Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chinese Cinderella

Bibliographic Information: Yen Mah, Adeline (1999), Chinese Cinderella, Dell Laurel-Leaf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a Division of Random House, Inc., 197 pp.

Genre: Autobiographical.

Awards. ALA Best Book for Young Adults,

Synopsis: The book is the memoir of a girl’s painful coming-of-age story in a wealthy Chinese family during the 1940s. Born the fifth child to an affluent Chinese family Adeline Yen Mah’s life begins tragically. Adeline’s mother died shortly after her birth due to complications brought on by delivery, and in the Chinese culture this marks her as cursed or “bad luck.” This situation is compounded by her father’s new marriage to a lady who has little affection for her husband’s five children. She displays antagonism and distrust towards all of the children, particularly Adeline, while favoring her own young son and daughter born after the marriage. The book outlines Adeline’s struggle to find a place where she feels she belongs. Adeline immerses herself in striving for academic achievement in the hope of winning her family's favor, but also for its own rewards because she finds pleasure in words and scholarly success.

Evaluative statement: First, I found this to be a stirring testimony to the strength of the human character and the power of education. Second, few children in the United States can fully understand what it means to go without, particularly the love of parents. Even when there isn’t much money to go around, most children in the United States still have family that do the best they can to make sure their children know they are loved and an important part of the family. Families offer us acceptance and a place to belong, help and guidance, things Adeline did not have with her own family. I believe that teens, with their passionate convictions and strong sense of fair play, will be wrapped up in the gross injustice of Adeline Yen Mah’s story.

Possible classroom uses for the book: Literary Circles.

Appropriate age range: Middle School, Grades 5-8.

My Personal Reaction: I encourage parents to pick up a copy of this book for their children, especially their daughters. It will help children better understand the value of what they have and how to appreciate it so much more.

My Summer on Earth

Bibliographic Information: Lombardi, Tom, (2008) My Summer on Earth, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 246 pp.

Genre: Science Fiction.

Awards. None.

Synopsis: A potty-mouthed alien disguised as a teenager wades ashore on Southern California’s Venice Beach and discovers that he has a lot to learn, both about impersonating a human and about getting laid. The alien’s name is Clint. Clint’s mission to earth is to find and take home one of his own who previously came to earth, defected, and then stayed around to become a famous actor in Hollywood. Before Clint leaves on his mission he is outfitted with a human suit, since aliens are only a mist of electrical waves and molecular activity. Clint is also programmed with information dealing with humans and what they do on earth. Clint’s father does not approve of the mission, or anything else his son ever does. When Clint arrives on earth, he meets a girl named Zoe who is a “love” obstacle in Clint’s mission.

Evaluative statement: This is a unique take on the alien-visiting-Earth concept. What’s different here is that the alien in question has a shocking potty mouth with absolutely no filter. F-bombs appear throughout the story. The dialogue is witty, but there is constant swearing and repeated commentary about Clint’s enormous penis. The book is written as a log and the events and obstacles that Clint goes through are priceless.

The overwhelming subject is the story is for Clint to get laid. Clint is a virgin, and his new-found love, Zoe, is also a virgin. When they do have sex (and it only happens one time) Clint doesn’t even know if that’s what he experienced and the reader is not quite sure either. I really think both teenage boys and girls will connect with this book. It’s really a sweet love story, and in my opinion, the Lombardi makes Zoe a real character. Lombardi is able to capture the essence of sweet innocence with a not-so-virtuous mouth, which is a very difficult thing to do. And, Lombardi covers so many bases (romantic comedy, Southern California satire, and a coming of age story).

Possible classroom uses for the book: Outside classroom independent reading.

Appropriate age range: 11th -12th graders. Personal read outside of school and class.

My Personal Reaction: At first I was shocked by the graphic language. But, even though it has frequent raunchy bits, I found it hilarious! The stuff involving the Hollywood actor, who’s also an alien, is absurd, not to mention a unique glance at our rather celebrity-obsessed culture. But I would recommend this book to anyone who is 16+, those who need to understand 16+, and more especially to those wanting to remember just how confusing 16 was.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Children of the Great Depression

Bibliographic Information: Freedman, Russell (2006) Children of the Great Depression. Houghton Mifflin Company, 101 pp.

Genre: Non-Fiction.

