A princess and her maid are locked up in a tower for seven years when the princess refuses to marry a cruel prince. The maid takes center stage in thi...moreA princess and her maid are locked up in a tower for seven years when the princess refuses to marry a cruel prince. The maid takes center stage in this engrossing retelling of an obscure Grimm tale, set in medieval Mongolia. Although I had difficulty believing that the main character could have maintained her dogmatic obedience, that does ring true to my idea of a medieval mindset. Regardless, I kept reading and loved the narrator's voice. Recommended! (less)
I just don't believe it. I think his mom was completely out of character and just wouldn't have made the choices she made in this book. I was with Joe...moreI just don't believe it. I think his mom was completely out of character and just wouldn't have made the choices she made in this book. I was with Joey and especially with his mom through the other books, but this one lost me.(less)
I really looked forward to this book. E.L. Konigsburg is one of my favorite authors, although reading her books often feels like chatting with an odd,...moreI really looked forward to this book. E.L. Konigsburg is one of my favorite authors, although reading her books often feels like chatting with an odd, socially-awkward, intriguing wallflower at a party. Perhaps it's her lack of contractions: there's a piece of me that's always a little detached but interested. This book was a disappointment, though: didactic and predicated on relationships that just didn't feel real. (less)
I didn't like this one all that much when I was a teen, but it was strong enough on this re-read to leave me waiting to read the others. The relations...moreI didn't like this one all that much when I was a teen, but it was strong enough on this re-read to leave me waiting to read the others. The relationships and the characters' voices were completely convincing. (less)
If I had the option to give 6 stars to The Wednesday Wars, I'd do it. I giggled out loud at least 30 times on the bus *and* the train, earning myself...moreIf I had the option to give 6 stars to The Wednesday Wars, I'd do it. I giggled out loud at least 30 times on the bus *and* the train, earning myself a certain public transit notoriety as That Annoying Lady With The Book. And most people didn't even notice me getting teary during the poignant parts. Of course I'd heard glowing reviews of this book, but I didn't love Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, so I was skeptical. But no longer. Gary Schmidt, please write more!
It's 1967-68, and Holling Hoodhood is the only Presbyterian kid in his seventh-grade class. That means that while half the town is at CCD on Wednesday afternoons and the other half is at Hebrew school, he's stuck in the classroom with his tough-as-nails teacher. First he does small chores, but after a disaster with eraser-cleaning, the teacher sits him down to work his way through Shakespeare. Over the course of the year, he develops a strong relationship with his teacher (and with the Bard's colorful curses). The tumultuous background of 1968 plays heavily in the month-by-month chapters that structure the book.
Here's what I loved: Holling's voice (hilarious), the characters (Danny Hupfer!), how much the reader must infer from Holling's point of view in order to appreciate what's going on. Here's what I'm not so sure of: can young readers really appreciate all that's going on, especially the ways in which Holling is not the most reliable narrator? Do they? I enjoyed The Wednesday Wars more than anything I've read in a while, but I couldn't dismiss the nagging voice that kept noisily insisting that this was really a grown-up book dressed up in kid's clothing. The readers at my school with are too young for this book, but I'm eager to hear from other teachers and librarians how it's received by real live teens and tweens.
In the meantime, you adult readers of kidlit and YA lit - read it! read it! (less)
Normally I stay far away from books in verse and from stories about mentally ill parents; as a former-wannabe poetry professor with mental illness in...moreNormally I stay far away from books in verse and from stories about mentally ill parents; as a former-wannabe poetry professor with mental illness in my family history, they spell cringeworthy disaster. The positive reviews from the kidlit world kept this on my list, though, and I'm glad I read it.
The story begins with Rachel's mom leaving, and traces (in her voice) the next year of learning to survive without her mom and building a relationship with her dad. I'm a sucker for stories featuring good parents, and it was definitely the father-daughter relationship at the core of the story -- with its remarkable growth -- that tugged at my heartstrings.Hugging the Rock packed a punch for such a slim book, and I'll admit it: I cried even though I was on the bus.
I hadn't considered getting this for my elementary library because I assumed it would be better for older readers, and I still think it would be most appropriate for middle schoolers and older... but I think I may have some kids for whom this is "the right book at the right time." The content would be challenging for a reader of any age, but I think that the format, text, and the powerfully positive, stable relationship that develops between Rachel and her dad would make it a book that my fourth and fifth graders could handle. A strong new offering to the body of children's literature featuring families impacted by mental illness. (less)
Aww! This was a sweet re-imagining of fairy tale settings and tropes with a decidedly feminist slant, in which everything ends happily but without the...moreAww! This was a sweet re-imagining of fairy tale settings and tropes with a decidedly feminist slant, in which everything ends happily but without the darkness or chance of real fairy tales. In the first half of the book, a pregnant Lady goes on a quest for the fabled "Castle Waiting," a safe haven for all who seek it. She finds it and essentially lives happily ever after with her baby, who takes after his (literally) ogreish father rather than the Lady's husband. The second half of the story follows the adventures of an order of bearded nuns who form an unconventional convent of progressively-minded rescuers. Awesome!
The second half of the story holds no real connection to the first half -- it's clearly two distinct storylines stuck back-to-back... in order to have an acceptably book-length graphic novel? I liked both storylines, but neither had a real buildup-climax-resolution, which makes sense as it was originally published in short issues. I would have liked to learn more about Lady Jain's life before Castle Waiting -- who was this ogre? How did they meet? -- and think that would have made more sense than launching into a whole other story, although I loved the characters and situations in the Solicitine storyline.
What really interests me is the question of whether I should consider this for my elementary collection. Pros: it's completely sweet, features strong heroines and generally good people, has very little darkness at all, very little violence, very few really bad guys, and everything works out fairly in the end. I know it's listed in the juvenile collection at a number of public libraries. Cons: we've got some very subtle sex jokes, some infidelity, and a more adult attitude than most elementary offerings. For a middle school, I'd definitely include it: for the very beginnings of a graphic novel at the elementary level, I'm on the fence. Suggestions? Input? (less)
When I started working in a schoool, I thought that my strong immune system would keep me healthy even though all first-year teachers spend the whole...moreWhen I started working in a schoool, I thought that my strong immune system would keep me healthy even though all first-year teachers spend the whole year sick from new germs. Was I right? Not at all. It was the same with Laika. I knew that everybody else cried when they read this book, but I thought that somehow I'd be prepared, not that I'd find myself bawling into a bowl of pho on Clement St. And yet.
Laika is the story of the first dog to go up in space. It's not a spoiler to tell you that she doesn't come back. But Laika is really the story of the dog's -- and her people's -- life before she's launched in Sputnik II's tiny compartment. The Cold War, the space race, the USSR during that time, common human cruelty, loss, privation, powerlessness... all these provide a context and backdrop to Laika's story, so the heavy feeling starts a few pages in and continues to the end of the story. There are compassionate and kind people throughout, of course, which only increases how sad you feel while reading it.
Apparently Nick Abadzis meticulously researched this text, and I think the graphic novel format (beautifully done) gives it a real appeal to young adult readers... not to mention that it's a story full of injustice and difficult choices, themes that many teens feel deeply. If I worked with older readers, or in a history/social studies or even a science classroom, I would use this book in a heartbeat. (less)
I had high hopes for this book, so my two stars may be more reflective of my disappointment than of the book's overall quality.
It's 1971 and Frannie...moreI had high hopes for this book, so my two stars may be more reflective of my disappointment than of the book's overall quality.
It's 1971 and Frannie lives with her Deaf brother, her often-absent (but loving) father, and her pregnant mom on the black side of the tracks. She worries a lot: about her mom, who has already lost babies to miscarriages, about her handsome brother, who's scorned by hearing girls, about her best friend, who's becoming increasingly religious, and about the new kid in her class, a white (maybe?) kid that all the other students call "Jesus Boy" because of his long hair and pale skin. He's mysterious -- he knows sign language, cries in class, and stirs up all sorts of strange emotions in his classmates. Frannie's best friend thinks that he may well be the Messiah redux, but at the end of the book she's convinced otherwise and it's up to Frannie to didactically ruminate that "perhaps Jesus is in all of us."
This is a short book, and perhaps it's the length that made it feel choppy and unfinished, with loose ends that turn out more baffling than poetic. Surprisingly, for a storyteller of Ms. Woodson's caliber, this book felt like a cautionary tale about "showing, not telling": I felt like it was a series of lessons, but without much real substance. Also, I couldn't help being irked by some of older brother Sean's passages: in addition to his saintlike personality, his conversations with Frannie have awfully grammatical English syntax that just didn't seem to flow in the way that ASL does. I know that this was a stylistic choice, as I've read that Ms. Woodson studied ASL for many years and knows whereof she writes. But along those same lines, one weird moment in the book was when Frannie is in the car with her dad and reflects that it's strange to hear him speak because "it's so quiet in the house, what with all the signing and all." (I paraphrase here.) It might be just my experience, but every time that I've been in Deaf spaces, silence is rarer than it is golden: all sorts of sounds are around.
Even though it felt a little idealized, I did love that Sean was attractive, smart, funny, cool, independent, and Deaf, with a foot in both Deaf and hearing cultures... and I don't know of any other African-American Deaf characters in fiction for young people. Even though the hearing girls are rude to him, it's clear to Frannie and to any reader that they're ignorant and just plain wrong. I wish we saw more characters with those qualities, but even more fleshed-out. (less)
I'm not a mystery reader, and I've never fully appreciated whodunits, so by rights I should have been irritated with the Attolia books rather than ent...moreI'm not a mystery reader, and I've never fully appreciated whodunits, so by rights I should have been irritated with the Attolia books rather than enthralled by them. Unguessable twists and turns are the hallmark of the series: the reader can't possible figure out exactly what is going on because we don't have the information necessary, but we're haunted by the certainty that something more is going on than what the other, non-trickster characters are seeing. This was a sick-day reread for me, and I was just as captured by it this time, even knowing the upcoming twists (those that I could remember, anyway).
