maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
I did not write that last entry thinking there was an LJ revival going on, and who are you new people? Really?

Okay, I'll plunge.

I am a second generation socialist and a third generation atheist (who nonetheless fucking LOVES Christmas; I can't help it, I was trained that way by my mother and grandmother). My nieces are fourth generation atheists and so far, third generation socialists, which is awesome. I have not reproduced. I made a list a few weeks ago of all the very close to fairly close friends of mine in my general age range who have not reproduced. It was an extensive list. Do I select for them? Dunno. It's not that I am opposed to reproduction or anything -- I adore my nieces endlessly -- just that it's interesting to me that I've never really had that whole biological clock thing and apparently a lot of people I've known since high school or college (or more recently) also have not.

I am a public school teacher -- middle school, English/Language Arts and Social Studies, taught in my district as a "Core" which means two periods with the same set of students, repeat twice more. This is astonishingly (astonishing to me) my nineteenth year teaching. There are many things I love about teaching, but to be honest, I largely decided to do it for the following reasons:

1. I was All-But-Dissertation in American Social and Labor History, dipped my toe into the academic job market waters and thought, oh, fuck this. Public schools are more democratic (small d), are, with public libraries, one of the only ways in which the US has ever aspired to social democracy, are unionized (remember, this was almost twenty years ago, when charters were just beginning, and Scott Walker's Wisconsin was unknown... though there were even then plenty of right-to-work states where a teacher's union didn't mean much).

2. I could get a decent-paying job immediately in most inner-city school districts, without a credential. I was done with living on $7,000 to $13,000 a year, and student loans. I chose Oakland because my sister had moved out here with her then boyfriend while I was in grad school in Missouri. I knew she'd make a family out here, and I wanted to be close to her.

3. I actually love doing all the work assignments I give students. I like projects. I love drawing. I love reading, and writing, to a nearly obsessive degree. I love history. I make models of everything we end up doing (and I also keep the best student models, which leads to improvement pretty much every year as students see these... truly, they don't ever try to copy; they work to surpass).

4. I can memorize a shit ton of names REALLY FAST. I usually know students' names within the first week of school every year (though that's no guarantee I will remember all of them six years later). I usually have about 95 to 100 students a year. (I can get names so quickly that, when I have to lose my prep period in order to cover for another teacher when there is no substitute teacher, I can often pinpoint specific kids immediately during that period, which they react to as if I have arcane powers).

5. I love creating curriculum. I would be great at that as a job, but these days "Teachers on Special Assignment" don't create curriculum, they police other teachers and try to ensure that they are toeing whatever the district line is this year. I would be terrible at that job and would never, ever want to do it.

Okay, that's teaching, more or less. Most years I enjoy the hell out of most of my students. Some of the ones I had way back in the beginning in West Oakland are FB friended to me, and I am glad to still be in touch with them. However, I don't let students friend me until they're out of high school.

What else? I love books. I read, and I also re-read a lot, constantly. I like Goodreads for tracking my reading, though I don't review everything I read, at all. Including re-reading, I basically get through at least 365 books a year. More like 420 or so. Now, granted, I read a lot of genre fiction (historical mysteries, historical fiction, sci fi, fantasy) and YA fiction, not just Marx and Trotsky and Luxemburg and history and biographies and memoirs.

I also love writing, though I think I have slowed down on that. I mean, look at this practically moribund LJ of mine. I've kept some form of journal non-stop since I was 9 years old, and I have all of the volumes except one I lost when I was in college.

Given a choice between dogs and cats, I will pick a cat every time. I've had three as an adult: a deeply loved long-haired white cat (the people at the animal shelter in Columbia, Missouri lied to me and said she was a medium coat, maybe even a short hair, when I got her as a kitten; I had no experience of long-haired cats) I named Rilke. She was intelligent and fierce and loyal to me (a way of saying she pretty much hated everyone else except my mother and grandmother). She lived to 18, and only died a few years ago. I also had a black long-haired cat (that one's on me; I just wasn't paying attention when this needy tiny kitten hooked her claws into me at an adopt-a-pet kiosk outside of Safeway my second year in Oakland.) She was Maya. She was friendly to all. She also was missing one of her fangs, so she drooled one hundred percent of the time. She made it about thirteen or fourteen years. Now I have a young orange marmalade (with color-suppressor gene) cat named Devlin, who is delightful and cuddly and fairly smart -- she has funny tricks like trying to catch cat treats with her paws and washing her face with both paws at once. She has never hissed once in her life after I chose her from a litter of feral rescue kittens that friends were fostering. She has never gotten touchy about belly rubs, ever. She has only barfed about twice in four years. For a while I was documenting her bad habits -- climbing screens, drinking in the sink, pulling ornaments off of trees, chewing flower petals... but they're not really that annoying, now that she's too heavy for the screens. I love my cat.

Hm. Go look at my interests. They're pretty much all still true. They also serve as an introduction. Bollywood! Bertolt Brecht! Inessa Armand! Alexandra Kollontai! Brighton! Prismacolor pencils! (I'm actually not sure these are all in that list, but they could -- or should -- be).
maeve66: (some books)
I have an embarrassment (finally learned to spell that word a few years ago) of riches to read on my iPad. I got SO MANY Amazon gift cards at Xmas and I spent them hella quickly. But that leaves me the following to read (some purchases were books I want to own and re-read, so they don't feature. Quite a few, in fact).

Up soon:

Thrones, Dominations a continuation of the Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane, now Lady Wimsey (kind of ew, to go back to the days when women changed their names on marriage; I feel like that's not so frequent -- almost nonexistent among friends of mine, and not all that common outside the Bay Area Bubble) -- but written (with a partially completed manuscript by Sayers) by Jill Paton Walsh, a YAF author whose work I like a lot, especially her plague novella about a real village which sacrificed itself, A Parcel of Patterns, okay, off topic.

The Attenbury Emeralds -- another new Wimsey/Vane mystery, this time entirely by Jill Paton Walsh, though it looks back to Wimsey's more-than-once referenced first case. How did Paton Walsh get this permission?

A Presumption of Death the third post-Sayers Wimsey/Vane novel by Paton Walsh, set during WWII. God, do I love a WWII on the (British) home front novel.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, which is a historical YAF novel, probably on the quirky side, as was the first one I read by her, Moon Over Manifest.

Will Sparrow's Road the new Karen Cushman YAF historical... not her usual Medieval setting (though she's also done orphan train in American West, Western homesteading girl, and (my favorite, in another subgenre I am extremely fond of: McCarthyism in the US) The Loud Silence of Francine Green.

Telegraph by Michael Chabon, which I have been avoiding a bit because I really like everything else I've read from him, but this is local and has local politics in Berkeley and ... I don't know.

also by Chabon:

Wonder Boys which is older.

Shipwreck and Beware This Boy both by Canadian author Maureen Jennings. The first is a prequel to her 1890s Toronto police procedural series, and the second is a follow-up historical mystery to Season of Darkness (I think that's the title)... both of them ALSO set on the home front in Britain -- WWII.

Garment of Shadows the latest Mary Russell/(Sherlock Holmes) novel by Laurie R. King.

