Friday, November 27, 2015

Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult

Flora &Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by K.G. Campbell

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Bibliography: DiCamillo, Kate. (2013). FLORA AND ULYSSES. Ill. by K.G. Campbell. Mass: Candlewick Press. ISBN 9780763660406

Plot Summary:
Meet Flora Belle Buckman…cynic, self-proclaimed. She lives an ordinary life... until, Holy bagumba! The Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner sucks up a squirrel and transforms it! Flora watches as the squirrel pulls himself out and throws the vacuum cleaner! Flora knows, because she reads The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!, that this squirrel now has super powers. The extraordinary squirrel can fly, communicate with humans, and type poetry! Now Flora, together with Ulysses, team up for illuminated adventures.

Critical Analysis:
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is a fantasy novel by the acclaimed Kate DiCamillo. Throughout the story DiCamillo’s style is evident. She has created a story about a girl, Flora, and her superhero squirrel, Ulysses. Flora is a believable and relatable character. She is quirky, playful and intelligent, often using phrases such as, “Holy bagumba”. Even Ulysses has a consistent and distinct language as he quotes poetry. The distinct language that she gives the characters leads the reader to feel a kinship with Flora and to care about what happens to her. The plot involves adventures to overcome villains, and to protect and save Ulysses from evil. These endearing characters take the reader along with them as they discover a universal truth, you have to believe in something bigger than yourself.

The perspective of the illustrations allow the reader to “step into the shoes” of Ulysses, experiencing his world with him. For instance, in one scene Ulysses is seeking out Mrs. Buckman’s typewriter in the darkness of night and typing words to defeat the evil.  We are with the squirrel as he types his first word, “Squirtel!” The text weaves a universal truth that transcends time and place, that of good is more powerful than evil, as Flora and Ulysses , together, conquer villains, defend the defenseless, and protect the weak. Although readers will adore the characters, themes of divorce, forgiveness, love and believing in yourself, will support readers needing to hear about such real life events.

Review Excerpt(s):
Original, touching and oh-so-funny tale starring an endearingly implausible superhero and a not-so-cynical girl. ~Kirkus Reviews
“Kate DiCamillo is a master storyteller.” —Booklist
“Amusing glimpses at the world.” —School Library Journal
“There’s real emotion at the heart of this story.” —Publishers Weekly

~Read other books by Kate DiCamillo:
  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken
  • The Magician's Elephant
  • The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread
Awards & Recognitions:
Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal

by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Bibliography: Anderson, Laurie Halse. 1999. Speak. New York: RR Donnelley & Sons Company. 978-0312674397

Plot Summary:
Melinda Sordino’s life drastically changes one night, the summer before she enters high school at Merryweather High. During middle school, Melinda had a lot of friends and was happy. Now, in high school, Melinda is depressed and alone.  Former friends now call her “Squealer” because she called the cops one night, and busted up the party. She refuses to tell anyone what happened to her that night, and, as time passes, she practically stops talking altogether. Alone, Melinda’s only outlet is her art class, where she can express herself artistically, eventually facing what happened to her.

Critical Analysis:
Laurie Halse Anderson has written an important contemporary realistic fiction novel, as it tackles the tough topic of rape, unfortunately, a real problem, important in contemporary realistic fiction. It is written from the perspective of the main character, Melinda. Anderson writes with the style of spot-on adolescent perspective, as Melinda represents a modern teenage girl. This character, in line with contemporary  realistic fiction, takes us along with her as she is on an internal journey and emotional growth than is more important than the plot or action. The theme emerges naturally, as the reader feels her isolationism and loneliness through her thoughts, finding out about what really happened that dark night at the party. 

A transformation of Melinda is witnessed through the events of her story.  We, as the reader, walk with her through high school, and the ups and downs that provides. We are privileged to glimpse into her world, that of a rape victim, and are with her again, as she finds the inner strength to move forward.

Review Excerpt(s):
~"...will hold readers from the first word to the last." — Horn Book

~"The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn, but it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics of the high school experience that makes this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget." -Kirkus Reviews

~Read other books by Laurie Halse Anderson:
  • Chains
  • Forge
  • Fever 1793
  • Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory

Awards and Recognitions:

1999 National Book Award Finalist
2000 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Fiction
2000 Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year
2000 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
2000 Printz Honor Book
2000 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
2000 Fiction Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
2000 Edgar Allan Poe Best Young Adult Award Finalist
2001 New York Times Paperback Children's Best Seller
2005 New York Times Paperback Children's Best Seller

Rapunzel's Revenge

by Shannon Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale

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Bibliography:  Hale, Shannon. 2008. Rapunzel's Revenge. Ill. Nathan Hale. Great Britain: Bloomsbury Publishing. 978-1599902883
Plot Summary:
Rapunzel’s Revenge is an action-packed fantasy graphic novel about Rapunzel, as our protagonist, who, as a child, is taken by the evil Gothel and lives in a villa surrounded by a giant wall. When she turns twelve, Rapunzel looks over the wall, and sees her real mom. Rapunzel’s real mom tells her the truth about her family, and how they suffered because of Gothel. She is angered by this and takes Rapunzel back, imprisoning her in the top of a tree. During the long years that she is imprisoned, Rapunzel’s hair grows so long that she uses it to escape. Rapunzel sets out on an adventure to free her mom, and along the way, meets Jack. Together they defeat the villains and save her mom. In the end, Rapunzel and Jack find that they love each other.

Critical Analysis:
Rapunzel has been transformed from the fairy tale character that waits to be rescued, into an action hero that will save herself. The authors Shannon and Dean Hale have transformed the traditional fairy tale into a fantasy graphic novel creatively set in the Wild West. The themes of good is more powerful than evil, and love is more important than power rings true, as our protagonist, Rapunzel, conquers the evil Gothel to save her mom, concluding with a satisfying ending.

The plot is in line with a traditional fairy tale and fantasy genre, as there is a quest for Rapunzel. She must free herself from imprisonment in the tree and then head off to free her mother. The obstacles and villains she must overcome along the way include magical sea serpents and huge wild boar. The illustrations are especially important to this fantasy, as the journey is chronicled in a map, allowing the reader to reference the landscape and path traveled. In addition, “life” colors of greens are contrasted with darker colors of browns that illustrate places where the evil Gothel casts her wickedness.

Although the setting is creative, the use of language is inconsistent. The dialect matches the setting, a Wild-West dialect such as, “dag-nabit” and “scared spitless”. Yet, the use of Wild-West words sit side by side with modern terms, including, ”avatar” and the currently used phrase, “That’s just wrong.”

The authors have provided a great way to motivate readers who struggle or are reluctant readers through this graphic novel. The language and illustrations provide humor, as they contrast each other. For instance, Rapunzel tells us that she landed gracefully, while the illustrations reveal the opposite.

Review Excerpt(s):
~"The Hales apply a new twist (or three) to the classic tale, creating a strong, sassy, braid-whipping character who waits for no prince." -Kirkus Reviews

~"The dialogue is witty, the story is an enticing departure from the original, and the illustrations are magically fun and expressive."-School Library Journal

Read more books by Shannon Hale:
  • Princess Academy ISBN 978-1599900735
  • The Goose Girl ISBN 978-1582349909
  • Book of a Thousand Days ISBN 978-1599903781

Awards & Recognitions:
An ALA 2009 Notable Children's Book
A YALSA 2009 Great Graphic Novel for Teens

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Historical Fiction

Elijah of Buxton
by Christopher Paul Curtis

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Curtis, Christopher Elijah of Buxton. New York: Random House. 2008. ISBN 9780739364154

Plot Summary:
Eleven-year-old Elijah is proud to be the first free-born child in his family, living in a settlement of runaway slaves in Buxton, Canada West. He has never seen the horrific ways that slaves are treated in America; however, he has seen them as they enter the settlement, hungry and tired. Elijah risks his own freedom when he embarks on a journey to America, determined to right a wrong. He is in search of a friend’s stolen money that was being saved to free family members. What Elijah brings back is more than he expected.

