Ha is eleven years old when the Vietnam War forces her family – her mother and three brothers – to flee their home in Saigon. They end up in Alabama,...moreHa is eleven years old when the Vietnam War forces her family – her mother and three brothers – to flee their home in Saigon. They end up in Alabama, where almost everything is different and the unfamiliar language sounds like hissing snakes. Ha’s new life isn’t easy, especially when she starts school. She misses feeling smart at school, looking like the other kids, and coming home to her papaya tree.
Lai uses sparse, unrhymed verse to tell the story of Ha and her family in Vietnam and then in Alabama. Carefully chosen words create strong, complex characters who must learn to adjust to the people and ways of a strange new place.
Readers who enjoy the style of Out of the Dust and Becoming Joe DiMaggio will particularly like Lai’s writing, but nearly everyone will find something to love about the story itself.
Reviewed for the Emmet O'Neal Library Children's Department(less)
Because of Colin Meloy's incredibly literate and evocative songwriting, I had sky-high hopes for this book by the time it finally arrived on my desk....moreBecause of Colin Meloy's incredibly literate and evocative songwriting, I had sky-high hopes for this book by the time it finally arrived on my desk. But after three or four chapters, I felt listless and apathetic about the characters. I kept checking the top of the book every time I closed it to see if I was halfway through yet, three quarters, fifteen sixteenths...
It's not that the writing is bad. As expected, Meloy's style is sophisticated and dramatic. It's just that the book is...well, boring. And long. Not to mention violent.
Perhaps I could sum up my beef with Wildwood by accusing it of having a bad case of ATA, Ambiguous Target Audience. Most grownups, although they may appreciate Carson Ellis's whimsical illustrations, won't be interested in the kid hero or the animal fantasy world, which is why it's a children's book. But too many kids won't appreciate the cumbersomeness of the tale. And, of course, the 560 pages. For whom was this book written, besides Colin Meloy's resume?(less)
This was going to be a quick read so that I could squeeze in one more review for the library children's department before the month ended. I chose Boy...moreThis was going to be a quick read so that I could squeeze in one more review for the library children's department before the month ended. I chose Boyce's new book despite its awkward title because I was rather taken with the only other book of his I'd read, Millions. Then I wasn't even able to review it for the library because the reviews are supposed to be recommendations, which means I must find the book to have earned at least three stars.
Unlike Millions, this book seems like it was hastily written and published. The narrative is not cohesive. It seems like Boyce wrote the story to raise awareness among kids about the difficulties and issues surrounding immigration (Julie, the main character, gets to know two brothers in her class who have immigrated to the UK from Mongolia with their parents).
The story contains sweet moments and a bit of adventure, but Boyce can do much better.(less)
Reviewed for the Emmet O'Neal Library Children's Department. Click here to access the children's portion of the review.
Grown-up portion of review:
Didn...moreReviewed for the Emmet O'Neal Library Children's Department. Click here to access the children's portion of the review.
Grown-up portion of review:
Didn't include this on the official library review, but one of the characters in the book can be interpreted in a couple different but important ways. Owen's sister Caitlin goes by Jeremy, dresses like a boy, and is a member of a club called GWAB - Girls Who Are Boys. In other reviews, this has been described as a group of "tomboys;" and certainly little girls who prefer clothes and activities traditionally associated with boys could stand to see themselves represented a little more often and more positively in books. But another interpretation, and I don't think I'm reaching here, is that the GWAB members are transgendered. The writing is ambiguous about the specifics, which I think is a positive thing. Girls of all stripes will see themselves in this story, accepted and courageous and expanding the definition of normal.(less)
What is life like for a kid whose face doesn't look like everybody else's? Meet Auggie Pullman. And his sister. And his new best friend and a few of h...moreWhat is life like for a kid whose face doesn't look like everybody else's? Meet Auggie Pullman. And his sister. And his new best friend and a few of his classmates and his sister's boyfriend. Together they'll tell you the story of a kid who's used to being stared at and treated differently, a kid who wishes he could just blend in.
Auggie is about to start 5th grade. Because of numerous operations and health concerns his whole life, this is the first time he'll be able to go to a real school - and he just knows it'll be a disaster. What Auggie doesn't realize yet is that he's not the only kid who's made of stronger stuff than he seems at first glance.
By looking through the eyes of Auggie and the people in his life, we get a panoramic view of the ways a person’s physical deformity can change the landscape of his life and the lives of those around him. Auggie gets treated differently everywhere he goes: at school, people stare and mostly stay away; at home, his parents, even though they do a great job raising two kids in a happy home, baby him and allow him to be the focus of family life. (His sister’s narration includes her nonchalant confession that she has come to grips with her family’s world revolving around Auggie, which often means her parents miss out on her big moments.) Thankfully, the book never offers a blanket prescription for the best way to interact with Auggie. Instead, Palacio seems to suggest that just like any other kid, Auggie will get along with some folks and not others; he has good days and bad days; he makes courageous choices and stupid mistakes.
I wondered (heh) about the title when I first finished the book. But after some reflection, I decided it was perfect. One of the awe-inspiring qualities in human beings is that there is more to us than anybody could suspect, and the most spoiled or rejected or unconfident or average of us maintains a surprising capacity for kindness and magnanimity. This qualifies as miraculous, don’t you think? Do you ever gaze with wonder at a person who has defied your expectations in the loveliest of ways? That’s the kind of wonder that blooms all through Palacio’s carefully woven debut novel.
Since Wonder currently sits on a nearly-unassailed pedestal, ripe to receive a Newbery medal, I feel the need to be unusually critically honest, just to be fair to the other titles that are (aren’t they?) being considered. Though Palacio’s story is unique and well-wrought, her writing is not as stand-out as the writing of other award-winning (or potentially award-winning) children’s authors. There is very little imagery, and I didn’t leave the book with the fondness for words that usually follows a delicious read. Also, some of the events that are ostensibly occurring among elementary schoolers seem more likely to happen late in middle school or even in high school, causing many of the important scenes of the story to ring less true than they might if the characters were older.
But. Wonder is one of the best children’s stories I’ve read this year, and Palacio deserves plenty of accolades in whatever form they may arrive.(less)
I picked this one up for a couple of reasons. I enjoyed Everything on a Waffle and My One Hundred Adventures by the same author. Also, the cover drew...moreI picked this one up for a couple of reasons. I enjoyed Everything on a Waffle and My One Hundred Adventures by the same author. Also, the cover drew me in with its ridiculous title, its equally ridiculous illustration of two oh-so-serious detective rabbits, and its claim that the book was translated from the rabbit by Polly Horvath.
And even though I laughed through the whole thing, I don’t think kids are going to find it nearly as funny as I did. The kids who pick up a bunny chapter book are not the same age as the kids who are amused by sarcastic, quirky, read-with-a-dictionary-next-to-you wit. Oh, and most kids would absolutely have to read this with a dictionary (or an iPhone, presumably). And speaking of quirk, the eccentricity factor was just a little too high for me; it made some of the humor seem contrived rather than native to the plot. (Please refer to the character of Uncle Runyon for a case study in pointless quirk.) The selfish, brainless hippie parents made me laugh; kids won’t get it. The husband-wife dynamics between Mr. and Mrs. Bunny made me laugh; kids won’t get it. The foreign-language antics of the head of the foxes made me laugh; kids…won’t get it.
I’m a proponent of refusing to underestimate kids’ ability to “get” stuff. But if a kid has no experience of a particular social dynamic or bit of history (and if the book makes references without explaining), he has no context to understand the humor.
You know who kids will like in this book? Mrs. Treaclebunny, the mooching neighbor. If you’ve read it, you’ll know.
Don’t get me wrong – this is a very enjoyable read…for a grown-up. But grown-ups probably won’t be reading it.(less)
I didn't think I'd like this book, but I had to read it so I could lead a book club on it. Even two or three chapters in, I thought it was going to be...moreI didn't think I'd like this book, but I had to read it so I could lead a book club on it. Even two or three chapters in, I thought it was going to be just another smart-ass wimpy kid knock off that underestimates the brainpower of juvenile readers and assumes that the class of kids now known as "reluctant readers" will only pick up shallow swill. (Ahem...let me climb down from my accidental soap box now...)
And mostly it was.
Addendum: The avid upper elementary readers in the book club liked it.(less)
As a stand-alone book, it's okay. But who reads it as a stand-alone? As a dessert course to the feast of the Harry Potter books, it's quite delectable...moreAs a stand-alone book, it's okay. But who reads it as a stand-alone? As a dessert course to the feast of the Harry Potter books, it's quite delectable. And it can be consumed in less than an hour. What's not to love?(less)