Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle: Author Interview (+giveaway!)

Back in April, I had the pleasure of interviewing Margarita Engle for her new picture book The Sky Painter. It was also around this time that I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of her upcoming memoir in verse, Enchanted Air. I was completely touched and blown away by this sensitive, thoughtful look inside the conflicted experience of growing up as a Cuban-American during the beginning of the Cold War. Engle's memories of Cuba are beautiful and longing and they truly embody the concept of wanderlust. While fans of Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming can immediately draw comparisons to Enchanted Air, I think Engle's memoir differs slightly in that it also focuses on travel as part of one's identity, certainly a theme I am happy to celebrate here on this blog. :)



Thank you so much Margarita for coming back to the blog to talk about Enchanted Air. Your body of work celebrates the accomplishments of many well-known as well as little-known Cubans. What made you decide to write a memoir of your own experience as a Cuban-American?

I wrote Enchanted Air as a plea for peace and family reconciliation. The decision to write a memoir truly surprised me, even though it was my own decision! I never thought I would willingly bring my emotions back to the surface. That’s why I chose to focus on travel, a truly joyous aspect of my childhood. One reason for writing a memoir was to tell the story of a family torn apart by the Cold War firsthand. I’m often horrified when I read narratives written by people who have never been to Cuba, especially younger authors who didn’t experience the era, and tend to romanticize events that caused so much personal suffering.


What struck me the most as I was reading Enchanted Air was how tranquil you describe life in Cuba at the beginning of your memoir. How much of that Cuba do you still carry with you? What is that conflict like for you today, to carry those beautiful memories inside your heart along with the longing you feel for the Cuba that you had to leave behind for survival and political reasons?

Photo courtesy of Margarita Engle
Ah, well, I was a child, and that is why life seemed tranquil to me. Now, as an adult, I realize that it was an illusion. At the time, I was not aware that many of the relatives I was visiting had suffered unimaginable horrors both before and after the Revolution. However, because I experienced a child’s closeness to family, curiosity about nature, and spirit of adventure, those are the aspects that return to me as joyous memories. There are painful memories too, but the joy is more enduring, more indestructible. So I do still carry a certain tranquility, along with the conflict and turmoil.


What is your fondest childhood memory of Cuba?

This is actually quite embarrassing. I took people for granted, and regarded farm animals as special. Looking back, I treasure the time I spent with my grandmother, great-grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but at the time, all I wanted was a chance to ride horses and milk cows. I believe that is because during the school year, I was a city kid in Los Angeles. Summer in Cuba meant the small town of Trinidad, and the family farm, a dream come true for any nature-loving child.


What would you like Americans to know about Cuba that we likely don’t, due to our decades-long strained political relationship?

Cuba is unique. There is no place else on earth with such a highly educated population living in such extreme isolation and poverty. Americans tend to equate poverty with lack of education, but in Cuba the waiters and taxi drivers are doctors and college professors who earn $20 per month, eat strictly rationed food, and are trying to make ends meet by earning tips. American tourists need to approach Cubans with respect and a spirit of friendship, treating them as equals, not servants.


Since travel memories in Cuba are the centerpiece of Enchanted Air, I fully admit that your memoir has lit a fire in me to want to travel to Cuba someday. Now that travel restrictions to Cuba seem to be slowly lifting, what advice would you give to Americans like me who would like to travel to Cuba someday?

Suspend your disbelief. Accept surrealism as reality. Don’t talk politics. Travel to small towns, rural areas, and natural areas, not just the glitzy tourist extravaganzas at fancy hotels in Havana.


I firmly believe that our family memories are often steeped in the food we eat and meals we share. What is a dish that you make in your own kitchen that can immediately take you back to Cuba?

Sadly, I’m not a skilled cook, but I’ve never lost my childhood enthusiasm for sweets, and tropical fruits are definitely high on my list of favorites! I love a good batido de mamey. This is basically a smoothie. Mamey is a Caribbean fruit that is impossible to find fresh in California. I don’t live near any Cuban grocery stores, so I can only obtain it when I’m visiting Los Angeles, where it can be bought frozen. Mixed with milk and sugar in a blender, mamey resembles a thick, rich Indian mango lassi in texture, but the flavor is distinctly Cuban.



