Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Rapunzel’s Revenge

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hale, S., Hale, D., & Hale, N. (2008). Rapunzel’s Revenge. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA.

PLOT SUMMARY

Rapunzel spent her childhood in the beautiful villa of Mother Gothel. Unable to see the rest of the world because of high walls, she’s shocked when she finally escapes to the other side and finds the mother she’s always dreamed of in a matter of moments. Her anger leads her kidnapper, Mother Gothel, to imprison her in a tower in the woods. After much time, she finally is able to escape by using Gothel’s own growth magic against her. She then sets off on a whirlwind adventure with Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk) complete with sea serpents, gun-toting gangsters, witches, and dwarves.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

The art of Rapunzel’s Revenge is quite detailed from the beautiful villa of Gothel all the way to the final battle. It depicts various ethnicities throughout which is a wonderful addition, despite the Caucasian main characters. It added depth to the story and kept it moving with action scenes.

Setting this story in the Wild West was an interesting choice that gave more variety to this novel than most fairy tale reimaginings. This choice gave color to the language and tone of the story, and it was somewhat difficult to follow for those who are not as familiar with how cowboys might speak. However, the use of Rapunzel’s hair as a lasso was a brilliant choice both for the plot (as it facilitated her escape from the tower on her own rather than relying on a handsome prince) and as character development (as it was a way for her to bond with Mason before her imprisonment). It was a unique choice that paid off in action as the story unfolded.

Rapunzel’s self-reliance is a seemingly feminist choice that goes against the traditional tale. She frees herself from the tower, refuses help when it is offered by Jack, and when men do try to help, it ends in a mess (as seen when the first man she meets shoots her wild boar that she’d been riding). This is a brilliant choice for a book for children/teens today. It’s inspiring to see that not only is she able of handling things herself, but Jack comes to rely on her to save him. This is a great novel for some girl power moments.

REVIEW EXCERPTS

From School Library Journal: “The dialogue is witty, the story is an enticing departure from the original, and the illustrations are magically fun and expressive. Knowing that there are more graphic novels to come from this writing team brings readers their own happily-ever-after.”

From Booklist: “This graphic novel retelling of the fairy-tale classic, set in a swashbuckling Wild West, puts action first and features some serious girl power in its spunky and strong heroine.”

CONNECTIONS
-Have students write their own short graphic novels using fractured fairy tales
-Pair with other fractured fairy tales:
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Beastly by Alex Flynn
Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Towering by Alex Flinn
-Pair with other strong female heroes in graphic novels:
Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis

 

 

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Savvy

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Law, I. (2011). Savvy. Waterville, Me.: Thorndike Press.

PLOT SUMMARY

Mibs’s family, the Beaumonts, are an ordinary family with a bizarre and magical secret. They each possess a special magical gift unique to them. It appears on their thirteenth birthday, and Mibs’s birthday is right around the corner. Unfortunately, before she can turn thirteen, her father is in a terrible accident that lands him in a coma. Mibs sets off an adventure with her siblings and friends from church (from whom they must conceal the family secret) sure that her new savvy will save her father.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

The entire cast of Savvy is made of realistic kids and teenagers. It’s easy to imagine them fitting in to (or rather standing out from) any school or neighborhood. There’s the rebellious but secretly sweet teenager, the shy youngster, the sincere and admitted loner (“I don’t have any friends”), the mysterious and charismatic boy with a secret, and more. They are developed and believable as well as relatable to any reader who has ever been different, talked about, bullied, or has been looking for their own sense of belonging or savvy.

Spurred by an understandable desire to save her father and a belief that she has that power, Mibs jumpstarts the story by bringing the reader along on a realistic adventure. Every part of the plot is grounded in reality (or the reality of the story). Aside from the magical elements, this could easily happen in the real world. A child longs to be with her father after a tragic accident and finds any means necessary to get to him which spurs a hunt for them and their “kidnappers.” It’s easy to understand how a child would want to believe that they could help their parents in their hour of need, whether or not they actually possessed a magical ability.

The style of the story was consistent. The language used fit the setting of Nebraska/Kansas, but it can be difficult to follow for those unaccustomed to it.