Critical Analysis:
Christopher Paul Curtis sets the stage for this novel with these opening lines, as young Elijah describes his possible activities for the evening, saying"It was Sunday after church and my chores were all done. I was sitting on the stoop of our home trying to think what to do. It was that time of day when the birds were getting ready to quiet down and the toady-frogs were starting to get louder with that chirpity sound they make most the night. I wondered if it would be worth it to go fishing for a hour afore it got dark.” The author continues this use of narration by the characters to define the setting, rather than the use of vivid descriptions. We find out, for example, that the main setting is Buxton, when Frederick Douglas, an important character that adds authenticity to the story, appears. In addition, the reader discovers that the time is pre-Emancipation because young Elijah is ringing the bell for the new runaway slaves who have made it to the community.

The main theme of the story is growing up. Elijah shares with us how his mom refers to him as “fra-gile,” saying, that he needs to “start thinking things through” and to stop “running and screaming off at the littlest nonsense.” Young readers will easily identify with Elijah through his struggle with his parents, and the subject of growing up. Even though his dialect resembles the time of the settlement, 1849, what he speaks about is still relatable. For example, Elijah states, “One minute Ma, who’s got a good head for thinking, tells me I got to respect everything what growned folks say and the next minute she’s wanting me not to believe some of the things the same growned folks tell me! If that don’t leave you scratching your head you got a better brain than me!”

Curtis has written a novel that does not sugar coat or water down the issue of slavery and the desperate need to escape. He writes in a way that is relatable to young readers, as the main character is full of insecurities, yet has a sense of humor. Through dialogue, Curtis has written a novel that authentically captures the feel of the era, in a way that is unique to his style. The final pages of Elijah of Buxton include an Author's Note, in which Curtis describes the Elgin Settlement and Buxton Mission of Raleigh, where he researched for this novel. He tells us that he, "did fictionalize some aspects of this novel, however, Frederick Douglas actually did visit Buxton, as did abolitionist John Brown, though not at the same time." This adds authenticity to the historical component of the genre, as does the account of the Carnival of Oddities, with its "sugared treats, most unusual freaks of nature, and games of chance," as entertainment of the time. Curtis’s final statements in the book are this, "Buxton is an inspiration, and its importance in both American and Canadian history deserves to be much more recognized. I feel so honored to have been able to set my novel in such a beautiful place."

Review Excerpt(s):
~ “This is one of the best books I have ever read.” -Kirkus Review
~"A fine, original novel from a gifted storyteller.-Booklist

~Read other books by Christopher Paul Curtis:
  • Bud, Not Buddy ISBN 978-0553494105
  • The Mighty Miss Malone ISBN 978-0440422143
  • The Watsons go to Birmingham ISBN 978-0440228004
Awards & Recognitions:
~Winner of the 2008 Coretta Scott King Award
~Winner of the 2008 Scott O 'Dell Award 
~2008 John Newbery Medal, Honor Book 
~2008 Jane Addams Award, Honor
~ALA Notable Book for Older Readers 

by Patricia Reilly Giff

image from:

Giff, Patricia Reilly. (2010). STORYTELLER. New York: Wendy Lamb Books. ISBN 9780375838880

Plot Summary:
An old family portrait of a girl brings together Elizabeth and Zee, relatives separated by 200 years. The girls’ lives come together, Elizabeth’s story from present day, and Zee’s, who lived during the American Revolution. The girls' lives intertwine and Elizabeth's present-day story is told, alternating with Zee's, as both girls journey to self-discovery.

