You never want to come out too early in review of a book, and CHAINED doesn't release until May of 2012. My apologies--in advance--to not only Lynne K...moreYou never want to come out too early in review of a book, and CHAINED doesn't release until May of 2012. My apologies--in advance--to not only Lynne Kelly (who--by the way--taught Mr. Hankins how to use a hashtag on Twitter ((just in case you wanted to know who to blame for this)) but to the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux as well for this early, early review. . .but you see?
I have to be first on this one.
We're always wondering, right? What book will capture our attention in the next year? Pull at us in all of the places a work can pull? Lead us to discussions--not only with our reading community at large--but that community at very, very small--our classroom. Which titles will lead us to deeper understandings of our place in this world and our connection with others--familiar and unfamiliar? Local and global? With our fellow man. . .and with nature? And we ask all of these questions while holding on dearly to those books we have loved this year, right? And finally, what book will fill up the Goodreads feed with the number of times it will be marked "To Read" by the community here?
Out of the gate, CHAINED is one of those middle grade/early YA books we will talk about in the spring of 2012. It has all of elements of a class/student friendly read, and I wouldn't be surprised to see CHAINED adopted not only at the classroom level, but by university professors offering multicultural titles as part of their MG/YA literature survey courses.
When Hastin's younger sister falls ill and has to go to the hospital, Hastin stays behind to take care of the home. His only companion piece in the world now is the small stone that his deceased father left for him along with the story of its coloration and smoothness. An extended hospital stay means that Hastin not only has to stay home by himself even longer, it means that his mother must take on a servant capacity job in order to pay off the rupees necessary to cover her daughter's care.
A chance invitation to go into town to help a friend sell a camel (one of the books early charming moments), affords Hastin a chance to see his mother and her new workplace. When he senses his mother's mistreatment and witnesses the harsh conditions she must endure, Hastin vows to find a way to secure a job to make the payment to the hospital (but not until the camel has eaten part of the master's topiary).
Hastin finds work as an elephant keeper under a seeming huckster named Timir who is planning to re-establish his circus, having had some success as a circus man before. Hastin comes under the "care" of Timir and awaits his duties as a elephant keeper (Timir and his assistant Sharad must first capture an elephant). In the interim, Hastin meets Ne Min (one of the wisest, most tender/gentle mentors you will find in current MG/YA realistic, multicultural literature), a kindly servant who serves in the capacity of cook and general maintenance.
Eventually, Timir captures his elephant and Hastin learns the ways of keeping an elephant. He also witnesses treatment of the elephant, who Hastin names Nandita (which means Joy) that gives him pause for concern. Along the way, Ne Min assists in the care of Nandita making Hastin question how Ne Min knows so much about elephants (one of few times in the past few books I have read in the past year wherein I had that "oh. Gasp!" kind of moments while reading.
Each chapter opens with a quote from a book about the care of elephants. These quotes work so nicely as a pre-cursor for what is to happen in that section of the book and allows Kelly to carry the story with what seems to be veiled evidence of the research she has surely done in the crafting of this story.
As the conditions worsen for Nandita and the threat of sale or extermination loom for her, Hastin must make a decision regarding the disposition of his large, gray friend. But you will have to read that decision for yourself. . .
The moments between Hastin and Nandita are tender and touching. I actually felt like I was in that small sleeping quarter with Hastin, who is tricked into not knowing how long he will have to stay to pay of the debt to Timir, and Nandita. I felt especially close to this book having just finished the newest SCIENTIST IN THE FIELD book about elephants in the past weekend.
The moments between Hastin and Ne Min are of the same ilk. I wanted to know everything about Ne Min right away, but Kelly--in her debut work--let's Ne Min reveal himself in bits and pieces with the touch of a master craftsman writer.
In the end, you will cheer for Hastin and Nandita. Students of the Hero's Journey will not be disappointed for all of the markers in place that will let you follow the circle around.
Themes that come out of CHAINED are worthy of discussion in the reading workshop classroom. Guilt and Shame are covered to the extent that the book makes an interesting ladder to THE CRUCIBLE with Timir and Danforth taking on similar roles in their governance over the disposition of others without any kind of effort given toward their nurture or even basic maintenance (ask Mr. Hankins how this works sometime because the idea is still fresh in my head with possibilities building new rungs and ladders all of the time).
Shorter chapters make CHAINED an excellent choice for classroom read-aloud. As the book releases in May, it would be a nice hit for early fall when the kids come back to the classroom and the summer will afford teachers plenty of time to have the book read and discussed (follow Mr. Hankins at @PaulWHankins and I will personally discuss the book with you).
The multicultural setting and characters will make CHAINED a welcome addition to the reading classroom where more multicultural titles are being sought. The nature of child labor, Indian culture, and elephants just naturally lend themselves to non-fiction texts that would cover the same. Kelly offers some information regarding these in the back of the ARC. And I was so pleased to see that Mitali Perkins (BAMBOO PEOPLE) was one of the authors Kelly sought out to help with some of the details that work their way into the story I read today. Kelly have done her homework as she has written this story, and in a small way I feel as though I have known Hastin for some time--although not by name--from my interactions with Kelly at Twitter and Facebook.
