It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading: October 7, 2013

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts

Kate DiCamillo has done it again.  With Flora & Ulysses:The Illuminated Adventures, she has given us another book to lose our hearts and imaginations to…just as we did with Because of Winn Dixie, The Tales of Desperaux, The Tiger Rising, and The Magician’s Elephant. This time,  we have two absolutely charming and utterly captivating main characters to journey through the story with: Flora, a “natural born cynic” by her own admission, and Ulysses, a flying squirrel with the ability to type. To type beautiful poetry, that is.  Flora’s world has come apart; her sweet father has been banished from their home by her romance novelist mother, who spends her days typing up far fetched yarns of love and longing, leaving Flora on her own, and very lonely.  Enter the squirrel, who she saves from the grasps of an out of control Ulysses Super-Suction, multi-terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner – and so is born a super-hero squirrel now named Ulysses.
Of course, Flora’s mother sees the budding friendship between her daughter and this mangy-looking rodent (Ulysses did, after all, lose half his fur to the vacuum cleaner before he was rescued) as just more evidence of her daughter’s strangeness.  And she decides to put an end to this nonsense with a shovel, a sack, and a hole in the ground.  Flora has other ideas, and she has a gang of allies (including her father) who are determined to help her.  And they do.  And I had such fun discovering how.  

Flora & Ulysses is, I thought, a lovely allegory of love and trust, and the power we have to change and become better people  – to open and recognize our “capacious hearts.”   The “illuminated adventures” part of this story come in the form of K. G. Campbell’s warm and quirky comic book panels which tell sections of the story that truly need visualization – flying squirrel antics, and moments like these:    

Here is Kate DiCamillo discussing Flora’s story and the way this wonderful book came to be:

My copy of Margaret Wild’s brilliant  Fox is dogeared from use as a mentor text in my classroom, and now her book The Dream of the Thylacine will soon keep it company.

What is a Thylacine, you may ask, and this is how the Australian Museum would answer:

 The Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus: dog-headed pouched-dog) is a large carnivorous marsupial now believed to be extinct. It was the only member of the family Thylacinidae to survive into modern times. It is also known as the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf.

Here is the last known Thylacine, in captivity:

Wild’s story is really (I think) a haunting poem about yearning and dreaming for freedom.  Her extraordinary prose is accompanied by Ron Brooks’ incredible paintings,  some gorgeous and some terrifying.  This is just a powerful, powerful book.

I also happened upon Anne Rockwell’s Hey, Charleston: The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band:

Here’s the jacket copy:

“What happened when a former slave took beat-up old instruments and gave them to a bunch of orphans? Thousands of futures got a little brighter and a great American art form was born. 
In 1891, Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins opened his orphanage in Charleston, South Carolina. He soon had hundreds of children and needed a way to support them. Jenkins asked townspeople to donate old band instruments—some of which had last played in the hands of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. He found teachers to show the kids how to play. Soon the orphanage had a band. And what a band it was. 
The Jenkins Orphanage Band caused a sensation on the streets of Charleston. People called the band’s style of music “”rag””—a rhythm inspired by the African-American people who lived on the South Carolina and Georgia coast. The children performed as far away as Paris and London, and they earned enough money to support the orphanage that still exists today. They also helped launch the music we now know as jazz. 

Rockwell tells this story with exuberance and sensitivity, and Colin Bootman’s luminous paintings do much to take us back to a time and place when so much was changing – in the South, in the world, and in music.  This was a slice of history that I knew nothing about, and I was so surprised and moved to learn that the Jenkins Institute for Children still exists in Charleston, and still carries on the work of helping and protecting children of all races and ethnic origins.
Here is footage of the Jenkins Orphanage Band from the 1930’s … amazing!


6 thoughts on “It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading: October 7, 2013

  1. I didn't read your first review, as I just bought Flora & Ulysses so will return after I'm finished, Tara. Thanks for sharing about the new Wild book, looks so interesting. And, I'm thrilled to see the book about the band. I will have to get it. My class studied the Great Migration when we went to NYC, so this is something I know about, although I don't remember seeing about this band. I'll find it for sure! Thanks!

  2. My heart suddenly leapt to my throat after seeing the Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks' title. FOX is one of my greatest (if not THE greatest) reads this year. Hit me like a sledgehammer and tore my heart out from my chest – yes, that powerful. I just checked our library's online archive – we have the title!!!! I will find this one. Hopefully, it's now available for loan, seeing that it's a newly-released title. Wild is hands-down brilliant and Ron Brooks – no words. I would have to tell my Kate Di Camilo girl from our book club that her favorite author has a new title. Flora and Ulysses sounds positively charming and moving.

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