The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor

Yoko Ogawa

I was used to absurd demands from my employers—that I wear a different color ribbon in my hair every day; that the water for tea be precisely 165 degrees; that I recite a little prayer every evening when Venus rose in the night sky—so the old woman’s request struck me as relatively straightforward. “Could I meet your brother-in-law?” I asked. “That won’t be necessary.” She refused so flatly that I thought I had offended her. “If you met him today, he wouldn’t remember you tomorrow.”

By the time that Akebono Housekeeping Agency had sent her to work for the Professor, his card had already amassed nine blue stars—one for each time a housekeeper had to be replaced. If she failed, she would be the tenth. The job seemed easy enough: care for a man in his early 60s, work Monday to Friday from 11 am to 7 pm, prepare lunch and dinner, perform basic housekeeping, and do the shopping. The only caveat? The man—a former math professor—had a memory that only lasted eighty minutes. So began a unique friendship that would start over every hour and twenty minutes. A relationship as mysterious, complex, and intricate as the numbers that filled the Professor’s life.

Ogawa gives us a hauntingly beautiful story about kindness, loyalty, and friendship. Despite giving her characters no names (with the exception of the Housekeeper’s son who is nicknamed Root), these individuals still manage to leap off the page and burrow their way deep into your heart. Both the Professor and the Housekeeper are sympathetic and deep characters who justly deserve our compassion. The Professor remains largely unaffected by the new memories and friendships he’s made; however, when he becomes aware (either vocally or visually) of his loss, you can feel the torment, anguish, and misery literally slicing through his soul. Likewise, the Housekeeper bears an equally heavy emotional burden as she lives each day with the realization that after eighty minutes has passed, the Professor will neither remember nor miss her. This book will tug on every single heart string you possess, yet Ogawa still manages to give us a story filled with joy and hope.

The only minor downside is that The Housekeeper and the Professor does go deep into the mathematical weeds on several occasions with lengthy explanations of various theorems, laws, and formulas. Fans of Pierre de Fermat, Leonard Euler, and Pythagoras will appreciate their numerous references (with Euler’s Formula being specifically highlighted). While the majority of us will tend to glaze over these facts (while reliving some uncomfortable high school math memories), math is the singular means with which the Professor has to communicate and connect with those around him and so these enthusiastic explanations are easily forgiven as they provide valuable insight into a complicated and troubled individual.

Galileo Galilei wrote, “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” No matter how much had been taken away from him, the Professor realized that math connects us all. It is indeed a universal language without barriers or limits. Understanding this now makes me wish that I had spent just a little bit more time appreciating my high school math teachers and everything they patiently tried to teach me.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (J)

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Kathi Appelt (Juvenile Fiction)

Raccoons have been the official scouts of Sugar Man Swamp for eons (and that’s a really long time). Brothers Bingo and J’miah aren’t just ordinary swamp scouts. No, no, no! They’re Information Officers, a highly specialized branch of the Scout system. On the rooftop of Information Headquarters (which happens to look an awful lot like a 1949 DeSoto Sportsman) on the banks of the Bayou Tourterelle, our brave scouts keep vigil over their beloved swamp and try their very best to make their parents proud and to respectfully serve the Sugar Man. Not far from Information Headquarters is twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn. Mourning the recent loss of his beloved grandfather, Chap is now the man of the house and uncomfortably in the crosshairs of one Sonny Boy Beaucoup, owner of Sugar Man Swamp. Sonny Boy wants to build a wresting arena and theme park right smack dab in the middle of the swamp! No, no, no! Before long, the scouts and Chap find themselves in a race against time to save the swamp and everything they hold dear.

I loved Kathi Appelt’s Newbery Honor book The Underneath and was delighted that this book had the same warmth, charm, and appeal. Packed with plenty of action and adventure, young readers will relish this story filled with pirates, feral hogs, a giant rattlesnake, and a hairy giant as tall as a tree with hands as wide as palmettos. The short chapters, numerous say-out-loud sounds (how fun is it to pretend to be a snake by mimicking its rattle with a “chichichichichi” or to sssssssspeak like a ssssssssnake), and humorous side comments make this a ready-made bedtime story. Readers will thrill in the antics of Bingo and J’miah while parents will appreciate the valuable moral lessons repeated throughout the book. Although there is a bit of thievery in our story, can you really blame two hungry scouts when such delicious sugar pies are involved? No, no, no!

