Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book 7 The thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell - Japan

OK this is older young adult fiction (if that is possible) shall we say adult fiction? I do think students in their late teens will enjoy this book and they would also get great value from David Mitchell's essay about historic fiction as a genre at the back of the book.

To describe this book as an eighteenth century love story is too limiting. It takes place in Edo-era Japan. The Dutch East India Company is stationed on the 120 metre-long artificial island . Theirs is the most significant contact Japan has had with the outside world since Portuguese missionaries were expelled. Dutch trade on the island is now the one opening Japan has to the outside world – a tiny valve for the exchange of goods and ideas.
Jacob de Zoet arrives on the island charged with cleaning up the accounts of an operation riddled with corruption. He is a man of integrity whose dedication to his role causes others around him to distrust and resent him. He meets a beautiful but scarred Japanese midwife who has been granted some limited contact with European medicine, Jacob finds himself in love but his affection is forbidden by tradition, culture, politics and law.
This unlikely and ill fated love story becomes more complicated against a back drop of Japanese political manipulation and the English navy advancing upon Japan. Mitchell also explores the idea of language acquisition, translation and interpretation. Cross cultural relationships in business, education and diplomacy between the Dutch and Japanese and later the Dutch and the English create dramatic storylines as well.
This is another book with its own website - with all the added extras - take a look.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book 6 - Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - Siberia

It sounds awful to say that I really enjoyed this book especially when you learn that it is about the sadness and horror of a family from Lithuania being sent to Siberia in the 1941 Stalinist purge that happened in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It was a brutal, inhumane suppression of people. The narrator is the main character, Lina, a fifteen year old girl who has been nutured in a home that encourages her artistic talent and intelligence. Lina is such a realistic character, coping with the conflicting emotions and confusions that came with  being a victim of this regime. I also loved Lina's mother's determination to try to be positive and not let her circumstances rob her or her children of their dignity. Strength pf character is personified in this character.

Not surprisingly this is a New York times best seller - it has its own website where you can read excerpts and read how Ruta Sepetys was inspired to write this account of people lost in a silent war.

Take a look at this great review on yareads from Christine.

This book and its characters will stay long in my memory.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

SLANZA conference - everybody getting there

This morning I leave for my Summer vacation in New Zealand's winter. I am heading home to the other world I mentioned in my profile. While I am there I will be attending the SLANZA (School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa) conference. One of the key note speakers is Joyce Valenza. I love these conferences - librarians are are people who are so generous in sharing their ideas and expertise.

I am still a SLANZA member. I appreciate this association and all that it does for shool libraries and librarians. Networking is vital for our profession and I really value my colleagues in NZ and throughout the world. It reminds me of the quote

Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there. ~Virginia Burden

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book 5 - Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers - Iraq

I don't usually read "war" stories but I am challenging myself to read more Young Adult novels so I thought I would increase the challenge by reading books from a variety of genres.

This book is no glorification of war or of the American way. It offers some very realistic views of what was happening for some of the young people fighting in Iraq. The story follows Robin "Birdy" Perry - a new recruit from New York's Harlem. He is not too sure why he enlisted but finds himself in a special unit called "Civilian Affairs". This unit is supposed to make friends among the locals and show the humane face of the US army. He faces the paradox of this assignment from the minute he arrives in Iraq.

Walter Dean Myers allows the voices of his Iraqi characters to raise the questions about this war. One leader says "Do you think that the people who have lived together for more years than your country has been in existence suddenly find it impossible? That the hatred has grown so quickly between Sunnis and Shiites that we must shoot and bomb each other? No, my friend." Another points out that by removing Saddam Hussein you just create more confusion "When you kill a camel it is better to cut off the body than the head," the old man said. "If you cut off the head then the camel doesn't know who he is." This book shows real stress in the motivation for the war and the execution of it. This is not a new war it is just another on top of the many wars already taking place in the land.

Birdy faces the fear, the anger, the grief and the confusion of  war with his unit. This is a compelling read.

For a look inside the book - Amazon
For a more in depth review - Teen Reads
For a student's review try this one from Jack posted in 2009