Friday, February 20, 2015

Villete by Charlotte Bronte

Author:  Charlotte Bronte
Published:  1853
This book was a long and difficult read, much like the long and difficult life of Lucy Snow, the protagonist in Villette.  It took me about three weeks to read this book.  The pages have a very small print and include page upon page of details to describe a single event.

I had not read a book like this in quite a long time - perhaps even years.  It was not easy, and I wonder if this was made difficult to help the reader feel for Lucy.

Lucy Snow at the end of the book must only be in her twenties, but her life was so difficult.   Initially, I did not like her.  I could not imagine her having friends or wanting to be friends with her.  She seemed judgmental and extremely rigid in her views.  As the book progressed, I felt sorry for her and only wished that she would allow herself to feel happiness.

Lucy was originally from England and would visit her godmother, Mrs. Bretton and her son, Graham, each year for several months.  Lucy was a very serious person and spent a lot of time analyzing Graham.  While visiting her godmother, another visitor came to the Bretton home, little Polly who would only be in the beginning of the story for a very short time and then return later in the book.  Polly seemed spoiled and very young, but Lucy tolerated her while Graham formed a very close relationship with her. Soon after Polly left the Bretton residence to move back with her father, Lucy returned to her family.  We really do not know anything about Lucy's family or how she came to form the relationship with the Brettons.  What we do know is that she suffered and was alone.  She likened her experience to falling off a ship during a storm.
...there must have been a wreck at last.  I too well remember a time, a long time, of cold, or danger, of contention.  To this hour, when I have the nightmare, it repeats the rush and saltness of briny waves in my throat, and their icy pressure on my lungs.  I even know there was a storm, and that not of one hour or one day.  For many days and nights neither sun not starts appeared; we cast with our own hands the tackling out of the ship; a heavy tempest lay on us; all hope that we should be saved was taken away.  In fine, the ship was lost, the crew perished.
 Lucy then worked for Mrs. Marchmont until her death, when Lucy decides to take a ship to France. While on the ship, Lucy meets Genevra Fanshaw.  She was a young girl going to a boarding school in Villete and she is the one who puts the idea of Villette in Lucy's head.  Lucy arrived in France and is unable to speak French.  Luckily, she runs into an Englishman who directs her to someone who can help her find a place to stay.  It was late, but with much trouble, Lucy finds her way to a boarding school, we learn it is Genevra's same destination.

The boarding house is run by Mrs. Beck.  She runs a very strict school and decides to employ Lucy as a governess for her daughters.  Lucy cares for the girls for only a short time before she is needed in the school to teach English.  While she has the opportunity to meet the other teachers and develop friendships, Lucy decides against their friendships.  The only relationships she has are with Mrs. Beck, who is very nosy, Genevra, who is very shallow, M. Paul Emmanuel, another teacher who has a quick temper and feels that he must protect Lucy, and Dr. John.  It turns out that Dr. John is the same Englishman who had helped Lucy find a place to stay upon arriving in France and he is the doctor that is called to the boarding house when anyone is sick.

Dr. John is extremely handsome and I imagine a man with light hair, a well defined face, and a strong chin.  Lucy seems to find Dr. John handsome, but she does not really interact with him other than to make sharp comments to him.  It seems that she knows Dr. John, but does not let the reader know until several chapters later.  I found it interesting that Lucy keeps facts from the reader.  The book is written in the first person, but we are not really allowed into Lucy's head to really know what she feels and thinks until she is ready to tell us.  If only Lucy would share what she knows with the reader and with the others in the book, her life could be so much happier.

There is a period of time, and it is during this time, that I, as a reader, start to feel for Lucy and want her to be happy.  This is when I start noticing a change in her, she loosens up, but never enough.  She is left in the boarding house alone while everyone else goes on holiday.  During this time, Lucy is sad and lonely.  Although she is a Protestant, she leaves the boarding house and enters a Catholic church to make a confession to a priest.  Really, she is just in desperate need of companionship.  The priest feels very sorry for her and watches her leave the church.  It is during a terrible storm and Lucy collapses.  The priest picks her up as an Englishman, yes, Dr. John, happens to be passing by.  The priest tells Dr. John that this is someone from Dr. John's country and she needs help.  Of course, Dr. John recognizes Lucy as the teacher at the boarding school and carries her to his home.