Kelly has a strong inter-web presence already and her advocacy for middle grade/young adult literature as evidenced by her active participation in discussions and forum offered by social media--even before her own book has released--gives her great credibility in this teacher/reader/reviewer/writer's eyes. Here is an accessible, promising, young author who I can only hope has more and more to share by way of story.
As I stated earlier, I had to be the first out on this book. So much, that I am typing and refreshing to make sure that no one else sneaks any stars out there before I have a chance to hit SAVE.
Here is the promise of a super upcoming year of writing/reading. I have read other titles coming out in 2012, but Kelly is one of the first official Class of 2012 title I have read. Her work here in CHAINED allows her to move to the front of the class. And if her work is any indication of what the class of 2012 has to offer us in the new year, we are in for a real reading treat.
Psst. . .if you get to the end of this review. . .Lynne, this is for you. Thanks for everything!(less)
Mr. Hankins is putting his readers on THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN for the beginning of 2012's reading season.
Think of all of the good stuff you loved about...moreMr. Hankins is putting his readers on THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN for the beginning of 2012's reading season.
Think of all of the good stuff you loved about THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN and TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE and, instead of sitting with Enzo in a cozy living room watching the discovery channel or with Morrie in a study littered with books and notes, you'll be sitting in a cage with Ivan, "the Ape at Exit 8," a thoughtful gorilla tasked with one of the most difficult callings ever. . .caring for a new cast member in a broken down circus, a baby elephant.
Appelgate's prose is beautiful, and Ivan, her narrator, like Enzo, gets to saying some things about being "human" that we all need to hear. . .a lovely, lovely book that will prompt discussions about what it means to live within one's intended calling even when that calling is not made manifest in the day-to-day doings. The book could also foster conversations about what it means to dig deep for that one latent gift that is just waiting for us to tap into it for the greater good--not only of ourselves, but for those around us.
Mr. Hankins is coming out early to predict big things for Katherine Appelgate's THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN in 2012. I predict that this will become an instant classic that readers will return to again and again, sharing it with every friend they can. (less)
"Ladders" to THE SECRET GARDEN. More to say as release date nears. Ellen Potter does not disappoint here. Story moves quickly, but the writing is almo...more"Ladders" to THE SECRET GARDEN. More to say as release date nears. Ellen Potter does not disappoint here. Story moves quickly, but the writing is almost lyrical in places. (less)
This is one you'll have to read for yourself. The subject of the book is one of a personal, but most familiar, issue for boys.
With NERD GIRLS and now...moreThis is one you'll have to read for yourself. The subject of the book is one of a personal, but most familiar, issue for boys.
With NERD GIRLS and now THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING UP, Alan Sitomer is securing his place as a middle grade humor writer which will no doubt put in a well-deserved place with authors like Lubar, Paulsen, and Sachar.
Alan writes this one pretty true to the pre-adolescent/adolescent experience, complete with the anxiety that comes from within and the humor without.
Encourage young guy readers to find this title. It could be that they get more information about this subject than any other place.
I'm so happy to have picked up Milo today. It's been on the shelf for sometime with the recommendation of some Centurion friends at Facebook. And then...moreI'm so happy to have picked up Milo today. It's been on the shelf for sometime with the recommendation of some Centurion friends at Facebook. And then, Alan posted a comment on a thread I was working on over at Facebook and I thought. . .I am going to read that book today.
Sometimes, in the all of the darkness and grief cited by those looking into the MG/YA fishbowl, something gets missed. There is a lot of hurt piled upon the awkwardness that is the MG years (let's sit down sometime and I will share with you my MG years; I can only assume there will be parts of the story you will find familiar).
Milo is a 7th-grader who has moved no fewer than five times in his own lifetime. After moving from "the fog house (this is revealed in the book)," he finds himself in a new home with his Dad, sister. . .well. . .his Dad and his sister. His mother has died two years prior to our meeting Milo of cancer. Milo is in a state of latent grief, living in a vacuum of a home with a depressed father and an otherwise occupied sister.
But somehow Milo motors on and finds his way into yet another new school, following the routines and falling in love with the object of his desire, Summer Goodman (we meet Summer in the opening lines of the book). With a good friend like Marshall, who shares a taste for bad Freezes and even worse films , and a mysterious neighbor lady who Milo criticizes for the incorrect, indiscreet purchase of pumpkins, maybe a kid can find their way to healing and self-discovery.
The winner of the 2011 Sid Fleischman Award, Silberberg's book is poised to find itself on a ladder with the Wimpy Kid books, but sets itself apart with Silberberg's ability to capture a moment, an emotion in what might otherwise be seen as a complimentary image carrying the story. Milo might also find itself on a ladder with John Gosselink's THE DEFENSE OF THADDEUS A. LEDBETTER.
A wonderful read for your MG readers. But on more than one page turn, I found myself thinking of my own maternal losses. Don't write off Milo as just an MG title. Milo is moving. . .and essential. I want to thank the person who recommended it to me. . .(less)
A cute story with a little bit of mystery woven into a story of remembering the special people in our lives and the legacies they leave. . .even if th...moreA cute story with a little bit of mystery woven into a story of remembering the special people in our lives and the legacies they leave. . .even if them leave them seemingly to a cat. (less)
Lupe's arrival at Margie's school leads to initial discomforts. Hasn't Margie convinced her classmates--as well as herself--that she was born in the U...moreLupe's arrival at Margie's school leads to initial discomforts. Hasn't Margie convinced her classmates--as well as herself--that she was born in the United States? That she is American?
Alma Flor Ada's wonderful little book reminds the reader that we all come from somewhere. Our families are important. And each of us has a name that means something.
Ask any middle grade reader about school and you might get a response along the lines of "School is tough."
But Splendid Academy is not like any other...moreAsk any middle grade reader about school and you might get a response along the lines of "School is tough."
But Splendid Academy is not like any other school. Here, students and faculty meet for breakfast each day, students are allowed to run from place to place, and candy dishes that never seem to empty are to be found in every desk in every room.
Education reform aside, most would agree that this would be a fantastic school to attend.
And the noun form of fantastic?
So, what is happening at Splendid Academy. Why are students sitting dreamily through breakfast consuming more than a normal child could in one sitting? Sitting dreamily through lessons while consuming bottomless bowls of M&Ms? What of the mysterious Ms. Morrigan who is seemingly able to be everywhere at once? And what of the mysterious music teacher, Ms. Threnody who won't allow Lorelei to sing, forcing each of the students to learn to play a reed pipe instead?
And what of the wait staff, who never say a word while serving food or moving about the corridors? Why do some of these servers look familiar from the pictures of students who have attended the various Splendid Academies found around the world?
And why is one boy, a chubby boy named Andrew, encouraging Lorelei not to eat? And why does he choose to shove sand in her mouth on the playground risking punishment for himself?
And can any of this confusion help Lorelei to sort out her feelings about her family at home and the guilt she carries for her mother's death?
THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY reads like Willy Wonka Meet The Wall (with a tinge of Ordinary People ((how's this for a mash-up), but tucked inside a story that reads like a classic fairy tale is something a little more tender and is not to be missed this fall by middle grade readers and their reader advisors.
Nikki Lofton gives us all of the checkpoints of a classic fairy tale:
*A family broken apart by a death and a ham-handed attempt to try to put it back together again. (Lorelei's mother passes away and she is keeping a deep, dark secret that can only be kept within the heart of a deep-feeling twelve-year-old)
*Bad things befalling characters and settings with a progressive "Wow. I didn't think that would happen" kind of feel (Father remarries, a school burns down and a new one is built immediately in its place).
*Characters are placed within a new, somewhat out-of-the-ordinary experience wherein questions must be answered quickly in order to navigate (or survive).
*Opposing forces vying for the affections of a character who doesn't quite know where their heart is at the moment let alone make decisions for its disposition.
Like a good fairy tale, some answers come quickly and the reader moves along the breadcrumb trail to try to figure out how the protagonist will navigate the conflict, but Loftin provides plenty of twists and turns within the book to keep one in the story. Her treatment of the kitchen staff is particularly tender and in this section of the book there are all kinds of extensions to familiar stories and multi-cultural lore (inviting even more reader recommendations).
And when Lorelei finally confronts the evil that she has been facing throughout the book, readers will not have predicted what needs to be faced down in order for the hero to come out on the other side.
Nikki Loftin demonstrates in this book that comfort food is anything but, and what she cooks up in THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY is classic fun for reading audiences.
From a reader-advisory/teacher viewpoint, middle grade fiction should have a little bit of magic within. Characters should look and sound familiar and have those tweeny-transitional concerns that are immediately recognizable by the middle grade reader. I'm of the opinion that when these middle grade titles have some natural tie-in with familiar stories (which open portals between NOW and NEXT) then so much the better for these readers.
Pair up Nikki Loftin's book with those by Jackson Pierce (SISTERS RED, SWEETLY)
Fans of 2011 titles like Anne Ursu's BREADCRUMBS, Laurel Snyder's BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX, and Patrick Ness's A MONSTER CALLS,and 2010 titles like Adam Gidwitz's A TALE DARK AND GRIMM won't want to miss Nikki Loftin's THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY. Loftin's book will also work well with Amber McRee Turner's 2012 spring release, SWAY.(less)
I read this in advance of Noah (11) reading this for his ELA class. But actually, I read this because I saw so many of my elementary teacher friends a...moreI read this in advance of Noah (11) reading this for his ELA class. But actually, I read this because I saw so many of my elementary teacher friends at Facebook and Twitter talking about this book this year. I knew I had better put the title in my reader advisory toolbox.