To be fair, I was not a major fan of Meryl Streep. I know there were many who would disagree with me, but it wasn’t until Out of Africa that I was hooked. And I’ll admit that my original attraction to that movie was Robert Redford. But as I grew up, I really learned to appreciate her talent and flexibility, and I became a fan. I came across Plenty and decided to watch, and I am glad I did. She did an amazing acting job in this film.
The movie starts when she, as a young girl, is part of the Resistance in World War II. After the war, she becomes enmeshed in English politics and the good life, but something is missing. Her attempts to have a child out of wedlock fail. Her relationships with men are not easy. Ultimately she marries well, but is still dissatisfied. In some ways she is a victim of her time. During the war, women assumed new roles, but after the war they were expected to revert to pre-war roles. It was not a happy transition for many. Her attempts slowly lead her into behaviors that are not yet acceptable in society. This leads into a stronger descent to mental illness, or at least what the prim and proper consider mental illness.
This is not a happy movie and does not have a happy ending. However, I think it is a realistic view that portrays how many women felt in the times. The whole cast is amazing; every character does a superb job of acting. Plenty, in many ways, shows the real beginning of the women’s movement and foreshadows the future when women will take control of their lives. It is a bit of history we generally ignore, but our lives today were certainly changed by the characters in this film.
Check the WRL catalog for Plenty.
Jessica shares this review:
For the scientists at Little Cam, a top-secret research compound hidden deep within the Amazon rainforest, immortality is no longer an ambition but a reality. With the creation of Pia seventeen years ago, the scientists achieved their dream after more than a hundred years of experimentation. Hidden away from the world at Little Cam, Pia has always considered her life to be perfect and absolute. But one night curiosity takes over, and she dares to venture outside the facility through a newly created opening in the fence. Once on the other side, Pia is so transfixed by the freedom of the jungle that she fails to notice a native boy, Eio, and runs right into him. Soon, Pia is discovering a new community of people, a different way of life and emotions that she never knew existed. The tropical forest and its native Ai’oan inhabitants along with handsome Eio all call to Pia in a way the compound never has. As the story progresses, the history and happenings at the research facility become strikingly more disturbing, and shocking secrets about Pia’s creation are revealed. When every ounce of her morality and humanity are questioned, Pia is torn between the life she is expected to live and the one that speaks to her heart.
Check the WRL catalog for Origin
The Splendid Spotted Snake is a fun interactive concept book about a bright yellow snake that grows in length as the pages are turned. This is cleverly executed through the use of a real yellow ribbon that has been woven through the pages of the book.
As the reader turns each page, the ribbon is pulled out a little further allowing the snake to appear to be growing.
Complimenting the yellow ribbon are the bright colored spots the snake acquires.
As the snake appears to grow, new colored spots are introduced on each page.
Young listeners will be fascinated by this and it can also serve as a fun tool in teaching color identification.
Additionally, while the snake is itself brightly colored, the additional background illustrations are also bright and cheery giving the story an overall upbeat feel.
The Splendid Spotted Snake will quickly become a favorite of young children with its interactive illustrations and they will be equally entertained as they enjoy a pleasant surprise awaiting them at the end of the book.
Check the WRL catalog for The Splendid Spotted Snake.
Horror. It’s bloody and unpleasant, the reader’s absolute revulsion at what they’re witnessing brings horror into its most satisfying perception. However, what Joey Comeau does so well, and what he does best in his novella, One Bloody Thing After Another, is that he brings the terror of horror around on its head. Sure, there’s plenty of blood and sure, there’s even a monster to terrify us between the pages, but it’s not those fears that cause sickly dread in this book. Comeau has the uncanny ability to cause our hearts to scream from within and our heads to spin all around, and only by revealing the terrifying things found within ourselves.
Comeau twists his tale around the individual lives of three people, each dealing with their own monsters — both real and imagined (or maybe they’re really the same) — and intertwining them until they can’t escape. Jackie is still grieving over the death of her mother long before, while simultaneously managing to navigate her teenage years; Ann is experiencing difficulties at home and is trying her best to ensure her world doesn’t all fall apart around her; and Charlie and his dumb dog Mitchie just want to live in peace.
Even with Comeau’s knack for horror, the author manages to maintain a note of hope. Despite everything terrifying that befalls everyone, there’s inevitably the feeling that everything will be all right in the end.
Check the WRL catalog for One Bloody Thing After Another.
One day a frog family discovers a surprise visitor sitting in the middle of their pond….a PIG! When asked if he needs some help, pig replies, “Ribbit!” Word of the pig, who thinks he’s a frog, travels fast and soon he’s visited by raccoon, parrot, bear, turtle, and duck. After shouting lots of questions to pig and each time being met with the same reply, “Ribbit!” the animals go off to enlist the help of the wise old beetle. But when they return to the pond the little pig was gone! Was pig confused? Was he mocking the frogs? Or did he just want to be their friend?
This adorable story of friendship is the perfect book for your story time collection. The cartoon-like illustrations are bold and colorful and the boisterous “Ribbits!” throughout make it a perfect read-aloud!
Check the WRL catalog for Ribbit!
Laura shares this review:
If you asked people what they think of when they hear the term “American mythos” many would undoubtedly call to mind Cowboys and Indians and other aspects of the Wild West, unaware of the vibrant and complex stories and traditions of Southern Folklore. Bayou is a beautifully-rendered Alice in Wonderland-style fairytale set in Mississippi during the Depression. It is a uniquely Southern world, filled with mud and Spanish moss, concurrently embracing and fighting against the legacy of slavery.
The story centers on Lee, a young black girl, who is friends with Lily, the white daughter of the woman who owns the farm where Lee and her father live. Lily is snatched and swallowed by a monster from the bayou, named Cotton-Eyed Joe, and Lee’s father makes a convenient suspect for the local law officers when she is reported missing by her mother. In an effort to get her friend back, and free her father before he gets lynched, Lee follows the monster into the brackish water, and finds herself in an alternate but parallel world. The inhabitants of this world are human-like, but their physical bodies have been replaced by various characters drawn from Southern myths. She meets Bayou, a swamp dweller who, despite his giant stature, is cowed into submission by the Bossman and his lackeys through their brutal enforcement of the law. Despite his fear, Bayou sees the need and determination of Lee to find her friend Lily and decides to help her, although not without trepidation.
Any story that starts with a lynching and exposes the varied responses of people to such brutality isn’t going to pull punches. But what is most chilling about its narrative is that Bayou doesn’t make the humans into caricatures. The people in the normal world are just that: normal. They are all believable products of their time and environments, and that is clearly reflected in the social interactions between the characters. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor, everyone seems to know who is in power and the potential consequences of any action that might upset the current balance. In the parallel world, characters are taken to their extreme with Jim Crows, Golliwogs, and Confederate officer hounds, but it’s the similarities rather than the differences between the two worlds that are most striking.
Bayou’s injections of race, religion, poverty, and the blues contribute to an important and uniquely Southern voice in fantasy and graphic novels. The storyline and imagery can be disturbing and unsettling, but these aspects give meaning and power to the book’s message. Both written and drawn by Jeremy Love, the use of color enhances the atmosphere, bathing the images in deep gold, dusky pink, and brownish-green. Recommended to readers of fantasy, graphic novels, and southern fiction.
Check the WRL catalog for Bayou
Tim Westover’s Auraria begins with James Holtzclaw, employee of H.E. Shadburn and the Standard Company, travelling out of his familiar urban world and into the mountains of Georgia. His case is stocked with gold, pen and ink, and his notary stamp — this journey is business. The Standard Company deals in land deeds and development. Shadburn’s newest venture: buying up the land in the forgotten gold rush town of Auraria.
There was a real Auraria. It’s now a ghost town near Dahlonega, GA. It was settled in the 1830s and abandoned when the gold ran out. You’re almost tricked (for half a page) into thinking Westover’s book is historical fiction. It’s not.
As he works his way through his list of properties, Holtzclaw struggles to understand what he’s got himself into. The town is full of people who’ve stayed behind, though its heyday is long gone. Those who pan for gold in the mountain streams only find a few flakes, if any. The proprietors of the local hotels seem resigned to slow, local business. But Holtzclaw knows his stuff when it comes to buying land from poor folks. What he doesn’t expect is the strange girl who calls herself a princess. He doesn’t expect glimpses of otherworldly beings in the forest. He doesn’t expect the piano that plays itself, or the impossible house, or the talking turtle, or Mother Fresh Roasted and her chickens.
And yet, Holtzclaw is determined. Thanks to his efforts, the Company is successful — more or less. With some hasty construction and advertisements in the papers, the ghost town is transformed into a Tourist Attraction. Holtzclaw, however, is still ill at ease. The town’s new dam isn’t holding water, and neither are Shadburn’s excuses for his odd behavior and business decisions. As for the Aurarians, are they with him, or against him? What’s the future of their town if the Standard Company’s plans fail? What’s Holtzclaw’s future?
And what is he going to tell the tourists to explain away the next magical rain of fruit?
Westover doesn’t explain the magic. As I read, I felt Auraria was all the more real because of it. Like any small town in the mountains, it’s secluded, it’s old, and everybody takes its oddities for granted. There’s no logic to Princess Tralyhta or Mr. Bad Thing. That’s how it is, in this town.
If you like fast-paced adventure and clear-cut answers, you probably won’t make it past the first page. But if you’re looking for a slow, sweet, surreal fantasy that will put you in mind of small towns and mountains, this is a book you’ll want to take a look at and read.
Check the WRL catalog for Auraria.
Have you ever been faced with that age old question of whether to squish or not to squish? What if you were just about to lay down the shoe and that poor little bug started talking to you? That’s exactly what happens in Hey, Little Ant when a boy is met by a pleading ant and the two begin a sing-song dialog between them offering different perspectives about how the story should end.
“I can see you’re big and strong,
Decide for yourself what’s right and wrong,
If you were me and I were you,
What would you want me to do?”
The father/daughter team of Phillip and Hannah Hoose bring us a thought provoking narrative that can be used in the classroom when talking about bullying or eco-systems. It’s not only educational, but entertaining, and leaves an open ending that puts the reader in the driver seat!
Check the WRL catalog for Hey, Little Ant.
Jessica shares this review:
5 pilasters! 6 pilasters! 25 pilasters! (Shouts from the crowd), 1 Keystone, says Kestrel. 12 keystones! 13 keystones! 15 keystones! 25 keystones! (Shouts from the crowd), 50 keystones, says Kestrel. And so it ends. Kestrel, the General’s daughter, has just made a very public display of wealth, desire and in the eyes of those around her in public square, a sizeable mistake. She has participated in her first slave auction (much to her own surprise) and not to the disinterest of those with questionable stares. And she has purchased her first slave…but at an incredibly high and unexpected cost. Why? Because the auctioneer proclaimed the one thing Kestrel could not ignore; the slave could sing. And there is nothing more in the world Kestrel loves than music, even if it’s one of the things her people dislike most about the population they conquered years ago and enslaved. Kestrel is among the upper-most class of the Valorians, a people known for their rough natures, war fighting skills and commitment to conquering the lands and people that lay beyond but within their reach. But she is distinct, she is different. Kestrel doesn’t long for a prestigious military career like her father, or a marriage to another elite society member like her friends. She yearns only for her piano and the ability to play whenever she wants. And so, with the hope of perhaps finding a kindred spirit, she buys Arin, a Herrani slave. But Arin isn’t what she expected and his distant reserve and hard headedness along with a blatant refusal to sing make Kestrel doubt her already questionable decision. And doubt it she should, for Arin has his own secrets and agendas he brings into the General’s home. As things begin to spiral out of control for both Kestrel and Arin it seems they are also realizing they might have a closer connection than either could have dared imagine…and it could mean the end for both of them.
Check the WRL catalog for The Winner’s Curse.
Shift, written by Hugh Howey, is the prequel to the dystopian novel Wool and recounts the events that created the Silos or the housing that mankind inhabits after a nuclear fallout. It follows the alternating narratives of Donald, a congressman in the 2050s and Troy, a worker from Silo 1 in the 2110s. Donald Keene is a young congressman who has been tasked to design a “just in case” building by Senator Thurman because of his degree in architecture. Along with this proposition, Donald’s past is dredged up when his ex-girlfriend from college is also assigned to the project. During the course of his chapters, Donald struggles with his marriage, his old flame, and the mysterious nature of the project he has been assigned. In the future, Troy, who works in the same building that Donald designed, is attempting to find out the purpose of the Silos while avoiding authoritative superiors. This is the foundation for the story that unravels until it reaches the time frame of Wool and imparts the notion that mankind should not attempt to prolong their mortality.
