Saturday, October 9, 2010

Week 42: Two Books With Long Titles

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer

This is the Book in Common for Chico colleges this year. It's the story of William Kamkwamba, a Malawian boy living in poverty. After a famine that hit the whole country very hard, his family cannot afford to send him to school, so he tried to keep up with his classmates by studying books from the tiny library stocked with donated books. Books on science and physics especially interested William, who had always been a tinkerer. When he came upon a book about energy that showed how windmills work, he realized that he could build his own windmill to bring electricity to his family.

The story of how William built his windmill out of scrap metal and old pipes, and what happened afterwards, is really interesting. There's also a lot of good stuff about life in Malawi. I'm glad I read the book.

In Search of England, by H. V. Morton

A few months ago, I read In Search of London and loved it. This book was written a good 25 years earlier, in the mid-1920's. It's not quite as good as the London one--perhaps because he was so much younger, maybe just because it's not as long and I wanted more. It's very enjoyable, though.
At points it becomes clear how very much has changed since the 20's. Early in the book, Morton talks about how important it is to preserve England's ancient heritage, in particular asserting that Hadrian's Wall should immediately be "preserved from further decay by a top-dressing of concrete." Eek!

Week 41: Stories from the Faerie Queene and Sam I Am

Stories from the Faerie Queene, by Mary MacLeod

I ordered this several weeks ago and am hoping that my kids will enjoy reading the stories in it. It's quite long--over 400 pages--and has a complete retelling of every story in the original Faerie Queene. It's quite Edwardian in tone, and a good way to become familiar with the stories without actually having to read the epic poem.

This book is available in full-text online.

Sam I Am, by Ilene Cooper

Sam, a 7th grader, is having trouble figuring out his family this Christmas. The dog destroyed the Hanukkah bush and that has uncovered a whole lot of family tension around the subject of religion. Sam's dad is Jewish, but not at all active or willing to talk about it. His mom is Christian and goes to church sometimes, but Sam feels guilty going with her, feeling that it might upset his dad. The grandmothers don't get along. For years, the parents have avoided talking with each other or their kids about religion, and that hasn't really been working; now Sam is ignorant about both sides of his heritage and torn between his parents, unsure about how to make them happy or about what he wants. Sam is also trying to figure out school (where they're studying the Holocaust), boy/girl parties, and his first girlfriend.

I thought this book was really well-written and enjoyed it quite a lot. I would highly recommend it for kids 11 and over. There are very few children's novels that address religion at all, and the ones that do tend to be about evil religious extremists, so it's a relief to see a great book like Sam I Am, which realistically treats both Judaism and Christianity as faiths which ordinary people live because they think it's right and that it helps them.