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Posts Tagged ‘farming’

Book Reread Review: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

Girl in bonnet in a strawberry field.Summary:
Birdie’s just moved to Floridy from Caroliny to farm strawberries with her family.  But their neighbors, squatters headed by a mean drunk of a dad, won’t make life easy for them.

Review:
Rereading a childhood favorite is a dangerous endeavor.  However, last year rereading Reddy Fox went well, so when the ebook version of this Lois Lenski classic showed up on Netgalley, I just had to try it out.  I can see why I enjoyed it as a child, but I can’t really imagine adding it to the collection if I was a public librarian or, in the realm of more possibility, giving it to my nephew.

This is part of a series that Lenski wrote and illustrated in the 1940s about children living in different regions of America.  The thought process was that kids saw children around the world in literature but not the vastly different ways of growing up all over America.  A good idea, for sure.  I can totally see why these books, written in painstaking vernacular to boot, were popular back then.  They just didn’t age as well as they could have.  Or, at least, this one didn’t.

Unlike the Little House series where the problems and dramas and joys are relatable, Birdie’s family basically repeatedly lets the neighbors walk all over them.  There are also odd conundrums, such as how is Birdie’s family so working class and yet mysteriously has money?  Most bothersome, though, is the fact that the central conflict of neighbor worthless father is wrapped up overnight when he gets saved at a revival meeting.  Only the most evangelical of children will accept that as a fix.  Plus, it gives an unrealistic expectation to children that the serious problem of an addicted parent can be solved with some yelling from a preacher.  Not the most useful of message to be giving to children.

Although it’s not an unenjoyable read and the details of life in rural Florida in the 1940s are painstakingly accurate, it just simply hasn’t aged as well as other classics.  It is still well-written, researched, and illustrated, however.  I’d recommend it to adults with an interest in the history of American children’s literature.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow

Kenyan woman standing in a field.Summary:
Smallholder farmers make up the majority of Kenya’s food production and yet they face multiple challenges from inefficient planting techniques to bad seed markets that lead to an annual wanjala–hunger season.  One Acre Fund, an ngo, saw the gap and came in with a vision.  Sell farmers high quality seeds and fertilizers on credit, delivered to their villages, on the condition they attend local farming classes.  Roger Thurow follows four families as they try out becoming One Acre farmers.

Review:
Every once in a while there’s a book that you know will impact your entire life.  I know this is one of those books.

Thurow strikes the perfect balance between narrating the farmers’ lives and knowledgeably discussing the global politics and environmental problems that also impact the hunger.  The information he hands out would be riveting in any case, but how he narrates it kicks it up to another level.

Central to the book is this question:

Why were people still dying of hunger at the beginning of the twenty-first century when the world was producing—and wasting—more food than ever before? (location 202)

I know we all know there is hunger in the world, but it can be easy to ignore when it doesn’t have a face like David or Dorcas, two of the children featured whose mothers flat out do not have food to give them.  During the wanjala, since it is most of the families’ first years using One Acre Fund, they do not have enough maize (their staple crop) from the year before.  Thus while watching their fields grow, they don’t have enough food to feed their families.  During the height of the wanjala the families routinely have tea for breakfast and lunch and maybe some boiled vegetables or bananas for dinner.  And they still must farm and go to school.  I can’t recall the last time I’ve been so humbled.

Don’t get me wrong.  The families profiled in this book aren’t put on a pedestal or romanticized or distanced.  They are very real.  But their strength and wisdom in the face of so many challenges has no other option but to be inspirational.  Because it is so real.

You don’t focus on the afflictions you have, on your poverty; you focus on where you are going. (location 1469)

Makes you feel bad for complaining about morning commutes, doesn’t it?

Beyond talking about the disgusting fact that there is still hunger in a world with so much plenty and demonstrating the resilience of the families, the book also discusses One Acre Fund’s poverty fighting ideas.  Basically they operate on the teach a man to fish principle.  Thurow talks about how Youn, the founder, believes that bringing in food aid to feed farmers is absurd.  We should instead be helping them to farm better.  Beyond it not being sustainable to feed everyone year after year, it robs the farmers of their dignity.  This was the point I liked best.  These people are not dumb or lazy.  They are victims of a system that is not working.  Helping them help themselves lets them retain their humanity and dignity.  I think that’s something that is often missing in charity work and ngos, but it’s vital to truly changing the game.

Overall, if you want a book that will challenge your perceptions, humble you, broaden your horizons, and help you see how to truly fight global poverty, this is the book for you.  In other words, this is recommended for everyone.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Counts For:
Specific country? Kenya
map of africa

Book Review: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

August 23, 2010 10 comments

Book cover featuring a photo of the Starkadders and Flora.Summary:
In an alternate future as envisioned in the 1930s, Flora Poste loses both her parents and finds herself living on 100 pounds a year.  In lieu of getting a job and an apartment in London as suggested by her friend Mrs. Smiling, she decides to live with relatives in order to tidy things up about them.  She decides upon her farming cousins the Starkadders who are all under the whims of Great Aunt Ada Doom who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a child.  Flora may have bit off more than she can chew between crazy Aunt Judith, cousin Seth who has more sultry appeal than he can handle, cousin Elfine who flits about the fields and writes poetry, hell-fire preaching Uncle Amos, and sundry other cousins, not to mention the sad bull in the barn.

Review:
Between the general more British style of writing and the accents of some of the relatives, it took me a bit to get into this book.  Once I did though, I found myself lost in the delightful world Gibbons created and wishing the etiquette books Flora religiously uses as her references for life actually existed.

Reading of what was a near future for Gibbons, but actually an alternate past sometime in the 1940s or 1950s for modern readers gave the book a deliciously steampunk quality.  People talk on videophones but they still must run to town to use a pay phone.  Almost everyone seems to have their own airplane that are used for jaunts to London and Paris.  On the other hand, the clothes and hairstyle call to mind the roaring 20s as do the social mores.  This is an alternate history that saw no conservative backlash and yet one that also maintained marriage, beautiful clothing, and fancy parties as the norm.  How could you not want to visit this world?

Each character is well-drawn and easily decipherable from each other, which is a significant achievement given the relatively short length of the book.  Pretty much every character has some flaw, but they aren’t demonized for it.  They simply learn to deal with their shortcomings either by embracing them and making them work for them or re-routing their energies into more worthwhile pursuits.  I can’t recall the last time I saw a bunch of characters with so many short-comings and yet portrayed in such a sympathetic light.

What made me love the book the most though, I must admit, was the main character of Flora Poste.  For the first time I loved a main character who is pretty much the exact opposite of my own personality.  She is calm, even-minded, focused, and gentle, whereas I, I must admit, am much more like one of the Starkadders who she seeks to help.  The Starkadders are the dramatic, emotional type, and Flora, while sympathetic to actual underlying issues, won’t put up with any overdramatizing.  She doesn’t expect them to change the essence of who they are; she just expects them to tidy up a bit and be a bit more reasonable about everything.  The whole concept of being reasonable about things is such a new idea to the Starkadders that it leads to some truly hilarious scenes.

Of course Flora is not without her own faults, which is good.  Otherwise, the book would read as quite judgmental on the poetic types.  Flora can be too quick to get herself in over her head and she can be a bit quick to judge people she’s just met, but these are just her own flaws and she does her best and really that’s all any person can ever really do.

Overall, I absolutely loved this book.  It’s a world that is a pure delight to get lost in, and I foresee myself returning to it again and again as a comfort read.  I highly recommend it to everyone.  Between the character building, the steampunky feel, and the humorous slapstick scenes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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