Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart & illus by David Small

This book was a Caldecott Honor book in 1998 because it has amazing pictures. Did you know Sarah Stewart and David Small are married? Well they are. They have collaborated on a number of books, all of which are fantastic. The Gardener is a favorite of mine simply because it would be impossible to not love this sweet, plucky little gardener doing her best to make the world, her world, more beautiful.

Gardening with Grandma

This book is a collection of letter from Lydia Grace Finch. first to her Uncle Jim who she was going to live with due to the depression and her family's lack of money, and later in the book, when she was living with Uncle Jim, back to her family.

Sending her off to Uncle Jim in the city. What a terrible time the Depression was.

She had packed some of her favorite seeds though, so she was assured of having a few of her good friends near her, even if there was no one she knew at Uncle Jim's.

The cavernous city train station. 

When she gets to Uncle Jim's, in true gardener fashion, she looks at the potential for flowers. Window boxes!!

She also notices that Uncle Jim doesn't smile.

Lydia learns to work in Uncle Jim's bakery, under the tutelage of  Ed and Emma Beech, Uncle Jim's friends who work in the bakery. 

One day, she decides to go up the fire escape and finds a secret place of her very own to beautify.

Her grandmother sends her seedlings, making Emma Beech laugh.

Lydia and Emma have the window boxes looking marvelous. Neighbors bring containers for Lydia to plant for them. She is now known as The Gardener.

Finally it is time to show Uncle  Jim the secret place that she has been working so hard on.

Since it was the fourth of July, they greet him with sparklers. 

A week later, Uncle Jim closes the shop early and invites everyone up to the rooftop garden Lydia made. He brings a fancy cake and a letter from Lydia's parents that she can come home. 

And then there are goodbyes. Lydia leaves her plants in Emma's care. And hurries home.

Home, where her and Grandma can get back to their gardening.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Tucky Jo and Little Heart by Patricia Polacco

This is an incredible true story about Johnnie Wallen, a veteran from the Pacific Theater of World War II. 

Patricia Polacco is an incredible writer. One night, while on book tour, she passed a hotel conference room where a group of World War II veterans was holding a reunion. After listening to their stories, she began to wonder about all the soldiers who have never had their story told. When she got home to Michigan, she asked local veterans to tell her their stories. Johnnie Wallen's story is told in his Kentucky backwoods words and is incredibly, incredibly moving. One of my good friends told me I had to read this book, so I casually picked it up one day when I dropped my class off for library. I read it in the back of the room and by the end, the tears started pouring out. I felt terribly awkward, crying with 21 first graders under my care. Fortunately the librarian was being immensely interesting and they didn't notice me until I regained my composure. 

Read this book! There is no way I can do it justice without wholesale copying the whole thing on here. Which is frowned upon. So get your own copy!  

Tucky Jo!

Tucky Jo grew up in Kentucky, a sharp shootin' back woods boy. He caught the eye of the wonderful Freda. He knew she was something special.

When WWII broke out, Tucky Jo was to young to enlist. After some persuasion, his parents finally "lied me older." 

He set off for the South Pacific in the biggest ship he had ever seen.

War was no joke. Fighting for 219 days straight, through New Guinea and finally to the Philippines. 

By the time the troops arrived on Luzon, they were exhausted. The jungle was terrible. Hot, steamy, stinkin', and thick...and the bugs...I never seen so many bugs. 

Now I knew there ain't no glory in war. 

One day while out clearing brush for an airstrip, he saw a native village. 

Hearing a noise he whipped around with his rifle ready to confront... a little girl. Somehow, lookin' at that innocent tiny girl gave me a peace that I hadn't felt in a long time.

She showed him what plants would help soothe the bug bites and in the grand tradition of American soldiers, gave her a chocolate bar. They became fast friends.

They couldn't speak each other's language, so when they introduced themselves, Kentucky Jon became Tucky Jo and since she didn't offer a name, Tucky Jo called her Little heart for the heart shaped birthmark on her arm. 

He brought back the leaves of the soothing plant to his company, but didn't tell them about Little Heart. Just in case he was told not to talk to her again. His hands fell to whittling a jiggy doll for Little Heart. He couldn't wait to show it to her.

Little Heart was delighted!  Then she smiled. A smile so sweet and full of life that both of us clean forgot that a war was raging all over this island.

After that, they met up almost every day. 

Somehow, lookin' at her made all of the combat make some sort of sense. I felt like I was doin' all this warrin' for her... for kids just like her."

Finally Tucky Jo met the other villagers. One of them could speak English. Little Heart was his grand daughter. He told Tucky Jo that Little Heart hadn't spoken since she saw her mother killed by soldiers. He told of the enemy soldiers that had come through earlier and taken all their young men, food, and fishing supplies. So even though there was a river close by, the villagers were starving. 

Fishing, Tucky Jo style. He snuck some dynamite out of the ordnance shed.

Fish rained down on the starving villagers. From that day on they all called me "that boy who made it rain fish!" 

The whole focus of my life came to providin' for them people...that is, when I wasn't out on recons and fightin' the war.

When the enemy headed their direction, the company was ordered to firebomb the jungle. Tucky Jo begged a few minutes to evacuate the village before bombing. His sergeant gave his permission. The soldiers threw the villagers into transport trucks to get them to safety as quickly as they could.

Little Heart was in my arms and huggin' me as hard as she could. 

That's the last time I ever saw that little girl. 

After the war, Tucky Jo returned home to marry Freda. They moved to Michigan and had eight children, twenty four grandchildren, twenty eight great-grandkids, and one great-great-grandchild.