Awards. Golden Kite Award

Synopsis: Freedman illuminates the lives of the American children affected by the economic and social changes of the Great Depression. From Middle-class urban youth to migrant farm laborers, all Depression-era children and their families found themselves struggling for survival. The book portrays children who are faced with challenges like unemployed and demoralized parents, inadequate food and shelter, and schools they could not attend because they had to go to work or schools had closed their doors. However, the book also has its bright spots, such as some of the letters written by children to Eleanor Roosevelt. It also tells us about their favorite games and radio shows. Finally, it shows how young Americans were determined to survive.

Evaluative statement: The book is abundant with quotes, featuring the voices of those who endured the Depression. I especially liked the photos, all with captions including the date, which I feel really captured both the physical and emotional states of these children and their deplorable living and working conditions. These photos are a part of our history. By looking at this book, children of today can explore the lives of children in hard times. It really shows the effects the Depression had on children and what they suffered during this crisis in America. The book tells a story of how these young children were optimistic and never stopped believing that life would be better one day.

Possible classroom uses for the book: Read aloud to entire class, when class is reading The Grapes of Wrath.

Appropriate age range: Grades 5-8

My Personal Reaction: The book is straightforward and easy to read—making sense of even the stock market crash. It is an excellent introduction to the Depression years for younger readers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

American Born Chinese

Bibliographic Information: Yang, Gene Luen (2006) American Born Chinese. First Second, 240 pp.

Genre: Graphic Novel.

Awards. Michael L. Printz Award and National Book Award Finalist

Synopsis: Three seemingly unrelated stories blend into a memorable tale. First, the book begins with the ancient fable of the Monkey King, the proud leader of the monkeys. He tried to attend a god’s dinner party, at which he is considered unworthy because of his status as a “just a monkey”. Second in the book is the story of Jin Wang, the son of Taiwan immigrants, who is struggling to retain his Chinese identity while longing to be more American. The final story is that of Chin-Kee, a largely exaggerated depiction of the worst Chinese stereotype. Chin-Kee visits his American cousin, Danny, on an annual basis and embarrasses Danny so much that Danny constantly has to change schools. The final chapter brings the three stories into one tale that destroys the stereotype of Chin-Kee, while leaving both Jin Wang and the Monkey King satisfied and happy to be who they are.

Evaluative statement: This book presents many issues that would appeal to teenagers. All three characters struggle with identity, self-acceptance and friendship. There is also the issue of culture and race. All adolescents can relate to the wish to be someone other than who they are. This book comes together in the end to show us that there is no better feeling than being comfortable in your own skin---accept who you are and you will be more satisfied and happy.
Possible classroom uses for the book: I think this would be a great Real Aloud to your entire class. It’s a good way to introduce the graphic novel, and it’s an excellent story that everyone needs to hear.

Appropriate age range: Age 12-16.

My Personal Reaction: I am now a graphic novel fan. I absolutely loved this book! It’s a great story for every kid born into a body and a life they wished they could escape. It’s would be a great attention to your classroom library, especially those of us who will have a diverse classroom.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Code Talker

Bibliographic Information: Bruchac, John (2005). Code Talker. Penguin Group, Inc., 224 pp.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Awards. ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

Synopsis: Ned Begay is a Navajo Indian who was sent away to an American boarding school at the age of 6. He learns the English language and American ways. He is taught that anything Navajo is bad and the Navajo language is the worst. After suffering through the harshness of the school, he is recruited by the Marine Corps to serve in WWII and use his native language to create a code the Japanese could not break. Telling his story to his grandchildren, Ned relates his experiences in school, military training, and service in the Marine Corps during WWII.

Evaluative statement: Throughout World War II, in the conflict fought against Japan, Navajo code talkers were a crucial part of the U.S. war effort, sending messages back and forth in an unbreakable code that used their native language. They braved some of the heaviest fighting of the war, and with their code, they saved countless American lives. Joseph Bruchac brings their stories to life for young adults through the fascinating fictional tale of Ned Begay, a sixteen-year-old Navajo boy who becomes a code talker. His exhausting journey is eye-opening and inspiring. The book presents a clear historical picture of young men in wartime, island hopping across the Pacific through Hawaii, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Possible classroom uses for the book: All Class Read. With multicultural themes and well-told WWII history, this book should appeal to a wide audience.

