Thanks to #bookaday, my summer has included lots of reading…wonderful reading. Last week, I just happened to read to back to back books in which the main characters had lost their mothers. I expected to be depressed by each book, but found that they were so beautifully written that I was “lifted up” instead.
Here’s the jacket summary of Tracy Holczer’s The Secret Hum of a Daisy :
Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace is tired and wants to finally have a home all her own. She thinks she’s found it with Mrs. Greene and her daughter, Lacey, so when her mother tells her it’s time to move on again, Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels.
She’ll always regret that her last words to her mother were angry ones.
Now faced with making a new life with a grandmother she’d never met before and one she’s convinced doesn’t really want her, Grace isn’t ready to let go of her mother or the home she had with Mrs. Greene and Lacey. A mysterious treasure hunt , just like the ones her mother used to send her on when they moved to a new town, may just be the key. And it all begins with a crane. Grace’s mama used to tell her that birds were sign posts, letting them know when they were headed in the right direction. When Grace unexpectedly finds a silver origami crane in the bushes outside her new school, she can practically dfeel her mother’s hand at her back. Grace is sure her mother is showing her the way home. She just has to follow the clues her mother left for her.
At first, I was a bit dismayed by the mother in this story – the wandering, never-can-settle-down mother who creates uncertainty and rootlessness in her children. This was a theme that cropped up in “A Snicker of Magic”, too, and I grew very impatient with the flighty mother at the center of that story. But Grace’s mother has a powerful back story, and her restlessness is much more believable once that begins to emerge. The Secret Hum of a Daisy is about families, and the way each family has its own rich and tangled history – things are said and left unsaid, actions are taken and regretted, forgiveness is asked for and sometimes denied. At the heart of it all, we do the best we can- sometimes we fall short, and sometimes we succeed in spite of ourselves. This is what Grace comes to learn.
Holczer is a wonderful writer – there are humorous scenes which made me smile, and lyrically poignant scenes that rang true. And there are so many passages that I marked up just because they captured a scene or described what the characters were feeling so perfectly. Just a beautiful, beautiful book I’m so glad I moved it up on my TBR list!
When I first saw Sarah Lean’s A Dog Called Homeless at my local book store, I almost didn’t pick it up to scan it because the cover looked a bit “young” for middle school (beware the power of a book’s “first look” – this is something I caution my sixth graders about, and I guess I need to follow my own advice!), but the back cover copy made me think otherwise:
“My name is Cally Louise Fisher and I haven’t spoken for thirty-one days. Talking doesn’t always make things happen, however much you want them to.”
When Cally Fisher sees her dead mother, real as anything, no one believes her. So Cally stops talking – what’s the point if no one is listening?
The only other living soul who sees Cally’s mum is a mysterious wolfhound who always seems to be there when her mum appears. But without a voice, how will Cally convince anyone that her mum is still with them, and how will she ever persuade her Dad that the huge silver-grey dog is their last link with her?
Like Grace, Cally is trying to come to terms with a monumental loss. But, everyone copes with loss in different ways, and Cally’s father pulls inward: he won’t talk about his loss, reminisce about warm and cherished family memories and traditions, or acknowledge his daughter’s need to try to keep her mother’s memory alive. The mysterious stray and Sam, her blind and almost deaf new neighbor and friend, become Cally’s path to healing – and to finding a way to heal her family. This was such a well crafted story that touched upon so many important themes: school life, friendships, family issues and kindness.
When Kirby Larson spoke about Duke at last year’s NCTE conference, I immediately bookmarked the book for my summer TBR list. So glad that I did! Here’s the jacket copy:
With World War II raging and his father fighting overseas in Europe, eleven-year-old Hobie Hanson is determined to do his part to help his family and his country, even if it means giving up his beloved German shepherd, Duke. Hoping to help end the war and bring his dad home faster, Hobie decides to donate Duke to Dogs for Defense, an organization that urges Americans to “loan” their pets to the military to act as sentries, mine sniffers, and patrol dogs. Hobie immediately regrets his decision and tries everything he can to get Duke back, even jeopardizing his friendship with the new boy at school. But when his father is taken prisoner by the Germans, Hobie realizes he must let Duke go and reach deep within himself to be brave. Will Hobie ever see Duke, or his father, again?
This is such a great story, especially since it’s told from Hobie’s perspective . You really experience how conflicted Hobie is – he is patriotic and wants to live up to his father’s expectations, but he loves his dog and doesn’t want to put his beloved Duke in harm’s way. I loved the way Larson wove war time realities into the story through the letters exchanged between Hobie and the soldier assigned to train and go into battle with Duke. My students have enjoyed reading Cynthia Kadohata’s Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam, and I know that they will feel the same way about Duke.