Saturday, April 16, 2011

Isn't this a wonderful picture of Steve? I honestly do not know where this was taken. He sent it to me from his phone so someone else must have taken. Probably on one of his business trips. But I think Steve is very handsome when he smiles. Well, he's handsome to me all the time, but especially so when he smiles!

I apologize for not posting more. It would take me days to write about all the health issues I'm dealing with right now so I won't even try other than to say they have made it very difficult to keep up with work let alone enjoying writing on this blog. I owe emails/letters to lots of friends and family and my office looks like a tornado went through it, but I am focusing on keeping up with grading and making it through this semester. The docs have asked me to take the summer off to recuperate and I am doing so.

Steve took me to Borders, which is going out of business, and I stocked up on Christmas mysteries and romances to read while sitting out by the pool. I am going to read "adult" books for a change with a few YA a children's when I have "withdrawal" symptoms as I've been reading most youth literature for years.

I am just about done with Jennifer Donnelly's The Winter Rose It will be my treat later this morning after Steve and his mom wake. My body has decided getting up at 4:00 and then taking a nap at 8:00 is what is wants so I get grading and email done in the early a.m. Anyway - back to this wonderful historical novel set in London during the early 1900s. Although she is the daughter of nobility, Lydia has turned her back on position and money and attends medical school to work in the "slums" of Whitechapel where living conditions are deplorable and children and women die of illnesses and diseases that are easily preventable with better living conditions and nutrition. Corrupt and broke Freddie Lytton has spent years wooing Lydia, not because he loves her, but because he wants the money her parents have promised him if he can convince her to marry him and stop working in the clinic in Whitechapel. But Lydia falls in love with the "criminal" Sid Malone and the story takes so many twists and turns that you need to hang on to the sides of your chair to keep up. There may be 720 pages in this book, but you'll devour every one of them.

But, I suggest you read Donnelly's the The Tea Rose first as it sets the scene in the 1880s when Jack the Ripper is terrorizing London and murdering and mutilating the prostitutes of Whitechapel. Fiona Finnegan is the heroine of this prequel to The Winter Rose, in which she still plays a part. She is madly in love with Joe Bristow and they are busy saving every penny they can for their own store one day but he is seduced by a wealthy shop owner's daughter. Fiona runs away to America and makes a name for herself as a tea merchant, seeking revenge for her father's murder in the process. Not quite as lengthy, at 529 pages, it is as fascinating as the sequel. This is Donnelly's debut novel and her skill at writing historical fiction is keenly evident.

I was introduced to Donnelly through her YA novel A Northern Light, a Michael L. Printz honor book, based on the murder of a young pregnant woman at a lodge in the Adirondacks. Set in the summer of 1906, sixteen-year-old Mattie is working at the lodge when a lodger named Grace gives her a packet of letters to destroy. Young Grace's body is later found in the lake. Mattie is a strong female character at a time when women were expected to take care of the home and marry young. She has a suitor and is caring for her siblings as her mother has died but Mattie wants a better life. She wants to go away to school and is encourage by her teacher. There is a train bound for New York City with Mattie's name on it, if she can muster the courage to take it. Teens will relate to the strong female characters in this novel even though the time setting is quite different from the hallways of today's high schools. My YA literature students are booktalking with HS age teens right now and I remind them that a successful booktalk, not matter what time period a book is set in, focuses on making a connection with teens of today.

And then Donnelly totally blew me away with Revolution , her latest YA novel. It is in part a contemporary novel about a teenage girl who is destroying herself with grief over her role in her little brother's death. Andi is sent to Paris for the Christmas holiday to spend time with family friends and to work on her Senior thesis on a little known Paris musician who composed for the guitar, unique for the time period of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Inside a guitar case from that time period Andi finds the journal of a young woman who had been the playmate of the young prince. With no warning Andi finds herself transported through time to take on the persona of the young woman Alexandrine and lives the French Revolution through her. It is an incredible novel. Teens won't even realize how much French and music history they are learning as they vicariously live with Andi/Alexandrine.

Donnelly also delved into the picture book arena in 2007 with her delightful Humble Pie We've all known the little boy, or girl, who is spoiled rotten, greedy, and grabby and just a pain to be around. So does this grandmother who makes a huge humble pie - the crust is as large as bed sheet! It has all kinds of yummy ingredients and greedy Theo falls right in. Grandmother isn't about to let him out no matter how much he howls but all of his jumping and bumping sends the pie tumbling along. Not surprisingly, no one will help him until the pie rolls into a town of hungry townspeople and Theo is able to escape without being baked into the pie. He returns home a reformed boy. Donnelly's rhyming text and message makes this a fun one to read at story time as little kids all have a bit of Theo in them.

Most of you will recognize the whimsical style of illustrations as the illustrator is Stephen Gammell who has illustrated myriad picture books, winning awards too! Barnes and Noble lists 131 results for this illustrator: My personal favorite is Song and Dance Man that won the Caldecott Award. Gammell's color pencil drawings bring to life the old man showing his grandchildren just how a bowler hat and a pair of old dance shoes can transport them to another time when Grandpa used to dance the old soft shoe to "Tea for Two." I can't even count the number of times I read this one aloud when I worked with primary age children. So - now you know a bit about every book Jennifer Donnelly has written - from her debut adult, YA, and picture books as well as two more. Can't wait to see what is coming next. But, while you wait you can check out her web site for cool stuff:

Okay, that's it for today. Now I'm going finish the last few chapter of The Winter Rose so I can get it in the mail to my daughter Mary as I know she'll love it too.