One of the recently announced Newbery Honor books, Inside Out & Back Again deserves all the praise it’s received. A verse novel that reads almostOne of the recently announced Newbery Honor books, Inside Out & Back Again deserves all the praise it’s received. A verse novel that reads almost like a diary, it tells the story of a 10 year old girl who feels silenced and lost when she and her family end up in Alabama after fleeing Saigon as refugees during the Vietnam War. Suddenly they’re not only foreigners, but poor and Ha, once the smartest in her class, is bullied and made to feel stupid in school simply because she hasn’t mastered the English language yet. The word count may be small, but the wallop Ha’s stream of consciousness packs is not.
That said, I didn’t fall instep with Inside Out & Back Again immediately. The writing is abrupt and fragmented. It’s choppy. But the more you read, the better you know Ha, how funny and smart and temperamental she is. The deeper you delve into her family’s immigration story, and experience her struggle to speak English and make friends, the easier it is to understand Lai’s very intentional style of poetry. The speech may not be perfect, or it may just not be what the American ear is used to hearing, but it reminds the reader to ask themselves: what about the content? It’s all too easy to quickly misjudge someone because of a language barrier (especially when, as Ha bemoans, English seems designed to make foreign speakers feel stupid with all of it’s unnecessary articles), to label them dumb or inferior simply because their means of expression are basic. It reminds the reader to focus on content, on intention and meaning rather than superficial imperfections.
This book is a lot of things. It’s an immigration and refugee story. It’s an introduction to the Vietnam War. It’s a glimpse into history and offers both beautiful and heartbreaking experiences most readers will never experience for themselves, from the sway of a mango tree in Saigon to the sensation of starving and the stench of human filth aboard a cramped refugee ship. It puts the reader in the position of being a victim of taunting. It shows how it feels to be so outside you don’t look right, speak right, or even believe right. In short, it’s a crash course in being an outsider.
IO&BA does so much so well, but what it does best and most importantly, is encourage empathy. I know, it’s hard to imagine a book conveying so much story and emotion, and in POETRY no less, without being a drippy over-the-top history lesson cum sob fest. But I kid you not. It’s powerful and moving and feisty as hell. An important book that I hope many children will be introduced to and discuss in their schools....more
I'm always a bit skeptical of verse novels. You'd think that my appreciation for books by Sharon Creech would have me convinced by now, but I always pI'm always a bit skeptical of verse novels. You'd think that my appreciation for books by Sharon Creech would have me convinced by now, but I always pick them up with the same wary question in my mind: "Ooookay, is this actually any good or is this a gimmick?" I think a lot of us approach poetry with, if not fear, then a sense of drudgery. It is going to be too drippy? Will it be too dense? Lured by Christopher Silas Neal's beautiful cover illustration and type and interested to read a non-Laura prairie story, I started May B. with my usual amount of cynicism and was immediately forced to withdraw it. This is poetry done right. The story is exciting and historically interesting (Little House fans will be all about it and have some prior knowledge of prairie life), our heroine is brave but self-doubting, and most importantly, the writing is emotionally raw and memorable. The blankness of the pages reminds me that Caroline Starr Rose's word usage is seriously economical, yet I'm utterly satisfied. The ability to be concise, by my mind, is a trait of some of the truest talents; Think Winnie-the-Pooh, think Coraline, think anything Lois Lowry has ever written. It's the ability to state things plainly yet wonderfully. It's knowing how to use your words. Sparingly but powerfully.
The story is interesting enough on it's own. May B., 12 years old, is being sent away to live with another family for half the year to help earn money until her Pa comes back for her around Christmas time. She's close to her family, especially her brother Hiram, and an eager and intelligent, though struggling, student, and she does. NOT. want to go. She hates to leave home, and is afraid of what missing school will mean for her in the long run.
Her sense of disappointment is only deepened upon meeting the family she's set to work for; the wife, a young city thing who has nothing but venom for prairie life is angry and unpleasant. Her husband is kind enough, though that doesn't matter much when his disgruntled wife runs off and he chases after her… leaving May completely alone. On the prairie. With no rifle. Limited food. A blizzard coming. And absolutely no idea how to get home.
I've never seen water spread straight to the horizon; these endless grasslands are sea enough for me. This soddy's like an island far from any shoreline. My home is out there somewhere. To me, a world away.