Dark Places thriller by Gillian Flynn, whose bestseller Gone Girl I avoided for ages, and then, in a weak moment, read. It was strange but somewhat compelling -- kind of as if Sophie Kinsella was going to write a really dark murder mystery set in the midwest with loathable characters. The second of her midwest-based (Missouri bootheel, to be precise... though I have argued in the past that Missouri is more the South than the Midwest) thrillers is better, I think. Or else it was the first -- Sharp Objects, and Gone Girl is the third.

Diabetes: A Sugar-Coated Crisis -- Who Gets it, Who Profits, and How to Stop it by David Spero, RN. No idea whether it's good or not, but at least it is a political/social discussion.

Some Embarrassing Star Trek novels I Refuse to Name -- Mostly ones by Peter David, who is apparently really sick, and people have been FB announcing that sales would help the family. To be honest, I once bought these same novels in paperback.

Swim a new novella or short story by Jennifer Weiner with whose chick lit I have a like-hate relationship.

Breed to Come, The Jargoon Pard (how could anyone resist that BRILLIANT title?), The Crystal Gryphon, and Gryphon in Glory, all by Andre Norton, whom I adored in middle school and was reminded of while reviewing some of my re-reads by Octavia Butler. For some reason I thought Andre Norton was a black woman when I was growing up.

and

War Brides by Helen Bryan, about which I know nothing except that it is also WWII home front in Britain, and appears to be sort of historical chick lit.

A new Charles Todd post-WWI mystery is being released on Tuesday, and that will be flying to my iPad, too.

Yes, I don't read many serious books.
Day 4: What do you do to keep yourself from mentally/emotionally/physically stagnating?

I read a lot. A LOT. Generally friends and people I barely know look at my like I am crazy if I tell them I read several books a week. I am curious about just how many I actually read, so I decided to actually USE Goodreads this year, and enter every single book I finish. Many of them are 're-reads', and I am curious about that, too -- what's the proportion? It's so nice to have a computer do the tracking... I've done it off and on in a journal, some years, but I always leave books out, and trail off and forget, and don't really know what genre I considered the books, or anything. There was a little sidebar on the Goodreads home page saying "2013 Reading Challenge" and you could put in how many books you thought you would read this year. Just to see if I can, I put in 365. I have no idea if that is realistic, but it sometimes seems so. We'll see. I am ahead of my goal so far; I've read and rated (and in many cases, reviewed) 29 books so far, and it's the 23rd of January. So that's one thing.

I write a lot. Here, in a paper journal, in an electronic journal, to friends and family via email (though I miss the days of writing fancily illustrated handwritten letters and cards... missing them doesn't affect my instant default to email, sigh...).

Recently I have started playing this Lumosity thing, which is probably nonsense, but it's fun. I am the perfect internet consumer, in that I almost always respect paywalls -- it's pathetic, and maybe if I had more expenses like CHILDREN, I wouldn't do it -- so I actually got a paid account, and paid a bit extra so I could put family members on it, mostly intending to get my mom doing these mental games on a regular basis. My older niece wanted to, also, so now all three of us are "training" and seeing if we can get our scores to go up. Honestly, it may be nonsense, but some of the repetitive games that involve peripheral vision and memory DO seem to help me with, e.g. paying attention while driving, or making quick decisions under pressure.

I get into enthusiasms for things -- much like my father does, now that I think of it. I got very engrossed in that Mormon site, Ancestry.com (I think they've since sold it, hurrah) and found out that I am a descendent of Joseph Smith, I kid you not... very sideways and very far back. But I haven't done much with it in several weeks... maybe even a couple of months. Once people are claiming to be related to lords and ladies and MPs and English county Sheriffs in the 1200s, I sort of think it's bullshit. On the other hand, I think it's cool that I am related to one of the first two Colonial silversmiths, a century before Paul Revere. Another recent enthusiasm, as I pointed out above, is Goodreads. I am slowly adding books I have read and cared about, though I am not reviewing all of them. I will try to go back and review the ones I think are most amazing, which have had the greatest impact on me. This used to be a meme that turned up on LJ, actually, but it hasn't of late, and once you've done it here, why would you do it again?

Learning new things -- well, I have not been doing well with Hindi, during the school year. We'll see if next summer improves matters. I've barely even seen any B'wood movies, of late. I refuse to label it a fleeting enthusiasm.

As for emotional stagnation... that's harder. I have good friends. I have a great family, and we live close to one another, most of us. I can't seem to manage this romantic partnership thing, and I think I've pretty much given up -- I have DEFINITELY given up internet dating. I feel so relieved about that decision. I'm trying to work out exactly how depressed I am, and what I should do about it (rejoin the women's group therapy thing that was going on until the two therapists let it implode by admitting someone who was HORRIBLE, so that everyone else quit all at once?; get an actual (and probably twice as expensive) therapist?; pay a lot of money to do long distance work with a woman who is a Fat Nutritionist?) There, that segues into the last point:

Physical stagnation: there's a lot there, and I don't avoid stagnation, because I am struggling with ability issues and with my blood sugars. At least I am facing it now. That's good.
maeve66: (some books)
Yes, random topic generator

What I tend to do to wind down from a tiring and stressful day in the classroom (which is most of them) is to get everything squared away in the classroom, then get in my car, drive to the drive-thru Starbucks (yes, yes, corporate heinousness, etc. etc), order their largest black tea with lots of half 'n half, and sometimes a piece of pumpkin bread (not their banana bread, which I think is a very bad example of banana bread), park in their lot, drink the tea, eat the pumpkin bread, and read whatever it is that I am reading at the moment. Tomorrow afternoon, that will probably be an Agatha Christie novel -- either Sleeping Murder, or A Murder is Announced. I've read all of her stuff before, but it doesn't quite rise to read-it-thirty-or-forty times level of rereading. Right now, though, I am watching on Netflix the more recent Marple series -- I still have not got my courage quite up to watch the replacement for Geraldine McEwen's Jane Marple, whom I thought was the best EVAR. But I'm working my way up to that. And both of the Christies I've named are part of that made-for-television series -- very good ones. I love how the newly crafted versions work in lesbians and gay men everywhere, and I am partly reading these particular ones to see whether there is any textual evidence hinting at that.
maeve66: (some books)
Okay, I give up, I'm doing this random topic.

There are certain mass produced giant novels, and certain Young Adult Fiction classics, which I read over, and over, and over again. Maybe I should try to list them in the order in which I first encountered each of these texts. Very few of them are classics, or literary in any sense.

First, I think I read some 19th c. classics early, and then often:

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Captain's Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Then, after an actual trip to Prince Edward Island with my family on vacation in 1976:

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery
Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery
Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery
Anne's House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery
Anne of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery
Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery
Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery (a horribly jingoistic pro WWI screed, but I still reread it)
The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery
The Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery
Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery
Yeah, the Emily books too, but I don't reread them nearly as often. Emily is annoying.
I've read the other main ones, but don't care about rereading them much.

Then, in middle school:

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey
The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey
Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey
All the Weyrs of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Yeah, and all the rest of them, and all the rest of her work, but those are the ones I reread. The recent collaborations with her son are pretty deadly awful, and also poly, ew.

And then, in adulthood:

Shogun James Clavell
Tai-Pan James Clavell
Gai-Jin James Clavell
King Rat James Clavell

I can't tell you how many times I have read Shogun... More than thirty, I am going to guess.