Thank you so much for stopping by the blog today Margarita! I hope everyone goes out and buys Enchanted Air, in stores August 4th.


Giveaway!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster who have provided two finished copies of Enchanted Air for readers of this blog.


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Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 7-27-15

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.


Last week I reviewed:
 
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

 
My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart 
All the Lost Things by Kelly Canby


I finished reading:

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone: Helping Students Navigate Unfamiliar Genres by Cathy Fleischer and Sarah Andrew-Vaughan
I feel sort of ashamed that I'm only just now getting around to reading this book since Cathy Fleischer has been such a mentor to me in my MA program at Eastern Michigan University. I feel like this book has been the theory and practice that my writing instruction was missing. Helping students navigate unfamiliar genres is so incredibly important because once they have learned to examine the unknown, they will be more self-motivated to continue learning that which is unfamiliar, intimidating, or downright scary, even when it's not required for a grade.


I finished reading with my ears:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unmapped Sea by Maryrose Wood 

I cannot get enough of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. Katherine Kellgren is an absolutely brilliant audiobook narrator. These audiobooks are truly a comfort read for me.


Favorite picture book from last week:

No Yeti Yet by Mary Ann Fraser
A delightful story with great read aloud potential about two siblings who go outside on a cold winter day in search of a yeti. 


Currently (still) reading:    

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby 



Currently reading with my ears:

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume 
This book has a lot of characters and stories to keep track of, but overall I'm really enjoying it.  

Come back tomorrow for an exciting interview with Margarita Engle about her new memoir in verse that comes out next week, Enchanted Air. There may even be a giveaway or two. ;)
  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

All the Lost Things by Kelly Canby

One day Olive comes across a place in the city where an old lady keeps all the lost things safe. There are many trivial things like pencils, hair clips, and bus passes, but more importantly, there are things that hold much more value such as courage, will power, and dreams. Olive decides to take five jars and fill them with these lost things to share with her family, but also the people in her city.

All the Lost Things is a wonderful mentor text to use to talk about concrete vs. abstract and how we can lose things that aren't necessarily tangible. It is also a nice reminder to kids and adults alike that the important things in our lives aren't necessarily things that you can touch or hold in your hand, but ideas that keep our souls and spirits going. There are so many great picture books that would pair beautifully with All the Lost Things, such as:


The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton
The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic
This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Float by Daniel Miyares
What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada



All the Lost Things by Kelly Canby
Published: April 20, 2015
Publisher: Peter Pauper Press
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
Audience: Primary/Middle Grade
Disclosure: Finished copy provided by publisher

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound

Friday, July 24, 2015

My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart

Fans of Hannah Hart's YouTube series My Drunk Kitchen will be further smitten with this "cookbook" of the same name.

If you've never seen My Drunk Kitchen before, do yourself a favor and go watch an episode. I guarantee you'll find yourself watching about 5 or 6 instead of just one. Here, I'll help you get started with this epic episode where Hannah cooks with Jamie Oliver. Basically, Hannah Hart parodies the genre of the cooking show with both humor and grace, and that is what you will also find in her "cookbook" as well.

I keep using the word cookbook in quotes because, let's be honest here, this isn't really a cookbook. No one is going to buy this to try to make anything therein, and yet, Hart has mastered the art of cookbookery without actually having written a serious cookbook. But despite the humorous, fun parody of the cookbook genre, the book has an underlying depth and heart to it once you root through all the puns and silly humor. 

As John Green states in the foreword of the book: 
...this is the wonder that is Hart's drunk kitchen: Whether you are deep in sadness or the happiest you've ever been, Hannah Hart knows how to make it better. She makes you feel less alone in the dark night of the soul, and even more joyful in the good times. 