Along for the journey is another new character named Mission Jones, whose narrative burdens the reader with an idea of the deception that takes place in the Silos. Other characters that the reader knows also appear, such as Jimmy “Solo” Parker, whose origins are explored, and Juliette, who makes a brief but important appearance in the tale.
Even though this story takes place in a world which is alien to our own, it remains accessible through the characters that inhabit it. Along with creating an original world, Howey is also able to construct the challenges and complexities that come along in this world with a flare of empathy. He is able to create characters that are relatable, undeterred by the fact that they exist centuries after us and face entirely different obstacles than our own present ones. This book is not a sterile and uninviting dystopian novel; though the book offers bleak circumstances, it is the characters who bring warmth to the story. Ultimately, the characters allow the reader to hope that the outcome will not be desolate with their desire to discover the truth and uncover the reason for the existence of the Silos.
In order for a reader to start this particular book, they only need to understand that this is a continuing story and finally that it is dystopian. The only issue with Shift, which is previously encountered with its predecessor, is the inability to give a synopsis without inevitably spoiling the plot and events of the novel. Simply, Wool created the equation whereas Shift exposes the “why” factor of the equation, but what these characters do with this information has yet to be answered. It is a masterfully done book that peels away at the surface slowly until the very end of the story. Even then, the core element of the story is not revealed and encourages the reader to continue the journey along with the characters.
Check the WRL catalog for Shift.
Author Joanna Rakoff recounts the year she spent working as the assistant to J.D. Salinger’s literary agent in her new memoir, My Salinger Year.
Rakoff’s memoir opens in late 1995, when she decides that she’d rather write her own poetry and not “analyze other people’s poetry.” After making that fateful decision, she leaves her college boyfriend and drops out of her graduate program in London, England, and returns to New York, where she moves in with an aspiring writer named Don. A chance encounter with a friend of a friend at a Christmas party leads to a referral to a local placement agency. Rakoff visits the agency and soon lands an entry-level job as the assistant to a well-established and well-respected literary agent.
She is unfamiliar with the Agency, as she refers to it throughout the book, but she’s quickly enchanted by the peculiar and archaic office atmosphere. At a time when computers, email, and the World Wide Web were becoming ubiquitous, the Agency still relied on Selectric typewriters and Dictaphones, and kept submission records on pink index cards. Rakoff’s early assignments are unremarkable, consisting mainly of transcribing her boss’s letters to clients and publishers. Then comes the day when her boss tells her, “We need to talk about Jerry.” Jerry is a special client who fiercely guards his privacy. Joanna’s boss warns her that she will receive calls from students and reporters or producers trying to speak to Jerry or secure the film rights to his work. Joanna is admonished that no matter how persuasive the caller is, she must never give out Jerry’s address or phone number. At first, Joanna thinks that “Jerry” is the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, but on her way out of her boss’s office she spots a bookshelf containing The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and Nine Stories and realizes that her boss represents the reclusive author J.D. Salinger.
Although Joanna was familiar with Salinger’s work, she had never actually read any of his books. Over the course of her year at the Agency, she not only falls in love with Salinger’s work, she also becomes fascinated by the letters Salinger receives from fans around the world, including a teenage boy from Winston-Salem, N.C., whose letters mimic the narrative voice of Holden Caulfield; a World War II veteran from Nebraska; and a girl whose teacher tells her she’ll raise her failing grade if she writes to J.D. Salinger and receives a response from him.
In addition to handling Salinger’s correspondence, and the occasional phone call from Salinger to her boss, Joanna also becomes involved in a curious chapter of Salinger’s publishing history. In 1996, much to the surprise of his agent, Salinger agreed to let Roger Lathbury, a professor and owner of a small publishing house called Orchises Press, publish his short story Hapworth 16, 1924 as a stand-alone book. Salinger developed an instant rapport with Lathbury, and publication of Hapworth was scheduled for January 1997; however, the deal fell apart as quickly as it came together.
