Bashara Likes Books

Bashara Likes Books

I read a huge amount of children's literature with my daughter so that is mostly what you'll see from me here. Finding high quality books to share and enjoy with her has become my obsession.  But, I also love classic literature, travel, historical fiction, poetry and art.  Mostly, I just love books and words.  Deeply.

The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any mountain I'd been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium and suffering, it struck me that most of us were probably seeking above all else, something like a state of grace.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

4 Stars
Nightjohn - Gary Paulsen

Sarny is a 12 year old slave girl and this slim volume tells about the moment her life was forever changed by the arrival of a new slave named John.  John offers to teach Sarny letters of the alphabet in exchange for tobacco.  Sarny knows little of reading and writing, but knows it must be powerful stuff for the whites to so strictly forbid it.   She agrees to the bargain, but is totally unprepared for the consequences.


It's remarkable what Paulsen is able to accomplish with such simple prose and in only seven short chapters.  This is a really hard hitting little book that touches on some deeply disturbing aspects of slavery (as if the fact of it isn't enough).  Not only are there several instances of extreme physical brutality against slaves, there are multiple mentions of the practice of breeding slaves.  It's ugly stuff.  The recommended reading age is 12 and up and, if reading independently, I'd agree with that assessment.  However, I always say you can go a little younger when reading aloud and I read this with my 10 year old and she handled it just fine.

4.5 Stars
Where's Mommy?
Where's Mommy? (Mary and the Mouse) - Beverly Donofrio, Barbara McClintock

I am an ardent Barbara McClintock fan.  She's the illustrator I'd want to be if I was an illustrator.  Her style just speaks to me on just about every level.  I own almost everything her pen has touched. 


Sadly, our picture book reading days are dwindling as my daughter approaches tweendom.  But we both still love picture books and will make the time for special ones like this. 


It's important to know that this is a sequel to another fabulous picture book titled Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary.  You don't have to read that one to get something out of this one, but it sure enhances the experience greatly! In fact, the pair would make a LOVELY gift for any child who like miniatures and tiny details.

2.5 Stars
Only the Names Remain: The Cherokees and the Trail of Tears
Only the Names Remain: The Cherokees and The Trail of Tears - Alex W. Bealer

A solid and informative piece of children's non-fiction based on the Trail of Tears.  I can't say it makes for the most thrilling reading, however, and I feel that a more engaging format could have been utilized. 


It's also worth noting that Native American children's literature expert, Debbie Reese, has some pretty strong objections to this book.  Mainly she dislikes how the book implies that there are no more Native Americans in Georgia (hence the title....only the names remain).  She points out that while there are no federally recognized nations in Georgia today, there are plenty of Cherokee people currently living in the state. 


I don't necessarily agree with Reese that this is grounds for removing the book from circulation entirely.  I think it still has some value. However, she does raise a salient point about how Native Americans are generally portrayed in literature and media.  Their stories are almost always rooted in the distant past and are of the 'tragic victim' variety.  Children (and the rest of us really) need and deserve a more nuanced picture. A good start would be acknowledging the vibrant, diverse, and complicated Native American populations living today. (This is why I think Sherman Alexie is one of the most important living authors!) I think this particular book could have been much stronger if it had included at least an epilogue about the Cherokee nation today.

3.5 Stars
Gone Girl
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

Hey, is there room for me on this here bandwagon?


It's everything everyone says it is - clever, compelling, surprising, disturbing, thought- provoking.  I don't necessarily buy into the dire view of relationships presented here...however, Amy's 'cool girl' rant is one of the best pieces of spot-on writing I've read in a long, long time. 


Can't wait to see the film adaptation!

4 Stars
Lyddie - Katherine Paterson

Very realistic historical fiction account of one girl's experience as a factory girl in the Lowell Mills circa 1840s.  I really like how Patterson blends historical accuracy and details with enjoyable and high quality writing.  It is worth noting that the story has some pretty bleak moments (illness and death) and mature themes (sexual harassment and unplanned pregnancy) and yet they are always relevant to the storyline and not at all overly graphic. The ending is a bit open-ended and not everything is tied up neatly, but that's realistic.  The age recommendation is 10 to 14 and I feel that is accurate if one is okay with the aforementioned issues. 

3 Stars
The King in the Window
The King in the Window - Adam Gopnik, Omar Rayyan

October's Mother-Daughter Book Club Selection.


