Photo Challenge #13 / Happiness

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“Easter Egg” / Theme: Happiness

A little about this photo…

Here’s a little story my grandmother would always tell me about Easter Eggs and her brother (my great-uncle).

My grandmother’s family lived in the Soviet Union when she was a girl in the 1930s. (She was part of an ethnic group called the Germans from Russia.) Since communism is atheistic, it was severely frowned upon to celebrate ANY religious holiday, Easter included. And when I say severely frowned upon, these were the days after the Holodomor, the great starvation winter (1932-33) that Stalin used to force “persuade” the people to accept the communist way of life. (And yes, my grandmother’s family lived through that.)

Okay. Back to the story about the Easter Eggs. Every Easter, their mother would hard-boil eggs. (Well, except that year back in 1933, I suppose.) And my great-uncle would always take a egg or two to school. (This would have been 1935-ish, when he was about 12 years old.)

Of course, he would always get in trouble. “Don’t bring those eggs to school, Emil!” his mother would tell him. So did his grandparents. And his younger sister (my grandmother). Even his father, although the father’s job on the commune farms kept him away from home most of the time. Emil’s teacher even came to visit the home to tell his mother, “Stop sending those eggs to school with your son!”

But there was nothing they could do. My great-uncle was a stubborn kid and he would do what he would do! Fortunately, nothing bad did happen to him because of the Easter Eggs.

Now, thinking back on this little tidbit of a story, I have a few questions. 1) Did this happen more than one year? (The more I think about it, I think it probably only happened for one (maybe two?) year. Stalin’s Great Purges were from 1936-1938. Their grandfather was taken in 1938. Their father was taken in 1941, but only because he was deemed necessary as one of the mechanics that kept all the commune farms running. And 2) Were the eggs dyed? Unfortunately, I never thought to ask these questions while my grandmother was alive.

On a side note: My Uncle Emil was known for doing things “his way”. Despite his propensity to thumb his nose occasionally at the authorities, it was probably that stubbornness that ended up saving him from the gulag… But that’s another story.

Side note #2: I am fully aware of the irony of the theme of this photography prompt (“Happiness”) juxtaposed against a story that discusses people being starved and taken away to the gulag. It’s perhaps the German-Russian heritage in me? (Soviet-era jokes tend to have a bit of a macabre edge to them.)

So… that is the little story of my great-uncle and the Easter Eggs. And with that, I wish you a very happy and blessed Easter!


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

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Theme of Resurrection in Books

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WARNING: This blog post has spoilers! If you haven’t read these books… just be aware of this. Although, all the books (and play) mentioned are typically “older” books.

I recently went to see a performance of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. My nieces were in the cast. My older niece (12) gave me a nice, detailed synopsis of the play before I went. Which was great. I did study this play at University, but it’s been awhile and I had forgotten much of the story. And the only thing I really remembered is that it is the most “fairy tale-ish” of Shakespeare’s plays (often considered a romance).

And also I remembered the resurrection scene.

This is the part where the statue becomes human. (Of course, it’s not really a physical resurrection. Hermione, the queen, was alive this whole time. But, her husband, King Leontes, did NOT know this. So, for him, it WAS a resurrection!)

And that got me thinking of resurrection as a theme in books.

The most obvious book is also one of my favourites:

#1 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe // by C.S. Lewis

lion-witch-wardrobeAh… Aslan.

Lewis doesn’t just pretend to have a resurrection like in The Winter’s Tale. There is an actual physical resurrection of the Lion in this book. He really IS killed by the White Witch on the Stone Table.

But, the White Witch doesn’t know the deeper magic.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

(The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Chapter 15)

Of course, Aslan in these scenes is a straight allegory of Jesus and his sacrifice in the Bible. Complete with the girls (Lucy and Susan standing in for the women in the Bible) being the ones to first encounter Aslan post-resurrection.

Note: The book cover above shows Aslan and the girls during this moment in the book!


#2 – The Lord of the Rings // by J.R.R. Tolkien

fellowship-of-ringIt shouldn’t surprise us that Tolkien has his own resurrection thing going. After all, he and Lewis were really good friends! (Tolkien was instrumental in Lewis becoming a Christian in the first place.)