Appropriate age range: 12-16

My Personal Reaction: This book should be highly recommended to English language learners who are struggling to learn a new language, and at the same time not forget their native language and their heritage.

A Break with Charity

Bibliographic Information: Rinaldi, Ann (2003). A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials. Harcourt Children’s Books, 320 pp.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Awards. ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

Synopsis: While waiting for a church meeting in 1706, Susanna English, daughter of a wealthy Salem merchant, recalls the malice, fear and accusations of witchcraft that tore her village apart in 1692. This story of the Salem witch trials is from the perspective Susanna English. She is attracted to what she sees happening inside the circle of girls who meet every week at the parsonage. What she doesn’t realize is that the girls are about to set off on a torrent of false accusations leading to the imprisonment and execution of countless innocent people. Should she keep quiet and let the witch-hunt panic continue, or should she tell someone and risk her own family members being named as witches?

Evaluative statement: Why, in 1692, did Salem execute 22 citizens accused by hysterical girls? Various reasons have been given; but Rinaldi makes a plausible case for repression of a society with few amusements, late marriages, and young adults treated as children. It is a blend of fiction and history which brings to life a dark period in America’s past. The reader is confronted with the issues of truth, courage, trust and power.

Possible classroom uses for the book: An excellent companion volume when studying the history of the Salem witch trials.

Appropriate age range: 12 to 16 year olds.

My Personal Reaction: This book portrays an excruciating era in American history from a unique perspective, and it will be enjoyed by readers who enjoy psychology, the supernatural, and history. The book is rich with details and names that will be familiar to those who have read about the trials.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Bibliographic Information: Boyne, John (2006). The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 216 pp.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Awards. None.

Synopsis: In this Holocaust novel, a nine year old boy, Bruno, whose father is a high ranking Nazi officer and works for the “Fury” (the Fuhrer), moves from Berlin to a place called “Out-Width” (Auschwitz). There is a high wire fence surrounding a huge dirt area with lots of low square buildings, and from his bedroom, Bruno can see hundreds (maybe thousands) of people wearing striped pajamas and caps. Bruno is uncertain what his father does for a living and is eager to discover the secret of the people on the other side of the fence. He follows the fence line into a distance and meeting a Jewish boy named Samuel. Bruno befriends Samuel who lives on the other side of a concentration camp fence. Bruno sneaks in to help Samuel look for a family member, and ends up dying in the gas chamber with his friend, Samuel.

Evaluation: This story deals with the extreme of evil in the subject of the Holocaust. The author juxtaposes that with an extreme of innocence. The story is told through the voice and mindset of a 9 year old boy. His exaggerated innocence allows readers to experience the horrors of Auschwitz that much more. But can a 9 year old boy actually be that na├»ve? Maybe or maybe not. When these concentration camps were liberated in 1945 by the Allies, and news of what went on there started to spread around the world, people were shocked and amazed that such a thing could possibly happen in the mid-twentieth century. Now we look at that situation and we all know that that happened. Readers today have the benefit of looking at this book from the position of hindsight. We expect that everybody always knew what we know now. That’s not the case. So to expect that a 9 year old child would not be aware of all these things while they were happening, in the way that the rest of the world wasn’t, I think is probably something that is unfair to consider when it comes to Bruno.

The ending opens it up to other situations that have happened in the world since 1945. Bruno’s story can be applied to similar situations in the world. By not using the word “Auschwitz”, even though we are clearly there, it broadens it. I believe the main issue raised in the book is the complacency of people during the late 1930 and 1940s. One of the reasons why the Holocaust happened, one of the reasons why genocide has continued to happen throughout the world in the years between then and now, is through the complacency of people who sit around and watch these things going on and do nothing about it. The book raises the question of if you were there at that time, would you have stood up and done something? You’d like to think you would. Would you have?

Possible classroom uses for the book: Individual choice.

Appropriate age range: 12 to 16 year olds.

My Personal Reaction: Teens may wonder how anyone could be so clueless about what’s going on around them as Bruno appears to be. Also, this book may be believable to 9 years old, but I don’t think it would with the average high school student. This book would be a good read for a struggling reader in middle school. The reading is simple (it’s told by a 9 year old), but the storyline deals with content for middle school and up. I would recommend it to less experienced readers in your middle school classroom as a supplement to your student’s study of WWII.