There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.
You shouldn’t make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing. And you probably shouldn’t be in it for the money. Smugglers are always going to be flush with cash as soon as they find a buyer for the eight cartons of fountain pen cartridges that write in illegal shades of green, but they never have money today. You should, if you are going to run a smugglers’ hotel, get a big account book and assume that whatever you write in it, the reality is, you’re going to get paid in fountain pen cartridges. If you’re lucky. You could just as easily get paid with something even more useless.
Milo Pine did not run a smugglers’ hotel, but his parents did. It was an inn, actually; a huge, ramshackle manor house that looked as if it had been cobbled together from discarded pieces of a dozen mismatched mansions collected from a dozen different cities. It was called Greenglass House, and it was on the side of a hill overlooking an inlet of harbors, a little district built half on the shore and half on the piers that jutted out into the river Skidwrack like the teeth of a comb. It was a long climb up to the inn from the waterfront by foot, or an only slightly shorter trip by the cable railway that led from the inn’s private dock up the steep slope of Whilforber Hill. And of course the inn wasn’t only for smugglers, but that was who turned up most often, so that was how Milo thought of it. (1-2)
It’s that time of year again, the time when I attempt to link up all the Thanksgiving books I’ve ever reviewed here at Hope Is the Word. Some of these are about Pilgrims; others of them are just silly fun about eating lots of turkey. If you’re looking for some good Thanksgiving reads or read-alouds for your family, look no further!
I requested The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage at my library because it has gotten some attention over at Heavy Medal and I anticipated its nomination for a Cybils (and I was right). If I hadn’t already been introduced to both Turnage’s writing style and the characters in this book thanks to its prequel, her 2013 Newbery-honor winning Three Times Lucky, it’s unlikely that I would’ve picked this book up on my own. I don’t like ghost stories as a general rule, and since I have a very limited amount of time to read nowadays, I generally try to read things that are sure-bets for me. Well, I did enjoy this one, which is odd considering that it’s a ghost story through and through. It took me a while to warm up to Mo LoBeau and her sidekick Dale Earnhardt Johnson III in Three Times Lucky, but thankfully the hard work of deciding whether or not I like Mo in all her quirkiness and larger-than-life personality was already done, so I could just enjoy the story. In this latest case for the Desperado Detective Agency, Mo and Dale have taken on the formidable task of interviewing the resident ghost at the inn Miss Lana and Mo’s honorary grandmother, Grandmother Miss Lacy, buy. Mixed up in all this is Tupelo Landing’s ne’er-do-well, Mr. Red Baker, and the newest and most enigmatic member of Mo and Dale’s sixth grade class, Harm Crenshaw. This is a poignant history mystery, too, involving Tupelo Landing’s oldest residents. I thought for a long time this story was a Scooby Doo mystery–not a real ghost story at all, but one that would be resolved by the Desperado Detective Agency discovering that the real culprits are clothed in flesh and blood. It turns out that when the last page is read, this is a real ghost story, with a real, live (?) ghost. If that’s really not your thing, you might not like this one. However, if you’re like me and can enjoy the strong characterization and snappy Southern dialogue and descriptions, you just might find the ghost story isn’t so bad. This is what makes Sheila Turnage’s stories memorable:
Most days, Mr. Red looks like a bundle of throw-away clothes. Today he wore shoes fresh from the box, creased chinos, a blinding white shirt, and a red bow tie. “Hey,” I said, and his pale eyes flickered over me like lizard eyes over a fly.
Mr. Red looked Dale up and down. “You’re Macon Johnson’s boy,” he said, his voice splintery as just-sawn pine. “I hear he’s doing time in Raleigh for a murder he didn’t commit.”
“You almost heard right,” Dale said, very smooth. Dale’s family’s jail prone. To him, jail time is as normal as clean socks. (25)
There’s a lot between the lines in this story, including family dysfunction and family love:
She [Miss Rose, Dale’s mother] stretched the tape across the faded countertop. “Lavender’s installing a dishwasher for me,” she said. “I’m deciding how I’d like my kitchen to flow.” Miss Rose is one of the last in Greater Tupelo Landing to get a dishwasher. Dale’s daddy used to say if he had a dishwasher, he wouldn’t need a wife. That’s before Miss Rose kicked him out.
“Good. A dishwasher beats Dale’s daddy any day,” I said. The words went rancid the instant they hit the air.
