Friday, November 30, 2007

The Giver

Lowry, Lois. 1993. The Giver. New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 395645662

The story if The Giver is told and revealed through the thoughts and experiences of Jonas, the young boy turning 12 years old who has been named The Receiver. Through bizarre dystopia, people living in this community have no decisions to make or other considerations to take into account. The entire little “world” has controlled everything, down to what people may feel, what rules are made and who carries the babies, where the babies are assigned and what life partners, or spouses, each will have. The quirks are consistent throughout the whole book, often understandable, but definitely not logical. In the end, Jonas defies the “rules” and takes baby Gabriel in search of Elsewhere. The reader is left with the query of whether the two actually die or not.

Upon first glance, this story is fascinating, yet begins to fade into simply odd and peculiar as Jonas begins his receiving of memory. Characters are revealed through the interactions with Jonas and are not strongly developed, except for The Giver and Jonas.
As for universal themes, one can expect that for a fantasy novel reader, this will appeal. Yet, the dysfunction spoils the humanness of the relationships.
The style of writing does leave questions which are not answered right away and providing a venue for discussion.

Booklist starred (Vol. 89, No. 16 (April 15, 1993))
This one makes an especially good introduction to the genre because it doesn't load the dice by presenting the idea of a community structured around safety as totally negative. There's a distinctly appealing comfort in sameness that kids--especially junior high kids--will recognize. Yet the choice is clear. Sameness versus freedom, happiness at the risk of pain. Something to talk about.

Horn Book starred (September, 1993)
In a departure from her well-known and favorably regarded realistic works, Lowry has written a fascinating, thoughtful science-fiction novel. The story takes place in a nameless, utopian community, at an unidentified future time. Although life seems perfect -- there is no hunger, no disease, no pollution, no fear -- the reader becomes uneasily aware that all is not well. The story is skillfully written; the air of disquiet is delicately insinuated; and the theme of balancing the values of freedom and security is beautifully presented.


This story continues to spawn great conversation within our family! I remember when my own daughter read it for the first time and how odd I thought it sounded. Now that I have read the book, I understand her much better, yet, I realize that she is much more factual about this genre of fantasy. I have more emotional responses to this type of literature, so my opinions are stronger in either direction.

The novel could be used to encourage original poetry writing by students.

One could also adapt this as skits and/or reader’s theater. I’m reminded of a Destination Imagination project when I think of this story!

The First Part Last

Johnson, Angela. 2003. The First Part Last. New York: Simon and Schuster.
ISBN 689849222

Just as the plot moves between the “now” and “then” of Bobby’s life, we see the stark difference in his life compared to Nia’s as they leave the adoption counseling: “We’re still blowing bubbles when we walk out of the office hand in hand, then get into separate taxis with our parents and head to different parts of the city.” (Johnson 99) The plot paints the very realistic picture of teen pregnancy with the inclusion of the teens’ parents and friends. The young adult audience will be able to identify with many characters and themes with the short sentences, slang-type language and real-life scenarios. The scenes are described with little words but powerful emotion, as seen when Bobby walks away from hearing about the coma and condition of Nia. “…I feel like a three-year-old when I walk out the room between my parents while they hold my hands. Mr. Wilkins starts crying, then falls to his kneeds, and it’s only then that Ni’s mom comes back from the invisible place and rocks him in her arms.” (Johnson 122).

Bobby’s character is revealed in the similar short choppy sentences that are persistent throughout the story. Though sometimes hard to follow, the other characterizations are much more narrow. Nia’s role is described through Bobby’s narration and memories of her. Johnson does allow the reader to see the vulnerabilities of the characters, especially Bobby, and to some extent, his mother.
The setting is in New York city and it is the characters who make this seem real. Bobby’s friends give views of life for teens looking for identity, yet the setting seems not as important.
The pervasive theme is one of parental love that develops strong and fast while other relationships for the teen father seem troubled at times and not quite as distinct. The language, while sparce, does utilize profanity in context.

The story is presented in a style of “now” and “then” information, which slowly gets closer and closer chronologically. Until, at last, Bobby sets out with Feather for a place called Heaven.

