Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Oh wow. Where to begin? I give 5 stars to this book. It was beautiful and tragic. How can it be both? So many things in life-and death-are both.

This book is Historical Fiction (I love this genre!) set in WWII Germany. The narrator is Death. His tone is (as you find out through some Q&A with the author) perfect. At first, Death as narrator didn't work, but then Zusak came back to him and changed some things and made it perfect. Death must come to collect souls, release them from their bodies and carry them to wherever he takes them (it is left to the imagination, insert your own belief system here, I suppose). He is tired. He is over worked. Especially during a war. Why do humans do this much killing of each other? But every once in awhile, he notices someone living. And the person of special interest to him is Liesel Meminger, a young girl of 9 at the opening of the book, who is acquainted with death. We don't know Liesel's father, but her mother has given her to foster care, we don't really know exactly why, but it is inferred that her mother wasn't part of the right political party at the time, and therefore viewed herself as a direct threat to the safety of her children. So the story unfolds as Liesel begins life with some foster parents on Himmel St. in Molching, Germany. Hans and Rosa. They have 2 grown children of their own. They are Christian (as is Liesel). Which isn't condemned but certainly not entirely safe to be either.

Theirs is the story of people in Germany who did NOT buy into what Hitler said. They didn't believe that Jews were a scourge. They show you the impoverished state of the people of Germany under Hitler's rule. His country was falling apart from the inside out as he touted the German Ideal. As a line in the movie "Captain America" states "People forget that first country the Nazi's invaded was their own." You had to "apply" to become a member of the Nazi party and sometimes they denied you because they thought you were too sympathetic to the Jews. Or they left your application pending indefinitely. And you really couldn't get much work if you weren't a member of the party. And then there was hiding Jews.......

In the Q&A section at the back with the author, this exchange was made:

Q: There are many novels set during the Holocaust, but The Book Thief offers a different perspective. What do you most want teenage readers to understand about Liesel's story and this dark period in our world's history?

A: I honestly just hope that they'll never forget the characters. This is the first time I've ever missed characters that I've written-especially Liesel and Rudy. I also hope that readers of any age will see another side of Nazi Germany, where certain people did hide their Jewish friends to save their lives (at the risk of their own). I wanted them to see people who were unwilling to fly the Nazi flag, and boys and girls who thought the Hitler Youth was boring and ridiculous. If nothing else, there's another side that lives beneath the propaganda reels that are still so effective decades later. Those were the pockets I was interested in.

And let me tell you how refreshing it was to read more of this side. I've read Corrie Ten Boom's story (and reviewed it on here) she and her family were also Christian's who hid their Jewish friends and ended up being sent to concentrations camps because of it. But this was another part of it entirely. This was the part of the citizenship that suffered at Hitler's hand not necessarily because of their offenses (although the minor infractions were punished severely), but because they weren't compliant enough. It gives me hope to know that not EVERYONE was duped by Hitler. Even some of the children and youth were able to see through the facade. 

At several points, there are stories within stories, and one such describes the power of words:

  There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:
      1. He would part his hair on the opposite side to everyone else
      2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache
      3. He would one day rule the world

  The young man wandered around for quite some time, thinking, planning, and figuring out exactly how to make the world his. Then one day, out of nowhere, it struck him-the perfect plan. He'd seen a mother walking with her child. At one point, she admonished the small boy, until finally, he began to cry. Within a few minutes, she spoke very softly to him, after which he was soothed and even smiled.
   The young man rushed to the woman and embraced her. "Words!" He grinned. "What?" But there was no reply. He was already gone.
   Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. "I will never fire a gun," he devised. "I will not have to." Still, he was not rash. Let's allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.
  He planted them day and night, and cultivated them.
  He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany....It was a nation of farmed thoughts.
  While the words were growing, our young Fuhrer also planted seeds to create symbols, and these, too, were well on their way to full boom. Now the time had come. The Fuhrer was ready.
  He invited his people toward his own glorious heart, beckoning them with his finest, ugliest words, handpicked from his forests. And the people came.
  They were all placed on a conveyor belt and run through a rampant machine that gave them a lifetime in ten minutes. Words were fed to them. Time disappeared and they now knew everything they needed to know. They were hypnotized.

I hope I never live to see the day when something like this happens again. However, I worry that people get so desperate to hear the words they want to hear that they will believe them, no matter how irrational they may be. That we won't care if they are lies because they sound good. I guess from this we learn that "The pen is mightier than the sword" in some cases. Words can hurt more than sticks and stones-both psychologically and physically (in the case of Nazi Germany). We must use our words for good. Especially words of reason. Don't get sucked in to propaganda from any political spectrum. Never stop thinking for yourself or questioning or voicing your opinion-and being willing to change your opinion should rational information be presented to challenge it. If there ever comes a time when reasonable, rational words start to be ridiculed, beware.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Five Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman & Ross Campell, M.D.

A friend of mine told me about this book not long ago and I put it on hold at the library. I haven't read the original one, but remembered hearing a lot about it and doing a quiz to find mine (but I had forgotten).

