Cash Valley

Cash ValleyCash Valley by Ryan K. Nelson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

When FBI Agent Alex Travis receives an anonymous phone call one morning in 1954 with a tip concerning the now cold case of the Cache County Bank robbery, it has his undivided attention. The tip leads Travis to the top of the secluded Green canyon in Logan, Utah, where he meets a young man named Jack Pepper.  Jack’s story spans two years from the time of the robbery, and involves his girlfriend, Kate Austin, and the crime of the century for the Cache valley. Travis must decide if he is dealing with the suspects or the victims of one of the largest bank robberies in U.S. history.

To get the answers, it will take one more trip up the canyon, to the entrance of the Spring Hollow mine, where the daylight ends and the cold dark begins.

My Review

I very much enjoyed the setting and premise of Cash Valley. I have tried to fight my connection to the mountains at times in my life, but I have finally come to accept and relish the fact that my happiness and peace in life is tied to my landscape. And mountains reign supreme in my world. The characters in Cash Valley share my love of wilderness so they felt like pals right away. The Cache Valley area of Utah is particularly beautiful in its wildness and the author captures the feel of that place perfectly.

I was drawn in further by the history in the story. I enjoyed the tidbits of information the author gave about the time period and the location. And I just couldn’t pass up a plot involving a bank robbery in the wild west.

The characters are good people, heroic, but still flawed. I was rooting for the “star-crossed lovers.” The author’s voice is enjoyable. It is neither too flowery and puffed up, or too basic and juvenile. The author has several clever plays on words as well. His writing is perfect for this type of book – good, clean fun and excitement.

The only reason Cash Valley gets 3 stars instead of 4 is that I was disappointed in the method of storytelling use in the first half. For almost 100 pages the plot building and progression is done through characters telling other characters about events that happened in the past. It got a little old and was a little distracting because one of the characters told the events with much more detailed language than I think would be natural in that type of situation. The author also uses interruptions from the other character as a device to build suspense. It worked well the first few times, but after that I felt it distracted more from the flow and no longer achieved the purpose of suspense.

My wish is that the author had used more literary formats and devices than just a character retell and dialogue. Some flashbacks, maybe a written statement from characters, journal entries, or even just starting the story earlier in the events would have helped.

The pacing and flow definitely picked up after the character retelling was completed. It was a rush of excitement to the end.
Age Recommendation: I think ages 15 and up would enjoy and understand this book best.

Appropriateness: Fighting, gun-slinging bandits, thievery, and an intent to rape are part of the plot, but all is written tastefully with no crassness and no glorifying the violence and cruelty. I didn’t find anything offensive.

Other Book Recommendations: If Cash Valley interests you then you should also try Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Relic by Renee Collins, Enna Burning by Shannon Hale, Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn, and Charlotte’s Rose by Ann Edwards Cannon.

 

 

 

Ladybug’s Garden

Ladybug's GardenLadybug’s Garden by Sofia Schofield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

When Ladybug receives an invitation to a picnic, she prepares a basket of treats to share and sets off into the garden. On her way, Ladybug notices several bugs in need. She happily stops to help them, but worries she won’t make it in time. When Ladybug finally reaches the picnic, she discovers a sweet surprise!

My Review

I received a copy of this book from Pink Umbrella books and as soon as I took it out of the package my two year old grabbed hold of it and hasn’t let go. We read it together right away and he was completely enthralled with the colorful illustrations, especially the pictures of the bugs. The illustrations are simple and yet eye-catching. The rhyme in the text works well too. The rhymes fit together and with the storytelling. No awkward stretches with the story or words just to make it rhyme. Instead, the rhyme flows naturally and makes sense. I also appreciate the uplifting message of friendship and kindness.

My little one and I have read the book almost everyday now for several weeks and he’s not tired of it yet. The best part is that neither am I. It’s a short, easy read which makes repetitive reads easy too. But more than that, it is an all around cute story with charming illustrations so it’s easy to enjoy every time.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Sadako and the Thousand Paper CranesSadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this one with the idea of using it for my high level reading groups in my third grade class, so I wasn’t just looking for good story and writing as I read. I was looking for content that could spark discussion and provide opportunities for really diving into comprehension on all levels of thinking. This telling of Sadako gives all of that and more.

