Endings Can Be Beginnings: Counting by 7s (2013) by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (2013)

Suggested age range: 9 and up (Dial, 380 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Library

Genre: Contemporary Realism

“And endings are always the beginnings of something else.”

counting by sevens

The Book: This heartwarming story opens with a tragedy, but is surprisingly hopeful and unique throughout the rest of the novel. In the narrative, we meet twelve year-old genius, Willow, who counts by sevens, is a math whiz, and loves making things grow. The story charts Willo’ws journey to discovering a community and a new family. The beauty and wonder of the natural world is celebrated through Willow’s reflective and unique perspective of her surroundings.

Spirituality in Counting by 7s: Willow’s journey into becoming comfortable with herself, a girl without parents, is one spiritual aspect of the story. I was particularly interested in the way the author revealed Willow’s spirituality though her gardening. The people Willow encounters affect her spiritual identity, and with them she develops community. The way Willow’s community support and love her represents a part of the story I fell in love with—as a reader I was cheering for Willow and the search for her to discover a place in a community that would value her. Her discovery of these people and  of a purpose really made this a strong book for me.

Who Should Read This Book: This middle grade novel is similar to ones by Kate DiCamillo in that I think it’s a story almost any age would enjoy. Whether you’re twelve or twenty, I think you can appreciate this story and Willow’s journey as she navigates a world without family. Readers may discover some aspects of Willow’s journey to relate to—we are all searching for belonging and identity in some way, and this journey doesn’t stop at a certain age, though it may become easier.

Using this book with young readers? After reading the book, you could give your readers the opportunity to either journal in response to a question such as: What is one thing in your life that makes you feel like you belong?” or draw a picture about something in the book they liked. Arts-based response would be fabulous with this book. Either way, there is a lot of potential for curriculum with upper elementary students, or any age for that matter. Discussion is a must for any activity that you use with your young readers.

The Final Word: The book is refreshing in the way it’s not predictable and features some surprising turns. That’s one of the reasons why I give this book such a high rating. I leave you with a quote from the book that relates well to that notion:

“What we expect rarely occurs; what we don’t expect is what happens.”

This 2013 story is not to be missed, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book, in spite of my worries about it being too sad initially. Don’t be put off by the potentially tragic premise—Sloan’s novel is brilliant!

 

 

 

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The Rich Beauty of The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie Green

The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie Green (2013)

Suggested age range: 6 and up (Vala Publishing, 96 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: Fantasy, Illustrated, Story Collection

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The Book: This is a delightful and thought provoking collection of beautifully illustrated stories that will keep readers thinking long after the last word is read. Just the kind of book we at Spirit of Children’s Literature appreciate! Not only are the textual parables enchanting and rich, but the visual stories provide a true feast of saturated colors, gorgeous backgrounds and borders, and fantastic details.

Here are just a few of my notes about several of the stories.

The collection opens with “The Cuddliest Monster in the World,” which might seem silly at first, but illuminates rich themes about getting lost on our way, compassion, and the strength of loving others. I adored the ending of this one! “The Master Painter” lauds the power of creativity and the endless beauty of the world around us. What happens when that is hidden from us? “Polly, the Girl Who Was Always Changing” reminds readers of just how tricky it can be to navigate the intricacies our own developing identity, and this quest to “finding oneself.” There are intriguing ideas in these tales.

Spirituality in The Crystal Mirror: Rich, spiritual themes abound in this collection! This isn’t a religious set of stories, however; these tales cross cultural and religious boundaries, reflecting the beauty of ideas that are relevant across people groups and countries. Malnick and Green showcase themes that young and old readers alike can understand such as searching for one’s identity, longing for the unknown and unexplored, or approaching the world with the freshness and vision of a child.

Who Should Read This Book: Both young and older readers alike would appreciate and find delight and wisdom in the pages of these stories. I think this book would especially be fabulous as a shared book or as a read aloud with a class. The stories beg to be discussed, and I could even see extension and arts-based response activities revolving around the text.