If I'd been reading this on my own I think it very likely that I'd have abandoned it early on.  But I continued out of obligation and it DID get better.  I still never fell in love with it, however.  The characters never won me over and it was dull in some spots and a bit scattered in others.  To be quite frank, it doesn't surprise me at all that this was the author's first attempt at youth fiction. 

4 Stars
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
The Mysterious Howling - Jon Klassen, Maryrose Wood

Such a nice blend of light and clever, thoughtful and fun.  It was both a bit more and a bit less than what I was expecting.  It is a pretty quick little read and there isn't a great deal in terms of narrative tension, but that really doesn't make it any less enjoyable.  The characters, the setting, the writing, the situation all make this a totally engaging read.  And now I'm a little annoyed because I feel compelled to continue with the series and I really had no plans to do so!

4 Stars
The Bobbin Girl
The Bobbin Girl - Emily Arnold McCully

A very nice primer on early American factory life. 


Rebecca is ten years old and works a thirteen hour day at Lowell factory as a bobbin girl. Her mother runs a company boarding house for female employees. Rebecca may be young, but she is aware.  She sees that, on one hand, the factory provides a truly rare opportunity for young women - a chance to earn money and gain a little independence and maybe even an education.  On the other hand, work in the factory is physically demanding and potentially dangerous.  Furthermore, the workers come from already marginalized groups (women, children, immigrants), have very little power, and are easily taken advantage of.


One worker in particular, Judith, stands out to Rebecca.  Judith is a clever, principled and strong-minded young lady who actually incites the factory's first "turn out" (strike).  I hope it's not too much of a spoiler, but anyone who knows even a little American history knows that it would take more than just one strike to effect great change for workers.  However, these early rebellions did remain in the worker's consciousness and sowed the seeds for future and more effective worker's rights movements.


The author's note provides a good amount of context and background information.  For example, Rebecca is a fictional character, but is loosely based on a real-life 'bobbin doffer' Harriet Hanson Robinson.  Like Rebecca, Robinson started as a bobbin girl and took part in a strike.  And like Judith, she took advantage of the educational opportunities that Lowell provided and grew up to be an author and activist. 



*I'd recommend this for ages 8 to 12. It works as a fantastic read aloud as there is much to ponder and discuss.

*Next, we're reading Lyddie by Katherine Patterson (a chapter book about Lowell factory life) so it will be interesting to compare the two.


4 Stars
Wonder - R.J. Palacio

Jumping on the bandwagon – loved it, absolutely loved it. I laughed, I cried, all that jazz.


Funny too, because based on the description (a boy with a severe facial deformity attends school for the first time) I did NOT want to read this. It sounded like the biggest downer or, worse, a goopy feel good mush fest.  Palacio walks a fine line here and does it with such finesse it’s nearly unbelievable that this is her first novel.  It’s not perfect, but there are so many perfect little moments that just radiate truth and beauty.


Because I’m tired/lazy I’m just going to make a list of my thoughts:


  • Loved the multiple and varied representations of parents/adult authority figures. It’s so rare that adults get to exist, let alone be human and relatable, in a kid’s novel.
  • Loved the realistic idea that, for most people, being kind isn’t the default setting. Neither is being cruel, however. Instead the easiest/safest thing is to just not stand for anything.
  • Mostly loved all the different points of view and the clever way each perspective gives the reader insight into different characters and situations. In just one sentence I understood why kindness came so naturally to Summer.  Then, in another couple paragraphs, I knew exactly why Julian was the way he was and why he’d probably never change.
  • On the other hand, my least favorite sections were those dealing with the teen sister and her circle of friends.  I feel they could have been left out and the novel would have been just as good - if not better.
  • An odd coincidence – this is the second novel in a row I’ve read which referenced David Bowie’s song ‘Space Oddity’ multiple times.
  • Although it’s attractive and eye catching, I just don’t love that cover. I realizing that designing for this particular story had to be a pretty big conundrum, but I think this one is a misfire.
  • Normally it annoys me when novels repeatedly reference pop culture, but it kind of works here. I just hope it doesn’t terribly date this wonderful book in a few years!
  • This is that rare book that adults and children will love equally. It has a fast, fun and engaging plot for kids, but so full of heart and meaning that adults will also love reading and discussing it with kids.
I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

4 Stars
Wonderstruck - Brian Selznick

Gosh, that Brian Selznick is a clever dude.  I felt that Hugo Cabret worked so well because (a) it was totally new and unique and (b) its storyline (silent films/mystery) worked perfectly with the medium.  And so I wondered if he could really pull it off a second time.  Well, pull it off he did and, in my opinion, with even more success. 


Wonderstruck tells two equally engrossing stories.  One, set in 1977, tells the story of a grieving boy named Ben who is dealing with the loss of his mother and the total loss of his hearing while also attempting to unravel the mystery of his unknown father.  The other, set in 1927, tells the story of Rose - an overprotected, lonely and deeply unhappy deaf girl seeking some kind of freedom and happiness.  Ben's story is told in text and Rose's exclusively in pictures.  The stories intersect in surprising and enjoyable ways and overall this book is just a delight to experience.


I absolutely LOVE how Selznick always manages to incorporate non-fiction elements into his stories.  With Hugo it was silent films and Georges Méliès in particular.  Here it's museums - specifically the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the precursors to formal museums - Cabinets of Wonder.  I think in some author's hands this type of thing could feel clunky and pedantic, but Selznick's passion for the subject always shines through and is deeply infectious.


Finally, one simply cannot read this book and not think of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  I was thrilled to see Selznick address this in his acknowledgements AND he says there are little references to Konigsburg and her book sprinkled throughout his book!  I didn't catch a single one and now I feel like I may have to go back and read the entire thing!  Well, I could think of a lot worse ways to spend my time.

4.5 Stars
Jane, the Fox, and Me
Jane, the Fox, and Me - Fanny Britt,  Isabelle Arsenault (Illustrator),  Susan Ouriou (Translator),  Christine Morelli (Translator)

That title, that cover?  How can you not be intrigued? 


This is a strange and melancholy sort of book, but also unique and very memorable. 


Helene is a lonely little girl who has recently run afoul of the queen bees at her school.  The book implies that Helene used to be part of their group, but now she spends her days fielding their cruel little insults about her weight.  Any person with two good eyes will quickly see the disconnect between their taunts and Helene's actual size.  But none of that matters because Helene believes it to be true to her very core simply because they say it is so.


Helene's loneliness has caused her to retreat into the world of books - specifically Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (with two little dots over the 'e', Helene points out).  Helene finds a somewhat kindred spirit in Jane - someone, in her mind, equally lonely, misunderstood and put upon.  And that's really all I should say because the rest is best left discovered by the reader.


The illustrations are breathtaking. Anyone who is or was a lonely little girl will be deeply moved.  Highly recommended!

4 Stars
Sacajawea (Lewis & Clark Expedition) - Joseph Bruchac

A remarkable telling of a remarkable journey taken by remarkable people.  I am sure there are countless works of fiction on both the Corps of Discovery and Sacajawea.  I haven't read any of them so I'm certainly no authority, but I think this has to be one of the best - certainly one of the best aimed at young readers.  The book's best feature is it's dual narrative - each chapter alternates between the perspectives of Sacajawea and Captain Clark.  Sacajawea's chapters are the strongest and most engaging, but Clark's chapters still do their part to flesh out the details.  All of Sacajawea's chapters begin with a short Native American legend and all of Clark's with an excerpt from a journal entry.  Highly recommended!


*A note on recommended age: the back of the book and amazon both say 12 and up - likely due to advanced vocabulary as well as some slightly mature themes (just one example of many - Lewis's sad end is told in more graphic detail than one might expect).  Still I always say one can go a bit younger when reading.  I read this with my ten year old and she enjoyed it mightily!

4 Stars
Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller
Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller - Sarah  Miller

Like just about every other reader on the planet, my first thought was, 'do we really need *another* book about Helen Keller?'  And the answer in this case is an emphatic yes! This book covers the very small time period from when Anne Sullivan arrived at the Keller's home up to the point when she and Helen made the famous and truly miraculous breakthrough at the water pump.  But what makes this book unique and worthy is that the entire story is told from Anne's point of view, and woven through out the main narrative are flashbacks to her own troubled childhood.  All of this just makes for a truly engrossing and satisfying read.  I really couldn't put it down and that's really saying something when you consider I knew *exactly* how it was going to end!  All in all, a really fantastic read that left me wanting a lot more!

3.5 Stars
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict - Trenton Lee Stewart, Del Roy

This was September's Mother-Daughter Book Club choice.  This is a prequel to the very popular Benedict Society series and gives a bit of back story for the society's founder, Nicholas Benedict.  At the start it threatened to be a typical sad orphan/orphanage tale. However, as with the first installment in the series, there are enough fun and unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. The pace is a bit slow, but in a deliberate and enjoyable way.  These are thoughtful and well written books and, ultimately, I really don't have much to complain about.  My daughter absolutely loves the series!