The Kindly Isle – by Frederik Pohl (1984)

Platinum Pohl    Year's Best

“The Kindly Isle” is a Cold-War-era short story written by the prolific author Frederik Pohl. The main character, Jerry Wenright, works for a hotel chain, which sends him to resorts that are up for sale. Jerry inspects the properties, assesses their worth, and makes recommendations to the company about whether it is worth buying or not. In the story, he is sent to an island in the Caribbean area to check out a vacation resort that was started but never finished. On the island, he spots a scientist that he suspects of biological terrorism, which makes him very uneasy. But he also meets a lovely woman who has arrived on one of the cruise ships.

The tale ended with a twist that I totally did not suspect. I quite enjoyed this little gem of a story! Where can you find this story? It is included in the book “Platinum Pohl”. Check with your local public library. If they no longer have a copy, you can buy it as a Kindle e-book.
https://www.amazon.com/Platinum-Pohl-Collected-Best-Stories-ebook/dp/B008YHUTNY/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=platinum+pohl&qid=1568822212&s=books&sr=1-1

The story can also be found in “Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection”, compiled by Gardner Dozois. You can get it from Barnes & Noble’s website:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-years-best-science-fiction-dozois-gardner/1111742882?ean=9781466807310

You can also get it as a Kindle e-book:
https://www.amazon.com/Years-Best-Science-Fiction-Collection-ebook/dp/B006ZMR68Q/ref=sr_1_10?keywords=the+year%27s+best+science+fiction+second+annual+collection&qid=1568821904&s=books&sr=1-10

Anyway you can find it, this is a sweet story.

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Third-Grade Reading

We have a reading crisis in this country. By third grade, kids should have the basics of reading mastered. They should have moved from the “learning to read” stage to “reading to learn”.  Teachers work on reading, spelling, and comprehension with their students every day, and constantly remind parents to read with their children at home. Tutors spend extra time working with kids who are struggling. There are computer games and phone apps to boost reading skills. Public libraries across the country lend books out to people at no cost. With all these ways to help kids learn to read, it would seem like every third-grader would be a fantastic reader.

Even with all this help, less than half of the third-grade students in my state are reading proficiently. Less than half! The kids that have not caught up by the end of this school year will have to repeat third grade, according to a new law. This will be a nightmare for schools. Imagine the fourth-grade classes being very small, while the third-grade classes are oversized. Up till now, most students that were not proficient in their reading skills were simply passed and received tutoring. Will the new law help push the kids and their parents to work harder on reading? Maybe, maybe not.

But why are reading scores so low? I think the answer is simple: there are so many other things kids would rather be doing, that reading gets pushed to the back burner. We have after-school sports and other clubs, social media to keep up with, video games to play, Netflix to binge-watch, and a host of other distractions. The average person simply doesn’t have time to read anymore. Adults have the same affliction. Between working, shuttling their kids from activity to activity, and doing housework and yard maintenance, they are too exhausted to do anything at the end of the day besides flop on the couch, watch tv, and check Facebook and their other social media accounts. Interesting as social media may be, it really doesn’t count as reading.

It’s a very discouraging situation, but with American culture the way it is, I don’t see most people changing their habits anytime soon. They are just too in love with their electronic toys to go back to a lifestyle that includes more reading. It’s the sad truth.

Ice Bound – by Dr. Jerri Nielsen (2001)

Ice Bound.jpg

Ready for a true story that will chill you to your bones? It doesn’t get much chillier than Antarctica. At a low point in her personal life, Jerri Nielsen made the decision to apply for the position of doctor at a South Pole research station. The continent was entirely covered with ice, and had temperatures that sank to 100 degrees below zero. It was owned by no country, was inhabited only by scientific teams, and was impossible to land a plane on for two-thirds of the year. While Jerri’s father was doubtful about the job, her mom thought it was a great idea:

“My mother, typically, was excited. She thought I needed an adventure at this time in my life. She believed that when things were really in the dumps, you were better off not going down the same path repeatedly, trying to make small adjustments. You needed a total paradigm shift, a new hypothesis, in order to make discoveries. And, speaking as a psychologist, she felt that if my kids saw me strong and in a new life, they might have the courage to come back to me. She believed that children instinctively ally themselves with the more powerful parent. It all added up, and Mom was very clear: You’d be nuts not to go, Duff.”

So Jerri went to the South Pole. It was exciting work, but also exhausting. Because the air was so thin, it took some time for her body to adjust. She was the only doctor in the compound, and she had other duties on top of her medical ones. Just about the time she felt acclimated to Antarctica, she found out she had cancer. What happens when the only doctor on the continent needs a doctor?

What I enjoyed most about this book were the descriptions of everyday life, of how they rationed water and electricity, and how they managed to keep themselves warm in the coldest place on earth.

Eventown – by Corey Ann Haydu (2019)

Eventown

This book starts out feeling like a cross between the movies “Stepford Wives” and “Pleasantville”. Eleven-year-old twin sisters Elodee and Naomi leave their hometown of Jupiter, and move with their parents to Eventown. There are no phones, televisions, or computers. They spend the first few days thinking they’re in paradise – no stress or conflict or unpleasantness. Everyone agrees with everyone else, acts the same, and is polite to a tee. The kids all love school! Something is definitely wrong in this town.

Alarm bells go off in Elodee’s mind when she visits the library and discovers that every book is blank. And what’s up with those mandatory interviews at the Welcoming Center? Her sister Naomi seems different after her interview. Elodee completes only half of her interview, at which time she figures out what is going on in Eventown.

 

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

 

In the end, you find out that the town has been set up as a refuge for families who have gone through a severe life trauma. As they are interviewed at the Welcoming Center, their memories of life before coming to Eventown are erased. They no longer feel the sadness or anger or anxiety they once felt. They are in a safe, predictable place where they can live happily every after. The question is: If you erase all the painful parts of life, can you fully enjoy being human?

Although this book is written for kids, it covers some deep topics – sibling relationships, family crisis, mind manipulation, depression, and death. The farther you get into the story, the more serious it becomes. The youngest reader age I would recommend is 5th grade.

My Year In The Middle – by Lila Quintero Weaver (2018)

My Year In The Middle

Lu Olivera is constantly in the middle of things. It’s 1970 in Alabama, and the public schools have just been integrated. In her 6th grade room, the white kids are seated to one side, the black kids to the other side, and hispanics and “others” occupy the middle section.  There’s also a political divide. Governor Albert Brewer is running against George Wallace. Some of the students’ families support Brewer, some support Wallace. Then there’s the rivalry between their school and the neighboring school, against which they will be competing on Field Day. And of course there are circles of friends at school that don’t get along with different circles of friends.

It’s a confusing world. Why does everyone have to be so divided? Thankfully, Lu has caring parents, a protective older sister, and kind neighbors that give her a solid base while she grapples with the issues of race, politics, and just plain meanness.

The book was inspired by the author’s own experience of coming to the United States from the country of Argentina. Although Lu and the town in the story are fictional, the racial tension and the political campaign are true. This novel is a good read for anyone 4th grade through adult.

The Pigeon HAS To Go To School – by Mo Willems (2019)

The Pigeon Has To Go To School

In honor of the first day of school for most kids, I’m featuring this Mo Willems book. It’s about everyone’s favorite cranky pigeon. You know, the one who didn’t want to take a bath. The one who insisted on getting a puppy, only to discover that he was terrified by his new pet. The one who resisted going to bed. And the one who begged and pleaded to drive the bus!

Now the time has come for the pigeon’s first day of school, and the little guy is very nervous. He thinks of everything that could go wrong, and tries to get out of going. Kids of all ages can relate to the pigeon’s mental agony. But in the end, the pigeon decides to dive in and enjoy the experience. This book helps remind readers that on the first day of school, everyone is a little bit nervous, and that’s okay.

Lucky Broken Girl – by Ruth Behar (2017)

Lucky Broken Girl

Most of us don’t give our ability to stand upright and walk a second thought. We do it without thinking. We just assume that we’ll be able to navigate around the house, through the local park, and wherever we need to go at work or school. But imagine that you’ve been in a car accident so severe that one of your legs is horribly broken. You’ve been placed in a body cast that extends from your mid-torso to the bottom of both feet. The orthopedic surgeon explains that although only one of your legs is broken, both legs need to be immobilized to keep one from becoming longer than the other. Now imagine being stuck in this situation for nearly a year.

In this novel, 5th-grader Ruthie has been in a serious car accident that leaves her in the condition just described. As time goes on, she finds her world shrinking down to just the bedroom she lives in. When it seems that she might never be able to live a normal life again, the love and care of her Cuban-American immigrant family surrounds and encourages her. The book is based on a similar period of time in the author’s life, when she also was restricted to bed for almost a year as her leg healed. If you enjoy reading realistic fiction about tight-knit families, this is a must-read book.