Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Module 15: Censorship Issues

I've read a lot of banned books, it turns out. Although I can recognize for many books why some people would have a problem with it, I feel that people overall are too sensitive. No one forces you to read a book with sensitive issues in it (I don't count the use of magic a sensitive issue. I think it's ridiculous to challenge fantasy). Most, if not all, schools will provide an alternative for controversial books. If you don't know about an element of the book or aren't sure about it, then perhaps you should at least read the reviews on Amazon before you check it out or buy it. That's just my two cents.

I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, the story of 15-year-old Charlie. The book is written in Charlie's letters to an unknown person and start with his entry into high school, not long after his best friend committed suicide. Charlie, a natural wallflower, finds friends in a group of older kids, and he is introduced to drugs, sex, and love.

The book has been challenged on the basis of drug content, sexually explicit content, homosexuality, suicide, and the inappropriateness for the age group. While it is an extremely difficult book to digest, it is extremely valuable to teens whose feelings are reflected by Charlie's. I read an article ( where Chbosky said he learned of two kids who decided not to commit suicide because of this book. It is heart-wrenching to see Charlie overcome his psychological issues and get to a place where he can be happy, and there are too many kids who can relate to that feeling and can possibly be helped by this story.

"Grounded in a specific time (the 1991/92 academic year) and place (western Pennsylvania), Charlie, his friends, and family are palpably real. His grandfather is an embarrassing bigot; his new best friend is gay; his sister must resolve her pregnancy without her boyfriends support. Charlie develops from an observant wallflower into his own man of action, and, with the help of a therapist, he begins to face the sexual abuse he had experienced as a child. This report on his life will engage teen readers for years to come." -- School Library Journal

"Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angstthe right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlies no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous friend, Charlies letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlies family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when hes gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature." -- Kirkus Reviews

Ideally, I would like to facilitate an open discussion between teens and parents on the subjects talked about in the book. This would require all participants to have an open mind and be honest and willing to talk. If I felt that would not be possible, a second idea would be to have both teens and parents anonymously write what they like about the book or the concerns they have with it and illustrate it in the style of Postsecret. ( I would display their postcards during Banned Books Week.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Module 14: Poetry and Story Collections

I have to rave about one of the books I read for this module and the author. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones is so excellent! I had never read a book written in verse before (not counting The Canturbury Tales), and I think Sones does an excellent job of not only developing her characters but also creating a world for her book that writing in a normal style would ruin the mood.

Now, to actually tell what the book is about.... Sophie is a normal teenage girl. Her thoughts and feelings, even the embarrassing ones, are told with heartfelt honesty as she chronicles her experiences with her first love, the rebound she thinks she loves, and the boy she's really meant to be with. I don't want to give anything away, but I have to say that if I were a teenager, I think I'd want to be Sophie's best friend.

"Drawing on the recognizable cadences of teenage speech, Sones (Stop Pretending) poignantly captures the tingle and heartache of being young and boy-crazy. The author keenly portrays ninth-grader Sophie's trajectory of lusty crushes and disillusionment whether she is gazing at Dylan's "smoldery dark eyes" or dancing with a mystery man to music that "is slow/ and/ saxophony." Best friends Rachel and Grace provide anchoring friendships for Sophie as she navigates her home life as an only child with a distant father and a soap opera-devotee mother whose "shrieking whips around inside me/ like a tornado." Some images of adolescent changes carry a more contemporary cachet, "I got my period I prefer/ to think of it as/ rebooting my ovarian operating system," others are consciously cliched, "my molehills/ have turned into mountains/ overnight" this just makes Sophie seem that much more familiar. With its separate free verse poems woven into a fluid and coherent narrative with a satisfying ending, Sophie's honest and earthy story feels destined to captivate a young female audience, avid and reluctant readers alike." -- Publishers Weekly

