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Exit West

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

Exit West

Mohsin Hamid

“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”– Tom Stoppard

A book about immigration. Nativism. Globalization. War. Terrorism. Extremism. Love… And I read about all this in a single afternoon, which didn’t seem right. These things are complex and should sprawl page upon infinite page.

But, Mohsin Hamid was able to cover all these themes in a mere 229 pages. That’s all Mr Hamid? Surely you’d need more?

Saeed and Nadia live in an unnamed Middle Eastern city that becomes a war zone not unlike Aleppo, Syria. They have jobs and lives and Saeed has a mother and father he loves. Nadia has independence, which she loves. They find each other and form a strong bond. Saeed falls in love, Nadia isn’t sure. They are intimate, but don’t have sex because Saeed wants to wait until they’re married. Unfortunately, life, and war gets in the way of their budding relationship. The city falls to the militants, and they know they have to escape.

There are rumors of doors. Doors to other parts of the world. If you can find one of these doors you can escape.

I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that Saeed and Nadia find a door, and escape their city. In fact this happens on about page 100. The rest of the book follows Saeed and Nadia as they enter and exit places that greet them as immigrants.

At times apocalyptic, ultimately there was a sense of hope. A hope for a future without borders and walls. A hope for a world where we are all people, and that’s enough.

[{There was a wonderful quote about the apocalypse happening, but the world not ending, just remaking itself, but I didn’t mark the quote, and can’t find it, so just imagine I did, and that’s how I ended this review}]

If you could walk through a door and go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

#Resist And Buy Books For Kids!

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

I recently saw that there was a movement to send books to Trump-y because he doesn’t like to read. My initial instinct was “yeah, cool, send him a book’! But then I thought, shoot, no, don’t do that, the books will probably get burned, and you know he’s not going to read them. But still, I like the idea of sending people books, but who wants them?

Well, kids want them! And with Betsy DeVos as our new (I want to hiss every time I think about it) education secretary, children will need all the books we can send them!

If you know a teacher ask him or her if you can buy or donate books to their classroom! Also, school libraries lack funding to buy new books, so see if you can donate to the school librarian.

Also, women’s shelters, community centers, daycares… would be excellent places to donate.

So, what do kids want to read? Well I’m sure there are some kids out there still reading what we read when we were kids, like Judy Blume, Goosebumps, The Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, etc. BUT, what they really want is new and contemporary titles that are relevant to their lives. They love graphic novels and comic books. They love animals and nature. They love to be engaged, so here’s some books you can buy and donate. I tried to sort them by age!

** Here’s a link to Seedlings, which is a website for braille books. Ask schools if they have blind or visually impaired students, because let me tell you- it’s hard getting book for kids with visual impairments, and they often don’t have access to the same amount of books as sighted students! (This one’s close to my heart)**

Baby- 5 (probably also 6, maybe even 7!)

 Sandra Boynton– all of her books are wonderful, but my personal favorite is The Belly Button book. I ADORE this book soooo much! Also, kids like it too!

The Pout- Pout Fish, by: Deborah Diesen

We read this book to Norah so much when she was younger- I still have it memorized. Its rhythmic text and colorful pictures make it especially engaging for the wee- ones.

Bark, George, by: Jules Feiffer

George can cluck like a chicken and moo like a cow, but poor George has lost his bark! Can a veterinarian help him get this bark back? Any book involving goofy animals is on my radar!

Mini Myths, by: Joan Holub

A very early introduction to ancient Greek myths! My favorite: Brush Your Hair, Medusa. Totally fun, and they’re board books, so great chew toys as well.

Wolfie the Bunny, by: Amy Dyckman

I’m going to say this book would fit best in the younger age group, but my six- year old niece still loves it, so it would be appropriate for older kids too.

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!, by: Karen Beaumont

An overzealous little girl with paint and a paintbrush can’t help but paint everything. You must sing the rhyming text (you won’t be able to just READ it!), and I can’t help but get it stuck in my head whenever I “read” it, or think about it… like right now.

Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball, by: Vicki Churchill

Yeah, for real, who doesn’t?

Say Hello to Zorro, by: Carter Goodrich

I love dogs. Funny and short.

Interrupting Chicken, by: David Ezra Stein

I’m going to put this book in the younger age group, but like Wolfie the Bunny, this would definitely be appropriate for older kids too! This is one of my absolute FAVORITE picture books! Little chicken’s voice must be read with a lisp, and you MUST read her (?) him(?) enthusiastically! YOU MUST! Don’t ruin it!

Oliver Jeffers’ books, because they’re beautifully illustrated and they have a conscience.

Elephant and Piggie, by: Mo Willems (really anything by Mo Willems)

Great for beginning readers, or just early listeners! Fun, engaging, and check out this New Yorker interview with the author. Everything about Elephant and Piggie is a conscious effort to engage young readers.

Ordinary People Change the World (series), by: Brad Meltzer

This could be a first biography for many kids. Meltzer introduces kids to: Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, Lucille Ball, Helen Keller, and Martin Luther King Jr. Meltzer’s books are short, but engaging, and highlight only the best parts of his subjects. No mention of assassination or plane crashes.

Naughty Kitty, by: Adam Stower

A loose Bengal tiger, and a small kitten find trouble in this sweet, picture book.

Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds, by: Marianne Dubuc

I think Norah liked this book so much because of the pictures. The writing is fine, but the pictures are finely detailed, and fun to look at.

I’m a Shark, by: Bob Shea

Okay, there’s no real substance to this book, but it’s super hilarious, and I think I’ve read it out loud like a thousand time! With a voice damnit!

Creature ABC, by: Andrew Zuckerman

Pictures, pictures, pictures!

Z is for Moose, by: Kelly Bingham

Another great, and funny, alphabet book.

The Perfect Nest, by: Catherine Friend

It’s been a while since I read this book, but I remember reading it over and over, and if I was willing to do that, I too must have found it funny.

I’m going to end with my FAVORITE PICTURE BOOK:

I Need My Monster, by: Amanda Noll

OMG this book. It knocks me out every time I read it, and that’s not because it’s like, THAT good, but because I do a voice throughout the entire book, and it requires way too much oxygen! You can tell just by looking at the cover how vibrant the illustrations are, which really lends itself to the whole monster under the bed thing. It’s kind of spooky, but ultimately sweet, and that seems complicated, but it’s not.

