Buying Books For A Good Cause

The past few days have been rough (I don’t need to tell you why, do I?) and I’ve been doing anything I can think of to take positive, helpful action as a citizen of this country and the world.  My sanity strategy is partly self-care, partly taking care of others.  To that end, tonight I went with my son to Barnes and Noble and bought a whole mess o’ books for needy kids!  It was FUN!

See, my library system’s Friends of the Library organization is collecting new and very gently used children’s books for underprivileged families.  Our community does this huge food giveaway at Christmas called the Empty Stocking Fund, and the Friends are providing a book or two to every person who gets a food box.  They’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and it’s proven very successful.  Bookstores are few and far between in the area, and even if a needy person can get to one they may not be able to afford to buy anything. Libraries are absolutely vital, but it’s also just so wonderful to be able to have books of one’s own in the home to read over and over again.  I know that as a child my books were among my most prized possessions.

So I went a little crazy tonight and made some fun purchases.  I bought board books for babies and toddlers, a couple of beginning reader/chapter books, and some books for middle grade readers.  Here are my pics:


I made sure to choose some authors of color here too!  Seriously, Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy is one of my very favorite books and you should all read it!

When I got to the register, the cashier was so excited about my purchases, exclaiming that I’d gotten some of her favorite childhood books.  She also pointed out to me that our local Barnes and Noble is doing a book drive for a charitable organization called Mission of Hope, which provides Christmas gifts for needy Appalachian kids.  So I bought another book at the register for that!

My point with all of this is not to get a cookie for my actions, but only to say that if you’re feeling anxious or sad or angry about what has transpired in the last week, or even if you’re not, there are so many opportunities for doing good.  Perhaps your local Barnes and Noble (or other bookstore) is doing a similar book drive for the holidays?  Check with your public library’s Friends of the Library organization and see if they’re collecting books for kids.  Or maybe there’s a Boys and Girls Club nearby who could use some new books for their collection.  We are stronger when we take care of one another, and what better way to channel your love of reading than to provide books to kids?  I wholeheartedly believe that reading fosters empathy and understanding.  So let’s try to get books into the hands of kids and grow some compassionate, educated kids, okay?  As one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, says, “Onward!”


Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend to everyone.  (How often do you get to say that?)  It’s a middle-grade novel, published in 2000, and it won the Pura Belpré award, which is the award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. (From the ALA website: The award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.)  I chose this because I was prompted by Naz’s excellent Latinx Heritage Month posts at Read Diverse Books.  This engaging, warm-hearted novel not only made me feel, it made me think, opening my eyes to a chapter of American history I’d regretfully never been aware of.

esperanza_rising_coverEsperanza, a young girl about to turn twelve in 1930, is the daughter of a wealthy Mexican rancher.  She has only ever known a life of privilege, with dresses and dolls and servants to help her bathe and dress.  She is only vaguely aware of the “bandits” who roam the outskirts of the ranch, robbing and killing wealthy landowners.  Esperanza’s mother tells her that even though her father is kind and has given his workers land, many people are still upset about the slow pace of change after the Mexican Revolution ten year before. Esperanza thinks that her father will be saved by his kindness.  But very early on in the book, her father is indeed killed by bandits, and that sets in motion the events of the story.

She and her mother, along with their most trusted servants, end up having to escape one of her father’s evil relatives to a life in a farm camp in California.  It is a dramatically different existence than the one she grew up in.  She has to not only adjust to small and spare living quarters but also an entirely new mindset to survive. Esperanza doesn’t know how to do basic chores, like sweep, wash clothes, or change the diaper of a baby that shares their living space, much less work in fields picking grapes and peaches.  She has to learn not only how to work hard but to adjust her mentality to not condescend to the people she is now among.

Ryan portrays Esperanza not as a spoiled brat but as a sympathetic young woman who is overwhelmed by but trying to understand the difficult changes in her life.  Esperanza meets a girl in a nearby camp named Marta, who is allied with a group of workers who are threatening a labor strike to get better living conditions.  Through Marta the reader learns that the Filipinos, Japanese, and Okies (people from Oklahoma) all live in different camps.

“They don’t want us banding together for higher wages or better housing,” said Marta.  The owners think if Mexicans have no hot water, that we won’t mind as long as we think no one has any.  They don’t want us talking to the Okies from Oklahoma or anyone else because we might discover that they have hot water.  See?”       

