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June 2023

Retta has dreams of making it big as a country music star in Nashville. After graduating from high school, she heads to the city to pursue a music career. Although she knew it would be difficult, Retta didn’t realize how hard it would be to break into the business, and when family drama calls her home, she begins to wonder if she should just give up her dream altogether.

Supplee begins each chapter of her book with a brief bio of a real country singer. I enjoyed Retta’s story, which was sweet without being nauseating, and had enough surprises in it to keep it from becoming too predictable. A quality addition to the “follow your dreams” genre.

Soviet Terror

28th April 2011

I read two books recently that shed new light for me on the suffering caused by the Soviets during World War II. The first, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, is a novel based on the author’s family history. Stalin and the Soviet government used the cover and confusion of World War II to “cleanse” the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, killing outright or deporting millions of people. Lina and her family live in Lithuania in 1941. Because of unknown “crimes,” 15 year old Lina, her younger brother and her mother are sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Siberia. Only her mother’s sheer determination, her brother’s childlike innocence, and Lina’s love of drawing can sustain the family during their darkest hours.

The second, Hiding in the Spotlight, by Greg Dawson, is a biograhpy of the author’s mother, Zhanna.  Zhanna and her family were Jews living in the Ukraine during the start of World War II. Already suffering under Stalin’s brutal communistic policies, the people’s torment increased as the Germans swept into Russia. Soothed by false promises of kindness from both the Soviets and the Germans, Zhanna’s parents decide not to flee from the swiftly moving German army. Once the Germans reach their town, the Arshanskys soon realize their terrible mistake. Unable to save themselves, Zhanna’s parents manage to save their two daughters. Through the kindness of strangers, and using their amazing musical talents, the girls are able to survive the war in plain sight, by entertaining the Nazis.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

02nd October 2009

A horrible accident forces Mia to make the most difficult choice of her entire life.  The tension in this book begins with the opening sentence, “Everyone thinks it was because of the snow.  And in a way, I suppose that’s true.”  Immediately I was drawn in, waiting, wondering what was going to happen and hooked until the final page.

I would absolutely love to see this book on film.  The alternating between Mia in present day, and the flashbacks that provide the back-story keep the tension high, and would be fantastic on the big screen.

Henry Day is stolen by some changelings when he is 6 years old.  Henry goes to live in the forest with the other changelings, and becomes “Aniday.”  Meanwhile, a changeling takes Henry’s place in life.  No one knows that the boy who was “Henry” has disppeared.  No one knows that the boy who is now Henry is really an imposter.

But a simple synopsis of this book cerainly doesn’t do it justice.   Donohue’s book is rich with detail and depth.  He explores the parent-child relationship; the power of books, reading and writing to bring meaning and understanding; the beauty of friendship; the myth of the changelings; and the freedom of forgiveness.

My favorite quote comes when a changeling observes a human boy reunite with his mother after an hour playing at the park.  The changeling observes:

A thin smile creased [the boy’s] face when she arrived, and without a word he jumped down from the swing, grabbed her hand, and off they went.  Their behavior and interaction baffled me.  Parents and children take such everyday moments for granted, as if there is an endless supply.

The changelings spend hundreds of years longing for a human family.  Too often I feel as if I spend the time I have with my children wishing it was naptime!  The reminder that the moments I have with my precious children are finite is a timely and necessary one.

This was a fantastic book.  Yolanda, her brother Andrew and her mother move from inner-city Chicago to Michigan.  There, Yolanda must re-establish her reputation as a tough, not to be messed with girl.  She also has to look out for her little brother Andrew, who communicates to the world with his harmonica.  But when Yolanda is busy with a new friend and Andrew is harmed, she know that it is up to her to make things right again.

There are some fantastic themes developed in this book: Friendship, family, loyalty, honesty, communication, love.  Through it all, Yolanda is convinced that her brother is a genius, and she will stop at nothing to prove it to the world.  This would be a great read-aloud in a fourth or fifth grade classroom.