Sunday, April 30, 2006

If you liked Chernowitz you might like to try one of these:

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
The Beckoners by Carrie Mac is a really great, kind of terrifying book about bullying.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier is an oldie but a goodie, dealing with bullying.

You know how those giant monsters in old science fiction movies always ended up being a regular old lizard or turtle that was hit with a radioactive beam? Well that is how Lord of the Flies by William Golding is to books about bullying. It takes the idea that, if given the opportunity, most little boys become savage killers. And any of you with little brothers will heartily agree. And may I point out that you are going to have to read this to get through high school. If you read it on your own time - you will seem very, very smart when your English teacher eventually gets around to assigning it to the class.

As far as books on the effects of anti-semitism, you can't beat The Diary of Anne Frank. I personally love the idea of reading someone else's private journal, and Anne is a funny, smart sarcastic friend. When you finish the story of how she and her family lived and you realize what happened to her, it is like a punch in the gut.

There is a new non-fiction book that is one of this year's Newbery Honor Books called Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Bartoletti, that is really good. It has stories from all sorts of teenagers from the holocaust - both victims, perpetrators and the people who could have remained quiet and survived just fine, but chose to stand up for what was right. I am trying to make it sound as good as it is, just trust me. it's not boring at all!

Finally, The Chicago Public Library has a great booklist on Holocaust related books that you might find interesting.


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I will probably post just once about CHERNOWITZ, but I may post some links later.

To tell you the truth, this book irritated me. It may be because I have kids of my own but I kept yelling at Bobby (In my head, of course.) "Just tell your parents what is going on!!!" Of course, if he did, there would be no story. But still, I found it to be tremendously frustrating.

And I guess that proves that it is a pretty good book. If it can make the character real enough to make me want to yell...

That being said - the story is pretty interesting. I have no real experience with mean thuggy teenagers. Mostly they just come into the library and say, "You are looking very nice today, Mrs. Fecteau," and then go sit quietly and do their work. But bullying does occur and it is good to realize that when you look at bullying from a third-party perspective it usually says a lot more about the weirdness of the bully than the victim. (Maybe I shouldn't use words like "weirdness" to describe bullies - but if the shoe fits... wear it.)

All in all - I didn't love CHERNOWITZ, but it was an interesting, fast read and it made a lot of sense once you got to the end.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

If you liked A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN you might want to try one of these.

If you liked A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN you might want to try one of these.

JOY IN THE MORNING - also by Betty Smith - is supposed to have a main character who is a lot like Frannie – I haven’t read it yet, but I will by the end of the summer!

BETSY AND THE GREAT WORLD by Maud Hart Lovelace is about a young girl about the same age and era as Frannie who is traveling alone in Europe just before the first World War breaks out.

ALL OF A KIND FAMILY by Sidney Taylor is written for elementary/middle school aged readers, but is a very interesting and funny look at another part of New York's immigrant community during this time.

I just picked up BOWRY GIRLS by Kim Taylor - it takes place slightly earlier than A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN but deals with poverty in New York and is very good, so far.

I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith takes place a little bit later and also in England, but it is a very funny story of a family trying to hold itself together in the face of poverty and an ineffectually, whiny father. (Sorry, a little judgmental of Johnnie again...)

DADDY LONG LEGS by Jean Webster is the hilarious story of a girl who is raised in poverty in an orphanage and is sent to college by a mysterious benefactor.

Happy reading!

The last "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" entry!

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
So it comes to a close at last. A book that I loved, and finished over a week ago, grows dim in my mind... I will try to keep those synapses firing long enough to wrap it up.

47 (*****) Sissy Gets Herself Widowed, Divorced, Married and Pregnant - All in 10 Day's Time!

48 (*****) WAR! - Francie Shows Us How To Remember and Starts College

49 (***) Ben

50 (*****) Oxygen [And when you figure out the meaning of this chapter title, you will cry like a baby!]

51 (****) I'll Probably Be Sixteen All My Life and Mama Takes the Fun Out of Everything!

