Monday, March 30, 2020

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Eleven-year-old Maximiliano Cordoba loves playing fútbol, and hopes to someday play on the celebrated Santa Maria national team just like his Papá and his Abuelo did when they were young. And tryouts are only a few weeks away. But when Max is invited to join a fútbol clinic in another town, his father refuses to give him permission to go. Instead, Max is invited to help his father find needed stones for building a new bridge, and earning money to buy a new pair of coveted soccer shoes. Additionally, Papá and buelo offer to coach Max themselves so he can make the team,

But when Max learns that he will need a birth certificate to play on the Santa Maria team, he also learns that his Papá doesn't have a copy of it. Nor does Max know where his mother is, only that she left when he was a baby.

Max is also fascinated with the stories his buelo tells him about the Hidden Ones, people who are fleeing the neighboring country of Abismo and seeking sanctuary in a place called Mañanaland, and with the Guardians of the Hidden Ones, local people, including his father and grandfather, who secretly escort the runaways to the next safe checkpoint.

While his Papá goes to San Clemente to see if he can get a birth certificate for Max, Max's curiosity overcomes him and he looks through his father's private papers. Finding a rubbing with the word Mañanaland on it, he knows that it came from one of the stones in the run down abandoned tower, La Reina Gigante, overlooking Santa Maria. Forbidden to go to the tower alone, Max sneaks off anyway looking for more information about his mother, and finds a stone with her name scratched on it. He decides Mañanaland holds the key to finding his mother, but where is it and how do you get there?

When an opportunity to escort a very young runaway comes his way while home alone late one night, Max jumps at the chance to be her Guardian, hoping to find information about where his mother really is. The journey proves to be perilous, but Max discovers that the stories his buelo has always told him are in fact truer than he would have thought, and that perhaps Max was being groomed not just to be a great fútbol player, but also a next generation Guardian, and a pilgrim, true of heart.

What I think about Mañanaland:
I have to be honest and say this book begins slowly, almost too slowly. But I have enjoyed the author's other books, so I kept reading, and a some point, I realized that I was totally hooked into Max's story. Max is a sweet boy, maybe too sweet. Under the circumstances of not being allowed to do things without knowing why, I would have expected more reaction - especially when he isn't allowed to join his best friend at the fútbol clinic. So I was kind of glad when he began to seek some answers about his life on his own.

For the most part, Max's story seems to be divided into two unrelated threads - his desire to play fútbol and his desire to find out about his mother. But then Ryan begins to tie these two threads together in the most unexpected way and that when the book becomes unputdownable. And that's all I can say without adding a spoiler alert.

Although the story is fantasy and place, Santa Maria is located "somewhere in the Américas," the plight of the Hidden Ones mirrors much of what is really happening in the world today. Many in Santa Maria, especially in government positions consider the Hidden Ones to be criminals and thieves, mirroring the sentiment of our government today towards refugees from Central America trying to get to the United States in the hope of a better, safer life, making this a very timely novel. 

Mañanaland is an imaginative, lyrical, even magical novel, enveloping Max's coming of age quest for truth. But it is also a mystery that unfolds in some surprising ways, even as it challenges readers to think about what they would do if they were in Max's shoes. It is, simply, a book not to be missed.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Scholastic Press.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

MMGM: Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell

I have to be honest and say that I did not know anything at all about the Indian Termination Policy which ended the Federal government's recognition of the sovereignty of Native American tribes, including all support services, and the dissolution of reservations. Native Americans were now supposed to live "like Americans" and relinquish all tribal life, culture, and traditions. In 1954, Congress passed Public Law 588, The Western Oregon Termination Act, terminating 61 tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. Aside from the loss of services, it meant the loss and sale of reservation land. Now, if you had the money, you could buy the land you had been living on at an inflated price; if you didn't have the money, you were required to leave. But wait! The 1956 Federal Relocation Program promised those who left the reservation good jobs, schooling, housing in an urban area so that they could really live "like Americans."

For 10-year-old Regina Petit, this law means she is no longer Indian, no longer part of the Umpqua tribe because now there would be no Umpqua tribe or Grand Ronde reservation anymore as far as the government is concerned. And since her family doesn't have the money to buy the land they have lived on, it means moving to South Central Los Angeles with her father, mother (who is actually Portuguese), younger sister Peewee, and her beloved Chich (grandmother). But it also means leaving behind a way of life, relatives, friends, and the cemetery where her Chup (grandfather) had recently been buried. 

The promised house is run down, the furniture is old, but the schooling promised her father was
An example of the brochure used by the
Bureau of Indian Affairs to convince
 Native Americans to relocate
good.  Regina is especially pleased that there is indoor plumbing, including an indoor toilet. The neighborhood is diverse, and the first kids that Regina and Peewee meet are two African Americans siblings Addie and Keith Bates. The sisters have never seen black people before, and their new friends have never seen Native Americans before. At first disappointed that Regina and Peewee aren't like the stereotype of "Indians" they have seen on TV or in the movies, they still becomes friends and spend the summer playing together and learning about each other,  along with two Cuban brothers, Anthony and Philip Hernández.

