The Genius Under the Table ~ About Eugene Yelchin

When Breaking Stalin’s Nose was released in 2012 Matt and I both read it.  I was uncertain how I felt about the story.  I wasn’t sure how I would help readers understand what was happening.  I wondered how I would build context.  I wasn’t sure I could.  Matt said he thought it was important for kids to read so they’d know how different growing up could be depending on when and where you lived.

Fast forward ten years to 2021 when Eugene Yelchin’s memoir for children was released, The Genius Under the Table.  As I read about Yevgeny’s life in the USSR, I couldn’t help but reflect again on how important understanding different growing up stories can be.  Eugene Yelchin has created a video sharing his ideas and questions about what it means to be an artist, an author and a teller of stories.  I think his words and images are important to hear and see.  The link is found here:  About Eugene Yelchin. Please take the time to view it.

In between the reading of these two books, I also read, and was moved by Arcady’s Goal.  It is a fictional story that shares the character’s dream of using a special talent as a way to open up the world of possibility and reduce the strain caused by anxiety and want.

Just as Matt said so many years ago, these books are important.  In writing this post I learned about several other Yelchin books I have yet to read.  I am looking forward to reading and learning through them. I’m also wondering how looking to the past can help us understand our current world.

Happy Reading!📚


The Silver Gate

The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey is set in medieval times, when superstitions ran high, and anything different was seen as an omen or curse.  The people of the village are on edge.  They’ve been dealing with one unexplained hardship after another.  Perhaps, they think, a fairy curse has been set upon them – perhaps, unbeknownst to them,  a changeling lives in the village.  The child must be found and left to die so the rest of the villagers can survive – that is the rumor running throughout the town.

At the start of the story, Elric is running to the village church to get out of torrential spring storm.  The whole village is gathered there for warmth and safety.  Elric is the keeper of the village sheep and he’s lost them all in the storm.  Everyone is cold.  Everyone is angry.  Everyone is working hard.  It is easier to blame the next person for this present. misery.   Elric isn’t looking forward to the cold muddy work of finding the sheep; neither is Hereward the keeper of the town’s pigs.   It seems as though everyone is crowded, uncomfortable and on edge… and then, a baby starts cry.

“Shut him up,” the townspeople yell.  “We’ve been cursed.”

It’s a changeling.”

“Cuthburt take the child and leave it outside where it belongs.  The fairies can just take it back if it’s supposed to live.”

“What does it matter, it’s just a halfwit,” yells Hereward.

That’s all Elric can take.  No one should live in fear of losing their child, half-wit or not.  He helps the mother of the crying baby escape the church mob by throwing a punch at Hereward, the one who in their conversation about lost pigs and sheep had  claimed halfwits had no reason to live.  The brawl was ended by the priest. Elric can’t/won’t explain himself, nor will he apologize, so he leaves.

He leaves to keep his biggest secret.  His mother is hiding and living with his disabled, “halfwit” sister in the forest.  With all the talk or curses, Elric knows he must go and warn them.  What he finds when he arrives sends him forth on a quest he is bound to make to honor the promise he made to his mother, to keep his sister, Wynnfrith, safe.  How can you stay safe when the place you seek is from a fairy tale?  Is it possible that trusting in fairy tales will help Elric and Wynnfrith survive?  Read The Silver Gate  to find out ~ sometimes you have to bring magic of your own to open doors.

This book and its sequel, Into the Nutfell Wood will give you lots to think about.  What gifts matter?  What is the difference between fact and fiction?  What matters most in a life?

Happy Reading! 📚

PS – If you’ve been reading some great books, please share them.  Books are great, but they are better shared.   Leave a comment…write a review… 📖

A Year of Miss Agnes

The Year of Miss Agnes begins:

“What will happen now?” I asked Mamma and we watched the plane take the teacher away.

“Maybe no more school.” Mamma twitched her shoulder a little to show she didn’t care.Mamma never went to school much, just a few months here and there when her family wasn’t trapping or out at the spring muskrat camp.She said she hated school when she was little.”

10-year old Frederika (Fred for short) has had six different teachers already.  Some of them stay the whole school year, but most do not. 

“Sometimes we could see the look on their faces the first week they were here, cleaning out their little cabin, putting up pictures on the walls.  The ones who looked mean from the very first lasted the longest.   It was the ones who smiled all the time and pretended to like everything who didn’t last.”

Coming to teach in a remote Alaskan village is a different kind of challenge.  It’s definitely not for every teacher.   First off, school is an extra – kids attend when they can.   It’s not that schooling isn’t important,  it’s just that survival is more important.  Secondly, there are very few supplies, and what there is are cast-offs from other places.  And finally, if you don’t try to understand the culture and traditions of the children you’re trying to teach, it’s impossible to help anyone learn.

Most of children don’t care much for school.  They go when they can, but they don’t mind missing a week or two.   Fred is different.  She lives with her grandparents, her mom and her deaf sister, Bokko.  Now that her grandparents are older, they don’t do as much fishing, hunting and trapping so Fred is in town.  She likes how school changes things up.  She helps out where she can in the store.  She want to learn to read as fast as Mr. Anderson and she want to write better too, so when Sam,  the bush pilot drops off the new teacher, Fred rushes to check her out.

She is older.  She’s wearing pants.   She’s English and she offers tea and cookies to Fred for the help she has given.  She appreciates Fred for who she is and what she has to offer.  That’s different and exciting.  From that first moment, school is different.  Miss Agnes makes the schoolhouse a place all the kids want to come to.  She cleans the window and fills it with  their art.  She shows them how important they are in the world and their place in history.  Miss. Agnes knows how to make each one of the children feel special.  She highlights their strengths and helps them help each other learn even more.  She even finds a way to include Bokko in school for the first time.

The schoolhouse becomes an exciting place of laughter and learning.  The whole community recognizes the importance of school and learning because. of Miss. Agnes.  A year isn’t very long when it is exciting and full – but a good year can stay with you for a lifetime as you “remember when…” Is a year enough to change everything?  Read A Year of Miss Agnes to find out.

If you’d like to read more about living and growing up on Alaska in the early 1900’s check out these other books terrific by Kirkpatrick Hill:

I loved them!

Happy Reading!📚

A Wolf Called Wander

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry is the story of Swift, a yearling wolf, who loves his life:  his den, his family, his pack, his valley.  Each day is full of challenge and wonder.  Swift has so much to learn, and he is excited to learn it all.  He admires his father.  He admires how his father and mother form a perfect team to ensure the pack’s safety and survival. Right from the start, Swift shows his interest in learning, determination and a kind heart.  He watches everything and remembers all he can.  Swift aspires to be as great a pack leader as his father.

One terrible day, too soon of course, Swift is separated from his home, his family and everything he knows by a rival pack.  Their attack claims his family’s territory – he hears that in his father’s final song and howl.  Too soon Swift finds himself alone, left to figure out how to survive.  

From that day on he begins a seemingly endless journey to find a new home and pack.  On his journey, Swift has to deal with many things he has never encountered before – black rivers (roads), spiked vines (barbed wire), and immature wolves who bring danger by acting in ways Swift’s father would never allow

Swift’s journey is full of danger, hunger, and desperate loneliness. The story was inspired by OR-7, a real wolf naturalists tracked in the wild.  Many facts inspire the twists and turns of Swift’s story.  I really liked the  symbiotic relationship Swift had with a scarred raven.  It made me glad that Swift was not totally alone.  It was even better to learn that ravens and wolves do actually work together for real.  

A Wolf Called Wander is a wonder.  It is a great story – based on the life of a wolf who is alive today.  It is written from the perspective of a wolf so we can live right beside Swift in his joy, confusion, fear and sorrow.

Happy Reading! 📚