“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76
In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment. The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.
Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs. That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.
“It was a little thing, but sometimes the smallest details were far more important than they seemed.” p. 178
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/mystery, 471 pages including preview of the next book.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 17.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Greenglass House series.
It’s Christmastime at Greenglass House again, and except for one pesky visitor, it seems that this year things will be back to normal – a quiet family vacation for 13-year-old Milo and his parents. Then the bell rings…
Since this is the second book in a mystery series, it will contain some spoilers from the first book. The synopsis above and my final recommendation at the very end will be spoiler-free.
Kate Milford is back with another successful mystery/fantasy. This book is far more fantastical than the first installment, although there are still elements of a mystery and secrets to be uncovered. As previously, there is an ensemble cast, with Milo at the center of the story. About half the characters are from the previous books, with a whole set of new people descending on Greenglass House from the Liberty, a free space for asylum which some people in the city confuse with a mental asylum.
“One of the problems with knowing nothing about the family that you were born into was that you never really stopped wondering about it. At least, Milo didn’t.” p. 53
Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014.
MG mystery/fantasy, 392 pages (including sneak peek at the next book).
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.4 (worth 15.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Greenglass House series.
Milo’s parents run, and live in, a smuggler’s inn – running prohibited goods is popular because Nagspeake is practically run by the Deacon and Morvengarde catalog company, and their place used to be the home of notorious smuggler Doc Holystone. But even a smuggler’s inn is usually quiet during Christmas vacation in heavy snowfall. So Milo’s understandably perturbed when a surprise guest turns up, and then another, and then another…
I nearly passed over this book when compiling my diverse fantasy list. First because before reading, I couldn’t easily tell if it even was diverse. The cover features the eponymous house, and while the blurb describes Milo as adopted, it doesn’t say anything about his race, so I was doubting if it would be a good candidate for this blog. But lately I’ve been including some books about adoption, fostering, and kinship care, even if they aren’t necessarily otherwise diverse. Then I got the book and started reading.
“When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality. I wouldn’t do it because it was egalitarian, I’d do it because cutting people out meant cutting off talent and opportunity, people who could bring more to the table than I could ever imagine.” page 160
Yes, Chef: a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.
Random House, New York, 2012.
Autobiography, 326 pages.
The life story of Marcus Samuelsson, a chef across three continents.
This was a random find that was enchanting. I’ll admit that I was first drawn in by the appealing cover, and then after the generosity of the friend who gave this to me, I had to at least start reading it. What I found between the covers kept me up all night until the book was finished.
Twelve-year old Lanesha is different from her peers in one major way: she can see ghosts. And several minor ways: she was raised by Mama Ya-Ya, the midwife who birthed her, but without the formality of kinship or an official foster care relationship. She loves to learn, tackling difficult math problems and learning new words with glee.
The book covers nine days directly before and during the events of Hurricane Katrina over 14 chapters. Within the chapters the text is further broken into sections, and the sentences tend to be short. Although Parker Rhodes doesn’t shy away from challenging words, they are decipherable with context clues if not defined in the text. These explain why this has a low reading level, but it’s not meant for very young readers. Children closer to Lanesha’s age would be a much better fit, because the novel does include deaths, extreme peril, hunger, destruction, and family rejection.
The story starts slowly, establishing Lanesha’s character, neighborhood, and routine before tearing everything apart. It’s a first person novel, and Lanesha is smart, independent, and loving. She’s in an unofficial kinship situation with Mama Ya-Ya since her mother died in childbirth without revealing her father and her mother’s family refuses to accept or acknowledge her.
“Leaving Duinsmoore was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. In a matter of months, in the tiniest fraction of my life, Duinsmoore had given me so much.” page 278
The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family by Dave Pelzer.
Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1997.
Memoir, 340 pages.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 9.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, this is an adult book, not suggested for MG readers.
Peltzer’s first book is all about the inhumane treatment he suffered at the hands of his mother. The second, after a brief recap of the abuse, focuses on his life in the foster care system.
I believe this was the first book that I ever read about foster care. Many years later, I found some of the series in a thrift store and decided to read through it again. After the sensational story of the first book, this one is significantly milder. Peltzer’s mother still has a lot of power over him – mentally, emotionally, and legally. But her physical control of his body is limited and he starts to heal in some ways.
“Kids may need years of consistent, loving care before they begin to trust, and they may resist trusting even in the face of much love and care from new parents.” page 107
Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting by Mary Ostyn.
Nelson Books, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2014.
Nonfiction, 241 pages.
Mary Ostyn shares her experiences as a mother of ten, six adopted, children.
I’m always interested in reading books about adoption and foster care. Initially when I got this, I thought it would have more about fostering or domestic adoption. While Ostyn did go through the initial process of domestic adoption, in the end all of their six adopted children were foreign adoptions.
This is part memoir and part advice book. Ostyn writes from a Christian background so there are scripture quotations and references to Jesus and prayer. I didn’t realize before reading this book that like many international adoptive parents, she feels particularly called by Jesus to adopt the children who ended up in her home.