May 5, 2010

Fiction, Fantasy, and YA Reviews

Bibliography:
Stead, Rebecca. 2009. When You Reach Me. Wendy Lamb Books. ISBN: 0385737424

Summary:
While living in New York City, twelve-year-old Miranda is busy helping her mother study for her upcoming appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid when a series of anonymous notes leave her feeling anything is possible.

Critical Analysis:
In 1978, Miranda is a twelve-year-old girl living alone with her mother in New York City. Her mother works full-time, and Miranda is often left home alone. One day, Miranda receives a note that says, “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” Over the next several weeks items around the house turn-up missing, and more anonymous notes arrive. Unfortunately, Miranda doesn’t have anyone she can confide in. Her best friend and neighbor Sal has just told her he doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Miranda is heartbroken and makes several failed attempts to make new friends. During all of these events, Miranda’s mother is set to appear on the popular The $20,000 Pyramid game show. The family needs money, and Miranda and Richard, her mother’s boyfriend, spend every night quizzing her with trivia questions. As time goes on, Miranda tries to unravel the mystery and find clues in her daily activities. Relationships change, additional friendships form, and her mother’s television debut has arrived. It is at this moment that all of the pieces and clues fall into place for Miranda. She understands the notes and knows who needs to be saved, but has to defy the laws of space and time to believe it’s possible.

Stead does a good job weaving science fiction and fantasy elements into this coming of age story. In the story, Miranda speaks often of her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. This novel by Madeleine L'Engle foreshadows the current story during several scenes. Having never read A Wrinkle in Time, I had no idea of the clues that the book brought to the When You Reach Me story. Regardless, there are other opportunities to pick up on hints and signs about where the story was headed. Personally, I felt the story was a little too easy and predictable without the clues from L’Engle’s novel. The side story of the game show appearance was distracting for me. I appreciate the fact that the game show adds to the setting and time of the story (1970s), but this element seemed to take up too much time and seemed too grand of an idea. It is easy to see that Stead was raised in New York City during the 1970s. Stead and Miranda take pride in the neighborhood. The local delis, pizza parlors, alleys, and apartment buildings are all described from firsthand knowledge with great details. Stead understands the value of chosen family members, and for Miranda, those people are neighbors and local business owners. This coming of age story will attract young readers, and the low fantasy elements will keep them tuned in. Recommended for ages 10-14 yrs.

Awards:
John Newbery Medal Winner, 2010
British Fantasy Award for Top Ten, 2010
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction, 2009
Parents' Choice Gold Award, 2009

Reviews:
"When all the sidewalk characters from Miranda's Manhattan world converge amid mind-blowing revelations and cunning details, teen readers will circle back to the beginning and say,'Wow ... cool.'" Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews

"The mental gymnastics required of readers are invigorating; and the characters, children, and adults are honest bits of humanity no matter in what place or time their souls rest." Starred Review, Booklist

Connections:
Create a display showcasing different types of knots like the kind that Richard and Miranda made. Accompany the display with a variety of informational books about knots and their use.

Malone, Marianne. 2010. The Sixty-Eight Rooms. Random House Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0375857109



Bibliography:
Johnson, Angela. 2003. The First Part Last. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. ISBN 0689849230

Summary:
A sixteen-year-old boy tries to leave his childhood freedom behind as he cares for his infant daughter.

Critical Analysis:
On the outside, Bobby is a typical teenage boy living in New York City. He attends school, has two best friends, and loves heading down to the pizza parlor every chance he can get. The only thing different about Bobby’s life and those of his friends is that he is a sixteen-year-old father. We are first introduced to Bobby and his daughter Feather when she is just eleven days old. We learn how Bobby becomes a father by backtracking throughout the book. The “now” is in current time, and the “then” is before he is a father. During the “then”, we can’t help but sympathize with Bobby and his girlfriend Nia as they try to cope with the unexpected pregnancy. Bobby’s divorced parents try to be supportive, and Nia’s parents remain shell-shocked. It is in the last couple months of pregnancy that the “then” and “now” meet as Bobby and Nia come to grips with their reality; they may not prepared to care for a child. They are forced to make heart wrenching decisions that change both of their lives forever.

I appreciate Anderson for giving Bobby a loving, caring heart for his daughter. Often, we see young fathers take a more absent or less than enthusiastic role when it comes to fatherhood. Although Bobby has a few selfish moments (one that lands him at the police station), it is refreshing to see Bobby putting his daughter first. I was pleased to see the generally positive depiction of African American families. All too often, African Americans are portrayed in a less than favorable light when it comes to home life. Bobby and Nia’s parents are well traveled, employed, and educated people providing a stable home for their children. Anderson stays true to urban life in NYC by incorporating slang such as, “whacked”, “naw”, and “what up?” This language is consistent with the setting and is age-appropriate.

Although the story is told from Bobby’s perspective, there is one short chapter as the story comes to a close from Nia’s point of view. I found myself surprised to hear her voice, but in the end I liked the addition of her perspective. When looking for reviews for this novel, I learned that this title is part of a trilogy, the Heaven Trilogy. Not too often does a book coincide with other novels yet is capable of standing alone. Without reading that bit of information, I never would have known that it had companions. The First Part Last is a short read with long lasting effects. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Awards:
Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Literature for Young Adults Winner, 2004
Coretta Scott King Award for Best African-American Children's Writer Winner, 2004

Reviews:
"The author skillfully relates the hope in the midst of pain." Publisher’s Weekly

"Johnson manages to convey a story that is always complex, never preachy. The somewhat pat ending doesn't diminish the impact of this short, involving story. It's the tale of one young man and his choices, which many young readers will appreciate and enjoy." Kirkus Reviews

Connections:
Johnson, Angela. Palencar, John Jude. 1998. Heaven. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. ISBN 0689822901

Johnson, Angela. Palencar, John Jude. 2010. Sweet, Hereafter. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. ISBN 0689873859

Draper, Sharon M. 1996. Tears of a Tiger. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. ISBN 0689806981



Bibliography:
Kinney, Jeff. 2007. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Abrams, Harry N., Inc. ISBN: 0810993139

Summary:
After his mother forces him to keep a diary, Greg records the daily activities of being a middle schooler longing to ascend the social ladder. After a several mishaps and a case of mistaken identity, Greg must struggle to do the right thing.

Critical Analysis:
Greg hopes that his first year in middle school will bring opportunities for him to shoot up in social status. Right now he ranks himself at about 52nd or 53rd. Unfortunately, Greg’s best friend and side-kick Rowley doesn’t exude popularity. Greg’s status is the only thing that drives this young man. Everything he does and says is in order to move him up in the rankings, but the opposite usually happens. Rowley isn’t concerned about his social status in the least. Poor Rowley gets dragged around and talked in to all sorts of schemes. After borrowing Rowley’s jacket and tormenting kindergarteners with worms on a stick, Rowley faces punishment. It is up to Greg to remedy the situation and prove to his best friend that his friendship is more important than being popular.

This “diary” is no ordinary diary. Greg makes sure to let the reader know that he has been forced to keep his thoughts and feelings written in a book. He exclaims early on, “So just don’t expect me to be all ‘Dear Diary’ this and ‘Dear Diary’ that.” Regardless of his feelings towards journaling, he keeps a record of the ups and downs of middle school life and the pangs of fitting in. Greg thinks a lot of himself and subsequently doesn’t think about anyone else. His selfishness comes across amusing and at times outlandish. Just when you think that Greg can empathize with another and has learned a lesson in humility, it doesn’t happen. This is perhaps the most comical part of Wimpy Kid. For instance, when Greg’s Grandma’s house gets toilet papered, he thinks it will give his Grandma something to do since retiring. The pages themselves are lined to look like a journal and there are several cartoons illustrating Greg’s emotions, daydreams, and fantasies. The cartoons themselves could stand alone in a strip. They support Greg’s desires to be popular, and his ability to step on anyone to get there. This “diary” is a funny anecdote of school life for an adult, and a great read for a young child. Everyone will love this book simply because of its humor and crude illustrations. In addition, reluctant and male readers will appreciate its loose structure and non-traditional look and feel.

I had the pleasure of hearing Jeff Kinney speak at the Texas Library Association meeting this year. His original plan for Wimpy Kid was to have it be 800-1,000 pages and meant for the adult reader. The comic illustrations and stories would remain the same, but it would be more of satire of Greg’s school years. Luckily (he agrees), his publisher convinced him to make this giant novel into several smaller ones for the young reader. Jeff Kinney explained that he is a “failed cartoonist”, and that the character of Greg has made appearances on his popular webpage FunBrain.com before any books were published. Jeff Kinney also explained that this book is not intended for a reader younger than age 10. He feels that Greg is not an ideal role model, and a more mature reader would understand the satire. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Awards:
ALA Teens' Top Ten, 2008
Kids Choice Awards, Favorite Book, 2008

Reviews:
“Kinney manages to inject enough humor in the simple drawings to make them an integral element in the book. Because Kinney began his Wimpy Kid adventures on a Web site, many middle schoolers already familiar with the character will ensure a ready audience for this print version.” VOYA

“Kinney ably skewers familiar aspects of junior high life, from dealing with the mysteries of what makes someone popular to the trauma of a "wrestling unit" in gym class. His print debut should keep readers in stitches, eagerly anticipating Greg's further adventures.” Publisher’s Weekly

"The first of three installments, it is an excellent choice for reluctant readers, but more experienced readers will also find much to enjoy and relate to in one seventh grader's view of the everyday trials and tribulations of middle school." School Library Journal

Connections:
Kinney, Jeff. 2007. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roddick Rules. Abrams, Harry N., Inc. ISBN: 0810993139

Griffiths, Andy. 2003. Day My Butt Went Psycho. Scholastic. ISBN: 0439424690

Have students compose their own version of Wimpy Kid using cartoons and funny personal stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment