The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Hannah is an ordinary 13-year-old girl who is self-absorbed, whiney about her family and their crazy traditions, and bitter because she wants her braces off and new clothes in her closet. She's also Jewish, and it is during a Passover seder with her family that something very strange occurs.

Hannah is mysteriously transported back to 1940's Poland, and is part of a Jewish community that is being "resettled" by the government. She experiences being crammed in boxcars like animals, along with being beaten, starved, robbed, stripped, and humiliated. While in the concentration camp, she comes to survive by attempting only to stay alive for one more minute, one more day. She feels the pain and insanity of losing people she loves one by one, constantly being treated like the scum of the earth.

The title, The Devil's Arithmetic, comes from the theme of numbers within the story. Interpreting people's tattooed numbers on their arms comes to mean the difference between life and death at times. Hannah and her remaining friends and family live each day hoping and praying that they are one less to go in the ovens, and one more to get their bowl of watery potato soup that day. This constant referral to numbers, (and the knowledge that there is no sense in seeking reason in the way things are), is where the term "the devil's arithmetic" surfaces.

I've read some pretty good pieces of historical fiction about the Holocaust, and I've explored it from several different angles. This book, though, takes the prize. It is one of the most moving works of literature I've ever had the pleasure to read.


One Butt Cheek at a Time: Gert Garibaldi's Rants and Raves by Amber Kizer

This funny little snack of a book was on the "New Releases" shelf in my favorite public library last week. In this first publication by Kizer, readers get a hilarious and all-too-honest picture of high school. Remember those "good old days?" When girls obsessed over every minute detail of their appearance, and boys obsessed over chasing the most recent object of their affections? How about remembering the rampant availability of drugs and the eating disorders and the insane idiocy (or so we thought) of everyone over the age of 18? What about over-analyzing every single detail of a conversation with your love interest, and feeling miserable when you were the fifth wheel in your group of friends? It's funny how we forget those things about high school, even when it hasn't been too terribly long that we've been out.
Gert helps us with that. As the main character, Gert takes us through the first half of her sophomore year in high school and consequently through some pretty major events in her life...learning how to pluck her eyebrows, getting in her first relationship, mortification at the hands of a teacher, sex ed, and dealing with being single and yet supportive of her best friend's newly found love (her best friend is Adam...his boyfriend is Tim).
Like high school, Gert's "rants and raves" are pretty raw. Like things that occur every day in high school, Gert's stories can be fairly offensive to those of us who are so removed from that setting. Consider yourself warned...but be ready to laugh your head off, too!



Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts

Look, I'm no feminist. I might be one of those who believes that every man and woman are equal, and equally capable, but I also know that guys and girls are different. We each have our own strong points, and as a matter of fact it is pretty genius how one gender complements the other. Good job, Creator.

Don't let this book title put you off. I will admit, I was a little hesitant at first because it seemed as though it would be pushing women as the superior beings and how America would never have existed without chicks. Roberts does a good job, though, of interweaving both the men and the women who were vital to the start of our country.

I listened to this on CD during morning and afternoon commutes, and since auditory processing isn't exactly my strong point, I have already forgotten some names and dates. The general gist of it is that while so much attention is given to historical men in American society, we don't ever really even think about the women. That really is true, too. There are countless biographies of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington...but what about the women in their lives? Who do we think did their laundry and ran their households, raised money, and tended to their wounds while they were off winning the nation's independence?

Did you know.....
  • that women served as spies for America during the Revolutionary way, traveling back and forth carrying information generals? There was one woman in particular who was caught by British troops, and while they were waiting for another woman to come search her, she ate the paper with the message on it. She delivered the intel later...verbally.
  • there were several women whose fundraising efforts were one of the main reasons why America won the war for independence?
  • educated women like Abigail Adams, Eliza Pinkney, and Deborah Read Franklin wrote letters and essays and crafted pamphlets that contributed to the colonies' desire to become a self-governing nation? Most of the time they had to use male or anonymous pen names, but it is important to note that it was their thoughts and opinions and ideals that drove so many to give their lives for liberty.
  • that once America was established, women were an integral part in the construction of our nation's principals?
  • there were bad girls back then, too? One woman, Maria Reynolds (naughty chick that she was), was used to set up Alexander Hamilton in an affair that was intended to ruin him politically.

That's only the icing on the cake. It's no wonder that George Washington himself referred to the women of America as the "best patriots America could boast."


Kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Katie Takeshima is the middle child in a Japanese American family of 5. She suffers from "middle child" syndrome in that she constantly alternates between mimicking her older sister in everything, yet serving as a second mother to her youngest brother. Katie struggles with feeling like there is nothing special about her, when it is actually she who holds her family together during their darkest days.
Written from Katie's point of view, the book alternates between funny little memoirs of family camping trips or her uncle's mishaps and the very serious story of her older sister's battle with cancer and her parents' financial struggles.
The title of the book is the Japanese word for glittering. In her younger days, it is Katie's favorite descriptive word for things like the ocean and the sky. By the end of the book, it serves as a reminder that-despite the terrible things that have happened to her family-she can still choose to live a happy life.



Dicey's Song, by Cynthia Voight

Dicey Tillerman is wise beyond her years, and sadly so. Apparently, she took the lead in traveling across several states with her 3 younger siblings in tow in order to get them to the one person who can take care of them: their grandmother. I say "apparently" because this book is #2 in the Tillerman series, and I have yet to read #1. (Not gonna lie...I just picked it because it is a Newbery.)

At the beginning of the book the Tillerman kiddos are all settling into life with their grandmother, and it bothered me that Dicey has so many different worries...well beyond anything that is age appropriate. Their mother is in an asylum with no promise of recovery, one of the brothers is fighting, another brother is a genius but feels left out, and her sister has a learning problem that not even the teachers can figure out. They also have to deal with rumors of their grandmother being crazy, and the fact that money is always short.

What I took from this book is that you just never know what kids are going through. Dicey is just a little girl, but seems to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. I think many of our students are the same way. Having said that, it's a real downer!

Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer

The 4th and final installment in the Twilight series was released last Saturday. My goal was to have it read before summer ends for me, and by the light o' my laptop I can see that I met that deadline by approximately 54 minutes. ;)

Breaking Dawn continues (and concludes) the story of Bella Swann and her involvement with the Cullens-a family of "vegetarian" vampires, or those who have sworn against consuming human blood. Bella's in love with Edward Cullen, and it is in this book that their choice to be together at all costs (in Bella's case, forsaking mortality) truly comes to fruition. Not only do their decisions affect their family, but also other friends and family members scattered worldwide. At one point even the Volturi (sort of like the vampire mafia) are involved, and in a nasty way.

There are HUGE surprises in this book, and more than once I got all hyped up as I put together some of the clues sprinkled throughout. I love how Meyer includes enough history from Books 1-3 to adequately wrap up the series. True Twilight fans will definitely receive the closure they need to say goodbye to the Cullens.

On an interesting note, a movie about the first book is due out in December, and rumor has it that Stephanie Meyer is rewriting the series from Edward Cullen's point of view. Clever, I think.