"In a fast, funny, touching book, Sones uses the same simple, first-person poetic narrative she used in Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy (1999), but this story isn't about family anguish; it's about the joy and surprise of falling in love. Sophie, 14, thinks she has a crush on handsome Dylan, but she discovers that her most passionate feelings are for someone totally unexpected, a boy who makes her laugh and shows her how to look at the world. And when they kiss, every cell in her body is on fire. Meanwhile, she fights with her mom--who fights with Sophie's dad--and she refuses to wear a pink flowered dress to the school dance, secretly changing into a slinky black outfit with the help of her girlfriends. Their girl talk is hilarious and irreverent in the style of Naylor's Alice books. The poetry is never pretentious or difficult; on the contrary, the very short, sometimes rhythmic lines make each page fly. Sophie's voice is colloquial and intimate, and the discoveries she makes are beyond formula, even while they are as sweetly romantic as popular song. A natural for reluctant readers, this will also attract young people who love to read." -- Booklist

I would definitely recommend this to girls who are reluctant readers because the free verse style makes the book much less overwhelming. I would also use this book as a selection in a girls-only book club, or even a mother-daughter book club.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Module 13: Graphic Novels and Series Books

I'm not thrilled with either graphic novels or commercial series (not counting Nancy Drew because she holds a special place in my heart). I chose one because there is a movie coming out soon based on the second of the series, though I read the first. I read Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan.

When a freak show comes to town, Steve is excited to go, but narrator Darren is hesitant, and with good reason. Terrifying things happen at the freak show, but arachnid-obsessed Darren goes back to steal a performing spider from a man Steve thinks is a vampire. It turns out, Steve is right. When the deadly spider bites Steve, Darren is given a choice. He can either let Steve die or become a vampire himself and save him.

This book was only so-so. Compared to all of the other vampire books out there, I wouldn't recommend this book above others. It was a quick read though, so reluctant readers of an appropriate age might find it worthwhile. I do think that the book is gratuitously gruesome, but I'm sure that appeals to middle school boys. I was wondering if it was just me that didn't particularly care for the book, and a few reviews on made me think that perhaps the problem is that the first book sets up the series. It wouldn't be the first series I've read where the first book was much worse than the subsequent books. Maybe after reading the next book, The Vampire's Assistant, I would find that I could recommend the series, but based on this book alone, I cannot.

"This volume is neither as well written nor as compulsively readable as the "Harry Potter" books (Scholastic), though surely J. K. Rowling's endorsement on the cover will win it a few fans. Most of the characters aren't developed much beyond their names and a brief description. The slowness of the plot in the beginning might turn some readers off, but once the supernatural enters, they will be hooked. The fun here is in the details and in the uniqueness of the non-evil vampire monster. Several volumes of the series are already out in England, and the movie rights have already been purchased, ensuring that this title and probably its sequels will be in demand." -- School Library Journal

"The unresolved ending will leave readers begging for more. The gripping plot moves forward at a lightning pace, and Darren's fascination with the grotesque will ring true for many. Though originally published in England, there are no off-putting Briticisms, just a rip-roaring story full of oddities, low-key horror, and occasional, unexpected poignancy." -- Booklist

If I did decide to recommend the series, I would display the books when the movie The Vampire's Assistant comes out on DVD or is shown in the library.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Module 12: Biography and Autobiography

I find that young adult biographies are rather hit or miss. I realize that subject's issues can't be described in a young adult book as in an adult biography, but I don't think that is an excuse to dumb down the book. Kids are smart, and they don't like to be patronized. That is why I found I Am Scout: A Biography of Harper Lee  by Charles Shields to be so refreshing.

The book starts with Lee's childhood and how she became a writer. She grew up next door to Truman Capote (In Cold Blood), and they wrote together on the same typewriter until he moved away. It goes through her college years, then finally to when she moved to New York and started To Kill a Mockingbird. It also gives a detailed account of her involvement in helping Capote research and write In Cold Blood, though Capote himself never fully acknowledged her hard work.

I found the book extremely interesting, and I couldn't put it down. Shields wrote the book as a young adult version of Mockingbird, his adult biography of Harper Lee. However, because I Am Scout seems like it is written for an all ages audience, I do wonder what was left out of Mockingbird. Shields is forthright about Capote's homosexuality and Lee's mother's mental illness in I Am Scout, and he seems careful not to attach any taboo to either issue.

"The author's clear and appealing style is much the same as in Mockingbird and this adaptation appears to have been not so much edited as streamlined. Photos include Lee, her family, friends, and the famous Hollywood actors who made the film version of her book. I Am Scout moves along at a good pace, and Lee's quiet life makes for a surprisingly fascinating read. Perhaps because Shields is pulling from so many sources, the occasional turn of phrase comes across as oddly formal, but generally, this is an immensely readable, intriguing tale of a quiet, private author." -- School Library Journal

"The text does an excellent job of conveying the facets of Lee's personality that made her a writing success, including her honesty, tenacity, sense of justice and adaptability of interpersonal style. In addition to detailing her writing of To Kill a Mockingbird, Shields demonstrates Lee's critical role in the creation of longtime friend Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Prior knowledge of both works is not absolutely necessary, thanks to an absorbing and easy narrative style; still, readers may not pick this up unless they already have an interest in Lee's life." -- Kirkus Reviews

My idea for using the book in a library would be to promote one classic per month as well as the resources that are linked to the classic. I would promote To Kill a Mockingbird in July because that is when it was published, and I would include I Am Scout in my promotion.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Module 11: Informational Books

Sometimes I think informational books for kids are more interesting than the ones for adults. One example of this would be Actual Size by Steve Jenkins.

In Actual Size, Jenkins uses torn paper collages to create animals in their actual size. For some animals, like termites and the dwarf goby fish, it is amazing to see how tiny they actually are. However, page size doesn't keep Jenkins from portraying large animals, such as the giant octopus whose 12-inch diameter eye is the only thing that would fit on the page spread. Jenkins provides a brief description of the animal on its page and provides further description of all of the animals pictured in the back of the book.

This book is excellent for younger readers. Most kids will never see many of the animals pictured in the book, but Jenkins allows them to have a personal look and make comparisons between the size of the animal and themselves. For example, I don't think anyone, adult or child, could resist putting their hand up to the gorilla's on the cover.

"Mixing deceptive simplicity with absolute clarity, this beautiful book is an enticing way to introduce children to the glorious diversity of our natural world, or to illustrate to budding scientists the importance of comparison, measurement, observation, and record keeping. A thoroughly engaging read-aloud and a must-have for any collection." -- School Library Journal

"As in many of his previous bestiaries, including the Caldecott Honor Book What Can You Do with a Tail Like This? (2003), Jenkins' newest presents a parade of cut-paper animals, each accompanied by a pithy line of text. The difference here is the scale: everything appears at actual size. Jenkins' masterstroke, though, is his inclusion of creatures both great and small, so while petite critters fit comfortably within 12-by-20-inch spreads, larger ones appear as evocatively cropped bits and pieces: a gorilla's massive hand; a Siberian tiger's snarling mug; the unnerving, basketball-size eye of a giant squid. The resulting juxtapositions will leave children marveling at one species' daintiness, then shuddering as they mentally sketch in the unseen portions of more formidable beasts. Jenkins' artwork is gorgeous (a gatefold of a frog in midleap is particularly memorable), and, at the end of the book, thumbnail images of the featured animals paired with information about habitat and behavior put the piquant visuals into a broader context. An unusual, unusually effective tool for connecting children to nature's astonishing variety." -- Booklist

A great idea for using this book in the library would be to tell kids they were going to make torn paper collages like Jenkins does, but the actual size picture they'll be will be of themselves. They would help trace outlines of each other, then use torn paper to fill in their faces, skin, and clothes.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Module 10: Historical Fiction

As an adult, my dose of historical fiction usually comes in the form of romance novels. I find that for someone who's fairly ambivalent toward historical events, the detail that most books include bogs down the plot to the point I'd rather put the book down than finish reading it. The same is true for children's historical fiction, and I didn't care for some in this module. I started reading and didn't make it past page 5. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, however, is one I read to the end and really enjoyed.

Moose Flanagan is a 12-year-old in 1935. His sister, Natalie, is autistic, though there is no such description back then or in the book. Moose moves to Alcatraz Island so that his father can get a job as an electrician and so that Natalie can hopefully be enrolled in a special school. There are few other kids on the island. Despite the title, Moose has only a limited encounter, if it could be called that, with Al Capone close to the end of the book.

Choldenko uses historical detail to provide a frame for the plot and is even meticulous in acknowledging what details were true and which were stretched. The detail and the time period are essential to the story but do not take center stage, which I appreciated.

