Monday, June 9, 2008

Rainy Days and Friendships

The rainy weekend provided the perfect excuse to savor some short, but impressive tween/young adult novels. My other option was to watch the rain wash away the veggies that were beginning to peek though the ground. Last year the rabbits got at everything before I did, which was OK. Those bunnies find me less than threatening. They got so comfortable at my salad bar that waited for me to take the dog out for her morning emptying. Then, they would leisurely bounce past me, hop the small fence, smile and wave as they dined on the carrots and lettuce.

Back to the books....Buddha's Diamonds is a gentle coming of age story. Every day, Tinh heads out to sea with his father to catch fish for their family and for the market. Their new bamboo boat shines like gold against the turquoise waters of his village, and while he may at times miss his simple life with other children on the beach, Tinh is proud to work alongside Ba.

When a fierce storm breaks, Tinh earns the task of securing the family vessel, but he panics and runs away. It will take courage and faith to salvage the precious bamboo boat, win back Ba's confidence, and return once more to the sea. Thay Phap Niem's childhood experiences form the basis of the book. A year after the storm depicted in the story, he escaped the hardships of postwar Vietnam, leaving in a small fishing boat at the complete mercy of the sea. He eventually became a Buddhist monk.

The Willoughbys is a funny new novel by two-time Newberry Medal winner Lois Lowry. "Shouldn't we be orphans?" one of the Willoughby children suggests one day. The four are part of an old-fashioned family, but their parents are not quite what most readers would expect. Recalling literary characters such as Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, and James and his giant peach, the Willoughbys concoct a devious plot to turn themselves into worthy and winsome orphans. Little do they know that their parents have their own despicable plan inspired by their favorite bedtime story..."Hansel and Gretel"!

These two books couldn't be more different, and they pleasantly filled my rainy Sunday afternoon. I am happy to see so many established writers turning their attention to youth readers, writing books with contemporary story lines, and with characters closer in age to their readering audience. No more counting on Louisa May Alcott to provide kids with family life dramas. Classics are classics for a reason, I respect that. I have always felt that, given the chance, young readers will discover the works of Steinbeck, Hemingway, Alcott and others, on their own, or with a bit of clandestine prodding by parents, teachers, or librarians. But why not let kids develop a taste for fine writing in well constructed stories about characters who look and sound more like themselves?
If you're a parent reading this, let your kids see you reading. Let them page through the books you bring home; tell them the stories found between those covers. But, as you know, turnabout is fair play. Pick up their books. Read what they are reading. You may be surprised at how well-crafted and sophisticated books for 9-16 year olds have become.


Summer vacation has begun! My teacher friends came by this morning, with kids in tow, for drinks and a long overdue visit. It was great to see everyone.

These are a few shots from this morning's festivities!