Similar in theme to Lowry's novel The Giver, this story is set in a dystopian society where sympathy for others does not exist and artistic abilitiesSimilar in theme to Lowry's novel The Giver, this story is set in a dystopian society where sympathy for others does not exist and artistic abilities are practically extinct. After suffering through the death of her mother, Kira, the main character, is given a new and pleasant occupation and home in the city, yet with her new fortune comes the discovery of the society's dark side.
I liked best about this novel the questioning that it forces readers into: How different is this society from my own? Despite outward differences, how are the societies relatable? What is the role of difference in a a community? Despite the fact that the novel is a fantasy, it forces the reader to ask questions of her own reality.
The novel was predictable for readers past the middle school level, but it has some awesome places for prediction. The protagonist even asks questions throughout the novel that help guide readers in their critical thinking. Questions such as “where was yonder?” (118), “Who found her? How did they know to look?” (141) offer strong guidelines for students to generate their own questions as they read. These questions could certainly stand as models for the introduction to a double entry reading journal. Even after finishing the book, readers could have a lively discussion about what Kira will do with the singer's robe and how she plans to continue living in her community. The plot is exciting and the ideas are thought provoking. It would be a great novel for a unit on negotiating boundaries. ...more
In verse, Out of the Dust tells the story of Billie Jo and her family, living in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and trying to survive on aIn verse, Out of the Dust tells the story of Billie Jo and her family, living in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and trying to survive on a meager plot of farmland, and the wheat that the dust continues to destroy. When a bucket of kerosene is left by the stove in the family's house, real devastation strikes, and Billy Jo attempts to negotiate her life between hopelessness and escape.
The way Billy Jo tells her story in verse reminds me of Patricia McCormick's Sold, and beautifully tells a story that is no lighter. The simplicity of the prose brings the family's devastation to the forefront and makes it approachable, but no less depressing. I loved the book because it taught me about a place in my own country that I was so unfamiliar with, and I obtained so much more qualitative data than I would have had I read a nonfiction book or an encyclopedia entry. Karen Hesse's characters are real and easy to sympathize with. I'd recommend this book to 4th through 8th grade readers, and to reluctant high school readers. ...more
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of concentration camps during the Holocaust through the eyes of Bruno, a naïve nine-year-old boy and soThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of concentration camps during the Holocaust through the eyes of Bruno, a naïve nine-year-old boy and son of a Nazi commander. After his family moves to a new house bordering Auschwitz, Bruno meets and befriends one of the prisoners of the camp who happens to be his age. He and Bruno share stories of their respective sides of the fence, making Bruno want to cross over and experience life on the other side for a change.
I enjoyed reading this book from the perspective of such a young and naïve character, though it made me wonder, especially in light of the points brought up last week in class, whether it would be easy for a young reader to comprehend the serious undertones of the book without first knowing a little bit about the Holocaust. And along the same lines, what age is too early to learn about he atrocities of the Holocaust? The reading level of the novel is approachable for fourth graders, though I would recommend it to middle school readers in conjunction with a Holocaust unit. ...more
This is a novel about a foster child finding both herself and the right family for her. The story moves forward through flip-flopping first person narThis is a novel about a foster child finding both herself and the right family for her. The story moves forward through flip-flopping first person narration of past events and descriptions of Hollis's drawings, each representing an important vignette from her life. I love the transitions in narration; the descriptions of the drawings allow the reader to slow down an imagine a single scene, picking out the symbols in the snapshot that represent Hollis's psychological state at a given time. Readers must continually negotiate Hollis's past and feelings at the time with Hollis's more recent life and her development since.
Despite the serious undertones of the book, Hollis cracked me up throughout, recounting stories about fraudulent absent notes she had written (21) and referring to her case manager as “the mustard woman” (82). It's clear to the reader that despite her outward displays of disobedience, Hollis is intelligent and cunning, with the ability to think critically about her life and her consequences.
I feel ambivalently about the happy ending, since it's most likely not representative of most foster-child “endings.” It certainly didn't seem realistic, but it made me feel good. Appropriate for readers grades 4-8, and for reluctant readers at the high school level, I'd certainly use this book for lit circles....more
I like about Little Brother that it covers a few important issues in contemporary society: technology's expanding role, the privacy versus security deI like about Little Brother that it covers a few important issues in contemporary society: technology's expanding role, the privacy versus security debate that's easily linked to current debates about terrorism, and the meaning of patriotism. Though it is obvious readers are supposed to side with the protagonist—with the belief in technology as a privacy tool, and a literal reading of the constitution in matters concerning out-of-control government—the issues at hand are rendered no less important as a result. Readers see the conflicts that Marcus faces as realistic and pertinent to today.
Despite the importance of these topics, I hesitate to give this book any more than three stars for a few reasons. First, Doctorow does not seem to be much of a young adult author. In fact, he has mostly written books on technology for adults, and in that genre, he's somewhat of a guru, but in YA lit, he's sloppy at best. The characters and their relationships with each other are underdeveloped and often times unsympathetic, the pacing is off (there's a lull in the middle of about 200 pages where very little takes place), and the editing is angering—twice he refers to one female character when he means a completely different female character. Not only is that confusing, but so are his attempts at explaining the technological terms he uses so frequently. I do like that he attempts to describe the functions of operating systems and codes in everyday terms, but more often than not, I found his analogies to be confusing.
I would probably recommend this book to a college-bound student who had a bit of background knowledge in technology, but I certainly wouldn't teach it in class. ...more