The story is heartbreaking, particularly because it’s all true, but it’s told with sensitivity and perspective perfect for young minds. In the second paragraph of the prologue the author tells you that this story is about a girl who dies from radiation poisoning so right from the get-go you know this isn’t a “happily ever after story.” And it is so sad. The author highlights the tragedy of the whole situation, of a life taken long before it should be, but it’s done with a simplicity that keeps it from being traumatizing even for kids. And in the end there is a feeling of lightness, just like a paper crane hung on a string. It’s the example of Sadako’s child-like faith and hope despite terrible pain and injustice that leaves you motivated to see good and possibility in the world even with all the problems and uncertainties.

The book is short – 9 chapters and an epilogue. I finished it in less than an hour, but it still has plenty of depth. There is so much to ponder regarding war, death, responsibility, choice and consequences, faith, Japanese culture, family, and helping others. It opens the door to looking at our country’s actions in Hiroshima in WWII from many different perspectives.

This book will be perfect for my reading groups. I even created some worksheets with questions they can write responses to as they read to test their comprehension and to also prompt them to think more deeply. You can download them here: sadakoandthethousandpapercranes

Feel free to use them in your classroom, book club, or anywhere else.

Age Recommendation: This book is easy to read, but the content is thought-provoking and a little heavy  so I would recommend it for 3rd grade and higher. It’s a great introduction to Sadako for adults. It makes me want to find out more.

Appropriateness: Despite the heavy subject matter there is nothing that would be inappropriate for children. This one leaves you better for having read it.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in Sadako you should also read So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Teaching Resources: Here are the worksheets I created for my high level reading groups to answer questions about the book: sadakoandthethousandpapercranes

 

The Box

theboxcoverThe Box is a new children’s picture book by Yvette Cragun and illustrated by Alex Smith. I had the chance to read it before publication in a digital format in return for an honest review.

The first things I noticed about The Box were the bright and varied colors in the illustrations. Very eye catching.  Then as I began to read the text I loved how it jumps right in to the plot – A boy finds a big box and is excited about all of the paths of imagination it opens. This brings so many memories to my mind; I remember the day my parents bought a new fridge and how excited my sister and I were to have the box that the new fridge came in. It was our time machine, our cave, a house, an airplane, and more. We used to turn even smaller boxes into houses for dolls and stuffed animals.  I think most kids will be able to relate to the plot as well. If they haven’t yet had a the opportunity to have a big cardboard box to play with, they will be begging for one by the time they have finished reading this book.

I enjoyed the rhyme of the text; it tells the story naturally and flows well for the most part. When I read the book to my kids (ages 5-9) there was one line that confused them a little.  Toward the end there is a line that says “She [mom] doesn’t see it,” meaning she’s not on board with the boy moving in to the box and making it his new room. My kids weren’t sure what it was that the mom “didn’t see.” They thought maybe she couldn’t see the box. Other than that my girls understood the story very well and loved the colors. As I predicted, they wanted a big box to play with themselves after we finished reading.

If I were to be super picky I would have one criticism regarding the illustrations. As I already said, I loved the colors and overall I loved the look and feel. They look like crayon or colored pencil drawings which add to the theme of a child’s imagination. However, I thought the illustrations of the boys made them look too old. They looked tall and lanky like my 13 and 14 year old nephews who, unfortunately, by that age would not get much excitement out of a big box.  The perspective in the illustrations is not always perfect, but I actually like that as it adds to the child-like feel, but there is one illustration of the boy’s mom that has a more realistic perspective.  The drawing is well done, but I felt it didn’t fit as well with the more playful perspective of the other illustrations.

Overall, The Box was a satisfying journey of imagination. The storytelling flowed well and provided an entertaining arc and conclusion. I am a third-grade teacher and I look forward to reading The Box to my class and using it to prompt a creative writing project.  After reading the book I will have my students think of other simple items (like a box) that with a little imagination can be used in all kinds of ways. Then they can write a story or a poem describing all the different uses. Isabella’s Pink Umbrella by this same author would be another great book to use for this writing prompt.

Continue reading

Skinny bones

SkinnybonesSkinnybones by Barbara Park

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary

Alex Frankovitch is a little on the skinny side for his age and definitely on the uncoordinated side. He has extra talent, however, for making the people in his life (and readers) laugh. It’s this talent that helps him get through baseball season and life as the target for the school jock and bully.