Kirkus Review (June 1, 2003)
"The rules: If she hollers, she is mine. If she needs to be changed, she is always mine. In the dictionary next to 'sitter,' there is not a picture of Grandma. It's time to grow up. Too late, you're out of time. Be a grown-up." Sixteen-year-old Bobby has met the love of his life: his daughter. Told in alternating chapters that take place "then" and "now," Bobby relates the hour-by-hour tribulations and joys of caring for a newborn, and the circumstances that got him there.

School Library Journal (June 1, 2003)
Gr 8 Up-Brief, poetic, and absolutely riveting, this gem of a novel tells the story of a young father struggling to raise an infant. Bobby, 16, is a sensitive and intelligent narrator. His parents are supportive but refuse to take over the child-care duties, so he struggles to balance parenting, school, and friends who don't comprehend his new role. Alternate chapters go back to the story of Bobby's relationship with his girlfriend Nia and how parents and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy

This is a very realistic fview of teen pregnancy, with some sexual and language overtures mixed in. This could also be a great piece of literature to illustrate a male/father’s view of teen pregnancy and ensuing parenthood.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky Review

Patron, Susan. The Higher Power of Lucky. New York: Random House, Listening Library 2006.

The format for this audio version was an unabridged production on 3 compact discs. The reader is Cassandra Campbell, adult female voice-over artist.

This contemporary realistic fiction story offers an in-depth look at the life of Lucky, a ten-year-old girl protagonist, living in Hard Pan, California, on the edge of the Mojave desert. The episodic plot is presented in a seemingly disjointed fashion, much like the thought process of a child her age. The development of Lucky’s character is packed with vivid descriptions of her thoughts, feelings, surroundings and people in her life, including her dog, HMS Beagle. Her mother has passed away and her father is not a presence in her life while her guardian is a French woman that he has brought to take car of Lucky. Lucky’s interests mirror those of a preteen, wondering about the word scrotum, while at the same time not sure she wants to know and looking for higher powers, a term garnered from listening to 12-step programs while on-the-job at the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center. The point of view is centered in what Lucky’s mind is thinking. Grappling with issues of abandonment, the plot climaxes with Lucky’s attempt to run away from Brigitte, her guardian.

The Higher Power of Lucky reveals characters through the thoughts and interactions of Lucky. Although, her guardian, Brigitte, is one of the most important people in Lucky’s life, she is introduced to us after Short Sammy and HMS Beagle. The character introductions are subtle and matter-of-fact. For example, Brigitte, is the title of chapter 2 and we see her “Inside, Brigitte stood barefoot at the far end, feeding dirty towels into the washer and talking French on the phone.” (Patron, 9). Events in the story are well staged because much of the narration occurs in Lucky’s thoughts. Patron goes to great lengths to explain in much detail what the child is thinking, deciding, and feeling. Based on such detail, mental images of the characters are easily drawn.

The setting is in the desert and the description of the heat, the dust storm, and the poor socio-economic status of the community are not only plausible, but exceptionally believable. Universal implications present are the changing mind of a preteen, beginning to have feelings of “like” for Lincoln, the looming uncertainties of abandonment that the audience can recognize but Lucky may not understand at her young age.

The underlying theme of searching for the higher power to guide one’s life is a universally human trait. The more tangible theme involves Lucky trying to make Brigitte stay with her rather than going back to Paris is one that children can relate to and is more evident. The ending of the story is a great example of what happens when one forms an opinion with not all the facts. Lucky is convinced that Brigitte is returning to France after seeing the course for restaurant management, the passport and Brigitte’s loss of patience.
Another universal theme is extremely common with children. Lucky believes that the way to solve her dilemma is to run away. The detailed style of writing shows us that the character is very prepared yet still packs the toilet paper at the bottom of her survival backpack!
The balance of narration and dialogue seems acceptable, especially through the cd used for the audio listening version. The speaker does not perform obvious speech changes, but does changes the tone and cadence of her voice for the different characters.

I listened to these cd’s in my car with my 9-year-old daughter, who enjoyed the experience as much as I did! She is not a big talker in the car anyway, so this was a great conversation starter for us. The performer gave us a a steady calm voice, providing an even interest without many high or low moments.

