Tuesday, February 20, 2018

WOLF IN THE SNOW by Matthew Cordell named 2018 Caldecott winner

Wolf in the SnowAs January turns into February, this retired children's librarian begins to wonder who will win
the Caldecott Award for illustrator of an outstanding children's book and who will win the Newbery for authorship of an outstanding children's book.  When I was a school librarian, elementary students often read previous winners during January and February, and we discussed what "outstanding" meant.  Students shared what books they liked that had been published in the previous year.  We also talked about the other literature awards bestowed by the American Library Association such as those given for early readers, Latin experience, and black authors.  Now that I am retired, sadly I don't keep up enough with current authors and publications.  This year when that annual curiosity nibbled at my mind, I searched out what some online sites said were possible contenders.  Then I made some interlibrary requests, including PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE (mentioned for the Newbery even though it is a shorter, chapter book, but more about that one on another day), LITTLE FOX IN THE FOREST, HOW FIND AN ELEPHANT, and WOLF IN THE SNOW.  I thoroughly intended to read each of these books with my two youngest grandchildren, both 7, when they visited in early February.  Despite thinking that books are the world's best entertainment, I just could not interrupt their imaginative play, free of strife and incredibly free of any need for adult intervention.  So even at the end of the weekend, we had only made time for PRINCESS CORA, the chapter book,
But like I said, I will write about that book on another day.

So this 69 year old grandmother entertained her solitary self by reading the other books before she returned them.  A few days later WOLF IN THE SNOW was awarded the Caldecott Medal.  Matthew Cordell used bright watercolors and almost abstract shapes (think triangles for bodies) to tell the story of a young girl lost in a snow storm on her way home from school and a wolf who also becomes lost.  It appears the girl follows the wolf's howls, perhaps thinking it is her dog?? There are few words to this story, but they aren't necessary.  The little girl's simple red shape, the wolf's raggedy fur, and the towering green trees of the woods all evoke a fairy tale element.

 How to Find an ElephantLittle Fox in the Forest

While LITTLE FOX IN THE FOREST  and HOW TO FIND AN ELEPHANT were not winners, I can see why some lovers of children's literature thought they should be considered.  HOW TO FIND AN ELEPHANT by Kate Banks and Boris Kolikov tells a quiet story of looking for an elephant. Careful observers will see glimpses of such creatures on almost every page, but only careful observers will see the telltale signs - perhaps a trunk or a tail.  My favorite of all the books was LITTLE FOX IN THE FOREST by Stephanie Graegin.  A little girl takes her favorite stuffed fox to the playground where it is stolen by a real fox.  On a hunt to find her beloved toy, the little girl  and a friend enter the woods and encounters a magical world of woodland creatures and their fanciful villages and homes.  Think fairy gardenland at its ultimate cuteness! Will the little girl find her stuffed fox and what will she do when she does?  This fantasy story offers so much visual eye-candy that it will be read over and over. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

 We Were the Lucky Ones: A Novel

As Sol and Nechuma Kruc's family gathers in their large Radom, Poland apartment for the 1939 Passover meal, they have no idea the hardships and trials they will endure over the next six years.  But already they sense their lives will soon change.  Son-in-law Selim, a doctor, is no longer allowed to practice medicine.  Rumors abound that Jews are having trouble traveling with their papers, so Mother Nechuma has written their son Addy, who is currently living in France that he should not try to travel home for Passover.  For the first time, the entire family is not together for the meal. 

By September, Germany, which has already annexed Austria and invaded Czechoslovakia, will invade Poland.  When the war ends, 90 percent of Poland's Jews will be dead; of the 30,000 Jews who called Radom home, only 300 will survive.  Miraculously, the Kruc family will be among the survivors.  Their story of forced labor, forged passes, kindness of strangers, and incredible hardship to the point of starvation will keep you moving forward to the next page, the next challenge, the next terror.  By the time you finish the book, you will traveled with Genek and wife Herta on a Soviet prison train to Siberia after Genek refuses to sign a paper declaring allegiance to Soviet when it shares part of Poland with the Germans early in the war.  The Soviet's change from an Axis power to an Allied power is what saves the couple from sure starvation, but their story of hardship is NOT over.  Other Kruc siblings and their parents are assigned menial labor jobs with just enough pay to keep them alive; their apartment is given to a Nazi family, and they are crammed into a small space within the newly formed Jewish ghetto.  As moving within the city becomes more and more difficult, and people begin being shipped on trains to never return, the adult children gain forged papers and assume non-Jewish identities.  Every day is lived in danger and no where in Poland is safe. 
Meanwhile Addy grabs hold of an opportunity to emigrate to Brazil but can never leave behind the sorrow of being separated from his family.

WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES is inspired by author Georgia Hunter's maternal grandfather and his family.  He is the Addy of the book.  By the time Hunter knew the basic story of her family, the siblings had mostly passed on, but she gathered all the information she could from her grandmother, Addy's wife, and then she interviewed the oldest members of her mother's generation - the ones who were born during the war and right after the war.  Family members from Brazil, France, the US, and Israel all contributed tales, and she did a huge amount of historical research.  The war movement timelines that precede many of the narrative chapters made the whole six years of turmoil so much clearer than most WWII books I've read.  The Soviets' actions were clearly explained, as were the actions of the Brazilian ambassador and the Brazilian president.  I learned the role of the Red Cross in reuniting separated families, including the Krucs. I've read multiple WWII "civilian" war books in the past few years.  Each adds another dimension to understanding this complex, horrific conflict.  WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES ranks at the top for showing how the human spirit can endure, one day at a time, one action at a time, until finally they know they have survived.

Monday, February 12, 2018

I'LL PUSH YOU: A Journey of 500 Miles, two best friends, and one wheel chair by Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck

I'll push you

I'd heard of the Camino Santiago, the 500 mile pilgrimage from France over the Pyrenees through northern Spain, ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, reputed to be the burial site of Saint James.  We'd even watched a full length movie about the walk, but it was seeing Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck on a recent television show that sent me looking for their memoir I'LL PUSH YOU, a personal story about a recent walk on the Camino.  And it was that book that helped me understand the power of a pilgrimage, away from the
normal of one's life that can led a person to examine who he is,what he values, and what he wants and needs, and most importantly what place God has in his life.

Sometime in 2011 or 2012, Justin Skeesuck saw a documentary on the Camino and the first thought bud of walking the "walk" entered his mind.  But for that to happen, Justin would need a miracle, for he had been in a wheelchair for several years already, a victim of multifocal acquired motor-axonopathy (MAMA), a disease very similar to ALS.  After years of specialists, worsening symptoms and loss of independence, Justin finally learns that his condition probably stems from a teenage car accident. But throughout his trials, Justin has remained a man with a positive attitude who wants to live all of life, due majorly to his faith, his wife, and his childhood friend Patrick Gray.  So when Justin mentions the French-Spanish walk to Patrick, his friends answers,"I'll push you."  Two years later, thousand of dollars have been raised, a special wheel chair has been designed and delivered (it looks like a jogging stroller on steroids), a film crew has been obtained, and Patrick has trained daily.  In the wee hours of an early June morning in 2014, following a rough couple of days of travel to the site (I'll leave the details for the book), Patrick, and Justin begin the walk. They are joined by Team Ted, a friend who will help by pulling the stroller while Patrick pushes, and of course, the camera crew is following along. To make the trip as authentic as originally planned, the film crew will never help Patrick and Justin; they are there only to videotape.  And Ted, who even in the first days shows how important his added strength is, will only be with the travelers for ten days before he must return to the states.

As the pair began sharing the early days of the journey, I found myself grabbing pad of paper to start taking notes. Thanks to my days as an English literature student, then teacher, I cannot read without physically noting what "moves" me.  I kept wishing that I had someone to share this book with, and every lunch or supper I would update my husband on what was happening on the journey.  But I soon found that the actual walking, which was often rocky, muddy, or up intense inclines, was not what I wanted to remember.  It was the internal journeys shared by Justin and Patrick that mattered.  How had they stayed such close friends, from the days of childhood across college in different states, across very different jobs and lives?  Throughout Justin's illness?  Soon I was taking notes almost every page.   I would love to share all my notes with you; in a way, that's why I write a blog.  But I'll be selective and list only a few key points.

1.  Who we are as people grows by the experiences we share with others.  Justin and Patrick have had many experiences or adventures together that help define each man.  Their friendship has an intentionality that is not common today.  Both are willing to sacrifice to keep that friendship alive, and both care about the other person - his life work, his marriage, his children, and his spiritual life.

2.  There is a great dignity in the way Patrick cares for his friend - pushing him, but also feeding him, bathing him, dressing him - basically caring for his every need.  And there is a great dignity in the way Justin accepts this help.  Patrick writes about being thankful for the added burden that caring for Justin's needs brings to his own life.

3.  The walk itself brings opportunities for instant community.  People see that Patrick and Justin are struggling and offer help. As they walk, they share life stories.  Breaking bread each night with strangers leads to acceptance of all.  Unexpected challenges are shared and solved.  Patrick and Justin compare this to what church should be today and reflect on how the early church was more like this.

4.  The journey must be spaced with days without travel, days of Sabbath no matter whether it is a Sunday or Tuesday or Friday.  As Patrick's muscles demand the days without strain, he begins to understand the power of rest and reconnection, something which had been missing in his work ", and something lacking across modern society.  Despite have Sunday declared a day of rest - do we "sabbath"?

I could go and list more, but I want readers to experience Justin and Patrick's stories themselves.  It is a powerful story.   You will be inspired with each step.

I am also sharing a link to author Rachel McMillan talking about her love for the book CHRISTY by Catherine Marshall.  Earlier this winter I shared my experience rereading this book and I thought others might be interested in seeing the long lasting impact of Marshall's writing.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Avid Christian fiction readers will recognize Wanda E. Brunstetter as one of the premiere authors of Amish fiction. Her series AMISH COOKING CLASS features three books: THE SEEKERS, THE BLESSING, THE CELEBRATION, all revolving around Heidi Troyer's Amish cooking class business.  In the novels, cooking lessons seem to bring both Amish and English together, often healing personal problems as well as nourishing the body.  Now Brunstetter has put together a "Cooking Class" cookbook including recipes featured in the stories plus more recipes submitted by true-life Amish cooks.  The 250 total recipes cover beverages, breads, breakfast, desserts, pickles, main dishes, soups, salads, sides, snacks and children's favorites.  Each chapter of recipes begins with a scriptures and a short essay on Amish traditions and culture. Even though I've had Old Order Amish neighbors for thirty years, I found those articles enjoyable and informative.  Coupled with the attractive color photographs, these articles turned a simple cookbook into a delightful evening's read. The recipes themselves are the basics of "good home cooking" with simple ingredients and directions.   In the dessert section, I found a recipe for bread pudding and sauce that was small enough to make for my husband and me.  In recent years, he has rekindled a real liking for bread pudding, something his mother used to make. For me, bread pudding was totally foreign. My mom, aunts, and I made yeast bread, cookies, cakes from scratch, candy, and fresh fruit pies, but we never, never made bread pudding.  (In retrospect, this seems a bit odd since we raised chickens and always had eggs to use up.  Maybe it was because my brother and I always ate all the homemade bread.) Since I had half a loaf of homemade yeast bread on the counter and fresh eggs in the fridge, I quickly whipped up the dessert and put it in the oven to bake along with our pork chop supper.  Coming home on a snowy, cold evening, my husband was immediately drawn to the smell. Like so many of the Amish families that shared their recipes for this book, we sat down to a simple, but special dinner that evening, thankful for our many blessings.  I had planned to take a picture of the golden pudding, but I got too excited to serve it to him while still warm and forgot.  Sorry!

This book would be a wonderful gift for someone who loves cookbooks (I collect them and read them like novels), someone who is a Wanda E. Brunstetter fan, or someone who is just becoming interested in the Amish culture.

  I received a copy of this cookbook from Barbour Publishing.  I was not required to write a review and all opinions are mine.

Monday, January 29, 2018



As MELODY OF THE SOUL opens, it is 1943 and Nazi-held Prague is emptying its streets of the Jewish population.  Anna Zadokova and her grandmother did not receive their deportation notices when the rest of Anna's family did, and despite her protests that she wants to be with her parents, she and Babicka must remain in the apartment,waiting for the Jewish Council's inevitable notice.  Despite being Christian, their Jewish heritage means that they are marked and soon they, too, will need to leave.  The destination for her family -Terezin and later, Auschwitz, the final solution.  Today, that the Germans allowed, or demanded, music performances at Terezin seems a difficult-to-understand incongruity, especially since they had proclaimed that all Jews had to surrender their instruments, even before being rounded up. Anna defies that demand and keeps her violin. Tolsma's novel gives a glimpse into how music could be a life force that sustained both sides.  For Anna, playing is a bond to her earlier life, a childhood and adulthood surrounded by love and grounded in faith.  Music is a balm and a support.  For the  young German officer who takes over the apartment below hers, music calms the rising desperation and guilt he feels. Once set on making his Nazi father proud, now all Horst Engel wants is an end to the war and the senseless cruelty he sees everywhere.  Meeting Anna and her fragile grandmother, followed by a trip to Terezin, changes Horst forever.  Soon his apartment is the refuge for the young violin player and her grandmother, and his career is in danger.

A Nazi officer who begins to question the Fuhrer and who makes a decision to defy that vision has become a popular idea for authors to explore.  Liz Tolsma's story makes it all seem plausible, although she did create a fictional military posting (Minister of Architectural Preservation) to make the story flow and to make Horst a likeable character from the beginning.  Her notes point to  historical basis for a heroine who defied the Nazi order that all Jews relinquish their instruments and also for a German soldier finding solace through a Jewish neighbor's music.  Her tale offers danger, suspense, sacrifice, and strength based on faith -- all the markers necessary for a Christian WWII novel.  You'll be drawn into that suspense and danger, but don't miss the message behind it all.
I received a copy of THE MELODY OF THE SOUL from Litfuse.  I was not required to write a review.  All opinions are mine.

More about Christy by Catherine Marshall

Catherine Marshall, author of #Christy, was "a woman of great influence," says @SuzanneWFisher. Learn more about the best-selling book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhoQGL8JsRc @GileadPub @Litfuse

Monday, January 22, 2018

Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity by Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

Product Details

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD has written a book which examines what she determines are the seven types of rest (physical, mental, emotional, social, sensory, creative, spiritual) that are needed for a
person to thrive in life. After seeing that list, I bet there are areas you never realized may be places to seek rest and restoration.  She aptly describes what modern women (and men) feel like too often -- exhausted, even those who appear to sleep without issue; moody, bordering on melt down or depression; never fully engaged in the moment, even with family or on vacation. The list of symptoms go on and on.  When offered a chance to read this title, I felt reluctant to accept.  Retired now for more than 6 years, I have long left the daily rat race behind.  My children are adults, and if there are not grandchildren duties, I normally can schedule my days as I wish.  But I've found this book offers insight even for me, and I plan to use the book as the resource she intended it to be. 

Once Dalton-Smith has explained the premise of the book and defined key vocabulary and concepts, she encourages readers to take the Personal Rest Deficit Assessment tool at the end of the book  While its name sounds overwhelming, this is really a quick quiz which will help one determine what type of rest you may be lacking.  One or two checks within an area indicate you may be ripe for a burn out episode within that area of your life; three or more checks suggest a more immediate need for change.  Going back into the book will provide insight into how you make changes into that area and why you should. Two things you should know before going any further.  One, Dalton-Smith has experienced that burn-out that so many adults feel.  A medical doctor, wife, and mother, her days are filled beyond full. At some time or other, she has probably needed each of the seven types of rest.  Two, the ideas suggested in the book are based on research.  She encourages one to read the book in small bits, with time to contemplate what you have read.  Our lives are already busy, for most too busy, and this book, which is meant to help, should not be a burden.  When all is "read and done," there is a thirty day challenge that can be taken with the help of a website.  I received a copy of this book from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine.

More about Sacred Rest}
Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity (FaithWords, December 2017)
Staying busy is easy. Staying well rested— there’s a challenge.
How can you keep your energy, happiness, creativity, and relationships fresh and thriving in the midst of never-ending family demands, career pressures, and the stress of everyday life? In Sacred Rest, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a board-certified internal medicine doctor, reveals why rest can no longer remain optional.
Dr. Dalton-Smith shares seven types of rest she has found lacking in the lives of those she encounters in her clinical practice and research-physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, sensory, social, creative—and why a deficiency in any one of these types of rest can have unfavorable effects on your health, happiness, relationships, creativity, and productivity. Sacred Rest combines the science of rest, the spirituality of rest, the gifts of rest, and the resulting fruit of rest. It shows rest as something sacred, valuable, and worthy of our respect.
By combining scientific research with personal stories, spiritual insight, and practical next steps, Sacred Rest gives the weary permission to embrace rest, set boundaries, and seek sanctuary without any guilt, shame, or fear.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Saundra Dalton-Smith

{More About Saundra Dalton-Smith}

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith is an author, speaker, and board-certified physician. She has an active medical practice in Alabama (near the Birmingham area). She received her B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Georgia, and graduated with honors from Meharry Medical College in Nashville. She has been an adjunct faculty member at Baker College and Davenport University in Michigan teaching courses on health, nutrition, and disease progression. Dr. Dalton-Smith is a national and international media resource on the mind, body, spirit connection and has been featured in Women’s Day, Redbook, and First For Women magazine. She is the author of “Set Free to Live” and “Come Empty” (winner 2016 Golden Scroll Nonfiction Book of the Year and 2016 Illumination Award Gold medalist). She is a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Association and a repeat keynote speaker at their annual gathering. She has shared her tips on merging faith and medicine with over 16,000 health care professionals to encourage the current and next generation of doctors to treat the whole person.
Find out more about Saundra at http://ichoosemybestlife.com.