Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z: Paul Zindel & THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY

"You see, my mother and father never even touch each other, which makes me wonder how on earth I ever was born. I figure it was just an accident- they both happened to be walking around the bedroom nude and they made a mistake and tripped." - Paul Zindel, THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY (HarperTrophy, YA)

When I was a young kid, I frequently tagged along with my older sister to the library's teen section (they didn't even call it YA then).  I remember Paul Zindel's books were always in the Z section. I read his book THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY ages ago. This book is a sequel to a first book, THE PIGMAN, which I don't remember if I read. THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY is about two teens, John and Lorraine, a pair of friends who meet the Colonel, a senior citizen living in the same home where another senior the teens once knew had lived. (That other senior died in the first book.) At first, the Colonel doesn't seem very friendly but he eventually warms up. John and Lorraine set the Colonel up with Dolly, a lady who works in their school cafeteria. Soon after the Colonel and Dolly meet, John and Lorraine learn that the Colonel is dying. He has always known this. After marrying Dolly on his deathbed, the Colonel dies. The story ends when John and Lorraine are walking through the hospital past the nursery with the newborns. Here, John tells Lorraine he wants to spend his life with her.

My description probably gives the impression this is a sad and somber story. But much of the story is actually told with humor, as demonstrated in one of John's quotes shared at the top of the post here. I believe  humor is a weapon that some of us cultivate to better deal with the pain we experience in our lives.

Have you read THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY? Have you ever used humor to cope with something difficult?

And that's my last post for this month's Blogging from A to Z ChallengeMy theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger. Thanks to all of you who visited and supported my blog this month! 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y: Laurence Yep & DRAGONWINGS

"I get the ideas from everything. Children sometimes think you have to have special experiences to write, but good writing brings out what's special in ordinary things." -Laurence Yep

Lawrence Yep's DRAGONWINGS (HarperCollins, MG) begins in 1903 when Moon Shadow, 8, leaves the only home he has known in China to live with his father, Windrider, who has been working in San Francisco to support his family.  Everything about America- the food, the houses, the people- fascinates Moon Shadow. Although Moon Shadow and Windrider regularly experience racism, they also make friends with the kind Miss Whitlaw her niece, Robin. Despite the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, Moon Shadow and Windrider hold onto their gumption and work three years to build an airplane named Dragonwings that Windrider flies in 1910. 

While I've read a number of historical fiction stories set in the early 20th century San Francisco with the predictable Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (recorded magnitude: 7.8), the depiction of the 1906 earthquake in DRAGONWINGS is what I consider a very credible interpretation of an earthquake. I might be a more particular reader when it comes to earthquake fiction because I was a young child living in the City of San Francisco when, during the World Series, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit (recorded magnitude: 6.9). 63 people died, thousands were injured, an East Bay freeway collapsed, as did a part of the Bay Bridge. I was at home when it happened- I was reaching for something on a shelf when I felt the first shake. What a strange day it was, how things happened quickly and slowly at the same time, and how things were irreversibly changed for some, but remained the same for others...And in DRAGONWINGS, after Moon Shadow and Windrider help others in the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake, they might momentarily forget that that they're foreigners in a new country until a police officer demands that the two aren't allowed to dine with a white woman. I think this part of the story shows that in spite of the changes going on around the father and son, some things still remain the same.

Have you read DRAGONWINGS? Have you ever been in a natural disaster? If so, what do you remember about it?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X: Antoine St.Expuery & THE LITTLE PRINCE

“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”  -Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

I'm cheating a little here. I enjoyed Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's THE LITTLE PRINCE (Harcourt, MG) when I was a kid, and part of the author's name makes the X sound. So, close enough. The story is about a prince from outer space dishing to a pilot about the asteroids he has visited and who he met there- a bossy king ruling no one, a vain man only hearing praise, a drunk person drinking to forget he was an alcoholic, a businessman laying claim on the stars, a lamplighter following instructions without question, and a geographer refusing to explore.

If this book is a Buzzfeed article, it would be titled "6 Types of Contradictory People You'd Meet in the Universe." Told with a delicate balance between dreaminess and cynicism, I found the little prince's observations similar to ironies I can't help noticing in some people when I'm feeling less dreamy and more cynical (no delicate balancing here). Contradictory people I notice include rude customer service employees, anti-bullying advocates who bully, leaders who are minions, dishonest people who preach integrity, people who have melodramatic meltdowns to show how "tough" they are, people who criticize others for the exact stuff that they themselves do...and the list goes on. 

Have you read  Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's THE LITTLE PRINCE? Let's get cynical! Are you familiar with any of the contradictory people I listed? Can you think of other examples?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W: Wilson Rawls & WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS

“It's strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man's mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you've seen, or something you've heard, or the sight of an old familiar face.” -Wilson Rawls, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS

When I was in junior high, I had a thick and heavy textbook in my English class. It was filled with short stories and it included the novel, Wilson Rawls's WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS (Yearling, MG), historical fiction about a man Billy remembering his childhood when he was boy who hunted raccoons with his pet hounds at night. One day we had a substitute and she assigned the first few chapters of RED FERN for reading homework. When the real teacher came back, I was disappointed she didn't assign any more reading chapters. (The other kids were relieved but I was a book worm even then!) 