Miss Rose didn’t look up from her tape measure, but a shadow darted across her face. “Macon is my ex-husband,” she said, smoothing the sharp from her voice. “Not Dale’s ex-father.” (59)
Turnage manages to package the sort of story I wouldn’t usually enjoy much so well that I forgot that the main point of the whole thing is a haunted inn. This is a good one, and one that I imagine has lots of kid appeal. Since I have some pretty sensitive middle graders myself, I’m not sure this is the book for them (if we want to sleep, that is), but if ghosts aren’t a problem for your middle grader, give this one a shot. (Penguin, 2014)
What a busy month of reading aloud we’ve had! We’ve settled into a nice routine of reading aloud most weekdays at lunchtime, and then again from a different chapter book at bedtime. The lunchtime book is usually related to history (mostly from Sonlight Core D) and the bedtime book is one I’ve picked. I’ll be honest in stating that the lunchtime read-alouds haven’t been favorites of mine. I’m realizing how much I value freedom of choice in what we do in our homeschool. I don’t always like our history read-alouds. Well, that’s not true. I do think each one of them would make a perfectly fine okay book to read independently, but they’re not exactly ideal, at least to me, as read-alouds. The two books I have in mind as I compose this blog post are two of the ones we’ve finished since last month’s Read Aloud Thursday: Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen and Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.
I’m no stranger to Gary Paulsen’s stories, having at least read Hatchet in the nebulous past of my pre-blogging days. Lawn Boy is nothing like Hatchet, at least plot-wise. It’s the story of a boy who starts a lawn care business and by the end of the summer ends up very rich as a result of one of his customer’s investments on his behalf. It’s a story about economics–each chapter has as its title an economic term. The novel isn’t without its excitement, too, because he also manages to attract the attention of some thugs as well as a protective professional boxer. What I found difficult about reading this story aloud, aside from the fact that I read this one only once a week (and hence would often forget myself what exactly was happening in the story) is that it is chock-full of dialogue. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, though I am noticing that stories that rely on dialogue and not much else tend to be more recent stories, and that’s probably one reason I’m not so crazy about them. My main problem with dialogue is that I don’t do voices, so I always think the storyline gets sort of muddled because of that. The Sign of the Beaver is a 1984 Newbery honor book, but again, it’s chock-full of dialogue. It’s not quite as dialogue dependent as Lawn Boy, but the kicker for it is that the Native American characters speak in that terrible, stilted, stereotypical way that we associated with bad Westerns. I’m usually not bothered much by stereotypes and being politically correct, but I found this one almost painful to read and actually found myself correcting the grammar of the Indians’ speeches. Also, in my opinion it’s not a very complex story, and I really appreciate a story with a little more nuance as a read-aloud. All of this actually surprises me because Elizabeth George Speare is a favorite author of mine from childhood–I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond and read it multiple times, and then when I read The Bronze Bow as a young adult, she rose even higher in my estimation. It is interesting to note that both of those title won Newbery Medals in 1958 and 1961 respectively, while The Sign of the Beaver came about twenty-five years later. That makes me wonder if it’s just the “dumbing down” effect that we’ve seen over time. At any rate, I mostly wished that I had just handed both of those books to my girls to read alone and had picked up something else. We’ve now moved on to The Witch of Blackbird Pond as our lunchtime read, so we’ll see if my good opinion of it remains untarnished. For our bedtime story, we’ve come back around to the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody after finishing the Melendy Quartet with its last book, Spiderweb for Two. We were sad to see it end but so happy to have spent so much time with the Melendys this year. Highly Recommended!
As for picture books, well, I always think to myself, “Oh, this is a good one to share for RAT,” but then I run out of time before the books are due (usually after being rechecked at least once) at the library. A couple of books stand out in my mind from the past month that have been favorites of the DLM. The first one is Lightship by Brian Floca. Although it isn’t quite as detailed as his 2014 Caldecott Medal-winning Locomotive, it’s still not exactly a book I would expect a four year old to love. The DLM does love books about vehicles of almost any kind, and this one has the thing the DLM loves the most: a list! He loves lists of information. In this case it’s a list of people who work on a lightship, and the DLM loved to point at the worker’s picture and say his title. Whatever the reason he loved it, he did–enough to make it a nightly read-aloud for a couple of weeks. The other winning title for the toddler and preschool crowd here at the House of Hope is the newest Kate and Jim McMullan title, I’m Brave! I’ve written before (& here) how much we’ve enjoyed their books over the years, so when I saw this one in the new books bin in the library, I almost gave an audible gasp of delight! I knew it would be a winner, and it was is. I read it to the DLM’s class at co-op first before reading it to him. They’re a pretty hard crowd, and even they got caught up in it! It has not one but two pages of equipment listed to identify (oh, joy!), so it’s perfect for my detail and list-loving little fellow. We’ve read it at least a half dozen times since Saturday. It’s humorous and full of bravery, swagger, and onomatopoeia, so it’s just perfect for brash and blustery preschool crowd. I’m considering this one for a Christmas present for the DLM. Highly, Highly Recommended.
