Oct 1, 2014

The Art of Flying by Judy Hoffman

I've mentioned before how much I like to read books that feel appropriate for the season. I've been known to plan out my reading months in advance just so that the proper book coincides with the proper time of year (more on that later this week).

However, other times I begin a book without knowing much about it beforehand . . . certainly not enough to know whether it is best read in September or February or June. So it makes me feel a little giddy when I start one of those books and realize a few chapters in that I couldn't have picked a better time of year for it. Such are the pleasures of a book nerd.

And such was the case with this book.

My reading of the synopsis didn't tell me that the story would take place in November with blustery winds and chill rains nor that the two old ladies would, in fact, turn out to be witches nor that a mangy black crow with a missing eye would be a loyal (and disloyal, depending on who you asked) sidekick. Yet all these things instantly flavored the book to make it perfect for autumn.

The story begins with Fortuna, an eleven-year-old girl who hesitantly offers her help to Selena and Ellie, the old Baldwin sisters. The Baldwin's house has always held a strange, spooky appeal to the neighborhood kids, but Fortuna is still surprised when she finds out they are real, honest-to-goodness witches and that they (accidentally, of course) turned a small bird into a small boy.

Now they need to transform him back before they get into big trouble with the CUE (that would be, the Council of Unnatural Events). But Martin, as they've dubbed the boy/bird, isn't so ready to be changed back. The Baldwins hope Fortuna can befriend him and thereby convince him to return to his life in the trees. But complications arise, not the least of which being that after a couple of days, Fortuna isn't entirely sure if she wants to help Martin turn back into a bird.

I quite liked the setting and the plot, and it was the perfect dose of fantasy for me: magical elements (the witches, Fortuna's notebook, the ability to fly) mixed in with normal happenings (annoying brothers, breakfast, school break). I know it's the kind of book I would have loved as a kid.

At first, I also loved the characters (Fortuna was spunky, Selena was severe, Macabra was cunning), but after awhile I felt like something was missing. By the end of the book, I'd landed upon three reasons for that dissatisfied feeling:

First, the narrative, while not exactly shifting viewpoints, didn't always stay with Fortuna. Thus, it left me feeling a bit confused. Sometimes I felt loyal to Fortuna, but then she was in bed sleeping, and all this other action was taking place, and suddenly I wondered if the story was really about Selena. There were moments when it seemed like Fortuna's presence was an afterthought--almost like, Oh yeah, she's the main character, I guess she better make an appearance even though everything is progressing smoothly without her.

Second, the details didn't always match up. For example, for most of the book, all we know about Fortuna's father is that he plays the trumpet for a living, but from all appearances (he's usually sleeping or practicing the trumpet), he seems to be a pretty easygoing guy. Then, suddenly at the end of the book, we get this other piece of him that doesn't jive with the rest of his character. He comes in from cleaning the garage, rather annoyed that no one is helping him, and says, "Fortuna--I don't see your bike anywhere. Did you leave it at someone's house again?" And then this observation: "He was really strict about them taking care of their possessions." And I thought, What? You mean this trumpet-playing, easygoing father is actually a stickler for order and organization? It was a small detail but one that seemed completely unfounded given the rest of the story.

Finally, for me, the character of Martin was rather empty, and it unfortunately made the rest of the book fall a little flat. Most of the time, he seemed like a shell with absolutely no personality. But then he would do things like squeeze Fortuna's hand or call her by her nickname, and that kind of emotional connection felt superficial.

All that being said, I would most definitely recommend this book to kids. Like I said before, it's the kind of story I would have loved at age nine or ten. And it's a book I'll definitely share with my oldest son in a year or two . . . in October, of course.

Many thanks to Disney-Hyperion for the review copy. All opinions are decidedly and definitely my own.

Sep 29, 2014

Little Improvements

Remember how we bought a house back in March? Some of you have wondered why I never gave a grand tour (although plenty of posts have featured the bright green walls in our kitchen, and let's not forget that you've also seen the whiteboard in the basement AND the backyard full of spring flowers).

It's not that I'm opposed to sharing pictures of our house. In fact, I still love it just as much (no, even more) as the day we moved in.

But . . . the truth is, I'm a painfully slow decorator; I have a really hard time making decisions, plus I don't have an eye for what looks good. I've just been hoping that someone from HGTV would show up on my doorstep offering to give my home a full makeover, but so far, no luck.

