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

A Special Book for Us All

You Call This Democracy?

Elizabeth Rusch

The subtitle of this thought-provoking book is “How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People”. Whatever your political bent this book will make you think carefully about how our system of government works and whether things could or should be changed to make it better. For instance, should we continue to have an Electoral College decide who wins a presidential race? Or should we go with just the popular vote? Would that leave the smaller states without a vote. Hope about the way we hold primaries? Do the states that hold primaries later in the election cycle without a say? Should we lower the voting age to 16 or 17? The book is full of statistics and graphs and other visuals. The various gradations of grey on the maps will be, hopefully, better defined in the final copy of the book. It’s a bit hard to discern the various gradations of gray in this advance reading copy. Take your time reading this book and be prepared to research some of her statements.  It’s the kind of book that the reader will want to tell friends and others about. It’s especially important for young people and people applying for citizenship to read, but everyone else would benefit from reading it.

BIBLIO: March 2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 10+, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-Fiction

ISBN: 9780358387428

A Little Non-Fiction

Hello again, my friends. Do you know how to equate heights of natural critters to buildings? I sure don’t, but these books might help you see the bigger picture. The series is called “Animals Measure Up,” and each book discusses a different ecosystem.

How High in the Sky: Flying Animals

Monika Davies

Illustrated by Romina Marti

This book focuses on flying creatures. First up is the enchanting ladybug whose gossamer wings come out from under the ladybug’s shell on her back. Next up is the Monarch butterfly which “rides” the wind and flies even higher than the ladybug. Like a scale, the creatures in this book each fly higher than the last. Next is the funny looking Frigate with its red sac hanging down from its throat. But the Andean condor has it beat, until the common place Mallard flies above it. And the bar-head goose can fly over the Himalayas. These critters all have something in common. They all take to the skies with the greatest of ease. Though stylized, the illustrations are a charming addition to the words. It would have been nice to have the Frigate bird’s red sac explained. And some of the comparison might have been made a bit clearer. Would a child be able to visualize how high a building is or high a helicopter can fly?

BIBLIO: 2018, Amicus Illustrated/Amicus, Ages 5 to 8, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68151-388-1

How High in the Rainforest? Rainforest Animal Habitat

Monika Davies

Illustrated by Romina Marti

This book focuses on rainforest creatures. Starting below ground level, in the dark, fertile soil, you can find all kinds of critters. Centipedes, slugs, beetles, and termites “recycle” dead leaves and fertilize the soil with their waste. The bugs provide food for the forest floor animals. Armadillos dig up the below ground critters for a tasty meal, as do wild pigs and small rodents. In the understory, where smaller trees grow in what sunlight they can find by spreading their broad leaves. Squirrels, red-eyed tree frogs, birds, snakes, and jaguars makes their homes here. Way up above these creatures, is the “roof” of the forest, made up of tree branches woven together to make the canopy. Bigger animals, such as sloths and monkeys and birds, call this area home. But above them, where plenty of sun beams down, live the biggest inhabitants of all. The harpy eagle makes its home up here, as does the spider monkey. And the tree leaves here are small and waxy to capture moisture. Look closely at the illustrations in this book to see all the differences in surroundings and creatures that live there. Teachers should use more images to help their students understand the various concepts of height.

BIBLIO: 2018, Amicus Illustrated/Amicus, Ages 5 to 8, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68151-387-4

 

How High up the Mountain? Mountain Animal Habitat

Monika Davies

Illustrated by Romina Marti

The mountains are the backdrop in this book. The story starts at the lowest level, called the “grasslands” and mentions creatures such as coyotes, jackrabbits and burrowing owls that roam around the bunchgrasses and cactuses. In the foothills, a visitor will run across scrub jays which live in smaller trees capable of living in more gravelly soil. Next is the “montane” zone where rain and snow fall copiously. Shy “Albert’s” squirrels build their nests in the Ponderosa pines. Aspen trees provide food and shelter for the Rocky Mountain elk, which are especially fond of aspen bark. In the subalpine zone, you can build a snowman most of the year, but it is wet and cold so only plants like spruce and fir trees grow here. Other plants grow close to the ground and the animals are hardy. Look for snowshoe hares and boreal owls here, along with well hidden mice. At the highest level, believe it or not, some plants grow even with all the snow and cold. Here the explorer will find tiny pikas and bighorn sheep. As with the other books in this series, a bit more reference to relatable sizes would be a help. Not all children are spatially adept at imagining height differences. Still, a talented teacher can help her students understand the concepts. The illustrations, though stylized, are charming.

BIBLIO: 2018, Amicus Illustrated/Amicus, Ages 5 to 8, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68151-389-8