Reviews of Christmas gift books coming to the blog in 2015!
Friday, December 26, 2014
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Catherine is a realistic twelve-year-old girl who wants to have a normal life, or maybe even a storybook-perfect life: the best friend living right next door, the brother who doesn’t embarrass her all the time, parents who pay attention to her. How she alternately loves and hates her brother is especially understandable; everyone with a sibling has felt this way, but it seems especially fragile when the sibling in question has a disability. I think the way Catherine thinks about and acts towards her brother will help young adults understand how to act towards people with disabilities, instead of just keeping their distance.
Catherine is determined to live as normal a life as she can, and that starts with making the new girl next door her best friend. She’s tired of the boy on the corner making fun of her brother, but she’s torn between protecting David and distancing herself from him. Catherine is also trying to get attention from her parents, wanting to be noticed and appreciated even as she’s growing into a teenager. Everything is in a delicate balance, and she has to figure out how to handle it all and what type of person she wants to become.
The setting is a small town, any town, or it might just seem that way because the story is told from Catherine’s point of view. Only a few places are noteworthy, like her house, the neighbor’s house, the bully on the corner, the video store (David’s favorite place), and David’s physical therapy. In my opinion, setting doesn’t play a huge role in this story, but it works that way because the characters step up and take center stage, as they should.
Catherine wants to be carefree like the girls at her school, but with her brother being different, she can’t quite pull it off. She spends her time drawing and wishing her world didn’t have to revolve around David. When she goes with her mother and brother to physical therapy, she meets Jason, a boy who has more severe disabilities than David - yet she is immediately drawn to him. He values her art and how she understands him, and Catherine is able to see herself through his eyes, and realizes she has more to offer than other girls who might not have such varied life experiences. The theme is very subtle, but once it’s realized, I think it’s very powerful. Catherine standing up for her brother and Jason is very emotional, and gives me hope that children reading this will start accepting people with disabilities more widely than that population has experienced in the past.
The style of the book is casual and conversation, but there are great unique elements that really stand out. Catherine’s inner dialogue and thoughts are very strong, and I like how they often contradict what she says vocally. I also thought the way she conversed with Jason, using his communication book, was interesting because the author had to keep it simple, using a limited set of words to convey emotion, but still managed to add some humor.
Awards include the Newbery Honor Medal, Schneider Family Book Award, Sunshine State Young Readers Book, Great Lakes Great Books Award, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award, and an ALA Notable Children’s Book.
The Al Capone series by Gennifer Choldenko
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Lunch Lady is the main character, but it’s hard to really identify with her. Then again, she is a superhero, and it’s hard to ever really know the truth about superheroes. Betty is her sidekick, both in the lunchroom and when fighting evil. Dee, Hector, and Terrence are the students who know Lunch Lady is a superhero, and they make up the Breakfast Bunch. The kids are fun and realistically portrayed, and I think young readers could easily see themselves in these characters.
The Breakfast Bunch has a feeling the librarians are up to something, so they tip off Lunch Lady, who starts investigating on her own. The librarians have been stealing money from the school’s other departments, like the cheerleaders, and want to destroy all video games so children will have to read books. Can the Lunch Lady and her lunch-related gadgets beat the librarians and their book weapons?
Most of the book takes place in the school, which will draw in readers because they can identify with the setting, and picture the events occurring in their own school. Lunch Lady’s turf is, of course, the lunchroom, and the Read-a-thon takes place in the library. The showdown between Lunch Lady and the librarians takes place on the docks, where the video game shipment is delivered. The illustrations really bring the settings to life, without being so detailed that readers can’t use their own imaginations.
Since Lunch Lady is a superhero and the problems she faces are a bit fantastical, it’s hard to pinpoint a theme in these graphic novels. Lunch Lady is fighting for what is right for the school and the students, but she does so by using weapons - clever, lunch-themed weapons, sure, but weapons nonetheless - and violence.
