Do words mean different things to men and women? What have we lost? Have we lost meaning, as women were not part of dictionary-making and editing, at least not the Oxford English Dictionary of James Murray. Historical fiction, a genre favorite these days, is well represented in this first novel. The story begins with a scrap of paper, the word 'bondmaid' written on it, that floats to the ground discarded. It is rescued by Esme Nicoll, who is playing, hiding under the sorting table in the Scriptorium, the editing shed where the first Oxford English Dictionary is being compiled. Esme is more than a bright child; she is overwhelmingly curious. She wonders why some words are discarded, but this is an all-male team in an era of strict Victorian mores. It doesn't matter that the suffrage movement is just outside the gate- 'suffragette' doesn’t make it into the dictionary. The characters are rich and interesting; some are real historical figures and some are unforgettable, like Lizzie, who has looked after Esme all her life, and Mabel from the Covered Market, who introduces her to words like 'prostitute' and 'nob' and supplies colorful definitions. The term 'bumf fodder' is especially intriguing. Esme is really observing how the dictionary is edited, though as a child she is not always satisfied. Esme is as fascinating as an adult who continues to collect interesting words while visiting casualties of World War I. The novel covers more than a hundred years with a wonderful mix of fact, history, and inventiveness.
If you read one book this year about Israel, read this book. Whether you are an expert on Israel or Israel remains elusive for you, the narrative Noa Tishby weaves makes things simple. Tishby was born and raised in Tel Aviv. After serving in the Israeli army, she moved to Los Angeles. It was there that she realized that she didn’t know enough about her own heritage and culture and began to write a clear narrative that includes her own personal entertaining stories. Tishby provides context from early biblical times right up to today. She doesn’t shy away from controversy and doesn’t paint Israel as a perfect country. She does give us hope! At the end of the book (don’t worry, this is not a spoiler), her son asks her what she is writing and she answers simply, "I am writing a book about Israel." While nothing is simple about Israel, Tishby does an incredible job in helping us understand the significance of this tiny piece of land in the Middle East.
Written by Bonnie Sherr Klein, a former Montrealer and recipient of a Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case, and wonderfully illustrated with bright, detailed color by Montrealer Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal, the book tells the story of Kate's Bubbie (grandmother) and what happens when she gets a motorized scooter. Change is always hard and Kate is upset until she discovers what a great help Gladys (the scooter) is for her Bubbie. Ages 4 to 8.
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