July 28, 2011

Riding the Rails

by Errol Lincoln Uys (pronounced Ace)

Most people are aware that there were hoboes roaming the United States and Canada in search of work during the 1930s. But what many may not realize is that a lot of these hoboes were teenage boys and girls. Even children as young as eight years old were hopping freight cars, either alone or with family. Their reasons for riding the rails varied -  for adventure, to escape abusive homes, to find work, or to not be a burden on their poverty-stricken parents.

Inspired by letters, oral histories, and archival photographs, this is an elegantly told, well-researched story about a unique moment in U.S. history. While the men and women never forgot the hardships on the road, they also recall moments of comradeship and exhilarating freedom that forever changed their lives.

To bring the story vividly to life, watch the documentary, Riding the Rails (on PBS Video).

July 26, 2011

On the Road

Today's posting features three different stories with similar themes. Abilene's father, in Moon Over Manifest, hops trains to travel between different cities, but one day, he decides to leave Abilene behind. The family in The Circuit chases the American Dream by following the harvest from farm to farm. And the Williams family in The Velvet Room just want a home they can call their own.

They are all searching for something and all, with one exception, find it.

by Clare Vanderpool

It is 1936, and twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker has been sent to live with her father's friend in Manifest, Kansas. A drifter, Abilene's father is no longer able to care for her.

Having heard stories of Manifest all her life, Abilene strives to find out more about her father's background. What she finds instead is a box of mementos hidden beneath the floorboards of her room. The box also contains letters that hint at the existence of a spy living in Manifest in 1918.

With her friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, she decides to find out if the Rattler (the name of the spy) is still around. She also starts helping the town diviner, Miss Sadie, with her gardening. It is Miss Sadie who tells her the story of two boys, Jinx and Ned, who used to live in Manifest. As she listens, Abilene realizes that the box's mementos represent key moments in the boys' lives. As she pieces the story together, she makes a discovery about her father that helps explain who he is now, and why he keeps travelling.

by Francisco Jiménez

In this short story collection, Jiménez describes the life of migrant farm workers from Mexico, who illegally enter the United States for what they believe is a better life. What they find instead is back-breaking work picking cotton or strawberries and crude shelters like tents, shacks, or windowless garages. Sometimes the workers were treated with kindness, but most were not. Depressingly, the book ends with the family's deportation. An epilogue, available in the audio version (The Circuit),would have been nice, since Jiménez did eventually succeed in improving his fortunes.

The Velvet Room

by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Twelve-year-old Robin tends to "wander off" to get away from the confusion she feels inside her. It was not until Robin's father found a permanent job at the McCurdy ranch, after three years as a migrant worker, that Robin actually found a place to wander to. The Velvet Room is  a wonderful library in an old boarded-up house that Robin enters through a secret passage. It becomes a haven for her--a place to read and dream, a place to bury one's fears and doubts, a place to count on. But, as Robin soon learns, you can't stop counting on people.

July 14, 2011

Fantastic humour by David Wiesner

by David Wiesner

On May 11, 1999, Holly Evans launches vegetable seedlings into the sky. She expects the plants to stay aloft for several weeks, allowing her to study the effects of extraterrestrial conditions on vegetable growth and development.

On June 29, 1999, curious things start to happen all over the United States. Cucumbers circle Kalamazoo. Lima beans loom over Levittown. Artichokes advance on Anchorage. Parsnips pass by Providence. There's more: Cauliflower carpets California, spinach blankets Greenwich, and arugula covers Ashtabula. Arugula? It's not part of Holly's experiment. So where do the giant vegetables come from? The surprising answer is revealed in the last two pages.

Throughout the book, David Wiesner's visual humor add to the fun of this sophisticated picture book. 

Plant explorers

If you've ever wondered where exotic plants come from, the following books will enlighten you.

For ages 7-10:

Twelve short stories about adventurers who risked their lives to collect plant specimens from around the world.

They include Robert Fortune, who fought off pirates in China; Joseph Hooker, who was kidnapped in India; Marianne North, who braved treacherous roads in Brazil; and Frank Kingdon Ward, who survived a hellish trip through the jungles of Burma. 

For teens:

An amazing and riveting story about obsessive orchid hunters and the lengths they will go to to obtain that one perfect specimen. Espionage, intrigue, and secrecy abound.

For ages 13 and up.

July 12, 2011


Kids like to cook! Here are a few books to get them started. 

July 6, 2011

Moomins are an unusual family

Moominpappa at Sea
by Tove Jansson

The Moomins have been around for over 60 years. Their stories are considered classics. Jansson's illustrations have a lot to do with it. The Moomins - Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll - plump little shapes that look like hippos or cows - and Little My, with her sharp, mischievous features are all rather cute and cuddly.

The stories themselves are a little strange. They're often filled with mystical creatures and fantastical landscapes. In Moominpappa at Sea, Moominpappa moves his family to an island so he can be a lighthouse keeper. But he doesn't know how to operate the light. However, he insists on doing everything himself, even if he can't own up to his mistakes. 

Moominmamma indulges in her own interests - gardening and painting - while observant Little My does whatever she pleases. Moomintroll longs to play with the seahorses and worries about the Groke, a sad creature who tends to freeze the ground she walks upon.

The island itself seems to have a life of its own; the trees and boulders start walking away from the sea. It's possible that the island misses the original lighthouse keeper, who has turned into a frightened recluse (why, we don't know). After the Moomins throw him a birthday party, he is able to resume his duties once more.

Reading a Moomin story is a bit like being in a dream, where everything is not as it seems. Definitely an acquired taste.