At first we're impressed by May's (and, in general, the hardworking, skilled know-how of children of by-gone eras) ability to fend for herself; she prepares food, she's smart about protecting her bread starter, she mends the floor boards of the leaky sod hut, she even keeps up with her studies. In short, she does what I, repeatedly while reading this reminded myself, could not. But as winter weather creeps in, her food supply dwindles, and the cold literally barricades her in, May's can-do spirit starts to dissipate; she's physically sapped, and most heartbreakingly, she becomes completely discouraged by her reading difficulties -- "The words on paper / don't match the sounds I make"-- dyslexia, though of course, there is no name for her learning impairment at the time. Descriptions of the prairie and tiny soddy, and the physical dangers that surround her (starvation, wolves, etc) are written alongside May's inner monologue, where she alternately recalls happier times at home, mentally punishes her father and the Oblingers for leaving (a favorite line: "I hope Mrs. Oblinger fell of that horse and is still wandering the prairie. Mr. Oblinger / better be dead." Ha.), fondly recalls an encouraging and patient former teacher, and relives the embarrassment of being labeled stupid and placed with the youngest children in class because of her inability to read aloud. May's need to read slowly and separate words reinforces the use of poetry. Much of the novel reads straight through like any book, but there are moments when the reader is clearly meant to read more carfeully as well, and concentrate on the words. Pretty clever.
and grass, always grass, in different shades and textures like the braids in a rag rug. Miss Sanders told us that lines never end, and numbers go on forever. Here, in short-grass country, I understand infinity.
Armed with only a broom to defend herself, May eventually hits her breaking point and decides to find her way home or die trying.
It's a shame May B. won't be released until January. It's also a shame I'm not a bookseller anymore. Because I would have this book wrapped and sitting under many a girls' tree this Christmas. Sure to be a hit with any Little House fans (of which I'm a very half-hearted one, if that's more of a sell for you). The popularity of Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life, makes me think this would make a great gift for many adult "bonnet-heads" as well. A recommendation, certainly, for middle grade readers in search of historical fiction, as well as survival story lovers.
I loved this. It's extremely entertaining, it's memorable, it's emotionally relatable, and even educational! 2012 isn't even upon us and I've already got this on my list of 2013 Newbery hopefuls. Thank you to Net Galley for making this ARC available to me....more
It will surprise no one to find that a book largely dedicated to history jokes wasn't met with uproarious laughter from me (even the ones I actually uIt will surprise no one to find that a book largely dedicated to history jokes wasn't met with uproarious laughter from me (even the ones I actually understood, I mean). I did, however, love the strips about assumed plot lines based on Edward Gorey and Nancy Drew book covers. Great idea. Wish I'd come up with it myself!
The specific gags of the book, Hark! A Vagrant aside, I've since started following Beaton's sketch comics at harkavagrant.com. A lot of the history references are still a bit lost on me but even when I'm not totally in on the joke, it's clear Beaton's going to be around for the long haul. Her subjects and sense of humor are fresh and very much her own, her comedic timing and expressions are perfect, and her style deceptively simple. Like Jules Feiffer or Quentin Blake.
**spoiler alert** I'm a sucker for the diary format. It's just so friendly and readable. It's the case of Michelle Cooper's A Brief History of Montmar**spoiler alert** I'm a sucker for the diary format. It's just so friendly and readable. It's the case of Michelle Cooper's A Brief History of Montmaray, it's also an ideal format because it allows her to present historical fiction, to explain terms like "communist" and "fascist" in a way that doesn't intimidate. Sophie, our narrator and diarist, is trying to get the terms straight herself, and all the while she's pondering the threat of the Nazis she's also daydreaming about debutante balls and boys. Well, one boy, specifically. And he seems to be Oscar Wilde-ing with her brother, so to speak.
The book is at times sugary delight (like I said… diary, boys, castles… however crappy the castle may be), spooky bedtime story (I found myself anxiously curled up in an arm chair reading the dead body/tunnel scene late at night and it was perfect), and history lesson (ish).
Some parts didn't quite add up for me. The whole Isabella thing. Is there a supernatural element here or is it in Sophie's head? I never felt like Isabella much mattered, even when Veronica's "big secret" regarding her drowning was revealed. And…. so… uh… these girls are COMPLETELY ALONE on an ISLAND? With a lunatic and a maid they need to give an ass-kicking to? Like, there is seriously no one else there? At all? How can you be king if you have no subjects? But I guess that leads us onto the sequel, The FitzOsbournes in Exile, which I am interested to read....more
Despite the stellar reviews by people I wholeheartedly trust, a chapter into "Okay for Now", I wasn't sure I was going to agree with them. There was sDespite the stellar reviews by people I wholeheartedly trust, a chapter into "Okay for Now", I wasn't sure I was going to agree with them. There was so much angst (is old age setting in? How can the girl who read Catcher in the Rye every year in high school and college ever claim to have a problem with angst?) and, more problematically for me, so much talk about baseball. I wasn't sure I'd be able to come around to it.
But, like everyone else in stupid Marysville, NY, I was wrong about Doug Swieteck.
There are so many levels to this story, and to the character of Doug. Beautiful, beautiful book. Will be shocked if it doesn't at least earn Schmidt another Newbery honor....more
I imagine the Newbery voters made a list. The list counted all the ways Moon Over Manifest could be used during a history lesson. Depression, orphan tI imagine the Newbery voters made a list. The list counted all the ways Moon Over Manifest could be used during a history lesson. Depression, orphan trains, prohibition, immigration, Ellis Island, WWI. The list was longer than that of any of the other works of fiction written for children in America that year and so deemed the most educational and best. I can't imagine it had much of anything to do with how engaged a child would (or could) become with the book.
As an adult reader, I can certainly spot the book's merits. Vanderpool can write, for one. No denying that. And I really loved the female friendship she depicted between Abilene, Lettie, and Ruthanne for its authenticity. You just don't see too many girls spy-hunting in a book without a boy in tow, unless it's something being advertised as a "girl book" (The Red Blazer Girls, Kiki Strike). That's not to say I don't like those girl books, just that it was refreshing to see girls acting like girls without a big to-do or dash of pink on the cover. And I could certainly understand how this book would be a great teaching tool. But would I, as a child or tween want to read it? Absolutely, without a doubt, not. My tongue would have been lolling out of my head, which would have been laying against the top of my desk in utter agony. I would have been positively bored out of my mind by Moon Over Manifest. It would have just been too many things I didn't understand and in some cases, frankly didn't care about. ("shut up about prohibition already!" I can hear my 11 year old self shouting "It's on every other page and I do not mourn the ban on alcohol!") I wonder if I would have been confused by the way the text jumps from past to present to letter to newspaper article. And the subtle humor that the adult reader finds in the newspaper articles (which was mildly funny at best to begin with) no doubt would have gone unnoticed. And the ads following them? Booooring. These SHOULD have been some of the best parts of the books from a kid's perspective, if only there had been some visual interest. What a missed opportunity. I would have poured over them if they looked like old documents.
And lastly. Miss Sadie. I understand that years had probably passed between the time she had to leave her son at Ellis Island and the time when she finally reunited with him but... MY GOD HE'S YOUR SON HOW DO YOU NOT SAY ANYTHING? I didn't find that sweetly self-sacrificial, I found it utterly insane and no great favor to the kid either. I was very dissatisfied with this final story from the "medium", especially coming right at the end of the book.
Is two stars too low? Well, it adequately sums up my own feelings about the book -- eh, it was okay -- and I think it's a fair assessment of how much interest kids will actually have in it. Some junior history buffs might just love it. But most, if assigned to pick a book off that designated Newbery shelf will probably find themselves looking around the classroom, jealously eyeing their classmates' copies of When You Reach Me or The Graveyard Book....more
Hands down, my pick for the 2011 Newbery Medal. Too bad the Newbery judges didn't quite agree.
Sophisticated writing and a strong voice from page one.Hands down, my pick for the 2011 Newbery Medal. Too bad the Newbery judges didn't quite agree.
Sophisticated writing and a strong voice from page one. You know who Delphine Gaither is because Delphine Gaither knows exactly who she is. And what a fantastic narrator, what a perfect guide for readers into the year 1968, and into the world of the Black Panthers. Delphine is so effective as a storyteller because she is every child, in a way. She's southern, but she's from Brooklyn. She has both sensibilities, so whether you're urban or suburban, black or white, you can relate to her. She has caring parental units, but she also has a mom that left. She has two very real and very different sisters, and while she is much more reliable and responsible than your average 11-going-on-12 year old, Vonetta and Fern's personalities and squabbles are all recognizable. This sister relationship is the backbone of the story. A backbone so strong, Williams really could've placed the story anywhere she like and I feel confident it would've still been worth reading.