Other picture books I’ve reviewed since last month’s RAT are
I apologize for the length of this post. This should’ve been more than one post, but as always, time escaped me and I had to just cobble it all together. Thank you for reading and participating in RAT! It’s truly a monthly high point for me!
Revolution by Deborah Wiles is a 2014 National Book Award finalist in the young people’s literature category, but I first learned about it via Heavy Medal as a potential Newbery contender. It is the second book in Deborah Wiles’ Sixties Trilogy. However, Revolution stands up very well on its own. It’s a a documentary novel, something I don’t remember ever reading before (and in fact I didn’t even know what to call it until I saw the term on Wiles’ website). This means it’s a scrapbook, of sorts–the actual novel is interspersed with photographs, news clippings, current-event essays, etc. That brings the page count for the book up past the 500 mark. Even without all the extras, though, Revolution is a substantive story. It’s the story of Greenwood, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, the summer of 1964. The story is mostly told through the eyes of Sunny Fairchild, a twelve year old girl who has recently acquired a whole new family–a stepbrother, a stepmother, and a stepsister, to round out her family of two. Her dad, once one of the town’s “good old bad boys,” settled down into respectability–and fatherhood–a few years after Sunny’s mother ran off at Sunny’s birth. This is really the family’s and the town’s story, too, told mostly through Sunny’s eyes, but also through the eyes of a fourteen year old black boy named Raymond Bullis. Sunny and her stepbrother, Gillette, have a run-in with Raymond in the opening chapter of the story, and he remains an enticing enigma to them–Who is the kid in the white hi-tops who has the gall to jump the fence and take a moonlit swim in the Whites Only Greenwood public pool?
This is a dense story, full of spot-on period details and lots of emotion, warmth, and insight into the inner-workings of a twelve year old girl who feels out of sorts because her mother abandoned her. Couple that with all the sixties angst, and it’s really very emotionally touching. I admit to shedding a few tears in this story. The back-and-forth POV switching is something I’ve never liked very much, but the voices are different enough (not to mention the fact that the pages themselves are shaded differently or use a different font from character to character) that I didn’t have one bit of trouble following the story. I did find the “documentary” parts of the novel a little off-putting at times, but after I understood that the details they give actually enhance the story (for example, all of the Civil Rights acronyms that are very confusing), I actually began to read (or at least skim) them. In fact, one of the most touching parts of the story for me was a little autiobiographical sketch of President Johnson, certainly not someone I would’ve ever imagined tearing up over before now.
I read Deborah Wiles’ Love, Ruby Lavender years ago but still remember it, which must mean I thought it was a pretty good story. One thing I particularly like is that she’s a Southern writer writing about Southerners, so she gets the voices and the diction right. I love this description from Revolution:
The phone rings before the sun is up, and that’s saying something. When it’s summer, the birds start making a racket before five o’clock in the morning, which is the time it’s finally cool enough to pull up the covers and dream one last sweet dream, just before the sun beams over the horizon and starts to butter the day.
So that’s what I do. My warm sheet feels just right against my chilly shoulders. (148)
This is a highly-polished story. I love it, and I’m sure it will make my Best Books list for 2014. My only criticism of it is that it feels rushed at the end–like we had a whole, slow summer full of all kinds of action and adventure and worry–and then bam!–it’s fall and the kids are back in school and things have settled back down into a semblance of normalcy. I really want to know more about a lot of things that are hinted at the in story. I want to know Gillette’s family story, especially. I figure there’s more to come about that, maybe, since it is part of a trilogy. I do want to go back and read the first Sixties Trilogy story, Countdown. These books would make excellent companions to a study of this time period in U.S. History. Highly (Highly) Recommended. (Scholastic, 2014)