52 (*****) Francie Falls in Love and Promises Her Life Away

53 (*****) It Would Have Been a Very Beautiful Thing or I Don't Want to Need Anybody

54 (*****) Finally Mr. McShane!

55 (****) Does Ben Seem a Little Priggish To You?

56 (*****) Goodbye Francie...

Now you should go lie down and cry for a little while because you are going to miss Francie now that she has become such a part of your life over the summer.

And in the fall, if you come into the library please make sure to come up and tell me how much you loved this book. If by some insane chance you did not - DON'T TELL ME! I don't want to know! All I will do is try to talk you into loving it after the fact and we will both be made miserable.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Tiny Little "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" Chapter Reviews (part 3)

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
[Do you notice how most of these chapters have 5 stars now? Get used to it; this book is wonderful!]

37 (***) Everybody Cries it Out
38 (*****) Mr. McGarrity is Depressing and Life- and Nothing Else But - Gives Francie a Headache
39 (*****) Confirmation, the Well-Meaning But Deeply Stupid Teacher and Mama Needs Francie
40 (*****) Annie Laurie
41 (*****) A World Spinning in Confusion
42 (*****) Graduation, Flowers, Autographs, Tipping and a Wish
43 (*****) "When She Looked at the Money I Saw that Tears Stood in Her Eyes"
44 (*****) Press Clipping Bureau, A Hard Decision From Katie and Cracks in the Cup
45 (*****) Spats, Fancy Underwear and Francie Believes in God After All
46 (*****) 1917 and Francie Gets Drunk

Tiny Little "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" Chapter Reviews (part 2)

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
26 (*****) Tiny Pie and a Lie
[This is one of the best chapters in the book and it has probably the best description of what writing is all about. It also has one of my favorite lines from the book "If she had not found this outlet in writing, she might have grown up to be a tremendous liar."]
27(*****) The Profane Christmas Tree Salesman Throws a Tree at Frannie's Head, Katie Thinks A LOT, and Frannie Lies to Get a Doll But Not Really
28 (*****) Frannie Loses Her Love of the Theatre Because "It Takes a Lot of Doing To Die"
29 (*****) The Songs of the Sea Betray Johnny
30 (*****) Remember Joanna
31 (*****) A Horse Falls in Love With Evie
32 (***) Francie's Journal Entries
33 (*****) Katie Takes Care of a Bad Bad Man.
Note to readers: Scary things happen here so consider yourself warned. Also: IF YOU ARE NOT HOOKED ON THIS BOOK BY THIS CHAPTER YOU ARE DEAD INSIDE!
34 (*****) Sissy Gets a Baby and Things Look Bad For Johnny
35 (*****) Neelie and Francie Reminisce and Johnny is Not Drunk
36 (*****) I Burst Out Crying Reading This Chapter at the YMCA and have to Run To the Ladies Room to Calm Down

Tiny Little "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" Chapter Reviews (part one)

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
15 (**) Papa Plays Annie Laurie
16 (*) The Mystery of the Orient in Brooklyn
17 (***) Piano Lessons Help Everyone
18(*****) What a Filthy Arm
19(*****) School, Peeing Your Pants and Making Up With Sissy
20 (**) Vermin
21 (**) Mr. Morton and Miss Bernstone
22(****) Reading and Math
23 (***) New School, Prostitutes and Mr Jenson, the Janitor
24 (*****) Tammany, Mr. MacShane and the Prostitutes Outnumbered the Decent Ladies Two to One
25 (*) Brooklyn's Own: Hansom Cabs, the Future Mayor and Dr. Cook.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Preview of Tiny Little Chapter Reviews

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I am a realist and I know that some of you are just going to find a way to read "about" this book rather than read the book itself. So as a realist - I am going to go down the list of chapters that I haven't written about yet and I am going to make up a title for the chapter and rate the chapter from one to five stars. This way if you do decide to "skim" rather than read you won't miss the really excellent chapters.
Bear in mind that:
* = great
** = really great
*** = fantastic
**** = unbearably fantastic
***** = I have to stop reading and put my head down to fully let the brilliance wash over me.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: 15 - 56

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
So I got a little ahead in the reading and accidentally finished the book. I meant to keep writing in two chapter increments, but it just got away from me because (and I will shout this so that there can be no uncertainty)


If you are a person who has ever liked a book (and admit it - even if you are not a "reader" you liked HOLES and you liked those MAGIC TREEHOUSE books you read in second grade) you must give this book a chance. Once you get to chapter 24 you will be hooked. And if not 24, definitely chapter 27 where Francie gets a Christmas three thrown at her head!

And remember that these are short little chapters - you can easily read one first thing in the morning before you crawl out of bed. Besides, its summer - you're probably sleeping until 10:30 anyway.

Keep reading!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 13 & 14

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In chapter 13 we are shown Francie's play-life. We find the seeds of her imagination and isolation. There is an interesting look at how girls play that makes an argument for why Neelie is so much less solitary than Francie.

Betty Smith is excellent at knocking out the last paragraph to really pull at the heartstrings. I love the one for this chapter about the men singing in the backyard: "They were bums and they were hungry and they didn't have the talent for song-making. All they had in the world was the nerve to stand in the backyard with cap in hand and sing loudly."

Oh Sissy, Sissy, Sissy... Chapter 14 is the telling of the tale of the tricycle and the balloons.

First of all, when the policeman walks them around the block he talks about his wife. Maybe he has ulterior motives, but he still is appropriate.

Now just to be clear here - the balloons in questions are condoms. At this point in time birth control was illegal - you could go to jail just for writing about it, and Sissy worked in a condom factory. In chapter 5 it talks about how Sissy's rubber factory made its profits from "other rubber articles that were bought in whispers. So this is why the Nolan's move again, and banish Sissy from their lives. Once again, shame is what tears apart the delicate balance of their happiness.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 11 and 12

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Chapter 11 is where we see Johnny as a man with a real problem. He is an alcoholic. Sissy understands the mechanics of the disease and manages to help him. There is a great quote that describes Sissy's "failings" - that she is a "great lover and a great mother."

Katie on the other hand comes clean about her main reason for wanting Johnny - "The whole thing was I wanted to get him away from someone else." I can't tell if that's the truth or if that is just her way of shying away from the embarrassment of Sissy talking about sex.

In Chapter 12 Katie must move because she is shamed by Johnny's drunkenness. This seems crazy to me and I think that one of the points of this book is how much of their suffering is brought about by shame. As a matter of fact, when Mary (Katie's mother) is sprinkling holy water around the apartment she is saying "schoen" ("beautifully" according to babelfish) which Francie repeats as "shame".

The Nolans are now on Lorimar Ave which is in Williamsburg, near Greenpoint. To get an idea of where these places are - and to see some pictures of these neighborhoods today you can go to The Bridge and Tunnel Club.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: 9 & 10

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Chapter 9 is a relief after all those dead Nolan boys. Katie and Johnny are school custodians. (Yay, custodians! Remember to clean up after yourselves when you get to the high school. They have enough to do without you dropping your papers and leaving your yogurt containers everywhere...Oh, sorry, I was writing about the book, wasn't I?)

Katie wears a fascinator to work, Johnny plays the piano, they make out on the couch during their dinner break. They are so happy until. Well, you know...

I do not even want to mention what Johnny does while Katie is having Francie. but, geez!

"'This child was born of parents who can read and write,' she said simply. ' To me, this is a great wonder.'" This sentence kills me. We don't even really think about what a miracle it is to be able to do this simple thing. Even in today's world.

And that grandmother Rommely is full of excellent quotes, "It is a good thing to learn the truth one's self. To first believe with all your heart, and then not to believe, is good too. It fattens the emotions and makes them to stretch." This explains how she has managed to live with that devil husband!

The bank in the closet makes its appearance here. I have a bad feeling about this. (Blame Mr. Rommely's chickens.) And Sissy gets Shakespeare and the Bible. And they way she gets those two books says an awful lot about Sissy!

