I’ve come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, or injustice, or death . . . is the true measure of the Divine within us.
Sometimes a book comes to you at just the right time, even if you don’t realize it’s the right book. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert was my in-real-life book club pick one month, and I’ll be honest. I wasn’t excited about it. I almost didn’t even read it, but I decided that I would at least start it, since we had a family trip to Hawaii planned as well, and this book takes place in the Hawaiian islands. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Like, walking around my house while reading, couldn’t put it down. I had no idea this was the historical fiction novel I needed in my life, and I am so, so glad I didn’t skip it!
Rachel Kalama has a wonderful life with her family on the island of Oahu. She is a typical 7-year-old girl, playing, going to school, and idolizing her dad. When a rosy spot appears on her skin and doesn’t go away, she is diagnosed with leprosy and her life, and childhood, change forever. She is sent to the island of Moloka’i, a designated leprosy colony, to live separately from the rest of Hawaiian society. She will either get better and be released . . . or not. She learns how to live a full life even when facing death (in her friends, family, herself) every day.
This is a fictional novel, but the setting is real. Moloka’i was home to a large leprosy colony from 1866-1969. Rachel’s experience in the novel is representative of many people who did go through being separated from their families and sent to this small island to live out the rest of their days after being diagnosed with leprosy. When I started reading Moloka’i, I knew nothing about this part of Hawaiian history, and I found it heart-breaking, intriguing, and something I still want to learn more about. I absolutely loved Rachel and her father, Henry. Really I loved all of the characters. They all felt very real and fully formed, and I was invested in the book as much for the plot as I was for the well-being of the characters. I was rooting for Rachel and the journey she was on throughout the whole book, and I felt like I got a very good sense of what it would have been like to live in Hawaii, and on Moloka’i, in that time period.
If you like historical fiction and want something a little different (I’ve read nothing about Hawaii’s history and now I want more), please pick up Moloka’i! I was hesitant at first because . . . well, a book about a leprosy colony just sounds sad. But this book, while it has its sad moments, is anything but. It has a lot of heart, and really focuses on how people can be faced with the worst situation and still come out of life with love, friends, and strong sense of self. Isn’t that all anyone wants in life? To love and be love, to be understood and to have an understanding of others. Moloka’i will give you all of that, with a little history lesson thrown in.
There’s a sequel!!! Daughter of Moloka’i will be out on February 19th, and you can bet I’ll be reading it!
(And yes, I did take this book all the way to Hawaii to photograph on the beaches of Oahu!)
It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted about what my kids are reading, and that’s mainly because they’ve been reading longer chapter books. I don’t want to post the same books week after week! But they’ve now made it through enough that I can start recommending books that they’ve loved again! Instead of separating this post by age, I’m just going to get right into the books!
My 9-year-old read this one and loved it so much that he re-read it again and again and asked if I could buy him ALL of Raina Telgemeier’s books! Ghosts is a graphic novel about a girl named Catrina, who has just moved to Northern California, and her younger sister, Maya. Catrina isn’t thrilled about being in a new town, but the weather is supposed to be better for her sister’s health: Maya has cystic fibrosis. When a neighbor reveals that their town is haunted by ghosts, Maya wants to meet one, and Cat has to decide what she will put first: her sister or her fear of ghosts. This is a wonderful story, and I am so happy that a character with CF features prominently! CF is an often misunderstood disorder, and I love that this book has made it accessible for kids. I highly recommend this for strong elementary readers or middle schoolers.
We read this book together after Sarah from Read Aloud Revival recommended it on her podcast. What a creative, fun book! Henry Penwhistle draws pictures all the time, including on his bedroom door, which is a giant chalkboard. One day those chalk drawings all come to life and follow him to school, wreaking lots of havoc along the way. I love that this book is so imaginative and encourages kids to create all kinds of art, not just coloring inside the lines. It also gently addresses important issues around friendships, adults who won’t listen, and how to be yourself when people don’t always understand why. Plus, Henry’s town is named Squashbuckle. Please read it, if only for that!
An alien robot boy crashes to Earth and befriends two earthlings. That’s probably all you need to know that this series is a HUGE hit with kids, especially my boys. They both (7 and 9) love this graphic novel series about Hilo (the alien robot) and his friends, DJ and Gina. In between Hilo learning how things work on Earth, they battle monsters, aliens, and the occasional monster alien robot combo. This is a fantastic, funny series that I think would work well for a lot of ages, as well as for reluctant readers![Top]
You cannot put life on hold to have a moment of grief, so every second, half the people in the world are split in two. This is what they mean by life goes on, and the worst is that you go on along with it too.
Have you ever been delayed in an airport without a book and no way of getting one? I have. Luckily, when my flight in San Francisco had a 5-hour delay, I remembered passing a bookstore in the terminal earlier, and immediately headed over. Compass Books not only had a bookstore in the terminal, it had a FANTASTIC bookstore. Old books, brand new releases, and everything in between. I spent a good 30 minutes browsing and trying not to buy everything. One of the books I settled on was An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim. It was one I hadn’t heard of, and when I saw it compared to Station Eleven, one of my favorite books, I had to give it a try.
This story is about Frank and Polly, a couple in the middle of a flu epidemic in America. Time travel has been invented in the future, and when Frank catches the flu, Polly decides to time travel to the future in order to secure health insurance for Frank and to meet him in the future after the epidemic has passed. They agree on a time and place to meet in Galveston, 12 years in the future, and she heads off. However, Polly is sent an additional 5 years into the future with no way of going back, no money, and no way of finding Frank. She has to navigate her new life in a new America and try to find Frank, if he’s even still waiting for her.
