Friday, November 30, 2007
Title: The Higher Power of Lucky
Author: Susan Patron
Illustrator: Matt Phelan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's
Publication Date: February 2007
Lucky, a ten-year-old girl, struggles with her life in Hard Pan, California. Fearing that her guardian, Brigette, who is her father's first wife, wishes to return to her homeland of France, Lucky plots to run away into the desert. Unfortunately, Lucky doesn't count on the dust storm or the five-year-old, Miles following her and altering her plans.
This book has recently been the focus of a windstorm of controversy for the use of the word "scrotum" in the initial chapter. More information regarding that may be found here, however I was disappointed by this Newbery winner.
Frankly, the book was rather dull and boring. While I understand that a ten-year-old child who is now motherless and placed into guardianship might fear that the placement was impermanent, I think that this book stretches Lucky's fears and irrationalities too far. First, Lucky never verbally expresses her fears to anyone. Her inner monologue and tendency to ramble to extremes would probably be behavior that was noticed by an adult. The fact that adults don't speak to Lucky about her mother's passing or her feelings regarding the matter strikes me as unusual, particularly since the book is set in contemporary times in which psychology would be used for a child who has suffered the trauma of losing a parent and probably grief counseling as well.
The book isn't as enjoyable to me as many other Newbery winners. The story is slow moving and focuses entirely upon Lucky's fears. The only catalyst that seems to be Lucky's reason for leaving is her fear that she will be abandoned. "They can die, like Lucky's mother. They can decide they don't even want you, like Lucky's father. And they can return to France as suddenly and easily as they left it, like Brigette." (p. 81) While Lucky presumes, incorrectly, that Brigette is studying a restaurant management course so that she will return to France, this doesn't seem to be the unseating moment that drives her to leave. Lucky had already mentioned running away several points in the past and she is obsessed with abandonment.
Patron's poignant Newbery-winning story about a girl who fears being abandoned by her legal guardian—and her only semblance of a family—sails along with believable childlike rhythms and kid's-eye-view observations. Listeners will especially appreciate Campbell's subtlety and smooth, comforting delivery in a heartbreaking scene in which 10-year-old Lucky recalls, with gentle support from her best friend, her deceased mother's memorial service. On the remainder of the recording, Campbell remains a welcoming guide to Lucky's world—populated by eccentric friends, the quirky townspeople of tiny, struggling Hard Pan, Calif.—and Brigitte, the guardian she desperately wants to keep, maybe with some help from a Higher Power. Campbell appropriately gives recent Parisian transplant Brigitte a French accent, though it's thankfully never overplayed. By program's end, listeners will be rooting for Lucky and Brigitte to remain together forever. Contains an interview with the author, in which Patron says she is working on a companion novel. Ages 9-up. (Jan.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Tie into a lesson on desert animals.
Compare and contrast Lucky's desert environment with other environments and ecosystems including arctic, rain forest, tundra, and grasslands.
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication Date: April 2006
Melinda Sordino is suffering from a choice she made to call 911 from a high school party - right before school starts. Ostracized by her peers and selectively mute, Melinda is entirely alone in her freshman year experience. Avoiding the issue that brought her to this fate, Melinda works to strive to create an existence for herself, living through a project in her art class in which she is challenged to express a tree as art.
I found that this book really connects with many of the aspects of young adult literatures.
Becoming one's own person: Certainly the character of Melinda goes through a transformation throughout the book. Melinda, while not mute, chooses to speak selectively, and some of her choice can be attributed to the trauma she suffered. Her art teacher, Mr. Freeman says to Melinda, "I think you have a lot to say. I'd like to hear it" (p. 123) In fact, Melinda does carry an inner monologue throughout the book including a war between Melinda One and Melinda Two, in which she describes her desire to participate but her fear based in her traumatic experience. Melinda's character even describes learning to be comfortable in her own skin, comparing herself to a burn victim, "I just need to hang on long enough for my new skin to graft." (p.125)
Coping with problems of the human condition: Melinda also deals with the repercussions of her rape. Though the actual event isn't described until the book is nearly two-thirds completed, Melinda obviously struggles with many issues related to high school and young adulthood in addition to her traumatic experience, which has colored all of her other experiences. For example, Melinda identifies herself as a "The Victim" in a performance art piece (p. 35) when her parents discover her first quarter slipping grades. Melinda deals with issues of being individual or part of the group when describing the different social groups and cliques at the school and even counters her friend Heather who believes that one must belong to something by stating that they should join a club; Melinda's response: "Nothing. The clubs are stupid. Want some popcorn?" (p.23) and Melinda recognizes Heather's enthusisam, which was formerly hers, "Have I change that much in two months? ... My goal is go home and take a nap." (p. 24) But Melinda's biggest issue, by far, is her fear of what she calls "IT", the senior boy who raped her. Throughout the text, Melinda compares herself to a rabbit, being chased by a predator. "Maybe he won't notice me if I stand still. That's how rabbits survive; they freeze in the presence of predators." (p. 97)
As much as I enjoyed the book, I would be hesitant to have younger adult readers (eighth grade or lower) read it as it discusses the rape, although not in graphic detail. I certainly would love to use this as a cross curricular discussion for all high school students perhaps using it in the freshman year and then again as a senior to discuss where they were then and where they are now.
(Young Adult)Speaking out at the "wrong" time-calling 911 from a teen drinking party-has made Melinda a social outcast; now she barely speaks at all. A conversation with her father about their failed Thanksgiving dinner goes as follows: "Dad: 'It's supposed to be soup.' / Me: / Dad: 'It tasted a bit watery, so I kept adding thickener....'/ Me: ." While Melinda's smart and savvy interior narrative slowly reveals the searing pain of that 911 night, it also nails the high-school experience cold-from "The First Ten Lies They Tell You" (number eight: "Your schedule was created with your needs in mind") to cliques and clans and the worst and best in teachers. The book is structurally divided into four marking periods, over which Melinda's grades decline severely and she loses the only friend she has left, a perky new girl she doesn't even like. Melinda's nightmare discloses itself in bits throughout the story: a frightening encounter at school ("I see IT in the hallway....IT sees me. IT smiles and winks"), an artwork that speaks pain. Melinda aches to tell her story, and well after readers have deduced the sexual assault, we feel her choking on her untold secret. By springtime, while Melinda studies germination in Biology and Hawthorne's symbolism in English, and seeds are becoming "restless" underground, her nightmare pushes itself inexorably to the surface. When her ex-best-friend starts dating the "Beast," Melinda can no longer remain silent. A physical confrontation with her attacker is dramatically charged and not entirely in keeping with the tone of the rest of the novel, but is satisfying nonetheless, as Melinda wields a shard of broken glass and finds her voice at last to scream, "No!" Melinda's distinctive narrative employs imagery that is as unexpected as it is acute: "April is humid....A warm, moldy washcloth of a month." Though her character is her own and not entirely mute like the protagonist of John Marsden's So Much to Tell You, readers familiar with both books will be impelled to compare the two girls made silent by a tragic incident. The final words of Marsden's books are echoed in those of Speak, as Melinda prepares to share her experience with a father-figure art teacher: "Me: 'Let me tell you about it.'" An uncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will hold readers from first word to last. l.a.
Develop a "revisit the novel" concept in which students who are freshman read the book and then again revisit it as seniors, perhaps basing a senior theme comparing their own high school experience to the Melinda's and reflecting on the previous four years.
Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: September 2002
Jonas lives in a futuristic society in which everyone's roles are predetermined by a committee. He is reaching an age in which he will be assigned his lifelong occupation and receive training for it. However, unlike his classmates, Jonas is chosen for a unique occupation within the community - he does not receive an assignment but rather a duty. As the Receiver, Jonas takes on the memories of the community and learns about the secrets, passions, and fears as well as other emotions that his society has forsaken in the pursuit of order.
I am not a fan of apocalyptic books. In fact, when I read this book, my first thought upon completion of it was that it is simply a young adult version of Orwell's 1984. I was also reminded of the apocalyptic and futuristic film Soylent Green. The author chose to create a society in which there are little to no choices. No color, no feelings or emotions (although feelings are shared during the evening meal - but as Jonas comes to realize the "feelings" that they have within this society are not truly feelings at all.)
I found this book to be rather distasteful. First, it deals rather practically with the issue of euthanasia. The elderly are "released" upon their request. As Jonas discovers, in the case of the twin, "release" is not a sending off to another place to live in peace, but rather a medical procedure of putting oneself to sleep. The society sees little use or no use for duplicate humans, as in the case of the twin, of problematic children, such as Gabe, or for the elderly as they have lost their functionality. I'm not sure that the discussion of euthanasia is appropriate with younger young adult readers; my local librarian shared that seventh grade students in our ISD are reading this as a required text. While euthanasia is a topic that appears in the news, thirteen years old is a bit young, in our society in my opinion, to discuss putting humans "to sleep." Second, the book addresses the concept of independence in a rather cavalier manner: choice is taken from all citizens in this society by those who create the infrastructure. It is argued that the choice was removed because it was safer, that if people chose they might choose incorrectly. This particular theme will probably strike a chord with young adults who are beginning to experience freedom and independence in a very concrete manner, but I found the society in this book to be exceedingly oppressive and very socialistic. Finally, the book deals with sexuality and burgeoning sexuality in an oppressive manner. Because emotions often "muck up the waters", members within this society simply take a pill to prevent sexual feelings. Marriages are not made by choice but rather by a committee match based upon compability. Again, young adults are confronted with sexual feelings and in our society sexual images at this age and frequently earlier than young adulthood. While I was off-put by the book's society's choices regarding sexuality, I found that the topic would allow for an interesting, but guided, discusssion.
I did like the character of Jonas himself and that he recognized the value of independent thinking. One example of this was Jonas' choice to stop taking his "pill" so that he could enhance his receivership and the emotions that he felt and was learning to accept. Students will probably sympathize with Jonas because young adults experience many of the same emotions, challenges, and fears that Jonas experienced: uncertainty regarding career, challenges with dealing wtih emotions and change, fear of the unknown, frustration with authority and the status quo.
I think that this text is an excellent example of a book that could easily be tied into social studies for comparing socialist and capitalist societies as well as comparing the challenges of contemporary times to the decisions that led Jonas' society to become the society that it is/was.
Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, this thought-provoking novel centers on a 12-year-old boy's gradual disillusionment with an outwardly utopian futuristic society; in a starred review, PW said, ``Lowry is once again in top form... unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers.'' Ages 10-up. (Sept.)
"Wrought with admir-able skill -- the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel."
Lowry won the Newbery award for this book, her first science fiction story. Jonas is an adolescent living in a world that has a decidedly futuristic feel. When he turns twelve, he gets the job that will last him the rest of his life. He's the Receiver of Memory, the one who receives from the Giver all the memories of his society. Jonas is given great privileges, new privacy, and information that allow him (and readers) to see through the society's apparent Eden. At first his world seems great, but then, bit by bit, she tears away at the perfection she has built.
Jonas lives in a perfect society. There is no pain, poverty, divorce, delinquency, etc. One's life's work is chosen by the Elders. At the Ceremony of 12, Jonas is shocked to learn that he has been awarded the most prestigious honor. His assignment will be that of Receiver of Memories. He studies with "the Giver," a man he comes to love. Within time he learns the horrifying secrets of his community and must make a decision that will test his courage, intelligence, and stamina. This is a stunning, provocative science fiction story that will inspire discussion. 1997 (orig.
The ALAN Review
Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, Lowry's thought-provoking fantasy challenges adolescents to explore important social and political issues. The Giver trains twelve-year-old Jonas as the next Receiver of Memory, the community's receptacle of past memories. This seemingly utopian society (without pain, poverty, unemployment, or disorder) is actually a body- and mind-controlling dystopia (without love, colors, sexual feelings, or memories of the past). In an exciting plot twist, Jonas courageously resolves his moral dilemma and affirms the human spirit's power to prevail, to celebrate love, and to transmit memories. From the book jacket's evocative photographic images-The Giver in black and white; trees in blazing color-to the suspenseful conclusion, this book is first-rate. Just as Lowry's Number the Stars (which received the 1990 Newbery Medal) portrays the Danish people's triumph over Nazi persecution, The Giver engages the reader in an equally inspiring victory over totalitarian inhumanity.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-- In a complete departure from her other novels, Lowry has written an intriguing story set in a society that is uniformly run by a Committee of Elders. Twelve-year-old Jonas's confidence in his comfortable ``normal'' existence as a member of this well-ordered community is shaken when he is assigned his life's work as the Receiver. The Giver, who passes on to Jonas the burden of being the holder for the community of all memory ``back and back and back,'' teaches him the cost of living in an environment that is ``without color, pain, or past.'' The tension leading up to the Ceremony, in which children are promoted not to another grade but to another stage in their life, and the drama and responsibility of the sessions with The Giver are gripping. The final flight for survival is as riveting as it is inevitable. The author makes real abstract concepts, such as the meaning of a life in which there are virtually no choices to be made and no experiences with deep feelings. This tightly plotted story and its believable characters will stay with readers for a long time. --Amy Kellman, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Use text to compare and contrast types of economic and governmental systems.
Compare and contrast Jonas' experiences with independence and authority with students' own current experiences.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Title: Stepping on the Cracks
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Publication Date: October 1, 1992
Margaret and Elizabeth share the common experience of having brothers serving in World War II. These young women encounter an unique experience when they discover that the local bully, Gordy, is hiding his brother, Stuart who is a deserter. Despite their feelings and what they have been told to believe about those who don't serve their country, the girls decide to help when Stuart takes ill and is at death's door. Listening to her heart, Margaret acts despite the loss of her brother, Jimmy, and the possible consequences that might occur.
I loved this book about the homefront experience of young girls during WWII. Hahn's approach to the discussion of life for those who were left behind is a realistic portrait of the common experience of that time. The characters in the novel note that other than a few rations and an inability to get bicycles for Christmas, their lives really didn't change all that drastically.
However, facing the reality of assisting a known Army deserter is a choice that Margaret and Elizabeth must make on their own. Margaret's growth as a person by choosing to listen to her heart and evaluate the sitaution on its merits, rather than on her parents' choices to follow blindly, create an individual rather than a young girl. Margaret shows tremendous growth and maturity throughout the book, dealing with her brother's death, her parents' abandonment of her due to their son's loss, and her choice to respect Stuart's beliefs that killing anyone, enemy or friend, is not the ultimate solution.
Additionally Margaret demonstrates herself to be a profoundly interesting character when she discusses her dilemma regarding her wish that her brother had also been a deserter but her pride in his service to his country.
From Publishers Weekly
Most WW II homefront novels are unambiguous in their approach to patriots and traitors, allies and enemies. Hahn's subtle, thought-provoking work, however, proposes the legitimacy of a variety of ethical responses to critical situations. Margaret's brother Jimmy is overseas fighting, and Margaret and her parents avidly follow news of Allied advances. She and best friend Elizabeth, united in their dislike of Gordy the bully, slowly uncover several ominous secrets: Gordy is helping his older brother Stuart, an Army deserter, hide in a weatherworn shack in the woods; and Gordy's father batters his mother, his siblings and Gordy himself. At first Margaret and Elizabeth see their discovery of Stuart's shack as a way to "blackmail" Gordy into treating them decently, but when Stuart falls dangerously ill, the girls feel obliged to help care for him. Soon they begin to reexamine the standard propaganda about the war. While some of her characters seem anachronistic and certain developments are unlikely, Hahn succeeds in raising questions as valuable as they are vexing. Ages 9-12. Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8. In a small southern town in 1944, two girls secretly help a seriously ill army deserter, a decision that changes their perceptions of right and wrong. Issues of moral ambiguity and accepting consequences for actions are thoughtfully considered in this deftly crafted story. Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Have students write a letter to either a contemporary soldier or one of the characters in this novel and discuss the war and its implications on the homefront.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Title: Cowboys of the Wild West
Author: Russell Freedman
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication Date: September 1993
A bibliographic recounting of cowboys in the "wild west", this book debunks the myths and legends surrounding cattle drives and cow punchers. In the approximately 100 pages, the author retells the stories of the young men who inspired legends by working the open ranges and performing cattle drives in the 1890s.
What I enjoyed most about this biography was the interspersing of interviews and quotations among the retelling of the events. One cowboy, Hiram Craig, described a cattle drive in vivid recollection, "finally forming one big herd, and then the fun would start." (p. 38)
The author breaks the information down into manageable parts. He discusses not only the physical make up of the cowboys who generally were African American or Mexicans by ethnicity but also the various aspects of cow punching and the lifestyle. The author discusses the dress, saddle, acoutrements, and spending habits of the typical cowboy as well as the life on the trail.
The author uses colorful description such as those to describe the events that might generate a stampede. "Almost any noise or disturbance - a flash of lightning, a rabbit moving through the brush, a cowboy striking a match - could panic a herd... All hands would leap from their beds, dash to their night horses, and gallop into the dark." (p. 57) This helps the reader to live in the story and experience it rather than be a mere observer.
Freedman's careful research and inviting texts have made his nonfiction can't-miss titles in homes and libraries. Here is a sequel to Children of the Wild and the author's other award winners. He has selected over 50 photos from the Library of Congress and state archives to illustrate his chronicles of life on the range. Cowboys, readers discover, were really boys. Many were teenagers, a few ``old hands'' were in their early 20s; and they were responsible for driving great herds across the plains in the 1800s. Freedman describes the buckaroos' clothes and equipment, how they passed the days on the ranch and on the trail, during the big roundups, etc. There were black and Indian cowboys as well as whites, all working hard together. Although these storied riders of the purple sage are different from the gun-totin', steely-eyed movie types, they are as exciting and interesting to meet and learn about here. One feels wistful when the book ends with a lament from a man who remembers: ``I would know an old cowboy in hell with his hide burnt off.'' He says the fellows punching cows today couldn't match their predecessors, independent and proud, who sang as they earned a tough dollar, ``I've roamed the Texas prairies,/ I've followed the cattle trail;/ I've rid a pitchin' pony/ Till the hair come off his tail.'' (8up)
Make a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting a television or movie cowboy with the cowboy as presented in Freedman's book.
Title: Catherine Called Birdy
Author: Karen Cushman
Publication Date: May 1995
Catherine, or Birdy, is a young woman living in the Middle Ages. Having come upon marriageable age, her father decides to act. Through many attempts to foil her would be suitors, Catherine shows the reader the realities and some of the fantasies of life in the Middle Ages for a young woman of means.
Birdy is an unusual character who by expressing her personal distaste of her suitors would not react the way that a normal female in her position during the Middle Ages would. While I find the book amusing, the presentation of women's roles in the Middle Ages is inaccurate in regard to Birdy as a character. Other characters, such as Birdy's friend Aelis, are truer to the spirit of young women in the Middle Ages.
This book would have to, in my opinion, be used for comparison and contrast purposes as it does not at all accurately reflect Birdy's position in life nor does it reflect the manner in which a young woman in her position would react. While other characters behave in a traditional fashion, the author takes great liberties to give Birdy freedoms that would have resulted in punishments more severe than those that she endured in the text. Additionally the freedoms to run away (without an escort of any variety) and to associate with the local goatherder probably also would not have been allowed.
I will credit the author with remaining true to history. Jacobs & Tunnell (1996) note that historical accuracy is paramount and that historical occurances must not be ignored or white washed. Certainly Cushman recognized that young women in the Middle Ages, such as Birdy's friend Aelis, would be married to even younger men and that death could befall the spouse before the marriage was even consummated. Additionally Cushman often remained true to the physical environment (such as the fleas upon Birdy and the condition of the rushes in the main dining area), the patterns of daily living (Birdy's embroidery in the solar), and the spirit of the times (the daily events and happenings within the village and with the villagers.)
What saddened me most in reading this book was that while Cushman seemed to take great pains to be historically accurate, even to the recounting of Queen Eleanor's death, she took great liberties with the main character and painted an unreasonable portrait of life for a young lady in the Middle Age period.
``You can run, but you can't hide'' is the rather belated conclusion reached by Catherine, called ``Birdy'' for her caged pets, in this fictive diary of a medieval young woman's coming-of-age and struggle for self-determination. Escaping regularly into a fantasy life of daring escapades and righteous battles, Birdy manages to postpone the inevitable sale of herself as a wife to a very unwelcome suitor. Just as she resigns herself to her fate with the comforting knowledge that ``I am who I am wherever I am,'' word comes that she will not have to marry the oaf after all. Birdy's journal, begun as an assignment, first wells up in the reluctant and aggressive prose of hated homework, and then eases into the lighthearted flow of descriptive adventures and true confessions; the narrative device reveals Birdy's passage from rebellious child to responsible adult. Despite the too-convenient ending, this first novel introduces an admirable heroine and pungently evokes a largely unfamiliar setting. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
Compare Aelis' reaction to her marriage with Catherine's.
Contrast Catherine's foibles with the realities of life in the Middle Ages for a young woman her age.
Compare and contrast Catherine's behavior and choices with a young adult's choices in contemporary society. Are there societies that exist in the "modern" world that would favor Catherine's parents' position?