The Final Word: The Crystal Mirror is a book I’ll be returning to again. There were some stories that I though, “Wait! I want more!”, but at the same time, the gaps left open could generate interesting discussion. I see myself sharing it with young readers of all ages, and it would work well as a read aloud. Its visual aspect opens up the potential for all kinds of arts-based activities, and let me tell you—these illustrations are amazing! Tim Malnick and Katie Green have put together a gorgeous book with stories that don’t always get tied up neatly, but still work. I’d have to say my favorite story is “The Story of Oswald Bat.” Go check it out. Thank you, Vala Publishing, for sharing this book with me!

You can check out the website, www.thecrystalmirror.co.uk

#AtoZchallenge: “F” is for Fantasy

Through reading fantasy, “readers can change their identity and become powerful in the world” (Walker 110).

Fantasy literature for children and young adults is a wonderful world of writing. Reflecting on several articles I read about fantasy for children and young adults while I was a student, I recognized a certain way of thinking about fantasy the authors were communicating. Many of the articles focused on the notion that fantasy comments on the world, the human condition, the human experience. In other words, fantasy is extremely relevant because it deals with significant issues that we as people face. It invites commentary about situation and problems that are important to people.

During childhood, children have a unique capacity to engage their imaginations and enter a make-believe world. By having the ability to do this, children can view the world with wonder and allow their creativity to be activated. This is what adults should not lose—if we can keep this, it’s very important. At the same time, Whitley (another author writing about children’s literature) discusses how fantasy narratives entertain this process of “growing up.” However, I think children can grow up, but still retain creativity and that perception of the world with wonder. I especially like Whitley’s point that “fantasy literature simplifies social and even moral structures in order to heighten a sense of the underlying spiritual dimensions” (177). Again, I think this reinforces the idea that fantasy makes room for spirituality in a unique way…F

There’s no doubt: fantasy is a powerful mode of literature. I think literature does have the capacity to change the reader, and motivate him/her to be an agent of change in his/her world.

This change doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to be important.

Works Cited:

Walker, Jeanne Murray. “High Fantasy, Rites of Passage, and Cultural Values.” In Teaching Children’s Literature: Issues, Pedagogy, Resources. Ed. Glen Edward Sadler. New York: Modern Language Association, 1992.

Whitley, David. “Fantasy Narratives and Growing Up.” In Where Texts and Children Meet. Eds. Eve Bearne and Victor Watson. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: “Gateway” Books In My Reading Journey

Gateway Books that Drew Me into Researching Spirituality in Children’s  & YA Literature

These are ten “gateway” books that were influential in my adventure of exploring spirituality in children’s and young adult fiction. These were the books that really drew me into wanting to find out more about what it meant for a book to contain spiritual aspects, and even what it meant that a book could engage a person’s spirituality. Though not all readers would think some of these stories, spiritual, they all were certainly spiritually significant to me.

Tom’s Midnight Garden

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I didn’t discover this British fantasy from 1958 until I saw it on the reading list for the master’s program I would enter the following autumn. I started working on the books the previous spring and summer, and was absolutely enchanted by this fantasy! Tom hears the clock strike thirteen at night and goes to investigate. He discovers a garden behind his aunt and uncle’s house, but he inadvertently steps back in time and meets Hattie. It’s a delightful time slip novel that engaged my wonder in multiple ways.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

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Edward Tulane’s journey turned into something that I could relate to, though when I first read it upon its release, 2006, I didn’t know just how significant it would be! Though I had finished my master’s program by the time I read this, the story became part of my Ph.D. dissertation several years later. Edward’s journey through the challenges of a broken heart and opening up to love is a journey we can all appreciate.

The Hobbit

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I read The Hobbit as a young reader, and Bilbo Baggins’ great adventure stirred in me a desire to embark on my own great adventure. The story certainly made me think more deeply about the notion of journey as “spiritual” and it’s something that I still reflect on in my reading of children’s and young adult literature.

Emily of New Moon

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When I re-read Emily of New Moon in graduate school, I was struck by how Emily was in tune to the natural world as well as God, and this story gave me the urge to return to all of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s (one of my favorite authors) books to appreciate their spirituality.

Marianne Dreams

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Like Tom’s Midnight Garden, I encountered Marianne Dreams in graduate school in England and loved this fantasy so much, I included it as one of the books for my master’s thesis. The story gets into the significance of dreams, deep connection to other people, as well as the concept of providential aid and coincidence.

