Minute Marginalia

Monday, March 19, 2007

Thinking Bloggers

Jill at My Individual Take was kind enough to nominate me for a Thinking Blogger Award. According to the rules, each nominee is to nominate five more blogs -- a task that should be simple, but which has left me stymied for the past few days. (I can stare at a bookshelf for more than 5 minutes while debating which title to read -- now I have to select five blogs?)

Although I'm probably not supposed to, I (re)nominate My Individual Take, because Jill's the one who got me started on all of this, and her thoughts about books are often so different from my own that she makes me reevaluate some of my ideas.

A Reader's Journal, because she reads so voraciously and expansively

A Commonplace Book, because of Julius Lester's magnificent writing and reflections, as well as the stunning photos

Oz and Ends, for the analysis and excellent introduction to contemporary YA fantasy/sf

(I know that’s only four – choosing a fifth required one decision too many...)

Friday, March 16, 2007

And yet another challenge...

Just went over to look at A Reader's Journal and discovered she's found another intriguing reading challenge -- 15 Books in 15 Decades . Her rationale for joining echoes my own -- the need for an extra push to try books I might not otherwise read, with the added incentive that the selections can overlap with those from other challenges. Right now, I'm going for an unimpressive 6, mostly because my current read is George Waller's Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case from 1961, and the TBR challenge includes titles from several of the other decades. So, the current list is

2000s - Hitler's Daughter
1990s - Reviving Ophelia
1980s - Name of the Rose
1970s - Transformations
1960s - Kidnap
1950s - The Case of the Grinning Gorilla (one of the only two ESG Perry Mason books I've never read, and it's sitting tantalizingly on the bottom shelf...)

Tequila Worm (TBR challenge)

The Tequila Worm, Viola Canales's first book for children, is part of the recent trend in publishing semi-autobiographical novels chronicling the experiences of Latino immigrants. The story follows Sofia, a bright teenager, who receives an opportunity to attend a private school on a full scholarship. As she debates whether to accept the scholarship, she also reexamines her own life and, accordingly, the culture in which she’s been raised. Part of the story, then, is about growing up Mexican-American; part is simply about being a teenager and about life with a close family and friends. On both levels, it was a rich and rewarding read.

In Interpreting Literature with Children, Shelby Wolf cites a study that "found four sociopolitical themes in Latino/a literature for children: '1) Border crossing, 2) Coming home, 3) Healing, community, and spirituality, and 4) Shaping language and being shaped by language'" (Carmen Medina and Patricia Enciso, "Some words are messengers/Hay palabras mesaneras," New Advocate 15 [2002]). That quartet of concerns runs through Canales: Sofia (and it's probably not coincidence that the character's name means wisdom) is dealing with two sets of border crossings: her own, to go off to the different world of a private boarding school, and her best friend Berta's, as she prepares for a quinceanera, crossing the border from childhood. Sofia's decision to help Berta with the preparations also lays the foundation for her own journey, but she never forgets her home and, indeed, returns for the novel's final scenes.

The importance of community – and various types of beliefs – is an integral part of the story. Religion is also used to establish one of the initial culture clashes through some carefully selected description. At the Episcopalian boarding school, Sofia shares a 12 x 15 dorm room with another student, who has decorated her half with "a framed, signed Chagall print . . . . a small Persian rug . . . [and] a cut-glass vase with pink and yellow roses.” In Sofia's half, her mother sets up a home altar with "a ten-inch statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe with lightbulb and cord, [a] glow-in-the-dark rosary, a framed print of the Guardian Angel, and my late grandmother's favorite saint, the black San Martin de Porres. It was so old and badly chipped that his face was chalk white and his body rotated in three broken parts on a thin wire. Last was a twelve-inch bleeding Christ on a wooden cross.”

As for language, the novel is all about story, from the opening chapter (“The Storyteller’s Bag”) through the gifts Sofia exchanges with her roommate (“I gave her the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, saying it would give her a taste of the magical; she gave me a book of poems by Emily Dickinson, saying it would give me a taste of the Northeast”) to the final chapters, as Sofia discovers her own voice as a storyteller.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Quotable quotes

First post after (forced) migration to the new blogger -- (oh, the horror of change...)

I just received Celebrating Children's Books: Essays in Children's Literature in Honor of Zena Sutherland (eds. Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kaye) in a batch of used books. It's a collection of short pieces primarily by children's book authors, and, as such, is filled with memorable passages. Here are a few of the more quotable ones, in order of appearance. (I'm still reading...)

Plot is not the same as story. Plot, say, is the road on which we drive our car . . . story is what we see along the way.
--Lloyd Alexander, "The Grammar of Story"

We [writers] are all at the mercy of the quality of the imagination we inherit. The book can never be better than that.
--Susan Cooper, "Escaping into Ourselves"

[On bibliotherapy and problem books]
But often we want to forget, to swathe our seminal awareness in comfort. And we present children with cozy books about divorce and desertion and death and sex, promising them that, in the end, everything can be made all right. Thus we drown eternal human questions with contemporary bromides, all mechanics and sanctimony, filled with a ruinous complacency.
--Paula Fox, "Some Thoughts on Imagination in Children's Literature"

While we are thinking about the application of books to readers, I would like to point out how this particular brokerage seems to be conducted only with children's books; one does not rush to give Anna Karenina to friends who are committing adultery, or minister to distressed old age with copies of King Lear.
--Jill Paton Walsh, "The Art of Realism"

More to come...