When I was a senior in high school, I was friends with an exchange student, a Russian from Uzbekistan. When the school year ended, she went back to UzWhen I was a senior in high school, I was friends with an exchange student, a Russian from Uzbekistan. When the school year ended, she went back to Uzbekistan, and I went to college in the Midwest. In the letters we exchanged, she encouraged me in my study of the Russian language, and at her urging, I wrote back in unsteady Cyrillic, sure I sounded like a child. In the letters she sent shortly before she moved to Moscow, she described what life was like for her as a Russian in newly independent Uzbekistan. I couldn't comprehend the situation she described. I couldn't imagine how it was possible that someone I knew, a fellow teenager, could be experiencing the things in her letters. I wondered if maybe the words on the thin airmail paper had changed shape or meaning during the journey half-way around the world.
There was a student from Kazakhstan at my university, and I asked him about her letters. "She sounds really scared," I said.
"She should be scared," was all he answered.
Reading Marra's book about Chechnya, I thought about Kate for the first time in years. I only got one letter from her after she moved to Moscow, and I have no idea how her life unfolded after that year we were eighteen. Marra's book brought detail to my imaginings of what Kate's life in Uzbekistan might have been like in those early years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Reading Marra's words, I felt the crunch of the frost beneath my feet and the shadow of hunger and hopelessness in my gut and the rumble in the floor and the walls as the bombs fell or the trucks rolled through in the dark of night and wondered how much of it lives in my long-ago friend's memories, as reality rather than as fiction as I've experienced it.
This makes it very difficult to give this book a star rating. "Liked it," "Didn't like it," "It was amazing"---these categories don't fit. In a way I loved this book; I loved the language and the way it drew me into this world. In another way, I really didn't like it because the world into which it drew me is one that I don't want to admit existed---and in other iterations, still exists. This book left me feeling sad and embarrassed for something I didn't do and never lived. It could have left me with confidence in the human spirit, but instead I just feel like my only options are to close my eyes to everything outside the narrow confines of my middle-class, never-left-the-continent American life or to be swept away by the relentless wave of history which seems so full of the dark side of human nature it's difficult to see what's good in our species.
My spouse accused me of putting only depressing books on my to-read list, and after the last two books I've read, I'm hard-pressed to refute his claim.
(P.S. In the end, I ended up giving this book my standard four stars; I'm not sure what I mean by those four stars, but that's what I settled on.)...more
My nine-year-old daughter and I read this together and very much enjoyed this story of a young girl orphaned in tribal violence and then, essentially,My nine-year-old daughter and I read this together and very much enjoyed this story of a young girl orphaned in tribal violence and then, essentially, gifted to England's Queen Victoria. I think we were both drawn to the narrative of a child traveling without family to a foreign land and then trying to find a home there.
I appreciated that Myers included excerpts from the primary sources that he used, not only because they help my daughter see how to weave material from primary documents into a narrative but also because I enjoy hearing the story in the words of those who lived it. As Myers mentions in the epilogue, there are many questions left unanswered about Sarah Forbes Bonetta's life, particularly how she felt and what she thought about her circumstances. We can make guesses from her letters to loved ones, but throughout the book, I wondered about the woman behind those words.
Reading about Sarah Forbes Bonetta reminded me of how I felt when I learned about Native Americans who had been taken to England in the 17th century, either as captives or as curiosities. Much as I wonder what it was like in England for Squanto or Pocahontas, I wonder how Sarah Forbes Bonetta experienced England. She lived her life among the English and made her home primarily in England, but did she feel accepted in English society? Did she feel at home? Her choices seemed limited, but were they more limited than the choices any woman in Victorian England would have had?
This book exposed my daughter and me to a different side of England in the 19th century, and we enjoyed it despite (or maybe because of) the unanswered questions. It prompted discussion not only about the historical and cultural context of Bonetta's life, but also about what makes a family and what makes a place "home."...more
As a child, I watched the cartoon and retained only a memory of the out-of-sync voices and an aversion to reading the book. Half-listening to my spousAs a child, I watched the cartoon and retained only a memory of the out-of-sync voices and an aversion to reading the book. Half-listening to my spouse read The Little Prince aloud, I became intrigued, and when the children complained because he was nodding off ("Daddy, could you please read it less sleepily?"), I took over.
And now that I've finished the book, I find it strange because I like it, but I can't really figure out why I like it. Sure, there are some great passages, like the one that brought me in to take over the reading because I didn't want to stop listening to the story:
"Whenever I encountered a grown-up who seemed to me at all enlightened, I would experiment on him with my drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I wanted to see if he really understood anything. But he would always answer, "That's a hat." Then I wouldn't talk about boa constrictors or jungles or stars. I would put myself on his level and talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And my grown-up was glad to know such a reasonable person."
