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A Dream Called Home–search for happiness

A Dream Called Home

by Reyna Grande

Torn between two countries, immigrant Reyna Grande seeks to find herself. Is she Mexican or American? Will she ever fit into either culture? Is she destined to metaphorically straddle the border for a lifetime? When her first book was published in 2006, one of her dreams had come true and she had begun “a lifelong quest to advocate for the Mexican immigrant community by sharing our stories with the world.” What she found in the aftermath of its publication, however, is that her story resonates with other immigrant communities as well and even with Native Americans who feel the same struggles to maintain a dual identity, language, and culture.

Reyna’s difficult, abusive childhood is discussed at various points in her memoir A Dream Called Home as it plays a strong and recurrent role in her efforts to work through the emotions of her turbulent past through her writing. She makes mistakes along the way as a college student and as a young adult, but she learns from them and decides to experience them as a part of the growth that shaped her into “a unique individual with a unique voice.”

The memoir is filled with stories of her personal relationships. She realizes that she is subconsciously seeking out the love of her father that she never felt under his roof or when he left his family in poverty to earn money in the United States. Reyna and her siblings wrestle with so many decisions in the U.S., and Reyna has to accept that the pathway to healing and success for her is not the right one for them. Fortunately, she has Chicana professors that become lifelong mentors. Even though Reyna is a talented writer, she also has to learn the difficult business end of publication.

Her stint as an untrained middle school teacher in Los Angeles is both sad and predictable for those familiar with teaching in that climate. She experiences unsupportive parents, disrespectful students, and ever changing assignments and curriculum. A bright light for Reyna is her introduction to folklórico. It revives her own interest in her Mexican heritage and renews an enthusiasm in Mexican culture for her students, many of whom, like Reyna, feel displaced and unsettled.
Reyna’s story can not be summarized in a review. My job is to tell you that A Dream Called Home is a book you should read; it should be a part of your mental catalogue. Regardless of your position on the influx of immigrants currently overwhelming the U.S. and its broken political system, you will find Reyna Grande’s perspective both informative and enlightening if you want to understand the struggles of people desperate to emerge from poverty who are clinging to the hope of the American dream.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Memoir

Notes: Includes pictures that personalize Grande and her experiences

Publication: 2018—Atria

Memorable Lines:

My biggest virtue and my biggest flaw was the tenacity with which I clung to my dreams, no matter how futile they might seem to others. The dream of having a true relationship with my parents was the one I had clung to the most because it was the first dream I’d had, and the farthest from my reach.

“Being in a new country, learning a new language, a new culture, takes time. You will learn. It doesn’t feel that way now, but one day you will be just as comfortable speaking English as you are speaking Spanish. But no matter what, don’t ever forget where you came from, and don’t ever be ashamed of who you are.”

I was finally beginning to understand that it takes as much courage to leave as it does to stay, and that being a parent was way more complicated than I had ever imagined.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–a classic

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the book most people think of when there is mention of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  It is, in fact, the first book he wrote in this popular series, although later he wrote a prequel. I had read the fantasy many years ago. Reading it again was an absolute delight. The erudite medieval literature professor (at Oxford and later at Cambridge) and Christian theologian was a premier storyteller. He engages the reader regardless of age, in the plot, characters, and setting from the first page where he explains that air-raids during the war send four children out of London to live with an old Professor. While playing hide-and-seek, the youngest discovers a magical world accessed through a wardrobe.

From there proceeds an enjoyable story centered around the forces of good and evil. The White Witch is the epitome of evil—beautiful, but cold and cruel. She is a mistress of trickery ensnaring Edmund, the next to the youngest, in a web of deceit, captivating him with delicious Turkish Delight. Aslan is a lion, and he stands for good, rescuing those turned into statues by the White Witch and sacrificing himself.

Part of the beauty of this masterpiece is that it can be read on several levels. C.S. Lewis says in his dedication of the book that “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” That is where I found myself during this reading, but I also read it for its theological underpinnings. Whatever your purpose in reading, you will find The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe both entertaining and fulfilling.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fantasy, Christian

Notes: I read the 50th anniversary edition of the book. The backline illustrations were by Pauline Baynes who was the first illustrator for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the cover art was by Chris Van Allsburg.

Publication: 1950—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas.”

“…if, I say, she had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our  time.”

I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been—if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.

No Vacancy–struggle with religious identity

No Vacancy

by Tziporah Cohen

Life is not always easy as Miriam, an eleven year old, discovers. As her family faces financial distress, she is uprooted and transplanted to a motel in upstate New York. She leaves behind her close friends and spends her summer days helping her family revive the failing motel. Success for the motel would also mean better times for the Whitleys, a generous and kindly couple next door whose granddaughter Kate becomes Miriam’s best friend. When Miriam’s Uncle Mordy suggests it might take a miracle to keep the businesses afloat, Kate and Miriam decide to provide one!

As she is dealing with challenges at the motel, Miriam is trying to understand what it means to be Jewish and why she is different from others in her new community. She also wrestles with a fear of swimming.

Tziporah Cohen’s No Vacancy is a gentle, but thoughtful look at religion, ethics, and community. This work of fiction is aimed at middle schoolers, but I enjoyed reading it. I like Miriam and find that her interactions with other characters as she struggles with being open about being a Jew and about her aquaphobia gives the book more depth. Uncle Mordy shares differences that exist among Jews in practicing their faith. The Catholic priest acts as a counselor without being intrusive or preachy. The interactions between Miriam and Kate demonstrate that differences in faith don’t preclude a happy and healthy friendship.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Groundwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes:  As an adult, I enjoyed this book, so just use this information as the publisher’s intended audience: 

  Grades: 4-7

  Ages: 9-12

Publication:   August 4, 2020—Groundwood Books

Memorable Lines:

Miriam starts to ask herself some prickly questions. Is a lie always a bad thing, even if what comes out of it is good? Does our faith make us so different from one another? And when bad things happen, do we really all have a shared responsibility for the hate in the world?

“It’s not that we can’t get along. We just believe in different things. And while I can be friends with someone who believes in different things than I do, it’s a lot harder to be married to, and raise a family with, someone who is different in these big ways. Not everyone feels that way, and that’s okay. but I do.”

“When someone is different from us,” he says, “sometimes we jump to conclusions instead of taking the time to understand.”

State of the Stacks: Too Soon Edition

I’m reblogging this essay to share with my readers because it contains a great discussion on developmental reading and book choices. I hope you find it as interesting as I do.

Plucked from the Stacks

As a child, reading is a constant period of transitions. A kid usually starts with someone reading picture or board books to them. From there, they might try to tackle wordier texts like easy readers and chapter books. Before long, there’s a pull for longer stories with more complex plots, and that’s when middle grade novels kick in. And as they grow and develop as readers, young adult works wait for them before they drift into the wild and untamed world of adult books.

Of course, every reader is different and, just because a kid moves toward a different style of book, it doesn’t mean they can’t return to an old, trusted format. So while each type of book represents a door for readers, it’s an open one— one they can pass back and forth to suit their moods. It’s how adults can still find joy in picture books.

However…

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The Library of Ever–unforgettable library adventures

The Library of Ever

by Zeno Alexander

The Library of EverLenora is a rich, privileged, eleven year old, cared for by a nanny in the absence of her vacationing, neglectful parents. With a nanny absorbed by shopping and tech devices, Lenora is understandably bored, but that changes quickly when she escapes the nanny’s unwatchful eye in the LIBRARY. To her delight, she is hired to work there. What follows is a series of magical librarian adventures. With each one of them, Lenora proves her worth and advances from Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian up through the ranks.

The adventures are fun and scary in this amazing library created by Zeno Alexander in The Library of Ever. Lenora is set on tasks by Malachi, the Chief Answerer, and she bravely confronts the Forces of Darkness who want to destroy Light in the world by destroying knowledge. The scary features are appropriate to Middle Grade readers with transporting by tubes, shrinking and unshrinking, dark caverns, holes that suddenly appear, evil men in bowler hats who can chill a room, and robots with spinning swords for arms.  There are lighter moments too. Lenora becomes a cat in a diorama to rescue a lost kitten. Lenora is ever helpful, for as a librarian that is her job. Her good deeds include resettling a colony of penguins and helping a kindly robot find a lost memory. The plot moves quickly from adventure to adventure and is an appropriate length for Middle Grade readers. As an adult reader I enjoyed it too, smiling over antics and anticipating each new adventure along with each promotion for Apprentice Librarian Lenora who has always enjoyed the adventures to be found in books.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes: Ages: 8-11

  Grades: 4-7

Publication:  April 30, 2019—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Memorable Lines:

Malachi burst onto the scene looking rather disheveled, meaning a wisp of hair had escaped from her bun and her badge was ever so slightly askew.

“This isn’t the Complaints Desk,” said Lenora shortly. “The Complaints Desk is down the stairs, across the hall, over the bridge, past the waterfall, then you take the fifth left after the third right and straight on ’til morning.” Lenora had no idea if there was a Complaints Desk. “You’ll also need ice skates.”

Remember, Lenora, you are not alone in this fight, even if it will feel like that sometimes. You have allies, and you can rely on them to help you with the battles you are not yet ready to fight.

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