It by Stephen King

First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough
The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough
Fortune's Favorite by Colleen McCullough
Caesar's Women by Colleen McCullough
Caesar by Colleen McCullough
The October Horse by Colleen McCullough

Morgan's Run by Colleen McCullough

The entire Roma Sub Rosa series about Gordianus the Finder, by Steven Saylor

I have been known to read and reread Scruples and Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz, though nothing else of her dreck.

Possession by A. S. Byatt (lots of her other novels, too)

And I have reread several of Marge Piercy's novels:

Woman on the Edge of Time
He, She, and It
The City of Light
Sex Wars
And more often than any of her others, Gone to Soldiers, which I WISH would be published as an ebook, damn it.
maeve66: (me in sixth grade)
I had to click through a lot of snoozers before getting this adequate topic.

I got my first job in seventh grade. I mean, apart from babysitting my sister and other children, including infants. (Now I look back and wonder what the fuck were parents thinking letting a seventh grader babysit their six month old baby, or their six year old and his three year old autistic brother, until 2 AM or later sometimes... the 1970s were a freewheeling decade, for sure.)

In fact, I got my first job because the older sister of a boy I babysat told me about it, because she was quitting. The job was as general dogsbody and cleaner at a boutique in downtown Evanston called Kay Campbells, right on Church Street, a block from the Evanston Public Library. After it closed my second year working there, it became an Indian imports shop called The Peacock, which was a store I loved. I didn't love Kay Campbells so much. At all. My job was tedious, tiring, and also ripe for humiliation, since girls I went to school with would routinely show up to buy sleeveless cotton button down shirts and sneer at me (literally) as I scrubbed the floor at their feet. And polished the pedestals of the shirt rack/rounders. And mopped the changing room floors. And took out the garbage and washed the mirrors and steam-pressed the newly arrived clothes. Ugh.

Since I was only thirteen, I couldn't work legally, so the manager paid me out of petty cash. I believe my hourly wage was $3.10. That was more than I got for babysitting. I think I got $2/hr for babysitting. With my first cash from that job, I walked a block over to Kroch's and Brentano's Bookstore, and bought three books: George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, and an incredibly right wing edition of The Communist Manifesto. It was all they had, and the introduction was classic Cold War propaganda 'know your enemy' stuff. I worked at Kay Campbells all through 7th grade and 8th grade, after school and during the summers, until the store went bust. Then I got a job, at age 15, at the Evanston Public Library, and after that, at the Northwestern Library. Parental pull was involved in both places. I never had a teenage job like waitressing or fast food. Only books, after Kay Campbells.
maeve66: (some books)
From that topic generator:

Famous religious architecture

Using an electronic toothbrush (should that be electric?)

Knights of the Round Table

Sailing Across the Pacific

Renting vs. Owning skis/snowboards (never, never will I write on that topic)

Seeing X-rated movies

That last one is kind of weird, these days. Does the random topic generator (or whoever compiled these... or do they literally come from phrases scooped up across the internet?) mean going to a movie theater that is showing X-rated movies? Because that is pretty rare. I hear there is or was until recently, such a movie theater in San Mateo, not far from where there used to be a racetrack, for horses, Bay Meadows. But the track is gone, and I bet the porno theater is, too. On the other hand, you can watch porn 24/7 on the internets. So I hear.

The topic from this typically strange grab bag that appeals to me is "sailing across the Pacific". My uncle gave me a book (this could be the start of several stories; I am not too into this uncle now, but I have to admit that until I was in my teens, he was an excellent picker of books as gifts -- he gave me a paperback set of all the Sherlock Holmes novels; he gave me Roots just after the miniseries came out; he gave me Les Miserables in English and apparently somewhat abridged, though Christ, you wouldn't know it, it was huge anyway... and he gave me The Incredible Voyage, by Tristan Jones, which was a (mostly) non-fiction book about a sailor who sailed on the lowest body of water (the Dead Sea) and then around Africa and across the Atlantic and up the Mato Grosso and then portaged and trucked his boat to Peru, or Bolivia, I'm not sure which, and sailed on Lake Titicaca, the world's highest body of water. I was completely fascinated by this book, and by the vaunted anti-apartheid politics of the writer, who told great stories the whole way through. I love being on boats, on water, whether the boats in question are a three hour whale watching expedition from Monterey or a 24 hour car ferry from the coast of Canada to Newfoundland or Labrador, or an overnight ferry between Sweden and Gdansk, or the four hour ferry between Newhaven and Dieppe. I would like to take a boat to the Catalina Islands, too, and the San Juans, in the Pacific off of Washington State.
The second one that came up (after Fun With Poodles) was "The Secret Life of Benjamin Franklin".

I don't think it is all that secret that he was an inveterate flirt and womanizer, especially in France, as Ambassador.

What I remember enjoying about Ben Franklin was a young adult fiction book about him by one of my favorite 1940s/1950s authors, Robert Lawson, who is probably most famous for writing Rabbit Hill, but who wrote a number of other excellent books as well, including a sequel to that one. His books remind me of the ones by Robert McCloskey, who overlapped with him, though Lawson was much older (b. 1898, d. 1957). Lawson illustrated The Story of Ferdinand, the pacifist bull, which is older than I thought, having been published in 1936. Anyway, it looks like the very first book he wrote as well as illustrated was Ben and Me (1939), which was about a mouse who lived in Benjamin Franklin's headgear, a sort of capacious fur hat. It was an enjoyable biography and mouse adventure. Seems to me there was a long spate of time during which tales about talking mice were all the rage in the 1930s through 1960s. He also illustrated Mr. Popper's Penguins and Adam of the Road. I was never that fond of the former, but the latter was one of the many books set in the Middle Ages that I loved.

Other excellent books actually by Robert Lawson:

I Discover Columbus (1941)
Rabbit Hill (1944)
Mr. Revere and I (from the perspective of Paul Revere's horse) (1953)
The Tough Winter (sequel to Rabbit Hill( (1954)
Captain Kidd's Cat (1956)
The Great Wheel (1957) -- about Robert Ferris who designed the huge ferris wheel for Chicago's Columbian Exposition... a really nice book.

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And this one is the scarred old veteran rabbit, Uncle something or other, lecturing the young fry about the dangers of dogs. From Rabbit Hill. Or possibly from The Tough Winter. I wonder if any of these are available as ebooks? I'll have to look.

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maeve66: (me in sixth grade)
Strong memories are interesting. Since I like to write, I have written about a lot of strong memories, whether in high school or college or as an adult, in journals or in blogging. I am going to try to think of something I haven't written about before.

I remember the librarian at my elementary school quite well. Her name was Sherry Gold -- Ms. Gold, obviously, to my eight-year-old self. She was tall (or seemed tall to a eight year old) and thin and had bright red hair. I loved the school library, of course -- my mother was a librarian, I had always seen public libraries, whether in Madison or Evanston, as rich palaces of pleasure and comfort and enjoyment... back in the days before more than three TV stations or any other source of shows and movies (other than a movie theater: no video, no DVD, no computer) public libraries sometimes showed films, say on a weekend, or over a school holiday. In Madison, I remember watching avant garde children's movies about shapes and colors with just music, and also an animation of Ezra Keats' classic "The Snowy Day". In Evanston, I remember going to see the 1930s version of "The Secret Garden". These were rare treats, because otherwise you had to spend money at a theater if you could even get your parents' permission, or else watch the reliable three movies that came on regularly once each year: The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and Lilies of the Field. Were there others that were practically seasonal, like those? I'm not talking about Late Night Movies, but annually shown, and shared, movies.