I cheated and had my 9 year old take the quiz on their website:
But let's be honest, it's a lot easier for you to determine your own love language and then tell others about it than it is to decipher it out for your own. My 3 year old is too young to determine; that comes around age 5 or 6 or so. So I took the quiz and had my husband take it as well.

I feel like I learned a lot about myself and why I react the way I do (inwardly mostly) to certain things or the lack of certain things. I am overwhelmingly "Quality Time". This explains why I always just KNEW I didn't need a guy who would buy me things (incidentally, when faced with getting a gift or giving up one of the OTHER love languages, I always ignored the gift, so I scored 0 there. Don't get me wrong, I love to get gifts, but if doing so means I have to give up something else, I don't want it!), but that I always knew I needed a guy who would BE there. I couldn't be married to a businessman who was required to travel a lot. That just doesn't compute with my quality time need :-) It also explained to me why I feel so compelled to make sure that my kids have quality time with their grandparents, even it it might sometimes mean that we visit them instead of going somewhere else on vacation (someday our ability to do BOTH will emerge, but not for awhile); because by giving them time with their grandkids, I am expressing love in the deepest way I feel it. And it also explains to me why I sometimes feel hurt if people (friends and family alike) don't make time for me. While it's not an affront to me or their lack of care for me, because it's my primary love language, I tend to internalize it personally. Knowing this helps me to be aware that those hurt feelings are mine and mine alone and hat I can't be angry with others or assume they don't care. They just express their thoughtfulness in other ways and I can totally accept that! In short, it kind of explained to me why people don't always think the same way I do, lol.

My husband is Acts of Service and my 9 year old Words of Affirmation. Light bulb moments GALORE. It definitely isn't going to be a super easy adjustment, but knowing this and the other things mentioned in the book (discipline, how to teach kids how to manage anger in order to prevent passive/aggressive behavioral patterns), hopefully my family will be able to express love in more meaningful ways to each other.

Fabelhaven #3 Grip of the Shadow Plague, Brandon Mull

Book 3 in the Fabelhaven series.

A lot happens in character development:

Kendra learns more about the powers the fairies bestowed upon her and how to use it.

Seth learns that if he must take risks, they should be calculated and weighed heavily with the consequences of both taking and not taking the risk.

You learn more about other preserves and the Society of the Evening Star which is pure evil.

You learn the nature of newer magical creatures such as Centaurs, Dyrads, and Hamadryads.

The shadow plague permeates every species turning them into dark, evil versions of themselves. Only humans turn into shadows (invisible to everyone but Seth) and are able to fight the change from good to evil. There is a theory that Grandpa Sorenson and Warren disagree on-and that is the amount of personal accountability magical creatures have. Grandpa thinks that the creatures are what they are and you can't truly judge against them because they are doing what they naturally do. Sort of like how you can't blame a bear for being a bear and attacking a human-even if that human had had some sort of relationship with it before, because after all it IS still a bear and a bear is going to do what a bear is going to do. It's just his nature. Grandpa believes that creatures are either light or dark, and depending on their nature, it determines what they will or won't do. Warren doesn't fully agree, he believes that the creatures are intelligent enough to make a conscious choice. Interestingly enough, once everything is resolved, only creatures of light who ENJOYED being dark had any recollection of BEING dark. With that fact, and very little knowledge, I can definitely see both sides of their arguments. It also made me think of Percy Jackson and "Bob", a Titan who'd had his memory erased and Percy helped him to create a new "him" and when he began to remember, began to revert back, but then was convinced that he DID have a choice. Who he innately was did not have to determine who he would continue to be.

Kendra is now almost 15, so of course, we need a crush for her :-) Gavin fills this role. He's a bit older and has a stuttering problem (which I think is really interesting and good to have someone with an obvious thing to overcome also be a hero figure for the YA/kid audience). His talent? Dragons. We get into dragons in this book. One thing that all the books I've read that have anything to do with dragons agrees that they are highly intelligent beings-right on par with humans. Interesting that everyone would agree on this-and the fact that they also have a complex range of emotions as well.

We experience our first truly painful sacrifice through death. We've seen death before, a few times in this book, but the first death that got me choked up enough that I had a hard time continuing to read (since I haven't read them yet, I'm reading them aloud to my older daughter, she's now 9).

I have no idea how Brandon Mull is going to wrap things up in just 2 more novels, but I'm looking forward to it. It's kind of like Percy Jackson's world, in that the evil force is immortal and the ones who are concerned about keeping it at bay are mortal and the evil forces are also possessed of infinite patience. They seem to think that because they are immortal they will win in the end, eventually, so any time mortals have a victory, it's only a minor set back to the bad guys. I'm hoping that at the end of Fabelhaven there's some sense of finality, or at least a long duration of it....even though in real life, the fight against evil is never ending, it'd be nice to know in our fictional worlds that this fight is worth it and good will always prevail against evil.