Graphic novels have more illustrations than typical illustrated novels, and the pictures actually help move the story along. I think young readers, whether they enjoy reading or not, would like picking up extra elements to the story that are somewhat hidden in the illustrations. Krosoczka uses black and white drawings with minimal shading and color - only yellow inside the book, and yellow, green, and purple on the cover. I think the lack of color and matte pages make this book stand out over more traditional comic books. It looks more like a novel, which probably makes kids feel more accomplished reading it than they do with flimsier comic books.
In all fairness, I have to say this wasn’t my favorite Lunch Lady book, just because I’m biased - I prefer print books! I’m not saying that people shouldn’t play video games, but I was more on the side of the “evil” librarians than Lunch Lady in this case!
The rest of the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Babymouse by sister-brother team Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
Squish also by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier (Thrilled one of my childhood favorites is back - now as a graphic novel!)
Monday, December 1, 2014
Ed Kennedy is a perfect character, because he is so imperfect. He lied about his age to get a job as a cab driver after his dad died from alcohol abuse. He lives in a shack - and drinks coffee- with his dog, the Doorman. He regularly plays cards with three friends, one of whom he’s in love with. His life seems to have no purpose, and this doesn’t really bother him until he realizes there’s more out there. The messages he interprets show him that he is a good person, and deserves to live a good life. He is easy to identify with regardless of the reader’s age, but I think young adults will really take a shining to him. His friends are also complex, interesting characters with great backstories the reader learns right along with Ed.
The book opens on a bank robbery; Ed and his friends are inside, on the floor, watching the incompetent thief trying to get his hands on the money. Ed foils the robbery, somewhat accidentally, and just as incompetently. He is, however, lauded as a hero in his hometown, and enjoys a bit of fame as a result. Once the attention dies down, he returns to his job as a cab driver and wonders what is the point of his life. When playing cards are delivered to his shack with brief instructions, Ed finds himself delivering messages he learns on his own. It seems to be an unlikely plot, but after Ed’s name being all over the news due to the robbery, it’s not hard to believe that someone would pick him to do good all over town. Ed realistically struggles to decipher each message, and learns something from each, while still suffering through his own problems.
Ed and his friends live in a small town in Australia. It’s easy to picture the small town, especially if you’re hearing Marc Aden Gray’s Australian accent in the audiobook! The description is shown by Ed being able to walk from his shack to his job, as well as many other places in town, but needing to drive to a few places that seem to be out in the country. This setting is perfect for the story, because it’s believable that people in a small town would hail Ed a hero for stopping a thief, but Ed himself wouldn’t know everyone he was delivering messages to.
When we first meet Ed, he is wasting time by living his life passively. He works as a cab driver, a job he only got because he lied about his age. He lives in a shack with a smelly dog, and spends most of his time with the same three friends - one of whom he’s in love with, but never makes a move. Ed’s transformation is slow, which makes it realistic. He learns life lessons with each message he delivers, and he looks at his own life differently and tries to figure out what he wants. There is no sudden epiphany, and the ending is left open for him to grow even more. I think this approach is best because there is no heavy-handed moral or lesson that will make young adult readers feel preached to, but they can relate to Ed’s gradual change of heart.
Zusak’s writing style is casual and conversational, which fits the story and theme perfectly. There is some Australian slang thrown in, which is one of the main reasons I’d suggest listening to the audiobook. Hearing the dialect spoken aloud helps the book read smoother, and helps the reader understand the slang with context clues. Ed’s dog “talking” to him seemed a little far-fetched for this book, because that’s the only magical or fantastical element, but it didn’t ruin the story.
The audiobook was well-done, but I would have loved this story regardless of how I read it. There was a bit of suspense and mystery throughout the whole story, and I really identified with Ed. The ending, however, has to be one of my favorite book endings ever. I kep thinking about it - and that’s all I’ll say! Read it for yourself and you’ll understand why it might have ruined me for all other books!
I love reading different reviews; it’s like listening to a book club discussion! Booklist disliked the ending, saying “Zusak is too clever by half. He offers too few nuts-and-bolts details before wrapping things up with an unexpected, somewhat unsatisfying recasting of the narrative.”