So I finally decided to tackle one thing that's been bothering me (the improvement of which was within the budget): the blank living room wall.

When we first moved in, it looked like this:


I couldn't stand the color of the walls, and so we painted them within the first week. Midway through the process, our living room looked like this, leading to the aforementioned meltdown:


 But eventually, the walls were painted, we had somewhere to sit down, and order (even if it was a stark and bare order) was restored.


For awhile, I was content. But about a month ago, I realized that we'd been in our house for six months already, and it still looked like we'd just moved in. Even if I couldn't do the big improvements I wanted to, I could at least get something up on the walls!

I was reminded of what Pa Ingalls said when the town of De Smit was first being built:
"Now that's what it takes to build up a country," said Pa. "Building over your head and under your feet, but building. We'd never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started."
I knew I couldn't sit around and wait for those HGTV designers one more day. So I did the next best thing and called my friend, Kathy.

I couldn't afford a painting or a mirror large enough to fill that vast space above the couch, so I opted for a photo collage instead. I had Mike pull out every frame we owned, and then Kathy and I (but mostly Kathy) laid it all out on the floor, arranging and rearranging until we were happy with the way it looked. Then we cut out paper patterns and taped them up to the wall so we could see what it was going to look like.

There were a few missing pieces that I searched the thrift store for, after which Mike painted everything a uniform black.

And finally, it was ready to go up on the wall:


There are still some things I'm planning on changing (for example, I think I'm going to change out the Proclamation for just a simple quote or a scripture), but for right now, I am just enjoying having something up on our wall.


It makes the room feel much more complete and like we're actually planning on staying in our home for a good long while.


Sep 26, 2014

KidPages: Three Books For a Three-Year-Old


Bradley turned three on Tuesday, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find another little boy as excited as he was about having a birthday.

I know people have mixed feelings about the threes, but I loved them with my first two, and Bradley is well on his way to continuing the trend. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is delightful or hilarious or sweet. My husband loves going to the store with only him because he is just so fun to talk to. Seriously, I can't believe people aren't lining up on my doorstep begging to borrow this kid for an hour or two.

I have mixed feelings about birthdays because they just keep coming so my kids just keep getting older, and I want them to stay little for a long, long while.

But . . . birthdays give me an excuse to buy new books, so, you know, to every cloud its silver lining.

Here are three of the books Bradley got for his birthday (and he loves all of them):


1. Rhyming Dust Bunnies, Jan Thomas
This has long been a favorite of our family, but about a month ago, I realized (with something of a start) that it had been a loooooooong time since we'd had it from the library. So long that I was sure Bradley had no recollection of ever reading it.

So I remedied the problem by buying it. It won't be forgotten about again.

The story features four dust bunnies: Ed, Ned, Ted, . . . and Bob. They love to rhyme, except for Bob, who doesn't seem to understand the game. Little do they know that Bob actually has more important things to tell them than a word that rhymes with "dog."

The pacing of this book is brilliant: Ed, Ned, and Ted are totally oblivious to everything around them while Bob grows more and more frantic. Each set of rhymes brings a greater sense of urgency until the dust bunnies meet their fate.

Oh, and if someone hasn't designed a plush dust bunny to accompany the book, well then, someone dropped the ball. Those bunnies were meant to be plush.

Aaron and Max helped me wrap it up, but before we did, they just had to read it. They started giggling two pages in and couldn't stop.

(When Maxwell turned three, he received Let's Sing a Lullaby With the Brave Cowboy, so it's settled: Jan Thomas is perfect for three-year-olds.)


2. Count the Monkeys, Mac Barnett, illus. Kevin Cornell
One of the delightful things about three-year-olds is that they have this emerging sense of humor that stories like this one really bring out.

On the title page, the narrator promises lots of monkeys for the reader to count. But while there are many other things to count (crocodiles, bee swarms, even polka-dotted rhinoceroses with bagpipes and bad breath), the monkeys keep getting scared away . . . until the book finally runs out of pages.

Besides being funny, the story is also really interactive: when the 5 swarms of bees show up, the reader is asked to hum a happy tune and smile while he turns the page (because bees can smell fear). Or when the 8 lumberjacks show up with no intention of leaving, the reader is told to say, "Scram!" and then to say it even louder (it doesn't work, by the way).

Also, I think sometimes we assume that counting books are for babies, but really, my kids haven't been able to actually point and count all the way up to ten (without missing something or counting the same thing two or three times) until they hit about three. So a counting book (especially a funny, interactive one) is actually perfect for a three-year-old.

3. The Story of Little Black Sambo, Helen Bannerman, illus. Christopher Bing
In honor of Banned Book Week, I bought Bradley a banned book. Just kidding. The fact that it's been banned had absolutely nothing to do with my purchase of it, but it is a nice coincidence, I guess. I know this story is surrounded by controversy, but I love it. I have loved it for as long as I can remember. My great-grandma owned a copy, and every time we visited her, one of my parents would read it to me.

I loved Little Black Sambo's purple shoes "with crimson soles and crimson linings." I was indignant when the four tigers took away all his beautiful things but absolutely tickled when they all turned into a pool of melted butter (which Little Black Sambo's mother made into pancakes). And every time, every time, I was amazed (and delighted) when Little Black Sambo ate one hundred and sixty-nine pancakes "because he was so hungry." I guess outsmarting tigers is hard work.

Several years ago, I happened upon this newly illustrated version by Christopher Bing, and I fell in love all over again. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous: vibrant and golden and full of light. I seriously think I could read it over and over again without ever getting tired of looking at them.
Good thing, too, since with the way my kids like it, I might be doing just that.

Which books would you recommend for a three-year-old?

Sep 24, 2014

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

I have read three books by Alexander McCall Smith: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, 44 Scotland Street, and now, Tears of the Giraffe. This one was by far my favorite, and I think I might finally be coming to see why so many of Mike's siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles love Alexander McCall Smith so much.

It wasn't that I didn't like The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency or 44 Scotland Street; there were certainly exceptional moments in the plot where I thought, What a brilliant turn of events or What a clever thing to say. But . . . there were also moments of boredom, and, don't hate me for saying this, I didn't feel particularly attached to any of the characters.

But something changed with this one. I don't know if it was because the characters and the setting were already familiar (this is the second book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series), so I could just jump right into the story or if I actually enjoyed the plot and pacing more. Whatever it was, in this case the third time really did prove to be the charm.

When the story begins, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and Mma Ramotswe are blissfully planning their new future together when things immediately begin to get complicated: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's maid is far from happy when she learns that her services will no longer be needed, and she begins to seek her revenge on Mma Ramotswe; then Mma Potokwane takes advantage of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's kind heart and convinces him to adopt two orphans, which he does without even talking to Mma Ramotswe about it first. Meanwhile at the detective agency, Mma Ramotswe gives Mma Makutsi a promotion, and Mma Makutsi solves her very first case. And interwoven between all these daily happenings is an unresolved mystery about an American young man who went missing ten years before.

It's been four years since I read the first book in the series, and I honestly think it took me this long to return simply because I wasn't completely invested in the characters. However, I liked it well enough (and had heard the positive reviews of so many people) to keep it hovering at the back of the brain, nudging me to try the next one.

And what I found on this second run was this: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is a silent hero--quiet and noble and just so, so, so kindhearted (and can anyone tell me why he is know as Mr. instead of Rra?); Mma Ramotswe is a defender of truth--she has a fiery personality and says it like she sees it; Mma Makutsi is a loyal friend and employee--she takes pride in her work and is confident in her abilities; Mma Potokwane is bold in her faith--she believes in humanity and God, especially when they go hand in hand. In other words, I've made that unbreakable connection with the characters, and I have a vested interest in their futures.

This book explores the moral dilemma of lying. Towards the end of the story, Mma Ramotswe interviews a man and threatens to reveal some personal information about him if he doesn't give her the answer she desires. After the incident, she makes this reflection: "As for her own conscience, she had lied to him and resorted to blackmail. She had done so in order to obtain information, which she otherwise wouldn't have got. But again, that troubling issue of means and ends raised its head. Was it right to do the wrong thing to get the right result?" And she makes this conclusion, "Yes, it must be. . . It was regrettable, but necessary, in a world that was far from perfect."

Mike listened to this book as well, and we enjoyed discussing it. He remembers the names of the characters much better than I do and and loves the way the pronunciations just roll off his tongue. The audio is narrated by Lisette Lecat. Mike thinks she is fabulous. I wasn't willing to give her my praise as quickly, but in the end, I really liked her as well.