So even though no one will open this book for the recipes, they will stay for the nuggets of humor and wisdom, such as: 

WARNING: Cooking in an oven, on a stove top, or on any heated surface (including city sidewalks in summertime) should only be attempted while accompanied by an adult. And by "adult" I mean someone who isn't drunk. It can be your kid sister too. She seems pretty responsible for a sixteen-year-old. I mean, she's always reading those YA books, so she must have learned a thing or two about life.


PRO TIP: It's always good to be eating while you're making something to eat so that way you don't eat it all if you're supposed to be sharing. 

LIFE LESSON: You might not at the standard of living that you aspire to achieve. But be patient. And sometimes eat some comfort food that you've sliced into a sushi shape. 


My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking & Going with Your Gut by Hannah Hart 
Published: August 12, 2014
Publisher: Del Rey Street Books
Pages: 240
Genre: Humor/Cookbook
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Library Copy


If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Audiobook review: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Goodreads summary:
Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo. 


I normally like to write my own plot summaries before getting down to writing my thoughts about a book because I feel like a more legit book reviewer that way. But sometimes a book is so beautiful and complex that it takes your breath away and you can't even find the words to describe what it's about. You just know that it's a book that needs to be felt and no amount of plot synopses will convince someone to read it because it's one of those books you have tell people, "Trust me on this. Just read it." 

Echo is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, or listened to as it were. The listening experience I think is superior to reading the physical book. Because Echo revolves around the magic of music, hearing the pieces that Ryan describes adds an extra emotional element to the narrative that reading alone cannot fulfill. There were many times I had to stop what I was doing, close my eyes, and let the music take me away, like when Friedrich walked by a window and heard the melancholy melody of Beethoven's Für Elise.

At the next corner, he turned down the thoroughfare. When he reached the music conservatory, he could hear someone practicing the piano in an upper story Beethoven's "Für Elise." For this he stopped and lifted his head, becoming lost in the music. 

Unconsciously, his hand rose and bounced to the time of the song Friedrich smiled as he pretended the musician was following his direction. He closed his eyes and imagined the notes sprinkling down and  washing his face clean.

 Or when Mike sat at the concert grand piano at Mrs. Sturbridge's house for the first time and played the longing and mournful notes of Chopin's Nocturne in  C-Sharp Minor

A music book stood on the stand. He flipped the pages until he came to the Chopin Nocturne no. 20. He positioned his hands, feeling the desire, like a magnet drawing his fingertips closer.

He played the opening chords. The room filled with the rich timbre of the piano and its full-bodied tone. It wasn't like any piano he'd ever heard before. The high notes sounded brighter, the now ones darker and more ominous. 

Those moments when I could actually hear the music and not just attempt to hear it in my mind, made the story so much richer and more impactful for me. I may have cried a time or two or four. 

Because the presence of the music in the audiobook was so integral to the listening experience, there was actually a moment toward the end of the book when the absence of music detracted from the narrative and made it feel like something was missing. When Mike was playing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, there was no music to accompany Ryan's descriptions. Since a soundtrack always accompanied the narration every other time music was mentioned in the story, this moment's absence it felt like there was a gaping hole in the audio production. If I had to venture a guess as to why it was missing, I'd say it likely had to do with permissions and copyright issues, so I hate to fault the audiobook producer for this missing element, but I do think it marred the listening experience just the slightest bit. It made me downgrade the audiobook from absolute perfection to pretty amazing – which is still a pretty darn good rating.

When I first saw the heft of Echo
– and the fact that it was historical fiction – I initially balked. I could not imagine who I would recommend this book to. Historical fiction is already a hard enough sell, but then when you factor in the length, I thought Echo was doomed from the start. But I was too quick to judge. This book is beyond masterfully written – though it is that – with its delicately woven threads coming perfectly together to a seamless whole at the end. And while yes, this is historical fiction, it is also much more than that. There is an emotional element to this story that I find most historical fiction, no matter how compelling, often lacks. Echo is a book for not only the readers in your life who love music, but also for those sensitive readers who are looking for books to be transcendent – to give you an experience beyond your emotions, becoming almost a spiritual experience. And that is what makes Echo more than just a heartprint book for me – it is a book that feeds my soul.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Audiobook narrators: Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Andrews MacLeod, Rebecca Soler
Published: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 592
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 37 minutes
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Audiobook library download/ Purchased hardcover

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ARC review: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodreads Summary:
Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody's games--or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade? 

