review: Uganda Be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler

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Uganda Be Kidding Me is by one of the funniest women in the biz, Chelsea Handler. A memoir of her travels – including an African safari, the 2012 London Olympics, and Colorado – make me want to stuff myself into her purse and go with her everywhere. Everywhere. I’d go to Wal-Mart with her if she’d let me just to experience an outing in her presence.

Handler hates being alone so she takes people with her everywhere she goes. She actually ruined the anniversary plans one of her friends’ husbands had made because she insisted that she go to Africa with her. She made her sister leave the country when her family was relocating so she’d have at least one sister with her on the safari. She wants. She gets. I typically hate that kind of attitude in a person, but I make an exception for Handler – who gives as much as she takes. (She bought an aunt a house one Sunday afternoon when she was bored and hungover and because the aunt had been really good to her when she was a struggling actress/waitress years earlier.)

This is Handler’s fourth book, and it does not fail to make readers laugh out loud that snorty kind of laugh that makes others jump. Her deadpan voice comes through in her writing, so I completely believe her when she says she doesn’t use a ghostwriter.

Recommended for:
Anyone who doesn’t mind vulgar language and vivid descriptions of defecation and sex will LOVE this book!

Read-alikes:
Any other book by Handler (except Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me which is actually written by her friends and family. It’s okay…but not fantastic because it’s not written by her, per say.)

I imagine the Mindy Kaling book Everyone is Hanging Out Without Me is similar, or so I believe because of things I’ve been told. In deadpan humor, I mean…not in the foul-mouthed kind of way.

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review: Kisses from Katie: a story of relentless love and redemption by Katie Davis

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Kisses from Katie: a story of relentless love and redemption by Katie Davis with Beth Clark is a moving memoir about a twenty-something’s experience working with children in rural Uganda. Katie, a middle-class white girl from Nashville, Tennessee was in high school when she first felt called to serve God in a unique way. When information about serving an orphanage in Uganda came across her computer, she couldn’t stop thinking of going there. Her parents relented and let her go over Christmas break during her senior year of high school. From her first day at the orphanage, she was enamored with the spirit of the children, the need of the community, and of her heart’s desire to stay.

I quit college; I quiet cute designer clothes and my yellow convertible; I quit my boyfriend. I no longer have all the things the world says are important….I cannot fathom being happier. Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it to pieces, and put it back together more beautifully.

Katie credits her faith in God as the driving force behind her intense desire to stay in Uganda past those two weeks. Upon graduating from high school, she forewent the college life she had anticipated, and instead returned to Uganda to serve for one year at the orphanage. She picked chiggers out of children’s skin, nursed babies back to health, bathed and prepared food for the wards, but most importantly, she fell in love with them.

Katie is still there, seven years later. She has adopted 14 girls, all of whom live with her in a large rented home that sometimes has power and running water, but always has happiness, laughter, and love. Throughout the book she describes challenges she saw families face, such as sickness, hunger, and no money to send their children to school. After their basic needs were met, Katie saw to it that hundreds of children could attend school. She started a charity called Amazima Ministries that raises money to support and send Ugandan children to school.

I knew I could not change the village or the country of Uganda, but educated children could.

Katie is passionate and free with her love, but she is also pragmatic. She works hard to raise funds necessary for the education of the hundreds of children in her village. But sometimes things go wrong, and she has to endure the pain of being helpless. Helpless that is, except for the power of prayer.

I still have to sit with the Father in my sadness and brokenness over all the hurt in this world. Sometimes I still have to cry to Him and ask Him why innocent children must suffer and beg Him to move people to action.

Her faith in God and her ability to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is remarkable. She sees her behavior something she must do, instead of a selfless sacrifice that so many Westerners would never consider making.

People who want to make a difference get frustrated along the way. But if they have a particularly stressful day, they don’t qut. They keep going….They don’t do anything to call attention to themselves, they simply pay attention to the everyday needs of others, even if it’s only one person. They bring change in ways most people will never read about or applaud. And because of the way these world-changers are wired, they wouldn’t think of living their lives any other way.

Katie will probably never return to the United States. She will raise her daughters in Uganda, and when they are grown women doing remarkable things, she will adopt more orphaned girls and teach them to love and praise God, and to study hard, and to dream. I wonder if Katie realizes that she has become a version of her idol, Mother Teresa.

I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person.

Recommended for:
Young men or women who may be struggling with the decisions they must make regarding their future. Some teens just don’t know what they should be aspiring towards, or what God has planned for them. This memoir will remind them that their lives are not their own, but the Lord’s, and that He will guide them if only they open their hearts to Him and His plan.

Read-alikes:
Life Without Limitations: inspiration for a ridiculously good lifby Nick Vujicic, the true-story of a man born with arms or legs, and how he turned that disability into a life that inspires thousands.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. John 9:3. Disease is certainly not a sin. And poverty is not a sin; it is a condition, a circumstance that allows God’s work to be displayed.

Adoption is wonderful and beautiful and the greatest blessing I have ever experienced. Adoption is also difficult and painful. Adoption is a beautiful picture of redemption. It is the Gospel in my living room….Adoption is a redemptive response to tragedy in this broken world.

non-fiction Friday: To the End of June, the intimate life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam

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To the End of June: the intimate life of American foster care by author, professor, and teacher at a women’s correctional facility Cris Beam is a harrowing look into the current state of the foster care system in America. Annually, nearly 650,000 children from birth to age 18 are in foster care. Let me put it this way: the population of Washington, DC is around 632,000. All of the foster children in America could fit into DC. That is horrific.

Beam uses her book to describe the bleak reality of foster care – from parents not working to get their children back, abuse from foster families, low budgets and staffing for Family Services departments, etc. People want babies – and are willing to endure international policies and extravagant court costs to get them – but won’t go through half of that effort (and significantly less cost) to give a forever home to older children or teenagers.

Maybe foster care agencies could do more recruiting among the parents who are looking to adopt privately or overseas and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got kids right here.’…there’s a chance – but if a mom takes her baby back, you’ve provided a young person with a vital foundation. It sounds terrible, but if you lose that baby you could try again. It sounds terrible, but that sounds a lot like pregnancy. Or like love.

Foster Care isn’t easy, and Beam absolutely makes sure that her readers are aware of that. She doesn’t paint pictures of unicorns and rainbows. But she does give great advice for those who are considering or are struggling with their foster children. She quotes Francine Cournos – former foster child and former deputy director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute:

Right up front we need a more therapeutic foster care model in which parents are trained to understand that when kids come to them they’re going to be distrustful, cut off, and too traumatized to make an attachment.

But it will be worth it! Giving a safe, loving, comfortable home and living situation to a young person whose past has been fraught with pain, anger, neglect, and/or sadness, could mean the difference in that young person becoming a stable member of society, or one that falls into a poor mental and/or emotional state, life of crime, homelessness, or worse. Because that is the reality.

Mary Keane, an adoptive mother who runs foster parenting training and recruitment classes in New York said that foster care, but definition, means personal sacrifice:

Parents should do [foster care] because the kids need it. Otherwise they’re going to be disappointed. You do it because you want to help a kid and because you enjoy seeing them grow. The gratitude for what you’ve done might come later. Like after 5 years of Hell.

While that may sound like nothing you’d ever want to get involved in, plenty of adults (single or married) are drawn to help. Not for the financial return they get from the state for housing and taking care of a foster child. That amount is abysmal. It’s about the desire to help.

Read-alikes: 
If you’re interested in learning facts, without personal agendas being shoved down your throat, read Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. The Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist researched the heck out of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of Memorial Hospital. But it wasn’t just the physical structure that failed, but the emergency preparedness of the staff who couldn’t save everyone.

Recommended for:
I implore you to read this book if foster care or domestic adoption is on your mind. Even if you’re just moved by the Wednesday’s Child commercials you see on TV or by the South Korean pastor-turned-orphanage director Lee Jong-rak who created the baby Drop Box.

I attended a foster care and adoption information session last night in Fairfax County. Adoption has been in my heart for many years – even those teen and young adult years when I was convinced I’d never have children due to my complete lack of patience and tenderness – so attending the session was just to get a little information. I have never considered foster care because I was (am) afraid of loving someone, then having them taken from me. Then again, when they leave, chances are they’d be going back to their birth families (good!) or an adoptive home (unless I chose to adopt them). So that’d be a positive move! Regardless, the option has been tabled for now, as my husband and I are no where near ready for such a life-altering task.

Wednesday reads: where have I been??

Sometimes I think to myself “Self, why didn’t you read that before now???” I didn’t read the Harry Potter series until I was 22, in 2007, and when I finally did start the series I completed it in less than 2 months. I didn’t read Jane Austen novels until 2006. I didn’t read Eragon or Artmeis Fowl or Alex Rider. I don’t need to, really. When it comes to Reader’s Advisory, when books are that popular, I don’t need to read them! I just need to know what to recommend to teens once they’ve finished those.

So you can imagine my self-loathing when I realize that I should’ve read The Help when it came out in 2009. *facepalm* But I am reading it now and love it!

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. It is humorous historical fiction, but makes me darn near cry at the racism that was so prevalent only 50 years ago. 50. In my father’s lifetime blacks couldn’t go to school with whites. In my grandfather’s lifetime Japanese immigrants were sent to internment camps because we feared they were spies for the Japanese military. In my lifetime, gays can’t marry in some states. Have we learned nothing?

 

end of june

To the End of June: an intimate life of American foster care by Cris Beam makes me want to shake the organizations involved with foster care. How are they doing such a poor job or helping foster kids and families? This book is riveting, and harrowing.

non-fiction Friday: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

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French Milk by Lucy Knisley is a charming graphic memoir about a 20-something’s trip to Paris. On the eve of college graduation, Lucy and her mother embark on a 6-week trip to Paris to take in the sights, smells, tastes, and every other sense. Rough drawings of the foods they eat, sights they see, and art they ponder over are cute enough…but don’t draw the reader into Paris. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to see Paris. To taste it. I understand that the nature of graphic novels/books is that the images give more than the sparse words, but in this case I feel like both were not rich enough. Then again, perhaps because of my own 3-day excursion to Paris, as well as my many readings on the City of Lights, I was unable to dive deep into the black-and-white drawings and quick touches on the Louvre and foods, probably because I already knew what they looked and tasted like, so I wanted description akin to my own knowledge of them.

I also found Lucy’s

Recommended for:
Someone who has not yet been to Paris. This is a good “starter book” because you can read/see smattering of many things without diving into too rich detail, which may leave you confused or overwhelmed.

Read-alikes: 
Bon Appetit! the delicious life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland has similar simple drawings but so much more is packed into each page.

Wednesday reads: Dreams and Reality

A coworker loves to point out when the universe provides, or connects things in a way that seems uncanny. Last year I read Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (about a small Arkansas town that sees the return of a long-extinct bird and the vanishing of the narrator’s brother) and, for the first time in my life, read the term “ornithologist”. That very week I was hanging out with a friend who used the term to describe her dad’s hobby, and I knew the word! Thanks, universe! I find this happens to me quite often, in fact, and when I notice it I say out loud, “Thanks, universe!”.

And it JUST HAPPENED AGAIN. Yesterday morning a coworker brought me my ID saying she found it in the parking lot. And I get into work this morning and see a chain of emails about one of my employees misplacing his own badge, but finding it shortly after the search began.

Universe, you’re killing me! I love it!

Currently I am reading a book about a boy who can pull physical objects from his dreams, and another book where a man’s reality is the stuff dreams (okay, nightmares) are made of. Okay, so this one is a bit of a stretch, but still…go, universe.

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The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I just haven’t had time to sit down and really get going on this, unfortunately, but only 25 pages in I can tell you I am very, very excited to keep going. I’ve read other reviews that say this is even better than the first, which is never true of the second book in a trilogy, so I’m intrigued.

 

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House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I wrote two weeks ago that this was going to take me some time to get through. That fact is still true. But I book-talked it in a job interview last week; one of the interviewers jotted down the title, and another recalled its popularity back in 2002 when it was released online.

 

 

to the end

 

To the End of June by Cris Beam. Last year I read Flight by Sherman Alexie, an intense novel about a foster child whose anger at the world takes him into the lobby of a bank, holding a gun. Subsequent time-travelling to various times and places teach him about himself, about perseverance, about courage. This non-fiction expose into the world of foster care in America interests me because Alexie’s story was fiction, but for millions of children it is pure truth.

1Book 1Community: learning together

It’s no big shock – to anyone who reads my blog or knows me IRL or has interacted with me for more than 6 minutes – that I like my job. I am blessed with the opportunity to create work for myself, in addition, of course, to the everyday tasks of serving patrons, covering desks, attending meetings, leading programs, etc. Some of the work I create for myself is sitting on committees. In the short 2.5 years I have been with LCPL I have saw on the Summer Reading Program committee, New Employee Orientation committee, and the 1Book 1Community committee. It is the last one that I want to tell you about today.

My first experience with LCPL’s 1Book 1Community was back in September, 2011. I had only been with Loudoun for 3 months when I was asked by the manager of the Programming Division if I would accompany her and the 1Book author – Patricia McCormick – to the Juvenile Detention Center and Douglass School. Read about my experience here.

Six months after my day with Patricia I was invited to sit on the first-ever 1Book 1Community committee. Comprised of 9 public and school librarians and teachers, the committee met 3 times to meet and learn about the title-choosing process, discuss possible titles, and vote on the title. That first year I was assigned to read The Lottery by Patricia Wood, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, The Wave by Todd Strasser, and When the Emperor was Divine by Julia Otsuka. The last one I read was the one that was ultimately given majority votes and chosen to be the 1Book. I find myself thinking of that book – and the shameful thing we did to Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants during World War II – often. It has true staying power, and I continue to recommend that title to teens and adults.

My second year as committee member began in March of this year. I recommended the titles Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Septys. Neither of my titles was chosen, but I simply adored the one that was – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba.

William is from Malawi, and just knew there was a way he could help save his family’s farm from suffering through another drought season.

I looked at my father and looked at those dry fields [in Malawi]. It was the future I couldn’t accept.

Using English-language library books and items found in the local dump, William built a windmill that successfully brought electricity to his village. You can see his TED Talk here:

I had the honor of dining with William prior to the 1Book program. He was so pleasant, so smart, and so willing to answer the questions of the 11 women who dined with him, some of whom are teachers who said William’s story inspired some of their students in ways they had never seen. In his modest manner, he simply smiled and continued talking about his studies, his experience on the farm in Malawi, his family, and his future. There were nearly 400 people in attendance at his talk. Elementary school children, seniors, families, and groups of high school students listened intently as William shared his experience, inspiration, and goals.

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Afterwards, William signed books (and even a Kindle cover! What a great idea!)

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We were very honored to welcome William to our library, schools, and community. I was honored to be a part of the 1Book 1 Community committee for 2 years. A big thank you to my mentor and friend Linda (in the picture below) for asking me to be a part of that team and passionate readers.

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My 2-year term is up, but I am already making a list of books for next year’s committee to consider. Any suggestions?