Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bud, Not Buddy

I read Bud Not Buddy after reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham with my 6th grade class. I loved this story. It took the reader on a journey along with a young foster boy, Bud, in Michigan. He leaves the home where he has many friends and is sent to an abusive foster home. After he escapes the horrible back shed in which he is locked over night, and attacked by door guarding fish heads and vampire bats, he sets out to find his father. 
Along the way Bud makes many friends. The struggle of common people during the Depression is shown along with compassion people seem to naturally show towards children in tough situations.  
The defining part of this audiobook for me was the epilogue. Curtis explains that many of these characters were inspired by his own family members. He encourages us all to learn our family history from our elders while they are alive. It is so exciting...I can't wait to have my students read this.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Crispin: The Cross of Lead

I'm going to give you two reviews for the price of one here: mine, and my 11 year old son's. He loved this book - he liked the action, the characters appealed to him, and the whole idea of being a "wolf's head" (a medieval outlaw) was fascinating to him.

I was a little more critical. I thought Crispin was certainly worth reading, but I found it a little dark. I kept expecting someone to get killed horribly (and it didn't help that I already knew a little medieval history and had heard of John Ball and the Peasants' Revolt of 1381). The medieval history in Crispin was very interesting, and well-presented, and intertwined nicely into the story of Asta's son - but again, it was all a little depressing for me, starting right off the bat with Asta's death.

I couldn't help comparing Crispin with the other medieval Newbery winners I've read recently (The Midwife's Apprentice, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, and Adam of the Road) - and quite frankly, I enjoyed all them a lot more than Crispin: The Cross of Lead. Crispin did make a very nice boys' counterpart to The Midwife's Apprentice, I grant you, but I didn't find the ending quite as inspiring or satisfying. In fact, I didn't like the ending of Crispin at all. I felt like it left too many questions unanswered. And both Adam of the Road and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! had a certain story-telling charm and joy that I just didn't find nestled in Crispin alongside all of the drama and the history.

However, I know my son would disagree. He hasn't read the other Newbery winners set in medieval England, and given his taste in books right now, I think it is unlikely I could convince him to read them anytime soon. I should also note that although I didn't really love Crispin: The Cross of Lead, I did get well enough hooked that I'm going to read Crispin: At the Edge of the World as soon as my son is done with it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
Illustrated by Robert Byrd

Pages: 81
Finished: May 14, 2008
First Published: 2007
Genre: historical fiction, non-fiction, play, children
Rating: 2/5

First sentence:

The Feast of All Souls, I ran from my tutor -
Latin and grammar - no wonder!

Comments: A collection of monologues/soliloquies written to be performed by middle grade students. Each monologue tells the tale of an individual child from the middle ages. Footnotes are presented in sidebars and a few non-fiction factual pieces explain various medieval customs and history. The book is gorgeously illustrated with medieval-type illustrations in ink and watercolour. The design of the book is also very visually pleasing with coloured ribbon sidebars on every page.

While I found this book very pretty, the text did nothing for me. The majority of the monologues are written in verse (some even rhyming) which was very tedious to read and frankly, boring. I can't imagine watching a play that consists of a bunch of monologues to be very entertaining either. I enjoy both historical fiction and books that take place in the middle ages but this book was just not my thing.

Monday, May 12, 2008


I didn't think I was going to like Kira-Kira, the 2005 Newbery winner. Part of it was the cover - lots of people seem to love it, but it seemed a little stark to me, and on top of this, I knew that a main character dies in the story. I just didn't feel like reading one of those Reader's Digest type child death tearjerkers.

The writing on the very first page changed my reluctance to read it, though I still had some reservations about the death later in the story. The cover, I actually like now (after reading the book) - go figure. Though I still think it could use a little more color.
My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: kira-kira....Kira-kira means "glittering" in Japanese. Lynn told me that when I was a baby, she used to take me onto our empty road at night, where we would lie on our backs and look at the stars while she said over and over, "Katie say 'kira-kira, kira-kira.' " I loved that word! When I grew older, I used kira-kira to describe everything I liked: the beautiful blue sky, puppies, kittens, butterflies, colored Kleenex (pg. 1).
Kira-Kira is the story of a Japanese-American family in the U.S. heartland in the 50's and 60's. The Takeshima family lives in rural Iowa, but moves to small town Georgia, where Katie and Lynn's father gets a job as a chicken-sexer (identifying the sex of newly hatched chicks), and her mother works in a chicken-processing plant. As you might expect, racism, the experience of second generation immigrant kids, and brutally hard work play important roles in the story. All of this really takes second stage to the characters and Kadohata's writing, though. Her descriptions never failed to surprise me. Take this description of the girls' strange Uncle Katsuhisa, who attempts to distract his nieces from crying about moving to Georgia (and not being able to find their favorite things in storage during the ride), by teaching them to spit like he does:
Lynn and I tried to rumble our throats like him.

"Hocka-hocka-hocka!" he said.

Lynn and I copied him: "Hocka-hocka-hocka!"