The Children of Green Knowe

The-Children-of-Green-Knowe

This book by Lucy Boston, published in 1958, is another story I included for my thesis, and this British fantasy is a fantastic classic. The idea of connectedness to the past is a strong spiritual element in this story, and the book represented an important one for my thinking about how literature can highlight the importance of the past for those in the present.

A Wrinkle in Time

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The battle between good and evil in this science fantasy was powerful to me, as well as the close relationship between Meg and her brother Charles Wallace. This is yet another story that drew me into the world of children’s literature and spirituality.

The Mouse and His Child

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This is another classic that I didn’t discover until graduate school, but I included it in my Ph.D. dissertation. With a good dose of philosophy, this book is a perfect example of a story that made me think about all kinds of spiritual issues including the meaning of life, relationships, and infinity.

The Heart and the Bottle

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It was in the bookstore I discovered this amazing picturebook by Oliver Jeffers. When a girl loses a close family member, she decides to keep her heart in a bottle, so as not to get hurt anymore. The result is a beautiful and important story about the power of keeping one’s heart open to wonder and a childlike perspective.

The Red Tree

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This picturebook by award winning illustrator Shaun Tan is intense and moving, and it ends on a note of hope. The story was an important story for me during a crucial time when I was nearing the end of my stay in England. Many other books of Tan’s have continued to give me inspiration and engage with spiritual themes through both the pictures and the words.

What books were important in your reading journey?? Do share!

This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and Bookish—check out their wonderful blog for all things book-related in the world of young adult literature!

 

Sending out Dreams: Hope is a Ferris Wheel (2014) by Robin Herreira

Hopes if a Ferris Wheel (2014) by Robin Herrera

Suggested age range: 10 and up (Amulet Books, 272 pages)

Rating:  5/5 stars

Source: e-ARC from Net Galley

Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary Realism

Release Date: March 11th, 2014

hope

“ ‘Dreams are a letter,’ I said. ‘You will it with all your thoughts and feeings and wishes. But then you have to send it away, and you’re not sure when it will get back where it’s going or if you’ll get anything back at all. But you have to send it to find out.’”

The Book: Ten year old Star lives in a trailer park with her mother and older sister. The kids at school think she’s weird and make fun of her “layered” haircut. She wants to start a club, and when the Trailer Park club idea fails, she decides to start the Emily Dickinson Club. Through the club, Star gets to know more classmates—a boy who is continually in detention with her, as well as one who continually glares in her direction. Narrated from her perspective, Star’s story focuses on her hopes for meeting her father, the poetry she is inspired to write, and her navigation of relationships both at home and at school.

Spirituality in Hope is a Ferris Wheel: Poetry can engage our spirituality! At least, that has been my experience. Sometimes, our poetic expressions can reveal our authentic selves, and I think that we find out more about Star (and her heart’s desires) through the poetry she writes in the novel. The concept of “hope” in the book drew me to reflect on how hope can be a spiritual issue. One afternoon the members of the club begin discussing the definition of hope. I love Star’s explanation of hope as a ferris wheel because “you can be far away from something, really wanting it, and the wheel can bring you closer.” Sometimes our hope doesn’t make sense, but even in the midst of unknowing or confusion, hope represents a powerful source. The way the story engages with those ideas was refreshing!

Exploring this Book with Readers: We on the blog are huge fans of donuts—making them and eating them. It was a true delight to see all the references to donuts in this book, particularly Heavenly Donuts. Gloria, the family friend, uses the phrase “Heavenly Donuts!” frequently. Playing around with language and written expression are two topics that surface in the story. Readers might be invited to answer Star’s question: What is hope? We might also consider, what does Gloria’s phrase really mean and why does she use that one? You never know—talking about donuts could lead into all sorts of significant subjects…

The Final Word: I highly recommend this humorous and realistic read! Star is a spunky and cute character whose antics at school made me laugh often! Her persistence about creating a club at her school was inspiring. Even though she gets teased, and experiences challenges, especially relating to finding her father, Star just keeps going. In this way, her character embodies hope, and I think this novel would generate some fantastic discussion about life’s challenges, perseverance, and relationships.

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for a honest review!

Stay tuned for my interview with the author next week!