Here, I’m afraid this list is going to become endless, so here’s a link to my picture book shelf on Goodreads. I try to rate the books I really like, so any of the five stars would be excellent buys!

Also, here’s a link to some of my favorite children’s books I read last year. All of these books would be appropriate too!

Also, ALA (American Library Association) knows what they’re talking about, and here’s a pretty comprehensive list of 2016’s best picture books.

Okay, so now here’s a list for 6-9 (maybe 10 and 11 too!) You’ll have to read the chapter books to the younger kids, but this is the age they start craving more complicated plots.

Rumpelstiltskin or Rapunzel, by: Paul O. Zelinsky

Beautiful, well- known, fairytales retold. They’re technically picture books, but definitely more appropriate for older readers.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn, by: Dana Simpson

I so meant to review this book last year, but I didn’t, and I regret that, because it’s sooo good. It’s like My Little Pony meets Calvin and Hobbes- what kid wouldn’t love this! Bonus: the author is transgender! Buy this and read it, and then pass it on, because it would be great for struggling readers.

Calvin and Hobbes, by: Bill Waterson

Yes, it’s been around for a while, but there was a study that said Calvin and Hobbes was perfect for struggling readers, or reluctant readers. Besides, the comic is timeless!

Roller Girl, by: Victoria Jamieson

A great book. I talked about it at the end of last year, but it’s a must read. (Graphic Novel)

The Wild Robot, by: Peter Brown

I love his picture books, and now I love his chapter books! This is all about the environment, and it’s sweet.

The War That Saved My Life, by: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Reminiscent of classic favorites like A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, this book is about two siblings who escape blitzed London, and find a new home in the English countryside.

Fly Guy, by: Ted Arnold

This seems to be THE introduction to chapter books. It’s funny, and kids love the series. Buzz!

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, by: Caren Stelson

I haven’t read it yet, but it’s sitting patiently on a shelf at the library, waiting until I can pick it up. I am all up in the face of publishers to publish more engaging YA nonfiction, so I feel obligated to read any and all YA nonfiction that gets published. Also, this seems like a really powerful story that kids would love. I can still remember the first time I read The Diary of a Young Girl.

Don’t Call Me Grandma, by: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

It’s a picture book, and a younger audience may enjoy it, but I think it would be more appropriate for older kids. I absolutely love the pictures in this book.

The  Girl Who Drank the Moon, by: Kelly Barnhill

This won the Newbery this year. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s in my library basket, and I’m gonna read it.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, by: Adam Gidwitz

Okay, I’m just going to start listing books, because this list is out of control!

Hamster Princess, by: Ursula Vernon

Again, great for struggling or reluctant readers

Raina Telgemeier– JUST GO BUY ALL HER BOOKS, AS MANY COPIES AS POSSIBLE, AND PASS THEM OUT TO ANY KID YOU SEE!

Sad Animals Facts, by: Brooke Barker

Because, did you know a wolf without a pack loses its howl?! OMG, that is sad!

What If I Had Animals Teeth? By: Sandra Markle

Umm, yeah. These are awesome books! Because you know, what if?! I want shark teeth btw…

Beetle Boy, by: M.G. Leonard

Ahhh, this book was so good, and full of science- related information. Plus, like an evil villain who happens to be part… BEETLE!

Again, here’s a link to my favorite Children’s book from last year, and here’s a link to ALA.

Now, YA, which can be ambiguous. You may have a third grader reading YA. I have seen a third grader reading A Fault in Our Stars, and I warned her that it was going to be very sad, and might be a little too depressing, but she was sure she could handle it, so she trudged on. Now, I find A Fault in Our Stars to be a bit too much, but it all comes down to taste, preference, and personality. So, that being said, here’s my list of YA:

We Are the Ants, by: Shaun David Hutchinson

A wonderful story about loss and abuse and surviving high school despite it all.

Challenger Deep– Neal Shusterman

A first hand account of mental illness. I haven’t liked all of Shusterman’s books, but this one was especially beautiful; almost poetic.

Lumberjanes (vol1.-) and Nimona, by: Noelle Stevenson

A great comic and graphic novel. Also try Nimona, which is also by Noelle Stevenson.

Anya’s Ghost, by: Vera Brosgol

Again, a graphic novel. Highly engaging

The Passion of Dolssa, by: Julie Berry

About the Spanish Inquisition. Everyone’s in danger. Unlike any other YA I’ve ever read. In fact, the only reason it’s YA is because the characters just happen to be young.

Frances Hardinge books.

I haven’t read these yet, but I really want to!

Still Life with Tornado, by: A.S. King

Rani Patel in Full Effect, by: Sonia Patel

Here’s a list of great YALSA books.

That’s it, I’ve had it with this list. It’s going to become a monster, so here’s another link to a few YA nonfiction titles!

Also, I just read a wonderful book called Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History… a great book for girls and boys! I will be writing more extensively about this book at a later date!

It may be my first installment of:

Anyway, geez this meandered off topic: if you’re feeling helpless right now, buying books for kids just might make you feel better, so use my list, or don’t, but I hope it helps!

 

Keep on Steppin’

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

“I ain’t never heard of no sickness that makes you kill little girls just because you don’t want them in your school. I don’t think they’re sick at all, I think they just let hate eat them up and turn them into monsters.”

 I’ve been staring at The Watson’s Go to Birmingham-1963 on my bookshelf for a good long while now. I was told that it was good. That is was funny. But due to the title, I assumed it would be heavy. I can be destroyed by these middle grade novels. Nothing pulls at the heart strings like the voice of a child trying to make sense of an adult world.