As a side note, I told Mike that, while I'm not longing to live in Africa, I wish we lived in a culture where we were expected to hire a maid. When Mike's parents lived in Chile, there was a similar expectation, and I just think it's a great way to support the economy (and, I'll be honest, I would love to have a day every week where I was guaranteed to have a clean house).

For those of you who have read something by Alexander McCall Smith, how do you feel about his books/writing? Did it take you several tries before you were a devoted fan, or was it love at first sight?

Sep 22, 2014

Review x 3: Toy Dance Party, Henry and Ribsy, The Boxcar Children

Can I just tell you how much I treasure the time in the evenings when I get to read aloud to Aaron and Maxwell? I love it so much that even when we've had a busy evening, and it's already 8:00, I can't put them to bed without reading a couple chapters.

Here's what we've been reading recently:

1. Toy Dance Party: Being the Further Adventures of a Bossyboots Stingray, A Courageous Buffalo, and a Hopeful Round Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins

This is the second book in the Toys series, and, from most of the reviews I've read, it's not as well liked as the first one, Toys Go Out. But I'm here to put in a good word for it because my kids and I loved it just as much as the first one.

Toys Go Out was delightful because all of the characters were new (we didn't even know what kind of toy Plastic was for the first couple of chapters). But Toy Dance Party was delightful because most of the characters were old, and it was so fun to get more of StingRay's "wisdom," Lumphy's bravery, and Plastic's optimism.

There were also several secondary characters (the one-eared sheep, the mice, etc.) that got more attention this time around as well as a couple of new characters (Spark (aka, DaisySparkle) and Buttermilk).

This one was also a little more poignant than the first one since Honey (the little girl) is growing up, and even though she still loves her toys, her interest in them is waning (à la Toy Story).

I think my favorite scene is when the new toy shark is writhing around in her box and Plastic realizes (rather mournfully) that when she was at the beach she was actually eaten by a beagle dog and not a shark. Either that, or when Honey names the shark DaisySparkle, much to StringRay's dismay. 

These are just all-around really great books--equally enjoyed (at least in this family) by both parent and child.

2. Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary

It's been nearly six months since we finished Henry's last adventure. In the meantime, we read a couple of the Ramona books, but it was definitely time to return to Klickitat Street. In this one, Henry really wants to go salmon fishing with his dad. After an unfortunate (and embarrassing) incident where Ribsy steals a policeman's sandwich (while Henry is stuck in a car lift, no less), Henry's dad tells him he can go on the fishing trip with him if he can keep Ribsy out of trouble for the six weeks until it's time to go. That's a really big if.

My kids loved this book, and it's just so fun for me to overhear their various reactions and conversations about certain parts.

They loved the chapter when Ribsy pulls out Henry's two canine teeth at the same time. None of my kids have lost any teeth yet, but Aaron and Max were very impressed with Henry's method. "I wish we had a dog," Aaron lamented, "so he could pull out my teeth." "What about Molly?" I asked (because, hint, we are never owning a dog). "Oh, I never thought about using our cousins' dog!" So look out, Molly. Your services may be required at a future date.

And then of course they loved the last two chapters where (spoiler) Henry and Ribsy are on the fishing trip and Ribsy nearly gets swept out to sea and then a little later (spoiler again), Henry lands a chinook with his bare hands. I know, be impressed; my boys certainly were. They loved it so much that after we were done we had to look up pictures of chinooks. And Maxwell, always ready with a story, has been telling the wildest tales of catching a chinook himself . . . while he's at preschool, of course (everything I don't know about conveniently happened at preschool.).

3. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Sometimes I like to read the first book in a series to my kids just to sort of kick it off for them so that they're already familiar with it before launching into the rest on their own. I never thought I'd be grateful for such formulaic and long-winded series as Magic Tree House, but now that I have a well-established reader on my hands, I'm discovering how nice it is to say, "Oh, you liked Dinosaurs Before Dark? Well guess what? There are approximately 12,751 more books about that magic tree house. Read up."

These were the thoughts that were going through my head when I picked up The Boxcar Children: we'll read this first one together, and then Aaron will be set for life . . . or at least until third grade. Plus, I had a certain nostalgia tugging at me, prodding me to return to this much-beloved series from my childhood.

And you know what? The magic was still there. I honestly wasn't expecting it to be. I thought it would be a somewhat painful readaloud and that I'd be happy to let Aaron read the rest of the books on his own. But I truly enjoyed it.

True, the language is a little old-fashioned and overly simple. There were times when I felt like I was reading a Dick and Jane early reader ("What a good house that will be in the rain," she thought). And yes, it is pretty unbelievable that four kids could live on their own in an old boxcar and not seem to have any emotional trauma over losing both their mother and their father.

But . . .

. . . there was also something so exciting and, dare I say, even empowering watching those four kids be so capable and self-sufficient: using the space behind the waterfall to make a refrigerator, scavenging for useable items in the dump, and damming up the stream to make a swimming pool.  I could see the sparks in my kids' eyes, ideas churning in their heads, given voice when Max asked, "Maybe if I had some wood, I could build something out of it." This story taps into that quiet longing for independence that lies within every child.

And then, self-sufficient or not, you can't help but be thrilled when their grandpa finds them, and they discover that he isn't cruel and mean after all and he takes them to his home but lets them bring the dog (and the boxcar) too.

What fun books have you been reading to your kids lately?

Sep 19, 2014

From Caterpillar to Butterfly: Stripey's Off to Mexico

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to our little monarch caterpillar, Stripey. Have you been wondering how he's doing? See for yourself:


We fed him milkweed leaves for a little over a week. One morning he began pacing back and forth across the top of his jar. That evening, he hung upside down in a J shape. The next morning, he was still hanging, but sometime between getting the kids dressed and making Aaron's lunch, he shed his last skin and revealed a beautiful chrysalis.

After that, things were a little boring for about 10 days. Then on Sunday evening, we could see that the chrysalis was getting darker. Early the next morning, it looked about the same, but about two hours later, I walked into the kitchen and found a beautiful butterfly hanging from his chrysalis shell. It was so exciting. That evening, we took Stripey outside and let him fly away. He took to the skies beautifully.

Being an eyewitness to Stripey's transformation was incredible. If you ever have the opportunity to raise a caterpillar, do it.

When my sister-in-law found the caterpillar and offered him to us, I was nervous. I was sure I'd do something wrong and he would die and we'd all be heartbroken. But I went ahead with it because I thought my kids would love it. They did, of course, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the entire process as well. And you know what? It was so much easier than I was expecting.

If you want to try this but, like me, are a little scared, here are some tips to allay your fears:

He doesn't need a fancy home

At first, I stressed about what to put him in. We finally decided on a large mason jar. My sister-in-law had some screen netting she let us cut a piece of, and we just rubber banded it over the top. We crisscrossed a couple of sticks in the jar, but really, the only thing Stripey was interested in was food. I think we really could have put him anywhere, and as long as he had food and water (and air), he would have been happy.



A milkweed leaf is a milkweed leaf

One thing you do need is a milkweed crop. Luckily, my sister-in-law knew where some was by her house and also by Aaron's school. Every morning, we picked a new leaf and put it in Stripey's jar. After he crawled onto it, I took out the remains of the old leaf (and dumped out all his poop). I was continually amazed by how much that little guy could eat. And he wasn't picky. When it came to leaves, a milkweed leaf was a milkweed leaf. Small, medium, or large, it was all the same to him.

If he isn't moving, he isn't dead

Sometimes Stripey wouldn't move for several hours or even a whole day. At those points, I always thought we must have killed him. But no, he was just molting his skin. Sometimes we could see the skin left behind on a leaf, and sometimes he ate it before we saw it, but he always started moving again.

Give him space

After he came out of his chrysalis, I transferred him to a mesh laundry basket so he could practice flying around a little before we let him go. From the time he came out at 8:30 in the morning until we let him go at 6:00 in the evening, I didn't feed him anything. I read online that they don't need anything for the first 18-24 hours, so we just let him go before then.



He's not as fragile as you think

Through the whole process, I kept telling myself, "Most caterpillars do this outside where the temperature fluctuates and it's windy and rainy and there are predators. He can handle having his jar moved around by a four-year-old." If we do it again, I think I won't be so nervous about having my kids help me feed him or move him around.

