Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fiction, Fantasy, and YA: Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm

Bibliographic data
Holm, Jennifer L..Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff. Pictures by Elicia Castaldi. Ginee Seo Books, New York, 2007. ISBN: 0-689-85281-7

Brief plot summary
Ginny Davis has a big seventh grade year planned. Her “To Do” list consist of getting a dad, getting the role of the Sugarplum Fairy, and looking good in a school photo. Little does she know that her seventh grade year is going to be a roller coaster ride and she better hang on.

Critical analysis
In Middle school is Worse Than Meatloaf, “stuff” represents the life of Ginny Davis and is put into a journal format. “Stuff” includes class schedules, notes from mom, instant messages, cards from grandpa, and graded papers. This is an inventive way to depict a journal and tell a story. Ginny’s life starts off simple and easy, and by the end of the year it is turned upside down through family issues and self discovery. Ginny struggles to find out who she wants to be and where her life has taken her. Jennifer L. Holm has brought together a touching story with very few words paired with pictures created by Elicia Castaldi. This is definitely a creative pairing. Many readers’ will connect to what Ginny is going through: siblings making bad choices, losing that part in the play, or having to deal with a blended family. Although many pages are repetitive, readers are going love “reading” about Ginny’s life through her stuff.

Review excerpts
School Library Journal: “Digitally rendered collage illustrations realistically depict the various means of communication, and the story flows easily from one colorful page to the next.”

Publishers Weekly: “The punchy visuals and the sharp, funny details reel in the audience and don't let go.”

Activities: After reading the book, students will create their own journals using their stuff. They will be required to input a certain number of entries over a specific amount of time.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fiction, Fantasy, YA: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Bibliographic data
Marchetta, Melina. Jellicoe Road. Harper Teen, New York, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-06-143183-8

Brief plot summary
Taylor Markham has always had questions about her past: Why did my mom leave me and where is she now? Who is Hannah really? and Who am I? With a new year of “Territory Wars” under way, Taylor’s life is turned upside down. Hannah, Taylor’s part house mother, part guardian, leaves unexpectedly, and Jonah Griggs is starting break down the walls that she has built around herself. As pieces of her past start coming together, Taylor knows she needs to find her mom in order to answer her questions, but her only question is “How?”

Critical analysis
Jellicoe Road is a series of complex stories all leading back to the past. Taylor Markham was dropped off at a 7-11 there after an incident that left her mother crazy and desparate. She knows her mom is connected to Hannah is some way, but until reading Hannah’s manuscript, she does not know the extent. As the story progresses, Melina Marchetta brings in characters who try and support Taylor on her journey to figure out who she really is. Marchetta has written each one of these characters to be different in Taylor’s life, from comic relief to emotional support to a love interest. Although very confusing in the beginning, as you get into the story you realize that you do not want to stop reading. Each reader will be able to see a little bit of themselves in Taylor, and the ending will leave you hoping for a sequel.

Review excerpts
School Library Journal: “Elegiac passages and a complex structure create a somewhat dense, melancholic narrative with elements of romance, mystery, and realistic fiction.”
Booklist: “The complexity of the backstory will be offputting to younger readers, but those who stick it out will find rewards in the heartbreaking twists of Marchetta’s saga.”
Kirkus Review: “A beautifully rendered mystery.”
A Michael L. Prinze Award Winner

Activities: In the book, Hannah wrote a book about the adventures of her and her friends. Students will write one story about an adventure that they have had. Readers could also make a map for the "Territory Wars".

Fiction, Fantasy, and YA: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Bibliographic data
Hale, Shannon. Princess Academy. Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, 2005. ISBN: 1-58234-993-2.

Brief plot summary
Miri has only ever known the simple life on Mount Eskel. Now she and the other girls are required to go to the “Princess Academy” in order to prepare themselves for a possible life as a princess then queen. Through the academy, Miri learns to read and in turn learns of different places and different ways of life. As the time comes near for the prince to come and choose his princess, Miri must decide if she wants the prince to choose her or if she would rather save her heart for Peder, a boy that she has grown up with.

Critical analysis
What little girl has not dreamed of growing up to become a princess? Princess Academy is a beautifully written tale about Miri, a girl who has tried to fit in and contribute to her family and community all her life. As Miri is taken with all the other girls of the village to “Princess Academy”, she begins to realize who she is and who she could be. Shannon Hale has taken what could have been a simple story, and reinvented it through vivid characters and surprising conflicts. Although it drags in places, readers will be able to see a clear view of the world that Hale has spun. “The east says it’s dawn/My mouth speaks a yawn/My bed clings to me and begs me to stay/ I hear a work song/ Say winter is long/ I peel myself up and then make away;” at the beginning of each chapter, there is poems such as this one that foretells what is going to happen. This touch of poetry completes this old fashioned fairy that will soon be a classic.

Review excerpts
Kirkis Reviews: "An unalloyed joy."
School Library Journal- “This is not a fluffy, predictable fairy tale . . . Instead, Hale weaves an intricate, multilayered story about families, relationships, education, and the place we call home."
The 2006 Newbery Committee: "When it comes to contemporary classics, Shannon Hale has the makings of someone whose books will be read and reread for decades to come."
A Newbery Honor Book
A New York Times Bestseller
A Publishers Weekly Bestseller
A Book Sense Bestseller
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
A NECBA Top 10 Fall Book
A Book Sense Children’s Pick

Related Books:
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
River Secrets by Shannon Hale
Economics is a big part of the life in Mount Eskel. Students could look at life in the mountains versus in the valley. They could also compare the different characters. Shannon Hale has written so many vivid characters that students could create a diagram showing how they are alike and how they are different.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Historic Fiction: Crispin:The Cross of Lead by Avi

Bibliographic data
Avi. Crispin: The Cross of Lead. Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2002. ISBN: 078680828-4

Brief plot summary
A poor peasant boy has just lost everything that he has ever known, and now a “wolf’s head” has been placed on him. Having only been called “Asta’s boy”, he is shocked to learn that he was christened “Crispin” and learns that there was a lot his mother did not tell him before she died. In order to stay alive he must flee the village that he has always called home, and set out for the unknown. There he runs into Bear, a traveling entertainer who is a lot more than he seems. With Bear, Crispin begins find out who he is, where he came from, and where he is going.

Critical analysis
Avi has produced another wonderful novel with Crispin: The Cross of Lead. Crispin is a young boy with nothing to call his own, no home, no family, not even a name. As the story continues, Crispin starts connecting the dots of the information that he has picked up over the years. Set in medieval times, many students might shy away from this book due to the lack of knowledge about these times. If given a chance, the death of the mom and the “wolf’s head” put on him that are right at the beginning will grab them and keep them wanting more. Avi has written characters that can be related to on so many different levels, such as Crispin’s empty life and Bear’s need to protect him. Readers will be begging for more by the end.

Review excerpts
a. Publishers Weekly- “A page turner to delight Avi's fans, it will leave readers hoping for a sequel.”
b. School Library Journal- “The result is a meticulously crafted story, full of adventure, mystery, and action.”
c. Booklist- “Avi builds an impressive backdrop for his arresting characters.”

A. Related Books:
Crispin: At the Edge of the World by Avi
B. Activities
In the classroom the students could be creating a comparison about medieval times and present day. Medieval times can be fascinating but confusing. Letting the students research before you start the book would give the students a better idea of why things worked that way. You could also compare it to Robin Hood.

Historic Fiction: Nightjohn by Gary Paulson

Bibliographic data
Paulson, Gary. Nightjohn. Delacorte Press, New York, 1993. ISBN: 0-385-30838-8

Brief plot summary
When a new slave is brought to the plantation, Sarny knows he is different. One night she learns that he can read and write, knowledge that has bloody consequences. Although she knows the dangers, she allows him to start teaching her how to read and write, and a whole new, dangerous world is opened for her.

Critical analysis
In Nightjohn, Gary Paulson takes the reader to a side of slavery that is rarely written about in fiction books, life before the Civil War. Gary Paulson writes, "Except for variations in time and character identification and placement, the events written in this story are true actually happened." In Nightjohn, Sarny is a young girl who has no choice in her future, but realizes that she can change the quality of her life through letters. The first paragraph states, “This is a story about Nightjohn. I guess in some ways it is a story about me just as much because I am in it and I know what happened and some of it happened to me but it still seems to be most about him.” Readers will get to see a different side of Gary Paulson as he creates a pair of characters that go through so much and yet are still so real. Taking the events and writing them from Sarny’s point brings the story to a emotional level that students are rarely able to find in young adult fiction.

Review excerpts
a. School Library Journal- "Nightjohn should be required reading (and discussing) for all middle grade and high school students."
b. Publishers Weekly- "Among the most powerful of Paulsen's works, this impeccable researched novel sheds light on cruel truths in American history as it traces the experiences of a 12-year-old slave girl in the 1850s."
c. Kirkus Reviews- “Still, the anguish is all too real in this brief, unbearably vivid book.”

A. Related Books:
Sarny By Gary Paulson
B. Activities:
In order to help the students understand the different roles of slaves, I would have them split into groups and research the different ones that Paulson discusses. I would also have the student research the different accounts of a slave’s life in order to compare points of view.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Historic Fiction: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bibliographic data
Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton. Read by Mirron Willis.
Book: Scholastic Inc., New York, 2007.
Audio: Listening Library, New York, 2008. ISBN: 978-073937095-7

Brief plot summary
Elijah has lived his whole life in Buxton, a settlement in Canada for runaway slaves. In this story by Christopher Paul Curtis, we follow Elijah through many hilarious and touching tales and straight into a life or death mission to save a group of slaves.

Critical analysis
In Elijah of Buxton, Christopher Paul Curtis has found the perfect blend of humor and seriousness. Elijah is the first free born person in the settlement of Buxton. Many expectations are on his shoulders, but he cannot help that he is a “fra-gile” boy. Curtis has taken a part of American history that is hard for many kids to relate to, and brought in stories that will have the students laughing out loud and others that will bring a tear to their eye. He is a rock fishing, fragile, understanding boy who has grown up around people who still have the physical and emotional scars of slavery. Although he has heard the stories, Elijah has never experienced what it is like to be on the other side until he is “kidnapped”. Partnered to read the book, Mirron Wilson does a beautiful job. With the accents, speed, and ability to convey the mood of the moment, he was the perfect person to read Elijah of Buxton.

Review excerpts
a. Booklist- “A fine, original novel from a gifted storyteller.”
b. AudioFile- “Mirron Willis delivers depth of emotion as he shapes the story's rhythms and pacing.”
Newberry Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Award
Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Canadian Library Association, Book of the Year
Finalist, Governor General’s Literary Award
An American Library Association Notable Booke.

A. Related Books: Nightjohn by Gary Paulson
B. Activities: After reading Elijah of Buxton, pairs of students could write other adventures for Elijah. You could also analyze the different forms of conflict involved in each chapter.