I was right, but I was also wrong. This was heavy. But it was also very funny, and it was funny more than it was heavy. The (Weird) Watson’s live in Flint, Michigan. They’re a family of five; Byron’s thirteen, Kenny’s ten (?), and Joey’s six. Their dad works for one of the auto companies in Michigan, and the family is blue collar, bordering on poor. Despite the lack of funds, they’re happy. They’re lovable, like the Bagthorpe’s or the Durrell’s (these are my favorite dysfunctional families). Byron is a bully with a heart. Kenny’s sensitive and smart. And Joey’s the only girl and spunky. They play, get in trouble, watch cartoons, freeze during the winter, and deal with school. They’re normal, and although the world is harsh, they seem to be okay.

The family goes to Birmingham to visit their Grandma Sands in 1963.

Of course things change. Being black, in the south, in the 1960’s… what a cruel world. Another world entirely from what the Watson’s were accustomed to in northern Michigan.

“Man, they got crackers and rednecks up here that ain’t never seen no Negroes before. If they caught your ass out here like this they’d hang you now, then eat you later.”

The climax doesn’t occur until the end of the story…

The Watson’s are in Birmingham to visit Grandma Sands, and to leave Byron who needs some time away from the trouble in Michigan. It’s quiet in Birmingham, slower.

Then, one Sunday morning, there is a loud noise. No one knows what it is. Their dad thinks it could be a sonic boom.

They run into town where the church has exploded:

 

Addie Mae Collins- Born 4/18/49, died 9/15/63

Denise McNair- Born 11/17/51, died 9/15/63

Carole Robertson- Born 4/24/49, died 9/15/63

Cynthia Wesley- Born 4/30/49. Died 9/15/63

 

Read this. It’s powerful like only children’s literature can be.

Top Children’s Books of 2016

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

I read over eighty books this year, but that number does not include the children’s books I read with my niece. If I had included those, my total book count of 2016 was well over 200. Norah and I love picture books (I think I love them slightly more). We also love Captain Underpants and Junie B. Jones. And we love animal books. And farting and pooping books. We have eclectic taste. So here’s the best children’s books I read this year!

This wonderfully illustrated book features an overwrought grandma, more than a handful of grandkids, some bears, goats, moon aliens, and wormholes. Also some beautifully knitted sweaters. If all these things sound swell, please pick it up at your local library and read it to the nearest child. They’ll thank you, and you’ll thank you.

I just think Carson Ellis is perfect. This book doesn’t even need to be read(it’s hard to read, because Ellis made-up her own language for the bugs). I gave it to my niece and she could figure out what was going on without the words. But here’s another thought: this would be great for phonetic practice, and less frustrating to read for kids who have a hard time memorizing sight words! But the illustrations make this book, so read it or just look at the pictures, either way Carson Ellis is a true master of her craft.

Must be read out loud with feeling! This would be a great book for a kid with a new baby brother or sister. I love Kate Beaton’s books. Have you read Hark, A Vagrant? No? Read it! I follow her on twitter, and she has an adorable little Scottish Terrier, which just adds to her over-all aura of fun. Here’s a link to her website:

http://www.harkavagrant.com/

Like Carson Ellis, I think Raina Telgemeier is perfect. This was just one of like ten of her books that I loved this year. Catrina and her family have to move to a new town because her little sister is sick. This is a fun book, but it deals with hard, sad topics. Recommended!

Umm, yeah. Sarah and Norah love this lots. Each page has a small illustration of an animal and one sad animal fact. Like, wolves without a  pack lose their howl. It’s adorable and was a Christmas present for Norah this year.

Do you remember those really good cartoons they used to make in the nineties when we were kids, but they don’t make anymore because…? I’m talking like- Rugrats, Doug, Bobby’s World, Hey Arnold, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, CatDog just to name a few of my favorites. They had those crisp blue skies, well groomed shrubbery. They always lived in quaint suburban homes that had big fenced in backyards (well not all the ones I listed fit this description, but I think you know what I’m talking about). That’s what this book reminded me of: a nineties cartoon, and I loved it.

This is just one in a series of many bug books by Elise Gravel. They’re short, cute pictures, and have an appropriate amount of facts for a young age group.

One of three Emily Brown books. They’re all adorable, and by the author who wrote the How to Train Your Dragon series.

Reimagining Greek heroes and monsters through board books. Yeah, Medusa’s got her own book. In case you’re wondering.

A biography of the story of the real Winnie that became Winnie the Pooh. Winnie started his journey in Canada right before WWI. It’s a really engaging read.

This was my favorite picture book of 2016. We lost our Golden Retriever at the end of 2015. Tuesday is a therapy dog for Luis who was a soldier and suffered from PTSD. It’s endearing, sweet, touching, and made my heart feel a lot of things.

 

 

 

 

We Are the Ants, and We’ll Keep Marching On

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

 

we-are-the-ant

We are the ants.

“It began as a haunted- house story, then became a murder mystery, then somehow morphed into a sci-fi story set on a space station before finally revealing its true self to me.” (excerpt from afterward by author)

His boyfriend (Jesse) has committed suicide. Now he’s in an abusive relationship with a popular boy (Marcus). His grandma is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His dad has left the family. His mom is working as a waitress and smoking nonstop. His brother got his girlfriend pregnant and dropped out of college. The new guy at school has great potential, but has a secret past. And can he love again without betraying Jesse’s memory? Plus, he’s been abducted by aliens (sluggers) who have given him the choice of ending the world: press the button, the world exists; don’t press the button, the world ends.

Henry is a great character, but his teenage years…suck! Jesse, his former boyfriend, and first love, has killed himself, and Henry was blindsided. When he was with Jesse everything was great. He thought. Was Jesse’s death his fault?

His family is miserable. His mother wanted to be a chef, but tough circumstances forced her hand, so instead she’s a waitress, and a chain smoker. His grandma is lovable and wonderful, but she’s losing all her memories, and is wreaking havoc on the house. His brother Charlie has a pregnant girlfriend and dropped out of school.

Things are no better at school. Henry’s bullied to a dangerous degree. Called Space Boy by the popular crowd, he’s in a secret, abusive relationship with one of the wealthiest, most influential boys in the group. The Space Boy moniker began when Henry’s brother Charlie told people at school that Henry thought aliens were abducting him.

Based on all the bad, Henry has no intention of pressing the button that would save the world. Why would he? People are miserable.