So, we have Gandalf. In order to save the other members of the Fellowship, he falls in an abyss to defeat the Balrog. He dies, but is resurrected to return to Middle Earth… no longer as Gandalf the Grey, but as Gandalf the White.

At last Aragorn stirred. ‘Gandalf!’ he said. ‘Beyond all hope you return to us in our need!’…

‘Gandalf,’ the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. ‘Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf.’…

He laid his hand on Gimli’s head and the Dwarf looked up and laughed suddenly. ‘Gandalf!’ he said. ‘But you are all in white!’

‘Yes, I am white now,’ said Gandalf. ‘Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been. But come now, tell me of yourselves! I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten. I can see many things far off, but many things that are close at hand I cannot see.’

(The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter 5)


#3 – Bridge to Terabithia // by Katherine Paterson

bridge-to-terabithiaJesse’s friend, Leslie, dies near the end of book. Jesse is devastated. But unlike the two stories above, Paterson doesn’t give us a physical resurrection in this book.

No, this book’s resurrection is more than just a person. It’s about all that Leslie embodied. The idea of Terabithia. Leslie created this whole fantasy world of Terabithia and helped Jesse to see it and embrace it. So, in losing Leslie, Jesse also loses Terabithia.

So, in a sense, it’s Terabithia that gets a resurrection. And that happens when Jesse shares the secret of Terabithia with his “bratty” little sister, May Belle. While it doesn’t bring back his friend, Leslie, it does bring back some of the magic he felt when he was with Leslie. Except, this time, he’s sharing the magic with May Belle. And in time, something that will also be passed on with their baby sister.

And when [Jess] finished, he put flowers in [May Belle’s] hair and led her across the bridge—the great bridge into Terabithia—which might look to someone with no magic in him like a few planks across a nearly dry gully.

“Shhh,” he said. “Look.”

“Where?”

“Can’t you see ‘um?” he whispered. “All the Terabithians standing on tiptoe to see you.”

“Me?”

“Shhh, yes. There’s a rumor going around that the beautiful girl arriving today might be the queen they’ve been waiting for.”

(Bridge to Terabithia, Chapter 13)


#4 – The Giver // by Lois Lowry

giverThere’s no actual death in this one (at least of characters we get to know in the book). But there IS a symbolic death.

At the end of the book, when Jonas comes to the realization about what the Community is and what will happen to Gabe if he doesn’t act… When he takes Gabe and leaves the Community, in a sense the young, naive Jonas does  “die”. He leaves, not only childhood behind, but the innocence and “protectiveness” of the Community.

But he is resurrected at the end of the book. The memories given to him by the Giver—memories of the sled and music—usher Jonas and Gabe into a new community and a new life Elsewhere.

For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps, it was only an echo.

(The Giver, Chapter 23)


What about you? Do you have any books to add to this list?

Quick Pick Reviews #5

The theme for this set of Quick Picks is that of Magical Realism. These books are about kids who live real lives, but there is some sort of magical element that appears.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

Odessa Again // by Dana Reinhardt

{0F0CBFDF-EAE8-45E0-9405-6D224FD326B2}Img100 Odessa’s mom and dad are newly divorced and that means a lot of changes for Odessa and her brother, Oliver. Her new attic bedroom gives her the ability to allow for her change things about her day. I like the magic in this book and also the realism. In some ways this book was trying to be a little Parent-Trap. (And I love The Parent Trap movie!) But I like how it ultimately didn’t quite go that route with the happily-ever-after ending. Not that the ending was miserable. Just… realistic.


All the Answers // by Kate Messner

61v2HSzjk9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ What would you do if you found a blue pencil that gave you all the answers to your questions? That’s exactly what happens to Ava. She starts with answers to math questions, but then she goes on to asking some tough questions. At first, I wasn’t sure about Ava sharing this knowledge of the pencil with her best friend, Sophie. But I soon realized that Sophie was able to get Ava to ask some crazier questions than she’d normally have done. And then, I liked how it came to Ava asking some crazy questions herself… especially the question about cancer.