This brings me to the most surprising thing I learned from this book.  I can’t recall ever reading or hearing about this in any of my history classes in high school or college.  As Ryan wrote in her author’s note at the end,

The Mexican Repatriation was very real and an often overlooked part of our history.  In March of 1929, the federal government passed the Deportation Act that gave counties the power to send great numbers of Mexicans back to Mexico.  government officials though this would solve the unemployment associated with the Great Depression (it didn’t.)  County officials in Los Angels, California organized “deportation trains” and the Immigration Bureau made sweeps in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles, arresting anyone who looked Mexican, regardless of whether or not they were citizens or in the United States legally.  Many of those sent to Mexico were native-born United States citizens and had never been to Mexico.  … It  was the largest involuntary migration in the United States up to that time.  Between 1929 and 1935 at least 450,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans were sent back to Mexico.  Some historians think that numbers were closer to a million.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I had no idea that this happened.  We see local officials in the novel make these deportation sweeps, and some characters are in the thick of the chaos.  After I finished reading this, I googled “Mexican Repatriation” and found an interesting NPR interview with Francisco Balderrama,  the co-author of  Decade Of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation In The 1930s.  It illuminates more of the history of this dark chapter of America’s past.  Another link I found is from Yes! magazine, and it appears that a fifth-grade class in Los Angeles conducted a letter-writing campaign that resulted in a bill passed to make teaching of the Mexican Repatriation part of California curriculum.

I am grateful to this novel for enlightening me on a shameful part of our nation’s past, and I also happened to enjoy the reading experience tremendously.  Despite the challenges Esperanza and her family and friends face, this book is not despairing.  It has a lyrical, hopeful quality, with Ryan structuring the chapters by the fruits and vegetables that the farm workers are picking and the seasons’ natural rhythms.  Based on Ryan’s own grandmother’s true story, this is an excellent, fast-paced historical novel for children and adults alike, and a terrific jumping off point for further discussion and education.


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Middle Grade Books I Picked Up on a Whim

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish, is Top Ten Books I Picked Up on a Whim.   I don’t know why I have a problem defining “whim,” but I do.  With a Goodreads TBR of over 600 titles (YEAH I KNOW,) I am almost always choosing my next read from that massive list.  (I do go with what I feel like reading at that moment, so I guess that could be called a “whim?”  But it doesn’t feel “whim-ish” enough to me.)  And being a book blogger has only exacerbated my knowledge of books before I pick them up in my hands.  I am not very good at going to the shelf and choosing a book at random, based solely on the cover or the blurb on the jacket.  I have the weight of that TBR behind me.

However, I seem to be able to choose more freely when it comes to juvenile/middle-grade novels.  I like to read those every now and then, for novelty and to be able to make recommendations to library patrons.  And because they’re fun!  I will semi-regularly go to the shelves at the library where I work and select a random book.  Maybe I consider these relatively low-stakes, because they don’t take much time to read, and because I don’t have to CRAZY LOVE them to be able to recommend them to kids.  A three-star middle-grade read is one I would still put in a kid’s hands.  (I think three-star reviews are still positive, but that’s a topic for another post, isn’t it?)

So without further ado, here is a list of ten juvenile/middle-grade books I picked up on a whim that really enjoyed!

  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.  I only knew that it was kinda like the Little House on the Prairie books and that my co-worker read and loved it as a kid.  It’s set in 1860s Wisconsin and it’s so charming.  Caddie is feisty and kind of a tomboy.51bGb0YHUoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.  I LOVE THIS BOOK.  I listened to the audio, which is stellar (and read by James Avery, who you may know as the dad on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.)  I chose it because it’s a Newberry winner and by an author of color.  I highly recommend it.  It’s really funny and touching.
  • The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm. The Goodreads blurb: Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?  I really enjoyed this warm-hearted, smart read, and think it would appeal to both boys and girls.BudNotBuddy2

Other great juvenile/middle-grade books I picked up on a whim and enjoyed:

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell

The Egypt Game by  Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

6609748The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

So tell me – are you good at choosing books on a whim?  Or are you beholden to your TBR like I am?  Am I overthinking the word “whim?” Let me know how you define it, or give me a title that you chose randomly and really enjoyed.