He turned to his open window, and an amazing wad of brown juice flew from his mouth. The brown juice was like a bat bursting out of a cave. We turned around to watch it speed away. A part of me hoped it would hit the car behind us, but it didn't. I leaned over Lynn and out the passenger window. "Hyaaahhhh!" I said, and a little trickle of saliva fell down my chin (p. 22).
The intimate, often funny portrayals of the Takeshima family reminded me (very favorably!) of The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis (the 1996 Newbery Honors book), which also deals with the banality and ubiquity of racism in a totally matter-of-fact manner.

And it turns out that Kadohata's account of Lynn's death was sad, but it was not trite or Reader's Digest-like at all. The ending was beautiful, in fact, and very satisfying:
Now and then I thought I heard Lynn's lively voice. The cricket sang "Chirp! Chirp!" but I heard "Kira-kira!" ....My sister had taught me to look at the world that way, as a place that glitters, as a place where the calls of the crickets and the crows and the wind are everyday occurrences that also happen to be magic (p. 243-4).
There are a lot of rather adult references in Kira-Kira, and the lack of action and a meandering storyline in much of the book will not endear it to younger readers, anyway. But I think it's a wonderful choice for teens, especially girls. Adult readers who like this may also want to check out Bento Box in the Heartland, by Linda Furiya - a memoir (with recipes!) set a few years later than Kira-Kira, by the daughter of another chicken-sexer.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I Know It's Not as Pretty

but the site will be a lot more navigable using the latest version of Blogger. I hope to add some of the prettiness back soon, as well as a sidebar list that automatically takes you to all the reviews of a given title.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Still No Reviews at All

for Smoky, the Cowhorse (by Will James) and Waterless Mountain (by Laura Adams Armer).

And many, many other books have very short reviews, or reviews from just one person - wouldn't you like to add your input? We could all learn something from your perspective on these classics.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jacob Have I Loved

I have to admit that kept putting off reading Jacob Have I Loved because the cover on the copy I got from my library was so horrendous.

It's like something from a horror novel from the 1970's, isn't it? Caroline (the main character's twin sister) looks like a ghost.

However, even really bad covers can only keep me from reading something I've heard so much good about (check out this review*) for a while.

As soon as I started Paterson's book, I just wanted to keep reading it (though maybe with one of those stretchy cloth covers pulled over it). There was so much in this book: gorgeous descriptions of life in a small town and on an island, sibling rivalry, a demented grandmother, first love, the value of hard work, an examination of how we make choices about our lives, and judging other people's (especially your mother's) choices, gender roles, WWII....have I left anything out? Hmm, maybe a lot about crabs and oysters. Reading those parts was a bit like watching an episode of Dirty Jobs. Fun, and you learn a lot about a totally different way of life pretty painlessly.

Like Flusi, I did want more at the end of the book. Or a sequel, even, filling in Sara Louise's college years and her introduction to adult life in Appalachia. And I agree with Corinne, this book is definitely for older Newbery readers - say 13 and up. There are some pretty adult themes in Jacob, including a loss of faith (oops, forgot to add that in the list of things included above) and sexual awakening. A lot of the "gave it one star" reviewers on amazon hated both of those parts; I thought Paterson's description of the first stirrings of physical attraction were amongst the most beautiful, the most realistic, and conversely the most subtly portrayed and unique that I've ever read.

And is she right about February, or what?
I used to try to decide which was the worst month of the year. In the winter I would choose February. I had it figured out that the reason God made February short a few days was because he knew that by the time people came to the end of it they would die if they had to stand one more blasted day. December and January are cold and wet, but, somehow, that's their right. February is just plain malicious. It knows your defenses are down. Christmas is over and spring seems years away. So February sneaks in a couple of beautiful days early on, and just when you're stretching out like a cat waking up, bang! February hits you right in the stomach. And not with a lightning strike like a September hurricane, but punch after punch after punch. February is a mean bully (p. 79).
I also really enjoyed Jacob I Have Loved a huge amount in comparison to Up a Road Slowly, the last book I read. Both are coming of age stories about teen girls. It would be interesting to look at just how many of these Newbery winners fall into that genre - out of just the ones I've read, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Out of the Dust, The Midwife's Apprentice, Missing May, The Hero and the Crown, and Julie of the Wolves (and maybe Island of the Blue Dolphins?) all seem especially calculated to appeal to teenage girls. It seems that this is becoming more common in the past few decades, perhaps as children's literature becomes more specialized. Maybe there should be an award just for that? Something like the "Judy Blume award for capturing the anguish of adolescence" medal?

Anyway, Jacob Have I Loved would win that award, hands down.

When I was googling for the hideous cover above, I ran across Chesapeake Bay links for this book on the Library of Congress website. Very cool. And I was also very happy to see that recent covers are much less off-putting.

*Note how much better that early 80's cover is - though I think it is pretty inaccurate, in terms of what the girls wore in the 40's, and the clothes they describe in the book. Those look like 70's sundresses to me.