Laughing at my nightmare by Shane Burcaw

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Bibliography

Burcaw, S. (2014). Laughing at my nightmare. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN 9781626720077

Plot Summary

Shane Burcaw was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a condition that makes his muscles deteriorate over time and makes it hard for him to perform the simplest of physical tasks. This condition has no effect on his mind though, and in this book, he recounts several stories from his life and tries to explain how he has had to work to convince people that he is not mentally retarded just because his body is deformed. Burcaw shares daily routines and adaptations that he and his family undergo due to his SMA.

Critical Analysis

The greatest strength of Burcaw’s book is his ability to laugh at himself, lessening the awkwardness and diffusing the tension of some situations he has found himself in over the years. He uses humor in his writing and in his life to stay positive and that humor makes the book a very entertaining read. Burcaw is quite sarcastic himself and portrays his brother as such also, adding to the humor of the book. The fact that Burcaw is so honest about his life is refreshing also. He shares challenges he has faced and tells the reader how he has grown over the years. Burcaw’s recounting of life experiences demonstrates to young adults that they can make a difference in people’s lives no matter what situation they are in themselves. The one weakness in this book is the organizational structure. It is roughly chronological, but it is slightly confusing at times because Burcaw jumps back and forth some and retells a few stories.

This book is aimed at high school students and is suited to that age group. Burcaw shares events, feelings, and stories about things that high school students will relate to and will be going through themselves. The reading level is fairly high as well and suited to older teens in high school and even early college.

The appeal of this book is based on its honesty and the author’s willingness to be vulnerable and reveal personal moments and experiences. Young adults will also enjoy the book because of its frank discussions about sex and relationships. Lastly, the cover makes the book appealing to young adults as well because it looks humorous and has a cuss word on it.

Laughing at my nightmare is a current and fresh and Burcaw’s organization is doing things right now, and continuing to grow, so this book will be relevant for a while. The prevalence of bullying and the energy devoted to anti-bullying campaigns, along with a renewed focus on teaching children and young adults to treat everyone with respect make this book a good addition as well. The good writing, honesty, and humor will keep this book in circulation for many years to come.

Activity

Using wheelchairs (if available) or rolling chairs, students will experience what it is like to be Shane and to have someone help you with daily tasks such as drinking from a glass, reading a book, checking email, getting your phone off a table, etc. To make the experience as similar to Shane’s as possible, have students hold their arms as close to their body as possible and maintain body contact throughout. If students wish to fasten their arms to their body with an item such as a belt, they may, but should be closely supervised, and should never be required to do this part.

Students can create objects to help them manage these tasks easier such as the straw that Shane mentions in his book. Students may be as creative as possible in making up these items, but they must get their partner to complete the physical portions that they cannot complete with their arms touching their body at all times.

Related Resources

Muscular Dystrophy Association Webpage

Muscular Dystrophy Association. (n.d.) Spinal Muscular Atrophy: Overview. Muscular Dystrophy Association. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from http://www.mda.org/disease/spinal-muscular-atrophy/overview

This web page is on the website for the Muscular Dystrophy Organization. The disease that Burcaw has is a form of muscular dystrophy and this page tells about the disease. This is a good informational resource to pair with the book to provide more details about SMA.

Laughing at my nightmare Website

Laughing at my nightmare, Inc. (n.d.). Laughing at my nightmare. Custom website designed by Propelfolio.com. Retrieved July 13, 2015, from http://laughingatmynightmare.com/

This website is the home for Shane Burcaw’s non-profit organization and includes a link to his blog, information about booking Shane and his team, a place to donate, a place to shop for merchandise, and a section of funny photos and posts to make you laugh. Sharing this website in conjunction with this book will provide a place for readers to learn more about Shane and his team and keep up with him and his endeavors.

Published Review

Wexler, T. (2014, October). [Review of the book Laughing at my nightmare]. Publishers Weekly. Available online from: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-62672-007-7

Cover Picture Citation

Carr, M. (2014). Cover of Laughing at my nightmare. Retrieved from http://laughingatmynightmare.com/

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The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the impossible became possible…on Schindler’s list by Leon Leyson

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Bibliography

Leyson, L. (2013). The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the impossible became possible…on Schindler’s List. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9781442497818

Plot Summary

Leon Leyson recounts his time as a Polish Jew during World War II, telling of his exodus from his village into Krakow and then back and forth between work camps and concentration camps. Due to his father’s job, Leyson was a member of “Schindler’s List” and his story tells how that fact ended up saving his life.

Critical Analysis

This gripping narrative that recounts the story of one of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust hooks readers from the very first line and has them turning pages until the end to find out if “little Leon” makes it out of the Holocaust alive. Leyson was one of the members of Schindler’s List and after the release of the critically acclaimed movie, he broke his silence and told his story of escape, shame, despair, and hope. Even through telling about countless tragedies and being shipped back and forth between the ghetto in Krakow and several Nazi camps, Leyson manages to maintain the slightest thread of hope. His straight-forward, honest approach allows the reader inside the travesties that were committed during this period in history. Leyson’s account also pays tribute to Oskar Schindler for his role in saving countless Jewish lives and conveys to the reader that there can be good even in those who are associated with evil things. Leyson takes no wrong steps in the re-telling of his story.