Kirkus starred (October 15, 2006)
The facts of Lucky's life in Hard Pan, Calif. (population 43), scarcely qualify her as "lucky." One parent is dead and the other disinterested. Her future with her unemployed French guardian Brigitte, who was tricked into caring for her, feels uncertain. When Lucky discovers that Brigitte is taking an online course in restaurant management from Paris, she anticipates being abandoned. To find her higher power and take control of her life, Lucky runs away in a dust storm, hoping to cause worry, sadness and a change of Brigitte's heart. Potential disaster leads to Lucky's discovery that Brigitte loves her, which helps her come to terms with her mother's death. The plot is not what elevates Lucky's memorable story. Hard Pan may be lightly populated, but every soul is uniquely unforgettable, from 5-year-old Miles, shameless cookie hustler, to Lincoln, serious knot-tying addict.

School Library Journal (December 1, 2006)
Gr 4-6-When Lucky's mother is electrocuted and dies after a storm, Lucky's absentee father calls his ex-wife, Brigitte, to fly over from France to take care of the child. Two years later, the 10-year-old worries that Brigitte is tired of being her guardian and of their life in Hard Pan (pop. 42) in the middle of the California desert. While Lucky's best friend ties intricate knots and the little boy down the road cries for attention, she tries to get some control over her life by restocking her survival kit backpack and searching for her "Higher Power." This character-driven novel has an unusually complicated backstory, and a fair amount of exposition. Yet, its quirky cast and local color help to balance this fact, and the desert setting is fascinating.

This story could be used with broken families, blended families or adopted children to help give a framework for discussing and sharing feelins associated with the changes which affect families during the types of trials.

The book could serve as a backdrop for the 12-Step Recovery Process since there is quite a bit of humor about the different types of anonymous groups that met at the Museum and Visitor Center.

My daughter and I enjoyed listening to this story on the cd’s in the car. It was easy to follow, even with numerous interruptions.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Stanley, Diane. Michelangelo. Hong Kong: South China Printing, 2000.

Michelangelo is a “cradle to grave” account of this renowned artist. The plot guides the reader from the early years of turmoil with his own father, through his first patrons, the long and arduous relationship and work for Pope Julius II. Among his greatest works are the stone sculptors of the Pieta and David and the monumental work of art on the Sistine Chapel for Julius as well as the “tragedy of the tomb” that wrecked his life and was never completed.

Stanley provides much detail about the coming and going of Michelangelo, his work, accomplishments and challenges, which were many. Facts are valid and documented through a bibliography. Some of the illustrations were manipulated on the computer and a few pictures were reprinted photographs. Other illustrations are large and full, depicted in a clear and concise manner. The organization of the text and plot are quite clear and follow the pattern of his life exclusively. The author is very well researched and informed, giving much information. Michelangelo can be seen for his wondrous achievements and his tormented life. This book would be better suited for strong readers in the upper elementary grades or middle school. Although it appears to be a picture book, the text is full of information and is more than the typical 32 pages of a true picture book.

Kirkus starred (July 1, 2000)
“Building on strong preparatory research, Stanley, like the best adult biographers, distills the culture, history, politics, and aesthetic of this unique era. Stanley particularly excels in selecting and integrating just enough contexts and detail to assure a genuine, empathetic treatment. Indeed, she weaves all the major elements of Michelangelo's long and astonishingly creative life into a compelling, anecdote-rich narrative: his country childhood with a wet-nurse and her stonecutter husband; early apprenticeships with the fresco painter Ghirlandaio and the sculptor Bertoldo; his "adoption" by Lorenzo de' Medici of Florence and the benefits of long-term friendships with the Medici family members; his early and dramatic successes with the Pietà and the David; the patronage of Pope Julius II, which led to the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the astonishing Moses; work on the Medici Chapel, the Sistine Chapel's Last Judgement, St. Peter's in Rome (not completed in his lifetime); and finally, his peaceful death at 89. “

Horn Book (November/December, 2000)
“Once again, biographical information is presented in an engaging manner with details selected not only to reveal the subject's character but also to whet the reader's interest, recounting the fight that gave Michelangelo "the crumpled nose of a prizefighter," for example.”

“Care is also given to the correction of popular misconceptions: Michelangelo did not lie on his back while painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; he stood on a scaffolding and painted looking upward-an equally uncomfortable position.”

This book is an art teacher’s dream! The author provides great insight to the preparation of materials and the mind before beginning a monumental work of art.