But then, a new boy (Diego) moves in, and things start to change. Henry likes Diego as a friend, at first. Henry still loves Jesse and hasn’t had the right kind of closure since his death. Besides, Diego has a secret, which Henry is tired of, because Jesse kept his depression a secret from him…

Time moves on, Marcus (abusive, popular guy) continues to plague Henry. Henry regains friends he’d lost after Jesse’s death. And Diego becomes more than a friend.

Things aren’t perfect, but were they ever meant to be?

We ARE the ants, after all…

Rescue the Entire World

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

disclaimer: I read this during and after election night, and I think this review could’ve been better, but my level of concentration while reading  was negligible. I regret it, because this was a really good book! I left the review, because it was an adequate recall of what the book’s about.

“Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.”

-Talmud

As I started to read this book I told a few third grade students at school that they might enjoy it. I told them about the Holy Dog, and the three kids who could do magic… But as I continued reading I started to wonder if my recommendation was premature. I don’t mean that this was a bad book; it was the subject matter that had me worried. I wasn’t sure if third graders could handle it, but then I reasoned they read Harry Potter, so what’s the difference between that and this? And then the election happened… Talk about throwing a big old existential crisis in my face…

Yes, this book deals with some hard truths (it was the inquisition): burning people alive, torture, religious persecution, parents dying, animals dying, and martyrdom. Hard truths from the Middle Ages, but could they be relevant today? The answer to that is a resounding: YES! Not so much the tactics, but religious intolerance, hate, murder… We can’t protect our kids from hard truths anymore (see: Sandy Hook). They need to understand this world. They cannot be brought up to believe that a man who haphazardly grabs women’s genital regions, mocks people with disabilities, and calls a group of people rapists is acting decently. Our country just sacrificed decency and morals to a pussy-grabbing demagogue, so this young and vulnerable generation is going to have to learn the hard truths now. No pussy (pun intended)- footing around. They need to know! They need to develop strong morals and empathy for the downtrodden. We need to foster in them a love for all things on this planet, and maybe then, if our generation doesn’t really fuck it up, we might have a glimmer of hope.

So yeah, I recommend this book to young children. They will like it, but make sure you read it with them and answer their questions.

Now what’s this book all about?

It’s about three different kids, their dog, and their journey.

It takes place in the Middle Ages (not to be called the Dark Ages!). The inquisition is happening. So it’s not a great time….

Jeanne is a peasant girl who has seizure- like fits that reveal the future to her.

It’s a miracle.

The Holy Dog is Jeanne’s. Gwenforte is a grey hound that Jeanne’s parents owned when she was a baby. The dog saved little Jeanne from an asp, but was killed by her parents due to a misunderstanding. Later, the parents find out that Gwenforte was actually a hero, and they make her grave a shrine.

Needless to say, many years later, Gwenforte rises from the dead (like Lazarus), and joins the children on their adventure. It’s a miracle.

William is next. He is a monk. He is a giant. He is the son of a French father and a Saracen(medieval term for Muslim) mother. In the monastery William is some-what protected from prejudice, but William is strong- willed, and speaks out against an older monk, which gets him expelled from the monastery.

William is as strong as an ox. It’s a miracle.

Jacob is young, small, and a Jew. Jewish people (imagine this…) are not treated very well in the Middle Ages. One night, young boys burn his village, and his mom and dad sacrifice themselves so Jacob can escape.

Jacob can heal anything with plants and herbs. It’s a miracle.

But miracles mean saints, and to be a saint you must be martyred, and martyrdom sucks! Especially when you’re ten.

There are consequences for performing miracles, and people fear the unknown. (see our current state of affairs)

Like the Bible, The Inquisitor’s Tale is told through witnesses (people the child- saints meet along their journey), and completed by a nun who happens to know things she shouldn’t.

There’s a farting dragon, book burning, daring deeds, a forest of human-like-monster “things”, a devilish monk, quicksand, an evil queen, and a ton of other preposterous stuff that makes this book a really great read.

My one caveat: the author, Adam Gidwitz, wrote a very quick story; he didn’t spare a word. We zip right along, and I will never complain about this kind of writing, but it was so “neat” that I felt like everything wrapped up way too nicely. Bad, bad things happened, and the ending was so sudden that I was left with a BUT on the tip of my tongue.

Also, for anyone who’s ever read Christopher Moore’s Lamb, you might find yourself seeing a few parallels!

Other reasons this book is worth it:

 

“Jeanne is thinking about something. AT last, she shares it. “William, you said that it takes a lifetime to make a book.”

“That’s right.”

“One book? A whole lifetime?”

“William nods. “A scribe might copy out a single book for years. An illuminator would then take it and work on it for longer still. Not to mention the tanner who made the parchment, and the bookbinder who stitched the book together, and the librarian who worked to get the book for the library and keep it safe from mold and thieves and clumsy monks with ink pots and dirty hands. And some books have authors, too, like Saint Augustine or Rabbi Yehuda. When you think about it, each book is a lot of lives. Dozens of dozens of them.”

“Dozens and dozens of lives,” Jeanne says. “And each life a whole world.”

“We saved five books,” says Jacob. “How many worlds is that?”

William smiles. “I don’t know. A lot. A whole lot.”

 

“Life is a song, composed and sung by God. We are but characters in His song.”

 

“Distinguishing the voice of God and the voices of those around us is no easy task. What makes you special, children, beyond your miracles, is that you hear God’s voice clearly, and when you hear it, you act upon it.”

 

Harry Potter Feelings

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

 

I liked the Harry Potter play… because Harry Potter was in it and I had moments in Hogwarts again. But this was fan fiction to help fill the void Harry Potter left in so many of our lives.

First, it was obvious JK Rowling did not write this. This was not her writing. The actions of the characters were out of character. The plot was too pleasing- too conscious of what HP fans would want it to be.

I didn’t hate this book. I was absorbed, but I was annoyed too. I was NEVER annoyed reading the other Harry Potter books, so if you’re going into this thinking you’re going to read another Harry Potter book you’ll be very disappointed, but if you go into this to satisfy your curiosity you won’t be too disappointed.

After I’ve been critical of another person’s take on the post- Hogwart’s Harry Potter world, I thought I would put my own fan fiction out there, because after you’ve read Harry Potter as many times as I have, you can’t help yourself… (it’s very first drafty, but it’s fan fiction, so that’s expected, right?)

Sarah’s Take on the post- Harry Potter at Hogwart’s World…

It ended with a bang and that was that. They went off together, buried their dead, grew up a little more, found jobs, got married, had kids. Found a semblance of happiness, and that was that.

The chosen one lay face down in the mud by the grave of his uncle. A bottle of fire whiskey lay just within grasp of his fingertips. The earth was still muddy from the burial that had happened earlier in the day. He had not been there to see his cousin and aunt. He had not wanted to make a spectacle of himself. He hadn’t seen them for 10 years.

There was a cat sitting on top of the tombstone staring down at the boy she knew simply as Potter. She hopped down gracefully from her perch. She put a paw on his back. He had changed; she could see that even with his face covered in mud. If it was possible he was even thinner than he had been at eleven. Seventeen years ago now. He had been half starved then, but so full of wonder at the magic he had just discovered he possessed. There was no wonder in the face she was looking at now. He was emaciated and sun- burnt. His lightning bolt scar, which hadn’t faded over the years, was even more pronounced in his taut skin that covered his forehead. A black beard was covering the bottom half of his face. A tear fell from the cat’s spectacled eye. Sadness never faded, and this boy had bared the brunt of it. The chosen one, the boy who lived, but what happened to him after all that was over. A few years of fame, a family, a bit of happiness; all false props in an imitation of a normal life, but what could ever be normal for Harry Potter. He had watched his mother and father killed at the age of one, was abused by the only family he had until eleven, and then was relentlessly pursued by a murderous psychopath that killed so many people he loved. Neither can survive while the other lives, the now famous prophesy linking two souls in a seven-year battle. How does one survive after that?

He stirred, and the cat transformed herself, now a gray- haired, upright, bespectacled, old woman. “Hello Mr. Potter.”

“Professor.” He smiled up at her. “Whatcha doing here?”

“I’ve come to see you Mr. Potter. People have wondered where you’ve gone. Your friends, your family. People care about you.”

He smiled at her again and carried on as if he hadn’t heard her. “This is my uncle’s grave. Vernon. He died. I came to show my respects.” He hiccupped, and grabbed the whiskey and took another swig.

“What has happened to you Harry? This is not the boy I knew, the boy always in pursuit of some mischief or another, always seeking justice.” Harry took another swig. “This is not Dumbledore’s boy, the boy Severus Snape died to protect. The boy your mother died to protect!” Harry laid back down on his back and stared up at the sky. He allowed a sad slow burst of air through his lips.

“I can’t be that boy anymore professor. I’m not a boy. I’m a man. A man that has seen the world and found it wanting. I don’t know how to live anymore. I feel nothing. No connection, no sense of purpose. I walk around like a poltergeist, every once in a while causing a disruption. I made Ginny unhappy; I made Ron and Hermione unhappy. They don’t understand. No one understands.”

He took another swig.

“They’re all dead. My connections. Dumbledore, Snape. They left me. They died, happy them. But I’m left here alone with what has happened. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed, every minute that goes by seals the past harder into my soul. I’m a living ghost. The boy who lived. I shouldn’t have lived Professor. I was meant to die and I didn’t. No future was written for me, and now I live in this empty shell that is my life.” He said all this quietly and calmly, while Professor McGonagall watched him. He rolled away from her to face his uncle’s tombstone. “Loved and never forgotten” it read. Never forgotten. The cupboard under the stares, starvation, slaps, verbal lashings, contempt. “Never forgotten”. He grew up with no love. Soul starved for some kind of affection, and then, suddenly, magically, on his eleventh birthday he had a life, people who loved him. Friends, a new home at Hogwarts, and he knew happiness for the first time that he could remember. But that happiness came with a murdering psychopath. A murdering psychopath that killed so many people, and they’d all given their lives so he could live. So he could be here in the mud with a bottle of whiskey. Why had they thought to die instead of live? Why did they have to make that sacrifice? He wanted them back. Why would they think he would want to live without them? They were the few people that he’d found that had loved him- love, something he’s spent his childhood living without.

When he’d married Ginny it had been in the first years after Voldemort had died. They were high with their sadness and success. They’d faced their own young mortality and won. They married, had adventures, fought dark wizards side- by- side, but then Hermione had gotten pregnant, and then Ginny, and the recklessness had had to stop. Another baby followed the first, two kids now. And the responsibilities piled on. Ginny stayed at home with the two little ones, while Harry worked, but day after day fighting the evil of the world was wreaking havoc on the life he had set- up for himself. He had Ginny, babies, the job he’d always wanted. He was famous. His two best friends were always by his side, but something was breaking inside him.

One night they went to check- up on a disturbance that had been reported. It was a slow night; so the three of them went, Harry, Ron, and Hermione together; like old times. They got to the house, knocked. No one answered, so Ron blew down the door. In the middle of the room sat a small child holding a spoon, around him people lay strewn out dead. The little boy looked up at them and smiled. They arrested this small little boy, and he was sent to Azkaban. He had never stopped smiling.

Weeks passed but Harry couldn’t get the image out of his head of the small, starved looking child surrounded by death, smiling. It kept him awake at night. He had to see this boy again. Maybe it would get him out of his head. He visited Azkaban, which was no longer run by Dementors, but fierce looking wizards and trolls. A dragon was chained at its gates. Harry was led down a long dank corridor of cells to the very darkest part of the prison, and there he sat- smiling. Smiling at Harry just as he had on the day they had found him surrounded by his dead family.

“I knew you’d come. You always come don’t you.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“We’re drawn together you and I. Our souls seem to search each other out.”

“I don’t know you.” He felt cold inside, but his head was screaming at him, and his scar prickled.

“You know me. You knew me the moment you saw me. I will always find you.” Harry’s scar burned like it hadn’t in years. Tears sprang to his eyes. He heard laughter through his pain.

“Darkness always has a way you dear naïve stupid boy. It lives in your soul. I can see straight through you.” He was hissing now, parseltongue. Harry hadn’t heard it uttered for so long, he hadn’t immediately recognized it. It couldn’t be! It couldn’t. Not this small child. His mind wasn’t working right. He had a horrible headache. He was tired, hadn’t been sleeping enough. The murder of the family had gotten into his skin, and now he was making up ghosts. The boy spoke parseltongue, so what! There were wizards other than himself who spoke snake. He left without another word to the boy. He had to get his head on straight.

He got sick all over himself as he approached the other door of the wizarding prison.

“Are you okay Mr. Potter?” The guard looked at him very concerned.

“I’ll be fine.” And with that he turned and disapparated.

He had gone back to his office, and adjusted the protections surrounding Azkaban. Put more guards around the boy’s cell. He never slept. Never went home. He searched high and low to find out more about this boy. But there were no records. The family that had been murdered were not the boy’s family. He had seemingly come from nowhere. Harry’s obsession grew until it became an ugly thing. He drank too much, worked too long, he snapped at everyone. His friends wouldn’t talk to him. Ginny wouldn’t let him come home. But he didn’t think of it. He pursued leads on his own without informing his office. He was half- mad, he knew it but didn’t care. He lost his job eventually.

 

Years passed and he lived on the cusp of society. No longer did he have friends or family, he lived a lonely isolated life pursuing an obsession. There were no clues though, nothing to link the murderous boy to the human race.

After waking up on a cold sidewalk on the outskirts of London on a foggy morning, Harry decided he needed to see the boy again. He disguised himself the best he could, and brought his invisibility cloak for good measure.

It wasn’t the same guard as before. That made sense. It had been nearly three years. When he asked the new guard if he could see the boy the guard showed no signs of comprehension. Harry’s tenuous grasp on his emotions snapped. And he screamed in the man’s face, “the boy! The boy who murdered the family with a spoon! I need to see him!” The guard continued to look perplexed. “There’s no boy here. Never has been as far as I know, and I’ve been here for a couple years now. Juveniles are rarely kept at Azkaban. Juveniles have their own prisons. Less harsh prisons. Only the worse of the worse get brought to Azkaban.”

“This boy murdered a family! How much worse can you get. Look I used to work for the ministry I asked that he be protected, have heightened security around his cell. He wasn’t to ever get out!” The guard looked at him warily.

“Sir I think you’re confused. You need to leave now.”

Harry blasted him with a stunning spell. He had brought his invisibility cloak knowing that this might be the only option he had. He threw it over his head and ran in the direction he remembered the cell to be. He reached the end of the hall and looked in the cell. A pointy- ear goblin was lying on the cot that had once held the small boy.

He was gone. Harry heard laughter coming from behind him, he turned but no one was there. There was laughter in front of him now. He knew that laugh! He whipped around. Nothing. Out of the darkness he heard a hissed whisper. I see your soul. Harry’s scar burned but he refused to give in. “Show yourself you coward! You’ve always been a coward. I will wipe you off the face of the earth like I did once before!” There was more cold laughter.

 

It’s not so easy boy. Do you really think you alone can rid the world of its darkness? I live in the husband that beats his wife. In the mother that buys cigarettes instead of medicine for her child. I blow up buildings, and kill school children. I live in too many people for you to kill all of them. You killed me Potter, and scattered my soul. I’m everywhere. No matter how fast light thinks it’s traveled, darkness always gets there first.  

 

Harry saw a figure now standing shrouded in shadow. He moved forward. The figure emerged, smiling, but it wasn’t the boy. It was a guard. He continued to hiss, how will you fight us all Harry Potter? How will you defeat me now? He chuckled quietly. I’m more impervious after death then I ever was in my mortal body. He turned slowly away. Harry stood where he was, keep your eyes open for me dear boy, I’ll always be around. And with that a shot of green light burst from his wand, felling the goblin, and the guard disappeared into darkness.

 

Harry felt his old professor’s hand on his back. He didn’t stir. He didn’t want to move. Since his last visit to Azkaban he’d left completely and rarely looked back. He went to the mountains above Hogwarts. His scar seared on his forehead continuously when he was around too many people. Too much darkness and despair. The further he got from humanity, the dimmer the pain. He’d lived like a muggle. Hunting and killing for his food, bathing occasionally in a stream. He had some peace. He ventured back down to earth occasionally; he wanted to keep an eye on his family. Make sure they were safe. A week ago he saw his uncle’s obituary. He had watched the funeral from afar, and come to his grave by the cover of night.

He hadn’t expected to be found.

“Mr. Potter I will not leave you here. I don’t know what has plagued you all these years. I don’t know how you must have felt after everything that happened. Lord knows you’re life has never been normal. But we need you Harry Potter. You cannot keep us away. You saved us all. Let us save you. There’s a job opening at the school. Defense Against the Dark Arts. You seemed to have a flair for it when you were in school. It’s yours if you want it.”

Harry turned over and looked up at her, “Its not still jinxed is it?” He gave her a wry smile.

“Not as far as I know.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Longbottom’s been teaching it for years, but now that Professor Sprout has left us, he’s taking on Herbology.” She looked down at him, and gave him a rare smile. She had always looked old, but Harry had never really thought of her as being old, she had always had a spirit that made age irrelevant. She looked old to him now.

As if reading his mind she said, “I’m getting old Mr. Potter, or rather I’ve been old for a while, but I’m getting a bit too old to carry on much longer. I feel it in my bones. The school has meant everything to me. It has meant so much to so many, but I’m afraid with all the crime that’s been happening lately the ministry will take it over if I step down. I’ve been protecting Hogwarts the best I can, but the persistence for better protection and regulation is getting to be more than I can handle. Help us save the school. Let’s start a new era. Educate a new generation of thoughtful, upstanding wizards and witches. Don’t let Hogwarts fall. Let it remain the beacon it is!”

Hogwarts. He remembered the Fat Lady and Snape’s dungeon. Christmas decorations, and the Yule Ball. He remembered fighting the troll, and his first kiss under mistletoe. He remembered Fred’s dead body, Tonks, Lupin, Dumbledore, and Snape. He remembered riding a broom for the first time, and buying chocolates and drinking Butter Beer in the Three Broomsticks. Smuggling a baby dragon away in the dead of night.

“I can’t Professor. I just can’t. I’ve forgotten how to be that boy. I’ve lost the knack for living in this world. I just can’t be him anymore Professor, I can’t be Harry Potter anymore. He follows me everywhere I go. Can you feel him?” And Harry raised his hand to McGonagall‘s cheek. It was ice cold and shaking. “Can you feel him professor?” Harry put his face in his hands and wept bitterly. He wept for everyone and everything, and as his back shook with despair, Professor McGonagall was there again, with a hand on his shoulder.

“The world is hard Mr. Potter. It’s filled with tragedy. People do horrible things for unfathomable reasons. But we can fight it, together. We can teach fresh new minds to be our warriors. What did you and your friends dub yourselves all those years ago? Dumbledore’s Army? You were fighting dark forces then with education, were you not? That is how we win. Follow in the footsteps of Professor Dumbledore! You were never meant to be an auror. What satisfaction is there in only seeing the bad?” Harry kept his face in his hands, daring not to look up into his Professors face, not wanting her to see the man he feared he’d truly become.

“But I’m so tired. So wasted up. They’ll see through me. Know me for a fraud.”

“Use it, help them understand. Tell them what it feels like to live with the pain you’ve had to deal with. Tell them the consequences of fighting for a cause. It is Defense Against the Dark Arts after all! Help them understand what darkness really is. Only in empathy can there be true understanding.” She grabbed his hand now. His face was still downcast. “Look at me Potter! Look at me, and tell me you do not have even an ounce of that boy I knew still in you, buried deep in that hard soul of yours.”

“He’s still here professor. I feel him everywhere. I’ve seen him at Azkaban in a child Ron, Hermione and I had arrested. I’ve been trying to find him, and when I went back, he wasn’t a little boy anymore. He’s no one and everyone. He’s unstoppable. Even now my scar is burning. A bar fight probably, rape, who knows. He’s everywhere. How can I be a part of this world with the constant taint of his presence.” She squeezed his hand in a vice like grip, while he told her this.

“He’s not at Hogwarts.” She said with perfect certainty.

And Harry accepted this.

“But Professor, how do we fight the world? We can’t win this time. It’s not a matter of Horcruxes and daring anymore. He’s a disease and he’s contagious. The world will implode upon its own darkness, and what do we do about that? There is no cure, no vaccination to inoculate people from Lord Voldemort!”

“But there is Harry! Do you not remember anything Professor Dumbledore told you? Love Harry Potter! We fight him with love.” And she wrapped her arms hard around him. “Go back to your wife and children, and then come to me at Hogwarts. We will carry on Dumbledore’s legacy, we may not win, but we will die fighting. Darkness is not impenetrable, just look up Mr. Potter. Look at the stars! That light travels billions of miles through the darkness for us. They make quite a spectacle do they not?”

Harry looked up at the stars and felt something expanding in his chest; a long lost stirring, the heart of a child that had long ago been beaten into submission. In that moment a fog that had taken over his brain lifted, and he heard the words of the man that had meant so much to him, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” He smiled briefly, still feeling too much the weight of what had come before, and what was still before him. But he whispered into the darkness, “Lumos” and followed his old Professor home.

The Passion of Dolssa

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

The night after finishing this book I had a weird conglomeration of dreams that consisted of events that had occurred early in the day, and the Spanish Inquisition.

It was startling.

This book is catalogued as young adult, but I would not pigeon- hole it as such; the characters just happen to be young adults.

This book was magnificent.

Dolssa is eighteen, beautiful, and possessed by a deep love for God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit (you know… the whole shebang). She begins to perform miracles, and speak publicly about her special relationship with Jesus. This quickly catches the attention of a very sensitive Catholic Church, who decides Dolsaa is guilty of heresy, and her and her followers will be burned at the stake. Dolssa and her mother are captured, and Dolssa is forced to watch as her mother is burned.

As her mother burns, someone comes up behind Dolssa, and sets her free. She runs, and is pursued by an obsessed priest and a knight.

Meanwhile, in a small fishing village…

Botille (seventeen and making a living as a matchmaker) and her sisters are living quiet lives, until one fateful journey…

Botille is sent on a journey to retrieve the nephews of one of her neighbors. On the way back she finds a dying Dolssa by a river. She instantly feels responsible for the girl’s well- being and conceals her in the back of one of their wagons, understanding that Dolssa has been declared a heretic. They protect Dolssa from the priest, and bring her back to the village.

They are able to conceal Dolssa for a while, but soon, after a smattering of miracles performed around the village, her name becomes known, and the Priest arrives.

Murder by fire ensues, but Dolssa is kept hidden.

Other priests, deacons, and the whole church hierarchy (minus the Pope) descend on the village and begin condemning people to burn. Villagers turn against one another, until Botille, her family, and the people closest to her are the only ones declared heretics.

That’s where I’ll stop. Read it to find out more.

This book was shockingly good. It was a fast read, absorbing, and about a history that I had not read much about.

I’ll leave you with Monty Python, because ” NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!”

 

Stranger Things a la 1980

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

Okay Stranger Things was set in the 80’s, but let’s not quibble…

Have you seen Stranger Things yet? Did you like it? Do you like X-Files? Goonies? Stephen King? Roald Dahl’s Matilda? Winona Ryder? For me, all of these questions are answered with a resounding YES! So, Stranger Things was the ultimate awesome for me. I loved it. I loved the soundtrack. And like anyone who is slightly obsessed, I wanted more.

 

That need apparently led me to a book list that included Willo Davis Roberts’ The Girl with the Silver Eyes, and oh boy…

First, the synopsis: A girl (around 10?), with silver eyes, lives with her single mother in an apartment. The girl is hard on her mother, because until recently, her mother had left the girl to be raised by her grandmother, but grandma died, so now the girl has to live with her dippy mother again. The girl’s name is Katie. Like Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Katie can move objects with her eyes, and she uses this power to wreak havoc on nasty neighbors and unqualified babysitters. Most of the story takes place inside Katie’s apartment building; it’s summer, so Katie never has any reason to leave. One night Katie overhears a conversation between her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. They are talking about Katie, how they are secretly frightened of her, and her mother tells a story about the time she was pregnant with Katie. She worked at a company that manufactured a painkilling drug. Sometimes the (pregnant) women took the medication. After a while the medication was found to be harmful, and was discontinued. Beyond this story, Katie’s mom really doesn’t put two and two together, but Katie, being the young little genius she is, decides to investigate. She wants to find the other mothers who took the drug, and see if there are other kids out there that share her gift. Meanwhile, Katie has to contend with horrible babysitters, and a new neighbor that takes an (creepy) interest in Katie.