I thought this was a really interesting story and plot (I love post-apocalyptic settings), and I definitely understand why it’s compared to Station Eleven. Lim’s writing is beautiful, almost poetic (just look at that beautiful quote above), and she put a bit of a twist on the flu epidemic story. However, I didn’t love it as much as I expected. Some of the chapters seemed to start in the middle of a story, and I had to flip back to remind myself of what was going on. And while I truly appreciate what the author was trying to do, a lot of spots in the book felt like she was trying to do too much. It felt like Lim was trying to write higher brow literary fiction, and instead she might have embraced just writing a fun, well-written time travel book with a great story. It felt a bit too cerebral in parts, and I just wanted to be on the adventure with Polly.
That being said, while I didn’t love this book, I did think it was well-written, and Lim clearly has a lot of talent. I think this is a good book that just happened to not be for me. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic books that really take a good look at humanity and how people respond in catastrophic situations, definitely give An Ocean of Minutes a try and let me know what you think of it. I want to find what else the author has written and give that a try as well!
Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Two Lions for the free copy of Eraser! All opinions are my own!
I love books in which inanimate objects come to life and have their own personalities. (Such as The Day the Crayons Quit!) Even better? When they have a great message for kids. Eraser, written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant, has both of these things. This is another great back to school book for younger kids, and would make a perfect addition to a classroom library.
Eraser tells the story of an eraser who doesn’t feel as important as her colleagues. Pencil is so sharp, and everyone thinks he’s the coolest. Crayons? They make beautiful art. Even tape and glue help hold things together. All eraser does is clean up after others. She’s ready to do more. When she goes on a journey to try and be something she isn’t, eraser discovers how important she really is, and everyone around her appreciates what she brings to the table. Literally.
This is a really fun book, and the illustrations are super cute and detailed. Kids will find all kinds of silly situations in them. But what I really love about it is the (not so subtle) message of acceptance, both of yourself and by others. Eraser wants to be like other school supplies, and refuses to see how much talent and skill she actually has. When she starts to believe in herself and realizes her own self-worth, all the others do too, and she decides not to let her particular skill be lessened ever again. I realize I’m talking about an eraser’s self-worth, but I think that self-worth and self-respect are issues with kids today that are only getting bigger, and this story breaks it down in a simple, fun way.
Eraser is a cute, very well-illustrated story about an eraser, but it’s a great way to open up conversations with kids about how awesome they really are. It also shows how we should celebrate other people’s talents, even if they’re completely different from ours. I highly recommend this book for kids and classrooms!
And here he was in his mild and mindless way still roaming, still reading out the news of the world in the hope that it would do some good, but in the end he must carry a weapon in his belt and he had a child to protect and no printed story or tale would alter that.
I have a confession to make. Even though I am from Texas and have always lived here (except for a semester in college when I lived in Washington, D.C.), I don’t read a lot of Texas books. I don’t really seek out Texas authors, and I tend to shy away from books about Texas. Why that is I’m not sure, except that I have my own opinions about Texas, and perhaps I don’t want them messed with. But when several people, including my mom and Anne Bogel, recommended News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I decided to make it my Bucket List Book Club pick for August and “force” myself to read it. Guys, this is a book about Texas written by a transplant Texan who lives about an hour away from me. And y’all, I’m so glad I did.
News of the World takes place just after the Civil War, when there was still a ton of unrest in Texas, no one trusted each other, and the relationship between Texans and Indian tribes was contentious at best. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a military veteran, travels around Texas reading news stories from international newspapers to crowds of people, who all pay to listen. They lose themselves in the news and tragedies of far away countries that don’t quite seem real in order to forget their own problems for a little while. At one of his stops, he is offered $50 to return a girl, Johanna, who was kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe to her remaining family in San Antonio. For four years she has been living with the Kiowas, and she no longer seems to remember her family, how to speak English, or where she came from. The bulk of the book is about their journey together and how they each grow and change.
First of all, I just want to say that you MUST read this book, if only to read it before the Tom Hanks movie version comes out. It is so well written and well researched. It takes place during a very interesting and confusing time in Texas history, but I think a lot of parallels can be drawn to today’s history as well. (People losing themselves in news from other countries to escape thinking about our own news? Yup.) The book strikes a nice balance between a quiet story and intrigue. Yes, it’s a quiet book, but I absolutely wanted to know what happened after every chapter. Along those lines, I think this book would be best read in one or two sittings. I took too many breaks, and I wish I had just sat down and read it straight through. It’s a long journey, but a short book, and really lends itself to a lazy day spent in a comfy chair.
News of the World is such a good story and such a quick read, I really think everyone should give it a try. It’s amazing to see Captain Kidd’s journey from not wanting to take Johanna at all to becoming attached to her and fully invested in her happiness and wellbeing. Johanna’s story is heartbreaking (read the author’s note at the end), but is tempered by the story of a tough old Texan soldier turning into a softie. Sort of. It also has one of the best, most beautiful final chapters of a book I’ve ever read.
There are no quotation marks used in this book! The absence of quotes was a little jarring at first, but I ended up really appreciating it. Whenever I see quotes on a page, my eye is automatically and involuntarily drawn to them, and I often have to go back and re-read what came first. Without quotes, I really paid attention to each sentence as it came, instead of looking ahead to the dialogue.