Sunday 24 August 2014

Book thoughts on a lazy Sunday morning...

I was at a BBQ yesterday with a group of friends, and we had a wonderful time, with great food, good friends and excellent conversation, so I’m a bit tired and kind of lazy today.  And I think I’m allowed to do nothing but read and drink yummy chai tea, as I go back to work tomorrow, after eight weeks off.  I’m ready to go back, but it’ll be tough the first few days to adjust to the schedule again. 
Speaking of going back to work, I’ve always been in the mindset where, at the end of August, I would think of the coming season as a “new start”; I guess having been a student off and on for so long that I never lost the association of September with a new school year.  Well, now I am an elementary school librarian, so I can use that as an excuse for this, since it really is a new school year beginning.  I always feel like it’s time to clean up, get organized and start fresh, much more so than in in January, which of course really is the beginning of a new year.  Some of the things I’ve been doing to get ready for the start of the school year have been going through closets and dressers to purge clothing, which has been donated to local charities, and going through bookshelves to get rid of unwanted or unread titles.  These I have distributed in a few different ways.  Yesterday I brought a bag of books to a small community “free library” near my house.  This small enclosed box is associated with the nearby community garden, and one of the members of the garden said her husband built the “library”.  It is a place where people can drop off books to share, and take books to read.  I’ve seen a few of these little libraries around town and I think it is an awesome idea.  I also brought some of my books to a second hand book shop to exchange for credit.  I love to browse second hand bookstores, so I support them by both buying and selling quality books.  The one I go to most, both because it is close to my place and because it has a fabulous selection, is A Second Look Books in downtown Kitchener (  The staff there are helpful and knowledgeable, and the ambiance suits me perfectly when I’m in the mood to browse the shelves for a hidden gem or if I’m on a mission to find a particular title.  Anyway, I still have a box of books that I think I will just put out on my front lawn on a day when no rain is expected and hope that there will be enough foot traffic and interested passers-by to find these books new homes.
Also because school is starting soon, I’ve read a couple of juvenile fiction titles that are recent additions to my library, as I want to start doing more “book talks” to the older grades at school.  I have found that if I talk about a book, students will want to take it out and read it.  This is a good thing, as I believe inspiring a love of books and reading in children is so very important, especially these days, when most kids seem to be only interested in computers and things they can do online (not including ebooks!).  I guess it’s always been this way… in my day, it was TV that parents were worried about and kids loved.  
Anyway, when I present a book talk, I feel more confident if I’ve actually read the book, rather than just read reviews, so I read two children's novels last week.  The first was The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  You may be familiar with this title, as it was made into a film in 2011 entitled “Hugo”, directed by Martin Scorsese, which I believe won some Oscars.  I haven’t seen the film, but the book was amazing.  I haven’t read a lot of children’s fiction, but this one was so interesting and different that it held my attention through the entire (graphic) novel.  Set in 1930s Paris, it tells the story of orphaned boy Hugo Cabret, whose father perished in a fire at the museum, forcing Hugo to live with his drunken uncle Claude, who tends the clocks at the Paris railway station and has an apartment behind the walls of the station.  When his uncle does not return from a night out, Hugo takes on the task of tending the clocks in order to conceal this absence from the Station Master.  He returns to the site of the fire and discovers an automaton, a mechanical figure that appears to have the ability to draw or write, but it is broken, so Hugo determines to fix it in order to see if it would write a message from his father.  Hugo has been pilfering small parts from the toy shop in the station to aid him in this project, as well as milk and food whenever he can find it, but one day the toy store owner, Papa Georges, catches him in the act.  He is punished, but manages to endear himself to the owner, and begins working for him, repairing toys and helping out in the shop.  Hugo is also befriended by Isabelle, the owner’s god-daughter, and together they have a few adventures in bookshops, libraries and cinemas.  It is during one of these adventures that Hugo discovers the true identity of the toy store owner, Georges Méliès, a former filmmaker, who has been thought dead for many years, the man who directed his father's favourite film.  When he discovers this connection between Georges and his own father, Hugo begins to feel once again that he belongs somewhere, that he is not completely abandoned.  Told in text and illustrations, this novel is both inspiring and historically interesting, as it was based on the life and experiences of pioneer French filmmaker Georges Méliès, who, despite early fame, ended up destitute.  This was a wonderful reading experience, and I would recommend it to just about anyone.  Note:  Don’t be alarmed at the size of the book, as it is part text and part graphic novel, so can easily be read and appreciated in a couple of hours.  But don’t just skim the illustrations, really take the time to study them, as if you are “reading” each page.  Selznick both wrote and illustrated this book.
Last Wednesday morning I woke up and decided to go to Toronto for the day, so I grabbed a lightweight paperback to read on the bus.  The book I chose to take was Last Message by Shane Peacock, part of the “Seven” series.  This series is comprised of seven books written by seven different Canadian authors to represent the seven grandsons of adored, heroic, brave grandfather David McLean.  When McLean passes away, he leaves instructions for seven missions, one assigned to each of his grandsons, to be completed.  These missions are tasks McLean did not undertake while still alive, but which he feels responsible to accomplish in order to compensate for some of the “less heroic” things he did in his life.  While these assignments reveal a less-than-flattering side of the grandfather they all adored, each grandson must learn to accept the man he really was and to prove himself by completing the tasks.  In Last Message, sixteen-year old Adam, the only American grandson, is sent to France to complete not one, but three missions,each more difficult (and possibly illegal) than the one before.  Can Adam find the courage and strength to complete even one of these tasks and prove to his grandfather that he really can “amount to something”?  I wasn’t sure whether I would like this book, but I started it soon after we departed and kept reading until we pulled into Union Station.  It was riveting!  There was action, adventure, romance, history, France, cute French waitresses, Antoine de Saint Exupéry… what more could an older child, young adult, or this adult reader ask for?  Well-written and engaging, this page-turner was a delight to read, and I look forward to reading other in this series, although I realize that, since each is written by a different author, they will all be, well, different, both in tone and writing style.  Some of the other authors who have contributed books to this series are Eric Walters, John Wilson, Norah McClintock and Ted Staunton.  As an aside, I just discovered that there will be another series released in October of this year, “Seven:  the Sequels”;  I’m very excited about putting those on order for my library, too!
 That’s all for today.  Enjoy the last week of August!

Bye for now…

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