Monday, December 10, 2012

Post-Reading Slump

It happened again. It happens to me quite a bit and I'm sure it happens to all readers.  I picked up book after book after book, and nothing grabbed me. Finally, I struck gold!

I fell for Kizzy Ann Stamps the moment I saw the cover.  Isn't that a fabulous cover?  Luckily, the story is just as fabulous as the cover.  Kizzy Ann Stamps is plenty nervous about the upcoming school year.  It's the first year that Bedford County public schools will be integrated, and Kizzy Ann knows that it won't be an easy and welcoming atmosphere.  Her former teacher asks her class to write to their new (white) teacher at their new school; through a series of letters, Kizzy Ann also opens up about her devotion to her dog, Shag, and her emotional struggles after surviving an accident that left her face scarred. The injustices, small and large, faced by Kizzy and her family and friends are honestly portrayed, while the joy she feels with Shag is beautifully realized.  This is a winning debut novel by a remarkable Virginia author; I look forward to reading more from Jeri Watts.

Beyond Courage is an important addition to Holocaust literature for youth.  The common perception that all European Jews went meekly to the concentration camps (save for the Warsaw ghetto uprising) is exploded through Doreen Rappaport's remarkable, inspiring, and humbling account of Jewish resistance.  These 20+ stories are arranged chronologically as the descent into madness deepens, from Jewish groups organizing the Kindertransport to England and other groups that smuggled children to neutral Switzerland and other safe territories, to the Warsaw ghetto uprising and partisan camps in forests, to active and subtle acts of resistance in the death camps.  Many resistance fighters and participants were children (some as young as 6) and teens, which gives the stories added poignancy.  As you can imagine, this is difficult reading at times, but a worthwhile and necessary read that seeks to balance the narrative of the Holocaust.

Elie Wiesel is known for his classic Holocaust memoir, Night (among his many other publications), and for his work promoting social justice and peace, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. His latest work, Open Heart, details his experience with open heart surgery. In this short yet powerful memoir (for adults), Wiesel reflects upon his family (especially his beloved son, Elisha, and grandchildren), the family he lost in the Holocaust, the afterlife, his Jewish faith and how he has maintained it and struggled with it, and his post-operative struggles.  Wiesel's courage, determination, and faith are awe-inspiring: "I know that eternities ago, the day after the liberation, when some of us had to choose between anger and gratitude, my choice was the right one."  What an incredible life story.

Finally, I crossed two books off my Newbery project: Shen of the Sea (1926) and Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon (1928). Yay me. That leaves me with just one more book to read from the 1920s: The Dark Frigate (1924).  Ooof.

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