As a side bar, there are plenty of references to what is happening in the world around Michelangelo, including the influence of the Catholic church at the time.

History of the Italian Renaissance could be a spring board from this book, as well.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Seesaw Girl

Park, Linda. Seesaw Girl. Ill. by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Jade Blossom’s curious life inside the wall surrounding her family’s house unfolds as the twelve year old girl loses her best friend, Willow, to marriage. The setting is in Seoul, Korea, during the seventeenth century, when females of her family’s status were not allowed outside the walls until their wedding day. Even this trip is only to the same lifestyle, but to her husband’s family compound. The picture of Jade's life includes a brief escape to life outside and a sudden awakening to wishes and desires that do not fit into the family culture.

The authenticity of Seesaw Girl is supported in part by the author’s notes and bibliography at the end of the book. Park also weaves in pieces of historical fact as appropriate throughout the course of the story. For example, when the Jade’s father responds to her request to give the servant who brought her home from her escapade his job back, the father gives a peek at the cultural relevant history. “Right behavior is indeed important, Daughter. It is one of the Five Virtues. Your brother has been learning much about them. Right behavior, good form, wisdom, faith, and love.” (61.)
Although the plot seems simplistic, it follows the life of a twelve year old girl who is sentenced inside the walls of an aristocratic family’s home during a time when women and girls were not allowed to speak directly to men or receive an education. She amuses herself with innocent pranks, sewing, cooking and washing. The plot is not given a rosy view, noting the loss of her best friend as well as the desire to be able to do something more with her mind.
Jade does ask her mother if the feeling that she has provided for her family enough for her happiness. And the mother replies, “Yes, Jade, I have learned to make it enough.”

Themes are recurring and relate to male dominance, female submissiveness and inferiority, and a life of simple activities, such as, washing clothes. The routine associated with this chore includes taking out the stitching every washing and cleaning only to stitch the clean cloth back into the original clothing.

Readers should be able to identify with the main character that is always asking questions, wondering about things she has not seen, and finding a way to get what she wants. The style includes a small amount of dialogue between Jade and her parents, while Tiger, her brother, talks with her more freely. This can be evidenced when the schoolmaster is out sick and Jade slips into the Hall of Education beside Tiger, and learns to paint.

Publishers Weekly (August 9, 1999)
“With all the temerity of a 1990s girl, Jade plays tricks on her brother (with the help of her cousin Willow), and her yearning to see the world outside of her family's walled household ultimately leads her into trouble.”

School Library Journal (September 1999)
“Park maintains a fine tension between the spirited girl's curiosity and her very limited sphere. Certainly Jade looks for opportunities to expand her horizons, but after her first disastrous foray to see Willow, she learns that those chances have to come within the walls of her own home.”
“Her mother recognizes Jade's longings and shows her that it is possible to be content with her life. Like Jade's stand-up seesaw, Park's novel offers readers a brief but enticing glimpse at another time and place.”

The obvious connection would be to world history and 17th century life in Korea. Yet other curriculum areas could be linked with this book, such as:
Art – painting with brushes on rice paper
Games/Physical Education – building a seesaw
Women’s rights in the international arena
Research the development of washing clothes
This story could be easily adapted into a Reader’s Theater, as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2007



Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0618436634.

Interested in pets or vets? This book has it all! From the black-eyed dog looking directly at the reader on the front cover through the front and back flaps and end covers which are filled with copies of real thank-you notes from owners, ending with snapshots on the back cover of many different kinds of pets, this publication is full of interesting text, tidbits, research, history, and pictures. Most of all, the text is comprised of stories. Stories of real pets and their owners and the real tragedies that they have experienced. The author has filled the pages with bright pictures, precise information, and a clear line of organization from the opening saga of an emergency, followed by a calm presentation of facts. The orderliness continues with a historical account of the field of veterinary medicine which is followed by true reports of different animals with varying issues, problems and illnesses, even addressing the death of a pet.

