Sunday, December 26, 2010

#bookaday -- Mary Lee's Pile #2, #3

Half Upon a Time
by James Riley
Aladdin, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

This is my new favorite fractured fairy tale novel/series. Jack's (of the beanstalk) son meets a "princess" from the "real world" when she falls through a blue circle of fire that appears in midair. After that, it is nonstop Huntsmen, magic items, fairy tale characters (and even a Fairy who makes a nest in May's hair, and who does not have a tail, as Jack keeps pointing out to May).

I found this quiet moment in the middle of the book:

"These are challenges," Jack told her. "That's it. We are going to win. You know why? Because it doesn't matter if you're in a fairy tale or here in real life, doing the right thing still counts for something. We're going to win because we're good, decent people trying to accomplish something noble."

(Is it okay if I make a big poster of that quote for the teachers' lounge wall?)

But mostly the book is a quick-moving, adventure-filled page-turner with some pretty funny dialogue:

"Uh-oh," May said, backing away from the Mirror.
"That pretty much covers it, Jack agreed, yanking her back more quickly.

Sugar Changed the World
by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
Clarion Books, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

This is a fascinating story that spans the globe, the entire spectrum of humanity (slavery --> freedom), and several Ages of Man (The Age of Honey --> The Age of Science). It is a story that connects the families of the co-authors, a husband and wife team with ancestors that come from Russia and beet sugar on the one side, and the Caribbean and cane sugar and cheap labor for the cane plantations from India on the other side. India, where the first written record of sugar (from 1000 or so years BC) is found:

"The word for 'a piece of sugar' in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit is khanda, which, as it passed through Persian to Arabic to Europe, became candy."

This book encourages teachers to trust the ability of middle and high school students to grapple with the big ideas of slavery and freedom that are presented in this book. If you're going to think about the history of sugar and the labor that produced it, you'll also wind up thinking about the current overseas sweatshops that produce the cheap clothing we buy in our U.S. stores, and the U.S. government's immigration and citizenship laws that keep Mexican families who provide cheap labor from becoming U.S. citizens. And sugar consumption. And current trends towards obesity.

The book has multiple timelines in the back matter: A Master Timeline of Sugar in World History, plus timelines for England and Sugar; France, Sugar, Slavery; Haiti; British North America -- United States; and the Age of Science. There is a page of links to the more than 70 images in the book, as well as slave music and videos of slave dances at Sugar Changed the World. Aronson encourages teachers with SmartBoards to use these images, and also students looking for images for their own reports. "A book is one product of a research journey, but there is not reason why it should be the only one."

It seemed a little ironic to read this book on Christmas Day while I ate cinnamon rolls and lounged on the couch with my stocking full of candy...

...but I can't think too hard about that because I need to grab a plate of Christmas cookies to nibble for breakfast while I get started on #bookaday #4: KEEPER by Kathi Appelt.


  1. Marc needs to update his website with the book's separate site. It is:

  2. Thanks, Monica! Post edited to reflect accurate info.

  3. Love the Jack quote, too. Thanks for sharing. Never heard of that book before.

  4. How fun is it to sit around eating cinnamon rolls and reading - life is good! :)


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