Olympic Highlights

Everybody seems to be doing highlights of the Olympic Games now that they are over so I thought I’d give my version. I won’t mention swimmers since I’m guessing you’ve seen enough of those. I have some words that stand out to me. Except for the last, I’ll do alphabetical order.


They swept much of the metal for the medal stands. Then, with obvious love for each other, the ladies’ gymnastics team paid tribute to their coach Marta Karoli as they named themselves “The Final Five” in honor of their being her last Olympic team before her retirement.


Again the American ladies’ gymnastics team was a cross section of both ethnicity and religion, and Ibtihaj Muhammad won a bronze medal in fencing wearing a hijab.


Brazilian celebrations when they won had to make you happy for the home country, especially for the overboard excitement when they won silver and bronze in men’s gymnastics.


Multitudes of stories fit this word, but I think of tiny Fiji winning a medal in rugby, the number of foster kids’ stories, and the refugee group that may not have won a medal but attained a goal by overcoming circumstances to be there.


17-year-old Sydney McLaughlin, who lost in the finals said “This is the end of my season, not the end of my career” and then turned to her task of reading two required books before she goes back to high school. I’m waiting to see what she does in Tokyo.


USA’s Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin got mixed up in a tumble that threw them in the 5,000-meter heat. Abbey helped Nikki up and encouraged her to finish the race. Soon it became apparent that Abbey was injured and couldn’t finish. Nikki then encouraged her to run together to the end, which they finished dead last. They have been awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for sportsmanship, previously awarded only 17 times in Olympic history. They also gained a friendship.


I loved the people who understood that “on the platform” is a great accomplishment even if the medal isn’t gold.


My favorite highlight was Tori Bowie who swamped the pages of the Hattiesburg American because she had spent her college days at the University of Southern Mississippi. She starred on the front page of either the headline news or sports page for days, sometimes both. In addition, she featured prominently in the Facebook posts from the university’s Cook Library where she worked as a student aide to help finance her college career. One of those foster children raised by a grandmother, she is from Sand Hill, Mississippi, a town every bit as big as it sounds. We Mississippians are proud that she won all three colors in medals. Of even more importance, she seems to be a genuinely nice person as well.



Soldier Sister, Fly Home

The prologue for Soldier Sister, Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood starts with a poem

Feathers fly,

Carrying a heartbeat.

Fly home.

Blue horse. Lii’ Dootl’izhii.

and ends with a vow from Tess that she will never shoot a rifle again. I’m fond of prologues like this that tantalize one into a book.

Tess, half-Navaho and half-white, searches for where she fits in the two worlds she travels between. Early in the book, she points out a common mistake of lumping all Native Americans together in one group, “They (schoolmates) never saw me. They never saw Navaho or white – they only saw an Indian.”

Central to the story is her six-year-older sister’s enlistment in the military after she failed to get a scholarship that would help her go to school. Gaby returns home on leave in splotchy army fatigues with her beautiful dark hair that had hung below her waist sheared short. Gaby had sworn never to cut it, but this is an accommodation to that other world.

Gaby’s deployment threatens the sister tie that includes younger Tess teaching her older sister to read at night before she enters junior high using Archie comic books. Now Gaby asks her to bond with her feisty horse Blue while she is away. A summer at sheep camp with Blue and Shima Sani, her grandmother, in traditional Navaho dress (except for her Day-Glo tennis shoes) helps her begin to answer some of the questions about who she is and where she belongs. Tess and I found wisdom in Grandpa’s philosophy, “Yes, we sing when life comes into this world. We sing when life travels out.”

The author lived and taught in the Navaho community for fifteen years and brings a sense of authenticity to this story that includes practices specific to that culture along with issues common to any coming-of-age story. Back matter includes information about the Navaho language, definitions and pronunciations of Navaho words, and a brief tribute to Lori Piestewa, a member of the Hopi tribe and the first Native American military woman to die in combat on foreign soil. Lori’s contribution is mentioned briefly in the beginning of the book.

I read the book which goes on sale August 23 in an ARC furnished by Net Galley. It is a good read for middle grade and up.


Something to Miss

The boys have lived the three and four years of their lives in the same community with a mother who believes in “adventures.” Before they moved from Maryland to Mississippi, their mama took them back for final visits and sent me pictures of places they will miss. The nostalgia may be more hers than theirs since they aren’t old enough yet to understand about “lasts” or that their favorite haunts will be too far away for a quick run any more.

They visited Brookside Gardens that took a couple of hours to circle when they were in strollers and diapers. Now Mama tried to keep up as they looped around in about forty-five minutes. As if the animals knew this was good-bye, fifteen turtles showed up in the turtle pond where the boys usually saw one or two. Another day they went to the nearby creek and enjoyed strolling through the woods and hopping across the stones in the water.

The “things to miss” pictures made me recall a favorite quote from Sarah, Plain and Tall that has often come to my mind when I have left things I will miss to move to a new place. Prospective stepdaughter Anna worries that Sarah will miss the sea and her family too much to leave her home in Maine to become Papa’s bride. She is relieved when she overhears Sarah tell her new friend Maggie, “There is always something to miss, no matter where you are.”

There are things to miss in Maryland, but things to look forward to in Mississippi. In Hattiesburg, there’s a chocolate birthday cake for Ben’s fourth birthday, baked by Grandpa and decorated by Grandma. A tub of toys waits in the grandparents’ back yard, butterflies hatch on the maypop vines, and hummingbirds fight over the feeders. Hattiesburg will have its own exploits. Since Grandma likes adventures, too, I’m hoping the excursion group will have a new member. Maybe, if I promise to bring cookies . . .


Applesauce Weather

I first became acquainted with Helen Frost’s writing while reading books with a friend who was on the Newbery Committee. I loved Diamond Willow and had it on my short list for the award – not that my list counted with anybody. Consequently, I anticipated a good read in Applesauce Weather when I received the ARC from Net Galley.

Ripening apples would usually signal time for Aunt Lucy and Uncle Arthur to be on their way for a visit. As this year’s first apple falls, Faith and Peter question whether Uncle Arthur will come now that Aunt Lucy has died. Of course he does, beginning the story-poem that is told in the voices of Faith, Peter, and Uncle Arthur with “Lucy’s Song” giving introductions for each section as she tells her version of life with Uncle Arthur, a love story that began at ten and lasted into old age.

Humor tempers the emotions of nostalgia and grief as the family remembers Aunt Lucy. Uncle Arthur tells tales with a twinkle in his eye, especially the ones about how he lost his finger. In her song, Lucy says, “Oh, the stories I heard him weave – I never knew quite what to believe.” Neither do Faith and Peter. Every kid needs an uncle like Arthur just as he needs them. The telling and listening bring needed solace to the whole family.  

Amy June Bates’s illustrations fit the mood of the story and personality of the characters and add the perfect finish.

So, how well did Applesauce Weather meet my expectations? When I finished the book, I turned back to the beginning and read it again. It won’t be my last time.


Nature's  Law

I had some second thoughts about the book for the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award. In the story line of Sonya’s Chickens, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl, Sonya adopts three chicks and cares for them like a mother until they grow into fluffy hens. One night she hears squawking in the henhouse. When she goes to check, she discovers feathers all over the floor, but only two of her three chickens. My first reaction was protective against Phoebe’s very realistic telling small children about what happens when a fox finds a way into the henhouse.

Then I thought about my own experience last summer when I had become enamored of the Gulf Fritillary butterflies hatching on my maypop vines. I found an anole in the act of eating one of my butterflies. As if he knew he had been caught, he took his protective coloration right into the vines. It took me a bit to consider the law of nature that allows for the food chain and know the anole was hungry, too.

Fortunately, Sonya’s father helps her come to the same conclusion and repair her damaged coop so it will be safe for the remaining hens. Her family joins her in honoring and mourning her lost hen while remaining glad that little foxes were fed.

So should we protect children from the nature’s law of the food chain? I think not. I’d rather believe that even very small children can understand Sonya’s mixed feelings (and mine) when we mourn a hen (or butterfly) but are glad that the little foxes and anoles have a good meal. One doesn’t have to live very long to have experiences that bring simultaneous joy and sorrow. Nor does one need a long life to know that “happily ever after” is only a fairy tale.

Besides, I wouldn’t want the small children in my life to miss this lesson in science and life, disguised inside a beautifully written story.