Category Archives: Five Star

‘Jabari Jumps’ by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is finished his swimming lessons and has passed his swim test. Now there is one more thing he wants to do, but … maybe he should do some stretches first. Even though it looks easy, when Jabari is faced with the height and depth of the jump itself, he is going to need some courage. His wise Dad comes to the rescue with the best encouragement of all. He tells Jabari to think of it as a ‘surprise’ rather than a scary new thing, and that makes all the difference.

When I was taking piano lessons, my teacher Judy taught me a valuable life lesson on courage. When I was afraid that nerves would hamper my piano exam, she said something that has stood me in good stead ever since. She said, “Instead of dreading it, just try looking forward to it. See it as something that you can’t wait to get to.” Like Jabari, the positive twist of thinking of the scary thing as a ‘surprise’ was the key to helping him make the big splash.

Gaia Cornwall loved swimming when she was little and Jabari Jumps is her first picture book. I loved the illustrations which are beautifully done in warm water colours! The pictures capture the excitement and fun of a day’s outing to the pool. Road tested by a teacher friend of mine, kids love this book, evidenced by the neat student work they produced. Here is a sample!

‘Life’ by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel

Happy 2018!

Another year of reading and conversations about books coming up! Looking forward to it! Thanks for journeying together on this adventure! Can’t think of a better way to start the New Year than with an Annie Dillard quote and a children’s picture book about Life (thanks for the suggestion Nel)! Happy reading!


There is so much to love about life.

Stunning unique illustrations are a graceful backdrop for a few simple words about the wonders of being alive in the world. The narrative is honest about the ups and downs that are inevitable in life, but encourages readers to have hope–there are always new roads to take after a time in the wilderness. This is a gorgeous picture book with a good perspective on life that stresses the beauty of the natural world. A great addition to any young child’s library because it will also appeal to adults!

Rylant is an award winning children’s book author. She has written more than 100 children’s books. Here is her website.

An ardent conservationist, Brendan Wenzel is a proud collaborator with many organizations working to ensure the future of wild places and threatened species, especially within Southeast Asia. For a taste of his illustrations, here is a clip of They All Saw a Cat.

‘The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future’ by Kevin Kelly

I’m giving full marks to this mind-blowing, highly readable forecast of inevitable technological trends, already in motion, that will be transforming our lives in the next 30 years. It’s a prediction of a much larger scope than what features the next generation of iPhone might have. Its a visionary exploration of the emerging connectivity of our world, enabled by the internet. Twelve trends are identified and explained by the author that could revolutionize the way we work, play, learn, buy, and communicate with one another. Kelly claims that even though we think technology may have already reached a pinnacle, actually it is just in its infancy.

This is a brilliant and provocative choice of Christmas gift for the techie/business person in your life. Actually, I am neither of those and I loved it. I liked how the author is prophetic, but doesn’t preach doom and gloom… yes, the future will be very different, but let’s be optimistic and embrace change rather than shy away from it. Let’s be aware of what the future may bring and be part of steering and shaping it. Let’s realize that robots and artificial intelligence are inevitable and figure out how to best work with them. This is not just a cinematic brave new world, this is a possible reality for our grandchildren. How can we best prepare them?

If you’d rather listen than read, this is an excellent overview on youtube:

‘Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End’ by Atul Gawande

The old saying goes that once you have faced death, you can truly live. Trite but true. Of course we spend much of our lives taking very good care to see that we remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible, but the reality is still that we are going to die.

Atul Gawande, a medical doctor himself,  wrestles profoundly but personally with the dilemma of submitting ourselves to medical systems and mindsets that have been geared to prolonging life at all costs (a great strategy that has us living longer than ever before) but also coming to grips with the fact that at some point the inventions and interventions will no longer work and may actually increase suffering. In this pivotal moment, the important thing to remember is that we are mortal and the choices we make at the end of life need to be more around the quality of life remaining, even if those choices shorten life and involve refusing treatments that are available. The goal should not be a good death, but a good life to the very end. And that will look very different in each unique person, family, and situation. Gawande doesn’t offer solutions, just discusses the issues in a very accessible format.

Gawande talks about nursing homes where the focus on safety can prevent a full and dignified assistance of individual needs. He points out the high value in hospice care as an alternative to further treatment, if that is available and appropriate. Unfortunately hospice is sometimes seen as a giving up or as a failure or weakness once everything else has been tried, rather than a positive alternative to being cared for in the final chapter that leads to fullness of life till the end. Useful and engaging, the stories he tells in the book give a dignified view of those who are in the process of giving up their independence to old age or illness. His models of care focus on living a meaningful life.