Tucky Jo was starting to get old and needing a lot of care. He spent a lot of time at the Veterans hospital, trying to get in to see specialists. The list was long and it seems a bit hopeless. One day a new nurse appeared with new medicine. She said she had arranged specialists for his care. Freda asked how much it would all cost. 
"It is all being taken care of," the nurse said as she held Freda's hands.
"And how did you ever get Johnnie in to see the specialists? We have been on a waiting list for what seems like years....We finally gave up hope," Freda said.
Why you doin' this for me, girly?" I asked?

Because I'm taking care of you now...Just like you did so many years ago for me..." Then she leaned in to my face. "Tucky Jo will have only the best! Only the best for you...my Tucky Jo!" the nurse whispered as tears rolled down her cheeks. 
She rolled up her sleeve and showed a birthmark on her arm. It was shaped like a perfect little heart.

I am crying again just skimming it over. AHHHH! It is so awesome! Little Heart's real name is Zabella. Because of all Tucky Jo had done for her, she moved to America after the war, got married and became a nurse. She had three sons, two are doctors, and one is an engineer.

She felt that none of this would have been possible had she not been saved and fed and cared for by her Tucky Jo. 

For the rest of Johnnie Wallen's life, Nurse Zabella made sure he had all he needed and more. 

This is such an awesome story. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace, Illus by Vera Neville

(I have decided I am rotten at quick synopsis of books. I go into way too much detail. So I am now going to be more concise and brief. Ha! It is just so hard when there is so much to say.)

Maud Hart Lovelace is famous for her Betsy-Tacy books, but this book, about another girl in Deep Valley is just as good. It has brief mentions of Betsy and Tacy's crowd, but really and truly, this is Emily's book. 

This is the story of an intelligent girl, stymied by graduating school and not being able to afford college. Eventually she finds useful occupation in Deep Valley and makes new friends to augment the friends away at college. 

(That was pretty brief wasn't it?)

I adore Vera Neville's girls. They are all so beautiful and elegant!

Emily lives with her grandfather, so she isn't at liberty to make plans without considering him. She doesn't have the freedom of heading off to college without a backward glance. Her grandfather is very kind and generous, but in his day, things were done differently, so he can't see the point in scrimping and saving for seeming trifles.

At the beginning of the book, her grandfather is completely consumed with plans for Decoration Day (Memorial Day) when he and his fellow Civil War veterans will march in the parade. Emily, on the other hand is busy with end of school activities. She and her grandfather are very close, but they are of completely different generations, so see the world and what is important very differently.


The summer is a lovely mix of quietness in her slough, which Emily loves, and a whirlwind of friends and parties. When September comes, however, everyone leaves town. Emily has always loved the quietness of where they live, but suddenly, instead of quiet peacefulness, it seems oppressively empty and lonely.

Despite her best intentions, she falls into a little bit of a depression about the whole thing. For Grandfather's sake, she does her best to be cheerful and do the things that need doing.

Finally, the day before the first home football game, after a chance comment from a new coach at school about how she looked like a school girl with her hair in braids, she pulls herself together and decides she is not going the game. She isn't in high school anymore, and she is not going to languish around trying to pretend she is.

"The reason I didn't put up my hair was that I was clinging to high school," she thought. "There doesn't seem to be anything in my future, so I'm cling to the past. 
"But I can't stop living. I can't tie up my life like Chinese women do their feet. I've got to go on somehow."
"I don't know just what I can do, stuck here in Deep Valley.... But I know I'm going to do something, and I'm NOT going to go to the game this afternoon." 

 At church she hears the minister quote Shakespeare--"Muster your wits: stand in your own defense." When Emily pulls herself together, she does so quite admirably. She takes up piano lessons once again, starts a book club, takes dancing lessons, and buys a new dress.

While skating on the pond, she sees some boys treat a little Syrian immigrant she had befreinded earlier in the year very badly. She brings him home to her grandfather and feeds him up. Thus is born the idea for a Boys club for these immigrants.

Emily sets her plans in motion, and while she is still a little lonesome, she is busy and happier.

Her crowd comes home for Christmas, but somehow it isn't as joyful as Emily thought it would be. The boy she wants is obsessed with her cousin, as are all the other boys it seems. After a disastrous party, in which her cousin inveigles one of her hanger-ons to resentfully squire Emily, Emily is thankful for the quiet loneliness of her slough.

Emily realizes, "I tag them around, but I'm like a shadow. Well, I won't do it any more!" 
She wasn't tired of her friends, but she was tired of pursuing them as though her own life were worthless.

In an effort to be more on her own, Emily and her grandfather decide to give a Christmas party for some of the Syrians. As fall and winter progressed Emily had become more and more interested and involved with the immigrant community

Dancing at the New Year's Eve Party. Emily has some encouraging words from Betsy Ray about the usefulness of seemingly "wasted" years after high school.

Through her work with the Syrian's, Emily becomes friends with the new coach at the school who had innocently commented on her hair looking like a high schooler's and set off all of Emily's changes, Mr. Jed. 

It is interesting to me how timeless things are. Syrian refugees and immigrants are very current subjects in our world today, as current as they were at the turn of the last century.

Jed and Emily get to be quite friendly through their involvement with the social services they create and supply to the Syrians. 

Eventually, there is a love interest of Emily's own. 

I love Emily. I love her natural responses of disappointment and dejection at not doing what she wants to do. And I love her resolution and plans to make her little world better rather than wallowing in the past or in her injustices. She becomes her own person and realizes it is possible to do so much good in the world without going about it in the prescribed manner she had in her own mind.