Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Reading with Laya: The Bear series by Karma Wilson

Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman
Age Range: 2 to 5 years

The Bear books by Karma Wilson are some of our favorite books. Every library haul HAS to have at least one Bear book these days. Every Bear book is a lot of fun to read. Bear and his friends (Mouse, Hare, Badger, Mole, Wren, Raven and Owl) have little adventures in each book. 

We started off with the Bear Feels Scared book. It was particularly relevant at that point because Laya had just started talking about being scared of the dark. In the book, Bear gets lost when he’s outside looking for a snack. It suddenly gets dark and it starts raining and he loses his way. And Bear feels scared. But soon, his friends put together a search party and go find him and then of course, in the warm company of all his friends, Bear feels safe. The book had more of an effect that I expected in making her realize that with friends and family around, she can always feel safe.

In addition to little messages like this, the Bear books help in understanding the habits of bears - their eating habits, hibernation, etc. 

The Bear books are such a joy to read out. It’s not too long (my nightmare is a lengthy nighttime read that I have to read every night – sometimes multiple times a night!), the rhyming pattern is charming and the story line is very simple and easy to follow.

The illustrations are fabulous. They are full page illustrations with the writing placed strategically so the important aspects of the picture are not hidden. Bear and his friends are so cuddly and friendly looking. We spend a lot of time gazing at each page and identifying and talking about so many different aspects of the picture.

I can’t recommend the Bear series more for kids between 2 and 5.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review: A Breast Cancer Alphabet

Title: A Breast Cancer Alphabet
Author: Madhulika Sikka
Genre: Memoir
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
Quick review: A personal guide to navigating the world of breast cancer for patients, caregivers and anyone that might want to know more about the effects of the deadly disease.

Here's the book trailer:

My views on this book:

“Cancer” is not an alien topic for me. I face this word every single day. But unlike many other women, I get to leave the word and thoughts of it when I wrap up my day job dealing with cancer research and head back home. At least for now. I am one of the very few whose personal lives has not yet been touched by this deadly disease.

If you are as big an NPR fan as I am and if it is part of your daily routine (on radio as well as on twitter), then Madhulika Sikka is a familiar name. She’s the executive editor of NPR News. What was news to me was the fact that she was also a breast cancer survivor. I was curious when I picked up a copy of her book – A breast cancer alphabet. Is there anything new I could learn about cancer from this book, I wondered. Turns out there is! There is so much more than just the science to cancer. It is such an intensely personal “journey” (as many would like to call it). As the author herself says on page 93, 

My breast cancer was not mystical, or enchanting or exotic. My breast cancer was not and is not a journey. Getting through cancer is no different from getting through some other terrible disease because that is what it is, a disease. It’s okay to treat it like one. 

“A Breast Cancer Alphabet” is presented like an alphabet book. And between A for Anxiety and Z for Zzzzs, you understand Breast Cancer from the author’s point of view. 

It is an honest description of the trials and tribulations of navigating the murky waters of breast cancer right from diagnosis, through treatment all the way to survivorship. Written with a dash of wit.
Perfect read for someone who is newly diagnosed with breast cancer and is overwhelmed with all the reading material and technical jargon thrown at her from all directions. 

One of my favorite sections in this book is “I for Indignities”. Here she talks about the bright-siding of breast cancer – “a land of sparkling brightness personified by women who are happy and smiling while they are ‘battling’ this disease”. And she ends the chapter by saying “My point is breast cancer is many, many things. What it is not is a fun ride. It is a painful and debilitating and public, and it is okay to feel indignant about that.” Some needs to say it and I am glad she did. 

Recently, a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. I knew all the technical terms and understood the science behind the diagnosis but when it came to actually talking to her, I had no clue where to begin or how to proceed. 

I really wish I had read this book by then.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Orchards

Title: Orchards
Author: Holly Thompson
Genre: Young Adult
Style: Free Verse Poetry
Subjects: Teen suicide, bullying
My raitng: 4.5 Stars

With a title and a book cover that gives a very sunny tropical feel, Orchards is completely unlike what it portrays to be. The book opens with the lines:

One week after
You stuffed a coil of rope
Into your backpack
And walked uphill into
Osgood’s orchard
Where blooms were still closed fists
My father looked up
Summer airfares
To Tokyo

Following the suicide of 14 year old Ruth, the other 8th grade girls from her New York school are sent away to different places to spend the summer away from each other. For Kana Goldberg, her destination is Japan – the home, the village and the orange orchards her mom grew up in. On page 5 of the book, we get a glimpse in to Kana’s extremely perspicacious understanding of the social circle in their middle school - the reason behind Ruth’s suicide.

We were more
An atom:
Arranged in shells
Around Lisa,
Becca and Mona
First shell solid,
The rest of us
In orbitals father out
Less bound
Less stable
And you –
In the least stable
Most vulnerable
Outermost shell

Even though she’s kept busy throughout the summer, Kana’s thoughts are always in New York and she doesn’t stop thinking about Ruth. She goes over the past in her head multiple times wondering how they missed the signs, what she could have done to avoid this. Having lost one of my closest friends to the ravages of depression and been through the cycle of emotions that come up after the “event”, I thought Holly Thompson accurately portrayed Kana’s feelings of shock, helplessness, guilt and even anger.

I’ve never read poetry before this challenge and it amazes me how much can be conveyed with so few words. As Kana tries to immerse herself in the Japanese way of life in her grandmother’s place, we get a clear understanding of the routines of orchard farmers in Japan. Through her thoughts, in bits and pieces, we are able to put together the past and the events and circumstances that led to the suicide of Ruth. Kana is in Japan, feeling lonely and isolated, trying hard to fit in to the family she’s hardly known till now when tragedy strikes a second time. Her grandmother, who is usually sharp and critical of Kana and her American ways, surfaces at this point to console her with her wisdom and perspective.

Suicide can spread
Baachan finally says
Utsuru she adds
Like a virus
You have to stop it
Put up barriers

And it’s that simple truth that people most often tend to ignore. Suicide is final. And someone that was in any position to have prevented it is left with indescribable amounts of guilt. It is hard to even imagine the mental turmoil of someone that’s actually directly or indirectly the trigger to such an extreme action. And in the case of teen suicides, everyone involved is so young and so blissfully unaware of the consequences of their actions and words. Helping everyone around deal with their feelings should be of primary concern.

Orchards is a fantastic book and is a must read for every young adult to understand that bullying can lead to extreme situations they have no control over. It is also an essential read for parents, teachers and other associated with teens to understand the overarching effects of suicide and its impact on everyone involved. I also highly recommend it for everyone that likes to read in general. The writing is beautiful. There’s something about the free verse style that appeals to me. Not everything is spelled out as in prose and it adds to the beauty of the book and story. In addition, there are some fabulous illustrations of Japanese life scattered throughout the book.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: One More Thing - Stories and more stories.

Book: One More Thing
Author: B J Novak
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
My Rating: 4 Stars

First things first. Have you seen the charming trailer for the book? In case you missed it, you can watch it now. Here:

I'm sure the trailer in itself is sufficient to make you want to read this book.But if you need a little more convincing, read on...

 Like every aspiring writer, I've always wanted to start and maintain a writing journal. A book where I write every time inspiration strikes. And B J Novak's debut book read just like that to me. Yes, B J Novak. A familiar name in most households with fans of the sitcom The Office (Aah.. Ryan, the temp! sigh!). I won't deny that I had slight misgivings before picking the book up. I've been burnt before expecting much from books written by celebrities. But something about the Harvard education and the talent in screenwriting for The Office made me pick this book up and I am glad I did.

I really enjoyed everything about the book. If you are expecting short stories, you need to be aware that Novak's stories are not traditional. Some of them are just a couple of lines long.

There's no unifying theme between the stories. They are just what they are - a collection of his writing. But it is an enjoyable refreshing collection. And based on experience, I'm warning you, it's hard to put down the book. You want to keep reading "just one more" little story and before you know it, you've wrapped up the book!

Reading with Laya: Madeline

Of all the books we picked up from the library in January, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans turned out to be Laya's favorite.

Madeline is a very popular children's classic picture book. The story takes place in a boarding school in Paris. There are 12 little girls in the school and the youngest one is spunky little Madeline. The original series by Ludwig Bemelmans consists of 6 books detailing Madeline's activities. Madeline is the first book in the series. In this book, she gets appendicitis and is hospitalized for more than 10 days.

Every thing about the book is charming. The illustrations are old fashioned and lovely. There are so many beautiful details to observe for the parent and a good starting point to teach little ones about the Eiffel Tower and Paris (since the tower is seen prominently in a few pages).

For Laya, the story appealed on a more personal level. She was able to relate to Madeline because she is not scared of mice either (this is a quite a dubious claim because she's never had to interact with a live scurrying mouse in life until now) and she has a surgery scar "just like Madeline" in her stomach that she loves to show off (that one is a valid claim - I can vouch for that!).

We both enjoyed Madeline immensely and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series with Laya.