This is that book - the one that most people adore, that gets rave reviews and awards buzz, the one people recommend to adults and kids, the one that...moreThis is that book - the one that most people adore, that gets rave reviews and awards buzz, the one people recommend to adults and kids, the one that I totally don't get. It's the story of a gorilla. And a few elephants, a dog, and some humans. Right there is your tip-off - I'm not a huge fan of animal stories, unless there's something else remarkable to recommend them. And I don't find my emotional buttons getting hit by tales of animal suffering (as much as I think animal cruelty is awful, it just doesn't trigger the tears the way other things do).
For a book written in blank verse, with not too many words per page, it took me an awfully long time to get through. I'd read for 15 minutes on my lunchbreak and then wonder when it would be over (are we there yet?) I was curious to see how Ivan and the others would manage to get from the mall to the zoo, but story dragged and the language and concept weren't enough to hold my interest. I only made myself finish because I knew it was a relatively quick read and had gotten so much buzz.
Either this was just Not My Style or the emperor has no clothes.
You've got to listen to this one on audio if you're an audiobook fan, because listening to Jack Gantos read you the story of Jack Gantos is perfection...moreYou've got to listen to this one on audio if you're an audiobook fan, because listening to Jack Gantos read you the story of Jack Gantos is perfection. His voice is quirky and distinctive and serves to highlight all the black humor. The cover does this a disservice, because the story is dark and funny and a bit rambling, but filled with a fascinating sense of history and place and childhood. The whole thing is awash in nosebleeds and dead old ladies, with some fantastic obituaries and an appearance by the Hell's Angels. Just read it already.(less)
This was not one of those books that I picked up and immediately loved. In its favor is the fact that it won the Newbery this year. Against it is the...moreThis was not one of those books that I picked up and immediately loved. In its favor is the fact that it won the Newbery this year. Against it is the pressure of knowing it won the Newbery, which makes me read with a more-critical-than-usual eye. Does it hold up against my other favorites from 2010? The answer is not quite - it's a strong book (with a very slow start) that ended up winning me over in the end. But if it were up to me, this book would have switched places with another tighter, more succinct piece of historical fiction - One Crazy Summer, which was a Newbery Honor. (less)
I wrapped up my re-reading of the Prydain Chronicles by listening to this. When I read the series as a kid, I enjoyed the adventure and magic and humo...moreI wrapped up my re-reading of the Prydain Chronicles by listening to this. When I read the series as a kid, I enjoyed the adventure and magic and humor. As an adult, I can appreciate how Alexander takes Taran from an inexperienced boy, ready to take on the world, to someone who has matured and grown and is ready for his biggest responsibility yet - while still being a little youthful and foolish. I'd forgotten how the book ends, so I had the delicious fun of experiencing it along with the characters, with a little surprise even though it felt right. And I can't recommend the audio versions highly enough for getting the correct pronunciations finally stuck in my head. (less)
What I said in 2009: What can I say that hasn't already been said in a million positive reviews? It's one of those books that doesn't waste time on fi...moreWhat I said in 2009: What can I say that hasn't already been said in a million positive reviews? It's one of those books that doesn't waste time on filler. It's neat and tidy and to the point, while still capturing something evocative about childhood. Despite all the mentions of A Wrinkle in Time, the pace of the adventure is a bit quieter here, but the mysteries of the story will be rewarding to readers who don't require a lot of excitement. Which isn't to say that the story isn't engaging - it is - but it requires some attention. I could guess a few plot developments early on, but the characters never felt predictable or pat. The moment in the television studio towards the end, when Miranda pieces it all together, caught me up completely. Stead's portrayal of middle school friendships was just so accurate, and the sense of time and place also strongly contributed to the story. With so much buzz, I'm curious to see how this book does with both young readers and awards committees. Slim and succinct, I'd probably recommend this to 4th graders and up, despite the age of the characters. I might also recommend it to fans of mysteries who are more interested in piecing together clues than action and adventure.
Thoughts on reading it for the third time, in 2011: This one gets better on every reread - enough that I bumped up my rating. I got a delicious spine-tingling feeling reaching the scene at the TV studio when Miranda 'lifts the veil,' even though I knew how it had all happened.
I reread it to lead the discussion at the kids' bookgroup, but sadly the only one to read it was the girl who'd already read and loved it. I'd really hoped a few others would finish it so we could have a spoileriffic discussion!(less)
After hearing so much gushing about Gaiman, and being a little disappointed with Coraline, I had fairly low expectations going into this one. I'm happ...moreAfter hearing so much gushing about Gaiman, and being a little disappointed with Coraline, I had fairly low expectations going into this one. I'm happy to say that it was a marvelous experience reading it - there was a great blend of the funny (the tombstones!) and the creepy (that opening sentence!) The chapters had a fairly episodic feel, but each moved the story along as well, and I was surprised to find myself all choked up at the end. I almost really liked the illustrations, since they added nicely to the mood of the book, but any time a character was depicted, the illustrations clashed with the images in my head. I would definitely recommend this to kids - maybe middle school and up - who can handle a little creepy. The premise is really great - a boy being raised by a graveyard - and I'm happy to say the execution lives up to the premise.
The combination of clear, compelling text and well-chosen photographs and illustrations makes this a great introduction to the life of Abraham Lincoln...moreThe combination of clear, compelling text and well-chosen photographs and illustrations makes this a great introduction to the life of Abraham Lincoln. Freedman tries to dispel any myths about “the Great Emancipator” and shows us a man struggling to succeed and struggling to do right for the country. Difficulties are never whitewashed and triumphs are never absolute in this depiction of a war-time president, and readers will find the story continuously and movingly relevant to American politics. At a fairly slim 150 pages, including an index, bibliography, and selection of quotations, this is highly recommended to middle school students interested in Lincoln or in search of a fascinating biography.(less)
Chapter book - historical fiction Newbery Medal For grades 3-7
Jemmy is Prince Brat's whipping boy, taking any punishment due to the prince, until the pr...moreChapter book - historical fiction Newbery Medal For grades 3-7
Jemmy is Prince Brat's whipping boy, taking any punishment due to the prince, until the prince decides to run away, taking Jemmy with him and leading them into a series of adventures with notorious outlaws.
This tale is told with plenty of humor and adventure, in an entertaining style that suits the content. Prince Brat and Jemmy begin the story as contrasting characters, but develop a believable affinity as they run from castle, outlaws, soldiers and sewers. The chapters are short and packed with action, as well as enough emotional content to make the story satisfying. The madcap vocabulary and Peter Sis' illustrations add more spice to the story. This would make a great read-aloud, and the boys' escapades, as well as the book's brevity, will make the story appealing to reluctant readers.
The Publisher's Weekly review relies heavily on plot summary and description. School Library Journal gives a better sense of the book's strengths and appeal, while still summarizing the action, and offers read-alike suggestions.(less)
My view of this book will always be shaped by the fact that I heard it for the first time in 7th grade. But it's also one that holds up extremely well...moreMy view of this book will always be shaped by the fact that I heard it for the first time in 7th grade. But it's also one that holds up extremely well to rereading, and each time I notice a new theme or element that had slipped past me before. In middle-school, I read for plot. Then I read for language - Jonas is very careful to choose the right words, and even though he doesn't narrate the story, his precision of language comes across in the book as a whole. Then there are all of the questions of what it means to live in a safe, controlled society versus one full of freedoms and risks and feelings. This time it was the feelings I noticed - that the adults who perform releases aren't affected by them because they don't have access to true feelings, and that only with the insight of the memories - of pain and joy - does death become something we feel.(less)
I'm really reluctant to say this, but this series isn't holding the same magic for me as an adult as it did as a child. There are other things I've go...moreI'm really reluctant to say this, but this series isn't holding the same magic for me as an adult as it did as a child. There are other things I've gone back and reread, where I respond to them just as much (but differently) as an adult, but this isn't one of them. It holds up in a lot of ways - I'm still intrigued by the characters, and settings, and the way Arthurian legend plays a role in the plot. And I would still recommend it heartily to child readers, because I found the series incredibly intriguing as a child. This one and The Dark is Rising were my two favorites. There's a real sense of malevolence at work, and the characters are genuinely conflicted. Will in particular feels the strain of being both a friend to Bran and an Old One - and what he wants to do and what he must do are sometimes different things. That, I think, is the real strength of this story.
The audio version was very enjoyable - I finally got proper pronunciations for all those pesky Welsh words, and the narrator got really into playing out the emotions of the characters. Sometimes he slipped into that too-literal interpretation of whispers and shouts - one minute I would be pumping up the volume to catch whispered dialogue, and the next I would be blasted away when a character exploded in anger. Not necessary. You can imply whispers and shouts without actually whispering and shouting. (less)
At long last I've got my hands on the 2008 Newbery winner, and it has my seal of approval (actually, I just put the Newbery sticker on the spine, sinc...moreAt long last I've got my hands on the 2008 Newbery winner, and it has my seal of approval (actually, I just put the Newbery sticker on the spine, since it was my library's copy and has been in circulation constantly since before it won the shiny gold medal). I can with near certainty say I would've loved this in middle school. We did a whole medieval unit in about 6th grade, just like Schlitz describes in her forward, with model castles and everything. We even enacted a play about Sir Gawain, and this book would've been a perfect addition to our curriculum. At the very least, Bronwen and I could've read it aloud to each other while we textured our castle walls.
In all seriousness, it's a great combination of things. There are the dramatic monologues and dialogues that make up the bulk of the book - some are funny, some are depressing, but they all manage to pack in an incredible amount of information without sacrificing emotion or interest. Footnotes (found delightfully in the side columns) define archaic words or cultural references. A few sections called "a little background" are inserted in between stories, giving more information on pilgrimage, the Crusades, Falconry, Jews in society, town vs country life, and farming practices. Far from being dry, these answer questions about What It Was Really Like that were rarely found in my 6th grade history book. As Schlitz points out in the forward, she usually got that sense of history from novels, not history lessons. I've had exactly the same experience, and I'm happy to say this book falls into the "novel" camp.
I was pleasantly surprised by Robert Byrd's illustrations, and how much they added to the book. From the tiny image of the cover art seen online, I was underwhelmed - it all looked a bit too soft and cartoony. But up close, the details really bring the illustrations to life and compliment the stories perfectly.
I keep talking about middle school, but I think the book could go a few years younger, too - although I don't know if younger students could manage to actually memorize and perform the monologues.(less)
While I never fell head-over-heels in love with this book, I can't really find fault with it. We see Alyce go from a nameless, homeless child sleeping...moreWhile I never fell head-over-heels in love with this book, I can't really find fault with it. We see Alyce go from a nameless, homeless child sleeping in a dung heap, to a girl who's starting to figure what it is she wants from life - and finding out that she wants something more than food in her belly and a place to sleep. The midwife is delightfully acerbic, there is a real sense of the grime and harsh life of a medieval village, the peripheral characters are real and entertaining. Most of all, as much as I think it would appeal to modern kids, I wouldn't describe it as having a modern sensibility. Alyce doesn't go from the dung heap to some exalted life of the mind - she just discovers that midwifery suits her. I believed that she - and the other characters - were of their time, and not modern personalities thrust into a historical setting.
Like I said in my review of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! the two would go well together. (less)