The move to Los Angeles has left Mrs. Petit sad and angry, and she just wants to go back home. Chich tries to make the best of it, using her sewing skills to help the family out, and continues to tell her tribal stories to the girls so they never forget they are Umpqua. But they are also introduced to customs like Halloween and Thanksgiving. Regina loves Halloween at first, after all, it's free candy, but a particularly disturbing incident involving white teens throwing eggs at her, Peewee, Addie and Keith while yelling the N-word spoils the pleasure she had found.

Indian No More was an eyeopening book for me. I went to school in NYC at a time when nothing was taught about the history of Native Americans and when they did come up, it was all very stereotypical. Regina's struggles with retaining her Umpqua identity and somewhat assimilating into life in Los Angeles offer readers lots of everyday details about what that was like there and on the reservation.

Front matter includes a map of the Pacific Coast tracing the route Regina and her family traveled, and a Glossary of Umpqua words and pronunciations. Back matter includes a list of important Definitions, an Authors's Note with photographs by Charlene Willing McManis, whose story this really and who sadly passed away in 2018, and a Co-Author Note by Traci Sorell.

Coronavirus Home Schooling Suggestion: Indian No More would be a excellent and instructive choice right now for anyone homeschooling their children and who wish to provide a unit on Native American History. The publisher, Lee & Low, have made an extensive Teacher's Guide available that can be downloaded HERE

Lee & Low also has a very interesting explanation of the dust jacket for Indian No More HERE

And The Classroom Bookshelf at SLJ has an extensive article called "Shedding Light on 20th Century Termination and Relocation Efforts with Indian No More that also include lots of useful links. You can access it HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss+
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Green on Green by Dianne White, illustrated by Felicita Sala

Green on Green by Dianne White, 
illustrated by Felicita Sala
Beach Lane Books, 2020, 48 pages
A curious young child living in a house in the country with his family - dad and pregnant mom - explores the four seasons through the prism of color. It begins in the spring and each season is celebrated with a wordless two page illustration followed by four two-page spreads. The text is written in a gentle, lyrical rhyme, with three line on each spread. The illustrations are done with watercolor, gouache, and color pencils in a folk art style that just compliments the text so well. Sala has included so many delightful objects in each page that my young readers spent some happy time exploring them all.

As the days grow longer and warmer, spring's color is yellow - flowers, bees, lemonade, sunflakes plus green:

When the days grow hotter, summer's color is blue - coral, shell, the ocean, with some yellow - sand, sun, meadow - plus green

Autumn brings cooler temps and as trees and grass change, the main  color is brown - squirrels, mice, trees, cinnamon spic, with some yellow - corn, leaves - plus green

Cold Winter, with its snow and green pine trees is white - snow, breath - with some gray and taupe - plus green

I was lucky enough to be able to share this lovely book with my young readers before we had to go our separate ways because of the Cornonavirus. One of the things that they all noticed is how the mom' pregnancy becomes more and more apparent until finally the last illustration brings readers back to green spring and mom holding with a new baby. I read this book a number of times to them and we has a lot of fun naming colors and counting things we found in the book.

Dianne White has a wonderful Activity Kit that you can be used with or without a copy of Green on Green and you can download it HERE. I printed copies for my kiddos to take home with them and bring back whenever we meet again in to future. I'm excited to see what they do with it.

Green on Green is a lovely, joyful book that is perfect for young readers. If you are home schooling during this time, pair it with Blue on Blue, another book by Dianne White that has been a favorite of my young readers for a while now.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was gratefully received from Barabara Fisch at Blue Slip Media 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Yvain: the Knight of the Lion by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Andrea Offermann

I am a medievalist at heart, and I especially love the stories about King Arthur and the knights of the round table. So, I was pretty excited to see this retelling based on Chrétien de Troyes Yvain story by M. T. Anderson and in graphic form to boot. Essentially, it is a story about vengeance, love, and redemption, with a lot of action in between.

The tale begins when a young knight, Sir Calogrenant, returns to King Arthur's court beaten and defeated. He tells the court how he can upon a fountain with a magical stone which, when water is poured on it, promises plenty of adventure. He is immediately confronted by another knight claiming Calogrenant has attacked his domain by drenching the stone. The two men joust and Calogrenant loses, limping home weak and wounded.

It is his cousin Yvain who vows to avenge him, traveling to the fountain, pouring water on the stone, and jousting with the same knight, Sir Esclados, who attacked Calogrenant. When Sir Esclados dies from his wounds, his widow, Laudine, wants Yvain found and killed. But Yvain is already in her castle, and seeks the help of Lunette, handmaid to Laudine. However, as soon as he sees Laudine, he falls in love with her, and now wants Lunette to help him with her over. Which she does, and Yvain and Laudine are soon married.

But it doesn't take long for Yvain to want to go off with King Arthur and Gawain to prove his valor to Laudine through jousting and feats of arms. Laudine agrees, but tells Yvain he must be back in one year or her love will turn to hate. True to her word, when the allotted year ends and Yvain isn't back yet, Laudine's love becomes bitter hate and she refuses to forgive Yvain. 

Dejected, out of his mind with rage and self-hate, Yvain leaves, becoming a hermit. When he saves a lion from a violent attack, the lion becomes his faithful companion. When Yvain discovers that Lunette is about to he put to death for advising Laudine to marry him, and who now feels betrayed by Lunette. Yvain promises to be her champion and defeat three of Laudine's courtiers to save Lunette from death. But can Yvain redeem himself and become the knight he once was, even winning back Laudine's love?

More sophisticated than most graphic novels, both Anderson and Offermann have captured the real essence of the medieval courtly romance. Originally, these were adventure stories told for entertainment in aristocratic court circles about knights going out on quests in search of adventure, often for the love of a lady. And that is just what happens in this interpretation of the Yvain story. But it is so much more than that. The original knight errant story focuses on the knight - everyone else is there only as extensions to his questing. Anderson has highlighted both Laudine and Lunette as strong women in their own right, they are more than just there to put a spotlight on Yvain. Even Yvain's lion has a personality and part of his own.

This is such a beautiful interpretation of the Yvain story. Anderson does stick to the basic Chrétien story - avenging his cousin's defeat, falling in love with and marrying Laudine, even unknowingly jousting Gawain, then being persuaded to go off on a year of adventuring after much goading on Gawain's part, going mad when she rejects Yvain, rescuing a lion and deciding to win back Laudine. It's all there but with a new sensibility.

Originally, knights didn't much care about anyone but themselves. Even the ladies they adventured and fought for were only there as beautiful objects, not because of any real love or loyalty. Anderson's Yvain begins the same way - a knight seeking glory for himself. Yvain gets a real wakeup call when he is rejected by Laudine, never really expecting that ignoring her request to return at the end of a year would have such serious consequences. Laudine is a woman with political power, feelings and emotions, and apparently capable of real anger, all on display here.

As much as I always loved Medieval literature, my favorite was always Parsifal because you can see his growth from a flawed boy who doesn't understand what it means to be a knight to an man who does. In a way, that is the Yvain that Anderson gives us. Already a knight of the Round Table, he too is a flawed character, still having much to learn about love and loyalty. And unlike the original Arthurian tales, in this version, Yvain doesn't always win his jousting adventures.

Anderson does, indeed, give us a wonderful, energetic retelling of Yvain, and Andrea Offermann's graphic art is quite simply spectacular. She apparently spent a lot of time studying medieval tapestries and each panel felt to me like an illuminated manuscript from that time. Many of the spreads are wordless, and though they are sometimes a bit violent and grisly, they easily move the story forward. You might want to listen to her talk about her process:

Yvain: the Knight of the Lion is an excellent book for anyone interested in Medieval literature, Arthurian tales, adventure stories, or graphic novels. 

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley, but it was so wonderful, I bought my own copy of it for my personal library.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Dare to Be You: Inspirational Advice for Girls on Finding Your Voice, Leading Fearlessly, and Making a Difference by Marianne Schnall

When I was growing up, at around 12-year-old I found an old book in the house that had belonged to an older cousin of mine. Since my older sister had also read the book, I figured I would, too. Basically, it was an advice book for teenagers that had been published in 1958 and, needless to say, I didn't get very far. Thinking about it today, I felt the message for girls was "keep your mouth shut, don't make waves and be a good girl for your husband."*

Sometimes it feels like things haven't progressed much from that way of thinking. And why wouldn't I think that? When my Kiddo was in school, she did a project where she kept track of the number of times teachers called on boys in relation to the number of times the same teachers called on girls. She also included the number of times both boys and girls raised their hands to either ask or answer a question. Boys beat out the girls on average 3 to 1. The subtle message to girls: your voice doesn't count.

Well, yes it does and here is a whole book packed with quotes from different successful, well-known women that will help girls remember that their voice is important. My personal favorite quote comes from Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State under President Clinton:

"It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent."
                                                                                                                                                  (pg 106)

But the book doesn't end at finding a voice, there are also inspiration quotes about the importance of having an authentic voice, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says:

"Be your authentic self. Authenticity is everything. Think of what you have to offer and how unique that is." (pg 64)

This book contains quotes from a lot of different women in a lot of different fields: politics, sports, acting, diplomats, journalists, and more and you can find short biographies at the end of the book on each one of them.

I wondered what a girl around 12 would think about this book, and gave it to one of my neighbors daughters. She read it, passed on to a friend, who passed it on to another friend. It was a well-read book by the time I got it back, with unlinings and marginalia. Their verdict: not all the quotes appealed to all the girls, but each one had a wide variety of favorites, which is basically how I felt about it, too.

March is Women's History Month and a great time to read this book. It is the kind of book young readers will probably return to again and again.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC sent to me by the publisher, Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

* The book I almost read was called 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty by Pat Boone

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