Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons

Happy (late) New Year! Here, 2014 is being kicked off with the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, by the talented Ann Rinaldi.

Phillis Wheatley, as many of you probably know, was a young girl brought over from Senegal, Africa, in the 18th century. Bought by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, Phillis works for the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, as her personal slave–until it is discovered that she can read.

After that, Mary’s brother Nathaniel begins to tutor Phillis, teaching her Latin and Greek and helping her to improve her reading.

And then she writes a poem. And things really change.

Soon, Phillis is reciting for the Wheatleys’ dinner guests, visiting various bookstores and printers throughout Boston, and is even sent to London. (All against the backdrop of the colonists’ growing discontent with British rule.) She meets a string of well-drawn characters, from Aunt Cumsee and Prince, fellow slaves, to Benjamin Franklin.

I love this book. So much. I haven’t read historical fiction in a fairly long time, and this was definitely a good one to go with. It pulls you in and won’t let you go, and I really loved Phillis’s voice as the narrator. She’s honest, telling the reader her thoughts as a new arrival in America, an ocean in between her and her past home and freedom. At one point she says, “It seems you are not permitted to murder a slave woman. Not even in America.”

Ann Rinaldi definitely paints a convincing picture of Phillis’s life, from childhood to being an adult. The story of her voyage on the slave ship is shown in all its unimaginable brutality, and her struggles with freedom and the desire for it are drawn really well. The author doesn’t gloss over Phillis’s struggles, and the way she writes is addictive.

It might make you cry. It will give you lots of feelings. It’s really amazing.

Phillis is a great character, and I loved the complexity with which Rinaldi details her struggles and conflicts: Should she want freedom? If free, how would she be able to survive? Would it be better if she just stayed with the Wheatleys?

Really, do the Wheatleys even value her as a human being?

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time, and I definitely recommend it. It has happiness, sadness, big questions, and great characters. And, of course, poetry.

Literary Quote of the Day: “I could scarce contain my own excitement. The more I wrote, the more excited I became. I felt like Columbus must have felt when he just discovered America. Only the land that I had sighted was myself. In a way, my own way, I was free.” —Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, by Ann Rinaldi

P.S. Some other great books by Ann Rinaldi are A Break With Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials and Brooklyn Rose.

Why I Love Reading

Hi everybody! So this week I traveled back to ye olde elementary school to talk to a group of 6th grade students about blogging (and, of course, books). They’ve just read Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, and their teacher, the exciting Mrs. P., plans on them having blogs of their own. (Which sounds pretty neat, ’cause BLOGGING.)

Anyway, one of thBook Hearte things their teacher wanted me to talk about is why I love books. To me it’s sort of a fact of life that reading is amazing, and that kids should be encouraged to do it. So it feels a little odd to articulate why I love it, when I’ve loved it for just about as long as I can remember. Still, when I was thinking about this for my presentation, I was like “Why not write a blog post about it?”

I must warn you, though, that this is probably going to be rather rambly and most likely not incredibly organized, due to the fact that it’s Friday and I’m not insanely focused right now.

Sigh. I try. . .sometimes.

AHEM. To continue!

Reading is. . .difficult to explain. It’s not exactly like watching a movie, or going to a concert, or hanging out with friends at a frozen yogurt joint. Reading is like this place inside my mind that can feel quiet and exciting, achy and elating, and captivating in a very black-holey sort of way.

Reading is very complicated, at least, the feelings it can give you are complicated.Keep Calm-Read

One of the best feelings I can ever get from a book is getting to be completely captured by one, when my mind is empty of everything except for what’s in front of me, on the page. It’s like a thick, hazy cloud of happy-book-ness. It’s like being asleep, almost, in that it’s kind of warm and fuzzy and I need to rub my eyes once I surface again. It’s completely losing yourself in an ocean of words.

Only imagine the ocean is made out of puppies and laughter and Florida sunsets and the way your grandmother’s lotion smells.

 

That’s kind of what reading is like for me. That’s what reading can be.

And that’s just really, really awesome.

>shakes head out happy-book-ness fog<

Not to mention the fact that you are never going to run out of books. There is always more to discover. There is always something new to be tried. I might have run out of Humphrey Bogart movies. >sobs< I might have run out of Halloween candy. >sobs again< But books? Books are never going to fail me.

There’s always something else to love.

(And always more fictional characters to fall in love with, but that’s beside the point.)

Plus, writing is an art—and sometimes you’ll come across a book that’s like looking at a really amazing painting or listening to a fantastic song. There are book forms of Beethoven. Books where, even though the plot and characters may seem more at the forefront of your mind, the writing itself  is utterly beautiful and strong. (FYI, if you’ve ever heard of Two Boys Kissing by David Leviathan. . .that’s what it’s like. The writing literally made me want to cry sometimes, it was so heart-achingly wonderful.) There is nothing like getting sucked into a masterpiece, people.

Dr. Who Quote--BooksAnd to return to the subject of how many books there are, they’re all so varied. (Young Adult and children’s books in particular, I think, but that’s just me.) As I’ve mentioned before, there’s the hugely important issue of a lack of diversity (I’m hoping to get a post out soon), but if we’re talking plot, genre, setting, etc., let’s just say. . .wow. If you were to make a patchwork quilt of all the books in the world, you would get something pretty crazy.