Since junior high, I have read RED FERN from cover to cover. The setting of the Ozarks in Cherokee land was beautifully illustrated. Within this setting, two things struck me: One, religion was comfortably woven into RED FERN. I've heard from industry professionals that working religion into kidlit is a risky thing to do, how it might affect market interest. But RED FERN has been out since 1961 and it's still considered a classic. And two, the setting was considered safe enough for Billy to be out alone at night with his hounds while he hunted. Once, Billy even stayed out overnight without telling his parents. And Billy was considered a good kid and his parents, good parents. I can't imagine most parents today allowing their 'tweens and even teens to stay out like this alone, even if the area is supposed to be "safe." It's interesting to see the contrast between what was considered acceptable parenting back then versus what's acceptable today.

Have you read WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS? What are your thoughts about religion in fiction?  What other contrasts between acceptable parenting during the good ole days versus now can you think of?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V: Cecily von Ziegesar & GOSSIP GIRL

"I never once said that I was writing books with guidelines for how to live. I mean, they’re fiction, and I think that’s the role of fiction: to entertain. And I don’t care whether it’s for children or for adults. That’s what fiction is about: escaping into another world. I absolutely hate kids’ books that have lessons telling kids how to behave. For me, that is not the role of fiction at all."- Cecily Von Ziegesar
Cecily Von Ziegesar's GOSSIP GIRL (Little, Brown, YA) centers around the lives of teens, most who live in New York City's Upper East Side. In this world, affluent teens consume alcohol alongside their parents, shop at Barneys and receive Kate Spade handbags as party favors. Here, you're only a "somebody" when you're being gossiped about so an anoymous web site called Gossip Girl dishes gossip about some of these teens' lives.

In the beginning of the book, Blair, a high school queen bee, is ready to lose her virginity to her long-time boyfriend Nate while her socialite mother is throwing some bash in their home. But Serena, Blair's former best friend, crashes the event and interrupts them- Serena just got kicked out of boarding school in Europe and has returned to the Big Apple. Turns out that Serena and Nate lost their virginity to each other back in the tenth grade but Blair doesn't know that for most of the book until she and Nate are ready to try having sex again...and then Nate tells her the truth.

You know that so-called writing advice about making your characters, especially the female ones, likable and good role models with their every thought and action? Without apology, Cecily Von Ziegesar breaks this rule. Her characters are not always likable. But they're believable and interesting, and that is what's more important to me from a reader's perspective. I can also see how some of these characters' questionable behavior stems from their pursuit of loyalty and acceptance and their fear of rejection and betrayal. That is the universal rhythm of how many teens (and adults and children) tick inside. And you don't have to be from the Upper East Side to relate to that.

Have you read GOSSIP GIRL? Do you find books with subliminal lessons on "the proper way to think and behave" patronizing to the reader?

Monday, April 25, 2016

U: Ursula Nordstrom & THE SECRET LANGUAGE

This month, I've been doing the Blogging from A to Z ChallengeMy theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger.

"I am a former child, and I haven't forgotten a thing." -Ursula Nordstrom

Ursula Nordsrom's THE SECRET LANGUAGE (HarperTrophy, MG) is probably one of the first older girl books I've read. My sister owned a used copy of the book. I was around second grade when I borrowed it to read and was thrilled I was reading a book with chapters. THE SECRET LANGUAGE is a book about a girl named Victoria who is sent away to live in a boarding school. A homesick Victoria befriends Martha, who teaches her a secret language where phrases like "leebossa" means great and "ickenspick" refers to something silly

Boarding school stories tend to fascinate me, possibly because I had a strict upbringing and didn't always feel I had the freedom to do the mischievous things that children living in a boarding school could do, such as planning a secret midnight feast, depicted in this book.

Have you read THE SECRET LANGUAGE? If you had a choice to attend boarding school when you were a child, would you have chosen to go?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T: Amy Tan & THE JOY LUCK CLUB

"People talk about this 'bucket list’: 'I need to go to this country, I need to skydive…’ Whereas I need to think as much as I can, to feel as much as I can, to be conscious and observe and understand me and the people around me as much as I can." - Amy Tan 

I read Amy Tan's THE JOY LUCK CLUB (Turtleback, Adult) when I was in high school. The book features the mothers and daughters in several Chinese American families.The scene I still remember is the Chinese New Year crab dinner, hosted by June and her parents. Invited to the dinner are Lindo and Tin Jong and their daughter Waverly, a successful professional working at Price Waterhouse and former chess champion. 

When the two were children, Waverly had said to June, "You aren't a genius like me" after June botched a piano recital.  As adults, Waverly still torments June. During dinner, Waverly compliments June's hair, and in the same breath, she hints that June's stylist could give her AIDS. Waverly recommends her hair dresser to June and then implies that June might not be able to afford him. Finally June points out that Waverly's company hasn't paid her yet for her freelance writing work. Waverly smugly responds that the quality of June's writing isn't good enough by her company's standards. Waverly demonstrates that in spite of her looking-good-on-paper accomplishments, she is an awful dinner guest. 

Being Chinese American, I feel particularly connected to this scene because it hits home. I've known people who behave like Waverly. The scene also shows the petty rivalries that can sometimes occur internally among members of a community, such as this story's Chinese American community. What I feel is behind this is an unspoken perception, true or false, that there's not enough of a resource to go around among the group. Approval and recognition for Chinese females, for example. 

Have you read THE JOY LUCK CLUB? Have you ever hosted a terrible guest?