Marley's Ghost(from galley)
author: David Levithan
audience: 7th and up
What an interesting idea... following the format of the well known tale by Dickens. But, the tone is too preachy for my taste and after a while, the familar format just becomes tedious. Too bad.
Margaux with an X
author: Ron Koertge
audience: 7th and up
The whole book is SUCH a delight.. until... the very last couple of pages. I know, it is incredibly strange to say that a book dealing with such heavy duty topics of child abuse and theft, violence and parental neglect (and betrayal,) gambling and fatal illness can be "delightful." But Koertge's use of language and the way he constructed the characters just make this reader "happy" about the artistry shown on each page. Unfortunately... I was bothered by the final resolution... it seems that Margaux has left the Fox's den into a Bear's cave and is happy about the change... maybe believing that she can somehow tame this new beast in her life... (I was reading it for the Fairy Tale institute so it was hard to not see this as a Beauty and the Beast story...) The last few pages just seem too slight and too swift for such an otherwise finely crafted tale...
The Little Gentleman
author: Philippa Pearce
What a gem! It might be that I was just in the right mood when reading it... but it is simply charming, in a most "sensible" way. The dry humorous tone mixed with such tenderness of Bet's friendships with both the Mole and Mr. Franklin absolutely transfixed me. I couldn't pull myself out of this make-believe world. David is almost done reading it to Lily and they both agree that this is quite a tale!
Ties that Bind, Ties that Break
author: Lensey Namioka
Another story featuring Foot Binding for children... I liked the tone of the story. It felt like the type of writings that I read IN CHINESE when I was young... mellow, quiet, some intense moments.. but there is never a strong story arch.
author: Glen Huser
audience: 7th and up
I like the assortment of characters and their quirkiness. But certain elements did not work completely for me -- maybe there are too many of these characters, from Travis himself, his mother, to Chantelle's mother and brothers... and somehow the quirkiness and almost humourous qualities in the story does not blend naturally with the devastating tortures from bullies that Travis has to suffer through. Maybe there are simply too many elements: theater, music, bullying, friendship, abuse, romance (including Travis' budding homosexual feelings,) physical disability, poverty, family secrets..
I felt "burdened" reading it -- but not quite transported into that world. (Compare to How I Live Now which is also dealing with quite a few heavy issues but presented through the prism of a very strong singular focus that simply works.) Maybe Travis the narrator who is supposed to be living those moments is too strong, too sure of himself, and too aware of his own feelings to match Travis the character who is vulnerable and unsure of himself -- although both are similarly intelligent.
Black and White
author: Paul Volponi
audience: 7th and up
I'll say that my strongest reaction to this title is "appreciation"= appreciating the author's choice of subject matters (friendship/crime/racial tension/sportsmanship, etc.); appreciating the honesty in presenting these matters; appreciating the completeness of the story, nothing left unresolved although there are also no easy solutions; I appreciate how the boys' futures are left open and how Marcus and Eddie do have different personalities and views on the same events.But I was not mesmerized or taken by the story. There was always an awareness that these characters and events are made up to echo reality and to teach a lesson -- well done, nonetheless! I can see many young adult readers loving this book.
I Was a Rat
author: Philip Pullman
This is such a great read, and a great read-aloud. Pullman is such a skilled storyteller -- just the right combination of dark and light, heart-aches and comfort, advanture and mystery, and of course, a final, satisfying solution. The language just flows and it made me wonder how some people GET the cadence of language and put it down on paper so effortlessly (seemingly, of course) to create their own unique brand of tones, and yet others simply cannot make words and sentences do their bidding.
W Juliet (vol. 5)
audience: 5th and up
Just found out that the "W" means "double." Double Juliet... now, it finally makes sense. Same funny, romantic, dramatic -- this volume seems faster-paced. Really enjoyed it.
How I Live Now
author: Meg Rosoff
audience: 7th and up
This book has one of the most honest teen voices I've ever read. However, I almost did not give it a FIVE-pen mark, because the harrowing nature of the story - it is a story about WAR and its many many horrors. It is also a story about LOVE and its many many powers. The way Rosoff writes is simply magical -- the descriptions, dialogs, scenes, actions -- all flow and blend together organically. I will not hesitate to give this to any teen reader who is ready to receive a powerful punch in the (emotional) guts. Its Printz Award for best YA book of the year is well deserved!
author: Linda Sue Park
I admire Park's straightforward treatment of the subtle racial tension between one Korean American and one African American characters, and the honest reaction of the main character's discomfort with such situation. It rings true and feels brave!The dialogs between the main character and the author serve as chapter breaks and challenge the readers to think more deeply about the deliberate nature of fiction writing -- and some surprising turns and twists despite the deliberate planning, too.Although the 7th graders in the story seem a little young (6th? even 5th?), the friendship is warm and the conflicts are strong enough to hold readers' attention.
author: Donna Jo Napoli
audience: 6th and up
Reading this retelling of the "Chinese Cinderella" story was a painful experience for me. I could not even tell if it is well told, as stories go, because I was so distracted by all the inaccuracies in Napoli's portrayal of Chinese cultures, customs, characters, and philosophies.Here are some examples of my understanding that does not coincide with Napoli's text. Granted, I need to do more research and see if maybe my understanding is not universally correct.. A second wife of a man is not the "Stepmother" of his children by the other wife. She is the "auntie-mom" or "second mother." A stepmother is the wife of a second, separate marriage after the first wife is no longer around.
Napoli's misunderstanding of Chinese words is glaringly annoying: A Carp (li 3rd tone) and the word Advantage (li the 4th tone) look and sound completely differently -- yes, in English, you see them both sound as "Li" -- but their tones are different, and thus a Chinese speaker will not confuse these two at all. There is no way that Xing Xing (the main character) can paint/carve one of these two words to set up a "pun" in the ceramics she made.And would a Chinese native speaker say something like this, "'Ming means 'bright' with a second tone. The word for 'destiny' sounds the same but with another tone."????? If they are speaking Chinese (which they are supposed to be doing in the story,) there will be no need to point out the tonal differences because by SPEAKING them, the different tones are already aparent.
Also -- homophones are the most common in Chinese language. All the following are of the same pronunciation (and it's only 5 out of a possible 20 or so homophones): Ming = bright, Ming = name, Miing = bird call, Ming = rememberance, Ming = hell/world of the spirits. Yes, the Chinese do have word plays, and much of such plays relies on the confusion of homophones... but, the way Napoli wrote it, you can just tell that she does not really GET this language. This is the same throughout the book: reading it feels like reading a Chinese History 101 text, with pieces of a tale stuck uncomfortably on the margins.A most painful experience...