Saving the bees/schools/world

I’ve just finished reading The Summer We Saved the Bees, Robin Stevenson’s fun and quirky novel about an eco-extreme mom who sews costumes for her children and sets off across the country to do performance art, save the bees, and save the world. The book is narrated by the tween son, Wolf, who — though dedicated to the continued pollination of plants — would rather not appear in public dressed as an insect.

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I loved the book, mostly because with just a small increase in my anxiety level, and a tiny decrease in my inhibitions, I could totally be that mom. I am one mild brain injury away from buying a camper van and setting off for the legislature to do performance art about seismically upgrading our schools. (None of which have had upgrades funded in the last six months, incidentally, because the province and the VSB are fighting again.)

Wouldn’t it be effective if we took all the kids at risk of being crushed by their schools and lined them up like dead bodies on the legislature lawn?

But… um… yes. I do realize the issues with that, and don’t really want to petrify and/or mortify my children, and therefore will not be enlisting them as performance artists anytime soon.

But here’s to all the moms who desperately want to save the bees/schools/world in any way possible.

The book’s a fantastic read, even if you’re not as neurotic as I am.

Neighbourhood watch

I’m baking cookies for the neighbours.

Earlier this week, Min was bravely coaching soccer in the pouring rain. Two parents failed to show up to collect their sons, so he stood in the rain a little longer than usual. Meanwhile, our house alarm had gone off. We have a security company that’s supposed to show up within five minutes, but it seems they were a little slow on this particular evening and our neighbours from both sides turned up to check the doors and windows and scout the backyard.

And where was I during all this chaos?

In a coffee shop, enjoying my book.

See, I was in charge of driving my daughter and her friend to soccer that night, but I don’t actually know how to play soccer, and it was raining, and the coffee shop down the street seemed so quiet and inviting…

I am not very helpful in a crisis. But I do make good cookies, and hopefully they will make up for everything.

The reading tally

I was SO CLOSE to my 75-book goal for last year. I tried a final sprint to the finish line, but then the kids were off school and snowshoeing called and… 73.

It’s really all Naomi Klein‘s fault. (Though she was worth it.)

I read 12 non-fiction books. The ones with the biggest impact were This Changes Everything and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I read the two at the same time, and it was a nice balance. That is to say, Big Magic kept me from jumping off a cliff while I struggled through This Changes Everything.

Other non-fiction books I loved: Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, about Edward Snowden; Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets, about a tiny region in France that sheltered Jewish refugees during World War II; and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about a community in the slums of Mumbai. All amazing books, well worth any reading-goal delays.

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In the world of adult fiction (20 books), I loved Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. If you haven’t read it, you should get a copy immediately.

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The rest of my books were middle-grade and young adult fiction (41). And I have so many favourites in that category, it’s hard to choose. Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle, definitely, because of its wonderful mash-up of realistic romance and inventive sci-fi. Also Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener (deliciously creepy) and Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger (contemporary perfection). For the younger set, I choose Jordan Stratford’s The Case of the Missing Moonstone, which made me wish I lived in London in the early 1800s. In a house with a maid, a butler, and a hot-air balloon.

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I’ve been reading up a storm these last few weeks. My tracking website predicts I’ll hit 123 books this year. But let’s keep our expectations realisttic and say 74, shall we? If you have recommendations for me, leave me a comment.

My reading friends, may every rainy day in 2016 find you curled on a window seat with a cup of tea and the perfect book.

The Christmas list

I realize that little ones aren’t usually my department, but I’ve read three brilliant books lately and I thought I’d share. Just in case you have Christmas shopping still to do…

When Santa Was A Baby
By Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
Sweet and funny, and the kind of holiday book you can read over and over to your kid without throwing up. (A category smaller than one might think.) As a baby and then as a young child, Santa shows some unique traits — a love of chimneys, for example, and a passion for building toys. His parents make all sorts of guesses for his future. They’re wrong, of course, but the fact that the reader knows more than Santa’s parents is part of the fun.