That's out of context, and I'm not sure if it will make sense if you've not read the book, but that's also kind of how the whole book is. There are maybe a couple of soundbites, but mostly I find I have to look at it as a whole to get any sense out of it, and even then, I'm not really sure I've got it.
To me, The Little Prince is like a cross between A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh and Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist; I like it more than The Alchemist and less than Winnie-the-Pooh. I'm not sure what my kids think of it. They paid close attention, but they weren't really able to say at the end what it was about. I'll have to see over the next few days if the fox's or the lamplighter's (or the snake's) words show up in their imaginative play.
Some friends recently blogged about their experience sailing away from the United States and returning for their first visit in three years. They note that they really want to talk about how their travel has changed them fundamentally, what the differences they've seen between the places they've traveled and the places they've called home in the U.S. have meant to them as human beings, but many people they encounter just want the surface of things---the color of the sand, the warmth of the sea, the smell of the local foods.
Maybe that's what appeals to me about The Little Prince. I might not understand it completely, but it feels like something deeper than the everyday....more
My parents grew up in northeast Ohio, and I grew up with Pittsburgh jokes.
I read this more than a decade ago. The only concrete image that remains forMy parents grew up in northeast Ohio, and I grew up with Pittsburgh jokes.
I read this more than a decade ago. The only concrete image that remains for me from this book is an image of a small girl climbing the front steps of a library (which may or may not actually be from this book), but I remember enjoying the book and I remember that it's the first time I'd heard anything positive (or even nuanced) about Pittsburgh....more
My five-year-old, pondering the egg smeared on his English muffin the other day, said, "Mommy! I bet Mo Willems is writing another Elephant and PiggieMy five-year-old, pondering the egg smeared on his English muffin the other day, said, "Mommy! I bet Mo Willems is writing another Elephant and Piggie book right now!"
This kid is a fan of all things Mo Willems. He loves the Pigeon and Leonardo, and he respects Knuffle Bunny as part of Willems' oeuvre, but his favorite books are the ones about Gerald and Piggie. This is perhaps because they have such relevance to our daily lives.
What should he wear to his friend's birthday party? Gerald and Piggie know!
What should we bring when we go for a drive? Ask Gerald and Piggie!
I find the lessons pertinent even to my grown-up life, like the other day when I whipped up a frozen banana in the VitaMix and wondered, "Should I share my ice cream?" (I ended up sharing it.)
And now that we've read all of the Elephant and Piggie books published so far, we're finding out firsthand that Waiting [for the next book] is Not Easy!...more
I am not a huge fan of the Magic School Bus books. I find their style frenetic and too much to take in at once. Reading them aloud to my kids, it's neI am not a huge fan of the Magic School Bus books. I find their style frenetic and too much to take in at once. Reading them aloud to my kids, it's never clear whether I should read the regular text first or the speech bubbles or the "research papers" or the labeled diagrams.
This book on climate change has all of these problems, but I actually like it quite a bit because it explains climate change and humans' role in it in a way that my five-year-old can understand. My kids know we put on sweaters and layer extra blankets on our beds so we can turn the thermostat way down in the winter and they know we don't run the air conditioning unless we're having guests over (I'm not sure if they've noticed yet that people keep their coats on when they visit us in the winter and fan themselves a lot when they visit in summer), but knowing the reasons we do these things helps them put up with being a little chilly.
This book is not by any means the entire story, nor would I expect it to be, but I do find it to be a good starting point for a discussion about why we walk to the library, why Daddy rides his bike to work, why our recycling bin is so much larger than our trash bin, and why we shop at the thrift store. These things are just a part of their life, so while they don't need (nor have they asked for) an explanation for why we do these things, this book is a good reminder to talk about our reasons....more
I knew this book had made an impact on my five-year-old when he asked to drink his milk from a bowl this morning, like Heidi. It wasn't goat's milk, bI knew this book had made an impact on my five-year-old when he asked to drink his milk from a bowl this morning, like Heidi. It wasn't goat's milk, but I'm not sure he's adventurous enough for that. Maybe if we were on the Alm.
This book has a similar theme as Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, but the characters are even more perfect. I mean, everyone is a sweetheart, except for Fraulein Rottenmeier and Peter at times, and even their misbehaviors can be explained by personal weakness (fear and jealousy) so that we can forgive them. Of course, Heidi is never tried to the degree that Sara Crewe is, so maybe she'd be less sweet if really given a test, and who knows how she acted as a teenager (there would be an interesting book).
But what's funny is that while I normally can't stand stories with people who are ridiculously kind, I really, really enjoyed this one. It's just a heart-warming story, and I don't even care if it's totally unrealistic....more