 
Blink and you might miss it

One thing that surprised me was how quickly the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis and chrysalis to butterfly happened. There were definitely some warning signs (hanging in the J shape, the chrysalis changing color), but it seemed like the actual change happened in a matter of minutes. We missed both changes, and if we do it again, I think we'll definitely spend more time around the jar during those critical moments, so we don't miss it.

Farewell, Stripey! May Mexico live up to all your hopes and dreams . . .

I can't find Stripey in this picture, but I know he's there somewhere.

Sep 17, 2014

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

This was the selection for my book club way back in June. I listened to it, but when it came time for the meeting, Clark was less than three weeks old and my mom was visiting from Colorado, so I decided not to go.

But . . . I had found it such an eye-opening read that I still wanted to have a discussion about it. So I suggested it for the book club during my family reunion last month. I think my mom and I had at least two phone conversations and probably two more face-to-face discussions about the book before the whole family officially convened around the campfire on a Thursday evening. There was just a lot to talk about.

In Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick (a journalist for the Los Angeles Times) tells the story of six North Korean defectors. There's Mi-ran, the youngest of four daughters who works hard to become a teacher; Jun-Sang, the eldest son in a privileged North Korean family (and Mi-ran's boyfriend); Mrs. Song, a middle-aged woman whose loyalty to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il is flawless (up until she decides to defect, that is); Oak-hee, one of Mrs. Song's grown children who initially defects to escape a bad marriage; Dr. Kim, a medical doctor who is expected to perform miracles with the barest of supplies (and in the end, she can't even save her own father from starvation); and Kim Hyuck, a "wandering swallow," whose family had died and left him to care for himself. Through the eyes of these different, but very ordinary, citizens, we catch a glimpse of what it's like within that darkened country.

The book begins with that famous aerial image of a dark spot in the middle of a sea of lights. My younger sister recently had the opportunity to visit South Korea. (When she was seven months old, my family adopted her from South Korea. She is now fifteen, and my parents wanted her to have the experience of visiting the country of her ancestry and birth). Before her trip, she and a friend were looking at a map of South Korea, and, without knowing anything about North Korea, asked why the spot next to it was so dark. I don't think the complete contrast between those two countries could be any more striking than looking at the map. The difference is literally black and white.

I originally assumed the book's title was in reference to the world's view: when it comes to North Korea, we have nothing to envy. And, in part, I'm sure this meaning was intended. However, what I didn't know was that these were actually words taken from a North Korean propaganda sign (and song), "We have nothing to envy in the world." One of the most haunting moments from the entire book is when a little 7-or-8-year old homeless boy in a too-big workers party uniform is singing those words on a train platform. How absolutely tragic that he, of all people, could be singing that he has "nothing to envy."

Since I finished it several months ago, many of the details are already fading, but I think I will always remember the account of Dr. Kim's defection. Just after she crosses the border into China, she comes upon a small farmhouse with an unlocked gate. She is confused to see a bowl of white rice with chunks of meat in it just sitting on the ground. She hasn't seen such food in years. Then she realizes it is waiting there for the owner's pet dog. And then this statement, which I can't get out of my head even months later: "Dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea." (Even after she escapes, Dr. Kim's troubles are far from over, as her medical license isn't recognized in South Korea, and she has to completely start over with her education.)

I think what is so unbelievable to me is that there could be such a disconnect between one nation and the rest of the world in this day and age. To think that this kind of brainwashing, starvation, and depravity happened during my lifetime--I can easily remember exactly what I was doing in 1997, totally oblivious to events on the other side of the world. And of course, I sadly realize there are many other nations experiencing similar oppression and poverty (I Am Malala was eye-opening in a similar way.)

However, I think the thing that surprised me the most about these stories is that the isolation of the North Koreans could be so thorough and complete that they have absolutely no idea what life is like just a few miles away in South Korea. It kind of gives me the creeps. Do you know what I mean? Like, what if what is being presented to myself as truth is actually one enormous lie? Because essentially, that's what is happening to North Koreans.

This isn't the kind of book you'll read if you want to feel good about the world we live in (in the words of my brother, "this is a depressing book"). Even for the Koreans who escape the regime, life is far from happy (many of them had to leave family behind, and in the case of Mi-ran, the ones still in North Korea suffered grave consequences). But it is one of those books that will open your eyes just a little bit more and help you remember your blessings and inspire you to help the people you can.
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