a jealous third wheel.

In her effort to help Clarence, Pram meets mysterious, Lady Savant and soon things are spiraling out of her control.  What was meant to be an adventure to seek her father has taken  a dangerous turn.  Pram will learn much about her connection to the spiritual world, but it will take a lot of save her from the evil that awaits her.

With all of the ghosts and adventure, the heart of this story is about friendship, love and home.  Clarence and Pram’s friendship is almost a pre-romance in a terribly chaste age appropriate way.  Pram’s search for her family is resolved in a very heartwarming way and one that is maybe a bit less pat and traditional than you might expect.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is terribly hard to put down.  In the early chapters, intrigue about Pram’s circumstances and abilities keep you turning the pages.  Later you long to know if Pram or Clarence will find the parental contact they are seeking.  And of course, once Pram is in danger, you just can’t rest until you have a resolution.  It’s very much a “oh, just one more chapter” read, where you find out that one more chapter somehow turned into 4 or 5 more chapters and it’s way past your bedtime.  So if you like that sort of thing, the kind of book that you can’t bear to stop reading, then this is definitely for you.

Age Recommendation: Grades 5-8. Oh certainly, many fourth graders will read and love this, but because there is a suicide (which is sort of talked around a bit, and might be just vague enough that younger readers would miss it), I would hold off until fifth, unless the reader is well known to you and you know they can handle it.  I also very much appreciated the subtle references to depression as an illness.  It isn’t often written about, especially not in books that are generally lighter in tone, but it is something lots of kids deal with in real life.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Pram’s mother fell in love with a sailor and “that was how Pram was conceived”.  She is told that she’ll have a “lovely shape” and be an “early bloomer” by an old woman. Pram is teased about a “boyfriend”. There is handholding.  A waitress makes a comment about Pram being a bit young to be looking for a sailor.  Her intent is a lewd joke, but Pram does not understand. This book also features a friend-triangle and the most itty bitty age appropriate fledgling romance.  It’s never quite clear that the people in question will become more than friends but their importance to each other is not downplayed.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – The opening scene explains how a pregnant woman was found dead, hung from a tree.  A girl can see and speak with ghosts.  She can perceive the dead’s influence all around her.  A character’s mother died in a car accident.  Old people die. A woman supposedly can communicate with the dead.  A person likely committed suicide.  A person nearly caused the death of another while taking their own life.  There’s a mention of people who do “unspeakable things” to children. Some is trapped in a container under water and left to drown. One ghost has a blackened and bloody temple and died in a fire.  An animal is hit by a car.  A girl sings a song about a poor lamb having its eyes picked out.  A woman’s skull shows through her skin. A child nearly dies.   A child falls into a ravine and drowns.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – A girl is put in a trance and controlled by someone.  Pram’s mother’s life was quite unhappy. She stopped speaking.  A baby is born silent and gray.  People are kidnapped.  A child’s perception of reality is altered. Boys are in a fire. A girl enters a memory of another person; the memory is of a surgery that was done without that person’s consent.

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