"In this appealing novel set in 1935, 12-year-old Moose Flanagan and his family move from Santa Monica to Alcatraz Island where his father gets a job as an electrician at the prison and his mother hopes to send his autistic older sister to a special school in San Francisco. When Natalie is rejected by the school, Moose is unable to play baseball because he must take care of her, and her unorthodox behavior sometimes lands him in hot water. He also comes to grief when he reluctantly goes along with a moneymaking scheme dreamed up by the warden's pretty but troublesome daughter. Family dilemmas are at the center of the story, but history and setting--including plenty of references to the prison's most infamous inmate, mob boss Al Capone--play an important part, too. The Flanagan family is believable in the way each member deals with Natalie and her difficulties, and Moose makes a sympathetic main character. The story, told with humor and skill, will fascinate readers with an interest in what it was like for the children of prison guards and other workers to actually grow up on Alcatraz Island." -- School Library Journal

"Twelve-year-old Moose moves to Alcatraz in 1935 so his father can work as a prison guard and his younger, autistic sister, Natalie, can attend a special school in San Francisco. It is a time when the federal prison is home to notorious criminals like gangster Al Capone. Depressed about having to leave his friends and winning baseball team behind, Moose finds little to be happy about on Alcatraz. He never sees his dad, who is always working; and Natalie's condition-- her tantrums and constant needs--demand all his mother's attention. Things look up for Moose when he befriends the irresistible Piper, the warden's daughter, who has a knack for getting Moose into embarrassing but harmless trouble. Helped by Piper, Moose eventually comes to terms with his new situation. With its unique setting and well-developed characters, this warm, engaging coming-of-age story has plenty of appeal, and Choldenko offers some fascinating historical background on Alcatraz Island in an afterword." -- Booklist

For this book I would lead a discussion of the famous prisoners of Alcatraz and have the kids create a poster advertising Piper and Moose's laundry service.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Module 9: Mystery

I loved Nancy Drew growing up, but as far as detectives go, she was just about the only female out there. I'm really happy to find there are more girl detectives. The book I chose was lighthearted and fun, but the main character was incredibly clever for a 13-year-old.

Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception by Wendelin Van Draanen
Sammy visits an art gallery reception with her wacky Grams (who reminds me of a children's version of Janet Evanovich's Grandma Mazur) and Sammy's 72-year-old best friend Hudson. She winds up insulting the artists, tackling an art thief, and becoming involved in a mystery where she doesn't discover the real culprit until the end.

Nothing in the book is so out there that it couldn't be called plausible. The only thing requiring a stretch of the imagination is Sammy herself, but she is at times mature beyond her years, although her portrayal as a 13-year-old tomboy is enough to keep reminding you that she is, in fact, a kid. She is extraordinary, and I would probably read more and recommend the series.

"Wendelin Van Draanen's eighth title in the Sammy Keyes series (Knopf/Borzoi, 2003) finds the middle-school detective solving the mystery of an art gallery theft. Sammy is attending a gallery event with her grandmother and elderly friend, Hudson, when she foils an attempted robbery. She finds an unlikely ally in her grandmother, who is more fully developed in this story. Grams and Hudson seem to be developing a relationship until Hudson becomes mesmerized by the victimized artist. Although she is distracted by bother her grandmother's love life and her own, Sammy eventually unravels the mystery. She discovers that the art world is not unlike junior high school with its own share of intrigue, backstabbing, and confusion." -- School Library Journal

"Sammy Keyes returns, as feisty as ever, this time lurking around the art world to learn the secret a painter is keeping. As with other books in the series, there's more going on than just sleuthing. Sammy and her nemesis, Heather, mix it up once more. And there's some romance here for Sammy, but mostly for her grandmother, with whom she lives, and for Hudson, Sammy's 72-year-old best friend, who appears to be more interested in artist Diane Rejiden than in Grams. Van Draanen only makes slight concessions to her audience. Her tone is sharp, her dialogue fast, and the mystery, on the face of it, is not particularly kid-friendly. Yet Van Draanen's fresh take on things, painted with a patina of realism, will attract a new audience and also keep fans turning pages." -- Booklist

As part of a display on female sleuths, I would use this book alongside Nancy Drew, an Enola Holmes book by Nancy Springer, a Forensic Mystery by Alene Ferguson, and any others I felt appropriate. I would also try to find nonfiction that fit the theme, and I think a good time for this display would be during Women's History Month.