If I thought Life As We Knew It made me want to create the world's greatest emergency preparedness kit, it was nothing compared to The Dead and the GoIf I thought Life As We Knew It made me want to create the world's greatest emergency preparedness kit, it was nothing compared to The Dead and the Gone. This book scared the living daylights out of me. After begging a friend for the ARC, I had to put it down instead of reading it straight through in order to avoid nightmares.
Premise of both books: meteor hits moon, natural-disaster apocalypse ensues in the form of a collapsed infrastructure, food shortages, epidemics, etc. Life As We Knew It took place in a suburban Pennsylvania town much like the one I grew up in. TD&TG took place in New York City, a city much like the one I live in now. I don't know if it was the urban setting feeling a little too familiar, but this book freaked me out even more than the first one.
Let's just establish this right now: if I were ever to have to experience an apocalypse, I probably wouldn't make it. Luckily, Susan Beth Pfeffer focuses on characters much tougher and more resourceful than I am. Alex is a smart, hardworking, low-income, high-achieving junior in high school whose dad has just flown to Puerto Rico for his grandmother's funeral. Disaster hits, and when the power goes out and the city starts to panic, Alex is at home with full responsibility for his two younger sisters.
I was most interested and impressed by the elements of this story that weren't mentioned in the first one: Alex's story is shaped by his cultural surroundings, especially power and privilege (or lack thereof) and religion. The gritty details of how he has to survive keep the plot moving, but never overshadow his moral and emotional struggle. I think LAWKI set the stage and told an engrossing, nail-biting story; TD&TG couldn't surprise readers with the premise's twists and turns, but used that to its advantage by offering a deeper and more complex web of responses and relationships.
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 thiA 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! ...more
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 relationsI 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. ...more
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 myselfIf 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! ...more
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 inNormally 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. ...more
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 theAww! 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? ...more
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 wholeWhen 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. ...more
Stilted and preachy. I actually bought this one, since it was on the Cybils SF/F shortlist but not at any of our consortium libraries, and I was awfulStilted and preachy. I actually bought this one, since it was on the Cybils SF/F shortlist but not at any of our consortium libraries, and I was awfully disappointed. A heavy-handed allegory of two diametrically-opposed regions -- the Northlands and the Southlands -- and a girl who bridges them thanks to her psychic and healing powers. Eh. It lacked thoughtfulness and contextual realism: I'll suspend disbelief any way you want as long as characters are fully drawn, and this really fell short. Luckily all the loose ends and conflict wrap up neatly in the end, so I was left with absolutely no temptation to read Book Two. ...more
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 FrannieI 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. ...more