WHIRL (What Have I Read Lately) Books is a site for readers to find books for themselves and their book clubs. Liz at Literary Masters runs book groups and literary salons where we "dig deep" into literary treasures.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry is not only adorable; it's also a book that will appeal to both adults and children--not a easy thing to find. Adults will like the meta-fiction aspect of it; this is a story about telling stories. And kids will love Gooney Bird! She is as unique as the outfits she chooses each day (well, actually, she lays out her clothes the night before) and she tells the most wonderful stories. Each one has a surprise in it, and each one is terribly suspenseful. The fact that she interjects a lot of "Suddenlys" helps to keep her audience on the edge of their second-grade seats.

We read this for my second-grade Mother/Daughter Book Group, and it was a winner! What about my criteria? Let's see:

1. The Story: Gooney Bird Greene is new to school, and she enters with a flourish. She regales her classmates and her teacher with a different story each day, and along the way the students, the teacher, and we--the readers--learn a different aspect of story-telling from each of Gooney's tales.. We learn what makes a great story, where to find ideas for a great story, and how to tell a great story. And, best of all, we see that we should accompany every happy ending with a group dance!

2. Questions: This book generates lots of questions about story-telling, but it also brought up questions about language. One mom mentioned that a lot of Gooney's stories are surprising because she uses language in an unexpected way, much like Amelia Bedelia. Quite true, and a wonderful inter-textual connection!

3. Life Lessons: Well, learning how to tell a good story is a lesson and a skill to take through life, and our book group decided not only to talk about Gooney Bird; we also stepped into her character and became a story-teller. Each girl stood up and told a story--trying to incorporate as many elements from the book that she could. It was fabulous! And I, for one, whenever I am losing anyone's attention, am going to insert a "Suddenly!" just to get that person to focus and pay attention to what I have to say!

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry is a great choice for a Second-Grade Mother/Daughter book Group. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Mother/Daughter Book Group for Fourth-Graders! Our book: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. An excellent discussion with a most excellent group of little lit-lovers today! We covered so much, but what really got me excited was my Aha! Moment—the reason I do what I do!—when I saw, from our group conversation, something in the story that I hadn’t seen when I read it on my own: Secrets! And how very hard they are to keep!!!

Remember my criteria:

1. The Story. Well, who couldn’t love this story about two suburban schoolchildren who run away from home—in style! They don’t just run anywhere; they run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and they live there without anyone finding them!

2. Questions. Lots of them! We stayed in the book, and came out of it. One of our favorite out of the book questions was “if you were to run away (NOT recommended), where would you go?” This is a harder question than at first it looks!

3. Life Lessons. Well, we really dug deep and came up with the realization that secrets, of which there are many in this story, are very hard to keep. Why do you think that is? We determined that we feel special when we know a secret. We feel different from everyone else. Why, then, do we feel compelled to share the secret? (I wonder…do we always need an audience, someone to tell us that “yes, you are special”?) We also realized that you can look at the entire book as Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler revealing her secret to Saxonberg! I think that if you really think about it, you’ll agree—secrets are hard to keep secret!

There are many other lessons to take away from this story, but my favorite comes from E.L. Konigsburg herself, written as an afterword in 2002 (for the 35th anniversary of the book). She says, “ ‘Angel’ became part of Claudia’s story about finding herself, about how the greatest adventure lies not in running away but in looking inside, and the greatest discovery is not in finding out who made a statue but in finding out what makes you.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book of the Month: Heart of Darkness

October's book of the month is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. In this transfixing novel we hear of Marlowe's dreamlike (or should I say "nightmare"?) journey down the Congo River from the anonymous narrator to whom he has related his tale. Marlowe's quest? To retrieve ivory trader extraordinaire Kurtz, whose recent behavior has had tongues wagging--all the way back to the White Sepulchre (aka Brussels?). Kurtz--is he a hero? Or a madman? Or is he Everyman?

I've sent my "Points to Ponder" to all my book groups and I know we'll be having some riveting discussions coming up. (When you join one of my groups, I'll send you my "Points.") However, I am wondering what you think of this fascinating novel:
  • Has Heart of Darkness stood the test of time? Is it important that we read this book today?
  • Can you relate to Marlowe? Can you relate to Kurtz?
  • Remember, this book was published in 1899. Do you see it as an indictment of European imperialism or is it a eurocentric racist portrayal of Africans as an inferior people?
  • Is there any uplifting message we can take away from this book, or it it a complete downer?
  • Does it remind you of Lord of the Flies?
  • What is the heart of darkness, do you think?