ANYWAY, my point is that I was predisposed to love libraries and librarians. And the Central School library was great: colorful wall-to-wall carpeting, bean bags to sit on, lots and lots of books, bright windows, plants. The room was a regular classroom size, but it seemed huge.

Ms. Gold enjoyed my avid love of reading, but I also frustrated her, because at age eight, I was kind of stubbornly clinging to (good) picture books. For some reason I was avoiding longer chapter books. This was two years before I went to Prince Edward Island, with my family on vacation, and was given a copy of Anne of Green Gables, and before my uncle gave me a box set of paperback Sherlock Holmes books -- the complete stories, and also Roots, which is something like 800 pages long, and which clearly began my long love affair with huge, giant blockbuster novels-that-can-become-TV-serials. In third grade, I was stubborn. I would read books if they had short pieces in them, like the various colors Andrew Lang fairy tale books, or other collections of folktales and fairy tales from different cultures around the world. But at school, I would read picture books. And as I say, Ms. Gold was frustrated by my avoidance. She finally recommended a Young Adult fiction book to me and INSISTED that I check it out and read it. The funny thing is, I hated that book. I remember it quite well. It was The Court of the Stone Children, about two statues who occasionally came alive, or ghosts in a museum or something, but all the characters in it were depressed and kind of archaic. My clear thought, as I remember it, was "This is too old for me. This is for some teenagers. Who like depressing stuff." But despite the fact that I very much disliked that book, it somehow broke the logjam, and I began immediately to voraciously read longer books, sometimes indiscriminately adult-audience books, anything in my parents' book shelves, and ALMOST every Young Adult Fiction novel on the school library's shelves. One of the books that was an early favorite -- I might have gotten it from Scholastic, because I know I owned the paperback -- had a plot similarity to the Eleanor Cameron Court of the Stone Children. It was called Stoneflight by Georgess McHargue. Man, I miss that book. A girl with a problematic family (parents bickering? maybe?) who lives in an old apartment building in NYC and takes refuge on the roof, where there are stone carvings on the edge -- some gargoyles maybe, and definitely one griffin. And one night the griffin comes to life, and she flies on him over the city to a meeting of other statues-come-to-life, in Central Park. It's a great exploration of alienation (she wants to be an artist, too, I think, and sketches a lot, which I identified with) and sort of complicated magic. Everything is not neat and easy and the plot is not predictable (unlike, for instance, the Rick Riordan and for that matter the J. K. Rowling oeuvres). There was emotional weight to that book. Another reason I wish I could buy it used and instantly transform it into an ebook, sigh.

That's my memory. The transition from lingering in books for kids to reading more complicated works.
This question makes me remember wouldprefernot2's answer on some three-peat meme, to "three things you'd like to see" -- he had a very beautifully articulated (as when did he not) response involving a world-historical defeat for the US that didn't involve religious nuts. What two things do I want?

1. Socialism, not barbarism -- the defeat of capitalism's rapacity and inhumanity, but not its replacement by squalor and environmental disaster. Or fascism. Not that either.

2. the ability to turn any book I already own into a compatible ebook file that will easily go into Kindle or iBooks or whatever. Some kind of autoscanner, I guess.
Lord, I wish they'd asked this on a more interesting day. I plan to get a TB test started; I plan to do a load of laundry; I plan to make tea and toast in a minute; I plan to take a shower and wash my hair; I plan to watch the second episode of season 1 of Game of Thrones... I am done, as of last night, with all five of Martin's books now, and will have to wait for three or so years (or more) until he is done with the next giant tome. That's the only bad thing about catching up on series... then you have to wait.
maeve66: (some books)
I guess the solution is to just continue this as an occasional series, once I'm done with today's and tomorrow's entry, which would finish the thirty entries in thirty days challenge. So, for THESE two hundred words (see, I managed it last time), another local-ish author.

Actually, I guess I don't know whether N. M. Caldwell is local exactly. I just know that she was published by Milkweed Press, which is some kind of equal-opportunity-new-authors-not-quite-self-publishing deal, which mostly publishes fiction with a social message. Possibly even a social-work message. That's often a recipe for disaster. In this case, however, it is not.

Caldwell has written two books -- one story and its sequel (as far as I know, these are the only ones) about adoption. They're interesting studies of very withdrawn and self-protective teenage girl who has bounced from foster home to foster home, and how she is adopted into a very self-confident, very STRUCTURED family. The first book is called The Ocean Within, and the second one is Tides. Much of both of the books takes place at the family's strong grandmother's house near the Atlantic Ocean. Maine, quite possibly. Or Massachusetts? I don't remember. In any case, again these two books are a character study of a stubborn and defensive girl. The author doesn't flip the stereotype and transform her into a sweet girl, rescued by unfaltering love, either. She stays prickly and possibly Aspergers-ish, without that diagnosis being raised. And the family is something. They're one of those -- do these really exist? -- families with an extremely well-developed persona, where everyone knows their place and there are traditions and rules and consequences and everlasting parental patience, and firm discipline. Now that I think about it a little bit, it's sort of as if this writer imagined what the ideal kind of a family to adopt someone who's been through an unending stream of insecure foster homes. They're interesting books, though, and I find myself rereading them fairly often, somewhat with the same attitude I bring to Cynthia Voigt's family, the Tillermans. They're not much like my family.
maeve66: (some books)
Well, that didn't work. Maybe two entries TODAY.

Oh, wow. I just looked at my original list, and there are still SO MANY authors on it I haven't even touched, sigh. 22, at least. That's kind of overwhelming -- they're all authors I really like.

I guess for these two hundred words (no, seriously) I will do the first of a couple of outliers. They're not big in the world of YAF publishing, but I like their stuff a lot.

Joe Cottonwood is a local just-outside-the-Bay-Area author who wrote a YA trilogy in the 1990s, and hasn't done much since, except that he wrote an adult sort of romance called Heartwood about a carpenter building a house in the dot.com-to-bust period. I am not compelled enough by the story line to read it. But his YAF books are quite good. They take place in the fictional town in the Santa Ana (?) mountains, not too far from the Bay Area, and each focuses on one of a trio of friends who live in this dusty, semi-former-hippy, semi former rural semi-dot-com community. The Adventures of Barnaby Boone are about the main figure, a middle school boy whose father is a programmer but shunner of Silicon Valley, and who is sort of painfully responsible for his age. He's a great character. Babcock is about a new friend of his, a fat black boy who loves science and bugs and reading, and who gets a crush on a local girl. There's poetry and it's about first love, and very sweet, as well as occasionally painful. And Danny Ain't is about their friend Danny, who is the bad kid, the kid who skates on the edge of the law, whose dad is an alcoholic Vietnam Vet, who lives in a messed up trailer often with nothing but peanut butter and stale bread. Danny has anger problems, and has an attitude which is the opposite of Boone's overdeveloped sense of responsibility. They're well done studies of character and place, and I liked them a lot. For some reason, the first two are available as ebooks, but the third is not. I don't get that.
maeve66: (some books)
Bah, I didn't manage yesterday. So I'll do two today. I keep promising 200 words only, and failing to keep that promise.

I'm done with historical YA fiction, I think. But now I think I need to look back at the earliest parts of this, well, series, I guess, to see which favored authors I covered and which I didn't. I haven't been doing them in order, exactly, and the original list itself (which has been augmented while I've been writing these, as names occurred to me) was pretty random.

Sydney Taylor

J. D. Fitzgerald

Ruth Sawyer


This is a group that is... sort of related to historical fiction and sort of related to 19th c. classics -- essentially because these authors wrote pretty much about the times they themselves lived through, which are now very clearly 'history'. I think all of them were children in the 1880s or 1890s... well, Taylor might be later. She may have written in the early fifties. But it was also about her own childhood in the 'teens. I'll do her first.

Sydney Taylor wrote a series of books -- the All of a Kind Family books -- telling stories about her own family growing up -- Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in the 1910s. I loved these books, growing up. The family is a stair-step family of girls, until the final child, the long-awaited son, is born. There is Ella, the oldest, then Henny (Henrietta), the tomboy with the incongruous blond curls, then Sarah, the bookworm, and finally Charlotte and Gertie. Their father is a rag and bottle and trash collector -- basically a recycler. The stories are full of details of Jewish home life in the first generation after immigration: Sabbath on Friday night, gefilte fish made from fresh carp kept in the bathtub until just before it's made, Passover Seders and Sukkoths, Yom Kippur and Charlie, the baby's boy's bris.

There are also the kinds of details that make an era come alive: New York's subway, pickle barrels and cracker barrels where you get a scoop for a penny. Penny candy. Public libraries and their importance to children. Settlement Houses. Pinafores and organdy dresses. When Henny 'borrows' Ella's only fancy white dress to wear to a party, and it gets stained, the mother at the party saves the day by dyeing the dress with tea. When the mother wants to encourage the girls to do their chores well, she hides buttons -- and once in a while an actual penny, which was almost untold wealth, to them -- in the weird, out of the way places they might forget to dust. I loved it all. I grew up in a town that had a healthy Jewish population, and these books made me feel less ignorant. Maybe even slightly envious and impressed and interested. I bet my niece will love them. I think I have them, or most of them, in paperback... I have to find out, when -- this week -- I sort out my classroom library for getting rid of. Or for transporting the books I don't want to own personally to school. One of those two options. Only the ones I am most passionate about are going to remain in my closets, that's all I can say. And the Taylor books would definitely fit.

The next author, J. D. Fitzgerald writes so engagingly and in such a believable kid's voice that it is somehow hard to believe that he is describing his own (suitably exaggerated and embellished) childhood, with his conniving older brother Tom D. Fitzgerald, known as The Great Brain, because he is so good at scheming and moneymaking and, basically, swindling other children and sometimes even adults. His series is set in Utah in the 1890s, possibly just as it is shifting from territory to state, but while some remnants of Old West still remain. A major theme in the book (aside from all of Tom's shenanigans) is the tension and balance of social power between the majority Mormons and the very small minority of 'Gentiles', meaning non LDS Christians, I guess. Adenville, Utah is a small town, and the Fitzgerald boys (there's also a sort of boring older brother named Sweyn) live with their parents -- their father, who is the editor of the town newspaper, and their mother, a housewife, and 'Aunt Bertha', an unrelated spinster who lives with them -- as the only Catholics in the town. Tom is incredibly intelligent and sly and sneaky and charismatic and arrogant. And J.D., his little brother, looks up to him and occasionally is incredibly angry with him. The books are fantastic, every one of them, although I will talk about my two favorites. There are eight books in the series, though one was posthumously assembled from notes. Unsurprisingly, it is the weakest.

The Great Brain, More Adventures of the Great Brain, Me and My Little Brain, The Great Brain at the Academy, The Great Brain Reforms, The Great Brain Does it Again, and The Great Brain is Back.

For me, the best two are Me and My Little Brain and the one which follows it, The Great Brain at the Academy. In the first of these, J. D. is the hero, and he is indeed a hero. Also, it introduces an excellent character, the orphaned Frankie Pennyworth, described by J. D. at one point as "Frankenstein Dollarworth" because he is a monster and a dollar's worth of trouble. And the second one is both a boarding school story -- always something I liked as a kid -- and a story of fomenting rebellion against authority, in this case Catholic priests who teach at this Jesuit school. The plotline about Tom smuggling in candy to sell is ... well, great. Like his brain.

Finally, Ruth Sawyer was a children's author who grew up on the East Coast and wrote about New York in the 1890s, and also the coast of Maine, same era. She -- and her fictional protagonist for those two books, Lucinda Wyman -- was from a wealthy New York society family whose fortunes crashed around the Panic of 1893. They retrenched by selling everything in NYC and moving to their summer home in Maine. Lucinda's rebellion against the strictures and confining beliefs about girls, and especially upper class girls is the plot of Roller Skates, in which book the girl's parents go to Italy and leave her boarding with two of her teachers, who do not exercise anything like the traditional control over her. She has roller skates and uses them to roam the entire city, making friends with people she encounters from an Italian barrow boy to a journalist she calls Mr. Nightowl, to a poor violinist and his family in a tenement, to an abused Middle Eastern wife of some rich Bluebeard living in a hotel. There is sadness in the book, but it's also funny and lovely. The sequel, The Year of the Jubilo takes Lucinda and her returned mother and brothers to Maine. She's older and less able to inhabit a half-fantasy world in the second book, but it is still wonderful. Sawyer's Roller Skates won the 1937 Newbery Medal. And -- I love this bit of trivia -- speaking of Maine, her daughter, Peggy, who became a Children's Librarian (makes me think of our wonderful librarian-that-was, at my school, in my district, which has abolished librarians below the high school level... BRILLIANT) married Robert McCloskey of Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, and Blueberries for Sal fame. Those are his East Coast books. His Midwestern books (equally wonderful) are Homer Price, Centerburg Tales, and Lentil. God, I love those books. What a great pedigree children of McCloskey's had... I can just see them, total little beatniks in the 1950s.
maeve66: (some books)
I know I keep saying that I am going to hew more strictly to 200 words, but honestly, tonight I think I will. Writing this on a Saturday night is... bah, not what I would rather be doing. Yes, I could have written it at any point today, and did not.

Off topic: what I *did* do this evening, before writing this was to watch a Bollywood romcom on Netflix Instant Watch... one I hadn't seen. That isn't as easy a procedure as one might think. I mean, watching one is easy enough. Choosing one, on the other hand... oy. Last night I tried one called Life Partner and I could only take about three minutes of it. I generally love B'wood, but that thing was horrific. And I couldn't even really tell you why. Entitled obnoxious Indian males being 'humorous' about how oppressive marriage is? Rich NRIs swanning around in sports cars outracing (slow, ground-bound) single seater airplanes? I don't know, but it was incredibly wretched, and I turned it off even before all the opening credits were done.

Tonight, I gritted my teeth and tried again. I liked the movie much better -- it was Dil Kabaddi which I think would translate to Wrestling Hearts, or Heart Wrestling, something like that. It's odd I even know that, and it's only because I watched Raajneeti at the Fremont Big Cinemas 7 with M., several weeks ago. And that sport is in the movie. And M. already knew what it was, though he could not succeed at explaining the rules to me. At all. Anyway, this was an okay movie about modern marriage and infidelity. Annoying and also fun to listen to and see how much I could pick up... quite a lot. It's slowly seeping in, this language, even if I have done almost none of my planned Hindi studying, this summer. I liked the cast, though I am starting to believe that Irrfan Khan is incapable of being in a Bollywood movie that is at all masala. If he's in it, it is going to be more or less arty or mainstream Western style. With bad to no item numbers. But man, I like Soha Ali Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma, especially the latter. I have never seen her do a bad job, ever, Konkona Sen Sharma.