The parallel to Stranger Things is obvious; a young girl with powers generated by a drug given to her mother at birth.

And that’s where the similarities end. This was an awful book. In fact, it was so bad I kept reading just to see how absurd it could get. It didn’t disappoint. Katie is the worst. I cared nothing for her stupid Matilda power, other than finding it very unfair that such a stinker would be bestowed with such cool abilities. She does nothing interesting with her powers except plague other people. No imagination. Oh, and something I left out; Katie can also communicate with animals, as in: she can tell them what to do and what not to do through mind control… and the creepy guy asking all the questions about Katie was: SURPRISE! a scientist looking for kids with powers (not a pedophile). He had a “special” school for them. It was all just too much, or not enough, or somewhere in between.

Its copyright date is 1980 (pre- John Hughes), which makes perfect sense, because there’s no sensitivity for Katie or her plight. Katie’s been raised by her grandmother, because her parents gave her away. Adults are frightened of her, she has no friends, there’s a creepy man following her around, she’s stuck in a small cramped apartment, she loves to read, but no one will take her to a library…. Poor Katie, but never once did I feel sorry for her. She was cardboard, words on a page…

So, watch Stranger Things, cuz it’s the bomb… but skip The Girl with Silver Eyes.

Here’s a few Stranger Things- themed reading lists (Paper Girls is really good!)

Book Riot

Electric Literature

The Verge

Bustle

Paste Magazine

 

 

Phhhttt, the Sound of Your Soul

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

Raymie Nightingale was all about souls and friendship and finding a purpose in life. It was for kids. I kept thinking ‘this is so metaphysical; will kids get it’? And the answer is—YES! Of course, Kate DiCamillo knows how to write a book kids will love and understand. For some reason I always think of DiCamillo as the Marilynne Robinson for kids; a soothing balm for an aching soul. For Robinson, her characters have to deal with an adult world, and DiCamillo deals with anything from the ordeals of a mouse named Despereaux, to a china rabbit named Edward Tulane, to a ten-year-old girl whose father has left her for a dental hygienist.

“The world went on. People left and people died and people went to memorial services and put orange blocks of cheese into their purses. People confessed to you that they were hungry all the time. And then you got up in the morning and pretended that none of it had happened.”

Raymie Nightingale has lost her father to a dental hygienist. She is sad, and she wants her dad back. She decides to compete in the Miss Central Florida Tire competition, in hopes that if she wins, her picture would be in the paper, her father would see it, and he would come home. Far reaching hopes only a ten- year- old would dream up, but her intentions quickly stray as she meets two other fellow competitors: Beverly and Louisiana.

The two other girls have their own hopes and problems. Beverly has had to compete in beauty competitions before, and is determined to sabotage this event. Louisiana lives with her grandma who can’t afford to feed her. Her parents were the Flying Elefante’s, but they both drowned when their ship sank. (this story was most likely made up by Louisiana’s grandma, and we never learn the true story of her parents disappearance) Louisiana also has a hard time breathing and had to give up her cat Archie to the animal shelter, because they could afford to feed it anymore. Like Raymie, Beverly’s dad does not live with her, and Beverly has tried to run away to be with him. Beverly’s mom hit her after one of these attempts.

So right about now Raymie’s situation ain’t lookin’ so bad, right?

But Raymie isn’t terribly winey, and she understands her friends are in worse shape than herself, which is what saves Raymie. Raymie’s looking for answers. Like anyone who has to undergo a huge life change, it’s normal to start wondering what it’s all about.

“’Mrs. Borkowski, who lived across the street from Raymie and who was very, very old, said that most people wasted their souls.

‘How do they waste them?’ Raymie had asked.

‘They let them shrivel,’ said Mrs. Borkowski. ‘Phhhtttt.’”

So what will fill up Raymie’s soul? What does her soul crave more than anything else?

Well, I’ll only say this: she finds it, which– lucky her, because that’s a hard thing to find, and she found it at ten!

Every DiCamillo book I’ve read has been a solid read. Just to put it in perspective I’ve read The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Now, I’ll be honest; I’ve read all of these books because I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane first. That’s DiCamillo’s Gilead (see above for Robinson comparison). It’s beautiful, and it’s all about a china rabbit. But read some of these words:

“You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash in hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next.”

And

“I have been loved, Edward told the stars. So? said the stars. What difference does that make when you are all alone now?”

And

“Look at me, he said to her. His arms and legs jerked. Look at me. You got your wish. I have learned how to love. And it’s a terrible thing. I’m broken. My heart is broken. Help me. The old woman turned and hobbled away. Come back, thought Edward. Fix me”

AND

“But in truth,’ said Bull, ‘we are going nowhere. That my friend, is the irony of our constant movement.”

AND..

“I have learned how to love. And it’s a terrible thing. I’m broken. My heart is broken. Help me.”

Okay, I’ll stop now before I end up copying the whole book down. It’s wonderful, and no matter how old you are you should definitely pick it up and read it.

Now about Raymie Nightingale. No DiCamillo book has ever compared to Edward Tulane. Raymie was good, it was a fast read, but it felt like it was missing pieces. I think the intention was to concentrate on Raymie finding her place after her father left, but nothing ever really became of the whole beauty competition (I think I was hoping for a Little Miss Sunshine thing), and the three girls stole their baton twirling instructor’s baton, but then that kind of just fell off a cliff (metaphorically speaking), and there was just a lot she built up, and then just left out of the ending. I love stories of friendship, and DiCamillo has a deft pen, so you know you’re going to be reading quality writing when you pick up one of her books, but I think, deep down, I’m just looking for another Edward Tulane.