Flora and Ulysses

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresFlora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is funny, touching, thought-provoking and nutty.  It is an amazing combination of things.  At first is seems impossible that a vacuum cleaner and a squirrel, a round-headed girl and romance novel writing mother can fit together in one story.  Add in temporarily blind great nephew (William Spivers), a shepardess lamp named Mary Jane, typewriters, poetry and comic book phrases and it seems impossible for a story to emerge, but it does.

Holy Bagumba!  It does.

In the opening pages of the book, Tootie Tickham is given a Ulysses 2000X multi-terrain vacuum cleaner for her birthday.  Flora Belle Buckman, the Tickman’s neighbor, watches as Mrs. Tickman is dragged into the yard by the wildly sucking machine and witnesses the horror of a squirrel being sucked into the vacuum.  The squirrel causes the vacuum cleaner to stop and Flora rushes out to see what she can do.

Being an avid reader of The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto, along with her favorite bonus comics “TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU!”, Flora has a great deal of knowledge and information to bring to this situation.  She gently administers CPR to the squirrel .

“The squirrel was a little unsteady on his feet.

His brain felt larger, roomier.  It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn’t even known existed) had suddenly been flung wide.

Everything was shot through with meaning, purpose, light.

However the squirrel was still a squirrel.

And he was very hungry.  Very.”

From that moment on you’ll be on Flora and the squirrel’s (named Ulysses after the vacuum that nearly took him out of this world) side, hoping they’ll find a place in the world that is accepting, safe and thoughtful.

You can’t help but love each of the characters for their quirks, their honesty and their willingness to go on in a much less than perfect world.  Holy Bagumba!

Those who read for the words – their flow and phrasing can’t help but be thrilled.  I enjoyed every page of Flora and Ulysses.  What did you think?

The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root

The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Rootby Christopher Pennell

a mysterious fantasy for intermediate readers who love a  great story

Carly can’t sleep at night.  It is impossible for her and this makes her life hard.  It means she rarely sees the aunt she lives with.  Being 11 she still has to go to school and trying to sty awake for the lessons is nearly impossible.  Her teacher is not very patient and her classmates stay away from her because she is peculiar.

She is different, but that difference is what allows her to see and notice things no one else does.  She sees the squash on the roof.  She hears the music in the breeze and she has started talking to Lewis, her friend the rat.  Lewis plays the violin.  He asks Carly to play the horn and he shares the changes that are happening in the wood.  Something is wrong – the owls have stopped dancing and are capturing the rat musicians.  The cozy peaceful feeling of the wood and the town has been replaced by a sinister, insincere silence.  And it seems as though Carly will be the only one able to collect all the pieces of the stories from the past to save the woods and the beautiful, magical whistle root trees.

I love how the idea of flying by being able to find the handholds in the wind.  I think that stories of the past are important to remember and that tales may not always be “just stories.”  This story is gentle and fierce, funny and serious all at the same time.

The book begins:  “In a small town called Whistle Root, rats play music in the moonlight.  They play on the very rooftops there.  You can hear them if you listen closely in the middle of the night when there’s a slight breeze blowing.  Who knows why they like breezes, but they do.  And moonlight.  You’ll never hear a rat playing music with out moonlight.

The music can be scary.  It sounds as if someone left the radio playing in the closet.  But if you’re brave enough to look in the closet, you won’t find any thing.  And if you’re even braver and look out your window, the music will stop completely.

All of which leads me to the story of a girl named Carly who looked out the window of her upstairs room one night and saw a squash sitting on the roof.”

And from that beginning you’ll be carried off into the magic and monsters, the wonders and worries of Whistle Root.

The Third Door

The Third Doorby Emily Rodda

the final book of the trilogy – very satisfying and surprising – a perfect way for a quest to end

The third door, the wooden door is the one that has been calling Rye and now it is his time to go on the quest of his choosing.  He went through the gold door, found Dirk and brought him home to Weld.  He went through the silver door, found Sholto and brought him back to Weld too.  But Weld is still in danger from the vicious skimmers and Rye cannot rest until he has found a way to undo this evil.  Why is it something Weld must endure?

The land beyond the third door is so familiar – eerily so.   Rye has to figure out what is going on and how Fell and Riverside are connected to his hometown.  Just at the beginning of this leg of the journey Rye is separated from Sonia and his brothers. He loses his memory for a time, but Rye knows there is a mystery hiding behind the shadows and that all is not what it seems. He knows that something must be undone if his family and all the people he has met through his quest are going to survive and live without fear.

Reading The Third Door will have you thinking about families and stories, kindnesses and grudges, forgiveness and jealousy.  How do we honor differences of opinion? What do you choose?  What is important?

Same Sun Here

Same Sun Hereby Silas House and Neela Vaswani

297 pages of letters telling the story of deepening friendship that middle school readers will enjoy and think about – the world is an amazing place

Each year I share the poem Books to the Ceiling by Arnold Lobel with kids in my class.  I adapt it a bit at the end to say “I’ll have snow white hair by the time I read them” rather than a long beard.  That poem is certainly true for me right now.  I have books everywhere waiting to be read.  I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the titles I want to tell you about and all the rest patiently waiting their turn to be opened.

It took me a year to get to Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani.  This book begs to be read aloud and in two voices if you can.  The story is told through the pen pal letters written by River Dean Justice from coal country in Kentucky and Meena Joshi, living in New York City’s Chinatown.  They share everything in their letters – they share their quirks and weirdnesses with each other because through these letters they feel they can let the true selves show.

People who don’t know River might assume he is an uneducated hillbilly.  He tells Meena that’s what a lot of people think.  Big shot businessmen are buying up all the land so they can remove the top of the mountain and take out all the coal.  They think that money can buy everything and since they’ll be leaving when the mountains are gone, they don’t care that the water is polluted or the land isn’t fit for living on.

People who don’t know Meena might assume she is trying to take advantage of this country.  She tells River of how hard her family works and how much to they do to help their neighbor Mrs. Lau so they can stay in the rent control apartment she is allowing them to use.  Meena’s family can’t afford to live anywhere else so they can’t be found out or they’ll be forced to leave.  All of their life has to fit easily into a box so it can disappear if the landlord comes and questions.  Meena is always afraid of losing the life she has because there is no other option.

River and Meena are very different, but very much the same.  Their voices are caring, brave and strong.  Their families are committed to making things better for their children – but they aren’t always able to do that.  The twists and turns and connections of these two friends will surprise, concern and delight you.  River and Meena develop a strong friendship through their letters.  They share so much about themselves and their lives that they will become your friends too.  You’ll be cheering and gasping, hoping and sighing right along with them.

I loved this book.  I hope it is read all over.  It shares lives and places that are not often written about in a way that is real and honest.  Being able to share your own true self is a wonderful gift.