Harbor Me

img_3633Book: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Date Read: March 19 to 21, 2020

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Every year, I make an effort to read the book that is chosen for the One Book, One City program in Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Public Library partner on the project that provides a copy of the book to all 5th grade students in the city, as well as classroom resources for teachers and an online community for students to participate in. The program makes an effort to choose diverse books, and books that lend themselves to engagement and discussion from students. Honestly, they have outdone themselves with their choice for 2020.

Unlike previous years, I almost missed my opportunity to read this book. In the past, we have received at least one additional copy of the book that I have been able to borrow from the librarian. However, this year we only received exactly the number we needed for students and classroom staff. I was disappointed, but heard talk around the school: this was shaping up to be the best year yet for the program. Students were connecting with the book in ways that they have not in the past; classrooms were having open and honest discussions about real issues, initiated and lead by students. And then—COVID-19 reached our state. Within days, schools were shut down and teachers were left lamenting the cancellation of their wonderful plans. Me being the optimist, I am trying to be grateful for the fact that the school closures landed an abandoned copy of the book in my hands before I headed home.

The story focuses on six students from different backgrounds, who are all in the same small class at school. One Friday afternoon, their teacher takes them to an empty classroom, and leaves them to use the space to talk to each other without direction or interference from adults. Over time, each of the students opens up to their friends, as they start to recognize that although they are each living their own stories, their lives overlap with the stories of others. Although there are a couple ongoing storylines, this book is not heavily plot driven—the focus is more on the feeling and memories associated with a group of friends.

While I think I would have enjoyed this one any time, I think the time that this book fell into my hands amplified how I felt about it. There is an immense sense of community here; a sense of recognizing oneself as a part of something larger. At the same time, there is a recognition of each individual’s one story: a realization that everyone around us is living a life full of its own complications, and while we may be center stage in our own minds, we may only be a background character in the life of someone else. In a time of solidarity through solitude, I find something comforting about this.

Minka’s Thoughts: “I’m center stage in your mind though, right? 3 paws.”

A Friend for Dragon

img_3067Book: A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey

As a kick off to the third year of Books On My Cat, I present to you A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey. This is the first book in the Dragon series of book, which I have written about several times before. Dragon is one of my favorite children’s characters. He is always getting into some sort of misadventure—in this case, Dragon falls for a prank and mistakenly assumes that an apple that has fallen on his head is actually looking to become his friend. Despite the misunderstanding, Dragon finds the apple to be a delightful friend, who is a good listener, has common interests, and shares with his friends.

I admit that this is not my favorite addition to the Dragon collection, but I think it sets a nice tone to the series. We get a good glimpse of his personality, which is then built upon in the later books. Dragon is a little naïve, but is also willing to make the most of any situation with his positive attitude. If everyone else is too busy, why not spend your time hanging out with an apple? Of course, apples do not last forever (especially when you are tricked into thinking you have a special speaking apple, and the culprit of the trick is no longer around to fake an appley voice). Although Dragon is quite distraught at the loss of his friend, he receives a pleasant surprise the summer after laying his friend to rest in the backyard.

Of course, as you may have noticed in the photo, today is also the debut of a friend of Boris: introducing Minka, a sassy little girl that joined our family at the end of December. She was found near where my dad works as a kitten in July; she was alone despite seeming too young to have left her mother. My dad began to care for her, and she moved into the office building. After living there for a few months, and with the weather starting to turn cold, he decided that it was time for her to have a more proper home and asked if Boris needed a friend. I was reluctant, as Boris has always struck me as a lone cat personality, but we decided to give it a try. The two are still getting used to having another cat around, but are starting to warm up to each other a bit. While Boris is still my number one guy, you will start to see a bit more of Minka around here!

Book: A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey

Boris and Bella

img_2141Happy October! I am so excited for the turn of the weather, and all the spookiness that comes along with October. In the spirit of the season, I plan to keep things spooky for my next few posts! I saw this book on display in the library, and it immediately caught my eye– the cover is a bit creepy-chic, and one of the title characters has a great name (coincidentally, my mother also has a dog named Bella to pair with my Boris).

As it turns out, this is not just an eye catching cover with a personal connection in the title– it is a cute story about friendship with a Halloween-ish theme.  Bella Legrossi and Boris Kleanitoff are neighbors, who are not particularly fond of one another. Bella is the messiest monster, and Boris is a neat freak who goes as far as polishing his pythons daily! Neither of them are popular with the other monsters in Booville, which only complicates things when they try to show each other up by throwing competing Halloween parties– which nobody attends because of Boris and Bella’s tiresome personal habits. As often happens in children’s books, Boris and Bella are able to find some common ground: first in their anger about the party everyone attended instead, and second in a shared love of dancing. While neither of these characters give up their ways, they do ease up enough to become friends.

Although the story does feature a Halloween party, this is not exactly a Halloween book. Halloween-ish? Halloween-lite? Despite monstrous characters, the story itself is about the ability to look beyond differences to find friendship in unlikely places. Nonetheless, the monster theme does make this a nice fit for the season. The illustrations are very detailed and compliment the story, with a color scheme that maintains a spooky mood to the setting. There is also some pun-ny humor for those who appreciate that sort of thing, and some really great kid humor– Baggo Bones connects his hipbones to his neckbone just for fun!

Boris’s thoughts: “I hope you’re not trying to suggest that I am persnickety like this other Boris. 1 paw.”

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

img_0803The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

July’s prompt for The Unread Shelf Project was a book from a series on your shelf. I did not have a ton of options for this one, as I usually read series books all together and tend not to buy a ton of them– it’s hard to get your “to read” list down if you add whole series at a time. However, I happened to be gifted this one awhile back from a book swap, and never quite got around to it. So to stick to my usual reading patterns, I opted to take on the whole series (with a little boost by starting the first book at the end of June).

This was a solid start to a series that I did mostly enjoy. The first book gives a nice introduction to the group: four friends who have been together for their whole lives, preparing to spend their first summer apart. It sets up an interesting structure that continues throughout the series, with four mostly separate narratives that overlap, intertwine, and eventually come together in the end. The “magic” element of the pants seems a little gimmicky, but using pants as the collective reminder of friendship works in a way that other items would not. Since it is something that they wear, it is something they each take with them as they experience life, not something that they simply look to as a token.

I found it noteworthy that in a book dedicated to friendship, the title object it centers on is not wholly positive—the first experience each of the girls has with the pants is negative, but they are also later able to draw strength from the reminder of their friendships to help them get through the tough parts of their summer lives. Although not a completely happy ending, there are positive turns for each character at the end of the book: Carmen has begun to make amends with her father, Lena finally connects with Kostos, Tibby begins to accept the loss of Bailey, and although Bridget is feeling of lost, she has found some solace in her return to her friends.

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The Second Summer of the Sisterhood

Book two picks up at the beginning of the following summer, with minimal reference to the time between. As before, the girls are preparing for a summer spent at least partially apart, and lay out their plans for the pants. Each of them has another storyline with some room for and elements of growth, although I saw some drastic differences in the quality of each characters narrative.

Bridget is still struggling, but seems to be at least a bit more self-aware. She is spending the summer with her grandmother in an effort to learn more about her mother, albeit under an assumed name and deceptive guise. I liked the duality of her re-finding herself here between glimpses of her family and a reconnection to the sport that she loves. I was a little irritated by the unreality of extent of her lie to her grandmother, but thought this was tempered by the admission in the end that her grandmother was suspicious and playing along. I liked Tibby’s journey of discovering and aligning her priorities through the development of her documentary.

Honestly, I found Lena’s story a bit lackluster. I can see the appeal in her story of teenage romance, but just could not get excited for her. Carmen’s difficulty with her mother beginning to date seems like an understandable issue for a teenage daughter, but her story comes off as annoying and melodramatic. In the first book, Carmen seemed justifiably angry with her father and his failure to tell her about his life until she was shoved into the middle of it. This anger with her mother feels different, and petty. I had a hard time sympathizing with her, which took away from the book as a whole.