Friday, April 28, 2006

Three Cups of Tea

Get ready to break out your cheque book.

I read about this title in Outside magazine, and was instantly intrigued. In 1993 Greg Mortenson was part of a climbing group scaling K2 when circumstances led to the abandonment of the expedition. Between the altitude and the disappointment he felt, Mortenson was not on point when he was descending, and wound up lost and alone in the cold without his gear. After a freezing night Mortenson reunited with his Balti porter Mouzafer Ali. Mortenson lost his way again, took the "wrong" fork in the road, and ended up exhausted not in Askole where he needed to be, but in the small mountain village of Korphe. This is where Mortenson met Haji Ali - and event that would be life altering in every way.

While Mortenson was recuperating, he explored the area with Haji Ali. One day he asked where the Korphe school was. Haji Ali took him up the hill where they found 78 boys and 4 girls sitting outside on the frozen ground, trying to learn their lessons without a teacher. Mortenson was shocked and made a promise. He promised to bring a school to Korphe.

The reader needs to realize that Mortenson was in no way equipped to make such a promise. In the States he had a climber's lifestyle. Working just enough shifts as an emergency room nurse to fund his climbing habit.

When he got home he started renting time on a type-writer to send pleas for donations to the likely suspects...Oprah, Bernard Shaw, Susan Sarandon. He had found out while he was in Pakistan that he needed $12000 US dollars to fund a school. Nobody responded. After some time Mortenson was told to contact Jean Hoerni the famous physicist who was also a climber. He alone funded Mortenson's first school.

What follows is a sometimes heartbreaking journey into Pakistani and Afghan culture, politics and war. In the end Mortenson has built (with help) the CAI or Central Asia Institute. This agency built many schools and vocational centers, and has provided all types of aid to those in need. Mortenson is still getting his hands dirty with the work. His belief is that terrorism will never be defeated simply by killing Osama or Sadam. Education is the key. The millions of dollars coming into these countries from Saudi Arabia to fund extremist schools (madrassas), needs to be combated with a non-extreme educational choice. It's an idea that makes sense.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I didn't know if I was going to learn more about climbing, or humanitarianism. I am happy to have learned quite a bit about Pakistan and its history and culture. About the Glacier wars. About the Taliban. About American's unfulfilled promises to rebuild after war. And about places that I had never heard of before like Waziristan. It is humbling to read about people like Mortenson.

One person really can make a difference.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Move Over Neil Gaiman....

....Brian K. Vaughan is in the house. I have to say, I think he is my new favourite man of the graphic novel. Sandman will always have a place near and dear to my heart. I started reading it with Number 1 when I was 18, and remember making the trip to the comic book store with my friend Jeff with baited breath each month.
(A side trip to Poptones happened too, but you had to be from around Niagara to have a clue as to what that entailed!)

I have grown impatient with comics in my old age, and tend to wait until a whole story arc is combined in a grapic novel before I read it.

Jen had told me about Y The Last Man a couple of years ago, and I remember thinking, "What a great idea for a story", but I never got around to reading it. Thanks to NYPL for carrying graphic novels. I stuck a hold on it, and the rest is history!

Yorik is somehow the only male that has survived a sudden plague. All of the men in the world suddenly fall dead in a wash of blood. When it all hits the fan all that Yorik wants to do is somehow find his way to Australia and to the girlfriend he has just proposed to over the phone! The white house has other ideas. Agent 355 is assigned to protect Yorik and make sure that he is able to find a famous genetics doctor who may be able to explain all of this. Women have interestingly divided themselves into clannish groups (wives of republicans, "amazons" etc) Flashes to happenings all over the world give the reader an inkling of what this story will evolve into. All of the characters are fresh, and Vaughan leaves you wanting more.

Unmanned takes the first 5 issues of this story, and now I am planning to move on to all of the collections.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Spiral Bound

I picked up this little gem at the Comicon as well. I was looking for some graphic novels to put on the Summer Reading List for my school. That is on hold, but is a whole 'nother story worthy of its own blog.

Sprial Bound by Aaron Renier is a sweet little black and white graphic novel for the younger set. The characters are all animals who are hanging out together in the summer. It is a top secret summer for most of them. Turnip and Stucky are in art camp together. Ana and Em are secretly working on the underground newspaper. And everyone is trying to avoid the Pond Monster.

Easily read by adults on two levels and by kids on one. For the kids, a fun adventure with secrets, monsters and friendships. And for older or more sophisticated readers, the age old story of "the man". What kinds of stories are made up in order to control society? Who holds the power in a town? Is every piece of information just a "spin"?

With back cover endorsements from Lemony Snicket, Craig Thompson and Dav Pilkey, who can resist? A fun and clean read for 4th grade and up!

I love Top Shelf Productions!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Becoming Naomi Leon

Again...a deceptively young cover.

Naomi and brother Owen have been living with their grandmother in her Airstream for just about as long as they can remember. Grandma's place is comforting and the routines are familiar. Grandma's hair is up in curlers and she is waiting for neighbour Fabiola to come over to watch Wheel of Fortune, when there is a knock at the door.

Naomi and Owen's mother is back in town.

Skyla ( formerly Terri Lynn) is back from the halfway house, back with a boyfriend, and back with a big idea about Naomi.

Naomi is torn and Owen is smitten. Naomi knows how hard her grandma has worked raising her and she has some vague recollections of life with her mom that aren't so sweet. But when Skyla does Naomi's hair, and buys her new and trendy clothes, it's hard not to forgive. Owen, who is disfigured, doesn't see the writing on the wall that Skyla is only interested in Naomi in her future. Can this family sort itself out?

Set both in Oklahoma and Mexico, readers are treated to detailed descriptions of people and places. Naomi finds her place in this world during her trip to Mexico, and becomes a much stronger girl than she ever could have been if Skyla hadn't appeared at the Airstream door.

This read a bit like Creech to me, and fans of hers as well as fans of Ryan's Esperanza Rising will not be disappointed.