Rakoff’s narrative deftly balances descriptions of the Agency and the publishing world of the late ‘90s with her own experiences as a young adult adjusting to life after college and her first real job. Her longtime friends are getting married and moving out of the city; she’s dealing with the fallout of leaving a secure relationship for one that’s a bit more tumultuous; and she’s also learning about the limits of an entry-level salary once you factor in student loan repayment and credit card bills.
Fast-paced and often poignant, My Salinger Year is an engaging look at first jobs, the publishing industry, and the powerful lure of literature.
Check the WRL catalog for My Salinger Year.
The 15 years following the end of World War II are considered by many to be one of baseball’s golden eras. Attendance skyrocketed, great players returned from the war, the leagues were integrated, no other professional sport seriously competed for the affection of sports lovers, and television brought the game into millions of households. This same time brought forth the birth of a new development – the literary novel about baseball. Before, baseball writing consisted of newspaper reports and sports columns, inspirational sports novels for boys, and colorful and entertaining short stories about characters who inhabited baseball land.
The first, and to many still the best, literary novel is The Natural by Bernard Malamud, which appeared in 1952. It was the 38-year-old author’s first published novel. On one level it is the story of the ups and downs of the sensational rookie season of Roy Hobbs, a superb natural athlete, who enters the big leagues at the age of 35. On another level the book is a commentary on the American dream – or more specifically on the dark side of that dream. Roy Hobbs wants to live that dream, but he has failed to obtain it, through a combination of bad luck, bad choices, and an inability to understand how the game of life is played. He has a gargantuan appetite (literally and figuratively) for life, but he does not know how to live it. He is alone within himself, wary and distrustful of others, standoffish, and incapable of true affection – in short, not a people person, a team-mate, not a team player. There is a sort of redemption at the end of the novel when he realizes that he has learned nothing from his past life, and that he has to suffer again. The question left hanging and unanswered is whether he is, indeed, capable of learning from his past and putting his suffering to good use.
In 1984 The Natural was made into a movie starring Robert Redford. The movie emphasized the mythic aspects of baseball at the expense of character development and granted Roy Hobbs the bucolic and idyllic resolution and ending that he wished for in the book but that Malamud denied him on the printed page.
Two other literary novels about baseball worth mentioning appeared just a few years after The Natural. Both were written by Mark Harris – The Southpaw (1953) and Bang the Drum Slowly (1956), which was adapted first for television and then in 1973 for the movies. These books are concerned with the human aspects of the characters that inhabit the pages, not the profounder issues that concerned Malamud.
Check the WRL catalog for The Natural.
Summer is upon us and it’s time to read some books about bugs! A butterfly book is always a favorite and this one is sure to please your younger listeners. I love it because, not only does it work great as a bug book, but it also fills the bill for a color story time, as well.
On a clear sunny day, Lucy sees a colorful butterfly. She gleefully chases it all around the garden. The next day, when she is unable to spot it again, she discovers a pink worm, a brown spider, a red ladybug, an orange snail, a blue dragonfly, and a yellow bee. But will that radiant butterfly appear again?
The simple text and bold colorful illustrations would be enough to engage those inquisitive toddlers but Petr Horacek also gives us some die cut “peek-a-boo” holes and a huge pop-up butterfly, too! All of these elements together result in a visually pleasing book that enhances early learning experiences.
Check the WRL catalog for Book of Colors–Butterfly, Butterfly.
Lizzy shares this review:
“Just a stone’s throw from London lies the manor house of the illustrious Phantomhive earldom and its master, one Ciel Phantomhive. Earl Phantomhive is a giant in the world of commerce, Queen Victoria’s faithful servant…and a slip of a twelve-year-old boy. Fortunately, his loyal butler, Sebastian, is ever at his side, ready to carry out the young master’s wishes. And whether Sebastian is called to save a dinner party gone awry or probe the dark secrets of London’s underbelly, there apparently is nothing Sebastian cannot do. In fact, one might even say Sebastian is too good to be true…or at least, too good to be human…” – from Amazon
I was surprised to find myself reading Manga since it’s a different style than I’m used to. I gave the Manga a shot after I finished watching the Anime. I wanted to compare the two to see what was so different. The setting in Victorian London is the perfect time period for this story. Along with the era, the mansion one of the main characters, Ciel, lives in is amazing. The characters seem to be very relatable, which is a good thing. If the reader cannot relate to a character the reader tends to lose interest. Although they are relatable they always have a tweak or secret about them that the reader is not told about. The plot is very mysterious since it is only the first book and I look forward to future plot twists.
