Burro Genius – by Victor Villaseñor (2004)

Burro Genius

This is a masterful book in which the author describes his life as a young boy growing up in Oceanside, California with his parents. His father was a man with a fiery temper and a reputation of being a gangster, but also with an undying loyalty to his family and his heritage. His mother was beautiful and loving, and always teaching her children about Jesus and the saints. His father bought a ranch when Victor was very young, and that is where the book takes place.

Victor thought going to school would be fun when he started kindergarten. Instead, the first thing he learned in school was that he was considered inferior and stupid because of his Mexican ancestry.  Both the teacher and the other students made life miserable for him. He was teased, bullied, slapped around and beaten up, and no one seemed to care. To make matters worse, he was having a terrible time learning the alphabet and simple words.

Things were just as bad when he got to first grade, second grade, and third grade. He was forced to endure the humiliation of repeating third grade because he still was unable to read. His parents tried several different schools, but it was the same wherever he went. No reading, but a lot of bullying. It was not until Victor was an adult with children of his own that he was diagnosed with the most severe form of dyslexia.

It was hard to read of such blatant racism and prejudice. I wanted to ask what on earth was wrong with those teachers and principals, that they tolerated the abuse Victor was suffering. No child should ever have to go through what Victor went through. There was a fair amount of anger and swearing in this book, but it would have been difficult to give an accurate portrayal of Victor’s family life without the language.  There were also tender moments, when Victor’s father shared some very profound thoughts about forgiveness. Although it was a rough story with raw emotion, it was a camera into the soul of a person who has battled the devil of prejudice and racism, and won.

 

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Shared Reading

2018-04-28 sunshine coffee Burro Genius

It’s the perfect Saturday morning. Having had a full night of sleep, I awoke to bright sunshine streaming into the kitchen. What better way to start off the day than with a steaming mug of coffee, sunshine bouncing off orange walls, and a book in the hand! As my husband and son wandered past and saw what I was reading, it set off a discussion about the story. It was a biography, but some of it seemed exaggerated, I said. Did these things really happen? Was the father a mobster, or did he just embellish certain things? As my husband and my son told me what they remembered from reading the book (as well as one of the author’s other books), the thought struck me: we are an unusual family.

Yes, we are unusualmaybe even what some people would call a little weird. The three of us have actually all read the same book. In fact, one other son has read the book too. So that makes four people in our family who have picked up “Burro Genius” and read it. What are the chances of that?

It occurred to me that part of the joy of reading is being able to talk about what you’ve read with other readers of the same book – sharing what you liked or disliked, what struck you as odd, and what part of the book mirrored your own life or someone else’s. No wonder I love reading aloud to my grandson about Ralph the mouse and his motorcycle, or co-reading “Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer” with my granddaughter. Some things are just better when shared with someone else.

Back To Mitford

2017-12-11 hexagon flower pillowcases

It’s that time of the year – the Christmas season – when many people totally abandon reading. Not enough time, they say. Too much to do. Can’t concentrate when I have so many things on the mind. My suggestion: listen to audio-books while you work!

I’ve been listening to the latest Mitford novel in the kitchen while I work on hand-sewing projects. It feels like visiting with an old friend. Most of the characters from Jan Karon’s earlier novels are in the book (some have died over the years). There’s Father Tim, who is fully retired now, his artistic wife, and their grown son Dooley, who has married and is now a licensed veterinarian. The small town of Mitford has the same favorite places – the diner, local grocery store, the Cavanaugh house, etc. The book makes you feel like you’re back home after being away for a while.

I also listen while making supper and folding laundry. There’s just nothing like having a good book read to you while you do your hands-on work. You can listen on an old-fashioned CD player (yes, they are still sold) with library CDs, listen on your computer, or download books to your phone through apps like Overdrive or Hoopla. The advantage to listening on your phone is that you can just tuck it in your pocket and the story follows you wherever you go.

Give audio-books a try, and see if they keep your love of books going until things slow down enough to sit down with a physical book to read.

When Books Went To War – by Molly Guptill Manning (2014)

When Books Went To War

Did you know that during World War II, Europe lost approximately 100,000,000 printed books? It began with Hitler’s followers conducting book-burning events, targeting books by Jewish authors and books that held views different from their own. Then lists were made for the general public, advising them that they might not want to be caught during a home inspection with such books. The lists grew longer. Fear built up, and people began burning any of their own books that were deemed objectionable. As the Nazis bombed country after country, entire libraries were obliterated.

Adolph Hitler was an evil man, but he was not stupid. He realized the power of written words to motivate people, to educate and inform them, to influence the masses, and to lift discouraged spirits. Taking away books was just one of the ways he used to control and intimidate the conquered.

Then the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, and was pulled into the war. As ordinary Americans were drafted and sent for training to become soldiers, librarians across the country came up with a brilliant idea. They wanted to supply all the troops with books to keep their morale up, and to give them a diversion from the horrors of war. Publishers, librarians, Congress and ordinary citizens all worked together to supply soldiers with books, and later to help bring books to Europe.

I absolutely loved this book! It’s rare now to find people that impassioned about books and reading (which is sad).  The letters that the soldiers wrote home, describing the relief that the books brought, were heart-warming. For many, it was a life-line that helped them keep their sanity. Men who had never had an interest in reading were totally hooked on reading by the end of the war. Of all the non-fiction books I have read this past year, this was among my favorite.

 

The Season Of Thankfulness, Day 6

 

2015-01-04 bookshelf b

It’s something we take for granted – the ability to read. We use the gift of literacy to get a high school diploma then hopefully a college degree. We use it to communicate with co-workers every day  by e-mail. When we’re in need of a different car, we read safety reviews to help us in our decision. As our kids grow, we read up on how to raise them well. If our laptop starts malfunctioning, chances are we google the problem, and find solutions to get it working again. When the doctor gives us a diagnosis we don’t like, we research the condition online to get the full scope of the situation, and possible cures. And when we’re tired from a long day, some of us curl up with a good book and travel to the land of fiction.

Reading isn’t always a solitary experience. Some of my best memories from elementary school are when the teacher would read a book, a chapter each day (sometimes two if we begged enough). As a young adult, I and several friends read through books aloud in our apartment, taking turns reading. And in Bible study groups, we read from the Bible together.

Whatever your experience is with reading – whether you love it or struggle with it – it still is a gift to be grateful for.

 

Are Church Libraries Dead?

church library
photo credit: http://www.churchofisrael.info/office.htm

I can still remember the church library of my childhood (well, middle school, actually). It was fairly large, with well-stocked, orderly shelves and two dedicated volunteers every week. Often I would get there before the doors were unlocked, and would wait with several other people for the wooden doors to be opened. Once inside, I was lost in the rows of titles that beckoned me. What should I pick? One or two books this week? Sometimes it would be something already read, but that didn’t matter. It was like greeting an old friend. I loved the smell of the wooden shelves and the book ink, the feel of the soft pages under my fingertips, and the hushed sounds of people checking out or exclaiming over a book they found. The library volunteers often had to hurry people out as the worship service started up.

As an adult, I’ve attended a variety of churches, and few of them have libraries. My current church has a tiny library, which has been going for about 30 years or so. It’s only about ten feet by ten feet, with bookshelves along the walls. There used to be a lot of people who stopped in it to grab some reading material. There were even middle school and high-schoolers who came in and picked out books. Biographies, encouraging non-fiction, Bible study books, and tons of Christian fiction. Yes, business in our little library was booming.

But churches and culture have changed dramatically in the past twenty-five years. Now we have 250+ channels on TV, Amazon Prime movies, Hulu Plus, Netflix, video games, Facebook, cell phones, and Youtube on high-speed internet. These pastimes have introduced us to sensational, fast-paced excitement that is difficult to match with a book. Even among the people that still read, they seem to want more language and smutty content. They’ve gotten used to it in their movies and tv shows, and they now find “clean” reads too boring.

These days, our little church library is barely used, which I don’t think is unusual. Church libraries seem to be on their last mile, just a step behind the Christian bookstores that have gone out of business. We are told that churches have to be willing to change and adapt to reach the newer generations of attendees. That is true. We can’t live in the past. Out with the old, in with the new. But still – I feel great sadness for the demise of church libraries.

The Pigeon Wants To Know

2017 pigeon hey what are you reading

I found this bookmark in a library book, and had to smile. Ah, that lovable pigeon! The one that wants to drive a school-bus. The one that refuses to go to bed. The one that’s dying to have a puppy. The one trying to avoid the nightly bath.

The Pigeon Wants A Puppy

So what ARE you reading this summer? If you shrugged and said “I dunno”, start off by picking up one of the Mo Willem’s pigeon books and reading it aloud to a child. That’ll put you in a happy state of mind, and you’ll start looking for another book to read. And that, my friends, is the pigeon’s sneaky plan…