Like, out of this world crazy.

There are books like Eleanor & Park. There are books like A Birthday for Francis. There are books like Monster. I could go on forever.

And reading is one of the best ways to connect with anyone, ever. And I don’t just mean when you see someone reading a book you like and something like this happens. (Although that is pretty amazing.) I mean when you’re reading a book, and something happens–a character feels something only you thought you felt. You realize what it was like to be a Jew during the Holocaust. You get to see the life of a slave.

There’s so much you can learNelson Mandela--Educationn, gather and feel. It’s a way to realize what people went through, and to empathize with humankind. (Here’s a great post on something similar to this.) Honestly, reading seems like one of the most human things a person can do.

And while that’s definitely not all there is to reading, I think it’s a good start.

I hope you all have a great day!

. . .12 days to Christmas. . .12 days to Christmas. . .

 

Literary Quote of the Day: “When I get a little money, I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” –Desiderius Erasmus

(Many more quotes about reading here.)

P.S. The kids I were talking to were fabulous. Do you know how many hands went up when I asked them who loved to read? A LOT. If you guys are reading this, you were great. Like, “made my day” great. Good luck with the blogs!

P.P.S. Rest in peace, Nelson Mandela. There’s a really great short documentary about him here.

Eleanor & Park

GAH. THIS BOOK. THIS. BOOK. Ergasmergh. Just. . .just ergasmergh. Really.

OK, collecting my thoughts, collecting my thoughts, gimme a sec. . .JUST ONE SEC. . .OK. I think I’ve got it. Let’s do this.

So, just a little while ago I started hearing really good things about this book. It’s currently being featured on Figment (a writing site for teenagers), and has gotten a ton of good reviews. (Including one from John Green, might I add.) So I decided to get it from the library and read it. (Plus, look at the cover art. That is some EPIC cover art.)

Eleanor & Park, written by the talented Rainbow Rowell, is the story of two sixteen-year-olds that meet one day in 1986. Eleanor has just moved to Omaha and needs a seat on the bus. Park is the only one who lets her sit down, very reluctantly so. Eleanor, well, she’s weird. You can tell. And Park, as one of the very few Asian kids in his entire school, already doesn’t fit in. And some chubby, oddly dressed redhead isn’t really going to make life easier for him. So he plugs in his Walkman and drowns everything out. Eleanor doesn’t talk to him, and he doesn’t talk to her.

Gradually, though, they do start to interact a bit. It starts with comics. It gains speed with music. And before you know it, they’re in love.

The one thing that really stuck with me about this book was the characters. Not just Eleanor and Park, but the others as well. Eleanor’s only other friends at school, DeNice and Beebi, are funny and extremely likable. The other kids on the bus, as well as the schoolteachers, are striking and unique. But Eleanor herself was probably my favorite character. In the second chapter, when she’s deciding to brave the bus and the merciless kids who tease her, and thinks, “Oh, fine. The children of hell shan’t go hungry on my watch,” I immediately thought, “I love her.” Her sarcastic comments are some of my favorite moments throughout the whole book. The things she and Park go through together are also amazing, and some of the things they say to each other might have made me actually stop reading and go, “Squueeeee!” Because they were–and are–that fabulous. And squee-inducing.

And though the ending might make you cry, or at the very least make you want to eat a whole tub of ice cream, reading this book is just so incredibly worth it. The main characters, though imperfect and not your oh-so-conventional pretty-girl and pretty-boy couple (which is great, because I wouldn’t like them nearly as much), will have you cheering for them the whole time. And their story is one that is entirely worth your time. So read it. Excuse me, I need to go eat some ice cream now.

Literary Quote of the Day: “‘The least boring Batman story ever, huh? Does Batman raise both his eyebrows?'” –Eleanor in Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

P.S. If you STILL aren’t totally convinced that you HAVE to read this book, take a look at John Green’s review in the New York Times.

The Fault in Our Stars

Okay, so I know I mentioned this in my last post, but I just loved it SO MUCH that I feel it deserves a review of its own. Plus, I just finished another book by the author, the incredibly awesome John Green, and then was reminded of this book, and one thing led to another, and POOF! New post.

This book is titled The Fault in Our Stars, and tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who spends most of her time inside rereading (and rereading and rereading and rereading) the same book over and over. That, and watching episodes of America’s Next Top Model. Until her mother convinces (or forces) her to start attending a cancer kids support group. It is at one of these meetings that Hazel makes the acquaintance of Augustus Waters, a  former osteosarcoma patient who immediately starts hanging out with her. And–

Okay, here’s the thing I’ve realized about this book: It’s an amazing book. It really is. And it is also a ginormous pain to describe. Like, I could write “And Hazel and Augustus embarked on a long journey of self discovery” or something equally formal, but that wouldn’t really fit in with the rest of the post, now would it? Basically, this story of Hazel and Augustus has a lot of stuff in it, like big ideas and champagne and romance and epicness and all that jazz that makes it so awesome and sad and thought-provoking. It’s a really good book. I love the writing, the story, and the characters (particularly the character’s names–John Green is a genius with names), and I think that other people would, too. It is totally worth a read. So go. Get it. Now.