This account is aimed toward middle and young adult readers and is well-suited to that age range. Young adult readers may get slightly bogged down in some of the minutiae, but Leyson manages to tell the truth about what happened without being too graphic for younger readers. As with any book on such sensitive subject matter, parents should read the book first and decide for themselves if the book is appropriate for their child.

This book will appeal to Jewish and non-Jewish young adults alike by way of its young man’s point of view and honest account of very real events. Readers will be able to connect with Leyson through his journey and experiences, and will feel like they know him personally by the end of the book.

The Boy on the Wooden Box received multiple awards, critical acclaim, and fills a need for a fresh take on the Holocaust survivor story. This book is a great addition for middle grades and young adults that has the potential to become a classic.

Activity

In collaboration with the art teacher who will demonstrate a few artistic techniques, students will create a memorial piece of artwork.

Students may pick one member of Leyson’s family that was lost or perished during the Holocaust or they may create a memorial work for those members as a whole. The piece should include symbols and images mentioned in Leyson’s book.

Related Resources

Graphic Novel on same topic

Dauvillier, L., Lizano, M., & Salsedo, G. (2014). Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust. New York, NY: First Second Publishers. ISBN 9781596438736

This is a graphic novel story about the Holocaust for children. This would be a good companion to Leyson’s first hand account and will appeal to reluctant readers or students who struggle with reading.

YouTube Video of Leon Leyson Interview

Eliezrie, S. (1995). Holocaust Survivor Leon Leyson Testimony. Fullerton, CA: USC Shoah Foundation Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMyZ4LTpqWo

This is a 3 hour long video of an interview with Leon Leyson in which he tells his entire story. Obviously, it would be impractical to watch the whole video, but picking out a handful of clips would be helpful in giving students a visual representation of the book.

Published Review

Kamin, R. (2013, November 1). [Review of the book The Boy on the Wooden Box. Available online from School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/

Cover picture citation:
Heiden, Jamie. (Photographer). (2013). Cover of The Boy on the Wooden Box. Retrieved from http://books.simonandschuster.com/The-Boy-on-the-Wooden-Box/Leon-Leyson/9781442497818

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

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Bibliography

Sones, S. (2001). What My Mother Doesn’t Know. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689841140

Plot Summary

In this novel in verse, Sophie, an almost fifteen year old girl, recounts the story of her first, second, and third love. Sophie shares the hopes, thrills, and confusions of her young romances.

Critical Analysis

Sones employs a varied collection of rhythms in her free verse poems for this novel that capture the undulating, ever-changing emotions of a fourteen year old girl. Her word choice is direct and honest and her rhythm, rhyme, and sound combine to capture the immediacy and life or death attitude of every situation as a teenage girl. Throughout the novel, Sophie shares the stories of her different love interests, but Sones avoids the formulaic, cliché ending by having the unexpected boy end up as Sophie’s true love. Along the way, Sophie learns that she does not need to be embarrassed of this boy even though he is made fun of at school. This theme in the book will speak to young adults without being pedantic and off-putting. The other main theme in the book is Sophie longing for the genuine attention of her parents. Both of these themes are spot on for the age group and will appeal to young adult female readers as being exactly what they are going through in their own lives. Young adult males should check out the sequel, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, for the same story from a teen boy’s perspective. Despite the years on the book, it still rings true for young adults and is a welcome addition to any collection for the age group.

Activity

Practice writing free verse poems:

First, have students pick one of the poems in the book and adapt it to be true for themselves by changing the necessary parts of the poem. Students may practice adapting more than one poem until they feel comfortable with the format.

Then, using the adapted poems and the original poems as a guide, have students select a topic from a list (first date, first crush, first day in new school, friend’s birthday party) and write a free verse poem about that topic.

Related Resources

Girls Health Website

This website has information about several topics including relationships, feelings, and bullying. These three topics all have a presence in the book and this website geared toward teen girls could be helpful to readers of this book that are seeking more information.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Girls Health. Office on Women’s Health. Retrieved from http://girlshealth.gov/

What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know

This is the sequel to What My Mother Doesn’t Know, and is told from the point of view of Robin, one of Sophie’s boyfriends. This will give the reader more insight into the male point of view of some of the same situations in the first book.

Sones, S. (2013). What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9781442493841

What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: Revised Edition

This nonfiction book answers questions about girls changing bodies and feelings during preteen and teen years. This book will serve as a good information companion to What My Mother Doesn’t Know.

Madaras, L., Madaras, A. & Sullivan, S. (2007). What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: Revised Edition. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks. ISBN 9781557047649

Published Review

Korbeck, S. (2001, October 1). [Review of the book What My Mother Doesn’t Know. Available online from School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/

Cover Picture Citation:
Harper, Charise Mericle. (Illustrator). (2001). Cover of what my mother doesn’t know. Retrieved from https://www.juniorlibraryguild.com/books/view.dT/0689841140

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

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Bibliography

Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9780689849237

Plot Summary

Bobby and Nia are teenagers living normal lives in New York City until they find out Nia is pregnant. They must make tough decisions and their lives are completely changed. Readers are taken along for the ride through Bobby’s point of view to see what it is like for a 16 year old urban teen about to be a father.

