Why Are We so Frequently Horribly Cruel?

Why Are We So Often Horribly Cruel?

For Mother’s Day our daughter Michelle gave me three books she thought I might like. Oddly enough, I’d read the first one already for the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. It addresses the issue of bullying amongst children. My impression is that children, even those who are popular and successful, are plagued with self-doubt as much as the less popular children, so, some of them are bullies just to not be caught out as being less than they seem to be.

The second book is about an old woman talking about her experiences during WWII as she, her brother. and their mother escape the town of Dresden, Germany. In addition to their journey to safer territory, it also about their journey with an elephant their mother rescued from the Dresden Zoo. The bullies in this story are the Nazis who wrote the book on how to be evil.

The last book is an autobiography of the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy of education for all people. Again, why do men seem to feel so threatened by females that anybody who isn’t male should be kept down. It isn’t just Muslims who make their women second class creatures. It wasn’t so very long ago that even females in the United States weren’t treated as equals.

But amongst all the cruelty we find hope, courage, and love. May it prevail

Holding Up the Universe

Jennifer Niven

            This is a well-written story of two damaged teenagers.  Libby Strout ate so much after her mother died, she had to be lifted out of her house through the roof by a crane, which, of course, destroys the house. After several years of therapy and homeschooling, she tells her father she’s ready to go back to school at the start of her junior year. She girds herself for the torment she knows will come.  Of course, the “in crowd” boys start a game of who can ride the fat girl longest with Libby and Iris Engelbrecht, a girl even fatter than Libby, as the targets. Iris ends up as the first target, but when she tells Libby what happened, Libby chases the culprit, who is only saved by a truck going by. Jack Masselin, the perpetrator’s friend watches the whole performance, cheering for the girls the whole time. Jack has a secret he doesn’t share with anyone.  A glitch in his brain denies him the ability to recognize faces.  He can’t even pick out his parents or siblings in a crowd or at home without recognizing one of their “tells.”  At school, he plays it cool and waits for someone to come to him.  Then he uses that person to let him know who others are. But after he and Libby get into a fight and have to serve detention together, their relationship changes. Jack learns that it’s what on inside of another person that really counts. Soon, they begin to see past their surfaces and become friends. Jack and Libby begin to hang out together, sharing secrets. After he tells her his secret about not recognizing anyone else, she encourages Jack to seek help.  She even goes with him to give him moral support and he encourages her to take the test that will see if she carries her mother’s cancer gene. Because he hasn’t ever told anyone about his problem, his parents put him in embarrassing situations, like having to pick up his youngest brother from a birthday party.  His brother doesn’t want to leave the party, so he doesn’t respond when Jack calls for him to leave. Jack pulls the wrong kid out of the party, which scares the boy, horrifies the birthday boy’s mother, and leaves Jack in a heap of trouble. You’ll end up rooting for both Jack and Libby, but wishing they would solve the problems whose answers are right in front of their noses. There’s a lot going on in this book that will engage the reader and teachers will have a field day orchestrating discussions around the issues. 

BIBLIO: 2016, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, LLC, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-385-75592-4   

ISBN: 978-0-385-75593-1

ISBN: 978-0-385-75594-8  

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There have been a plethora of books about the horrors of WWII and especially the Nazi’s part in the conflict, but this one will definitely grab your heart and soul, especially if you are an animal lover.

An Elephant in the Garden

Michael Murpurgo

The book is based on a true story and is very compelling. It is told by the nurse who is taking care of an aged woman, Lizzie, in Canada, but it  also told mostly in dialog by Lizzie about her journey from her home in the beautiful town of Dresden, Germany. For most of Hitler’s war Dresden remained unscathed and the German residents went about their lives. When the Allied forces were advancing on Germany, Dresden came under attack and was pretty much destroyed by bombs. The storyteller’s mother was a caregiver at the zoo and witnessed the birth of an elephant. Unfortunately, the elephant’s mother dies leaving her child to grieve. When it becomes apparent that Dresden is due to be destroyed by bombs, the storyteller’s mother get permission to save the young elephant by taking her away from the zoo and keeping her in the family’s garden, hence the title. When the bombing starts, the family is taking the elephant they’ve named Marlene after Marlene Dietrich for a walk in the neighboring park. Marlene panics when the bombs start to drop and runs away with Lizzie’s family hot in pursuit. They end up caught up in the massive exodus from the city and head toward Lizzie’s aunt’s farm. The rest of the story is about their journey to safety in Switzerland. Lizzie meets her future husband along the way who is Canadian. Again, although there is much hope in the story, it is set against the hideous cruelty and bigotry that was Hitler’s way of cowing his fellow Germans, though he was actually Austrian. This book will most decidedly keep you reading and even move you to tears in parts.

BIBLIO: 2010, Square Fish/Macmillan, Ages 12 +, $7.89 p.b.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Historical Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-250-03414-4

ISBN: 978-1-4668-0445-6

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I have never understood why men are so frequently terrified of letting women have equal rights. I remember a very bright female high school classmate who wanted to go to college back in 1959, but her father refused because it would be a waste of money given that she would end up getting married and raising a family. The rest of us were appalled and I believe in the end her father relented. Whether or not she finished college or had a career I don’t know, but the same point was not made for the guys. I also had a friend who left school when she graduated from Junior High School so she could get married and have a family.  I don’t know what happened to her either. She was very happy to leave school and become a housewife. But many of the Muslim men in our world are so frightened of their females’ potential they refuse to let them even learn to read and write. I remember trying to teach a Yemeni woman with five children how to speak and read English. Because she’d observed men in Yemen reading from right to left, she started out trying to read English that way. Her husband was encouraging for the most part but was adamantly against her going to a gym because she’d not be able to exercise in her full proper burqa. Why are men so frightened that all other men are out to rape their wives? Why do they feel it’s the women’s fault if these men can’t control their urges? It wasn’t that long ago that American women were the inciters when they’d got raped. The teller of this story made headlines with her bold advocacy for female rights not only in her native Pakistan but then all around the world. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction, but this book will keep your interest throughout.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick

This young woman, with the help of her father and the support of her country, is trying to change the world for females and, at her tender age, has already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. She has also been almost killed by Pakistani Taliban members because they think she’s defying Allah’s will by standing up for her right to an education. The book is told in her voice and because she is, indeed, the author is autobiographical. But since English is not her native language another person’s name appears alongside Ms. Yousafzai’s as the supporting author.  The story is horrifying for what is happening around the world, particularly to Muslim females under Taliban or other Sharia religious groups who have found what they think is “God’s Rule.” But I guess no one has asked them why any god would make females capable of rational, intelligent thought and then declare they can’t use such abilities. Malala grew up in a small poor area of Pakistan where all children at least were allowed a primary school education, after which a lot of girls were married off at the tender age of eleven. Malala’s father runs a school where girls are encouraged to finish high school. That is until the Taliban take over. But even before then, girls are expected to wear figure-hiding clothing and cover their hair as is common in many Muslim countries. But even after the Taliban take over, Malala’s father keeps his girls’ school open though fewer older girls come anymore. And, at the age of 12 or 13, when Malala and her friends are riding home on the school bus, a Taliban fighter jumps on the back bumper and shoots Malala in the head, also wounding two other girls. Luck was with Malala on that day and she ends up being saved by doctors from Birmingham, England. Her recovery was paid for by the Pakistani government which didn’t support the Taliban’s efforts. Brave girl that she is, Malala still is fighting for females’ equal rights around the world and still going to school. And her mother is now learning English. May we all live by their bravery.

BIBLIO: 2014, Salazari Unlimited/Little, Brown and Company, Ages 12 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

ISBN: 978-0316-32793-0

ISBN: 978-0316-32794-7

ISBN: 978-0316-32792-3

Shouldn’t We Stop Being Rude?

Up until recently, I have always been proud of my country despite its flaws. And, in my heart of hearts, I am naïve enough to hope we can indeed live up to the hopes of our founders. The French part of my father’s side of the family, the Maurys and the La Fontaines, left southeastern France because they didn’t believe King Charles’ version of God. They were part of the Huguenot migration. They had their good points, though I must own up to their racist slave-owning past in Virginia. But my 5th-generation grandfather was the childhood teacher of Jefferson and Madison and one of my 5th-generation uncles was Mathew Fontaine Maury, otherwise known as the Pathfinder of the Seas. Some parts of the Bunker family, my mother’s paternal family, I believe left Germany because of religious persecution since they were followers of Martin Luther’s new church.

My point is though some of them were racist, they still did good things. Many generations later, both families tried to adhere to the ideals of being good people and believed in making a better life for us all. I grieve that my father and grandfather died in WWII to maintain and further a better, more equal life for all peoples; Black, White, Brown, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or whatever. And who cares if a person loves and wants to make a life with someone of the same sex? What does it matter as long as those involved are caring individuals? But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe my father and grandfather died in vain?

It would be easy for me to climb up on my soapbox and rant and rave, but that’s not the point here. The point is for us all to be tolerant, me included.

Anyway the two books I’m reviewing here deal with these issues. Hope you find them interesting.

How will Mark cope with his father’s dislike for Mark’s new identity?

The first book deals with bullying and sexual discrimination, plus where schools do indeed mete out punishment fairly.

The (Un)popular Vote

Jasper Sanchez

Mark Adams didn’t start out life as a boy. Instead, he was born a girl and christened in the Catholic Church as Madison Teagan, daughter of Graham Teagan who is the U.S. Congressman from California’s second district. Dad shows his true colors when Mark reveals who he really is. The congressman insists that his daughter hide her new identity from the voting public. So Mark and his mother move to a different part of California, but she still appears at campaigning events or other political shows. Mark registers as Mark Adams, using his mother’s maiden name, and becomes friends with other superbright LBGTQ kids in school where he witnesses the bullying of a friend who asks for privacy about the incident. The friend is suspended for punching the star athlete who bullied him. Mark decides to take a stand and run for School President, which does not sit well with his father. As the story unfolds, Mark shows tremendous self-awareness growth and ends up coming out to the world, which, of course, tanks his dad’s chances of being the next governor of California. The book is well written and addresses many of the issues now plaguing modern-age children. All of the more important characters in the book show multiple sides to themselves, which is always a good thing. Teachers will find many areas in it as teaching points.

BIBLIO: 2021, Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 12 to 18, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-06-3022576-9

How will Zara deal with having to leave the only home she’s known?

The second book deals with racial/religious intolerance and secondarily with sexual preference and the tendency for schools to let athletes get away with more bad things.

Zara Hossain Is Here

Sabina Khan

Social and cultural equality have always been the myth of the United States of America, but have they ever really been the truth of this country? Zara Hossain has lived in Corpus Christi, Texas fourteen of her seventeen years. When she was three her parents left their Pakistani homeland to give their daughter what they thought would be a better life. Well, in part this is true, but all of them have felt the scorn of whiter skinned people. Zara is bright and a hard worker whose parents accept that she’s bisexual and that she tries to conform to the so-called American way. She does have friends in school who try to protect her, but they can’t always be there. One football star in particular seems out to get her and ends up causing her and her family to leave the country for good. There are so many compelling teaching points and discussion issues in this book, teachers could probably spend at least a month addressing them.

BIBLIO: 2021, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 13-18, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-338-58087-7

Even if you don’t agree with what I say, I’d still love to hear from you, but please be polite. Thanks for reading my post and have a good weekend. Sarah