Eugenides, the Thief of Eddis, has acceded to the throne of Attolia. He sleeps through official meetings, plays the fool, and generally convinces his attendants, Guard, and other members of the court that he is either weak or a buffoon. Most of the narrative is from the perspective of Costis, an honorable guard who's fallen into the unenviable role of being Gen's lackey. He's not the brightest, and his opinion of Gen is nearly as contemptuous as everyone else's, at least in the beginning. What makes the book interesting is that the reader knows better.
The King of Attolia is, IMO, the absolute best of the three books. What makes it so excellent is that Megan Whalen Turner's sleight-of-hand with the plot mirrors the complexity of the relationship between the new King and the Queen. Even through the cloudiness and uncertainty of the plot, there are glimpses of powerful emotion that kept me hanging on to every word and possible clue. The backstory of their relationship -- the Queen's torture of Gen, the uncertain coercion of their marriage -- plays a huge role, coloring every important element of the story.
There's been a lot of discussion about whether the narrative gaps in this book are an intentional plot tool or due to its being a sequel. Many people believe it could stand alone. I think it's clear that the narrative gaps are a tool, but I think the whole emotional web that gives the book such intriguing weight is dependent on the The Queen of Attolia. (I think The Thief serves primarily to show that Gen is more than he appears.)
I heard a rumor that a fourth book is on its way, and as there were several Sounis-related loose ends that weren't tied up in this book, I'm hopeful! These keep getting better and better. Please write more! (less)
I offered the Julius Lester version of the Uncle Remus tales to a second grade teacher as an alternative to the Joel Chandler version that she'd been...moreI offered the Julius Lester version of the Uncle Remus tales to a second grade teacher as an alternative to the Joel Chandler version that she'd been reading to her class for years. I suggested this version because even though I hadn't read them myself, I trust Julius Lester to retell the stories with humor and without a racist lens.
They were a huge success, but required some improvisation and quick thinking on the teacher's part, as they're hilarious but not entirely appropriate for a second-grade clasroom. The kids loved them and begged for more. The teacher loved them -- despite the last-minute skipping of certain sections or stories -- and plans to read them again next year.
Of course I needed to read them for myself. I really appreciated Julius Lester's introduction, which laid out a context for the Trickster in general and Brer Rabbit in particular... and helped to address the moral qualms that come up when you're with Brer Rabbit and he acts badly. Along the same lines, I loved the moments when the narrative voice cut in and gives commentary on the action. I think I'll reread the Joel Chandler Harris version too, to see how they compare, and revisit them again when the third graders learn about Trickster tales later this year. (less)
I've been hearing great things about this book, so perhaps my hopes were too high. This book irked me in the same way as The Higher Power of Lucky did...moreI've been hearing great things about this book, so perhaps my hopes were too high. This book irked me in the same way as The Higher Power of Lucky did: cutesy, too-good-to-be-true, innocent kids in hard-knock lives just drive me nuts. Addie is on the brink of puberty, has severe dyslexia, and lives with her unmedicated, bipolar mom in a trailer in a grim corner of Schenectady; her two little sisters and loving stepdad have started a new life in the country, but her mom has custody of Addie. But thanks to Addie's unfailingly positive outlook, everything is bathed in sunshine: she makes an instant BFF in her new school, gets a flute solo, and develops a deep friendship with the folks at the convenience store across the street. The stuff of Newbery awards ensues (the convenience store owner is fat and has cancer and her best friend is gay, both circumstances that allow the reader to appreciate just how nonjudgmental Addie is... but also guarantee some tears near the end).
First of all, Addie and I (or maybe the author and I) started out on a bad note: I was irritated from the first mention of "Mommers" on page one. "Mommers"? From then on, I couldn't believe her as a character. Could any seventh-grader in this situation be so naive, terminally cheerful and UN-resourceful ("toast dinners" notwithstanding)? She never considers putting aside money for Mommers's long absences; it doesn't occur to her that letting her unreliable mother take care of her beloved hamster is a bad idea? It's hard to respect a character who's... sort of pathetic.
Then I felt guilty, because this is undeniably a terrible situation for a child to be in, and I think a good number of kid/YA books propagate a dangerous myth that children in bad situations can and will cope without adult intervention. But jeez, Addie, grow a backbone! Make some smart decisions! And please, Newbery committee, don't give this one the medal this year. (less)