This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl--as a friend? 


On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

As with all Rebecca Stead novels, Goodbye Stranger warrants a second (or third, or fourth) reading to really pick up on missed details. I didn't entirely get this one. It bounced back and forth between points-of-view (and the Valentine's Day chapters are written in second person which I will pretty much always question that stylistic choice from any writer, no matter how good they are because it is just so awkward much like this sentence) and it was difficult to completely connect with characters.

Even with the holes in my comprehension, these are the things I was able to pick up on:
1) This book straddles the line between middle grade and YA. To the point where I wouldn't be surprised if in a year or so we start seeing Goodbye Stranger on the list of frequently most challenged books.
2) It deals with topics that every middle schooler today is either dealing with or knows someone who is dealing with, and even though there will be parents out there who insist that what Stead has written is filth, I am also convinced those parents are missing out on a really important conversation with their kids.
3) This book is getting a lot of Newbery buzz. I'm not feelin' it. That's not to say it's not an important book. It just wasn't speaking Newbery to me.


What I feel like I missed:
1) While "embrace the confusion" was a good mantra for When You Reach Me because eventually everything came to one big "aha!" moment, I ended Goodbye Stranger still feeling confused, and in a way, sort of robbed of that moment of elucidation that I come to expect from a Stead novel.  
2) Maybe I'm just dense, but I don't entirely get how the title fits with the story. 
3) I could be wrong, but I'm not entirely sure how much kid-appeal this book will actually have even though it deals with some taboo, controversial topics. I hope to be proved wrong on that one. 

For an excellent, thorough review from someone who really enjoyed Goodbye Stranger, visit Betsy Bird at A Fuse 8 Production.  


Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Expected Publication: August 4, 2015
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Pages: 304
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade/Young Adult
Disclosure: ARC acquired at ALA Midwinter Conference  

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound

Monday, July 20, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 7-20-15

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.

I missed last week's It's Monday! post because I was in Costa Rica, which I will blog about more soon, but I did write a little bit about it yesterday on my teaching blog: Owning Up -- #semicolonEDU

I was also hoping to have the chance to blog about the awesomeness that was #nErDcampMI, but I feel like that ship has sailed, so here's a Storify instead.

This It's Monday! post will chronicle some of the things I've read over the past two weeks.


Reviewed:

Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah E. Harrison


I finished reading:
 
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
I will be reviewing this one soon, but spoiler alert: I didn't love it the way I love When You Reach Me


Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
If you want to move a student up a reading ladder that pairs the heartbreak and hope of Eve Bunting's Yard Sale with the emotion and imagination of The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat, look no further than Katherine Applegate's newest novel.


My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart 
Hannah Hart has mastered the art of cookbookery without actually having written a cookbook. A fun parody of the cookbook genre, while also being deep and heartfelt in places, once you root through all the puns and silly humor.


Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton 
The wish and search for something extraordinary to happen often means we are missing out on the extraordinary things that are happening all around us that are just disguised as ordinary things. The message of this book puts me in mind of The Man with the Violin and how so often beautiful things are passing us by because we are too oblivious to notice. 


I finished reading with my ears:

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Absolutely breathtaking. I need to collect my thoughts and then write a thorough review soon!  


Currently reading:

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby
I'm not very far into this one but I already love it. I know I'll be recommending this like crazy! 


Currently reading with my ears:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unmapped Sea by Maryrose Wood 
The Incorrigibles series is a comfort read for me. Katherine Kellgren is perfection as an audiobook narrator.