My review 

I consider read aloud time in my third grade classroom to be sacred. Ok maybe not sacred, but pretty darn important. Kids need to be exposed to “good” literature, not just curriculum stories formulated to teach information or a concept. They need to know what it feels like and sounds like to read a story with an interesting and smart author voice, one in which all the story elements are present, consistent, and complete. They need to be exposed to different genres as well. This is how experienced readers can motivate those still learning to want to keep at it. A read aloud experience at home or the classroom can show kids the adventures that wait them when they can independently read.

So I take seriously the responsibility of choosing “good” books to read aloud to my class. The BFG was our first read aloud this year, and then The Magician’s Elephant. Both of these books were fantasy though with very different voices. But I decided we needed a realistic fiction for our third read aloud. I perused all kinds of library lists and blogs to get ideas. On one list I saw Skinnybones. The name sounded vaguely familiar so I looked it up on Goodreads. As soon as I saw the cover memories from 5th grade came flooding back. My teacher read it to my class that year and I suddenly remembered bunting in baseball being confused with vomiting and other hilarious antics from Alex Frankovitch (a.k.a. Skinny bones). I knew it had to be the next read aloud in my classroom.

I was certain boys and girls with love this book and that we would all have a good laugh. I was 100% right. Alex Frankovitch is definitely the class clown, but an often misunderstood one. He makes some pretty dumb choices that get him into trouble but never out of maliciousness. He just doesn’t always think through his decisions. And he loves to make people laugh. The result is a laugh out loud journey through the perils of being an uncoordinated 5th grade aspiring baseball player with a problem with the class bully. My students were literally on the edge of their seats at times as we waited to see what Alex would do or say next. Everyday there were groans of disappointment when read loud time was over.

I loved the trip down memory lane. There are so many times that I would read a line or turn a page and suddenly remember what was going to happen next despite it having been over 20 years since my teacher read the book to my class. Occasionally I would start laughing at just the memory of what was to come and then have the hardest time reading it out loud without laughing through it. The laughter was contagious and my students would start laughing along with me before they even knew what the funny part was. Some highlights of the book for me are the beginning with Kitty Fritters fiasco, Alex’s conversations with God, and of course “Ooga Booga” in the middle of a baseball game.

Alex is just a lovable character despite his trouble-making tendencies. He reminds me of a boy in my class actually. I love how his parents handle his personality with their own sense of humor. The writing is genius. Though it was originally published in 1982, but it could just as easily take place today. So much of the story telling is dialogue and Alex’s thoughts which made it extra fun to read aloud with different voices and expression.

If you are in the mood for a ROTFL read pick up Skinnybones. I’m looking forward to seeing how many of my students pick up the next books in the series when we go to the library.

Age Recommendation: My third graders were the perfect age for appreciating this book. 5th and 6th grades would love it as well. But this book isn’t just for kids. Adults will appreciate the story and especially the perspectives of Alex’s parents and teachers.

Appropriateness: I love that this book is relatable for girls and boys. There is vomit talk, as would be expected when entering the mind of a 5th grade boy. Alex also has conversations with God but not in relation to any specific religion or spirituality. It was interesting to watch my students’ faces as I read the word “God” over and over. I live in a very religious area and yet students are not used to “that word” coming up at school. I loved being able to show them that it’s not taboo in all forms and that God is a real part of life for some people and even characters in books. I found nothing offensive in this book and it made for a perfect classroom read aloud.

Discussion Material: In my classroom this book inspired discussion about how to handle bullying, how to make up for mistakes we make or trouble we might cause, and how to keep a positive attitude and to like yourself even when life isn’t perfect.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the sound of Skinnybones I think you would also like Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, Holes by Louis Sachar, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Isabella’s Pink Umbrella (New York)

Isabella's Pink Umbrella New YorkIsabella’s Pink Umbrella New York by Yvette Cragun

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a kid I used an umbrella for so many things. Of course it was great to use in the rain, but I loved pretending it was a parasol when it was sunny, and as a big fan of Mary Poppins an umbrella could have all kinds of magical properties as well. So when I read about Isabella’s adventure with her umbrella it just gave me warm fuzzies. My girls often request this book as our bedtime story, so I know it sparks excitement, imagination, and interest for them too. It is also an entertaining way to teach a little about the sights and sounds of New York City.  The rhyming scheme is a fun addition to the storytelling though there are a few parts where the rhyming feels a little awkward.

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (The Herdmans #1)The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale — the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating — has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year’s pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

My Review

It was a tradition to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever almost every year when I was growing up. I have great memories of my older sister and my mom reading it to me. I remember my mom tearing up as she read the last chapter. But it had been probably close to 20 years since I had read the book (or had it read to me). Then pulling out boxes of Christmas decor this year I saw that bright red cover with Gladys Herdman as the Angel on it. All the good memories and feelings came flooding back and I just knew I had to read it to my 9 year old and almost 8 year old.

I wondered as we began if it would keep their interest. It is over 40 years old now. But age didn’t matter in this case. My girls were engaged from the start. They experienced all the shock and laughter that I remember experiencing as I read about the escapades of those naughty Herdmans. I was impressed by the genius of the writing that present characters, setting, and plot that could take place in the 70’s when it was written just as easily as it could take place today. The only aspect that dated the book at all was that the Herdmans read books at the library instead of looking online to learn about King Herod. 🙂

Teaching 3rd grade this year has given me the chance to interact with a lot of kids besides my own children, and it was amazing how “real” the characters and dialogue are. Every child character in the book reminded me of a student in my class (including the Herdmans).

I guess that’s why the tears flowed freely for me this year through that last chapter. The Herdmans weren’t just characters. They each had faces for me this year, faces of students that I see every day, students who just like the Herdmans suffer hunger and neglect but do the best they can with what they have and know. Reading of the change that occurred for the Herdmans gives me hope that real children in the world can have experiences that change them for the better if we all do our part to teach and reach out to them.

I also appreciated the reminder of the “Truth” of the Christmas Story. The Herdmans give a poignant picture; they make it easy to see that a true portrayal of the Holy Family would be of poor and weary travelers, likely disheveled and slightly anxious. Circumstances couldn’t have been less ideal for having a new baby. A Stable for heaven’s sake! And yet with the Christ child’s arrival the “imperfections” became meaningful and even perfect. The birth of our Savior made that stable sacred and all who visited treated it so. Just a reenactment of the Savior’s birth brought sanctity to the unruly Herdmans. And so it is with our lives. When Jesus Christ is allowed in he turns us from stables to temples. Even the hardest of hearts can be touched, even Imogene Herdman’s, and through hers – ours.

Such powerful messages to be packed into a short and sweet 80 pages. And they are powerful because they are not preached. Instead the author presents ideas, observations, and situations with plenty of detail and reality, but also with openness that allows us to visualize and make our own judgment.

Truly a classic. Merry Christmas! and “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

Age Recommendation: 8 and older would understand the content best. While the genre is children’s literature I highly recommend this one to adults too.

Appropriateness: There are a few swear words (from the Herdmans), some mention of underwear and the word sex appears. None of it is inappropriate for the purpose and audience.  It is in fact vital to the telling of this funny and engaging story.

Book Club Discussion: Besides the Christmas theme and the fresh look at the Christmas Story, this book also provides a platform to discuss troubled children and families, how we can help them, and how we should and shouldn’t judge others.

Other Book Recommendations: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn, and Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff.

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When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student, into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

My Review

This is one of those books that is so hard to review because there is just no way that you can do it justice. The author says it all absolutely perfectly, precisely, and poetically, so any words on my part are like fluorescent lights compared to the perfect gold of autumn sunshine. However, there is so much Truth and beauty to process and internalize from the pages of this book that I must attempt a review regardless of the inadequacy of my words. There were several passages though, that resounded with such power that I will quote them directly.

It seems almost an oxymoron to say that a memoir written by a dying cancer patient is one of the most powerful, positive, uplifting, and hopeful records of life that I have ever read, but it is the truth. Paul Kalanithi’s grasp of the meaning of life and death is so full, nuanced, and inspiring; he so eloquently describes his life journey as a son, reader, student, friend, philosopher, doctor, husband, and finally patient and father. All of it motivated by his desire to live a meaningful life and to discover what makes a life meaningful.

His interest in and search for meaning was sparked by literature. He felt like a bosom friend when I read, “I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, has something to do with the depth of the relationships we form. It was the relational aspect of humans that undergirded meaning…Literature not only illuminated another’s experience, it provided, I believed, the riches material for moral reflection.”

But Paul Kalanithi didn’t just stop at reflection. He wrote, ““If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?” And so he lived. He challenged his mind and body, he formed relationships, he worked hard and played hard.

His reading also introduced him to an idea that stuck with him through many years and that ultimately led him to choose neurosurgery as his career path over literature and writing:

“The mind was simply the operation of the brain, an idea that struck me with force…Of course it must be true – what were our brains doing, otherwise? Though we had free will, we were also biological organisms – the brain was an organ, subject to the laws of physics, too! Literature provided a rich account of human meaning; the brain, then, was the machinery that somehow enabled it. It seemed like magic…I began to see all disciplines as creating a vocabulary, a set of tools for understanding human life in a particular way. Great literary works provided their own set of tools, compelling the reader to use that vocabulary….I couldn’t quite let go of the question: Where did biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect? [Medical school] would mean setting aside literature. But it would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.”

I was completely fascinated by his experiences and descriptions of medical school. He illuminates the ironies and conflicts in balancing science and sensitivity in the practice of medicine. One of my favorite descriptions related to working on cadavers: “You would think that the first time you cut up a dead person, you’d feel a bit funny about it. Strangely, though, everything feels normal. The bright lights, stainless steel tables, and bow-tied professors lend an air of propriety. Even so, that first cut, running from the nape of the neck down to the small of the back, is unforgettable.”

I would describe Paul Kalanithi as a hero, but that’s certainly not what he was going for. However, his integrity and sincerity are truly bold and valiant in today’s world of instant gratification and self-interest. His words give the best sense of his convictions:

“Words began to feel as weightless as the breath that carried them…Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.”

“I was pursuing medicine to bear witness to the twinned mysteries of death, its experiential and biological manifestations: at once deeply personal and utterly impersonal.”

“The heroic spirit of responsibility amid blood and failure. This struck me as the true image of a doctor.”

“In my life, had I ever made a decision harder than choosing between a French dip and a Reuben? I still had a a lot of practical medicine to learn, but would knowledge alone be enough, with life and death hanging in the balance? Surely intelligence wasn’t enough; moral clarity was needed as well.”

“The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”

I went back to teaching this year after 10 years as a stay-at-home mom. There have been feelings of doubt, guilt, euphoria, and everything in between. I have had to make decisions and judgment calls regarding how to prioritize my time, how to balance my family and my students, how to keep and strengthen relationships with my children while also being effective as a teacher – both situations in which I can impact lives for good or ill. It was cathartic to read and relate to Kalanithi’s struggle to find the same balance in his life between medical school, family, research, and then ultimately illness and death. He wrote, “Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job – not a calling.” Both Motherhood and Teaching are my callings; this book has inspired me and strengthened my resolve that I can bring meaning to my life and to others through doing what it takes to fulfill my callings, no matter the sacrifice and inconvenience to myself.

Most powerful was the feeling of kinship Kalanithi inspires not just between him and his readers, but between the human race as a whole: “…it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer and eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them.”

All of this wisdom and Truth Paul Kalanithi shares as his body and mind are attacked and destroyed by cancer. It brings such an urgency to his message, while at the same time his words are full of peace and dignity even in the face of death. He is honest and open about his struggles in each stage of his life, including at the end, but that just makes his message and decisions to put others above himself more inspiring. The epilogue written by his wife solidifies the beauty of the love that they shared as a family and that they now share with the world.

Please read this book. No matter your life circumstance or experience there is something in these words for you.

Age Recommendation: This book deals with the theme of death beautifully, respectfully, and with reverence; however, some of the facts may be too emotional for younger readers. For that reason, I would recommend this book for 17 and older.

Appropriateness: There is some swearing in the book, but not a distracting or disturbing amount. Some vague, mild, reference to sex, but nothing graphic or disturbing. There is some medical procedures and description, but it’s all scientific so even when described in some detail the intent is not to be disgusting.  There are emotional themes which ought to push us out of our comfort zones a little, but the intent is pure and good.  If any of these aspects would deter you from reading the book, please don’t let them. This is a “must-read.”

