A Tangle of Knots

A Tangle of Knotsby Lisa Graff

an intermediate, middle grade delight

Which cake is your perfect match? – let us know.

There’s something special about A Tangle of Knots.  It’s not just the bit of magic that surrounds the people in the story or the questions they seek to answer.  It has to do with the connections that bind them – even though they don’t know each other yet.

The story begins 53 years before the main action of the book when Mason gets on a bus north.  He carries with him a small blue suitcase – a light blue, boxy, three-dimpled St. Anthony’s suitcase.  It contains a single piece of paper defining his future and his fortune.  While waiting for the bus Mason meets a tall man – a man with a talent for knot tying.  In fact, it is this man’s Talent.  You see, most everyone in this place has a special Talent.  Here’s some of what the man says about his:

Could have been blessed with a Talent for finance or medicine.  Even a log-splitting Talent might have done me some good.  But no, I find myself with knot tying.

Well, the only knot I’ve mastered is the one to tie my shoelaces,” Mason admitted.  He couldn’t help it; he liked the odd fellow.  “Every other knot just looks like a tangled mess to me.”

The man in the gray suit thought about that.  “Well, that’s the thing about knots, isn’t it?” he replied after a moment.  “If you don’t know the trick, it’s a muddled predicament.  But in fact each loop of every knot is carefully placed, one end twisting right into the other in a way you might not have expected.  I find them rather beautiful, really.”

His description of a well-done knot is just exactly how Lisa Graff writes her story weaving the lives of Cady, Toby, Marigold, Will, V, Zane, Mrs. Archer and Miss Mallory together with each surprising and satisfying twist.  Will Cady find a way to make another perfect cake?  Will Will be found in time?  What is the secret ingredient that makes each family a uniquely satisfying combination?  Is it fate?  Is it destiny?  It is the unexpected twist in an unnamed knot?

A Tangle of Knots is a satisfying puzzle that will keep you wondering right through to the end.  You may discover your perfect cake along the way, but even if none of Cady’s recipes appeal to you, her story and the writing you’re about discover certainly will.  Like all of this author’s books, A Tangle of Knots is sure to please.

Wild Boy

Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyronby Mary Losure

a piece of history we should all try to know better and understand

This book tells the incredible story of this historical boy – why was he there, how could he survive, what did he wish?  Reading Mary Losure’s, Wild Boy – the Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron helped me answer these questions and then think of more.  The book is incredibly well researched (look here) and beautifully written to tell the story of a life. Where gaps exist in the record, Mary Losure does a masterful job of putting the pieces together so readers have a complete understanding of what this wild boy must have seen and felt during his exposure to the civilized world.  One he must surely have been cast aside from.

As you read you have to wonder about what people and life was like at the turn of the 18th century.  Curious, fearful, scientific, superstitious – whatever combination was  held, the wild boy was captured repeatedly and watched.  He was transported halfway across the country of France in the name of science. But it was through this name, that his humanity was oft times forgotten. (It does seem that we tend to destroy a lot of things in this name.)

As the story unfolds we are able to see Victor grow and change.  We are able to learn as he learns.  We are able to see how he is seen and treated over the course of his lifetime.  And, if we choose, we are able to look inside and ask ourselves what is kind and just. Do we take the time to accept and understand the differences in people around each day?  Do we take time to appreciate our gifts – the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze, the music of rain?  Sometimes this book is troubling and sad.

After dinner, both boys and girls were let out to play in separate parts of the garden.  When he saw the other children the wild boy ran and hid.

Sometimes he crouched in the Institute’s attic behind a pile of old building materials.

But when rain pattered on the roof and everyone else went inside, the wild boy often crept into the garden, to the tiny, formal reflecting pond that sat among the flower beds.  He would circle the pond several times, then sit by it’s edge and rock himself back and forth as the rain dimpled the surface of the pond.  He’d gaze into the water, toss in a handful of dead leaves, and watch them drift.

But it is also full of hope, endurance, friendship and care. This book immerses you in the growing story of Victor’s life as he changes from boy to man.  Though he find a place, he is always kept on the outside, and never fully recognized as human by society.

That was then, but this is now. Could this story happen today?  Wild Boy – the Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron will make you question just how civilized our world really is.  Have we changed? When you consider the contemporary story, The Dogs in Winter by Bobbie Pyron you’ll have to say, “no” or “not much.”   Mary Losure does a wonderful job sharing and highlighting the incredible strength of human spirit and the importance fleeting glimmers of kindness have in a person’s life.

Read Wild Boy – the Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron and wonder.

Timmy Failure – Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Madeby Stephen Pastis

it’s a book I wanted to leave until I thought about it

I am looking forward to finding out what reception is receives in my classroom – thinking it should be in grades 4, 5 and 6

I chose to read this book because it seemed like one my students would like – highly illustrated text, a comic/graphic novel feel.  Timmy Failure (used to be spelled Fayleure) runs a detective agency in and around his boring obligation – school.  Total, his sort-of-pet-found-wandering-around-searching-for-an-iceberg polar bear is his sidekick.  Timmy’s cases don’t go well to begin with.  Total doesn’t make them any better.

Timmy’s friend, Rollo Tookus would definitely make a great sidekick (if not lead detective).  Timmy dismisses his suggestions as foolish though.  After all who would ever want to take the advice of somebody who thinks, studies and takes his GPA seriously.  Timmy is adored by Molly Moskins,  though as with most things, Timmy hasn’t a clue.  Then, of course, there is the girl whose face is obscured from the reader.  She is Timmy’s arch rival and detective competition. She is into school as much as Rollo and rich enough to get what she wants – and because of this  she solves cases faster than Timmy – at least that is what he believes.

Timmy means well for certain, but his intentions and his actions don’t match very often (that is to say, “never.)”  Are you starting to get the picture about Failure Detective Agency?  At first I thought Timmy Failure was too silly, but the more I read the more I realized he has a lot offer his readers.  What happens when things aren’t going so well for your mom?  What happens when you do things you know you shouldn’t  and one thing leads to another and to another and to another and…  Timmy Failure will make you nod in recognition – we’ve all been in that place when things aren’t really working out no matter what we try.  Maybe you’ll laugh or maybe you’ll  think about what it’s like to have bad luck while you’re trying to achieve greatness.  Should you give up?  I don’t think so.  Most things aren’t what they seem – any detective can tell you that.  But you know… mistakes are made.

Odette’s Secrets

Odette's Secretsby Maryann Macdonald

a middle reader must!

Odette’s Secrets begins “I live in Paris…but it is about the change…soldiers march, their legs and arms straight as sticks.  A funny looking man with a mustache shouts a speech.  His name is Hitler.  What are these soldiers?  Why do they move like machines?”  For Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris, nowhere is safe. So when Odette Meyer’s father, an enlisted soldier in the French Army, is sent to a Nazi work camp, Odette’s mother takes measures to protect her.  With the help of her godmother, Madame Marie, and Monsieur Henri Odette is sent deep into the French countryside. There she pretends to be a peasant girl attending Catholic masses with other children. On the outside she is like all the other children.  On the inside, Odette is burning with secrets and questions.  When the war ends Odette must figure out how she can go back to her old life in Paris.  It’s not easy when even the things that are the same –  Mama and Papa, the bed, even the pots and pans – have a totally different feel and understanding.  Secrets are never fully shared even when they are told, especially the secrets that were used for solving problems.

Inspired by the life of the real Odette Meyer, this beautifully flowing free-verse novel is a story of triumph over adversity.  Maryann Macdonald began this project as a biography.  In her author’s note she explains that as she wrote, Odette’s story needed to be told through her feelings and emotion.  Odette needed to speak to us, and through Macdonald, she does.  Her questions and fears, her confusion and understanding, her joy and devastation are artfully shared as her secrets are revealed.  Odette’s Secrets is an astonishing story of determination and care.  The story of how one person was connected to so many others offers a full picture into life at the time – and how life forever after would be changed.  Odette’s Secret is a book to read and read again.

Here’s a link to another blog review with an interview of the author. It’s interesting to know how she came upon this story.