Check the WRL catalog for Black Butler.
Lizzy shares this review:
I started this book thinking it was going to be childish with no true meaning. It turned out to be more than a parody on fairy tales and spins into an amazing tale. The theme of the book is destiny. The Royals all end up with happily ever after’s, while the Rebels are stuck never living happily. Raven, one of the protagonists, doesn’t want to follow her destiny to become the next evil queen. Throughout the book she tries to change that. I enjoyed this theme because it shows you can change your destiny. The characters seemed a bit predictable but it does add to the humor. The daughter of Snow White, who is the Queen, is a selfish princess. One of the sons of Prince Charming, Daring Charming, thinks very fondly of himself as well. The plot surrounds the thoughts of Apple White and Raven Queen as Raven searches for ways to not become more like her mom. Altogether, it was a great book and I am looking forward to the next one.
Check the WRL catalog for Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends.
When I read a story to a group, I sometimes miss the wonderful illustrations that accompany it. This book was no exception. My 6 year old son pointed out to me that the pictures in this book are drawn on graph paper! Something I had not ever noticed!
With her intricate paper cut illustrations, Lindsay Ward creates a whimsical story of two loveable characters, Blue and Egg. One cold winters day, Blue returns to his nest to find Egg. Desperate to help his little lost friend, Blue puts Egg in a bucket and sets off to find his mother. As winter passes and the days get warmer Blue is in for a big surprise when he (and the reader) discover that Egg is not an egg at all.
Take the time to bring in spring with this gem! Great for groups or one on one this heart felt story of friendship is sure to be a long time favorite. But be sure to take the time to savor the illustrations that make this one extra special!
Check the WRL catalog for When Blue Met Egg.
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi brings us a deliciously complex domestic drama. Set in contemporary Iran, A Separation explores the dissolution of a marriage against the backdrop of a mystery.
Simin is seeking a divorce from her husband Nader because he refuses to leave Iran with her. Nader also won’t allow Simin to take their daughter Termeh out of the country. Nader wants to stay in Iran to take care of his father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. A judge refuses to grant the divorce, and Simin immediately packs up and leaves for her mother’s house. Termeh decides to stay with her father Nader. Simin’s absence from the home leaves Nader with no choice but to hire a daily caretaker for his father for the hours when he, Nader, is away at work. Nader hires Razieh, a financially-strapped married woman with a young daughter and a child on the way. Nader comes home from work one day to discover Razieh gone and his father on the bedroom floor, his wrist tied to his bed. Additionally, some money is missing from a drawer, and Nader believes that Razieh has taken it. When Razieh returns to Nader’s home, tensions erupt and a physical encounter results in Razieh accusing Nader of a crime against her.
So did he or didn’t he commit the crime Razieh accuses him of? In the ensuing legal drama, the characters struggle with questions of morality, informed by societal dictates of religious and gender roles, and what it means to tell the truth. A Separation prompts us to ask: In desperate circumstances, when our backs are up against the proverbial wall, are we more likely to transgress our moral and ethical boundaries?
American viewers unfamiliar with the Iranian justice system will undoubtedly make some interesting comparisons between the American justice system and the Iranian system of justice as depicted in A Separation. Lawyers are non-existent in the film as the accuser, the accused, and witnesses battle it out with each other in front of a judge.
Simply put, A Separation is an extraordinary film, one of the best films I have ever seen. The top-rate performances alone make the film worth viewing. Particular stand-outs include Peyman Moadi as Nader; Sareh Bayat as Razieh; and Kimia Hosseini, who steals every scene she is in, as Somayeh, Razieh’s inquisitive, mischievous, and adorable daughter.