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Bug in a Vacuum
By Melanie Watt
Again, a picture book that’s designed just as much for the parent as it is for the preschooler. This poor housefly sucked into the vacuum cleaner goes through each of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief before achieving paradise. Which sounds rather awful when I put it like that, but the book is hilarious. Trust me.

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Audrey (Cow)
By Dan Bar-el
In this chapter book, Audrey learns about her upcoming trip to the slaughterhouse and, with the help of her farmyard friends, hatches a plan to save herself. But that’s beside the point. The book is funny and wise and the sort of story that could solve all the world’s problems if only everyone would read it. So not only should you buy it for your favourite elementary-school student, you should also buy it for your great uncle who says the UN should build a wall around Syria, and for your aunt who starts every sentence with “I’m not one to gossip, but…” And then you should buy an extra copy for yourself. It’s that good.

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Happy shopping!

This Changes Everything

I’m behind on my 75-book reading goal for the year, and it’s all Naomi Klein’s fault. I read This Changes Everything, and it took me forever to get through it.

It took so long because (a) Naomi Klein books read like gluten-free bread, dense and chewy, but probably good for you; (b) because she packs an encyclopedia’s worth of research into every chapter; and (c) because I kept collapsing onto my bed like a suicidal slug after every second page.

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Min thought I was getting sick for a while, because he kept finding me in my slug-like state and I didn’t want to admit I was reading this particular book because I knew he would suggest that I, say, STOP READING and thus stop feeling so defeated. But, I’d heard that the second half of the book was more hopeful than the first, and I felt that if a brilliant thinker like Naomi Klein could dedicate years of her life to researching climate change, the least I could do was read her work. Oh, and maybe stop driving my car.

I will summarize the first half of the book for you, in case you don’t have access to antidepressants and thus can’t read it yourself. It says: Hell + Handbasket.

Also, there are a lot of scary deadlines. Like, RIGHT NOW. Stop oil subsidies, divest, create local economies, end globalization, develop renewable energy sources, and get crackin’ THIS AFTERNOON. Tomorrow morning’s too late.

Plus, if you drive a car, you would have owned slaves if you lived a couple hundred years ago.

(Yeesh, even the summary of this stuff is a big sack of suck.)

Okay, onto the second half. By continuing to pillage with wanton disregard for people and the environment, oil companies have lost their social licence to operate. There are grassroots movements around the world mobilizing against these companies, and against the governments (including ours) that have been corrupted by oil money.

So that’s more hopeful.

And I have to say, having finished the book, I’m now reading the news differently. It’s as if every protest and petition is one more step in a global movement toward greater equality and sustainability.

At least, I hope it each protest is another step. Because otherwise, I’m the slug that’s stuck inside the handbasket, and I now know exactly where I’m heading.

(Incidentally, there’s a lovely article by one of my favourite activist-writers, Tzeporeh Berman, posted on the National Observer site this week, which offers us Canadians reason to hope.)

Vancouver Writers Fest!!!

Let me apologize now for the three exclamation marks in the title of this post. But… the Vancouver Writers Fest!!! (Oops… did it again. Sorry.)

I’m so excited to be a part of the festival this year. And, as the catalogue has just arrived in my mailbox, it must be time to share a little news about my presentations.

DNA Detective
Wednesday, October 21, 10 – 11:15 a.m.
In this DNA Detective talk for students in grades 5 through 8, I tell stories about the deranged and obsessed people who figured out how DNA actually works. (One of them drank hydrochloric acid.) We explore the wild and wacky side of DNA mishaps, cloning, and woolly-mammoth reconstruction, consider the pros and cons of glowing goldfish, and wonder how Icelanders avoid marrying their cousins.