Lucy wakes up in a room that looks familiar to her.  She sees objects from her youth and even objects that she herself painted.  She then looks and sees a portrait of Graham.  She recognizes his light hair and his strong chin.  This is where the reader finds out what Lucy already knew.  Dr. John is John Graham Bretton, her godbrother!  This is exactly what Lucy needs and we see her thrive being with those close to her, those as close to a family that she has, Graham and Mrs. Bretton.

This is where the story starts getting really good!  You want to shake Lucy and tell her to wake up! She falls for Dr. John, but never does anything to change the relationship.  She helps John as he is fond of Genevra until another beautiful woman comes into the picture.

What a small world!  One night, as Dr. John and Lucy attend an opera, they meet Paulina Bassompierre and her father M. Bassompierre.  Paulina is "little Polly" from Graham and Lucy's youth.  Paulina is now 17 years old and beautiful.  Lucy and Paulina become very close friends while Paulina and Dr. John fall in love.

During all of this time, M. Paul Emmanuel has kept his eye on Lucy.  He is very serious and like Lucy, very judgmental.  He is verbally rough with Lucy, but she is always quick to forgive.  Like Lucy, he is also very lonely.  They decide to become friends and he will be her brother and she his sister.  It has been obvious to me throughout the book that he is in love with Lucy, but Lucy is unwilling to see his true feelings.

The priest from the Catholic church had been M. Paul's teacher and convinced him that Lucy was not a good choice because she was Protestant.  Mrs. Beck also was not supportive of M. Paul's feelings because she herself has always wanted to marry M. Paul.  Just when Lucy is becoming happy, they work against her to keep her from it.  They send M. Paul abroad for work, but expect him back in three years.  They try to keep M. Paul and Lucy apart and do not allow them to see each other before his departure.  Lucy is distraught and feels that Paul does not want to see her, that her friendship really meant nothing to him.

I'm only going to write about the end of the book here because it was SO long and I was left very upset upon finishing!  I did enjoy reading the book and could not wait to get back to it any chance I could, but the ending left me sad.  If you want to figure it out for yourself, stop reading here!

M. Paul decided he would make the three year journey because at the end of the three years he would be free of all of his debts to others and could dedicate himself solely to Lucy.  During the days he is kept from seeing Lucy, he is doing all he can to prepare for her a life that will be less painful for her.  He rents a home for her where she will be able to run her own school, her dream.  He has furnished the home for her and has even been able to get her a few students for her new school.  He wants her to run the school and to wait for him.  He will share his life with her if she will only wait until he returns.

Lucy describes the next three years as the best of her life.  She spent these years building her school and the home she would share with Paul.  When finally the three years are over, a terrible storm rages in the Atlantic until it "was strewn with wrecks:  it did not lull till the deeps had gorged their full sustenance."  Lucy then tells us,
Here pause:  pause at one.  There is enough said.  Trouble no quiet, kind heart; leave sunny imaginations hope.  Let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy born again fresh out of great terror, the rapture of rescue from peril, ad the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return.  Let them picture union and a happy succeeding life.
I don't know what this means.  Did M. Paul make it?  Did he die?  I don't know.  Charlotte Bronte does not give us a clue.  I think Lucy's life is so painful and lonely that there is no way that he would have made it.  It would have meant happiness for her and this was not something she was to enjoy during her lifetime.  Since Lucy describes her turmoil as a child as a storm and describes the three years prior to M. Paul's expected arrival as the best of her life, I do not believe there is any way that Paul survived.  Her sorrow is described as a ship wreck.

I really did enjoy this book.  The ending left me sad for Lucy.  I wanted her to fall in love and have a family of her own.  She was so desperate for love and friendship.

The book was well written, but it was difficult to read.  As I previously mentioned, the font was tiny and the details were detailed.  I found that many times I had to go back and reread the same thing several time to comprehend.  I did feel that the author's writing brought me very close to Lucy and I felt pain for her in my own heart.

The part of the writing I enjoyed the most was the personification.  Reason, death, truth, were all brought to life and many times left Lucy just as her friends left her.

Short Biography
Check it out from your library!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Night Journey

Author:  Kathryn Lasky
Drawings by: Trina Schart Hyman
National Jewish Book Award

The Night Journey had some language that made some my children gasp (the "d" word), but other than that, I can see this being a way of easing older elementary students into an understanding of the tragedies of WWII.  The story is told from the point-of-view of a little girl, thirteen years old, talking about the past with her great grandmother.  Everyone in the family tries to keep the great grandmother happy by not bringing up memories of the past, but that is what she wants to share with her granddaughter, Rache.    

Rache's interest in her history is piqued when she discovers that her great great great grandmother and grandfather had been murdered for being Jews.  Great Grandma Sashie travels back in time with Rache through her memories of the time when Sashie and her family had to escape from Russia.   Rache would visit her great grandmother in the middle of the night to hear the stories.  "It was 2:30 in the morning and Rache had not even needed the alarm to wake her for this short hike toward the long journey through time, through Nana Shasie's time, to the world that might not be strictly their preserve much longer."

Several times on their night journey, Sashe and her family were almost captured.  The family worked together and managed to escape to the safety of family outside of Russia.  In the meantime, we learn some Russian history and the importance of sharing your family's story.

I mostly enjoyed the figurative language and the symbolism in the book that helped me visualize Nana Sashie's experiences and the sights of her home in Russia.  The samovar was described throughout the book as a "sentry in the darkness" while stucco houses in Russia had "thatched roofs like stocking caps pulled down over their brow."  The samovar on the cover of the book has a reflection of a family, but when I look closely I realize that the reflection of the family in the samovar is not the reflection of the family in the home.  The samovar was a symbol of the past and depicts Sashe's family as they escape from Russia.

I enjoyed this book because of the history and the family.  I really enjoy learning about my own family's history and always take the chance to speak to my older relatives of their past when I can.  I think that this book can be enjoyed by mature fourth and fifth graders and it might even inspire them to learn more about history or their own families.

Friday, June 20, 2014


Author:  Kathryn Erskine
Published: 2010
National Book Award Winner

This is the second book we decided to read in the book club.  Two different people shared the books we chose to read in our group and it is amazing how closely related the two books are to each other.  This book would also be a good book to compare with Rules by Cynthia Lord.  I would recommend this book to students as young as third and fourth grade.  Like Thirteen Reasons Why this book deals with empathy and how our actions impact those around us.

Like Rules, this book deals with autism, but it is told from the point-of-view of an autistic child, Caitlin.  Caitlin is extremely close to her brother Devon who has recently been shot by another child at his middle school.  Two children and a teacher are killed in the massacre.  Devon was like Jimney Cricket to Caitlin.  He helped her understand the way other people saw her and how her actions might be interpreted by others.  Caitlin is a very gifted child and has an amazing ability to read and understand vocabulary, but really only literally.  She sees black and white and she misses many of the intricacies of the English language.  As she grows throughout the book, she helps her community in the healing process after the shooting, helps her father, her friend whose mother was killed, and teaches others and herself empathy.

Throughout the book Caitlin is in search of empathy and closure.  She wants to find closure like it is a tangible object to help her father and herself deal with Devon's death.  She searches the definition in the dictionary and is left confused, but when she finds the definition on the Internet, she finally "gets it."  The definition she finds is:  "-the act of bringing to an end; a conclusion - example:  They finally brought the project to closure."

From the beginning of the book Caitlin has commented about a wood chest that her brother and dad had been building for Eagle Scouts.  Caitlin takes the definition of closure to mean that she and her father have to finish the chest.  The chest is a symbol for Devon and his life and hope.  When I first read about the chest I actually thought that it was in reference to a chest on a body and in a way it really is that type of chest too.  Chapter 1 is titled:  Devon's Chest.  Here is how the chest, hidden under a sheet is described:  "It looks like a one-winged bird crouching in the corner of our living room.  Hurt.  Trying to fly every time the heat pump turns on with a click and a groan and blows cold air onto the sheet and lifts it up and it flutters for just a moment and then falls down again.  Still.  Dead."  In chapter 11, we find out that Devon had been shot in the chest and the doctors could not do anything to save him.  Caitlin is struggling to figure out what she can do and she gets into the wood chest.  She thinks of her limbs as the atria and ventricles in the body.  She starts rocking in the chest and beating it like a heart, chanting "Dev-on.  Dev-on.  Dev-on."  Caitlin's dad grabs her as she is trying harder and harder to beat for Devon, and she screams the reminder from the "green hospital people, I TRIED BUT THERE WAS NOTHING I COULD DO."

The project that finally helps bring closure is the completion of the chest.  Caitlin and her dad work on the chest together and finish it.  This is a great feat for Caitlin not just because she finished the chest and helped her father, but because it was her first group project, it was something she did to help someone else, and it was when she realized that she was capable of empathy.

In the author's note in the back of the book, Kathryn Erskine writes that the events from the shooting at Virginia Tech inspired her to write this book.  Her comments related directly to what I thought about Thirteen Reasons Why.  This book is about the suffering endured by a family and a community because of a school shooting, but also reminds us that "by getting inside someone's head, really understanding that person, so many misunderstanding and problems can be avoided - misunderstanding and problems that can lead to mounting frustration and, sometimes, even violence.  Caitlin, who is autistic and sees the world in black and white, worked diligently to discover what mattered to her dad, to her friend, and even to her enemy and helped her entire community.  I think this is something we can all do.

Kathryn Erskine's research on autism.
Check this book out from the library!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why

Author:  Jay Asher
Published: 2007

I'm reading this book for our book club.  It is about suicide, so I was hesitant to read it, but I was not disappointed.  This is definitely NOT for my 3rd graders, but for high school students and older, this is appropriate.  The author reminds us that even without knowing it our actions can have such a great impact on those around us.

The book was written by Jay Asher and it is from the point of view of two different characters.  One character is Hannah Baker, a high school student who has commited suicide.  Before she kills herself she makes tapes for 13 people who affected her life.  Each person must listen to the tapes and then ship them to the next person.  Hannah claims that all of these people had an opportunity to save her, if only by being kind or noticing that she was suffering.  Some of these people also affected her by being unkind.  The second character is Clay.  Clay has received a copy of the tapes because he is featured as a person on one of the tapes.

I felt like I was experiencing the story with Clay.  I felt his anguish and worried with him as he struggled through listening to the tapes and worrying about how he could have hurt or helped Hannah.  The author puts us right into the story with Clay.  The story actually starts in the present and then flashes back to the previous 24 hours as he listens to the tapes.  In the present, he is mailing out the tapes to the next person on the list to receive the tapes.  As he pays to ship the package, Clay sips his coffee and pulls a few bills and coins from his pocket.  The woman behind the counter says, "I don't think the coffee's kicked in yet.  You're missing a dollar."  I felt like that little bit of information helped me empathize with Clay.  It turns out that the entire book is about empathy.  We need to always consider how our actions might affect someone else and we have to always put ourselves in that person's shoes.

Hannah's problems started when she first moved to the town and some boys ruined her reputation right from the beginning of her freshman year in high school.  We see how these things snowball and lead to one event after another that hurts Hannah's self esteem.  She never seems to have anyone she can turn to and confide in and feels isolated.  I get the impression that at her previous school she may have suffered in some way as well.  She says on the tape, "New town.  New school.  And this time, I was going to be in control of how people saw me.  After all, how often do we get a second chance?"  We never find out what happened the first time around, but this stuck with me.  We never know what someone is going through or has gone through that might make them behave or react to things in a certain way.

This book brought back so many reminders of high school.  So many times I felt isolated and misunderstood, but I was lucky and had someone to turn to.  I felt like this author captured the emotions of a high school student.  I wonder what can be learned from this reminder.  I can't imagine that these feelings are not felt daily in high schools across the country.  Actually, I just read that since Sandy Hook, there are have been 74 school shootings. (CNN)  Not all of these were students hurting other students, but it happens.  This book is a reminder that we have to listen to each other and really concern ourselves with how our actions affect others.  Sometimes we do not plan to hurt others, but unwittingly hurt others.  And sometimes we do try to hurt others, but the impact can be incredible because this might be just one more thing, the last straw.

Clay learns that he could have helped Hannah.  He really had no way of knowing that he could have helped her, but if he had tried harder to be her friend, she might have survived. It's not that he turned his back on her, he just thought she didn't want a relationship with him.  He couldn't have been further from the truth.

The book ends on a positive note.  Clay sees a girl he has avoided since 8th grade because she has kept herself away from everyone else.  He realizes that this change in her since 8th grade is a sign that she needs a friend.  We don't know what happens, but he makes an effort and calls out to her and the book ends.  "A flood of emotion rushes into me.  Pain and anger.  Sadness and pity.  But most surprising of all, hope.  I keep walking.  Skye's footsteps are growing louder now.  And the closer I get to her, the faster I walk, and the lighter I feel.  My throat begins to relax.  Two steps behind her, I say her name. 'Skye.'"

Check this book out from the library! 

 After reading my book review my husband asked me why Hannah didn't take into consideration the effect her tapes might have on others.  I hadn't though of that.  So true!  The impact of these tapes on these people could be devastating!  I suppose if Hannah had considered the point-of-view of the others then there wouldn't have been a book.  This seems like a good opportunity for someone to write books from the point-of-view of the 12 other people mentioned on the tapes. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What Do You Do With an IDEA?

Author:  Kobi Yamada
Illustrator: Mae Besom
Published: 2013
I was visiting a school for training.  As I sat there listening to the speaker, I took the moment to look around at the classroom.  I love seeing what other teachers are doing and trying to find new things I can use too.   I was excited when I realized that she had a large display of award-winning books and that I had read many of them because of my class at William & Mary.  The cover of one of her books caught my eye and I had to get up to look at it.  I hadn't seen this book before and I don't recall anyone in class talking about it, but I was drawn, as I usually am, to the cover.  The cover is very simple, white, and it has a very soft look to it.  It looks like it was drawn with a pencil in a sketch book.  The words seem to be pencil drawn and there is a yellow egg (watercolor?) with a golden crown and bird legs. 

As I read the book I thought of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore because of the bit of color on the pages with mostly black and white drawings that transition to a world of complete color.  I can actually easily imagine an app that would bring this book to life, like the app for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

The endpapers are completely black and white with little birds that look like fish flying through the air over branches, leaves, and clouds.  The endpapers in the front and back are exactly the same except that they are flipped.  I wish that the endpapers at the end of the book had been in color to show the growth in the story.

The story is about a child speaking to the reader about an idea he has.  (I say he, but the character could also be a girl.  I could not identify the child's gender.)  So this child gets an idea, but does not know what to do with it.  It seems like a strange little idea because it is shaped like an egg and has bird legs along with a crown.  Since it has a crown though, I think that it has to be a good idea!  The child doesn't know what to do with the idea so he doesn't pay attention to it, but the idea follows him.  The child worries what others will think of his idea, but he realizes that he is happier when his idea is around.  The idea seems to be growing the more the child accepts that he has this idea.  (I took a picture of this page myself and my pictures really do not capture the beauty of the art, but I wanted you to see the idea frolicking in a stream.)

As the child accepts the idea not only does the idea seem to grow, but the child's life becomes more and more colorful.  He doubts his idea though because of others, but realizes that this is his own idea and he is the only one who really understands it.  It is up to him to care for it and help it grow.  Once he comes to this realization, it is not only the child's life becoming more colorful, he becomes more colorful.  Then one day the child's whole world changes because he took the time to grow his idea.

I know my students will love to analyze the pictures in this book.  The story begins with the child and his idea on the left of the page.  The idea is small, the world is black and white, but the child is keeping the idea small and to himself, he is safe.  We see the child moving away from his idea and the picture shows movement with the diagonal lines taking the boy away from his idea.  He leaves to the right side of the page where there is uncertainty.  What will the boy do with this idea?  The idea and it's little patch of green grass under its feet follow the boy and its diagonal lines across the page.  Once I turn the page, the boy and the idea are on the left again, but the boy is trying to bury his idea in all of the diagonal branches and leaves.  The idea then is frolicking in a stream with frogs, but the boy has a smile.  He is realizing the worth of his ideas.  I know that my students will understand this better than I do and I cannot wait to see what they tell me.  I want to know why the branches that direct the boy away from his idea are at the end of the book above the ground since they've been along the lower half of the page all along.  Why is there a hibernating bear in the picture?  What does the clock symbolize?  I'll ask my kiddos and let you know!

This will be a great book to start the school year to show that we need to support each other no matter what our ideas are and how different they might be.  I will also use this book to teach about reading a book and reading the pictures.  (Of course I'll use The Fantastic Flying Books too!)  I read some reviews by readers on Amazon and found that one teacher was giving her students a wooden egg with the word IDEA written on it.  I love that.  I'll probably do it too.  I know that will definitely impact many of my students and hopefully they will always have that memory tucked in somewhere and will do big things in their futures!

Find this book at your library.  (I checked on WorldCat and there aren't any local libraries with this book, so you might just have to buy it!  You won't regret it!)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tsunamis and Other Natural Disasters (A Nonfiction Companion to High Tide in Hawaii)

Author:  Mary Pope Osborne
Natalie Pope Boyce
Illustrator:  Sal Murdocca
Published:  2007
My students love Magic Tree House books.  I used to read them to my children when they were younger and they loved the books too.  Perhaps it is because I've read so many of them and have read the same ones multiple times that I find it amazing that my children search these books out in my class library. 

I decided to take a look at an informational one that I have in my class library, but I have not taken the time to read it before.  The first thing that I notice is the cover.  I find the blue and green colors soothing even though the topic is of something I hope to never experience, a tsunami.

Right off the bat, I liked this book.  We are introduced to Tilly Smith, a student who is on vacation with her family in Indonesia right before the tsunami that hit there in 2004.  Tilly remembered what her teacher had taught her about tsunamis and she ran along the beach warning people.  She saved many lives thanks to the information she learned in school!  Education that had a real-world application!  I love it!

The next part of the book reminds me of 5th grade science.  I
Chang Hen's Urn
During an earthquake a ball would fall into a frog's mouth. 
The more balls that fall in, the greater the earthquake.
could see 5th graders using this as a tool to learn about plate tectonics and earthquakes.  Scientific vocabulary is also throughout the book and explained in a way a student would understand.  Learning about science and history in books is more fun when you learn extra information too.  I learned that there are earthquakes (moonquakes) on the moon and that in ancient China a man had invented an urn that would help determine when, where, and the strength of an earthquake.

The true stories about survivors of the tsunamis are exciting and surprising.  I wonder as I read if I could survive like the woman who was found 4 days after the tsunami, clinging to a palm tree, hundreds of miles from shore. 

Visiting Yellowstone Park is something I really want to do.  There is a giant volcano under the park, that is what causes the geysers that I long to see.  The only thing is scientists predict there will be another eruption.  I don't want to be there when it does!

Showing children experiencing these disasters and as heroes makes the book interesting.  I think that I can understand the interest in the Magic Tree House nonfiction books.  There are also additional resources for children who find that they want to learn more.  A timeline of major disasters is included, books, parks, and websites with additional information for children are included as well.

Internet Resources listed in the back of the book:

Check this book out from the library.
Read about Mary Pope Osborne