Critical Analysis

Johnson’s focus on the male involved in a teen pregnancy story is a fresh take on this topic and the main character, Bobby, matures throughout the pages of the book. Johnson uses hip and current dialog to move the story along through some predictable and some unpredictable events. The story is set in Brooklyn and New York City, but details are vague enough to appeal to readers in any location. Johnson avoids the negative stereotypes of a black male adolescent and instead shows the reader that young men can make mistakes, but still be young men of character, take responsibility for their actions, and grow into responsible young adults. The alternating chapter style of “then”/”now” can be slightly confusing at first, but maintains the reader’s interest while they try to figure it out and then internalize the structure. This book is an honest look at a situation a lot of teens find themselves in. Even though a very unfortunate turn of events takes place, the ending will give hope to readers, whether in a similar situation or not. This offering by Johnson is a good addition to a young adult collection as it is well written, relevant, and engaging.

Activity

Have students log all their activities and how they spend their time for one day.

Then, have students personalize a bag of flour to look like a baby. Have students carry around this baby for one 24-hour day. Give them a schedule of when to feed, burp, change, and rock to sleep the “baby”. They should also log all their activities for the day with the “baby”.

Afterward, students should create a short presentation using a Web 2.0 tool to show the differences in their day without and with the “baby”. The presentation should include specific times where they would not have been able to do something they wanted because they were taking care of the “baby”.

Related Resources

Teens For Life Website

This website offers free access to counselors 24/7 and also has an area where teens can talk to other teens who became pregnant unexpectedly.

Providing readers of this book a way to talk to someone for free and without threat could be a lifeline for a teen reading this book who is afraid to share information about a pregnancy.

Unknown Author. (2009). Pregnant? Teens For Life. Retrieved from: http://www.teensforlife.com/pregnant-we-can-help/

Stay Teen Website

This website provides information on sex, birth control, love, and dating in a fun and honest way for teens.

Having a resources like this designed to be interesting and appealing to teens may help to prevent some of the issues Bobby and Nia faced in the book due to Nia’s unexpected pregnancy.

Whole website. (2015). The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from: http://stayteen.org/

A Certain October

Another novel from Angela Johnson that also deals with a teen having to adjust after a life-changing event.

Johnson, A. (2013). A Certain October. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978068987065

Published Review

Goldsmith, F. (2005, February 1). [Review of the book The First Part Last]. School Library Journal. Available online from School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/

Image from Amazon.com, accessed June 10, 2015. Jacket photograph copyright 2003, John Healy.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

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Bibliography

Cormier, R. (1977). I Am the Cheese. New York, NY: Dell Laurel-Leaf. ISBN 0440940605

Plot Summary

Adam is on a journey to find his father, but he encounters several obstacles along the way that threaten to keep him from his destination. Throughout Adam’s journey, he must overcome these obstacles and his own fear to learn the truth about his past and his present.

Critical Analysis

In I Am the Cheese, Cormier has created a suspenseful tale of a young man on a mission to discover his personal story. Readers will be eager to turn each page in this classic story of (a young) man versus the system. Except for the novelty of the witness protection program, there are few details that date this novel despite its original release of 1977. Teens today will still be able to find relevance in Adam’s journey and some may be able to identify all too closely with his mental and emotional struggles. Jumping back and forth between two settings can initially confuse the reader, but as the story unfolds, the location in time of the two places begins to be revealed and clears matters a bit. This classic is appropriate for young adults and should still be included in reading lists today as it has held up over time due to Cormier’s vivid imagery and attention to detail.

Activity

Using a preferred method of placing students into groups, create groups of 4 students each.

Students will pick a scene from the book in which Adam is conversing with “T” and they will act out this scene and record it. Students may use their own device or devices checked out from the school.

One student will play the role of Adam, one student will play the role of “T”, one student will record the scene, and one student will be the director. Use preferred method of job assignment if so desired, or let students pick, depending on the class.

Students will need to edit their finished product with an editing program such as iMovie.

Related Resources

Mental Health Website

In the book, Adam struggles with some mental health issues. This website contains a page entitled, “For Young People Looking for Help”. On this page, there is a video of Demi Lovato sharing her struggles with mental health issues and what she did to seek help. Sharing this website with students could help them feel like they are not alone and help them to realize that it is ok to struggle with these issues since even a famous singer struggles with them. It can also help the students to understand more about the struggles of the character in the book.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.). For Young People Looking for Help. In MentalHealth.gov. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/young-people/.


CNN Article on Witness Protection

Adam’s family was one of the first families to be in the Witness Protection program started by the government in the early 1970’s. This article gives some minimal details on how the program works and explains some of the effects on families of being in the program. This information will help readers understand a little more about Adam’s life and why it was difficult for him and his parents.

