Overall assessment: Because of all the buzz about this book and the recently released movie, I expected much more. It was a good story, but not great....moreOverall assessment: Because of all the buzz about this book and the recently released movie, I expected much more. It was a good story, but not great. I would have liked more depth out of the characters and felt it was a slow start rife with unnecessary details.
I recently read this aloud to my 11-month-old daughter...solely for the purpose of reading Shakespeare aloud, which I have never done before. Believe...moreI recently read this aloud to my 11-month-old daughter...solely for the purpose of reading Shakespeare aloud, which I have never done before. Believe it or not, she was entranced by the language and rhythm, and was a captive audience for 20 minutes at a time. Shakespeare was definitely a master. (less)
Prey is a story about a female high school history teacher, Ms. Lori Settles who seduces her teenage student, Ryan Piccoli. It alternates between the...morePrey is a story about a female high school history teacher, Ms. Lori Settles who seduces her teenage student, Ryan Piccoli. It alternates between the point of view of three characters: Ryan, Ms. Settles, and Honey, Ryan's longtime friend who is secretly in love with him.
The book gets off to a promising start. We learn from the very beginning that Ryan is intentionally Lori's target. From the very first day of school, she knows that, "he'll be the One" (p. 15). Upon reading this, I felt a chill and was eager to continue reading. However, I felt the seduction happened way too quickly, and Ryan's situation didn't seem realistic. His father is a traveling salesman and is out of town four days of the week. A housekeeper cleans the house, but doesn't live there and hardly pays any attention to Ryan when she is there. It almost seems too easy for Lori to manipulate him and too easy for them to get together.
Writing in first person is challenging and probably one of the most difficult tasks to pull off well. Successfully writing from the first person point of view of multiple characters is extremely difficult (I'm thinking of Faulkner here, who I believe was a master at this). I applaud McDaniel for taking a risk here. I was interested in the relationship between Honey and Ryan and then Ryan and Lori, but McDaniel never really went deep enough with the characters. While Honey's character was needed to describe Ryan's friend's and family's concern about his sudden change in behavior, I often felt she was just an aside, an interrupter of sorts, especially when her chapters disrupted the flow and momentum of the novel.
In addition, at some points, McDaniel didn't seem to capture the teenage voice in a believable way. For example, at one point in novel, Ryan hears that a coach at the school has been asking Lori out. When Lori picks him up for a tryst, he confronts her. Here's how he describes his feelings to the reader, "Rain is pelting the windows, sluicing in long noisy rivers along the glass, like a knife cutting through my heart. The windows are fogged, moist from our breath and the heat of anger. Hot wetness swells behind my eyes. I'm acting like a jerk, but I can't help myself. I have to know the truth about her and Coach" (p. 76).
To me, language like this coming from a 15/16 year old seems inauthentic, while at other times, he's completely thinking like a teenage boy. McDaniel did, however, make Lori Settles seem to be the most authentic and consistent of the characters. We see what's going on in her mind, what makes her tick, and her deliberate plot to seduce him.
Oh, and let me address the white elephant in the room: how were the sexual encounters portrayed? McDaniel tastefully describes the seduction and subsequent encounters. Without going into detail, she leaves much to the imagination and doesn't get too graphic. But don't get me wrong--we are talking about a teacher having sex with a teenage boy. It's in the book, but I was never shocked or offended or thought McDaniel went too far. Given the sensitive subject matter, I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you think it's appropriate for your teen, and I would only recommend this for teens.
Overall, Prey was a good story on surface level, but it lacked the depth, consistency, and authenticity that would have made it a great story. McDaniel herself admits in the author's note that this is not typical of her writing, and I commend her for stepping outside of her comfort zone. I also admire her for addressing such a serious issue and hope that teenagers who read the book will be able to spot the warning signs if their friends start to behave differently and secretively.(less)
Nine year olds Jennifer and Cameron are the outcasts at their school. Jennifer is overweight, shy, and withdrawn, and Cameron, who comes from an abusi...moreNine year olds Jennifer and Cameron are the outcasts at their school. Jennifer is overweight, shy, and withdrawn, and Cameron, who comes from an abusive home is just well—different. Both are endlessly teased, and they somehow find each other and form a deep connection. Until one day Cameron doesn’t show up at school, and the teacher says he moved. To say Jennifer is hurt because he didn’t say goodbye is an understatement. She’s crushed and just doesn't understand. Then one day the bullies at recess tell her that Cameron died. When her own mother doesn’t tell her differently, Jennifer is devastated and decides that the only way she can survive is to bury the person she is with him.
