Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Path of Pebbles

Have you ever followed a trail of shiny stones, one more lovely than the other, until you found yourself deep in the woods of wondering…?

STEPPING STONES: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr, Orca Book Publishers, 2016
First I read an article in Bookbird,  A Journal of International Children’s Literature. The article was written by Margriet Ruurs, an award winning author of more than 30 books for children.  She, too, was following a path of pebbles, first showing up on Facebook. She saw the artwork of a Syrian sculptor from Ugarit, now living and working in Lattakia, Syria. He simply arranges rocks on the ground or on a rectangle of plywood – except it’s not so simple. His images tell deeply emotional stories.

Author Ruurs had to find this artist, had to ask him about his life and work. Her article in Bookbird details her determination to find him and her inspiration to write a book about a refugee family’s journey to find a peaceful life. She wanted Nizar Ali Badr to tell this eloquent story in stones undergirded by his own intriguing story: a gifted artist managing to create in spite of a multitude of deprivations.

I had to follow the trail to her book, too, as reader. I had to know how her search ended, as well as more about the artist himself.

Ruurs’ story follows a young girl who is forced to flee her home when war comes to her Syrian village and “Life in our village changed. Nothing was as it had been.” The pebble people who are her family say good-bye to the rooster and the goat and go to the end of the earth where they must cross a vast sea. The physical burdens of the pebble family’s belongings bow the adults’ bodies, but the weight of loss is a burden the sculptor conveys in all the bodies, young and elderly.

This family created by author Ruurs survives the sea, but other refugees do not. On land once more, the family stops. “Mama and Papa planted seeds to grow flowers to remember those who did not reach freedom.” It’s a tender scene. Love, care, hope. All told in stones that have become real people to the reader.

Badr has not left his homeland. In the foreword, author Ruurs notes that sometimes the artist does not have money to buy the glue that would make his art permanent. It becomes one of those “meant to be” moments that made it possible for the artist and author to create this book for a publisher willing to consider challenging circumstances. Badr says his ancestors left “a signature in my genes to create and share my work with honesty and modesty.” Ruurs hopes she can raise awareness of the plight of those who must flee the horrors of war.

This is a beautiful book.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Bull Named Ugly

What happens when the older brother you idolize, the one all the girls in the small town of Salt Lick, Nevada fall for, the bull riding champion everybody brags about, goes to Iraq and steps on an IED?  (An Improvised Explosive Device also known as a street bomb.)

BULL RIDER by Suzanne Morgan Williams, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009

It may be his brother Ben struggling with a traumatic brain injury and life-altering physical injuries but 14 year old Cam who prefers riding a skateboard to clinging to a grouchy fire snorting bull also crashes headlong into change. Author Williams brings the world’s problems to Cam’s ranch and everyone in this warm, loving family must adjust to roles outside their expectations.

The other members of Cam’s family are well thought out to provide just enough poignancy with a good balance of family fun. The adults have adult challenges, but the author keeps the focus on Cam and how he relates to his brother’s shifting moods contrasted with the unsettling discussion about patriotism, love of country and the willingness to sacrifice. A bull named Ugly plays a major part, too, but that’s all I’m going to tell you.

Suzanne Morgan Williams has a solid background in nonfiction for young people. She researches deeply with extensive acknowledgements. Through her craft Bull Rider comes to life, receiving the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Juvenile Book of 2009.

If you missed this novel when it first came out, read it now. It’s timely today. Movies are being made about our war vets, but do any of them get inside the heads of their younger brothers and sisters? This book will motivate you to thank a veteran for his or her service -- and the vet's family, too.

Visit the author at suzannemorganwilliams.com

Monday, September 25, 2017

Read This Book!

We are in the midst of the 35th annual Banned Books Week which began on September 24th.
I read banned books. Do you?

BAN THIS BOOK by Alan Gratz, Tor/Starscape, 2017

"How can you put into words how a book slips inside of you and becomes a part of you so much that your life feels empty without it?" These are the words of 4th grader Amy Anne Ollinger when she finds out her favorite book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has been removed from her school library book shelves. Note: "not banned, but removed" is the explanation when Amy Anne asks. To Amy Anne it's all the same.

How did this happen? An influential parent has protested the book -- and several others  -- as inappropriate.

Amy Anne does a lot of protesting inside her head until the injustice of it all empowers her. A leader, an organizer, an advocate, a champion. All of these are unleashed as one little girl digs in and learns what our country and our rights are all about.

This is a PPR book. Parents, Please Read! You need to know what is going on inside your child's head that isn't being said out loud.  Thanks to Alan Gratz for making this topic accessible to all ages.

A Reader's Guide is included in the book. All curriculum guidelines are met.

Any mistakes in this review are mine. The book was due at my library and had to be returned because there is a waiting list. I could not double check and re-read and write more as I usually do. The copies I buy will probably not stay in my house long because I will give them away to someone who gets as energized by the topic as I do.

Every title mentioned in BAN THIS BOOK has been banned somewhere sometime. Can you find your favorites? I discovered I've been reading banned books my whole life --  I just didn't know it.

Hillview School Library