This is, through all its magical additions, a story of family and belonging. Because of their differences, the Beaumonts grew together stronger than most families. They had to be mostly isolated from the outside world because of the danger they posed to others not in possession of a savvy before they could fully control their powers. This isolation and the mystery surrounding it caused others to pull away and gossip about the odd family. While this strengthened the familial bond, it left the children feeling lost, friendless, and lonely. Mibs wants to find her place in the world in addition to helping the family she loves at a time of crisis. She finds freedom in finally revealing the Beaumont secret, making friends, and letting her guard down a bit. That freedom and a wider sense of belonging is imperative at her age, and readers of all ages can relate to her journey.

REVIEW EXCERPTS

From School Library Journal: “Law has a feel for characters and language that is matched by few. With its delightful premise and lively adventure, this book will please a wide variety of audiences, not just fantasy fans. Definitely an author to watch.”

From Booklist: “Law’s storytelling is rollicking, her language imaginative, and her entire cast of whacky, yet believable characters delightful. Readers will want more from Law; her first book is both wholly engaging and lots of fun.”

CONNECTIONS

-Pair with other teen fantasy:
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamore Pierce
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
-Have students brainstorm what their savvy might be and write an essay.

Speak


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, L. H. (2011). Speak. New York, NY: Square Fish.

PLOT SUMMARY

A teenage girl begins high school after calling the cops at a party thrown by her classmates over the summer. She is ostracized and obviously withdrawn and depressed. As she moves through the year, we discover she called the police because she had been raped at the party. Throughout the school year, she makes and loses a friend and becomes close to her art teacher who imparts a great lesson on expression–something she hadn’t experienced most of the year because she feels unable, unwilling, or as if it is pointless to speak. She slowly gains personal strength and confidence until a sudden twist of events at the end of the year turns her life around.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

The characters in this novel are extremely relatable and those you would likely see in any high school. Their relationships are realistic and fluid, their observances sound spot on what a teenager would say. For example, the “first ten lies they tell you in high school” and her witty observation that “It’s easier to floss with barbed wire than admit you like someone in middle school” are exactly what a teenager version of me would write in her diary. The main character’s struggle is authentic to her age; she fights against expressing her pain but fears what others will think of her while not being self-aware enough to get to the real root of her problem.

Sexual violence and harassment remain a difficult and all too common issue for teens to face, and this novel addresses those issues in a very sincere fashion. It does not sugar coat how depressed she becomes after the attack or the terror she feels at facing her attacker at school. It doesn’t spare the reader’s feelings but seeks to elicit an honest response to such a trying time in her life. The events in the story are spurred by this realism and by her reaction to what life has thrown at her. The ending, however, seems rushed as if the author wished to tie up the loose ends and leave us with a happy ending wrapped in a neat bow. While her actions, by this point in her emotional journey, are believable, the situation that she is thrown into feels forced and too contrived.

The running theme tying the story together is obvious expression. Her trauma has caused her to withdraw from others for fear of judgement, reprisal, or a fear of speaking the words out loud and forcing herself to confront what happened to her at the party. Her silence stifles her social life, family life, schoolwork, emotional growth, and her art. She doesn’t want to confront it; she wants to escape what happened rather than speak it aloud and make it more real. SO, she tries to find other means of escape when silence isn’t enough. We see this as depression takes ahold of her and saps her energy–“I just want to sleep. A coma would be nice. Or amnesia. Anything, just to get rid of this, these thoughts, whispers in my mind. Did he rape my head, too?”

It is only when her art teacher speaks the main truth of the novel (“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.”) that we begin to realize that is what we are witnessing. She is dying. She has withdrawn so much from others and herself that she might as well be dead. Expression is what turns everything around. She finds a strength within herself that so many teenagers will relate to, that so many are searching for, at the end of the novel. Only after freeing herself is she able to overcome that horrible night and begin to move forward.

REVIEW EXCERPTS

From Publisher’s Weekly: “In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager.… the book’s overall gritty realism and Melinda’s hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired.”

From School Library Journal: “This powerful novel deals with a difficult yet important topic-rape… Melinda’s pain is palpable, and readers will totally empathize with her. This is a compelling book, with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story.”

CONNECTIONS

-Pair with other books about mental health in high school:
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

-Pair with other teen reads about sexual assault:
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Some Boys by Patty Blount
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
Hopeless by Colleen Hoover
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Between Shades of Gray

between shades of gray

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sepetys, R. (2011). Between shades of gray. New York: Philomel Books.

PLOT SUMMARY

Lina, her mother, and brother are removed from their home by the Soviet military in 1941 Lithuania. They are put in cattle cars and moved to an unknown destination. In the face of sickness, starvation, and death, Lina worries about what will become of her father whose fate is unknown. Their lives change even more when they reach their destination—a labor camp.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

This novel is a beautiful and haunting representation of a time so often overlooked in history. Books about this time period typically focus on Germany or the Allied countries. This is often not discussed in history classes or historical fiction. This provides a unique perspective for a novel, given its relative obscurity to the average reader. Sepetys provides rich characters to tell the story and provide unique and rich insight into history.

In Between Shades of Gray, we also see an escape in the form of artistic expression. Lina, a budding artist, uses her drawings to escape from the harsh reality that has become her life, to make a statement about what she observes, to earn food and additional comfort for her family, and to let out dangerous feelings about her experiences. The drawings and the book she gets from Andrius are the only methods of escape for her, and they both become vital to the plot.

REVIEW EXCERPTS

From The Washington Post: “Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both”

From Family Circle: “Beautifully written and researched, it captures the devastation of war while celebrating the will to survive.”

From The Los Angeles Times: “An eye-opening reimagination of a very real tragedy written with grace and heart.”

CONNECTIONS

-Pair with other books by Sepetys:
Salt to the Sea
Out of Easy

-Pair with other books about concentration camps and WWII:
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl
We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman
Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin
My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve

One Crazy Summer

one crazy summer

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Williams-Garcia, R. (2012). One Crazy Summer. New York, NY: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins.

PLOT SUMMARY

Three young girls travel across the country to meet the mother they haven’t seen since they were babies. Expecting a summer of fun in California, an emotional reconnection with family, and something to write about for summer essays when school resumes, they are sorely disappointed by their mother, her life, and their routine in Oakland. They spend the summer in a day camp run by Black Panthers learning all about their cause.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

The first thing that struck me as a reader was the main character’s innocence of not noticing injustices facing them. This seemingly minor detail puts into perspective how normal these things were during this time period (and, in some cases, are today). For example, she notes that they must take a cab to a bus stop, take a bus, and then walk from the second bus stop to their mother’s home in Oakland. She doesn’t seem to realize why they must take so many steps, not realizing that the cab won’t go to Oakland. Not only is this historically accurate, but it puts the reader (no matter their age) directly into the innocence of youth. We are confused at these apparent mysteries, irritated when we hear things like, “I’ll tell you when you’re grown,” and we feel that innocence, that desire to see the world as if everyone could get along, even when we are confronted with evidence to the contrary as we are when the Black Panthers have harsh words for the white volunteers who bring food.

Throughout the story, we see the use of poetry. Not only does this contribute to the normal childhood experience of the story, it allows a deeper and more nuanced addition to the story. We see the characters reciting childhood rhymes, learning poems from their mother, and writing their own poetry. This artistic expression is a thread that runs throughout the story giving it more depth as they struggle to express their own truth, what they see every day in terms of racial injustice and their relationship with their mother. Both of these issues are, in and of themselves, a struggle for freedom. These poems add a new layer to our relationship with the characters and to the story as a whole.

REVIEW EXCERPTS

From Booklist: “Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion.”

From School Library Journal: “Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. With memorable characters (all three girls have engaging, strong voices) and a powerful story, this is a book well worth reading and rereading.”

From Publishers Weekly: “Delphine’s growing awareness of injustice on a personal and universal level is smoothly woven into the story in poetic language that will stimulate and move readers.”

CONNECTIONS

-Pair with other books about the civil rights movement:
Glory Be by Augustus Scattergood
Rosa Parks: Not Giving In by James Collins
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

-Pair with other books by Williams-Garcia
P.S. Be Eleven
Gone Crazy in Alabama
Like Sisters on the Homefront

Matilda Bone

matildbone

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cushman, K. (2014). Matilda Bone. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

PLOT SUMMARY

Matilda, having been raised by a clergyman, is sent to stay with a bonesetter when he is called to London on the king’s business. It is in this unlikely place in the midst of disease, death, and poverty, the likes of which she has never known in her privileged and pious life, Matilda truly begins to find herself, her purpose, and her connection with the divine as she learns to live a new life and a new profession.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Matilda Bone offers a unique look into a world foreign to children today—medieval England. Through colorful and, sometimes, comical characters, Cushman provides a realistic view of the dark, poor, and diseased setting. Matilda’s unique, privileged, and judgmental tone provides a narrative that is more relatable to modern readers, particularly when faced with the gruesome and appalling medical details contained in this book.

Though it is not a textbook about medieval medical practices, as Cushman herself states in her notes, it does provide ample detail about such practices. Both fascinating and gruesome, these help set the scene and educate the reader of their privilege when it comes to modern medical care.

REVIEW EXCERPTS

From School Library Journal: “This humorous, frank look at life in the medical quarters in medieval times shows readers that love and compassion, laughter and companionship, are indeed the best medicine.”

From Horn Book:  The “fascinating information [in the afterword] is just as interesting as Matilda’s tale.”

CONNECTIONS

-Use as an introduction to medieval medicine and have students do projects on the various medical professions shown in the book

-Pair with other medieval historical fiction for a deeper glimpse into the time period:
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz
Longbow by Wayne Grant
Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

the right word roget.jpg

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bryant, J., & Sweet, M. (2014). The Right Word: Roget and his thesaurus. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

PLOT SUMMARY

Peter Roget’s life is chronicled from his early years as his family moved frequently, leaving him with few friends but many books to his adulthood and his persistent love of making lists of words and classifications as well as his varied other interests.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

This complex story is told in many different layers from the text to speech bubbles to the unique illustrations. The text presents the facts of Roget’s life. We learn of his many moves, his love for lists, his independence, his intellect and love for learning, and his shy nature. Through his lists displayed throughout the book in the illustrations, we delve deeper into his mind learning what is important to him and happening in his life. The speech bubbles give us an outsider’s view into his life and how he was perceived by his contemporaries. We learn that they admire him and see him as having an interest in everything, which doesn’t appear to be far from the truth!

Collage illustrations showing Roget’s many lists perfectly capture how cluttered and chaotic Roget’s view of the world was and what prompted him to make lists to create order from the chaos. These illustrations capture so much on each page that readers must slow down so as not to miss any small details that add to the story like Roget’s continued list of events of his life (which is also shown at the end of the book in its entirety), fun excerpts from his thesaurus with words the author used on that page or which related to the concept being discussed, etc.

REVIEW EXCERPTS

From Publishers Weekly: “Sweet envisions Roget’s work as a shadow box crammed with the wonders of the natural world, adorned with exuberant hand-lettered typography. Together with Bryant’s sympathetic account, Sweet’s gentle riot of images and words humanizes the man behind this ubiquitous reference work and demystifies the thesaurus itself.”

From Booklist: “In brilliant pages teeming with enthusiasm for language and learning, Bryant and Sweet joyfully celebrate curiosity, the love of knowledge, and the power of words.”

From School Library Journal: “Those who have relied upon a thesaurus . . . will gain a greater appreciation for the reference tool in this beautifully designed picture book biography of its creator, Peter Roget. . . . Busy and exuberant, Sweet’s charming watercolor illustrations, layered over collages of vintage images and fonts, capture Roget’s passion for classification while also providing readers new opportunities for discovery. . . . Expertly researched and well written, Bryant’s narrative not only details the creation of the thesaurus; it also conveys a sense of Roget the man. . . . An excellent illustrated biography.”

CONNECTIONS

Use this book as an introduction to reference materials such as the thesaurus and dictionary. Have children use them to write an essay about their own lives and interests.

Pair with other biographies for children to learn about notable people throughout history such as Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet, For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story by Rebecca Langston-George, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney, Frida by Jonah Winter and Ana Juan, and Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier.

 

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