But back to Delphine; she's smart and she watches the news with her grandma, Big Ma, so she knows enough about who the Panthers are to give you a little information, in a casual way. And then we're all just kids being thrown into the Oakland, CA scene right along with her and her sisters, learning about the Black Power movement, about the racial prejudice and targeting, police brutality, and what it meant to be black at a specific time and place in America. And we're learning it along with someone who can see both sides; she doesn't think anyone should be treated badly because of the other color of their skin. And she doesn't care what color the plastic skin of Fern's baby doll is so long as it comforts her. She may not understand how putting a hot comb through her black hair keeps her from being "free", but she's learning about a movement (and her mother) whether she wants to or not. Delphine makes a time, a place, an entire ideology accessible to kids because she is the perfect the combination of naive and informed. Like I said, she's a great narrator. Williams did something really special with this character. That and she can write. Her voice is distinct and engaging.
History lesson aside, Delphine's relationship to her sister's is the best part of this novel. And I'm happy to say their relationship with their mother builds in a realistic and satisfying way. I was so worried that this great book would end nauseating, with "NZilla" suddenly coming to the maternal light and gettin' all sappy over her baby girls. That didn't happen. Thank god. But you'll have to read it to find out what does happen....more
I actually really liked the narration, overall. I liked the asides. They were a bit gimmicky, but I was never annoyed by them. Instead I found they brI actually really liked the narration, overall. I liked the asides. They were a bit gimmicky, but I was never annoyed by them. Instead I found they broke up the text in ways that were sometimes humorous or (mildy) suspenseful in their foreshadowing. Concise, powerful little summaries. The effort to be poetic throughout the rest of the text sometimes felt like a burden, though. While my attention was kept throughout, I still recognized this as a slow-moving story. I wasn't bored at any one point, exactly, but there were a few moments where I wished Zusak would get on with it. He could be quite repetitive; the "saumench/saukrel" was overused like whoa, and Death spoke of Liesel's book "thieving" with such a bleeding heart, and with such frequency, it started to feel overly sentimentalized.
BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY: I like Leisel. I like Hans. I like Rudy. I like the whole Hubberman family. I like the depiction of everyone in this book. The characters are wonderfully realized and their bonds (or vendettas, as the case may be) feel very true. The scope and perspective of the novel are, of course, it's most important factors. We're made to sympathize with someone whose point of view has often been overlooked, a German family during Hitler's reign. We experience everything with them, their fear and their helplessness....more
I probably wouldn't have liked this much as kid. I didn't enjoy dialects and found historical fiction pretty painful in general. I was a lazy reader.I probably wouldn't have liked this much as kid. I didn't enjoy dialects and found historical fiction pretty painful in general. I was a lazy reader. However, in the now, at 26, I loved this book. I loved Beetle/Brat/Alyce (particularly when she played the Devil -- fun chapter), and historical fiction, particularly anything that calls for any amount of "magic" is the perfect Fall read. Quick and enjoyable, interesting, and a worthwhile lesson to keep on keepin' on. Good stuff....more
Snooze. Don't know if this was actually as boring as I remember it (probably) or if I just couldn't concentrate because it was read aloud to me by mySnooze. Don't know if this was actually as boring as I remember it (probably) or if I just couldn't concentrate because it was read aloud to me by my third grade teacher. I have no attention span for read alouds... unless it's read by Danielle....more
I remember LOVING this (yet practically falling asleep during Little House on the Prairie), and now I'm rereading it and kind of shocked by how the ENI remember LOVING this (yet practically falling asleep during Little House on the Prairie), and now I'm rereading it and kind of shocked by how the ENTIRE BEGINNING is about slaughtering animals and roasting pigs tails and playing with pig's bladders like balloons. Ahahaha. Oh, Laura, you're crazy, but I like you....more
I wanted to like this more, but I found it kinda boring and it ended just when it started to get interesting. The diary format definitely drags the stI wanted to like this more, but I found it kinda boring and it ended just when it started to get interesting. The diary format definitely drags the story down. The sentences are short. There are few descriptions. The Jaybird subplot goes nowhere.