Book Club Discussion: There are so many topics and questions that could be discussed in relation to When Breath Becomes Air including the importance of literature, doctor and patient responsibilities, terminal illness, dealing with death, sacrifice for goals, and finding balance.

Other book recommendations: If you are interested in When Breath Becomes Air then I think you would also likeThe Alchemist by Paul Coelho, The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

 

 

Taking Chance

I am breaking form for a moment and reviewing a movie rather than a book. But this movie moves me as much as any of my favorite books, so it deserves to be included in my reviews.

The movie is Taking Chance   and I give it 5 stars.

5 Star Rating

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Summary

Based on true events – Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl escorts the body of a 19-year-old Private First Class Chance Phelps, a marine who was killed in Iraq. The film follows his journey from the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, to Private Phelps home in Wyoming and gives an intimate look at the process and people involved in putting a fallen soldier to rest. The real power of the film is in the emotions it evokes with its honest and unabashed  portrayal of real people who sacrifice for others and who receive the respect, honor, and reverence that they truly deserve.

Time: 1 hour 17 min.

Rating: PG

Starring: Kevin Bacon

My Review

This is not at all what you would call an “action-packed” film, but it packs a punch nonetheless.  To tell the events of the movie would sound a lot like a travelogue, but the details and absolute order of each checkpoint in the journey reveals the true dignity and hallowed calling of the men and women of our armed forces. Each person that you meet in the film who is involved in the sacred duty of returning the body of Chance Phelps to his family, lights such a fire of hope and optimism for our nation and citizens because they all give respectful and reverent tribute in their own unique and perfect ways.

I can’t think of any other movie I have seen that is presented with such honesty and truth.  Taking Chance is devoid of any Hollywood dazzle or ploys. Kevin Bacon’s portrayal is perfect and the supporting actors feel so real. This is not a parade of magazine cover faces, but rather a look into true and everyday America.

Through the process of Chance Phelps’s body being brought to rest  we get a glimpse of the intricacies involved in giving our military men and women, both the living and the dead, the honor, respect, and reverence they deserve. The pieces that are shown come together into a powerful whole in which you feel such gratitude and pride for those who give so much for our freedom and way of life.  Even more powerful though, is the vision these events give of how we could be as a nation and as the human race if we were to treat every person and responsibility with the same honor that is evident throughout the movie.

After watching, I feel smaller and bigger. I feel humbled and proud. I feel my priorities rearranging themselves and such gratitude for my life and for those that sacrifice in small ways and who sacrifice everything so that I can live the way I do. And I feel, like the people in the film, the desire to give back in some way, big or small, to those strangers who sacrifice, fight, and die for me. Posting a review isn’t much compared to a soldier’s sacrifice, but maybe by drawing attention to this film in my small way others can also be affected and changed by it’s message.

With that, I say with absolute certainty that every American should see Taking Chance.

 

 

 

The BFG

The BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Captured by a giant! It’s lucky for Sophie he is the Big Friendly Giant. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

My review

It had been over 20 years since I read this book, but I remembered thinking it was hilarious as a 10 year old. So I decided to pick it up as our first read-aloud in my 3rd grade class. It was a hit! My students loved the way the BFG mixed up his words and they could not get enough of “whizpopping.” The story develops quickly so it kept their interest well, but it also has a great balance of developing details and really painting a picture of the characters, settings, and action. There is a lot of dialogue in the book which makes it especially fun as a read aloud. The text was on the perfect level for a class of 8 and 9 year olds.

Discussion material: The BFG inspired class discussions on metaphors, stereotypes, and geography. As a class we got to practice comprehension strategies inference, predictions, character mapping, sequence of events, and cause and effect.

Age Recommendation: Readers of any age can enjoy the fun, creativity, and humor in The BFG, but I think 2nd-4th graders will be especially enthralled.

Appropriateness: I didn’t find anything offensive or inappropriate; however, if you have a problem reading about passing gas (called whizpopping in the book) you may want to avoid this one. But if you are willing to loosen up and give it a chance, despite the whizpopping involved, you won’t regret it! It’s a clever and humorous adventure.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the BFG then you should give other Roald Dahl books a try like Matilda, The Twits, and George’s Marvelous Medicine. You will also like Frindle by Andrew Clements, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye, The Magician’s Elephant by Katie DiCamillo, The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, and The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan.

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