Eight years later, Jennifer is now Jenna, and she’s completely reinvented herself. She’s in great shape, goes to a different school, and has lots of friends, including a boyfriend Ethan, the handsomest boy in school. Externally, she seems happy and seems to have the perfect life. Internally, she struggles to keep “Jennifer” inside and is haunted by a terrifying experience that occurred at Cameron’s house on her ninth birthday. On her seventeenth birthday, she discovers that Cameron did not die and that he’s in her town. Memories and suppressed feelings come flooding back as she struggles to cope with this news.
Has their connection remained strong after all these years? Why didn’t he try to contact her before? Why didn’t her mother tell her the truth? What exactly happened at Cameron’s house so many years ago? Do Jenna and Cameron still have such a strong connection after all these years? Will Jenna leave Ethan for Cameron? Can she keep Jennifer inside? Sara Zarr’s second novel Sweethearts answers all these questions through a profound and gut-wrenching story.
Zarr does an exceptional job of drawing you in and make you FEEL Jenna’s emotions. As I was reading, I felt a lump in the pitt of my stomach as Jenna relived the horrifying day at Cameron’s house. I felt anger, confusion, heartache, and fear as Jenna struggles with Cameron’s return and all of the emotions that come flooding in with it. (less)
Kira-Kira is the story of the Japanese-American Takeshima family, told from the point of view of Katie, the youngest daughter. We learn in the opening...moreKira-Kira is the story of the Japanese-American Takeshima family, told from the point of view of Katie, the youngest daughter. We learn in the opening passage of the story that Kira-Kira means “glittering” in Japanese, and that it was Katie’s first word, taught to her by her older sister Lynn. It’s obvious from the beginning that Katie adores Lynn.
Born in Iowa to Japanese immigrants, Katie and Lynn have a nice childhood, but everything changes when the family’s Asian food store goes out of business, and they move to Georgia to become factory workers in a poultry processing plant. It’s here that Katie realizes for the first time that she is different. Shunned by the white Georgians, the Japanese community in Georgia is tight knit, but life is very difficult. Katie and Lynn’s parents work extremely long hours under harsh conditions. Katie and Lynn rarely see their father, and when they do, he’s exhausted. Their mother is forced to wear “pads” because bathroom breaks are not allowed in the factory. When their baby brother, Sammy, is born, the girls and a next door neighbor pretty much raise him. Just when things can’t get worse, Lynn becomes very ill, and the family’s bonds are tested.
This heart wrenching story is one that I will soon not forget. Cynthia Kadohata expertly gets into the mind of a girl Katie’s age who has to deal with some very adult situations but does not quite understand them. An example of this is when Lynn is very ill, and despite appearing very strong and brave in front of Lynn, Katie needs a moment alone and breaks down:
“I cried and cried. For a while as I cried I hated my parents, as if it were their fault Lynn was sick. Then I cried because I loved my parents so much. Then I didn’t feel like crying anymore. I just felt barren, my eyes felt dry. They sky was still gray. Everything was gray, the sky and the store and even my hand when I held it out in front of myself. I wondered in anyone else in history had ever been as sad as I was at that moment” (p. 199).
We also see racism, prejudice, and the unfair treatment of the factory workers through Katie’s eyes. While some have criticized this book and being slow and uninteresting for young adults, it would have been right up my alley when I was younger. Certainly, it’s not for every kid and may appeal more to girls than boys, but it’s a story that I think will impact many. It was completely deserving of its 2005 Newbery Medal win.(less)
This Lemony Snicketish novel features the four Willoughby children who long to be "old fashioned," like the characters in many of the books they love...moreThis Lemony Snicketish novel features the four Willoughby children who long to be "old fashioned," like the characters in many of the books they love like Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, and James and the Giant Peach. Tim, the oldest, is the rather bossy leader of his siblings: identical twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B (A and B for short), and the youngest and timid Jane. It's very clear from the beginning that their parents are well--not that much into being parents. The banker father is "impatient and irascible," and their mother is "indolent and ill-tempered." They "frequently forgot that they had children and became quite irritable when they were reminded of it." They actually become so irritable with their children that they devise a plan to get rid of them by selling their house while they go on vacation. Little do they know that this adventurous (and highly dangerous) vacation is the children's plan to get rid of their parents so that they may finally become old-fashioned orphans. But things don't go EXACTLY as planned, and along the way, the Willoughby children learn a little bit about kindness and find a loving family of their own.
I found myself snickering at the book from the very beginning, and it's actually kind of difficult to tie it up into a neat little description. It's dark yet irreverent and lighthearted at the same time. Lowry does a fantastic job of weaving in hilarious scenarios and funny characters, from the kind nanny who disguises herself as Aphrodite to scare off potential home buyers to the rich benefactor who made his fortune in the candy industry. I also immensely enjoyed the references to lots of classic "orphan" books she pokes fun of.
But let me SHOW you what I'm talking about. In this passage, the children receive a postcard from their parents.
"'Dear ones,'" Tim read. "'Though slightly bruised, we have survived quite a lovely earthquake (you may have read the headlines: THOUSANDS KILLED)...'"
"'Oh my," Jane said sadly. "I suppose kittens were killed, too. How sad."
"Shhh," Tim told her, and he continued. '"...and next we are off to kayak a crocodile-infested river. Such FUN! '"
"They don't know how to kayak!" Barnaby A exclaimed.
"They never once have kayaked," his twin added.
"Precisely," Tim said. (pages 56-57)
Even Lowry's glossary in the back is injected with this same type of bizarre humor, and she even takes a poke at herself:
IGNOMINIOUS means shamefully weak and ineffective. Oliver Twist saying, "Please sir, might I have some more?" would be ignominious, except that he isn't shameful, just sort of pathetic. This book has ignominious illustrations. They are shamefully weak because the person who drew them is not an artist. (p. 163)
(Lowry herself sketched all of the illustrations in the book).
I predict that children and parents alike will love this book even though some young children may not get all of the jokes. However, those that do will probably read it over and over again and find something new to laugh at every time. I admit that I was first a little skeptical when I heard that Lowry would be writing a humorous book, but like all of her books, she executed it with perfection and added her own special style.(less)
Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World presents all kinds of information and fun facts about animal siblings. For example, di...more Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World presents all kinds of information and fun facts about animal siblings. For example, did you know that nine-banded armadillos are ALWAYS born as identical quadruplets? Well, did ya? I bet you didn't know that there are no male New Mexico whiptail lizards or that cheetah brothers hunt together throughout their lives while the sisters separate from their families when they're two years old to start their own. Pretty cool, huh?
The book features 19 different species of animals from elephants and beavers to European shrews and giant anteaters. Splendid cut-and-torn paper collage illustrations compliment each paragraph of intriguing information, and a fun caption accompanies each illustration. I especially love the caption by the black widow spider's egg sac: "I'm having my family for dinner..." Eeeeek!
It's a challenge to write engaging nonfiction for young children, and Jenkins and Page have definitely risen to the challenge and created a book that children of all ages will enjoy. Even very young children who may not understand the text will be fascinated by the illustrations. I highly recommend this for any child who loves animals.(less)
My baby girl just turned one, and it's only going to be a matter of time when she's not a baby but a little girl. I don't think I'm alone when I say t...moreMy baby girl just turned one, and it's only going to be a matter of time when she's not a baby but a little girl. I don't think I'm alone when I say that as a parent, I often wonder how I'm going to raise a strong, self-assured, and happy child. It's a daunting and sometimes frightening task to achieve what with bullying, poor body image, young children developing eating disorders, and so much more I read about in the news. I also know that however hard I may try, I can't shield her from everything, but it is my job to remind her often about how much she's loved and about her inner strengths, and I'm going to use The Twelve Gifts of Birth to help me.
Charlene Costanzo sent me an autographed copy of this touching book a couple of weeks ago, and it's already become one of my favorites that I've read to my daughter many times. The book opens up talking about how in fairy tales, princes and princesses always received gifts from wise women or fairies when they were born. These wise women longed to give these gifts to every child that was born, but were forbidden. Well...the time has finally come that ALL children inherit these twelve gifts when they are born. The rest of the book names these twelve gifts:
As each gift is named, a short affirmation follows. For example,
"The first gift is strength. May you remember to call upon it whenever you need it. The second gift is beauty. May your deeds reflect its depth. "
Accompanying the text are sepia-toned photographs by Jill Reger and illustrations by Wendy Wassink Ackison that give the book a magical, dreamlike feel.
What I like most about the book is its universal message that every person has these inherent gifts within them regardless of where they're from, what they look like, and even what they've done, and it's up to them to use them wisely and bring them out in others. While it's absolutely an excellent choice for any new or expectant parent, it would also make a great gift for anyone celebrating a milestone such as graduation, a new job, and for anyone who may be experiencing some sort of adversity.
This book bridges all religious boundaries and is appropriate for people from all walks of life. As stated in a letter from Charlene Costanzo, it's been used in baptisms, bat mitzvahs, funerals, schools, churches, and even prisons. It is a book that I will cherish and that I will give often as a gift and that I would recommend to any parent.
There are two other books in the series, The Twelve Gifts for Healing and The Twelve Gifts in Marriage. In addition, Charlene Costanzo has developed a website full of resources for readers, parents, and educators, including a free classroom curriculum.(less)