Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey
Every once in a very long while, I’ll willingly read a piece of nonfiction longer than a hundred pages. This was my most recent pick, which was gifted to me by someone who knows how much I love Indian food. Madhur Jaffrey is an Indian food writer, chef, and actress, and this is her food-laced memoir of growing up in India in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s interesting both for its descriptions of the food, which are mouth-watering (a couple dozen recipes included in the back) as well as the details of her life during that time in that particular place. She writes of huge dinners where forty or more of her extended family were in attendance, and of how they got everyone in a single car to go downtown to shop (three layers of people, a child sitting on an adult lap who in turn sat on another lap). She writes extensively of the commingling of various cultures – mainly British, Muslim, and Hindu, and how her family took bits and pieces of all three. She writes about the Partition and its subsequent violence as well. Madhur’s memoir is a good pick for foodies (I craved mangoes badly after reading this and haven’t stopped craving them) as well as those who are simply interested in this part of the world during the 30s and 40s. Madhur’s writing is steady and descriptive, providing an individual account of everyday life in a time and place many of us here are not familiar with.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
I’m a little torn on Rebecca Stead. I thought her Newbery winner, When You Reach Me, was a lovely book and a great pick for the Newbery, but I can’t say that I loved it. Ditto First Light, which had a similar sort of subtle SF bent to it. Goodbye Stranger is probably my least favorite of hers, though I will admit that it’s well-written and finely crafted and would certainly appeal to a certain kind of middle grade reader. Such a reader wouldn’t have been me at that age, though. It consists of two different story threads that ultimately converge, one in third person and another in second person. Second person narration is tricky, but overall this worked, and quick readers will pick up on who the “you” is soon enough. It’s difficult to say exactly what this story is about; there’s no good elevator pitch for it. It’s about friendship and bullying and first love. It features a girl, Bridge, who was in a terrible car accident a few years ago and is still recovering from how it changed her life, in ways not readily visible. It also features her two friends, one of whom is being pressured to send progressively more revealing photos to a boy. And then there’s Sherm, who befriends Bridge and has his own backstory. If I had to come up with a pithy description of the plot, I’d say it’s about a group of middle schoolers growing up. Which isn’t terribly descriptive. It doesn’t have enough of a plot to satisfy seventh grade Kimberly, but I’m sure there are other seventh graders who will enjoy reading about these kids’ ordinary – but not necessarily boring – lives.
Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick
Though I buy all the picture books for my workplace, I don’t get much time to actually sit down and look through them. I made a point to pick this one up after it won the Caldecott, and I can see why it got the honor. Sophie Blackall’s illustrations are quite child-friendly, I think, but what stuck out to me most is actually Mattick’s story. I had no idea Winnie the Pooh was based on an actual bear, and Mattick’s real-life connection to the real-life Winnie is lovely to read about. The way she frames it – as a conversation between herself and her son, ultimately revealing to him that the man in the story is her own grandfather, whom he is named for – is sentimental without being saccharine. It turns the traditional bedtime story into something very personal and profound.