The only thing I didn’t really like was the revelation of how the blue pencil works. To me, this is unnecessary. It brought me out of the story. If there is some magical element in a story, I don’t need an explanation, I should accept it on its own terms.


Joplin, Wishing // by Diane Stanley

Joplin, wishingJoplin inherits a mysterious broken platter from her grandfather. She has it pieced together, only to discover that the little dutch girl in the pattern, Sofie, has come to life. I liked this book well-enough. Joplin and Barrett make a nice team. And I really liked the neighbour, Chloe. I almost wished there were more of her. The “antiques dealer”, Lucius Doyle, makes a good antagonist. And the fact that he’s been around for a long time is really fascinating. And creepy. I didn’t “like” him, but I did like how he was portrayed. (Note: The ending was a little weird to me regarding how they solve Sofie’s problem. It felt like it didn’t quite belong in this book… more realism than magical.)


Photo Challenge #12 / Signage

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“Boat Launch” / Theme: Signage

A little about this photo…

This photo was taken about a week ago at a boat launch on Lake Erie. As you can see, it isn’t quite ready yet for boats. But the sign is still there… ready to be really useful in the  months to come. (A couple things I like about this is the little light house at the top of this sign! And the seagull that is doing a fly-by.)


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

Read an Old Book

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“When a new book is published, read an old one.” ~ Samuel Rogers

This is some good advice.

There are so many good “old books” out there. And we sometimes forget about them with all the influx of new books being published. So, this quote is a good reminder NOT to forget that these old books exist, and that they are often worth reading a second and third time.

Some recent “old books” for me are…

#1 – The Story of the Treasure Seekers // by E. Nesbit

story-of-the-treasure-seekers.jpgThis book is all about the escapades of the charming Bastable children. The family is facing hard times, and the children decide it’s up to them to help their father restore their family fortune.

This leads to many endearing, yet ill-advised, schemes. The children somehow manage to land on their feet, though, usually with the help of Albert-next-door’s uncle. (While Albert-next-door is a little prig, his uncle is a sympathetic champion to the children.)

I love that Nesbit teases us with her narrator’s “secret identity” through-out the book. “It is one of us that tells this story – but I shall not tell you which: only at the very end perhaps I will. While the story is going on you may be trying to guess, only I bet you don’t.”

The language is definitely a little old-fashioned. (It was originally published in 1899! But Nesbit’s storytelling is top-notch… better than many of our contemporary authors. I didn’t read this book as a kid, although I wish I had. I found the story thoroughly enjoyable from an adult’s perspective. This is one of those books you’ll want to keep coming back to.

First published in 1899… (My Rating: 5 Stars!)


#2 – Man o’ War // by Walter Farley

158930I recently picked this one up at a thrift store. I’d never read this book before, but I loved reading The Black Stallion series as a kid.

Reading this book as an adult, I must say I really enjoyed it. This book just shows Farley at his best… dealing with the behind-the-scenes of training a horse for the races. Set around the time of the First World War, it follows the story of one of the greatest race horses in history: Man o’ War.

Bonus: For me, I love that this book is about a REAL horse. (Sorry, folks, but if you didn’t already know this, the Black is fictional. Not that fictional is bad in any way. Come on, Anne Shirley is fictional, too.) Now, of course this book is a fictionalized account of the story… or a based-on-a-true-story type of book. But I must say, the story of Man o’ War is fascinating.

As a kid, I always came out of reading a Walter Farley book thinking I was a true horsewoman. (I’m not, and never was, and never will be.) And now reading this for the first time as an adult, I felt this book did the same to me. I guess that’s the magic of Walter Farley’s writing!  🙂

First published in 1962… (My Rating: 3.5 Stars)


#3 – Homecoming // by Cynthia Voigt

homecomingSadly, this book is no longer at my library. I have no idea WHY they would get rid of it. Because this is an amazing book! I guess it’s just “too old”. (It was published in 1981, so apparently that’s “old”.)

When I realized this book wasn’t at the library, I started searching for it at the used book stores. Finally found a copy. Bought it. Still, I’m very sad the library doesn’t see the value of this book.

It’s the story of the Tillermans, a family of four kids who are abandoned by their mother in a parking lot. So, hardly a cent to their names, they have to fend for themselves and find their own way “home”.

This book is heart-wrenching in its portrayal of the kids’ journey. A journey in both the physical sense, and also a metaphorical sense. Their goal is to reach a grandmother they’ve never met. And when they get to the grandmother’s, it’s not all fairy-tale-ending happiness. The grandmother is a big crank and pretty determined that she wants nothing to do with four grandchildren.

But Dicey, the eldest, is pretty determined to do whatever it takes to keep her siblings together.

First published in 1981… (My Rating: 4.5 Stars)


Any good “old” books you’ve been reading recently? What do you consider to be an “old” book? Do you even read “old” books?

Review: Full Ride

full-rideBook: Full Ride
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Genre: YA Fiction, Suspense
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: When Becca’s father is sent to prison, Becca and her mother must rebuild their lives in a small town in Ohio. To protect themselves, they have to keep that deep, dark secret hidden. Three years later, Becca applies for a full-ride scholarship to college. Suddenly, the past is revealed and Becca’s whole future is at stake.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Becca is well-portrayed. I definitely felt for her, not only in losing her daddy to prison, but the fear she lives with trying to hide her true identity.

2) I liked Becca’s group of friends. It’s nice when she realizes she can trust them.

3) The mystery surrounding the fate of Whitney (of the scholarship fame) was done well. We get hints what happened, although it’s a nice, slow progression to the ultimate reveal.

4) I thought Haddix did a good job in her set-ups, leadins to the pay-offs later in the book. I loved the little details, like the u-haul switch before they move. And the essay switch-up was good.

5) The chapter headings were interesting. Basically telling us if it were “Then” or “Now”, often hinting at Becca’s state of mind. For example: “Now (Why, oh, why aren’t I in a different now?” or “Now—and things can get worse”.

6) I like how Becca’s father is portrayed. We’re able to feel the disgust and the sympathy, and all the emotions in-between that Becca feels toward her daddy. For a character that is hardly in the story, he has a very real presence.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) [*Minor Spoiler] I thought the “sting” at the end of the novel a tiny bit unrealistic. Or rather, it didn’t seem it fit in with the rest of the story. It was like watching Hollywood suddenly take over.

2) The trip near the end of the story also felt a little forced. Like why is it that all of a sudden Stuart’s parents can’t make the trip? And then they only agree to the young people going is if Becca (the good student) is going?… How do they even know Becca? It’s very clear in the book that Becca never goes to the homes of her friends. So, that just seemed a tad too convenient to the purposes of the plot.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed the suspense of this book. It kept me guessing just enough to keep me reading. Overall, a good read.

On Chapter Length

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I like short chapters.

Okay. Not too short. One page chapters weird me out. Really. Weird. Me. Out.

As do two page chapters. They might as well be a one-page chapter.

No, I like chapters that are short enough that I can finish it in a sitting. I usually read before bed, to unwind after a busy day. So, that means I’m sometimes pretty tired. Sometimes I can only handle one chapter (maybe two).

And I hate putting a book down in the middle of a chapter. Which usually happens if a chapter is really long. Did I say how much I hate really long chapters? No? Well, they’re worse than the really short, one-page chapters.

Give me a nice-sized chapter. So, if I need to stop reading, I just put my bookmark at the beginning of the next chapter and I’m set for tomorrow.

Of course, if the chapter ends on a cliffhanger… I’ll want to read on. And sometimes I do read on. Even though I really should get to sleep. But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’d rather leave a cliffhanger for tomorrow. Because it’s something to look forward to…

What about you? Do you like long or short chapters? Or do you just not really care?

Review: The Journey of Little Charlie

journey-little-charlieBook: The Journey of Little Charlie
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Genre: MG Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Little Charlie Bobo comes from a poor, sharecropping family in South Carolina. When tragedy strikes, Little Charlie finds himself heading north with Cap’n Buck, on a journey to bring back three fugitive slaves in Dee-troit, Mitch-again.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Little Charlie is quite likeable, albeit he’s rather naive. He certainly takes a while to put two and two together. But, ultimately he does. I also like how “Little Charlie” isn’t really all that little. He’s 12 years old and 6’4.