Falcon, G. (2013, February 16). Inside the witness protection program. CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/16/justice/witness-protection-program/

Published Review

Unknown Author. (1998, March 1). [Review of the book I Am the Cheese]. Horn Book Guide.

Available online from Horn Book Guide:http://www.hornbookguide.com/cgi-bin/hbonline.pl

Image from Google.com, accessed June 4, 2015. Cover art property of Random House, Inc.

Romeo and Juliet: Graphic Novel adapted by Gareth Hinds

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Bibliography

Shakespeare, William. The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Adapted and Illustrated by Gareth Hinds. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2013. ISBN 9780763668075

Plot Summary

Romeo and Juliet are from feuding families. One night, Romeo sneaks into a party at Juliet’s house, they meet, and fall in love instantly. They are secretly married and then during a quarrel, Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. For this, Romeo is banished from the city. The two hatch a plan to reunite, but an undelivered message puts a serious kink in their plans and puts their lives at risk. In the end, their tragic tale does succeed in ending the bad blood between the families, but this comes at a great cost.

Critical Analysis

In this graphic novelization of the Shakespearean classic, Gareth Hinds has stuck very close to the original text of the play. Therefore, his interpretation of the characters is portrayed through his illustrations of them. He has chosen to use several different ethnicities for the characters. For example, the Capulets are an Indian family and the Montagues are African. Hinds does a good job of drawing facial expressions on all the characters so that the reader truly feels each emotion and makes a connection with the characters. Each character is unique enough that the reader is able to differentiate between them and Hinds has provided a pictorial directory of the characters at the beginning as well. Romeo and Juliet both have fresh, young, attractive faces and readers will root for them along the way and mourn for them in the end. The younger generations of the two families exhibit a bit of upstart behavior as evidenced by their more modern (for the times) clothes and their tattoos. Hinds mentions in his notes at the end that he hopes younger readers will immediately pick up on this and thus identify more closely with the characters, but without a background knowledge, young readers may not know that a dress cut above the ankles was not proper. They may have an easier time identifying the fact that tattoos were meant to be rebellious. Overall, the facial expressions and emotions are what makes the connection and not their attire.

In Shakespeare’s time, one had to defend their honor and their family’s honor at all costs. So, when Capulet’s cousin, Tybalt, feels that Romeo has dishonored his family, he sets out to make Romeo answer for this insult. Romeo tries to settle things without a fight, but Tybalt is insistent. A member of both families ends up dying and then Romeo is banished for drawing the last sword. Meanwhile, Juliet’s father has decided that she is to marry. Romeo and Juliet have already secretly married at this point and in order to be together, they must find a way to get Juliet out of her betrothal. The two must overcome many obstacles to obtain their goal of being together and while they do overcome the obstacles, there is a grand miscommunication and in the end, their efforts are for nought as they both end up dead. Most everyone is familiar with the story of Romeo and Juliet, but Hinds has done a splendid job of giving fresh life to the age-old story. His illustrations of the duels, the escapes, the hiding, and the eventual taking of lives is engaging. His fight scenes are complete with “FWAT”, “SHINK”, “KISH”, and “SNAP” onomatopoeias, mirroring comic book practices and appealing especially to young male readers.

Each scene in the play is set in a different place and Hinds creates each of them beautifully. The details in the opulent Capulet palace show their wealth and stature and the lush gardens outside Juliet’s window do the same. The town square where Benvolio and Tybalt meet their ends is sparsely detailed. In this scene, the action takes center stage, but the backgrounds contain enough architecturally accurate details to alert the reader as to the time period. The monastery where Friar Laurence resides is majestic in a simple way. Throughout the book, the characters fill a large portion of each frame, but the settings seen in the background are true to the time period and details help the reader identify revisited locations.

This tragic tale is definitely one of young love. The two main characters place their love for each other above all other things. The are willing to forsake their families and their lives of wealth in Verona to be together. Many obstacles stand in their way and they overcome one after another, giving the reader hope that they will be together. In the end however, they are not able to overcome the final obstacle. Hinds stays true to this theme of the original story with his rendition and his illustrations.

Soft lines and expressive faces in the illustrations are indicative of Hinds’ work. As mentioned before, Hinds uses the original text of the play, albeit abridged, which helps the reader to feel more immersed in the setting of the book. The author uses a few footnotes throughout the book to define particularly obscure words and these do not interrupt the flow from frame to frame.

This is a good treatment of a classic work and would compliment any unit on Shakespeare. The graphic novel form lends itself to encouraging reluctant male readers to venture into the Bard’s work.

Review Excerpts

“The Shakespearean language is abridged but not adapted into contemporary English; footnotes explain words that could be confusing to young audiences. The use of lines and colorful watercolors is striking, especially when illustrating action such as dancing and sword fights. The cover provides one of the best advertisements for the book, showing readers a multiracial spin on this classic play. And one of the most memorable panels illustrates how, when Romeo first sees Juliet, the image he had in his mind of Rosalind literally shatters.” — School Library Journal, November 2013

“…creates another splendid graphic novel, tracing each scene in taut, coherent, and expertly deployed dialogue. Hindss characters, in period array modified by a few more contemporary touches, are poignantly specific yet as universal as this tragic tale of young love demands. Romeo, African, is big-eyed, appealing, impetuous, innocent; Juliet, a patrician Indian, is as tall as her lover and a bit more mature, as thirteen-year-old girls are wont to be. Other characters are well differentiated (fiery Tybalt sports tattoos; Mercutio, dreadlocks)…This is not only a wonderfully accessible introduction to a full text or (better yet) theatrical production; its a visual delight for anyone.” — Horn Book Magazine, November 2013

The following review was too interesting not to print in its entirety. It begins somewhat positive and then takes a drastically negative turn. This is in stark contrast to the other reviews for the book.

“Romeo and Juliet is a graphic novel adaptation of the original play by William Shakespeare. Notes at the beginning and end of the story provide historical context and prepare the reader to understand the original language presented in iambic pentameter. Though not modernized with dialogue and setting, the story does attempt to show the universality of the story with race-House Capulet is an Indian family, and House Montague is an African American family. The artwork is not special and does not add to the magic of the ill-fated romance. Romeo is not handsome enough, nor is Juliet beautiful enough to captivate teen audiences. Graphic novels should use their illustrations to lend greater understanding to the story. Romeo and Juliet does not enhance appreciation for the original play or encourage a reader to seek out other plays by Shakespeare. Overall, the book lacks drama, and expectations for passion and tragedy are never met. For the price, libraries seeking to expand their graphic novel collection should not buy a book with such limited appeal. This book is incredibly accurate in its representations of period architecture and could be used in an art history class. This specialized usage would still relegate Romeo and Juliet to an optional purchase.-Laura Perenic. — Voice of Youth Advocates, October 2013

Connections

Read other graphic novel interpretations of classic literature by Gareth Hinds:

  • Beowulf, ISBN 9780763630232
  • The Odyssey, ISBN 9780763642686
  • Macbeth, ISBN 9780763678029
  • King Lear, ISBN 9780763643447

Read, compare, and contrast another graphic novel version of Romeo and Juliet, adapted by John McDonald, ISBN 9781906332624

Read, compare, and contrast with a text copy of the play.

Watch excerpts from a recorded stage production or film adaptation of the play.

Conduct a reader’s theater with the play.

Have students form groups and act out scenes from the play. Students can record the scenes and enter into an in-class contest.

Image from Amazon.com, accessed April 14, 2015. Cover art copyright 2013 by Candlewick Press and Gareth Hinds.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Bibliography

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. ISBN 9780316056212

Plot Summary

Nailer works light crew on Bright Sands Beach collecting copper wire for pay and tries desperately to avoid the wrath of his abusive, addict father. After a huge storm destroy much of the beach, Nailer and his crew chief, Pima, find a wrecked Clipper ship with a treasure trove of light scavenge materials they could get rich from. They also find a rich girl clinging to life. They decide to save her based on the notion that she could give them great wealth if they help her get back to her family. From there, Nailer and Pima set out to find the girl, Nita’s, family, but they must keep her away from Nailer’s father who wants to sell her to her father’s enemy. Fast-paced action and a high seas battle ensue while Nita and Nailer try to decide who they can trust and Nailer must decide if the promise of wealth is worth the trouble.

Critical Analysis

From the very beginning of the book, the reader is intrigued by Nailer’s character and grows more fond of him as the pages turn. He is a smart, hard-working, thoughtful young man who refuses to accept the “me-first”, cut-throat mentality of his business and the post-apocalyptic American Gulf Coast. He looks out for others and strives to see the best in people. Nailer is not without his temptations and urgings to grasp at the opportunity for wealth at the expense of others, but ultimately, he chooses to help those he could easily overlook or even bring harm to. Nailer even chooses to give his abusive, maniacal father a second chance and help him when a storm is about to kill him. In the end though, Nailer doesn’t give his father a third chance and chooses to preserve his own life and that of countless others by putting and end to his father’s violence once and for all. Pima, Sadna, Nita, and Tool are equally likable and complex characters. Bacigalupi has created a cast of characters who endear themselves to the reader quickly, but who are also not perfect. It is in those imperfections that readers may find similarities to themselves or people they know and it is that element that allows the reader to invest herself in the lives of the characters and pull for their success in their endeavours. The author also does a masterful job of crafting the bad guys in such a way that the reader has no trouble rooting against them.

The plot of the story is completely plausible within the world Bacigalupi has created. The reader is taken along with Nailer and Nita on their quest to find the crews loyal to her father and the adventure and turmoil that ensues is action packed and keeps the reader entertained.  There are several setbacks to the original plan of helping Nita get back to her father. Nailer’s father has Nita, Nailer, and Pima under a guard after she is first rescued, then Nailer and Nita escape and make their way by train, with Tool, to the Orleans where they intend to wait on a ship. Nita believes she will recognize one of her father’s loyal ships and just when she does, Nailer’s father shows up and ends up kidnapping Nita again. Nailer must then partner with the captain of the ship Nita saw to venture off and try to get Nita back. Nailer and Nita are able to overcome all these obstacles and best their foe.

At the beginning of the book, Bacigalupi gives readers hints as to the location of the book, making reference to “the Orleans” and talking about how the land area used to be larger. These clues make the reader think the book is set in what is now New Orleans, but the character’s use of Chinese money makes the reader question whether it is indeed set in a real place or not. Further on in the story, as Bacigalupi weaves in information about the history of his imagined location, it becomes clear to the reader that the novel is set in the Gulf Coast region of the United States, but years after a huge “city killer” storm that has created the “drowned cities” by covering coastal towns with water. On a smaller scale, Bacigalupi describes the places in the story in vivid detail. The reader can easily imagine himself on the deck of an abandoned oil tanker on Bright Sands Beach, stripping copper wire right along with the light crew or hiding from Nailer’s father under the dock in the Orleans when he comes to reclaim Nita near the end of the book.

Residents of Bright Sands Beach and this new Gulf Coast region are mostly poor and destitute, carrying work debts to their crew boss for the privilege of working. Thus, they are always looking to find a “lucky strike” and get enough money to pay off their debts and buy their way off of crew and into a better position in life. Several times throughout the book, characters are given the chance to make a quick lucky strike, but it is always at the expense of someone else. One set of characters takes advantage of this opportunity and grabs the riches, while another set of characters which includes Nailer, Nita, Pima, her mother, Sadna, and Tool, the half-man, chooses to stick by their friends and value relationships and human lives over the possibility of riches. These two groups of characters become embroiled in a good versus evil battle over Nita, the girl who Nailer and Pima find amongst the wreckage of a clipper ship. Nita’s father owns one of the largest shipping companies and some of his men have turned on him. Nailer and his compatriots side with Nita, seeking out employees who are still loyal to her father. Nailer’s father and his cronies team up with the subversive members of the shipping company. In the end, good wins out over evil and while the reader certainly hopes this will be the case, and has a feeling it will all work out in the end, Bacigalupi sidesteps a formulaic victory by putting plenty of obstacles in the way of the resolution. After Nailer and Nita’s journey across the coast to find some of those loyal ship crews, after Nita’s kidnapping by Nailer’s father, and after a battle between ships and their crews, Nailer finally triumphs over his father, gets Nita back from him, and can begin a new chapter in his life.

Bacigalupi presents his new world in a consistently dark, oppressive manner. All the descriptions of the conditions and lifestyles paint a picture of poor people working dangerous and tenuous jobs for meager wages. A new vernacular has been created for this new world as well. The characters talk about “sliding high”, praying to “the Fates”, “licebiters”, “crewing up”, and “getting scavenge”. Some of these phrases are just different ways to refer to actual concepts, but some of the phrases refer to concepts that are original to this new place in Nailer’s world.

This action-packed dystopian novel keeps the reader on the hook until the final page. The character development is superb and really makes the story stand out among others of its kind.

Review Excerpts

National Book Awards

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2010 )

Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books

( WON AWARD in 2010 )

Michael L. Printz Award

( WON AWARD in 2011 )

American Library Association Notable Books for Children

( WON AWARD in 2011 )

Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2013 )

Black-Eyed Susan Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2011 )

Locus Awards

( WON AWARD in 2011 )

Maryland Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2011 )

Young Reader’s Choice Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2013 )

Great Lakes’ Great Books Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2011 )

Evergreen Young Adult Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2013 )

Volunteer State Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2012 )

“As Nailer and Lucky Girl escape toward the drowned ruins of New Orleans, they witness rampant class disparity on individual and international levels (tribes whose lands were flooded have taken to the seas as pirates, attacking multinational shipping firms). Bacigalupi’s cast is ethnically and morally diverse, and the book’s message never overshadows the storytelling, action-packed pacing, or intricate world-building. At its core, the novel is an exploration of Nailer’s discovery of the nature of the world around him and his ability to transcend that world’s expectations” — Publisher’s Weekly, April 2010

“A fast-paced postapocalyptic adventure set on the American Gulf Coast. Nailer works light crew; his dirty, dangerous job is to crawl deep into the wrecks of the ancient oil tankers that line the beach, scavenging copper wire and turning it over to his crew boss…Exciting and sometimes violent, this book will appeal to older fans of Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series (S & S) and similar action-oriented science fiction.” — School Library Journal, June 2010

“*Starred Review* This YA debut by Bacigalupi, a rising star in adult science fiction, presents a dystopian future like so many YA sf novels. What is uncommon, though, is that although Bacigalupi’s future earth is brilliantly imagined and its genesis anchored in contemporary issues, it is secondary to the memorable characters…Clearly respecting his audience, Bacigalupi skillfully integrates his world building into the compelling narrative, threading the backstory into the pulsing action. The characters are layered and complex, and their almost unthinkable actions and choices seem totally credible. Vivid, brutal, and thematically rich, this captivating title is sure to win teen fans for the award-winning Bacigalupi.” — Booklist, May 2010

Connections

Read the companion novel by Bacigalupi:

  • The Drowned Cities, ISBN 9780316056229

Read other novels by Paolo Bacigalupi:

  • Pump Six and Other Stories, ISBN 9781597802024
  • The Windup Girl, ISBN 9781597801584
  • The Doubt Factory, ISBN 9780316220750
  • The Water Knife: A Novel, ISBN 9780385352871

Compare the Gulf Coast terrain in the novel to that of the current Gulf Coast.

Discuss whether or not it would be possible for a “city killer” (hurricane) to completely destroy New Orleans like it suggests in the book. Find news articles from 2003 regarding Hurricane Katrina and the levy and discuss how close we may have already come to this.

For older grades, discuss the economics and international business aspects of the shipping companies.

Have students gather in groups and discuss the book:

  • Do you think Nailer and Pima made the right choice in saving Nita?
  • Why do you think Nailer’s father is so bad now when he used to be different?
  • The half-men in the book were specifically engineered and bred to be warriors and protectors. If you could genetically engineer a being, what would be important?
  • Would you have chosen to leave with Nita as Nailer did? Why or why not?

Image from Amazon.com, accessed April 14, 2015. Cover art copyright 2010 by Little, Brown and Company, Design by David Caplan.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Lord, Cynthia. Rules. New York: Scholastic Press, 2006. ISBN 0439443822

Plot Summary

Catherine is twelve and a new girl has just moved in next door. She hopes this new girl will be friends with her and spend the summer hanging out, but she is worried the actions of her younger brother who is autistic will get in the way. Catherine has rules for David to help him interact with the world. Catherine struggles with her alternating love for and annoyance at her brother and longs to have her parents pay attention to her as they do to her brother David. While at occupational therapy with David, Catherine befriends wheelchair-bound Jason who can only communicate by pointing to word cards in a book he carries and subsequently makes word cards for Jason so he can expand his vocabulary. An invitation to the community center dance with Jason from the new girl next door has Catherine questioning what is truly important.

Critical Analysis

Cynthia Lord has penned a deep, rich cast of characters who reveal their emotions through their thoughts and their dialogue with one another. Catherine shares the same desires as most typical twelve year old girls- to have friends and do normal activities with them and to be liked by the cool kids at school. But, she also has a desire to be good to her younger brother David, who is autistic. These two desires come in conflict with each other time and time again. Just when she appears to be having a breakthrough in the friend department, David throws himself into a fit, Catherine is utterly embarrassed, and the girl next door retreats into her house. Each time this scene is repeated, Catherine goes through several emotions in the aftermath: anger at David, resentment toward her parents for not keeping a more watchful eye on David, despair at the lost opportunity, and finally, regret for all those feelings. Catherine also makes rules that she structures her life and David’s life around. For example, one rule for David is, “No toys in the fishtank,” and one of her rules is “No dancing unless I’m alone in my room or it’s pitch-black dark.” A culminating event at the end of the book has Catherine embarrassed of not only her brother, but her friend Jason. When Jason finds out that Catherine has told half-truths to keep him from meeting her school friends, his retreat from and refusal to see Catherine causes her to reevaluate the things she thinks are most important. In the end, Catherine realizes that sometimes rules are really excuses and need to be broken and that small moments with people matter. Jason is the boy Catherine meets at her brother’s occupational therapy appointments and he is confined to a wheelchair and uses a book of words in pictures to communicate. When the two meet, Jason’s vocabulary is rather limited, but Catherine makes him a plethora of word cards and helps him to expand his vocabulary to include modern young people words such as “whatever” and “awesome”. The two become friends, rather hesitantly on Catherine’s part, and conversations between the two speak to their deepening friendship and their values.

This book provides the reader with a glimpse into the everyday life of a family, and more specifically, a sibling of an autistic person. Since the book is set during the summer, the reader sees Catherine accompany her mother and brother to occupational therapy, go down to the swimming hole, take a stroll to the beach, and attend a community dance. The focus of the book is more on the dialogue and the relationships and less on the events that occur, but still, the story moves along at a good pace and includes believable and engaging events. Events build toward an argument and a falling out of sorts between the two main characters and, while the reader feels sure the two will reconcile, there are a couple bumps along that road that help to avoid complete obviousness. While the author does not leave all things perfect at the end, circumstances are looking up for Jason, Catherine, and her friends.

Lord places her characters along the coast of Maine in a small town with a therapy office, hardware store, an antique store, and a marine supply store all on the same block. Several references are made to a murky pond and the beach, which are places one can expect to see if traveling to coastal Maine. The book is a bit dated for current young adult readers, however. Catherine uses her personal CD player to share music with Jason and David listens to his favorite book on a tape that Catherine must constantly fix for him as his player unravels the tape. Teen readers today will be amused and possibly confused at the existence of these items. For the most part though, the few years time difference does not have a great impact on the story. The events, relationships, and important aspects could occur fifty years ago, nine years ago, or today.

Rules is a coming of age novel with an additional theme of acceptance. Catherine and Jason both grow up through the course of the book: becoming friends, handling situations they would normally look to their parents to handle, and attending a birthday party and a dance together. These are events that any normal twelve or thirteen year old would go through, but are complicated by Jason’s and David’s disabilities, which add a level of maturity obtained by Catherine and Jason before the end of book. These themes allow readers who are unfamiliar with people with disabilities to gain insight and for people who have a friend or family member with a disability, this novel will help them to feel like they are not alone.

This is Cynthia Lord’s first novel, but it reflects her knowledge of autism and special needs and clues readers in to her passion for enlightening the public on these subjects. She does a good job of balancing out the natural, free-flowing dialog and the unobtrusive, informative narrative so that neither one feels overwhelming. Lord also alerts the reader to the importance of several recurring fixtures in the book by setting them apart. For example, all the rules for David and Catherine appear offset, with larger spacing before and after them, and are in a different font that is bolded. Also, every time Jason or someone else communicates using one of his word picture cards, those words appear in a bold, sans serif font with a period after each word or set of words that appears on a single card.

While Catherine is certainly the main character, the author has chosen a male for the character with the second largest role. The scales are not tipped one way or the other as far as gender in minor characters is concerned either. Lord goes against some traditional stereotypes when she makes wheelchair-bound, mute Jason a funny, witty, personable guy who is interested in music. Often, persons with disabilities are cast in a much dimmer light. The author also manages to avoid ostracizing any group of potential readers by making the characters non culture-specific. Other than mentioning some details about the community culture of coastal Maine, this story does not differentiate and therefore, has a wide appeal to all types of readers.

This is a great story about friendship and growing up and also a great way for people to gain more empathy for and understanding of families who have members with disabilities, whatever kind they may be.

Review Excerpts

Newbery Medal

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Schneider Family Book Awards

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

American Library Association Notable Books for Children

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

California Young Reader Medal

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Nene Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award

( WON AWARD in 2008 )

Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Sunshine State Young Reader’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Young Hoosier Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Rhode Island Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Virginia Reader’s Choice Awards

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

William Allen White Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Young Reader’s Choice Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Great Stone Face Children’s Book Award

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

North Carolina Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Maine Student Book Award

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

Colorado Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Bluegrass Award

( WON AWARD in 2008 )

Golden Sower Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Beehive Children’s Fictional Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Maud Hart Lovelace Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Georgia Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Nutmeg Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2010 )

Grand Canyon Reader Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2010 )

Great Lakes’ Great Books Award

( WON AWARD in 2008 )

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

“When Kristi moves in next door, Catherine hopes that the girl will become a friend, but is anxious about her reaction to David. Then Catherine meets and befriends Jason, a nonverbal paraplegic who uses a book of pictures to communicate, she begins to understand that normal is difficult, and perhaps unnecessary, to define. Rules of behavior are less important than acceptance of others. Catherine is an endearing narrator who tells her story with both humor and heartbreak. Her love for her brother is as real as are her frustrations with him. Lord has candidly captured the delicate dynamics in a family that revolves around a child’s disability.” — School Library Journal, April 2006

“In the able hands of the author, mother of an autistic child, Catherine’s emotions come across as entirely convincing, especially her alternating devotion to and resentment of David, and her guilt at her impatience with him. Through her artwork, the heroine gradually opens up to Jason, a wheelchair-bound peer who can communicate only by pointing to words on cards. As she creates new cards that expand Jason’s ability to express his feelings, their growing friendship enables Catherine to do the same. A rewarding story that may well inspire readers to think about others’ points of view.” — Publisher’s Weekly, April 2006

“Torn between love for her brother and impatience with the responsibilities and embarrassment he brings, she strives to be on her parents’ radar and to establish an identity of her own…. The details of autistic behavior are handled well, as are depictions of relationships: Catherine experiences some of the same unease with Jason that others do in the presence of her brother. In the end, Jason helps Catherine see that her rules may really be excuses, opening the way for her to look at things differently.” Booklist, February 2006

Connections

Read other books by Cynthia Lord:

  • Touch Blue, ISBN 9780545035323
  • Half a Chance, ISBN 9780545035330

Read other award-winning books about characters with disabilities:

  • Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, ISBN 9780312643003
  • Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis, ISBN 9781416938958
  • The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen, ISBN 9780375866678

Watch the Scholastic Booktalk for this book:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIcFuaSAvAw

Watch a video created by students as a Battle of the Books project in which they interviewed a mother of two autistic boys and the boys themselves:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0EwjC7gD38

Read excerpts of Temple Grandin’s book, The Way I See It, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s, ISBN 9781935274216

Break students into small groups and have them discuss the book and their reactions to it:

  • How would you feel if you were each different character?
  • Do you know anyone who people look at differently? How does that make you feel? How do you think that makes them feel?
  • Would anyone like to share personal experiences similar to Catherine’s?
  • What words would you make on cards for Jason?

Image from Amazon.com, accessed April 12, 2015. Cover art copyright 2006 by Scholastic, Inc., Rubber Duck Photo Copyright Gary Doak/Photonica, Goldfish detail, Copyright G.K. and Vikki Hart/Iconica, Jacket Design by Kristina Albertson