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is about family, loyalty, and bravery. But at its core, this book is a love letter to Mother Nature and reminds us that no matter how slimy, scary, slippery, scaly, scummy, or scratchy some creatures, objects, or places might be, they each play an invaluable role in an ecosystem that is extremely complex, amazingly fragile, and so very precious and irreplaceable. As Chap’s grandfather, Audie, always told him, “Nosotros somos paisanos. We are fellow countrymen. We come from the same soil.” We could all benefit by following the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scout Orders: Keep your eyes open; Keep your ears to the ground; Keep your nose in the air; Be true and faithful to each other; In short, be good.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World by Penny Colman (J Biography)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World

Penny Colman (Juvenile Biography)

On a spring day in May of 1851—following an antislavery meeting in Seneca Falls, New York—Amelia Bloomer made a simple introduction that would alter the way that women were viewed, treated, and legally recognized. It was on a street corner where Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met and would begin a 51-year friendship that would survive religious differences, geographical distances, legislative setbacks, societal obstacles, and personal obligations. Elizabeth, a gifted writer, and Susan, an adept organizer, were on the forefront of the women’s reform movement and would not only travel throughout the nation to end slavery, but would lead the charge in fighting for the rights of women to receive a higher education, to divorce, to own property, to earn equal pay, and to vote. Together, these women amassed ardent supporters, as well as bitter detractors. They suffered financially, physically, and emotionally but they remained as committed to their friendship as to their cause.

Colman’s research is exhaustive and extensive. Rather than begin her book with Susan and Elizabeth’s initial meeting, she explores each of their childhoods and upbringing, allowing readers to get a more complete picture as to how these two very different women would eventually be drawn together through a common cause. What I enjoyed was being able to go beyond the history in order to understand each woman’s unique motivation that set them on their shared trajectory. In Elizabeth’s case, it was her desire to offer consolation to her father after the death of his son. Her desire to bring him comfort by being “all my brother was” made her realize just how limited and exclusive her options were. Also, since her father was a judge and his office adjoined their home, Elizabeth was privy to numerous conversations dealing with the law and its negative impact on women, especially married women. In Susan’s case, it was her family’s plummet into bankruptcy and watching her personal items being auctioned off that left an indelible mark on her. Her need to earn money and help pay off family debts thrust her into the world of teaching, where she immersed herself in the issues of the day: temperance, slavery, and the fate of the country. With so many personal details taken from diary entries, letters, journals, biographies, and autobiographies, Colman enables readers to not only value these women as historical figures, but to also connect with them on a personal level. Their struggle was extraordinary and their impact immeasurable.

Before Elizabeth’s 87th birthday (which she would never get to celebrate), she received a letter from her dearest Susan. The letter read, “If is fifty-one years since we first met and we have been busy through every one of them, stirring up the world to recognize the right of women. . . . We little dreamed when we began this contest . . .that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter upon this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the freely admitted right to speak in public—all of which were denied to women fifty years ago. . . . These strong, courageous, capable, young women will take our place and complete our work. There is an army of them where we were but a handful.”

In an age where social media influencers, fashion and beauty bloggers, and reality stars fight for the attention and devotion of our young girls, it is important to remind them that it wasn’t that long ago when women were considered “members of the state” and not recognized as citizens of the United States. Women were denied rights, choices, and privileges that were eventually given to freed male slaves. Susan and Elizabeth were trailblazers and pioneers who made it possible for women to have a seat at the table…to have a voice in the discussion. They weren’t just reformers, activists, and suffragists, they were crusaders, soldiers, and warriors. Before our young girls and women put on a soccer jersey, sit down to choose their college, or review a ballot before an upcoming election, they need to remember that these choices are possible because of an introduction between two women who were outside enjoying a pretty spring day in New York.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket