Book Review by Kirsten Reitan
Last year everyone I knew was raving about this relatively new author and his book, A Man Called Ove. I never read it, but when I was wandering the book store and saw the ‘Buy 2, get 1 Free’ table and another book by the same author was one of the choices, I picked it up. I’m really glad I did, as it is one of the best books I have read all year.
Elsa is an almost-eight year old whose best and only friend is her eccentric grandmother, who is almost seventy-eight. Neither are very good at acting their age. From the outset, we understand that Elsa is a gifted child. She is considered very grown up for her age, which Elsa interprets as meaning “massively annoying for her age.” Granny’s response is that “all the best people are different. Afterall, if all superpowers were normal, everyone would have them.” Thus the author has given us a way to recognize the important people in Elsa’s life as the story unwinds and Elsa labels the various super powers people in her life possess.
Relatively early in the plot, Granny dies and leaves Elsa a treasure hunt. It contains letters written to people to whom Granny needs to apologize. Letter by letter, Grandmother’s life is revealed and paired up with the people and stories from the Land of Almost Awake, a magical place that Granny created for Elsa when Elsa’s parents got divorced. And letter by letter, Elsa works through her grief of losing her Granny and best friend.
Frederik Backman does a masterful job of revealing the thinking of a child who is brilliant, but also still very much a child. He reveals the life of Granny and her beloved granddaughter skillfully in such a way that we cheer for every character and hope for the best outcome for all of them.
I highly recommend this book for all who have had gifted children in their lives. The language is a bit spicy for kids, but young adults may appreciate the insight and wisdom that Elsa and Granny display. They can relate.
Reviewed by Catherine Ames ~ WATG Board Member
Occasionally, I have the wonderful pleasure of finding a book that is genuinely un--put-down-able, a riveting page turner that strikes close to home on many levels, unearthing a treasure trove of emotions. After having recently limped through a few “bummer” books that were suggested reading for our Young Adult book club, I picked up Far From The Tree, read the back cover, the author’s note, and I was in ~ hook, line and sinker.
This realistic-fiction piece weaves a tale of the lives of three biological siblings who were given up for adoption by their birth mother and reared in three uniquely different situations. Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, adores her parents and has a healthy relationship with them, even when the unthinkable happens. Maya is a brash, dark-skinned teen living in a sea of related gingers, including her peppy little sister, Lauren. Joaquin desperately wants to find himself and be found, chosen, accepted, loved unconditionally, yet he fears all of the aforementioned and struggles with personal relationships and affection. Early in the novel, Grace discovers that she has a biological family and goes searching for Joaquin and Maya who nervously agree to meet, and the rest of the story unfolds with twists and turns and the lifelike commotion that befalls teens.
A poignant story of three teenagers whose lives converge, whose struggles are real, whose secrets seem too big to reveal, this book is eerily accurate, and I found myself reflecting on my own children’s high school experiences, and my husband’s journey, and the choices he and his adopted brother and sister have made along the way. Each memoir is laden with personal decisions and raw emotion surrounding teen pregnancy, adoption and foster care. I laughed, I cried, I pondered and cogitated. And I chalked it up as one of the best YA books I’ve read in a long time.
“The older she got, the more human her parents seemed, and that was one of the scariest things in the world. She missed being little, when they were the all-knowing gods of her world, but at the same time, seeing them as human made it easier to see herself that way, too.”
“It took us fifteen years to find each other, but we still did! And sometimes, family hurts each other. But after that's done you bandage each other up, and you move on. Together. You've got us now, like it or not, and we've got you.”
“That’s what parents do. They catch you before you fall. That’s what family is.”
“She got in line behind a woman who was paying with a check. A check. Grace wondered if the woman’s cart and oxen were double-parked outside.”
By Kirsten Reitan, WATG Board Member
We know gifted kids love to read. Well, lots of them do, anyway. They will have several books going at the same time and usually one on their lap at school. By my non-scientific poll, most of the GT kids I work with prefer fantasy over everything else. The fantastical worlds they can visit in their heads feed their desire to create and escape and fuels imagination. But escape is a really big part of that fixation on fantasy literature. Think what they could do with a wand and a spell that worked!
Gifted kids need a way to escape the realities of the world, as the one we are passing along is fraught with problems and seems to be careening toward the cliff. Who wouldn’t want to escape? Yet we need to help them cope and make sense of the issues they see without causing more anxiety. Historical fiction can help students see current events through the perspective of historical comparisons. This genre can help us talk about difficult topics in ways that are age appropriate. Reading works that provide multiple perspectives on an event shows kids there are many different ways to understand an event.
Elisa Carbonne’s Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607 is much more than the story of the James Town Colony. Told from the orphan Samuel Collier’s perspective, this book is well researched and paints what must be an accurate picture of what life was like in the settlement in 1607. As Samuel grows and learns about life, we see him abandon his philosophy of “trust no one” to understanding how cooperation and reliance on others is the only way towards self-preservation.
The author’s treatment of the Powhatan tribe is also respectful, and Carbonne does a wonderful job of incorporating important aspects of their culture to contrast the laws and ways of the colonists. Concepts of leadership, diplomacy, and loyalty are woven throughout the story. Samuel’s struggles with growing up and becoming a responsible citizen provides a rich vehicle for students to navigate ideas of fairness and responsibility.
I highly recommend this book, and encourage looking to other historical fiction works to help explain current events that are causing distress for our gifted students.
By Kirsten Reitan, WATG Board Member and GT Resource Teacher
Around this time of year, I start getting requests for summer reading lists. Even before I knew about articles written and research done on the benefits of reading the Classics (see Lisa Van Gemert’s piece http://www.giftedguru.com/8-benefits-reading-classic-literature/ ), I would tell parents and kids that reading classic literature is a great challenge. Children with advanced reading skills need appropriately challenging material, but that often comes with content that is not particularly suited for younger readers. Children’s classics solve that problem, as books written decades ago are filled with vocabulary and complicated syntax. Writers from other centuries (for example, The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling) used language so differently than we do now that young readers really need to work at their comprehension.
Consequently, I was thrilled to learn of the movie re-make of A Wrinkle in Time, hoping it sparks a whole new following for the author. Better yet, I learned of a new biography of Madeline L’Engle written for young readers by her granddaughters!
Becoming Madeline is Madeline’s story. Jones Voiklis and Roy use their grandmother’s journals, family letters and photographs to tell about Madeline’s growing-up years. We learn that Madeline was often left alone and found her company in books. We see her struggle through classes where her teachers did not recognize her strengths - there are photos of her actual report cards where teachers’ comments are plain to see! Through it all she persevered and believed that she could be a writer.
The authors themselves are in literary professions and they have constructed a solid biography of their grandmother. This book would be a wonderful gift for a gifted reader or young writer. There is much to discover about Madeline L’Engle, and gifted kids can find good company with an author that understands their struggles.
At our Fall 2017 WATG Conference, several people asked me whether the WATG newsletter could feature a column entitled From the Bookshelf, a place where our constituents could share what they are reading, and/or what their children and students are reading. Gifted people read often and widely, and it’s great to get suggestions of titles that others have enjoyed. These could be titles from any genre, with a brief explanation of what made this read so compelling.
In order to share your ideas for this column, please email your article to us at www.watg.org, and put the word “article” in the subject line. We’d love to hear from you.
To get your ideas flowing, please enjoy reading about the following book from my students’ bookshelf:
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson details the epidemic of yellow fever, which sweeps through the streets of 1793 Philadelphia. In this historically accurate work of fiction, the main character, teenager Mattie Cook, is living quietly in Philadelphia during the summer of 1793, when the fever breaks out. This event, and the results of the epidemic, changes her life and others’ lives forever in innumerable ways.
Fever 1793 is suitable for teenagers, and gifted students as young as fourth grade. It contains a richly detailed glossary of historical facts, a fast-moving story line, and complex and fascinating (and sometimes archaic) vocabulary. It celebrates girls and women as heroic figures living and thriving in very difficult circumstances, and highlights personal characteristics such as passion, persistence, curiosity, and problem-solving.
As an adult, I was also thoroughly engrossed by this book, and would recommend it to those of you who enjoy historical fiction.
Past President, WATG