My Name Is Mina

Mina loves the night. While everyone else is in a deep slumber, she gazes out the window, witness to the moon’s silvery light. In the stillness, she can even hear her own heart beating. This is when Mina feels that anything is possible and her imagination is set free. A blank notebook lies on the table. It has been there for what seems like forever. Mina has proclaimed in the past that she will use it as a journal, and one night, at last, she begins to do just that. As she writes, Mina makes discoveries both trivial and profound about herself and her world, her thoughts and her dreams.

Award-winning author David Almond reintroduces readers to the perceptive, sensitive Mina before the events of Skellig in this lyrical and fantastical work. My Name is Mina is not only a pleasure to read, it is an intimate and enlightening look at a character whose open mind and heart have much to teach us about life, love, and the mysteries that surround us.

One thought on “My Name Is Mina

  1. Johnson & Carpenter says:

    One of the lyrics from the song, “Maria” in the Sound of Music asks – “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” That’s what it is like to try to describe David Almond’s book, My Name is Mina . . . . I experienced a sense of wonder as I read this book. Wonder at Almond’s originality and talent. Wonder at the delightful character of the nine-year-old Mina who is full of a zest for life, learning and growing. This book is a prequel to Almond’s book, Skellig. Mina tells about herself before the events in Skellig. Mina’s ideas, thoughts, wonderings unfold through her journal entries. Mina uses different font sizes and forms to emphasize her thoughts in her journal. She likes to play with words, “I keep on playing with words and my pen. I look at an empty page and it’s like an empty sky waiting for a bird to fly across it.” When she finds a word that thrills her she writes it in bold and large font – “Pneumatization!”
    She writes poems and sometimes ideas for “extraordinary activities. She gets to “mooch about” because she is homeschooled. She read and rereads favorite books. She loves three of my favorite picture books, which she calls “three of the extraordinariest books in the world: Where the Wild Things Are, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Dogger! Lay on my bed and read them and looked at them just like I did when I was a little girl. And danced the dance of the Wild Things with Max, and tiptoed into the bear’s cave with the family, and felt really sad with Dave about his lost toy, Dogger, and really happy with him when he found it again. … I read them all again, a second time, and got all dreamy…” Mina is a character who comes alive through her musings in her journal. At the end she asks, “Does everybody feel this excitement, this astonishment, as they grow. I close my eyes and stare into the universe inside myself. I feel as if I’m poised on the threshold of something marvelous.” That’s what resonated with me about this book – it celebrates words, the power and joy of reading and writing.
    I would have to agree, Marilyn, that this book—through Mina’s passion and wonder—frames a love of language that is hard to resist. I think it would be a lovely book to read aloud to young people to develop word consciousness. I love Almond’s work on the whole, but this was not my favorite of his, I must admit. Kit’s Wilderness, Clay, and Heaven Eyes grabbed me and pulled me into worlds of wonder mixed with a deep sadness that always leads me to the edge of reality, to a place that might exist. He is a wonder when it comes to creating atmosphere, and while I sense it with Mina, it wasn’t as strong for me in this book. What I got out of the book, and what I really, really liked, however, was the way Almond brings readers into a space where they are able to see how Mina handles her grief, and how her mother “gets it” and allows her to work through her grief. Mina is just a little bit crazy, a little bit distraught, a little bit angry, and IT IS OKAY. REALLY OKAY on the larger scale of things, and wouldn’t it be nice if teachers and schools “got it”? Imagine losing a parent at such a young age? And one that seemed to be so present to Mina. So, while I didn’t necessarily like Mina as well as Almond’s other books, I did love the relationship Mina had with her mother, loved the folks at the center Mina visited (they “got it”, too), and loved the way Almond portrayed Mina’s healing.
    I appreciate your insights about how Almond shows that adults in Mina’s life supported her in working out her grief. You also made me think of the larger scale of things. Your statement, “…wouldn’t it be nice if teachers and schools “got it”?” prompted me to think about how teachers and schools in the current “one size fits all/teach to the test” educational climate don’t have time to consider children’s emotional lives, much less give them time to work out their emotions. I am haunted by an article this last week in the New York Times, “Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School.” A doctor who prescribes pills to children who are having poor academic performance in inadequate schools states in the article that, “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” After reading that I wondered how a child like Mina could have survive in that kind of situation. Would she have been prescribed pills to cover up her grief and focus her attention on school work? There are several other current books that focus on the theme of dealing with the grief of losing a parent. Two that I found powerful are, A Monster Calls and A Dog Called Homeless. Wouldn’t it be amazing if students were guided by their teachers and librarians to read such books?
    You and I are talking the same concern, Marilyn. I also understand the plight of many teachers, who may have difficulty addressing children’s outside lives or issues in such an educational environment. Sometimes I think we forget that school, and life, are human endeavors, and thus the structures in place to help scaffold our experiences might be better attuned to the humanness of all the Minas they encounter in the classroom. Almond’s book does a nice job of reminding us of the marvelous complexity of children who may be struggling with something outside the classroom, but at the same time, so engaged academically. Like Mina, and her passion for language and her thoughtful thinking about the world. I think there’s a lot going on inside young people, but much of it may not be seen unless we make room for their wonder, their passion, and perhaps, as in Mina, their grief.

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