Through gently storytelling, the book is also very useful in walking the reader through difficult conversations, accepting hard truths, whether patient or carer.  The final chapter of our lives may have a fullness and a richness we could never have imagined, if the right choices are made. That chapter might include sharing memories, passing on wisdom and keepsakes, settling relationships, establishing legacies, making peace with God, and ensuring that those left behind will be ok. “As people become aware of the finitude of their life, they do not ask for much. They do not seek more riches. They do not seek more power. They ask only to be permitted, insofar as possible, to keep shaping the story of their life in the world–to make choices and sustain connection to others according to their own priorities.”

 

‘Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT?: A Memoir’ by Roz Chast

Roz Chast squeezes more existential pain out of baffled people in cheap clothing sitting around on living-room sofas with antimacassar doilies in crummy apartments than Dostoevsky got out of all of Russia’s dark despair. This is a great book in the annals of human suffering, cleverly disguised as fun. Bruce McCall

Absolutely brilliant. Just loved this memoir by American cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s an honest heartfelt account of her parents’ final journey into old age, disability, and death. The slow decline of her meek father and overbearing mother is described in all of the detail that anyone dealing with elderly parents will be able to relate to–bedsores, assisted living, dementia, guilt, love, memories, worry, decisions, etc.–Chast holds nothing back. As she tells her story using cartoons and family photographs, Chaz strikes the right balance between humour and pathos. It would be so helpful to anyone going through the same experience.  If you’ve read this book, be sure to see the epilogue which appeared in The New Yorker in 2016.

Epilogue in The New Yorker

Note: According to the reviews I read, the graphics of this book are not well represented in the e-book format (Kindle). Hard cover is best. I borrowed a copy from the public library.

‘The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism’ by Naoki Higashida, K.A Yoshida, David Mitchell

When The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon was published, it was an immediate sensation because it gave such a sensitive inside look into the mind of a boy with autism. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer did the same. Both of these, though wonderful novels, are fiction. The Reason I Jump is written by a thirteen year old Japanese boy himself, using an alphabet grid. Painstakingly Naoki constructed words and sentences that resulted in a one-of-a-kind memoir, giving a rare view into how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives and responds.

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, (whose Japanese wife did the translation) writes a foreword and a postscript to the book and since he is an accomplished author, probably assisted in putting it onto bestsellers lists. His commitment and passion for this topic are clearly evident and come from a heart that knows the struggle of communication. Mitchell himself suffers from the speech disorder of stammering and his son has autism.

One of the difficult things is that the actions and interactions of people with autism are so often misunderstood. And there is nothing more frustrating than being misunderstood. That is what makes this such an important and revolutionary book for anyone who wants to better understand the effort it takes for someone with autism to navigate the world.

It’s a short book, mostly in Q & A format, with questions like “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why do you memorize train timetables and calendars?”“Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?””Do you prefer to be alone?””Is it true that you hate being touched?””What’s the worst thing about having autism?” The book also contains some beautiful stories written by Naoki which reveal his acute intellect and imagination. Most notable is that Naoki loves nature and being outside in green just makes his heart sing. Like the friend who recommended this book to me mentioned, “Is that really so surprising? Isn’t that how God made us?”

‘Oh She Glows Every Day: Quick and Simple Satisfying Plant-based Recipes’ by Angela Liddon


When Oh She Glows came onto my kitchen table, I was thrilled to have a cookbook which I could feel confident using if I had vegan guests coming over, but I could also use these simple and wholesome recipes everyday, as is, or by adding a bit of meat, cheese, or milk. I loved this cookbook immediately and have gotten quite clever about locating things in my grocery store like almond flour and sorghum and nutritional yeast. Grocery stores have caught on and are making Bob’s Red Mill products widely available and offer handy ‘health food sections’ where the ingredients can be found. I didn’t know how much I would use this cookbook when I got it, but it has become my ‘go-to’ right alongside Looneyspoons!

I was excited to learn that Angela Liddon has another cookbook out with an ‘everyday’ focus, and thanks to my children and Mother’s Day, I have been able to start enjoying this book as well, though I find everyday things in both of these books. It’s just more of her recipes and there are some really good ones in it. Love the salads, the Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies recipe, interesting things for breakfast like Apple Pie Overnight Oats and a vast selection of smoothies. There is a large section featuring ‘Homemade Staples’ like 9-Spice Mix and Lemon Tahini Dressing that might be handy to keep on hand. Healthy eating couldn’t be easier!

If you are a fan of Angela Liddon you probably already subscribe to her blog, but did you know she has an iPad and iPhone app? Cook from Oh She Glows using your favourite device! Check your meal ideas on the train on the way home before you stop off at the store!!  Special search options and features of the app include the same elegant photography as in the books, listing capabilities, an anti-lock feature keeping your screen from going dark while cooking, and the ability to cross off ingredients from the list as you include them in the recipe!!