|Christmas Eve with the fam.|
I thoroughly enjoyed Bud, Not Buddy. Set in the Great Depression, and starring a young orphan, it is certainly a bumpy ride, but an entertaining one--and one with an overall happy ending.
Bud himself is a supremely likable character. He likes having a good time and is quite street savvy, but he is also a hard worker and a very polite and well-intended boy. The story is punctuated with his "Rules for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself." Things like, "When an adult tells you they need your help with a problem get ready to be tricked- most times this means they just want you to go fetch something for them." Or "If you got to tell a lie, make sure it's simple and easy to remember." Or "If an adult tells you not to worry, and you weren't worried before, you better hurry up and start 'cause you're already running late." He's developed quite a list of these rules because he's been forced to take fend for himself for much of his short life. Bud grew up without knowing his father. When he was six years old his mother died and Bud was moved into a group home for orphans. It isn't the same as having a real home, but he's not abused or anything there and he strongly relies on the remembered life he had with his mother.
At the start of the story he goes to live with a foster family who are not nice people, especially their son, Todd. In one scene the bully shoves a pencil up Bud's nose while he's asleep which actually made me slap my own hands over my face in sympathy pains. Bud hits the kid. I'm not saying that was the right response, but especially given the setting of the story it wasn't so bad. Still, the parent's always take their son's side and they lock Bud in a shed for the night intending to send him back to the home the next day.
After his escape from the shed he heads to the library. I absolutely adored the way the library and librarians were presented in the story. The library is a magical place for Bud. He can lose himself and the cares of life by spending a whole day reading. The friendly librarians always help him find the information he wants--say, the distances between Flint (where he lives) and Grand Rapids (where he think's his dad lives).
Bud has an old cardboard suitcase full of keepsakes from his mom including some fliers for a jazz musician named Herman E. Calloway. A series of things--some valid and others superstitious--lead Bud to believe Herman Calloway (Mr. C) is his father. So he hits the road to Grand Rapids to meet him. This doesn't go well. First off, Bud is disappointed to find out Mr. C is quite old and mean-spirited. He hits it off with Mr. C's band though. They were my favorite characters. They're sharp and sassy and over all just a barrel of laughs. I think it does Bud a lot of good to finally have some male role models and guides. They even buy him his own instrument and start giving him lessons. I don't want to spoil the really solid twist at the end, but I'll say that Bud is wrong about Mr. C being his father, but he finds his home and his family none the less.
Race inequality is an undercurrent of the story. For example, when Bud is hanging out in the "Hooverville" outside of Flint there is only one white family there. They who won't take any of the food, fire, or blankets offered them by the other refugees since they're white and don't need charity from black folks. ...even though their baby is sick and coughing. It really illustrated how dumb such racism and (self) segregation is. Mr. C's band has one white member and he arranges all of their gigs for them so that by the time people realize they've hired a non-white band to play their polkas it is too late to find another band. I thought that was a really clever way to game such an unfair system.
The book was made all the cooler when I read the author's note at the end. While definitely fictionalized for the novel the author based Mr. C and Lefty Lewis on the lives of his own grandfathers. There was even a picture of them on the last page.
|A friend of ours organized the renting of a limo so a group of us could go on a Christmas light cruise together. It was incredibly fun.|
A Year Down Yonder was a really fun story to read, populated with interesting characters and a good deal of old-fashioned charm. Grandma in particular was an amazing character. I can't say I always approved of her methods, but she was fair and kind in her way. The story is that of Mary Alice Dowdel who is sent from her home in Chicago to live with her country grandma for a year as the family has fallen on hard times due to the Great Depression. Mary Alice doesn't want to give up her city life to go live with the strong personality that is her grandmother. By the end of the book though she doesn't want to go back to Chicago, finding comfort and belonging in the tangled web of small town life.
Mary Alice has a bit of a hard time settling in when she first gets there though and her Grandma doesn't seem used to sharing a house with someone else, having lived alone since her husband's death. Grandma is a resourceful, feisty, intelligent woman who knows how to get what she wants without really breaking the rules. Take the pecans, as an example. Grandma is told she can have all the fallen pecans on a neighboring farm. There are not many. Grandma solves this problem by taking a tractor and bumping it into the trunk of the tree causing a shower of pecans for them to collect. This struck me (and Mary Alice) as stealing, but then Grandma served every single slice of her pecan pie at a community gathering where there otherwise would have been slim pickings. It wasn't as if she stole for personal gain then, but for the benefit of the entire town. Grandma's mind worked logic like that. She also looked after the needy on the sly, in a way that didn't make it seem like she was helping them. I imagine she didn't want to injure their pride, nor develop a reputation as a softy.
Mary Alice's brother is off working for the CCC during the book and sends her postcards from his travels. One of the postcards was from the Fort Peck Dam which I appreciated on a personal note. I spent a lot of time at Fort Peck growing up and much of my family still lives around there. There is also a man who comes to town as part of the WPA's scheme to get artist's back to work by having them paint murals on/in public buildings and rooms at Grandma's house. He causes quite a stir--the scene in the book shocked me by its contrast to the quaint scenes from the rest of the story--when he attempts to paint the postmistress as a nude. A snake ruins the portrait session and sends the postmistress running through town stark naked. Grandma's blasts a shotgun into the sky to make sure that the sleepy town gets to their windows in order to see the spectacle. She didn't approve of the nude being painted under her roof and I guess that was her way of saying so.
A Year Down Yonder is the middle book of a trilogy, but I had no problem reading it as a standalone with great enjoyment. Still, I added the others to my To-Read list for some other day.
|I saved all the lids from the paper boxes at the library and made Johnny--a box loving cat if there ever was one--a sprawling cardboard obstacle course for Christmas. With bonus wrapping paper!|
While reading A Single Shard I identified another common theme running through these Newbery books--finding a sense of belonging. I may have touched on this already, but reading A Year Down Yonder and A Single Shard in such rapid succession made the connection unavoidably obvious. We all want to belong, I guess, and kids are a prime target for the message since they're so deeply in self-discovery mode.
A Single Shard is the story of an orphaned boy named Tree-ear living in 12th century Korea. He lives under a bridge with another village outcast called Crane-man. Crane-man was born with a leg "shriveled and twisted" and was not expected to survive. He defied the odds and outlived the rest of his family, though he was never able to make a livelihood for himself. After his family was gone he had to sell off his possessions, ultimately including the family home, to survive. After losing his home he moved under the bridge which is where Tree-ear found him. While their life is hard--living rough and scrounging for food in garbage dumps--they have made a sort of family together which makes it bearable. They help each other and make each other's lives easier. Crane-man tells Tree-ear stories, teaches him tips on survival, serves as his moral guide, and is basically a father-figure to him. "Scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself."
Tree-ear is fascinated by pottery--a specialty of their region. He secretly observes the potter Min for months, learning as much as he can by watching and developing a tremendous enthusiasm for the craft. One day he sneaks onto Min's porch to have a closer look at some fresh pieces set out to dry and accidentally breaks one. Min catches and beats Tree-ear, who then begs to work off the broken piece through his labor. After working off his debts he ask Min if he can stay on as his assistant, dreaming of the day the master potter will let him try the wheel instead of hauling wood and digging clay and other menial tasks. Little did he know.
Min is hard on Tree-ear, but Min's wife much more quickly takes to him--making sure he is fed, clothed, and asking that he call her "Auntie" which means a lot to a boy who has no memories of his family and has only known kindness from Crane-man. Eventually it is because of his affection for Min's wife that Tree-ear embarks on a risky journey to take his master's work to the capitol in hopes of earning a royal pottery commission. Getting a commission is a big deal. It means steady money, work, and security for life--as long as the quality of work remains high. Leaving Crane-man to embark on this journey is very hard on both of them.
It is also straight up dangerous for Tree-ear who meets bandits along the way. Worse than simply robbing Tree-ear though, the thieves break Min's pottery examples. Tree-ear has only a single shard to demonstrate his Master's skill to the royal court. Fortunately, it is enough. Not only does the shard earn Min a royal commission, the journey earns Tree-ear a real name, a place at the pottery wheel, and most importantly, a family. He certainly experiences loss along the way, but it was a lovely story over all.
|Making sugar cookies.|
This was a fun adventure to read and once again a story of a young person finding their place in the world. Crispin spends most of his life not having a name. He and his mother lead a very impoverished life as serfs. It is Crispin's understanding that this is how God has ordered the world. He doesn't pity himself his lowly position because he believes it is God's will and who is he to question God's will?
When his mother dies Crispin is left with nothing. The landowner's greedy Steward, John Aycliffe, demands Crispin's beast of burden as a death tax and so strips him of his meager livelihood. That soon becomes the least of his worries though. John Aycliffe sets a rumor about that Crispin robbed him and designates him as a "Wolf's Head," meaning he is less than human and anyone could--and should--kill him at first sight. This sends Crispin on the lamb, literally running for his life. Right before he departs though he visits the local priest because he had always been good to Crispin's mother. The priest give Crispin a few clues about his mother's past that he finds hard to believe and immediately made the reader know there were some twists and turns ahead. The priest tells Crispin that he was baptized under that name, the first Crispin has heard of it. He also learns that his mother could read and write. These activities were almost exclusively the domain of priests and certainly not expected from a peasant woman. Before the priest can divulge more though he is murdered and Crispin is baffled and alone in the world, with a death sentence on his head.
Crispin's fortune changes when he meets a traveling entertainer (or murmurer) called Bear. Bear is a giant of a man who dazzles Crispin with his ability to juggle, make music, and interact with a range of people comfortably. Crispin believe himself to be lower than dirt and acts accordingly, as such, the world treats him as dirt, too. Bear quickly works to remedy this. He takes Crispin on as his apprentice, teaching him to play the recorder and how to act when working a crowd.
Two threads converge in the town of Great Wexly. Bear is helping stir up a rebellion intent on getting rid of the unfair feudal system they live under. He won't accept that the adage It-it-what-it-is and instead dreams of a world of Let-it-be-what-it-could-be! Coupled with Bear's treacherous activities, Crispin is still a wanted man. They barely make it out of Great Wexly alive.
Bear is a really fun character. He appears gruff and unfriendly, but is a very caring and generous person. He was trained as a priest, but ran away and took up with traveling minstrel types. "My companions taught me better languages; the language of song, of hand, of foot. And most of all, of laughter." He almost immediately acts toward Crispin as a father, which is something Crispin has never known. Bear helps Crispin develop a trade and a freedom he could barely have imagined at the start of the story. Crispin realizes that every human has value, even a lowly peasant boy like him.
It was interesting to read a book set in this medieval era. There are villages empty because of "The Great Mortality," which is a very real and recent catastrophe. Feast Days are the only way to keep track of the date (i.e. Crispin knows he was born St. Giles Day, but not what date that is) and the chiming of the church bells are the only way to keep track of the time in any specific way. I enjoyed the colorful language and hope to remember some of it for our next Renaissance Fair--By the Devil's own spit, by the bowels of Christ, the Devil take your hurts, God mend all, by God's holy wound, and so on.
A couple of ideas I really appreciated:
-The greater a person's ignorance of the world the more certain they are that they're at the center of it.
-If you have to chose between alertness and worry, being alert will help you live longer.
|Christmas Day brunch at Ryan and Bek's place.|
I had a feeling that I'd enjoy this book and I was totally right. It was an awesome story--a classic Knights and Princesses adventure saga, but with the wonderful twist of mixing humans and animal characters so that the knight is a wee little mouse. Like so many others in this Newbery project it is a finding-your-place-in-the-world-self-discovery-be-true-to-yourself sort of story. There are two such stories woven through the pages actually--one involving humans (Princess Pea and Miggery Sow) and the other the more diminutive animal members of the castle (the rats and the mice).
The star of the show and namesake is Despereaux. He is an undersized, runty little mouse, the only one to survive from his litter. He was born with his eyes open which was so strange it caused quite the kerfuffle. Despereaux would continue to cause alarm with his strangeness as he grew up. He just wasn't like the rest of the mice, no matter how his family tried to show him the proper ways that mice behaved. It was during one of these lessons--learning how to eat glue and paper in the library--that Despereaux is exposed to books and reading and by extension a code of honor and courtly love. He is also the only one of his kind that can hear music. He is enchanted by these honey sounds. By following them one day, he meets the Princess and the King...and changes his life--and the lives of lots of others around him. See, the mouse code declares that any mouse who reveals himself to humans--and Despereaux went to far as to talk to them!--must be banished the the dungeon where rats and certain death reside. No one expects to see him again. Even his own father sends him off to his death because he Despereaux is different and being different isn't allowed.
While down in the dungeon though Despereaux learns of a plot between a very clever and disillusioned rat named Roscuro and a rather dimwitted and mistreated servant girl named Miggery Sow. They intent to trap his beloved Princess in the dark, horrible dungeon forever. His heart bursting with love and adoration for the Princess, Despereaux defies all odds in his attempt to save the her from this dreadful fate.
Despereaux is an easy to love knight in fuzzy armor. I have to say though, the villians in this book were harder to hate. The author did a good job of relating their history so as to place them in context. Both Miggery and Roscuro has unfortunate things happen to them which left them hardened and easy to manipulate, burning with a desire for revenge. I felt bad for both of them, especially Miggery Sow who never had a nice thing done to her, basically, and was made deaf through abuse. Roscuro, like Despereaux actually, just wanted more from life than was deemed permissible by his culture. He was just different, too.
It all works out in the end, of course, and was a lovely adventure a long the way. I mean, the story was good and then to imagine a tiny mouse sized knight--complete with sewing needle sword--was just really great. Very enjoyable. I also liked the way the author addressed the reader throughout. Things like, "Reader, you did not forget about our small mouse?" when the plot jumps from Miggery's tale back to Despereaux's. I just requested a copy of the movie adaptation through the library. I bet I'll like that a whole lot. Feature-length cartoons are often my favorite movies.
The name of this book translates to something like "glittering" or "sparkling" from Japanese. It is the story of a Japanese family who moves to Georgia in the 1950s. It was a sad and distressing book, really. Lovely in its way, but that's my overall impression: such a sad story!
When the family's Japanese grocery story fails they're forced to leave behind their Japanese-American community and move to the Deep South for jobs at a chicken hatcery. There isn't a strong Japanese community there though and they can't find a place to fit, really. They're not white, but they're not black either and in the 1950s that was an especially big deal. This leaves them without a real sense of connection to their new neighbors and community.
Katie and Lynn are sisters and very close. Katie looks up to Lynn a lot and Lynn helps Katie navigate their new world, explaining why people stare and encouraging Katie to find all the kira-kira (glittering) positives in life. Lynn always thinks there is good, if you look for it.
Then Lynn gets cancer...and thing go very badly for the family. There isn't enough money, they have to move house, Lynn's friends start to drop her, and everyone is gripped with a sense of hopelessness. I can only imagine.. When Lynn eventually dies their normally reserved and dignified father totally loses it and, in a fit of grief over his daughter's death and the injustices of the world, smashes up the fancy car of his rich (and uncaring) boss. He later owns up to it, because that was the right thing to do and he wants to set an example for Katie, even though it means he loses his job.
Katie reads her sister's diary after her death and this seems very therapeutic for her. Plus, Lynn had made a will, of sorts, and expressed her dreams and desires for her family as they went on without her. Katie realizes that she has to go on living, keeping her sister's memory alive and relishing in all the things that make our days have beauty and meaning. All the things that are kira-kira. I like that sentiment a lot.
|My mama double-fisting peanutbutter toast. I take after her in so many ways.|
I liked the format of this story more than the story itself, I'd say. More to the point, I liked how the criss-crossed, interwoven narratives--Hector, Phil, Lenny, and Debbie--lived up to the book's title. The story itself was only okay, but the way it was told was pretty cool.
I especially enjoyed the thread of the story where Debbie starts helping out an elderly German neighbor. There was also a thread that reminded me of myself a little bit. After seeing a guitar player perform live Hector signs himself up for guitar lessons. They end up being not nearly as cool as he might have thought, though he certainly learns things and it exposes him to new people and experiences. I took guitar lessons once a week with a mixed group of townsfolk that struck me as very similar. I'm not sure I learned as much as Hector did.
There was a necklace that got passed around between several of the characters. I'm almost wondering if there wasn't some sort of significance there that I am overlooking. It seemed like it was going to lead to some sort of big reveal, but really didn't. So, I don't know what that was all about.
It wasn't a bad book or anything, I just didn't come away with a lot to say about it, I guess.
|Playing Spoons at the Christmas Day brunch.|
This was a short and sweet little read, funny, too. Lucky is a youngster living in the California desert country in a teeny trailer park town called Hard Pan. Lucky's dad never wanted kids and so has basically nothing to do with her aside from mailing support checks. This works out okay until Lucky's mom dies in a freak accident. Her dad finds her a new Guardian so he can continue his absence from her life. Her new Guardian is actually her dad's first wife, a French woman named Brigitte. It was initially supposed to be just a temporary arrangement, but that was two years ago.
The story centers around Lucky coming to the conclusion that Brigitte is going to resign as her Guardian and go back to France with the result that Lucky will become a ward of the state or sent to a foster home. It seems like maybe there is too much sand and snakes and not enough fresh food and civilization for Brigitte. Lucky is trying to find her "Higher Power" so that she can convince Brigitte to stay. She knows about Higher Powers because one of her hobbies is eavesdropping on all the 12 step meetings in town--over-eaters, alcoholics, smokers, gamblers. This is, by and large, an amusing pastime. She does overhear some rather personal things she really shouldn't though--since it is supposed to be anonymous--about her friends and fellow townspeople.
Eventually Lucky decides to run away into the desert surrounding town. In a dust storm. She has a half baked idea that this will help. That Brigitte won't leave. Or that she'll realize how much she loves her. Or something. Fortunately this doesn't go at all as planned and, after causing a lot of alarm, she is found and returned to town--and to Brigitte. Her Guardian tells Lucky that she's going to officially adopt her---that's what all the travel preparations and other "warning" signs of change had been about--and so it all ends better than Lucky could have imagined.