Critical Analysis:
Patricia Reilly Giff brings American history to life as she tells the story of two girls, connected across time. Elizabeth and Zee have similar lives in Pennsylvania and they even look alike. Elizabeth is in the twenty first century and Zee, the 18th century.  In this novel, Giff gives readers a vivid and detailed look into the difficulties of living in America at the beginning of Revolutionary times through the voice of Zee. Adding to the strong historical significance, the author alternates between chapters about Elizabeth’s life, written in third-person, in the twenty-first century and Zee’s life, written in first-person, in the eighteenth century. This gives readers a deeper understanding of the times and allows the reader to watch each girl grow with inner strength. Like many young girls, learning that overcoming tragedy can be done by looking inside of ourselves, young readers will relate to Elizabeth and Zee, as their stories are both about finding inner strength in the wake of tragedy.

Review Excerpt(s):
“As she brings these characters and history alive, Giff again demonstrates her own gift for storytelling.” ~Publishers Weekly

” The fast-paced narrative, toggling back and forth between the 18th and 21st centuries, will keep readers interested.” ~School Library Journal

~Explore American History through U.S. government webistes, such as:
The Library of Congress
American Memory Project
Today in History Link

~Read other books by Patricia Reilly Giff:
R My Name Is Rachel
Pictures of Hollis Woods
A House of Tailors
Willow Run
Water Street

Between Shades a of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys

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Bibliography:  Sepetys, Ruta. 2011. Between Shades of Gray. New York. Penguin Group. 978-0142420591

Plot Summary:
In the middle of the night, Lina and her family are targeted and arrested by the Russian NKVD. They are violently taken from their home and packed into a train car. Lina’s father is not with them and the family does not know where he has been taken. The year is 1941, in Lithuania; for the next ten months, this family and many others are imprisoned in a work camp, living with little food and suffering from exhaustion. Once again, they are moved, this time to far-away Siberia where they are forced to construct their own work camp, in the harshest of winter conditions. Lina will remain there for 12 years, suffering unimaginable conditions, loss, and heartbreak. He story is told many years later, as a letter she has buried is discovered in 1995.

Critical Analysis:
“Thinking back, the signs were there-family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning to work.” “Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape.”

"We were taken.”

Ruta Sepetys begins this novel with these words that immediately pull the reader into the main character's world. The main character, Lina Vilkas, is a fifteen-year-old girl, and she is like so many girls this age, creative and opinionated. She lives with a caring mother, a younger brother, a father who is a professor, and a cousin who is her best friend. And, like any other teenager, she is looking forward to her future.  Lina’s future involves attending the most prestigious art school in all of Europe. However, one night will change these plans, it will change her hopes and dreams. Lina’s first person account of a horrific time in history is authentically told through the perspective of a young girl, ripped out of her innocence and into a dark world full of loss. The theme of family love and inner strength are universal and are shared between Lina and the reader. Her spirit of survival drives her to stay alive, and to keep those that she loves alive as well. Although Lina faces unimaginable situations, the reader is still able to relate to her, a young girl, who cares deeply for her family. The reader can easily imagine the setting, as it is described with explicit and vivid details. The train car, for example, that carried Lina, her family, and so many others, was described with such detail that you could almost smell the stench of waste and body odor as the people longed to find their way to “the hole” to relieve themselves and also to catch a breath of fresh air. Ruta Sepetys provides information in the final sections of the book that adds authenticity to this historical fiction novel. She provides an author’s note, and also an interview with the author, that discusses the research she found while on her journey of writing this book. Ruta Sepetys expresses her desire to shed light on a dark secret, and also on the heroes who sacrificed everything.
Review Excerpt(s):
~"This bitterly sad, fluidly written historical novel tackles a topic woefully underdiscussed in English-language children’s fiction: Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror." Kirkus Review

~"Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both."
The Washington Post

Read The Diary of Anne Frank, and discuss the stories told by the two young girls.
Read other books by the author, Ruta Sepetys, Out of the Easy.

Awards & Recognitions:
2012 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist
YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction For Young Adults 2012
YALSA Readers' Choice Nomination 2012