Against All Odds
Wednesday, October 21, 1 – 2:30 p.m.
This is a panel discussion with Michel Chikwanine, moderated by Shannon Ozirny. Michel was kidnapped by rebel Congolese soldiers when he was five, taken to the jungle, and trained as a child soldier. I am… providing comic relief? Because the closest I’ve come to a survival situation was Metrotown Mall on Boxing Day. BUT, I did write When the Worst Happens, which is all about how our body and brain handle crisis situations, how to control panic and take action, and how to survive just about anything. Except maybe rebel Congolese soldiers. (I may simply stare at Michel in awe during this hour. But you can join me.)

There are many more events that I’m dying to attend, so hopefully I’ll see you on Granville Island in October! (There. I’m down to one exclamation mark. How sedate of me.)

Breaking up

You know when a friend tells you that you have to read a particular book?

So you pick up the book and you start to read and it’s horrible, but your friend recommended it so it must get better, and you keep reading and reading and waiting and reading? And it never gets better?

And then you start to think that if your friend thought you would love this book, maybe your friend doesn’t understand you at all?

And then you think it’s possible that you can’t be friends anymore with someone who would think you could love this book?

Reading is dangerous like that.

The sassy soldier

My friend Leanne and I were seated beside an elderly woman at the elementary school’s volunteer tea. Leanne chatted her up, and soon we were both holding copies of her book.

Doris Gregory is 94. She’d just returned from a book fair in Victoria, where she’d met the lieutenant governor.

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Leanne flipped through her book, and pointed to a photo of Doris and a young soldier.

“Was this your boyfriend?” she teased.

“One of them,” Doris said. “There were a hundred of us dropped into a camp of more than a thousand men. We got plenty of attention.”

So of course we bought her books. As a young student journalist, Doris raged against gender-segregated English classes at UBC. As a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, she crossed the U-boat-patrolled Atlantic, survived air raids, and worked in various war offices. Her stories, as she takes on everything from war bureaucracy to unwanted pregnancy, are smart, witty, and insightful.

Doris eventually returned home to finish her degree, pursue a fellowship, and become a psychologist.

Her book is called How I Won the War for the Allies: One Sassy Canadian Soldier’s Story. I dislike the word “sassy” in the title; I feel as if it lessens Doris’s accomplishments. But she’s a wonderful writer, and I loved every other word in the book.

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If Doris is sassy, I can only hope to be so when I’m 94.

Random Monday

This is a Random Monday post, in the tradition of Eileen Cook (who, incidentally, has a new book out).

* I went for my first swim of the season at Jericho this weekend. I think there was an iceberg just out of sight, sending a current of Arctic meltwater directly to where I was swimming.

* My daughter competed in her first Tri-Kids triathlon on Sunday. She did great, but I was so nervous for her that I felt, afterwards, as if I had run my own triathlon.

* I have fallen entirely in love with Andrew Smith. I read Grasshopper Jungle earlier this year and I finished 100 Sideways Miles over the weekend. They are both brilliant.

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I am now off to write a not-so-brilliant first draft. But there’s always hope, yes? Onwards…

Violence Speaks

My daughter was going to review The Enchanted Egg, the second book in Kallie George’s Magical Animal Adoption Agency series. In fact, Kallie gave her an advance reading copy just for that purpose. But Violence stole the book from Silence’s room before she’d had a chance to read it. (Yeesh. Who would steal a book from a child’s room?) Well, since he stole the book, he’s the one who will be reviewing this week. Here are Violence’s thoughts on The Enchanted Egg:

In this story there’s a new egg in the agency that hasn’t hatched yet. Clover and Mr. Jams still don’t know exactly what kind it is, but they are taking care of it anyway. One day when Mr. Jams has left to save another animal, Clover wakes up to find that the egg has cracked open, but where is the animal? Will Clover find the animal before Mr. Jams comes back?

I think this book is great because of all the animals. The fire salamanders are my favourites, but I don’t think my mom would let me have a fire salamander.

5/5 stars