When I logged the book in my Goodreads account I was informed that it is the first book in the Hard Pan trilogy. I requested them from the library. I'm curious to see how it all turns out for Lucky, Brigitte, Miles, Short Sammy, and all the rest of the Hard Pan folks.
|Johnny always gets what she wants for Christmas: paper and boxes.|
I inadvertently read this book twice for this project--just recently and back in November. Going off memory alone I thought it was up next in the roster, but I'd confused it with A Visit To William Blake's Inn and failed to notice until I went to write my review. Aside from the fact they're poems and heavy on the old-fashioned illustrations they're not really that similar, but... I am actually happy about this mix-up though because Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is a great book. One of my favorite Newbery books thus far. The illustrations are based on an illuminated manuscript and are quite charming. There is a map of the village in the front and before reading the monologue I'd locate the speaker on the map. The text is a series of monologues intended to give the reader a glimpse into the interconnected workings of a Medieval village--from the lowly beggar scamming a meager existence to the Lord's nephew hunting a wild boar to prove his manhood with all sort of stops along the way. Many of the poems are related in a way that I thoroughly enjoyed--making brief mention of characters who'd already had their chance to speak. Interspersed between the monologues were short essays offering further explanation about medieval life--the art of falconry, relations between Jews and Christians, the three field system, and so on. There were also helpful historical tidbits in the footnotes which accompanied each monologue. The poem where the Jewish boy and the Christian girl find common ground skipping stones together was brilliantly written--I immediately turned around and read it again; it was that good. The whole book was lovely though--informative, entertaining, and beautifully illustrated. In November when I read it out of order I knew I'd have no objection to reading it in entirety once again when I actually hit the 2000s. A "happy accident" as Bob Ross would say.
I'd read this book back in 2017 and remembered liking it a lot. I gave it a four-star rating then. I bumped it up to a five-star this time though. It is a really cool story. A tiny bit spooky, incredibly imaginative, and just...really cool.
Nobody Owens--Bod--is "the living boy" who resides in a sprawling and ancient hilltop cemetery. He inadvertently escaped an assassination attempt that killed his parents and sister and tottered into the graveyard up the hill from his house. The ghosts--especially the couple that would become his new parents--refused to let him be killed when they see the assassin, The Man Jack, attempting to finish the horrific deed. Eventually the ghosts hold a council and agree to give Bod "the freedom of the graveyard."
By and large Bod is happy growing up in the graveyard. He has his ghostly new parents--Mr and Mrs. Owens--and a guardian who is neither living nor dead--Silas. The spectral residents of the cemetery teach him history, reading, writing, medicine, and so much more: how to Fade from sight, how to move through slabs of marble and locked doors, how to see at night.
Things get more complicated as Bod matures. He can't understand why everyone is so fixated on keeping him "safe," or why he isn't allowed out of the graveyard into the living world. He meets a young girl, Scarlett, as she explores the graveyard (which is also a nature preserve) and develops his first friendship with a living person. Her family assumes that Bod is an imaginary friend. She moves away, but moves back again toward the end of the book. Then Silas starts to disappear for weeks at a time without explanation, leaving Bod in the care of another being who is neither-living-nor dead called Miss Lupescu. Bod starts to feel really put upon and begins to push his boundaries. This is how he meets the witch buried in unconsecrated ground at the edge of the cemetery. Meeting her leads him to leave the safety of the graveyard which is when he finds out about The Man Jack.
Eventually he must use his knowledge of the cemetery to save Scarlett and himself, not to mention defeat a small mob of bad guys known as The Jacks of All Trade, of which The Man Jack is but one member. Bod learns that he has been prophesied to defeat the Jacks and bring about an end to their evil order. This is why they were after him when he was just a baby.
As the book draws to a close Bod realizes that as he matures to manhood he is losing his ability to Fade and move through the crypt walls, etc. He is losing the freedom of the graveyard. Silas and his parents explain to him that he must leave the graveyard and go out into the world--that everyone in the graveyard has already had their own life, however long or short it might have been, and that Bod has to do the same.
This is a book that I sure wished had a sequel! If there was one I'd read it in a heartbeat! It seemed like the ending was just another beginning. I suppose that's saying something in its own right.
|We got a Party Light for Christmas from Matt's brother. It's pretty fun, I gotta say.|
For more on my Read-Every-Newbery-Winner project see the decade specific posts: 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s.