There are no stereotypes located in this report! All kinds of animals are represented as pets. This is not the ordinary cat and dog shop! The author grabs the audience at the beginning with gripping details of an emergency and then settles the reader down to learn about the basics of emergency care for animals as well as a look into the history of the field. The layout is logical, maybe a bit busy at times, but always informative. All pictures possess detailed captions, allowing a child to view only from this angle, should s/he choose. Text contains sub headings which makes it easier for the reader to find specific information. The text is also designed and presented on blocks of light color against a white page or on blocks of white against a light color page. In spite of this design, the photographs take front and center attention, giving a super view of the animals and the people who help them. The organization includes the veterinarina’s oath, table of contents, presentation of a pet first-aid kit, a probing for more section with other publications and we sites, as well as definitions of critical terms, source notes and a bibliography!

Horn Book (January/February, 2006)
“A bright, colorful design and "aww"-inspiring photographs of pets in various stages of care enhance this exploration of the workings of a veterinary emergency room. Profiles of the doctors, vet techs (i.e., nurses), and grief counselors alternate with case studies of stricken animals, a history of veterinary medicine, and commonsense tips on such topics as preventative care and how to gauge a pet's health. Jackson's lively narrative incorporates interviews with ER staff members at Colorado State University's veterinary teaching hospital, whose concern and affection for their charges emerge clearly on the page. The case studies of the animals themselves, mostly happy (but, realistically, not always), serve both to provide direction for the text and to keep the focus where it belongs: on the pets and the owners who love them. Short chapters keep the pace moving; sidebars offer tidbits of hard information on such topics as decoding ER lingo and reading animal vital signs. The end result is that there's plenty for just about every kind of reader, from those who crave stories to the most committed just-the-facts-ma'am nonfiction fan. A listing of further resources, both print and web, a glossary, source notes, and an index round out the back matter.”
School Library Journal (January 1, 2006)
“Gr 5-8-With plentiful, excellent-quality photographs, this highly visual book offers a behind-the-scenes look at an emergency animal hospital in Colorado. Well-researched and well-written, ER Vets is an engaging book on a hot topic.”

This book is so well-organized and so packed with information that it could be utilized with almost any age reader. For a child to be able to enjoy this book on their own, they would need to be reading well on a 4th grade level or above.

This book would be a good choice to “preview” with the picture captions for a group of children.

Children love animal books and this one has all sorts of animals included! This would be especially good for study of jobs and occupations. The work of the people presented is very accurately documented.

This would also serve as a good piece of information for a child and/or family who may be have a pet with illness or injury. A real-life portrayal of a pet’s death is narrated as well.

This is an excellent example of a piece of non-fiction work that does not need to read from cover to cover in order to garner information from it.



Obviously early in the career of Seymour Simon, this older edition sports black and white pictures of the Earth’s moon with accompanying black and/or white text on opposing background. The presentation is simple and straightforward, with factual text presented in a justified center placement. The scientific details are interspersed with smaller, simpler facts, or points of interest, that would appeal to an elementary aged child.

As noted in the School Library Journal review, it is time to replace this text!
At the time, this edition would have been fantastic! With the age of digital photography and newer publishing techniques and ideas, this book appears dated. The text does follow a sequence of general to more specific. Yet, the text does not vary in style, giving no energy to draw in a reader. The reading would be improved with smaller segments of information and possibly captions for the pictures, instead of the comments embedded in the text. The design of this edition is too monotonous to spark interest for a long period of time and lacks the references, notes or a bibliography for additional questions or research.

Note: This review was based on the original 1984 edition. While there were no published reviews on the older book, the comments posted reflect the reviewer’s opinion of the new edition with some comparison to the original book.

Booklist (October 15, 2003 (Vol. 100, No. 4))
Gr. 2-4. This revised edition of The Moon (1984) features many new photographs and color reproductions.

Horn Book starred (Fall 2004)
These new editions include fresh images and minor editing of the original texts; what hasn't changed is Simon's gently authoritative signature voice.

School Library Journal (January 1, 2004)
Gr 2-5-It's time to take your 1984 copy of Simon's The Moon off your shelf and replace it with this shiny new edition. This scientific trek to the moon brought to life by NASA photography has been carried into the 21st century through advancements in imaging technology. Although the first edition's black-and-white photographs taken from space and on the Moon were impressive for their time, the digitally remastered color photographs in this update are incredible.

This book would best be served in conjunction with books about the Earth and the sun. I have seen the book being used by classrooms as part of an integrated study unit on the solar system.

Similar books could be used as follow up for children who had enjoyed THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS, LOST IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM by Joanna Cole.