Oh. Yeah. This entry is supposed to be about YAF. Oops. I don't have many historical YAF authors left. Christopher Paul Curtis is the guy for this entry. He's an excellent, excellent, politically and socially conscious writer of historical YAF. Christopher Paul Curtis wrote The Watsons go to Birmingham and Bud, Not Buddy, both of which have won awards and are used constantly in schools. Curtis is black, and he uses his family's experiences in his books. Man, the Wiki article on Curtis is WELL worth reading: dude is from Flint, Michigan, and worked for thirteen years on the Buick assembly line! Dayum. Now that's a motivation for me. Not that I needed one; I have read two of his books and am eagerly looking forward to reading a third.

The Watsons go to Birmingham is straight fictionalized history around the time of the Civil Rights (or Black Freedom) Movement. A black family from the North travel South to stay with relatives and are caught up in the struggles in Birmingham, Alabama. I don't need to say that the book is a tearjerker, do I? It's very well done, though. Much, much better than Robinet's attempt to depict the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

His next major book, Bud, Not Buddy moves from the 60s to the Depression, in the 1930s. An orphan runs away, intending to find his father, who he believes is a band leader of a group called So-and-So and "The Dusky Devastators of the Depression" which is the best name I've ever heard of for a band, and is also apparently straight from Curtis's family history. Bud is engaging and believable, with his unending list of randomly numbered lessons/rules for life. I have never met a student who was not sucked into that story.

Finally, his most recent novel goes further back still, to the life of a freedman -- or a freedboy, anyway -- living in Ontario, Canada. I really want to get Elijah of Buxton. It too is based in a historically real setting, and I have always been curious both about the Underground Railroad and about the end stations in Canada. Is there (I'm asking the lazyweb here) any major national museum in the US of the Underground RR? Shouldn't there be one near Cincinnati or something? Oh, and Elijah of Buxton features Frederick Douglass as a character, hurrah! My favorite rhetorician, ever.
maeve66: (some books)
Almost forgot. Man, five more posts after this one.

James Lincoln Collier has been writing historical YAF since the 1960s, and the book he's probably best known for -- which he cowrote with his brother, Christopher Collier, as he did several others -- is My Brother Sam is Dead, written in 1975. I used to see it on the shelf at the Evanston Public Library, as I would run my finger along the bottom looking for titles I hadn't read that sounded interesting. It's about the American Revolution, and the quandary of Tory families. That's an interesting topic. But I chose to read Esther Forbes' 1944 Newbery Award winning Johnny Tremain, instead. Now that's an excellent book, with plenty of historical detail of silversmithing, Paul Revere, Boston, the lead up to the American Revolution, and a great struggle to overcome adversity. My Brother Sam is Dead is just not that good. Better than that is Collier's trilogy, also about the early American Republic, but taking on the issue of slavery.

Jump Ship to Freedom is a YAF novel about a young man, Daniel, whose father won his freedom by fighting for the Continental Army, but who died while out fishing, after the war, before he could buy his son's and wife's freedom. He had saved his pay, in Continental army scrip, and much of the plot of the book revolves around whether Daniel will be able to convert that worthless paper into actual money. Daniel escapes to pursue that dream, and ends up in New York City, where he interacts with members of the Constitutional Convention. Essentially, Christopher Collier was a historian who fed his writer brother facts to make accessible to preteens, so what I can say about this book is that it's a pretty good explanation of the three-fifths clause as the linch pin of passing the Constitution. Which doesn't augur particularly well for the brilliance of plot, characterization, or dialogue. Still, it's pretty good. I've used it as a teaching tool a few times, in fact, and own, somewhere, a class set, in paperback. The books which complete the trilogy are War Comes to Willy Freeman and Who is Carrie?.

Strangely, though, his best book is (okay, actually this is not that strange; it makes perfect sense, as I will explain in a minute): The Jazz Kid, which is about a white kid in Chicago in the 1920s who falls in love with black music -- with jazz. This subject is obviously close to Collier's heart, as according to Wikipedia he is, himself, a jazz musician. And the protagonist is white, as he is himself. I don't think he writes black characters particularly successfully, which isn't a huge shock. I can only think of one or two white authors who manage it at all. Maybe just one; I'll have to think about it. I mean, as a main character. Still, The Jazz Kid, of all of these, is well worth reading. It's far more culturally convincing and nuanced than all of his other books combined (though I have not read the one about the beatnik guitar teacher, called The Teddy Bear Hero.)
maeve66: (some books)
Let's see. Three at a go, this evening. Maybe. We'll see.

Berlie Doherty

Jill Paton Walsh

Harriette Gillem Robinet


The first author, Berlie Doherty, is a Brit. I don't know a ton about her, having only read one of her (many, apparently) books. But the one I read was good -- again, much more observant about class in history. It's about a young woman's talking with her elders and learning stories of their youth, particularly her grandmother's young romance while she was a factory girl. Granny Was a Buffer Girl is the title. It's set in the North of England, and in the 1930s -- at least, the flashback parts are. It reminds me in tone of a movie I love very much and haven't seen in ages, god, what was it called... oh, yeah. Letter to Brezhnev, a great 80s romance set in Liverpool where a young woman who works in a chicken factory and goes out to get happily drunk on payday meets a young Russian -- a young Soviet Russian -- sailor and shags him. Awwww. Letters ensue, and it's a foil-the-Cold-War romance! I don't know; it's part of that whole Brit working class pop culture thing, like the 80s and 90s movies celebrating the moment of the Miners' Strike in 1984. I wish that were available on Netflix Instant Watch... Awww... it's not even available to RENT! Sigh.

Jill Paton Walsh is also a Brit. I think. She has a more serious tone to her. I've read a few of her books, but the one that sticks with me is a quite depressing bit of history, and writing, about the fate of one of England's plague villages, a place called Eyam. The book is called A Parcel of Patterns, and tells the story of how the village quarantined itself, and how the majority of its inhabitants died. I can't actually remember the fate of the narrator, in fact. It's very, very effective, partly for its speech patterns and the language, which seems -- well, like I would know -- quite accurate. At any rate it's not anachronistic at all. You know what's funny? Well, a couple of things -- from Wikipedia, both of them. First, apparently there is a genetic mutation that some people from Eyam have now that may make them immune not only to the bubonic plague, but, if present in both parents, to HIV/AIDS. I have no idea how credible that is. Second -- Berlie Doherty has apparently also writen a book about Eyam -- a fantasy novel. I am very curious about that.

Finally, Harriette Gillem Robinet. I wish I liked her writing better, but I don't. She strikes me as political, but she's very clunky in her writing, sigh. She's written a bunch of historical YAF books which are set often in and around Chicago (also one about the bus boycott, in Montgomery, Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues). Her book about the Chicago Fire, Children of the Fire has gotten a fair amount of attention, I suspect because there aren't many (if any) other fictional treatments for kids. But the one I liked most is her YAF novel about the Haymarket Riot -- now that takes some politics. That one is called Missing from Haymarket Square. They're worth reading for the history... but her characterization isn't too interesting, and ... well, sigh, I'm just not too compelled. Sadly.
maeve66: (some books)
Bah, I'm a post behind again. What got me so busy yesterday? Well, for a teacher's summer and a teacher-who-is-unemployed's summer, I was kind of busy, what with aqua with [livejournal.com profile] amarama, diabetic retinopathy screening photos, celebratory organic ice cream with [livejournal.com profile] annathebean and [livejournal.com profile] kaleidescope for the latter's new job, and picking up [livejournal.com profile] john_b_cannon at BART after his flight home from Kansas -- yay, [livejournal.com profile] john_b_cannon is back in town, hurrah. He and I went out for late night food at a café in Emeryville called Rudy Can't Fail, which always makes me think of the Clash song, but [livejournal.com profile] john_b_cannon said he never had a Clash period, so he didn't know the song. Which just seems weird to me, but may only mark our age difference. I told him about how this boy in my 7th grade French class, Jon Jacobson, sidled up to me -- a very brave taking-of-risk on his part because I was absolutely student-non-grata in middle school... beneath the very idea of pecking order, though also learning not to ever, ever give a shit about that kind of thing, which was an excellent life lesson... hm, to balance that description, I was also well known as the school Commie, which was fine with me. The school Commie-dyke-pinko-Iranian-lover, to be specific. In 1978. ANYWAY, Jon Jacobson sidled up to me, that year, and literally kind of whispered out the side of his mouth... "[my name], do you know this group, the Clash? You should really get some of their albums..." and then sidled away again, quickly. I love that my politics forced him to make this dangerous social excursion. And, of course, I loved the Clash as soon as I went out and got London Calling and later, Sandinista!.

Right, none of that has anything to do with YAF. Though at that moment I was probably carrying, and had possibly even been reading, a young adult fiction book. I was the kind of kid who could walk into a light pole or a parking meter while reading.

Okay, then, where were we? Ah! Karen Cushman. She's great. She singlehandedly reintroduced the vast subgenre of English medieval historical novels to a new generation, and a generation of girls, at that. She has also branched out into other territory, and is equally good there.

So, background: I loved this subgenre when I was in elementary school. My fourth and fifth grade teacher, Ms. Weingartner (she who smoked in the classroom and drank endless Tabs) used to read aloud to us (which is probably why I think it is an incredibly important thing to do, too, even though I teach middle school). One of the books she read was Marguerite de Angeli's The Door in the Wall, which was about a boy in medieval London who is crippled by disease (polio?) and loses the use of his legs. It's about how he is taken care of by a friar, and learns to look for a different future than his expected one of being a knight. It's funny; I loved that book and the archaic language and the details of medieval England, but I have just read Amazon reviews, and even all the reviews that are strongly positive are like "kids will hate this, don't, for god's sake, assign it or you will strangle their love of reading stillborn!!!!1! zomg!" Weird. Well, as noted, I was a weirdo. I don't remember anyone else in my fourth grade class hating it, but then maybe I was completely insensible to their reactions. I am like that when reading or hearing a story or drawing. Just like my older niece, ha! Anyway, though, in general, most medieval fic was aimed at boys, was about knights and castles and adventures and serving the king or whatever. And I loved it. I just imagined my way in as a boy, I guess.

But then, thirty years later, Karen Cushman broke upon the scene with her first published book (not at all my favorite) Catherine, Called Birdy. It was such a ray of better gendered light that it pretty much was immediately added to the school canon, as was her second (much better, in my opinion) book, The Midwife's Apprentice. Catherine, Called Birdy was about a knight, and a manor if not a castle, and his family, and serfs, including dog boys (nod to T. H. White's The Once and Future King). But there the resemblances stopped.

The protagonist is the daughter of a minor lord, discontented with her lot, unusually literate, and in danger of being married off as an economic transaction. She keeps a diary, and this is the problem with the book -- it gets very tedious to follow that format, and most entries are too wrapped up in BEING entries, in comments about the day, the date, the process of writing a diary, and the wacky long story of which crazy-ass Saint's day this is, and what gruesome death that wacky Saint died. That's interesting and funny for a while, but then becomes kind of repetitive and tedious. My other problem with the book was that I kept wondering how incredibly anachronistic it was, to put these self-liberatory thoughts -- the metaphor is the birds that Catherine loves, but to love, keeps in cages... she's a caged bird, too, flapping her wings against the bars -- in a girl's head in the 1100s or whenever it is. During one of the earlier Crusades. But it is a very good book, anyway, especially as the first thing Cushman wrote.

Her second book was also an instant school classic -- I read it to students myself, at least twice, in West Oakland. And The Midwife's Apprentice is a very good book for that, both because the writing is clear and simple, for read alouds with students who are not at grade level in reading, and because the book's point is about the importance of coming to love and believe in yourself. Also, literacy is a fantastic idea. Kids really responded to both her circumstances -- homeless and living literally in shit -- and to her slow realization of self-worth. Their emotions were engaged and they were rooting for her.

Dungbeetle -- as the main character is known, because of how she tries to keep heat in her body at night -- is a homeless orphan trying to scratch a living begging and doing odd jobs, in medieval England. She goes from village to village, staying until she's driven away. At the opening of the book the girl, who seems to be about twelve or so, is rousted from her bed, which is burrowed into the dung-filled manure heap in a byre, by a grouchy woman who is the village midwife. This woman, Jane, known as Jane Sharp for her sharp nose and sharp tongue and generally sharp outlook -- thus the Middle Ages origins of English-language surnames is introduced in the book, with many other examples -- takes Dungbeetle in as a general dogsbody, allowing her to sleep in the rushes on the floor and eat scraps. The book is very good in its detail about what people would have been likely to eat, according to their stations -- the joy in eating a turnip or onion, for example, or an apple, is extreme, for Beetle. As the short book proceeds, there are small adventures which throw light on ordinary social practices, but the main thrust is whether the girl can gain skills and belief in herself, and how. I highly recommend this book -- it's really, really good.

Cushman has written other books set in medieval England, and they're very good too -- Matilda Bone is about a girl whose clerk father dies, and while she is cared for (and taught) by the church men she lives with, is eventually handed over for apprenticing to a bonesetter. This bonesetter, Red Peg, is an earthy and independent woman who utterly oversets the general old-fashioned chivalric notion (from YAF, I mean) of what women in medieval England were like. Since such notions were never located anywhere below the nobility, that's not surprising. But it's an interesting exploration of medieval notions of medicine and science, as well as ideas of class and social status -- beneath the level of nobility. In a way, it's almost an answer to A Door in the Wall, because Matilda wants desperately to become a learned Abbess or clerk like her father (which is impossible, the latter, as becoming a knight became impossible for the boy in de Angeli's story) but slowly has to let go of her snobbishness and accept where she is, eventually finding pleasure in it. I haven't read Alchemy and Meggy Swann yet, but I look forward to it. Maybe today!

Cushman's other three books are historical, but not medieval. The Ballad of Lucy Whipple is about a girl uprooted to a California gold mining 'town', in ways similar to both Patricia Beatty's works, and Kathryn Lasky's. It's good, though not among my favorites. Rodzina is her exploration of the Orphan Trains, which took the orphaned offscourings (or not orphaned; parents who didn't have the money to support kids could also drop them off to this organization) of Eastern city slums West to be either adopted or... well, the adoptions could seem more like bound labor, though I guess they were all legally adoptions. Rodzina is the awkward, plain, somewhat bellicose daughter of Eastern European immigrants -- Poles, I think, though I don't remember. And she is suspicious of this process throughout the journey. Again, a good book, but not my favorite.

My favorite? The Loud Silence of Francine Green -- which is a school story, of sorts, but also part of my absolute favorite tiny subgenre: stories of the countercultural 1950s. This book makes a great companion piece to two of my recent favorites, by local author Ellen Klages. I'll talk about hers later. Meanwhile, Francine Green is the daughter of two fairly liberal Catholic middle class folks in Southern California, who meets the daughter of a screenwriter because Sophie Bowman is transferred into her class in a parochial school. Sophie and her father are Bohemians, more or less, and her father is at least a fellow traveler (none of the heroes of these books are ever actually in the CP, sigh... they're always heroic fellow travelers persecuted for being CLOSE to people who were actually in the Party). Francine learns to be more open in her challenging of the stifling mold of 50s culture, and to question hegemony. Yeah, basically that's the plot. It's a great book.
maeve66: (some books)
Next up, one of the best historical YAF authors I know -- she reminds me of Laurence Yep, in fact, partly because it's her interest in her own family history and its intersection with American history that motivates her writing. I very much like that motivation.

The first Mildred D. Taylor novel I read was definitely Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and again, I don't remember exactly how old I was when I read it. I was probably eleven or so, and had already had several years of family indoctrination (and then, elementary school indoctrination) about the Civil Rights Movement and black history in the United States. Thus, the subject and details of this book were not a revelation to me -- but, as with Yep, again, the characters were, because like some of my favorite authors (Yep, Cynthia Voigt, Kathryn Lasky, K. M. Peyton, Peter Dickinson) they were round, instead of flat. They had flaws and nuance and critical faculties and were opinionated. In fiction, apparently, I like people who argue with me. Maybe sometimes in real life, too.

Cassie Logan is the main character in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and she is memorable. She's sassy verging on bitchy, she's bossy, she's loyal to her family, but she doesn't suffer fools gladly, not even within her family. And she's very aware of her situation and the world she lives in, which is 1930s Mississippi. The Logan family (based largely on Taylor's own uncles, aunts, and grandparents) is an anomaly in Mississippi in the 1930s, in that they own their own land. Cassie's grandfather, born in slavery, bought it in the 1880s, and that story is told in the complicated and fraught novel The Land, which is the most recent thing Taylor has written, I believe.

In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Cassie's father must leave the family and go to work along the Natchez trace, as a timber worker -- it's not specified whether he is a lumberjack or (more likely) a steel driver, one of the men on the gang that lays track for the miles and miles of spur lines of RR, which is how the lumber companies reached into the Piney Woods to fell trees and get them to sawmills. While he's gone, the constant -- environmentally constant -- racial tensions rise in the community, and a stupid young friend of the family gets caught up in a stupid crime and is threatened with lynching. There are many, many subplots, some of which shed an interesting light on pre Brown V. BoE schooling in the South, but local black families' reaction to gouging white storeowners and the threat of a lynching are the focus, by the end. The book does an excellent job showing how the CRM was prefigured on a daily basis by people actually living in the communities which later became famous in the 1950s and 1960s. And the protagonists are the people whose struggle will free themselves -- all of Taylor's books are fantastic for that alone, that she permits no easy white alliances. There *are* sympathetic whites, but they are very minor characters and they are not viewed as simple heroes.

There is a series of full length novels about the Logan family -- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, The Road to Memphis, and the prequel, The Land... but there are also short stories published individually in slightly (not much) simpler language, meant for kids whose reading abilities would be daunted by novels the length of the others. Plus, these are focused retellings of family stories. They are a record of race relations in the 20th century, and they are not simple and happy, either. A few of them feature a white boy whose family are typical poor white racists, but who, himself, tries again and again to befriend the Logan children -- who is beaten for this, by his brothers and father. Even Jeremy Simms is not treated as a hero, and his overtures to friendship are not welcomed, ultimately. Taylor's books are not simple to read, but they are very rewarding. The short stories include: The Well (about the Logan well being poisoned by the Simms, IIRC); Mississippi Bridge, which is kind of horrifying and moving, about a flash flood; The Friendship, which is the underside of the stock story of older-black-adult-befriends-innocent-young-white-kid; The Gold Cadillac, which is about what happens when a black man rises above his station in consumerist terms... hm... Song of the Trees, which is about the Logan family defending their land by any means necessary. That may be it. Let me check Wikipedia or Amazon. Ha -- *I* was more complete than Wikipedia, and for the first time in my life, I have edited a Wikipedia page.
maeve66: (some books)
Lord, this is exhausting, mentally, writing a post a day. I won't be surprised if my posts approach nearer and nearer to exactly two hundred words.

So. I haven't come up with any other awesome historical YAF writers, though I also haven't really tried to do that... let me think a minute... Hm. Berlie Doherty and Jill Paton Walsh and Harriette Gillem Robinet are all authors I don't know AS MUCH about, though they definitely have written in this realm. Katherine Paterson... I think I mentioned Katherine Paterson before for one of her books? Did I? Well, I'll do her twice then, even though her Xtianity makes me nervous. At least it's extremely progressive Xtianity: she's written at least twice on labor history. Oh, and James Lincoln Collier. And his brother. And Christopher Paul Curtis. Did I already write about HIM? There, that's nine more, so four posts.

So, first:

Kathryn Lasky

Mildred D. Taylor

Karen Cushman

Hm. That's three VERY heavy-hitters for one entry. To be fair, I should spread those three out, to balance my lesser interest in the others. Agh, this is getting confusing. Maybe I'll just do them one at a time if they need longer treatment.

I don't remember which the first Kathryn Lasky novel was that I read. She's written plenty. She is incredibly prolific, in fact, as I imagine one needs to be if one wants to earn a living writing. She's written series literature, too, which I am usually not at all into. But I am curious, now about this Guardians of Ga'Hoole thing... oh, not that curious actually. I prefer her standalone books, because they mostly deal with American history. She's written one of the better treatments of Escape from Slavery fiction -- this is a fairly big subgenre, and some entries in it are pretty bad. Ann Rinaldi's for example. Anyway, Lasky's True North is excellent. The protagonist is the daughter of realistic Massachusetts abolitionists. And all of Lasky's characters are quite nuanced and realistically rendered.

My favorite of her historical novels is undoubtedly Beyond the Divide, which is the best Oregon trail novel I've read. The heroine is Meribah, oh, I forget her last name, but she is Amish, and her father ends up getting shunned because he cannot suppress his curiosity about the outer world... he decides to leave and emigrate West, and Meribah goes with him. The book has a depth of detail about the trail, but it also tackles very serious issues involving gender and race -- it is strongly implied that there is a rape on the trail, and after a fair amount of tragedy, there is a very unexpected denouement with Indians. Honestly, it's a fantastic book, from all kinds of points of view.

Other favorites include her story of her own family's immigration from Poland, The Night Journey, her depiction of Salem during the witchcraft trials, which is almost as good as Speare's, Beyond the Burning Time, her treatment of later 19th c. Western life, about paleontology, The Bone Wars, and her quite excellent novel of silver mining and mining towns -- and newspapers -- one of the main characters is a realistic, and truly present, Mark Twain -- this one I have just reread, in fact: Alice Rose and Sam.

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