Romeo and Juliet: Graphic Novel adapted by Gareth Hinds

Uncategorized

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

Uncategorized

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

Water Street by Patricia Reilly Giff

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Water Street. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2006. ISBN 9780385730686

Plot Summary

Bird Mallon is about to start her last year of school, the eighth grade, and she has always known that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps and be a healer. Thomas Neary has just moved into the apartment above Bird’s with his father who drinks too much and cares for Thomas too little. Thomas writes stories about everything he sees and hears and wants to be a writer one day. At the end of Water street, the Brooklyn Bridge is being built and everyone doubts whether it will be a successful project because it seems so impossible. Bird and Thomas form a special bond as they make choices about their futures and as they learn whether seemingly impossible things can come to pass.

Critical Analysis

Giff does a splendid job of developing her characters and makes them real enough for readers to identify with. Her two main characters, Bird and Thomas, share a friendship that borders on the romantic side and is all too familiar to young people today. Bird lives in a small apartment with her older sister and brother and her parents. Thomas lives in the apartment above them with his father who is out in a tavern more often than he is at home. As a result, Bird’s family invites Thomas into their home for most meals. Sadly, many young readers today will be able to relate with Thomas’s character and hopefully some of them will be able to identify with Bird’s family regarding this situation as well. Bird is a headstrong young lady and Thomas is loyal to a fault. The reader will find herself rooting for both at every turn. Even though the characters in the book are very similar to people today, they also dress, talk, and act like people from the late 1800s. For example, they rent horses from the livery, neighbors can’t afford to send for the doctor, one family catches scarlet fever, clothes are hung out on the line, and all the neighborhood people know each other and know that Bird’s mother is the healer.

The daily lives and struggles of Bird and Thomas as they grow up and decide what they want to do with their lives are displayed in the pages of Giff’s novel. She does not shy away from presenting the often harsh truths and living conditions of the time period. The facts are presented plainly enough for young readers to follow and understand and there is not an overwhelming presence of details and facts. An accurate account of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, its designer and overseer, and the jobs and working conditions is presented in the story, but remains in the background. Also, the history of immigrant life is portrayed well through the living conditions and fact that everyone must work to contribute.

The location of the story is one and the same with the title of the book. The apartment building where Bird and Thomas live is on Water Street and almost all the other events of the story take place on the same street. The Brooklyn Bridge construction can be seen from Thomas’s window as well. The only time Giff’s characters venture off of their street is toward the end when Bird and Thomas head across the river to Manhattan to find Bird’s brother, Hughie, and try to help him. The buildings and their occupants, which are part of the setting themselves, are well described and Giff paints a lovely picture of the places with her words.

Themes of work and friendship are evident throughout the book. Giff makes it clear that hard work got Bird’s family to America from Ireland and Bird is determined to find her calling for work so that she can better herself. Thomas longs for his father to commit to work and take care of him instead of staying out all night imbibing. Bird’s parents remind her and her siblings several times that anything is possible with hard work, otherwise they would still be back in Ireland. Immigrants to the United States in the late 1800s understood the value of hard work and it was important to them, but it is still important to the majority of people today. Friendship is something else that is still largely valued today. People will say and do a lot of things just to try to gain a friend, but the friendship between Bird and Thomas is the type of true friendship which people long for. These two young people share their hopes and dreams with one another and they know that when it really matters, they can count on the other. This is evidenced by Bird’s family having Thomas over for meals and even more so by Thomas’s caring for Bird when she has a traumatic experience on a medical call with her mother and his going to Manhattan with her when Hughie is in trouble.

Giff takes her characters through all four seasons of the year 1875 by dividing the novel into four sections. She relies on a combination of dialogue and narrative to tell her story. The dialogue accurately resembles the speech of the time with words such as “areaway” to describe the area outside their front door and phrases such as Hughie telling Bird,“You’re like herself” to tell her he thinks she’s like their mother. The story about Bird and Thomas and their families is the main focus of the novel and the history is an important component.

There are no notes, citations, or recommendations for further reading in Giff’s book. There is also no mention of research in an author’s note or acknowledgement section, as seems to be common. There are enough facts in the book to suggest that Giff did indeed look up information somewhere, but it seems, as evidenced by the lack of documentation, that the narrative and not the history was the main focus for this book.

This is an enjoyable book that flows nicely and has very likeable characters. The plot drags a little in places, but the relationship between the two main characters makes up for it.

Review Excerpts

Young Hoosier Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

“Giff sidesteps predictable situations (for instance, Bird is exposed to scarlet fever but doesn’t catch it). And despite an overabundance of tremulous smiles, straightened shoulders, and brimming eyes, the novel feels more bracing than sentimental, perhaps because Giff makes Bird’s Brooklyn so real you could touch it.” — Horn Book Magazine, September 2006

“ The happily-ever-after ending never denies the harsh struggle; the memory of what drove them from the Old Country is always there, as is the mantra “We have to better ourselves.” A poignant immigration story of friendship, work, and the meaning of home.” — Booklist, August 2006

“Though the plot is somewhat predictable and the likable characters are a bit stereotyped, Giff masterfully integrates the historical material and presents a vivid picture of the immigrant struggle in the 1870s.” — School Library Journal, September 2006

Connections

Read the two novels that create the backstory for this novel:

  • Nory Ryan’s Song, ISBN 9780440418290
  • Maggie’s Door, ISBN 9780440415817

Use the following link to read an article about Caisson Disease (which Bird’s brother gets) and discuss this in a health class setting, talking about the dangers

http://history1800s.about.com/od/bridgebuilding/ig/Images-of-the-Brooklyn-Bridge/Brooklyn-Bridge-s-Caisson.htm

Compare and contrast living conditions in the time of the novel and now

Look for a community member who immigrated to the United States and have them come speak to students about the experience.

Use an Eyewitness to History article to pair with the novel for an American History lesson on the time period.

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/brooklynbridge.htm

Explore the History Channel’s website section on the Brooklyn Bridge:

http://www.history.com/topics/brooklyn-bridge

The two main characters spend a significant amount of time deciding what they want to do with their lives. Have students spend some time thinking about what they want to do with their lives. Have them pick one possibility and create a short presentation to share.

Image from Amazon.com, accessed April 1, 2015. Cover art copyright 2006 by Glen Gogh/Glenn Madison

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Klages, Ellen. The Green Glass Sea. New York: Viking, 2006. ISBN 0670061344

Plot Summary

Dewey Kerrigan lives with her grandmother, but when she has to go into a home, Dewey is shipped off to New Mexico where her father is working on a secret project for the army in the early 1940’s in a place that does not officially exist. Dewey gets to know the people working on this secret “gadget” over the next few years and spends a lot of time on her own since her dad is always working. She has trouble fitting in at school and keeps mostly to herself until her father has to go away for a few weeks and she is forced to stay at the home of a girl from her class who she knows does not like her. What happens after Dewey goes to stay with the Gordon’s changes not only Dewey’s life forever, but the world as it was known at that time.

Critical Analysis

The characters in Klages’s novel are incredibly real and easy to identify with. The main character Dewey, is the smart, nerdy girl who no one in class likes, save for the couple of kids who can see past the exterior. The secondary female character, Suze, is the girl on the fringe of the popular group trying desperately to be accepted to their inner circle full-time. She goes along with their mean girl routines when she thinks it will help her get into their good graces, but deep down she knows it is wrong and is a good person. The adults all love their children very much and work hard, almost too hard, to provide for them. The children fend for themselves more often than not since all the adults on “the Hill”, as it is called, are working non-stop trying to create “the gadget” (atomic bomb). Young readers will be able to see themselves or a classmate in one of the characters and some may identify with having a parent who is largely absent. Even though the essence of the characters is relevant in 2015, they still represent the 1940s through their choice of words, their attire, their pastimes, and the household products they use.

Klages presents the history in this book accurately and seamlessly weaves it into the narrative for a smoothly flowing story. When this book is read in tandem with a nonfiction account of the same subject matter, Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, it is almost at parts as if the books are one and the same. The difference in the two comes in the details. This novel leaves the minutiae to the nonfiction title and focuses on the story without getting bogged down in details. The actions of the characters and the events in the story are true to the time period. For example, Suze’s mom makes Ovaltine in a saucepan on the stove, Dewey has an Erector set, and long distance travel is primarily by bus or train.

The book takes place in Los Alamos, New Mexico, a town that didn’t officially exist at the time. It was referred to as “the Hill” by its residents and it was secured as an army base. Klages does a good job of recreating this historic place and describing it in such detail that the reader can picture each conversation in Suze’s kitchen and each stroll past the motor pool to the Tech PX. The book is divided into sections by time and each section is labeled with a year and then there are various dates at the beginning of chapters throughout the sections to further mark the passage of time. All the events in these dated sections line up with the actual dates in history.

Klages develops strong themes based on relationships throughout the book. To begin, there are the strained relationships of Dewey and her next door neighbor and Dewey and Suze. Next, there are the solid relationships between Dewey and two brothers, Charlie and Jack, who see Dewey for who she really is and are friends with her. There are also mentoring relationships between Dewey and several of the adults on the Hill that work with her father. Most importantly, there is the loving, protective relationship between Dewey and her father. When this relationship is abruptly altered for life, Dewey’s strained relationship with Suze progresses from there to tenuous, on to stable, and eventually to solid and deep. The characters have to deal with loss and disappointment and they learn that they must rely on others to help them through tough times. These themes speak to the strong family values of the 1940s, but still ring true today as well.

This novel is written from the perspective of a third person narrator looking in on all the events, but Klages still manages to capture the emotions and inner thoughts of each character through their dialogue and through descriptions of them. Word choice and other elements help the story stay true to the time period with examples such as “time machine” to refer to alarm clock and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” playing on the radio. The slightly more formal tone of the dialogue is evidence of the time period as well. Klages has written a good story that is only deepened by the presence of the historical aspect.

There are no formal citations or bibliography listed in the book, but Klages writes in her author’s note and acknowledgements how she conducted research at several different libraries and historical societies and found “vintage period material” on eBay to help her envision her 1940s world. Klages has also listed several resources for further reading at the end of her novel. These sources are nonfiction works which lay out the facts of the subject. As mentioned before, the facts in this book are proven accurate by their similarity to the information found in Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, which does have extensive notes and citations documenting the facts.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Ellen Klages has created a story about two girls who have problems that one could easily see a child of a Los Alamos scientist having back in the 40s while living on the Hill. That said, these girls and their story could easily be set somewhere else in time or space. This is an excellent example of historical fiction.

Review Excerpts

Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

Locus Awards

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Quill Awards

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Nene Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Maine Student Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

“However, when Dewey’s father leaves for Washington, she is left to fend off the biggest bully in Los Alamos. The novel occasionally gets mired down in detail, but the characters are exceptionally well drawn, and the compelling, unusual setting makes a great tie-in for history classes.” — Booklist, November 2006

“Klages makes an impressive debut with an ambitious, meticulously researched novel set during WWII. Writing from the points of view of two displaced children, she successfully recreates life at Los Alamos Camp, where scientists and mathematicians converge with their families to construct and test the first nuclear bomb. Eleven-year-old Dewey, the daughter of a math professor, is shunned by the other girls at the camp due to her passionate interest in mechanics and her fascination with the dump, which holds all sorts of mechanisms and tools she can use for her projects.” — Publisher’s Weekly, October 2006

“Klages evokes both the big-sky landscape of the Southwest and a community where “”everything is secret”” with inviting ease and the right details, focusing particularly on the society of the children who live there. Dewey seems comfortable with her own oddness (she’s small for her age, slightly lame, and loves inventing mechanical gizmos) and serves as something of an example to another girl, Suze, who has been trying desperately to fit in.” — Horn Book Magazine, December 2006

Connections

Pair this book with a Newbery Honor winning nonfiction book about the making of the atomic bomb:

       Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous        Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, ISBN 9781596434875

Read the sequel to this book:

       White Sands, Red Menace ISBN 9780142415184

Read the poem “No More Hiroshima” by James Kirkup, available in              One Hundred Years of Poetry for Children, ISBN 9780192761903

Explore the following websites to learn more”

Check with local colleges and universities to see if there is an expert on this period in history who can come and speak to students

Pair this novel with primary source documents for a history lesson. Documents can be found at     http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/

Visit the website of a Japanese museum in Nagasaki to compare and contrast how American and Japanese museums treat the subject.     http://nagasakipeace.jp/index_e.html

Image from Google Books, accessed April 1, 2015. Cover art property of Viking and Ellen Klages.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Yelchin, Eugene. Breaking Stalin’s Nose. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013. ISBN 9780805092165

Plot Summary

Sasha Zaichik is a devoted, upstanding Russian citizen who is eager to become a Young Pioneer and devote himself to his country. He looks up to his father, who he thinks is a strong man and a perfect example of a good Russian man. Then, Sasha’s father is arrested and imprisoned and an incident at school threatens to keep Sasha from joining the Young Pioneers. Sasha must decide what he truly believes and if he even wants to be a Young Pioneer at all anymore.

Critical Analysis

Yelchin’s main character, Sasha, has hopes and dreams that every child can relate to. He looks up to and adores his father, misses his mother who has passed away, eagerly awaits being old enough to join a youth group, and gets scared when he does something he knows he shouldn’t. The only difference is that Sasha is doing all this in Communist Russia during Stalin’s reign. He dutifully tows the party line of state first and readers get a glimpse into life in a Communist state when they hear how children are encouraged to turn in their own parents, how several families share one living space, and how a class of children votes on whether or not to send a classmate to the principal’s office.

This novel is based on actual events in the author’s life, so it is an accurate depiction of what it was like to be a child in Russia at that time. The attitudes and political climate are presented plainly and frankly, but in a simple enough way that children can understand. They are not, however watered down at all. Even an adult reader still feels the oppressive weight of the communist regime while reading about their practices and rules. The story takes place over the course of two days, but still moves along at a good pace and keeps the reader entertained and engaged throughout.

Sasha’s story takes place in Moscow with three main locations: his and his father’s communal apartment, his school, and the government building in Lubyanka Square where his father works. The locations are described in such detail that the reader can imagine herself as one of Sasha’s classmates and feel the bitter cold as Sasha stands in line outside the government building waiting to see his father.

The universal theme of right versus wrong runs throughout Yelchin’s book, but it is colored through the lens of communism. Sasha ultimately knows the difference between right and wrong, but a young lifetime of being taught communist views and attitudes clouds his judgement and causes him to question his decisions and views. A theme of patriotism is also present in this story. Sasha, his classmates, his teachers, and his neighbors are fiercely loyal to their government, but the reader gets a sense that for some of the characters, that loyalty is born out of fear rather than pride. For those characters that have a true pride and commitment to their country, the reader feels pity. For example, Sasha describes his communal apartment in which 48 people share a kitchen and one commode, as if he is proud of it and could want nothing better. He also tells about how his neighbor gave him a treat, a carrot, and he comments that he wouldn’t be surprised if kids in capitalist countries had never even tasted a carrot.  These two examples show the severity of communism and how the people were blinded to certain realities.

Yelchin captures the authoritative demeanor and totalitarian rule of Communist Russia through his writing, dialogue of his characters, and his illustrations. The characters speak in short, didactic, and harsh sentences, alluding to the severity of the time period. His graphite on paper illustrations create sinister shadows and a stern-faced principal. Yelchin also uses shading and lines to show the strength of some characters and the meekness of others. All these elements come together to create a suspenseful, engaging story about a boy who runs into trouble and begins to questions his ideals as a result. The story could very well be moved to another time and place and still be entertaining, but the Communist element is what really helps this work stand out. Not only is it a good story, it teaches the reader about a time and place in history that is not much discussed these days.

There are no sources cited, nor is there any evidence of research for this book, but the author lived in Russia during this time period, so the reader has reasonable assurance that the information is accurate. There is an author’s note at the end that is worth the time. In it, Yelchin explains his motives for writing the book and explains that the main character and his circumstances are based on Yelchin’s own childhood. Yelchin does a good job of balancing the fictional narrative with facts about the time period and setting.

It is hard to choose words to describe my impression of this book because the book deals with such a heavy topic. I felt a slight weight on my chest as I read this book, but when I was done, I was glad that I had read it. It was a good book with a good story that sheds light on a dark time in history.

Review Excerpts

Newbery Medal

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2012 )

American Library Association Notable Books for Children

( WON AWARD in 2012 )

California Book Awards

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2011 )

Judy Lopez Memorial Award (Women’s National Book Association, Los Angeles Chapter)

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2012 )

Young Hoosier Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2014 )

“ …this brief novel gets at the heart of a society that asks its citizens, even its children, to report on relatives and friends. Appropriately menacing illustrations by first-time novelist Yelchin add a sinister tone. Although the story takes place over just two days, it is well paced, peeling off the layers of Sasha’s naivet to show him — and young readers — the cynicism of the system he trusted.” — Horn Book Magazine, September 2011

“Yelchin’s illustrations are filled with pathos and breathe life into the narrative. Though there are many two-dimensional characters, mostly among the adults, Sasha and Borka are more fully drawn. While the story was obviously created to shed light on the oppression, secrecy, and atrocities under Stalin’s regime, Sasha’s emotions ring true. This is an absorbing, quick, multilayered read in which predictable and surprising events intertwine.” — School Library Journal, August 2011

“Picture-book illustrator Yelchin was raised in post-Stalinist Russia in the 1960s and left the country when he was 27. In his first novel, he uses the child’s innocent viewpoint to dramatize the heartbreaking secrets and lies, and graphite illustrations show the terrifying arrests of enemies of the people, even children, like Sasha’s classmate.” — Booklist, October 2011

Connections

Read another historical fiction book about Communist Russia by Yelchin:

         Arcady’s Goal, ISBN 9780805098440

Read an autobiography of a girl from another Communist country, China, and compare and contrast the living conditions.

         Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang,          ISBN 9780064492805

Arrange an author visit (either in person or via the internet) with Yelchin and have him talk with students about his time in Russia and about the writing of the book.

Create a reader’s theater script for the book with students and then have them perform the script

Create a slideshow of photographs: the places in the book then and now, and share with students

Use Google Earth to explore present day Moscow

Image from Amazon.com, accessed April 1, 2015. Cover art copyright 2011 by Eugene Yelchin

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Hitler Youth: growing up in Hitler’s Shadow. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2005. ISBN 0439353793

Plot Summary

This book follows the lives of a group of young people in Germany from the time just before Adolf Hitler rose to power through the end of World War II. Susan Campbell Bartoletti tells the story of the Holocaust through the experiences and memories of children and teenagers who were members of the Hitler Youth organization and some who spoke out against the atrocities being committed.

Critical Analysis

Susan Campbell Bartoletti has published a number of informational books that have been well-reviewed and well-received and Hitler Youth is no exception. There is no doubt that Bartoletti’s account of a handful of youth in Hitler’s Germany is accurate. At the end of the book, there is an author’s note that explains Bartoletti’s two year research journey that spanned two continents. She began in Washington D.C. in the National Archives, Library of Congress, and the Holocaust Museum. She then traveled to Germany where she visited several different cities and sites relevant to the Nazi reign. Bartoletti sought out former Hitler Youth and Jewish people who were children and teens during the time period. She conducted interviews in person, over the phone, and through e-mail. Bartoletti also collected photographs from her research in government archives and from the personal albums of people with whom she met. All of these sources and photographs are meticulously documented at the end of the book and are referenced within the text. Every quote in the text is referenced and cited in the volume. Bartoletti does an excellent job of presenting the facts without bias. She states the opinions and views of the people she writes about, but there is always a source material to back up these views. In the few instances where Bartoletti shares the general opinion of the public at that time in history, she takes care to advise the reader that it is an opinion. The audio version of this book includes the author’s note in which she explains her research process but lacks the quote sources section and the bibliography section. The listener can still deduce though that Bartoletti’s work is accurate.

This book about the youth of Germany and the Hitler Youth organization follows the development of the organization and the progression of the war and the acts of violence in chronological order. It begins with a foreword explaining the fact that the book is not about Adolf Hitler, but about the youth in Germany during his reign. Each subsequent chapter deals with a different period of growth and action for the Hitler Youth organization. A table of contents is present at the beginning of the book and is very easy to read and understand. There are also clearly marked page numbers throughout the book to make it easier on readers to find the information they need. There are clear titles and labels at the beginning of each chapter as well. At the end of the book, there is a complete index and a timeline of the Hitler Youth to assist readers and enhance the reading experience. The audio version of this book lacks the assistance of the table of contents, index, timeline, and page numbers, but is still organized in a logical manner and flows well.

The book itself is a little physically daunting, measuring an approximate ten and a half inches square and close to one inch thick with one hundred seventy-six pages. The generous interspersing of photographs and maps throughout the text however, make it accessible. A photograph on the cover grabs readers’ interest from the start. A young boy with flawless alabaster skin stares into the camera as strong hands grasp his shoulders. The reader cannot see the entire face that belongs to those hands, but the tell-tale mustache says it all: Hitler. Each photograph contained in the book evokes the same deep, raw emotions and enhances the stories of the characters shared in the book. The pictures and their accompanying captions are present on almost every page, but are never intrusive or overwhelming. Bartoletti strikes an elegant balance between text and photograph that conveys the seriousness of the subject matter as well as the reality that her characters were merely children while taking part in the horrible atrocities being committed. The audio version of the book is very intoxicating to listen to. The narrator has the hint of a German accent and pronounces names, places, and German words flawlessly.

Accounts of the Holocaust are often hard to read, and while there is definitely a somber mood throughout Bartoletti’s book, she tells the stories of these twelve young people in such a beautiful way that the reader begins to identify with parts of them and begins to feel sorry for them. By the end of the book, the reader has spent so much time with these twelve, it feels like parting ways with family. Through the author’s note and through the text of the book itself, Bartoletti makes it clear that she is passionate about sharing the lives and stories of the young people of Hitler’s Germany. This fresh look at the Holocaust and Nazi Germany shares a wealth of information without inundating the reader all while encouraging the reader to look at this time in history from a different perspective. The reader is left to ponder the culpability of the Hitler Youth and to ache over the innocence lost. Bartoletti’s words also make the reader want to learn more about each young person and their activities during the war, especially the resistance movement of two siblings in the group.

Hitler Youth is a deeply interesting account of twelve young people and their role in the Holocaust. The people Bartoletti chose to write about are intriguing personalities and the author does a great job of helping her reader to identify with them. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio version of this book, but I was also glad that I checked out the print version so that I could take advantage of all the access features and enjoy the photographs.

Review Excerpts

Parents’ Choice Gold Seal Award

( WON AWARD in 2005 )

School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

( WON AWARD in 2005 )

American Library Association Notable Books for Children

( WON AWARD in 2006 )

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2006 )

Carolyn W. Field Award (Pennsylvania Library Association)

( WON AWARD in 2006 )

Virginia Reader’s Choice Awards

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Great Lakes’ Great Books Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Newbery Medal

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2006 ) (HONOR BOOK)

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2006 )  (HONOR BOOK)

“The large period photographs are a primary component and they include Nazi propaganda showing happy and healthy teens as well as the reality of concentration camps and young people with large guns. The final chapter superbly summarizes the weighty significance of this part of the 20th century and challenges young readers to prevent history from repeating itself. Bartoletti lets many of the subjects’ words, emotions, and deeds speak for themselves, bringing them together clearly to tell this story unlike anyone else has.” –Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL in School Library Journal, June 2005

“Narrator Kathrin Kana possesses an excellent German pronunciation, which emphasizes the authenticity of people and places for listeners… In addition, Bartoletti reads a foreword and an author’s note about her work.” — Publisher’s Weekly, March 2007 (about audio version)

“The handsome book design, with black-and-white historical photos on every double-page spread, will draw in readers and help spark deep discussion, which will extend beyond the Holocaust curriculum. The extensive back matter is a part of the gripping narrative.” — Booklist, April 2005

“While many books for the young have chronicled the experiences of Hitler’s victims, far fewer have looked at the impact of Nazi ideology on those who subscribed to it. As Bartoletti writes in the preface to this provocative account, “”Hitler counted on Germany’s boys and girls.”” — Horn Book Magazine, May 2005

Connections

Play the audio version of the book and have students follow along in the print edition. Get as many copies as possible and have students share books where necessary.

Pair with a historical fiction book by Bartoletti which takes a closer look at one of the young men in this book:

         -The Boy Who Dared, ISBN 9780439680134

Use the book A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika by Alfons Heck, one of the Hitler Youth members in Bartoletti’s book. While this is an adult book, excerpts from it can be used to highlight sections of Bartoletti’s title that feature Heck.

Take students to a Holocaust museum, if you are in an area that has one.

Locate a local Holocaust survivor, or former Hitler Youth member to come and speak.

Show excerpts from the documentary, “Heil Hitler: Confessions of a Hitler Youth”, which can be found on youTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ6umV7CVY8

Have students pick one of the young people in the book and create a collage or a facebook page based on what they have learned about that person.

Image from Amazon.com, accessed March 22, 2015. Cover art property of Scholastic, Inc.

Bones by Steve Jenkins

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Jenkins, Steve. Bones: Skeletons and How They Work. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. ISBN 9780545046510

Plot Summary

Steve Jenkins introduces the bones of the human skeleton, tells how they work, and compares them to the bones and skeletons of several different animals. Some of the bones are shown in actual size.

Critical Analysis

Jenkins’ book about bones and how they work contains no bibliography, notes, or anything else indicating the origin of the information used. The sole indicator of credibility is a thank you to the collection manager of the Department of Mammology at the American Museum of Natural History for consulting on the book. The fact that this authority on mammal information consulted on the book and signed off on it gives the reader reasonable assurance that the book is indeed accurate. In addition, an adult such as a parent, teacher, or librarian with a basic anatomy and biology education can deduce for him or herself that the book is accurate overall. Lastly, the proliferation and award-winning reputation of Steve Jenkins’ non-fiction picture books tells the reader they can rely on the information provided.

The book is organized well with explanatory text at the beginning of each section followed by several illustrations as examples. The illustrations are clearly labeled and the reader does not need to guess where he or she should go next.  The book starts out with a general overview of bones and then proceeds to break down the skeleton into smaller sections. Within each section (arm/hand, leg/feet, support bones, protection bones, heads, bone connections, etc.), Jenkins provides illustrations of several different species, clearly labeled, to compare that particular category of bone. There is no table of contents or index, but there is a title heading of sorts at the beginning of each new section of the skeleton that helps readers orient themselves.

The seemingly smiling human skull on a red background that fills almost the entire cover hooks readers upon first sight. Then the bone colored cut paper collage illustrations on bold, solid colored backgrounds make the book inviting and readable. The random, interesting facts keep the reader engaged and entertained throughout. The illustrations perfectly complement the text and make the subject clear and easy to understand.

Jenkins uses his words effectively to get to the point and captivate readers with random bits of trivia about bones and how they work. He presents the information in a direct manner, using simple language that is not too watered down or too advanced for children to understand. The zeal with which Jenkins writes each book and the volume of informational books he has written demonstrate his passion for sharing information with children. This book from Jenkins provides children with a good amount of solid information, but also allows children to begin exploring this subject more and encourages them to seek more information on the topic as well as to read more of Jenkins’ titles.

This is a great book to share with children who are learning about the skeletal system for the first time in school or for children who are simply interested in bones and how they work. The bold colors and illustrations really help to make the book stand out on a shelf.

Review Excerpts

American Library Association Notable Books for Children

( WON AWARD in 2011 )

Land of Enchantment Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2012 )

Prairie Pasque Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2012 )

“Bones of all shapes and sizes glow like jewels on richly colored backgrounds, allowing readers to pore over each and every nuance of Jenkins’s intricate cut-paper illustrations.” — Horn Book Magazine, 2010

“But the clean design of the intricate skeletons set against solid background colors is striking and provides a wonderful visual introduction to what keeps us all upright. Thoughtful back matter probes deeper into bone-related science concepts.” — Booklist, May 2010

“From the life-sized human skull grinning out from the brick-red cover to a complete skeleton waving goodbye from a gatefold late in the book, bones are given an entertaining and fresh treatment.” — School Library Journal, July 2010

Connections

Read other nonfiction books by Steve Jenkins:

  • Actual Size, ISBN 9780547512914
  • What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, ISBN 9780618997138
  • Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World, ISBN 9780547959078

Read other books about bones and skeletons:

  • Dem Bones (Avenues) by Bob Barner, ISBN 9780811808279
  • Me and My Amazing Body by Joan Sweeney, ISBN 9780375806230

Have students work together to complete a skeleton floor puzzle

Let students pick a favorite animal and have them compare and contrast the bones of that animal and themselves (a human)

Link the book to science lessons by having students label the skeletons of a human and several animals

Image from Amazon.com, accessed March 18, 2015. Cover art by Steve Jenkins.

Drawing From Memory by Allen Say

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Say, Allen. Drawing From Memory. New York: Scholastic Press, 2011. ISBN 9780545176866

Plot Summary

Allen Say recounts the events of his life that led him to be the artist and author he is today. He takes readers through his parents’ divorce, his moving into an apartment at age 12 to study, how he apprentices himself to a famous Japanese cartoonist, the subsequent training and relationship with that mentor, and finally his leaving Japan for the United States. The main focus of the work is the relationship between Say and his mentor, Noro Shinpei.

Critical Analysis

In this autobiographical picture book meets graphic novel, Allen Say includes information about Japan after World War II, such as the fact that U.S. troops had occupied Japan by his eighth birthday on August 28, 1945. A quick internet search on the history of Occupied Japan reveals that this is accurate. In addition, the rest of the information included about Say, his family, his mentor and fellow mentee, and his comings and goings can be counted as accurate since Say himself experienced them and then put them into this book.

The organization of this book leaves a little to be desired. One review referred to it as a collage style, but the combination of photographs, drawings, and sketches results in a cluttered landscape. Some illustrations are full-page, some take up a small corner of a page. Some of the illustrations are accompanied by a paragraph of text while some merely boast a small caption. The book follows a clear sequence in that Say starts with his birth and moves chronologically through his life, but each page is not clearly sequenced. Some of the pages are laid out very logically and are easy to follow, but others are jumbled and leave the reader to guess which spot he or she should jump to next. There are no reference aids to assist readers in locating information, but then again, the book does read more like a graphic novel, so it is not entirely surprising that there is no table of contents, index, etc. There is a four and a half page author’s note at the end of the book that provides more background information, photographs, and a back story for why Say wrote this particular book. The note is a welcome addition to the main text of the book and leaves the reader with a deeper look into Say’s life.

Cartoon drawings, sketches, photographs, and the use of both color and black and white make this book very attractive and inviting to a reader who picks up the title and flips through it. If the reader can pick the correct path through each page, the information is interesting and the different types of illustrations, which include drawings and sketches by Say as well as Noro Shinpei and photographs from Say’s personal collection, highlight and enhance the text beautifully. The design elements communicate the subject matter clearly and effectively, but those elements suffer from the poor organization of the book.

Say’s style shines through this work and readers also have a chance to see where that style began and to watch some of it’s progression and development. It is clear from the narrative as well as from Say’s sketches and cartoon drawings that he is passionate about his work as an artist. The language of this book is suitable for the age range (10 years and up) without being too childish. This book could also be enjoyed by adults. Say ends the book with his departure for the United States, leaving readers eager to learn what happened in his life in the years since he left Japan and to find out more about him by reading more of his books. Say is able to communicate important events and times in his life to readers without overwhelming them.

This account of Allen Say’s time in Japan and his relationship with his mentor, Noro Shinpei, is an enjoyable read with great illustrations and pictures and an intriguing story. In my opinion, the only drawback is the poor organization.

Review Excerpts

School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

( WON AWARD in 2011 )

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2012 )

American Library Association Notable Books for Children

( WON AWARD in 2012 )

“Say tells the story of his decidedly nontraditional Japanese upbringing, supplying watercolors, photographs, and humorous sketches to create a vivid record of life in postwar Tokyo…As the story of a young artist’s coming of age, Say’s account is complex, poignant, and unfailingly honest.” — Publisher’s Weekly, June 2011

“This rendering of Say’s adolescence–a coming-of-age story within the context of a long life and vocation–takes the form of an album, with text, photographs, drawings, and paintings.” — Horn Book Guide, January 2012

“This captivating and seamless melding of words and brilliant pictures provides the lens of memory and inspiration.” — School Library Journal, December 2011

Connections

Read some of Allen Say’s books:

  • Grandfather’s Journey, ISBN 9780547076805
  • Emma’s Rug, ISBN 9780618335237
  • Tea With Milk, ISBN 9780547237473

Have students draw a cartoon sequence of a series of events in their own life.

Have students make a poster or bookmark advertising Allen Say.

Find a local cartoonist and have them speak to the class. Then compare their story of becoming an artist with that of Allen Say’s.

Allen Say wanted to be a cartoonist, so he sought out a mentor. Have students identify something they would like to do and then draw a concept map or cartoon sequence of the steps they would take in order to achieve the goal.

Image from Amazon.com, accessed February 18, 2015. Cover art by Allen Say.