Chapter 10 is another quick one that ends with a punch. The writer describes the difference between how Johnny faces life and how Katie faces life. "Johnny knew he was doomed and accepted it. Katie wouldn't accept it...Katie had a fierce desire for survival which made her a fighter. Johnny had a hankering after immortality which made him a useless dreamer." Harsh!

I leave you with a quote from Martha Washington, "I've learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances. "

Tree Grows in Brooklyn: 7 & 8

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Chapter 7 is chock-full of back-story.

Now we find out how Johnny and Katie Nolan met - a scenario that has been played out hundreds of times in the very halls of BHS. Some of us are Hildys; some of us are Katies.

We meet Francie's Grandma Mary and her devil husband. We meet Sissy, full of big heart and easy virtue, and her many husbands. We briefly meet Sister Ursula (formerly Eliza) the hairy-faced nun. And Aunt Evy, with her whiny husband, who wants her children to be musical - but draws the line at foot worship. (And if that doesn't convince you to read chapter 7 nothing will!)

Chapter 8 is so short because it introduces us to the "live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse" Nolan boys and their strange, strange mother.

I loved the last three paragraphs of this chapter where it describes how all those forbearers are visible in Francie and the description of "the one different thing such as that which makes no two fingerprints on the face of the earth alike." I sort of fell into that sentence for awhile. But I will refrain from writing all the wispy thoughts about individuality that came up. Good bit to remember for an essay though.

At this point I should admit that I don't know what the essay questions are as I write this and I am probably not going to look at them while I am writing because I really want to read these books for fun. And, frankly, to read a book for any other reason is a chore and a half. So read for fun and I promise, the essay will come easily.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Chapters 5 and 6

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You know how in some books you read about food and it sounds so great it makes you hungry? This is not one of those books. So far the food descriptions sound gross and if you research them (as I am just obsessed enough to do) they only sound more revolting.

Remember fricadellen? I warn you it isn't pretty. And if you read the text from this site (which I can't do because I don't speak Dutch, but I used babelfish to translate) you will be more amused, confused and perhaps disgusted:

The frikandel became have invented end years fifty in brabant, for exact in the plaatsje Deurne. The inventor of this snack was a butcher who listened to the name Jan Beckers. He did not consider the ' knakworst ' without velletje, knowing that this one of the most successful snacks from the Dutch history would become. Nowadays about million frikandellen per day is produced. A frikandel has a length of 18 cm and is approximately 2.5 cm in doorsnede. Kilometres therefore more than 180 frikandel per day are produced!!!. Concerning the ingredienten of a frikandel most wild the tales do the round, thus brain, uiers, bowels, and other onsmakelijkheden are processed. This is not where, in a frikandel mainly paardevlees sit (the thin flesh from the front of the horse). Furthermore the frikandel exists from pig flesh (the bacon of the back of the pig) and from slachtafval of the chicken. It then however only concerns flesh that to the botjes lags behind, therefore no ingewanden. You can enjoy therefore without care this terrible snack.

I can only assume that this is now considered the Dutch equivalent of a really bad hot dog.

And finally, I loved a lot of things about Francie's trip to church, most notably how "Maudie, who led a less complicated life, had fewer sins to confess and had gotten out [of confession] sooner." I also liked how she described how "the old, old mystery took hold as the priest slid open the tiny door that separated him from the sinner."

I could go on here about how religion is portrayed here and interest no one but myself. But I have much more to read and must get busy!

A Long Long Book

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I have to admit that this is a long, long book. It is the longest on the summer reading list! However, if you do the math you will learn that you only need to read less than 6 pages a day this summer to easily finish it before school starts. And you can read 6 pages. Really.

I have been leaping forward. (I am exaggerating, of course - I am only on page 54, but I do have a full time job, and kids and the weather is starting to get nice. Oh I am full of excuses!)

My favorite part of chapter 3 was Francie's Dad talking about working - "Now it's work hard all the time or be a in-between." Is he just whining or is this true? Francie's mom works hard, but she also just went out to a show. Is he just lazy or a realist?

And the last paragraph of chapter 4 - death hiding in the closed for Henny - freaked me out!