Check the WRL Catalog for A Separation
Ali Sparrow is a financially-strapped British college student who takes a year off from school to work as a nanny for the Skinners, a wealthy family living in London’s Holland Park. Nick Skinner, the patriarch of the family, is an investment banker. Nick’s wife, Bryony, is the head of her own PR company.
At the beginning of What the Nanny Saw, the Skinners are in the midst of a financial scandal and the paparazzi are camped out in front of the Skinners’ luxurious home. Nick Skinner, alleged to have committed a financial crime, has fled the home in an attempt to shield his wife and children (19-year-old Jake, 17-year-old Izzy, and 7-year-old identical twins Hector and Alfie) from the crush of the media.
Nick’s family members are unsure as to whether he is guilty of the financial crime while Nanny Ali Sparrow may have the answer. We come to discover what Ali knows as we are guided through an extended flashback of Ali’s time working for the Skinners. Our journey begins with the day Ali is hired and Ali’s recollections make up the bulk of the novel.
The promise of finding out what Ali knew with regard to Nick’s possible criminal activities is what initially attracted me to What the Nanny Saw. However, what kept me reading — or in this case, listening to the audiobook — was a story bigger than Nick’s legal troubles.
What the Nanny Saw is a story about a young woman from ordinary and humble circumstances, a young woman who is suddenly thrown into the excessive, over-the-top lives of the extraordinarily wealthy Skinners. Ali Sparrow’s attempts to navigate her way through a world in which she is seen but not seen, a world where she is a part of the family yet outside of the family, comprise the driving narrative of the story.
We sympathize with Ali Sparrow’s discomfort as she imposes Bryony Skinner’s seemingly arbitrary rules on the Skinner children – rules that may prove more harmful than good in the long run. Bryony obsesses over her children’s school grades but fails to see the obvious signs that daughter Izzy is suffering from an eating disorder. Mrs. Skinner’s concerns about outward appearances drives her to insist that twins Hector and Alfie not eat from the same plate or speak their “secret” language lest those outside the family view them as weird and start gossiping about them. Worry about appearances seems to trump any concern for the inner lives of the Skinner children. For a family so drenched in superficialities, much is brimming underneath the surface.
What the Nanny Saw allows us to take sides; however, when we have aligned ourselves with Ali in her plight with the Skinners, a revelation about Ali’s past and the reason she really left school rocks any “goody-goody” image we may have developed of her. That Ali is flawed is one of the great achievements of the novel; it prevents us from seeing Ali as positively boring or bland, especially given some of the more colorful personalities in the book.
Morality and the ways in which we justify certain actions to ourselves is one of the important themes found in What the Nanny Saw. The novel also touches upon a plethora of issues, some of which are given more consideration than others: sex trafficking and sex work, the plight of immigrant nannies, drug use and abuse, class inequities, adultery, and more.
I highly recommend What the Nanny Saw in audiobook form as narrator Allison Larkin fully embodies each character of the novel. Allison Larkin is perhaps the best audiobook narrator I have encountered thus far.
Check the WRL catalog for What the Nanny Saw
Wesley was an outcast. He had no friends, but plenty of tormentors. Once summer vacation arrived, he needed a project to keep him busy. Putting to use some of the things he learned in school, Wesley decided to build his own civilization which he called WESLANDIA! He planted a garden and with his staple crop he grew tall flowering plants that bore fruit which provided his nourishment. He devised a spinning wheel from the woody bark and wove himself clothing from the plants fibers. Soon, his classmates who once mocked him became interested in the project. Reluctantly, Wesley allowed them to help. Together they discovered games for entertainment. His parents noted an improvement in his morale. Wesley seemed happier and soon, he had no shortage of friends.
Author Paul Fleischman has created this wonderfully thought provoking story about how people fit into the world. Wesley’s character chooses not to accept rejection but to use his individuality to create something wonderful that can bring happiness to everyone. For ages 5-9, this book is perfect for the classroom and appeals to a large audience. It can be used for a variety of themes including Agriculture, Creativity and Imagination, Individuality, and Civilizations. The vocabulary used offers opportunities for students to advance their vocabulary skills by learning the meaning of words like myriad, scornful, tubers, bedlam, innovation, morale, and finale, as they’re used in text.
If this book is not already on your shelf, add it today! You won’t be sorry!
Check the WRL catalog for Weslandia.