2) I loved how Curtis handled Little Charlie’s diction. It definitely added flavour to these characters. I’m not always a fan of writing out dialect, because I often find it hard to read. But I had no trouble with this book.

3) Three scenes really stood out for me. The first was the one where Little Charlie returns with bad news for his ma. Wow! I thought this scene was superb in how it handled the raw emotions of the mother, and including Little Charlie’s reactions to her.

4) The second scene involves the slave-catcher. Cap’n Buck is the villain of the piece. (And yes, along with Little Charlie, we get to hang out with the villain for most of the book!) But there’s a scene where the Cap’n is trying to wash himself in the river. All of a sudden, we don’t just have a character who is pure evil. We see that he’s vulnerable, and we (like Little Charlie) feel momentary pity for him. Now, don’t think this makes him any less of a villain. It doesn’t. The Cap’n continues to be despicable throughout the story. But I like how Curtis makes him a little human. It makes him more of a well-rounded villain. (Note: Even better, this is the scene where Cap’n Buck drops the hint of the fate of Little Charlie’s mother… something Little Charlie only figures out much later. Something that just seals the deal on how despicable Cap’n Buck truly is.)

5) Third scene to stand out… Inside the barber shop in Detroit. It somehow reminded me of a Charlie Chaplin scene. (Charlie Chaplin from The Great Dictator.)

6) I liked when Syl and Little Charlie both realize that they are the same the same height and the same weight. (And the reader realizes, that they’re both a little gullible.) It’s an endearing moment. And slightly weird, since it comes at a time in the book when you want to shout at Syl to get out of there.

7) I love the Author’s Notes at the back of the book, explaining the historical nugget that inspired this book. A real young man by the name of Sylvanus Demarest…

8) Being from Canada, I love the Canadian connection! And I love the differences shown between the reactions of the authorities in Detroit (U.S.) versus the townspeople in Chatham (Canada). (BTW, if you ever get the chance to visit the museum in Buxton, Ontario, do it! Below are some pics I took last April.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Okay, so this isn’t a huge criticism. (More like a warning. And “warning” is not really the right word either.) It took me a few chapters to realize that Little Charlie Bobo is a poor, white kid from a share-cropping family. I guess I assumed he was a black slave. The book cover is slightly unclear. So, I was a little confused for a few chapters because the historical stuff didn’t seem to mesh with Little Charlie’s situation. Like the date of the novel being set in 1858 in South Carolina, well before the Civil War. (Note: I don’t really like to read reviews/blurbs about books for fear of spoilers. Especially, if I like the author’s writing style. As for Christopher Paul Curtis, I love his books, so I went into this book blind.) I’m not sure HOW Curtis could have fixed this.

2) The dog and the horse have very similar names: Stanky (dog) and Spangler (horse). And speaking of the dog, I was waiting for her to come back into the story. I don’t know quite how. Maybe à la Incredible Journey?? So, I’m not sure why Curtis makes such a fuss about the dog when he has the dog drop out of the plot quite early on in the book. (Unless… did I miss something??)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Another good book from Christopher Paul Curtis. Going in, I was thinking this was going to be another Underground Railroad book. And it is, in a way… just from the slave-catcher’s perspective. Which is quite intriguing. I think it really only works because of the character of Little Charlie Bobo. (I’d recommend it for ages 10 and up. Maybe age 9?)

Photo Challenge #10 / Pattern

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“Lantern” / Theme: Pattern

A little about this photo…

I took this photo during the “Follow the North Star” tour (about the history of the Underground Railroad) at the St. Catharines Museum back in February. For those who don’t know, St. Catharines is the city in Canada where Harriet Tubman settled during her days as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. This is where she brought her parents after rescuing them.

I’ve always been drawn to stories about the Underground Railroad and I greatly admire the courage those people must have mustered to make such a journey. They would NOT have had a lantern like this one, but instead would have used only the stars to guide them on their way north to Canada. But I love how the pattern on this lantern almost looks like it is a star-filled sky.


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek