Tuesday, August 2, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

What My Mother Doesn't Know
by Sonya Sones

Sones, Sonya. What My Mother Doesn't Know. New York: Simon Pulse, 2004. Print. 

Summary: Sophie is fifteen and a freshman in high school, and her parents are completely unaware of how things are going in her life. Sophie is dealing with the same things most teenagers go through, and she is recording them in verse format. Through her first, second, and third love Sophie begins to get insight into other people. She comes to realize that people are not always who you think or assume them to be, and that people often judge others without actually getting to know them. Sophie does not only begin to understand other people better, but begins to discover who she is as well, and who she wants to become.

Critical Analysis: 
This books falls into the quick reads category because it is written in verse, and there are few words on each page, making it much less intimidating for many young readers. While this counts as a type of poetry, Sones is not as worried about the format and sound of the words so much as the story and ideas being told. The fact that the book is written in verse makes it a very fast read, and despite the short amount of words, it teachers many wonderful lessons. One of the best things about the novel is its ability to bring about some valuable themes without being "preachy" towards our young adult readers. 

Sophie, the protagonist, is a fairly immature character, and that was a bit difficult for me to get through. However, I must remember that I am reading this book as an adult, and therefore I cannot relate to it nearly as much as my younger students will be able to. Sophie is a relate-able character because she is very much a normal teenager. She is dealing with love and not being understood by other people, including her parents. She is also in a time of self discovery, something that we all go through at some point. While the immaturity could be a bit obnoxious at times, it is clear that is also realistic, which is what is important. 

Creative Activity:
As with my other review activities, I do believe that I would incorporate a writing activity when it comes to this novel. It is not something that we would read in full in class together, but it is something that I would happily use experts from so that my students could see an example of verse writing and how it can be effective. I would have students write a personal narrative in the way that they usually do, and then would give them examples from this novel. Once they have studied the novel, they would then convert their own essay into verse. They would have to learn how to tell the same story in fewer, more effective words. 

Related Resources: 
Anything by Ellen Hopkins could be wonderful to compare to this novel, as she writes all of her novels in verse. Unlike What My Mother Doesn't Know, Hopkins tends to write gritty, darker verse over difficult topics. It would be intriguing for students to see verse used in many different tones and situations. 

Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott - This is another novel written in verse, but it focuses much more on history, which gives a completely different look into how verse can be used to tell a story. 

Published Review: 
Publisher's Weekly. What My Mother Doesn't Know, 2001. 2 August 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-689-84114-9

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek
by Maya Van Wagenen

Van Wagenen, Maya. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. New York: Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2014. Print. 

Maya Van Wagenen is not exactly popular at her high school. In fact, she is pretty much the exact opposite of popular. She is hardly noticed at all, aside from the couple good friends that she already has. When she comes across a book written in the 1950s by Betty Cornell, she decides to read it. The book is about how to be popular, and instead of just reading it, Maya decides to follow the directions in the book. After all, it could still work at making her popular, and it could not possibly hurt since she is hardly noticed to begin with. What Maya does not know is how much the experiment will really change her life, and not just with her classmates. Maya begins to build up her self-confidence, something she was incredibly lacking beforehand. Her experiment even leads her to meet Betty Cornell herself. 

Critical Analysis: 
The first thing I want to mention about this book is the cover; it is wonderful. When I think of informational books, I tend to think of covers that are a bit dull. They usually just have one big picture and title, and it is nothing too creative. I love how the cover looks like a paper doll with clothing, and it makes even more sense once you have read the book. It was an excellent idea, and I do believe that it will help draw in readers. This book will have no trouble keeping readers, either. The voice in this book is wonderful, and something very unlike anything I have seen in nonfiction before. It is humorous, wry, saddening, cheerful, defeated, and so many other emotions at varying times. It is so easy to relate to Maya, and it is wonderful to remember that she is a real person; that this is her real life. Some of the situations are so amusing, that they could easily be found in a fiction book as well. I do believe this is something else that will draw in young readers; a lot of it does read like a fiction story, realistic fiction, but the fact that it is true makes it much more exciting. 

Informational text is supposed to teach its readers something, but this book goes so much further than that. On the surface, we get a story about Maya who wants to be popular. She comes across a book from the 1950s that leads her to try out the steps in the book to become popular. Some of the steps lead to amusing situations, like wearing shapewear or lipstick every day, which is not something that a lot of young adults do at school. Others lead Maya to realize that it might not be working, and that she is still very unknown. However, it is the change in Maya, and not in the other students, that makes this book so interesting. Maya becomes accepted by her classmates, but she also begins to accept herself, which was something that was lacking. We see Maya build self-confidence and learn to accept herself, which is a wonderful lesson to be able to get across in a nonfiction text. The fact that it does so in an interesting and amusing way, instead of preaching the lesson, is even better for young adult readers. 

Creative Activity: This book would be easy to use in a reading or English classroom. In fact, we used an article about the novel in my reading classroom this past year, before I even read the novel myself. We used the article to compare it to other articles that had to do with popularity and social media, and the students really enjoyed it. I do believe that this book would be a wonderful model for expository writing as well. Students could read an excerpt of the novel, and then work on a part of their own memoir where they learned a lesson as well. 

Related Resources: 
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - This is another wonderful diary that students could use, and compare to Popular. While they are about very different situations, I do think that similarities can be found between the two girls. Students can discuss how the voice is similar and different as well; we know that Anne managed to stay quite positive despite her situation. 

How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot - This is a fiction book that has a very similar story line to Popular, though it is not a true story. The main character wants to be popular, and so she goes through a list of things that are supposed to help her get there. It would be interesting to see a fiction side of the same plot as well. 

Published Review: 
Publisher's Weekly. Dutton Buys YA Memoir by Teenager, 2013. 26 July 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/57973-dutton-buys-ya-memoir-by-teenager.html

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian
by Andy Weir

Weir, Andy. The Martian. New York: Crown, 2011. Print. 

Mark Watney, along with the other members of his NASA crew, are the first six people to walk on Mars after arriving there on a mission. The plan was to stay much longer and to gain information from the planet, but a sudden severe dust storm changes everything. They realize they need to evacuate the planet in order to ever make it off alive, and Mark is injured in the storm in the process of leaving. Believing him dead, his crew has no choice but to leave him behind. Mark is not dead, however, but he has no way of informing his crew or anyone on Earth of this. Mark has an incredible sense of humor and strength, though, so he is not going to sit back and die without a fight. Instead, he uses his botany skills to find ways to prolong his supplies while he tries to determine a way to make contact with NASA and make it back home to Earth. 

Critical Analysis: 
First things first, this is not a book that I would typically pick up. Even though I have reached an adult stage of my life (supposedly), I still read typically young adult literature exclusively. However, I have had this book sitting on my shelf for quite some time, and when I saw it on the science fiction list, I decided it was time to give an adult book another go. The truth is, I loved the book, but I think I will still stick to YA for now. My middle school students could certainly not read this book, and I do think that it would probably be upper high school before I would feel comfortable with a student reading it mostly due to the language. There is a lot of foul language, and while some people are not bothered by that, it can be an issue when it comes to what students are reading. Even I was a little uncomfortable with how much there was, and I'm an adult! Still, I do think that there are plenty of wonderful things that readers can get out of this book, if they can get past the language. 

The first thing that really hooks the reader are the characters, and most specifically the protagonist of Mark Watney. It would be very easy for this novel to turn depressing very quickly based on the situation, but it keeps from doing that with Watney's sense or humor and personality. Despite the situation he is going through, he keeps a level head and a humorous attitude, which draws the reader in. What makes it even more interesting is that this is a science fiction novel that does not have a person as the villain or antagonist. Instead, it's a planet; Mars. Mars is a place that we cannot experience in our regular, every day lives, so it is exciting to get details in the novel, and Weir does a great job of developing the setting that we are so unaware of ourselves. 

The best thing about this science fiction novel, however, is how real it actually seems. That is one of the best things about this genre; it is still a fairly easy process for readers to put themselves in the shoes of the character. Of course, this particular book may be a little more difficult as the character is older, but students could learn a lot from his behavior and the way he handles the stress of the situation. It has a universal theme of friendship, loyalty, and never giving up, and that is a valuable lesson for all students and individuals to learn. 

Creative Activity: One of the most challenging aspects of this novel is that one character has to carry a lot of the story, activity, and plot in the book without having other people to interact with. This can be a difficult thing to do for anyone, and a difficult concept for authors to create without it becoming dry and boring. This seems like it would make for a wonderful journal prompt in a high school writing class. Students have to create a story and plot around one character, where they do not have any other individuals to interact with. They must create a world and scenario that is interesting and intriguing in order to continue to hook their readers through the entirety of their writing. 

Related Resources: 
For related resources, it seems like a good idea to use other science fiction novels, or even just excerpts of them to compare. One that instantly comes to mind is The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. This would work because it is a very believable setting and characters as well, with the addition of aliens. Definitely similarities in the plot lines. 

Another interesting concept could be to introduce a nonfiction book to use with the book as well. It could be something about Mars or space travel, and they could demonstrate how well Weir did research and presented the information in the book based on the facts that they read and find. 

Published Review: 
Publisher's Weekly. The Martian, 2011. Web. 19 July 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8041-3902-1

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven

Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. New York: Knopf, 2015. Print.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey could not be any more different, or so it seems on the surface. The truth is, they are both battling similar inner demons. They both spend a lot of time thinking about death, and wondering if it would just be easier to leave everything behind. The two meet at the top of the school bell tower, where it seems they both were considering jumping. Finch quickly realizes that Violet's friends do not understand the situation, and instead pretends that Violet climbed the tower to save him. From there, the two begin a friendship and school partnership based on a mutual understanding. They can each be themselves around one another, but that does not necessarily make things easier. While Violet begins to overcome her difficulties, Finch's still prove to be too much, and he continues to struggle with where he wants his life to take him. 

Critical Analysis: 
The first thing that should be said about this novel is that it is most definitely targeted towards an older teen audience. There are many triggers involved including suicide, death, grief, depression, and mental illness. There are some individuals that struggle when reading materials with these topics involved, and so it is good to make sure that it does not get into the hands of someone it may cause discomfort to. However, with all of that being said, I do believe that this is a wonderful book for young adults to read, as long as they are of the appropriate age. The characters deal with topics and situations that a lot of people experience in life, and if they have not, one of their friends may/have. It gives them a way to see into the situation, and perhaps gain a better understanding of why someone may feel a certain way. 

Speaking of characters and their experiences, All the Bright Places packs a punch when it comes to our two protagonists. Often when there are two "main" characters in YA text, one seems to be a bit more developed or have more voice than the other. This is not the case in Niven's novel. Both characters are developed, complex characters. They both have their issues and inner workings, and we get to see a great deal inside both of their heads through dual perspective. This adds an interest in the book that we do not see in many young adult novels. I believe it will appeal to more young readers because there are two narrators, and one does happen to be a male. 

The writing itself in the book is something to discuss, and as Niven is a new author, I am shocked by how well written the novel is. The text is detailed and appeals to the senses, and really allows the reader to step into the shoes of the main characters. We get to follow them around as they explore exciting places in their Indiana city, and the description puts the reader in the book, and makes them want to continue reading. The emotion is raw and real, and if nothing else, it will leave the reader with a lot to think about. 

Creative Activity: The dual perspective is an interesting asset in this novel that we do not get to see in a lot of young adult text, so I think that is something that teachers could focus on. Along with that, with the writing being so good in general, it would be a wonderful model text for a variety of reasons. However, if students are working on fiction, and trying to really develop voice in their writing, this would be a great book to focus on. Students could create two of their own characters, and tell the same story from each of the character's point of view. They will have to realize how each character would look at the events differently, based on their personalities and background. It would be a thought-provoking and challenging assignment for students. 

Related Resources: 
Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman - This is a fiction novel based on Shusterman's autistic son. This would be a wonderful companion piece because it focuses on the mental illness side of the theme, and gives another incredible look at this tough topic. 

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga - This book has the same theme of suicide and a friendship between a boy and a girl that help the characters deal with their struggles. It would be a good book to compare with All the Bright Places.

Published Review: 
Publisher's Weekly. All the Bright Places, 2014. Web. 12 July 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-75588-7

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print. 

Summary: This novel, based on some of the author's own life experiences, tells the story of Junior. Junior was born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation, where his future was already set out for him, at least if he did not do something about it. Instead, he decides to take things into his own hands and determine his own future. He leaves the rough school on the Indian rez in order to attend an all-white school in a rural area where the mascot is the only other Indian around. Junior tells his own story through wit and illustrations (by Ellen Forney), as a budding cartoonist, and he quickly teachers readers that things don't always have to be just black and white.

Critical Analysis: 
Diversity is a topic that is often talked about at great length these days when it comes to young adult literature, and this novel is a wonderful example of how to add positive diversity into a library collection. Junior is a relateable protagonist for all young adults, no matter their cultural or ethnic background. He must deal with trying to be accepted in a new environment, as well as having old friends and family turn his back on him for attempting to better his life. This is no easy feat for a high school student, but there are many teenagers who go through similar, difficult situations and will relate to Junior's issues. 

While this novel could have easily taken a dark and depressing turn and tone, Alexie did a very good job of not making this the case. While there are tough situations and difficult subject matter, much of the novel is handled with wit and a sense of humor. Our main character is uplifting and positive, which is a wonderful example for young adults, especially teenage boys, to see in a protagonist. The light spirit of this book made it an easy read, and I believe it is one that students will be able to stick with and finish, even if they are not typically a reader. 

Along with the wonderful text and plot line, the illustrations add a wonderful, whimsical aspect to the book. Teenagers still love having pictures in their books (even adults still love to see this, in my opinion), and the cartoons contained in the novel are great fun. They add detail and emotion to the novel that we do not get completely from the text. Overall, Alexie did a wonderful job of writing a strong, enjoyable piece that has a universal theme. 

Creative Activity:
One of the greatest aspects of this novel are the cartoon illustrations that go along with the text, meant to look like the drawings of the protagonist. This is an element that will keep a lot of young adults reading the novel, and so it seems like a great focus point for an activity. In a writing class, students could create their own protagonist, and as they continue writing their story, they must add in their own cartoon illustrations to add to the text. This will allow students to add description not only through their writing, but also in an artistic manner.

Related Resources: 
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - this is another story of a young boy who moves to a new neighborhood where everyone is very different than he is, and he must learn how to adjust to the new environment. An added bonus is the fact that it is a graphic novel, which many young adults really enjoy. 
Short Stories by Gary Soto - Gary Soto is a wonderful author for young adults, and most of his stories are based off of events in his own life, which relates back to what Alexie did in his novel. Soto's characters also often deal with acceptance and fitting in. 

Published Review: 
Publisher's Weekly. An Absolutely Great Novel by Sherman Alexie, 2007. Web. 5 July 2016. Retrieved from http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=158

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks

Go Ask Alice
by Anonymous (Beatrice Sparks)

Sparks, Beatrice. Go Ask Alice. New York: Simon Pulse, 2006. Print.

Summary: Go Ask Alice is a diary-style novel that gives us an inside view as our protagonist (one can assume is Alice) deals with common pressures of being a teenage girl in high school. It begins with a journal entry about a boy she likes, Roger, who does not treat her right. Then, Alice is thrilled to learn that her family is relocating for her father's job. She is sure this is just what she needs to reinvent herself, but after moving she still remains lonely. When summer arrives and her one friend has to go away to camp, she decides to spend the time back with her grandparents. It is during this point that Alice gets caught up with a group of people who are into drugs, and her diary and journey truly begin as she tries to crawl her way back out of an almost hopeless situation.

Critical Analysis: 

"I'm not really sure which parts of myself are real and which parts are things I've gotten from books." -Go Ask Alice

For starters, Go Ask Alice does cover a concept and issue that needs to be discussed with adolescents. This is an age where they will feel pressured to do many things, and literature can help them to make decisions when put in these situations, especially if those novels are not preaching at them. It is interesting that this was supposedly a real diary with the names and details changed for safety because I do not feel that this was a real teenage girl at all. While it has been some time since I was in high school, and I do not have children, I do teach middle school aged students, and I believe I have fairly good insight into what their writing may sound like. This novel seemed artificial, as an adult was trying very hard to sound like a teenage, and just did not quite achieve what they were hoping to accomplish. The writing was very immature, to the point of frustrating at times, and I found it a bit difficult to continue reading on more than one occasion. This is not a good characteristic to have with YA texts, when it is already a struggle to grab and keep their attention.

Despite the negatives of the novel, it does have a good overall theme, even if it takes a little while to get there. Peer pressure is something that everyone can relate to, and our protagonist makes the common mistake of falling in with the wrong crowd, something that our readers can certainly relate to. There were many interesting times when we got a look into Alice's mind, and saw that she realized what she was doing was wrong, but then was not able to change it on her own. However, often these things were very dramatic very fast, and it just did not seem very realistic. While this book has received a lot of praise throughout the years, I struggled a bit to see the complete merit in it. As far as being appropriate for young adults, I can certainly understand why some parents might be concerned about their child reading the novel. It is certainly for upper teens in high school, and not before then. 

Creative Activity: One of the best things about this novel is that it is written as a diary instead of a regular narrative format. Because of this, it could be an excellent model piece for a writing classroom. Of course, the teacher/librarian would need to make sure that the book/excerpt used is appropriate for the targeted grade level. There could be a discussion about how Alice writes in her diary to help get her thoughts out and deal with conflict, and then students can write their own series of journal entries in which they discuss a conflict that they have gone through, and what happened because of that conflict. 

Related Resources:
1. The first resource is actually a set of resources, as any novel by Ellen Hopkins could be used as a companion novel. Hopkins also writes about teens who are struggling through difficult situations and peer pressures of many kinds, but she seems to capture the view of adolescents much more successfully.
2. Lucy in the Sky or Jay's Journal are also novels by Anonymous that are written in the same way as Go Ask Alice, and therefore excerpts could be used together to look at similarities and differences between the characters.

Published Review:
The New York Times. "Just Say 'Uh-Oh,'" 1998. Web. 27 June 2016. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/15/reviews/981115.15oppenht.html

Monday, June 20, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back
by John Corey Whaley

Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Adults, 2012. Print. 

Summary: Where Things Come Back is an intertwined story that keeps the reader guessing until the very last page, where they must learn if things truly come back. Cullen Witter is spending the summer before his senior year of high school in his small Arkansas town, but everything is far from normal. His cousin has just overdosed and he has had to identify the body, his Aunt Julia is not coping, his town is suddenly obsessed with a woodpecker that is supposed to be extinct, and his younger brother Gabriel has vanished out of thin air, it seems. Cullen finds it difficult to hold himself together while everyone else is falling apart. Another part of the story centers around Brenton Sage, a young missionary who is confused about his true calling, which leads him to the Book of Enoch. After a tragic event, his roommate finds his journal and begins trying to solve a puzzle it seems that Brenton has left behind. Their lives collide in an unexpected way in this novel that was awarded both a Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris award. 

Critical Analysis: 

“We let them help because they needed it, not us. We didn't let them help us because we needed it, we let them help us because inside of humans is this thing, this unnamed need to feel as if we are useful in the world. To feel as if we have something significant to contribute."---Cullen Witter 

This novel is one that will certainly keep the reader thinking from beginning to end. One of the initial thoughts that I had is that this novel is definitely better suited for the upper teen years. My middle school students would certainly not find this book in their library as it does have a fair amount of profanity, sexual content, and more mature characters. Despite those things, this novel can teach valuable lessons to teenagers. It is not simply about a boy who has a cousin that overdosed and a brother that is missing. He is a young man that must figure out who he is, and who he wants to be, when the world is crumbling all around him. Does he want to hide and not deal with it? Or does he stand up and face things head on? These are decisions that our students have to make, and so it is something that they can relate to in the novel. 

One of the greatest aspects of this novel is its ability to intertwine two stories that seem very different at the beginning of the novel. Whaley did a wonderful job of weaving the stories together, and also altering time in a way that benefited his writing. Sometimes the writing was the current time for the characters, and sometimes it was a flashback or flash forward. The reader could not be aware of these jumps completely until they continued to read, and then it all began to make more sense and weave together. 

There were several times throughout this novel that I asked myself, "Why does this matter in the story?" An extinct woodpecker? How could this possibly come into play and play into the theme of the novel? It turns out, Whaley knew what he was doing throughout this whole novel, and weaved a wonderful theme and plot together to make an award winning novel. It is certainly a book that young adults could read and learn a great deal from. 

Creative Activity: An interesting activity to do with this novel would be something that focused on plot. So often students think that plot is linear and simply follows the same steps in order every time, but they must learn that plot can be diverse and different for every book. The climax may not always occur in the middle of the novel. Instead, it may take place at the beginning and then the story may flashback. I believe the best way to teach this lesson would be to have the students work in groups to fill in a large, laminated plot diagram. They could use dry-erase markers to fill in the information through the book, noting when it may occur through a flashback or glimpse into the future using page numbers and text evidence. 

Related Resources:
1. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King - this novel is a related resource as the conflict and theme are very similar to the reviewed book. The protagonist has lost a family member, and must cope while the rest of his family falls apart with grief. He must deal with his feelings and move on to find himself. 
2. Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall - this novel is one written in verse, which adds an interesting twist. The protagonist, however, is going through difficult things as well. Her mother is suffering from cancer, so she must play the adult in the household while everyone else comes to terms with the illness. 

Published Review: 
Publisher's Weekly. Where Things Come Back, 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4424-1333-7

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez

Parrot in the Over: Mi Vida 
by Victor Martinez 

Martinez, Victor. Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida. New York: HarperTrophy, 1996. Print.

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Manuel Hernandez, or Manny, wants nothing more than to grow up and be someone that is respected. Which means, he wants to be quite unlike a lot of the other men in his own life. His father has turned to alcohol to deal with his problems, especially when he loses his job as a translator. His brother, Nardo, cannot keep a job very long because he lacks the skills and responsibility needed to make them long term. His mother, meanwhile, spends her time cleaning the house often to try to wipe away their family problems. And there are a lot of problems, as they live in the projects. Manny knows in his neighborhood one of the only ways to gain respect is to join a gang, and he is not sure that he is willing to go through with something like that.

Critical Analysis: Based on the publishing year of this book, it is listed as a fiction book, rather than under the category of young adult literature. Due to this, I do believe that it might be a book that some students would avoid. The book does have many redeeming qualities. The protagonist is a likeable character. He has strengths and weaknesses, and he is trying to figure out who he is, and who he wants to be in the future. The book gives us insight into several different characters, but as we only get the book through Manny's perspective, we miss a lot of insight and detail into the characters and how they feel. While I do think that it is beneficial for readers to see these characters through Manny's eyes, I do believe the book could have a bigger impact with a more omniscient narrator.

Overall, the novel was a bit difficult to follow. Each chapter was more of an individual story than a stepping stone in an overall plot. The stories did not always run together well or in a way that made sense, either. While the tone and voice of the novel was enjoyable, it is vital for young adult fiction novels to have a plot that can be easily followed. Not doing so may cause some students to stop reading out of frustration.

Creative Activity: An activity that would be enjoyable with this novel is one I like to use with my students called the Post-Mortem of a Protagonist. Students choose a character from a novel, in this instance they would select Manny. They then work in a group to trace one of their group members' outline onto butcher paper. They have a list of questions to then answer based on their character, and they follow along with body parts. For instance, the question that goes with the eyes would ask "what did the character see? Why was this important to him/her?" or for the feet "what did the character do/accomplish?" This activity allows students to do a more in depth character analysis.

Related Resources: For related resources, I like to include books that can be used with the one reviewed. For instance, books by the same author, books about the same theme, or perhaps one with the opposite viewpoints. Two related books would include Novio Boy: A Play by Gary Soto as it is also about a boy trying to come into his own, especially when it comes to dating girls (something we see Manny struggle with in the novel). The other related resource could be Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter Dean Meyers as it also depicts a boy struggling through a relationship with his father, and trying to come to terms with their differences.

Published Review:
Publisher's Weekly. Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, 1996. Web. 14 June 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-026704-9

Thursday, May 5, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventure
by Kate DiCamillo & K.G. Campbell

DiCamillo, Kate. Flora and Ulysses. New York: Candlewick Press, 2013. ISBN 9780763660406

Plot Summary:
In this Newberry Award winning novel, Kate DiCamillo tells the tale of young Flora, a self-professed cynic living with her mother, a romance novelist, after the divorce of her parents. While reading comic books, she spies a young squirrel outside her window who nearly meets his doom at the hands of a vacuum cleaner. Flora saves him and then befriends him after it is revealed that this near-death experience has left him with super-powers. In these pages we also meet her father, left adrift after the divorce, her neighbor, and her neighbor's great-nephew, William Spiver (both names, please, and never Billy). Their story is told through both words and the clever illustrations of K.G. Campbell.

Critical Analysis: 

Flora and Ulysses is a wonderful example of how realistic a fantasy book can be, and how that can add to the interest and engagement when it comes to young readers enjoying the text. Flora is a character that a lot of students can relate to; her parents are divorced and she has become a bit cynical and a loner because of it - preferring to read her comic books than to always deal with people. Then enters a second character, Ulysses, who is just as easy to love, even though he is a squirrel. The fact that he gains super powers adds interest and the fantasy element to the text - it also causes our protagonist to change and break out of her shell, which is an important theme in young adult literature.

The plot of the book is believable and fun, despite the fact that it obviously could not all happen as it is a fantasy book. Flora's life could easy be any of our young students (aside from the whole super hero squirrel side kick). She is a regular kiddo dealing with real life - the divorce of her parents and her cynical attitude. Not to mention her love for comic books and wishing that such things actually happened in real life.

One of the best elements of this novel, however, is the voice that DiCamillo is able to create for her characters. It is not often in young adult literature that we see a character (at least a protagonist) that is as cynical as Flora is throughout a majority of the book. She has been through a lot at her age, and it has obviously taken a toll on her. It gives the reader the chance to see her open up and soften as she saves and befriends Ulysses, which creates a wonderful universal theme in the midst of the silly story.

Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal: " An engaging mix of narrative text, comic sequences, and full-page illustrations, DiCamillo’s new work introduces Flora, a self-described cynic and fan of superheroes, and Ulysses, a squirrel with special powers."

From Publisher's Weekly: "Newbery Medalist DiCamillo and illustrator Campbell meld prose with comics sequences in a broad comedy tinged with sadness."


This would be a wonderful book to teach the idea that fantasy books can still have a large sense of contemporary realism as well. This book could also help to teach many different kinds of figurative language in an English classroom; specifically personification when dealing with Ulysses. 

LS 5603 20 Review: Babymouse: Queen of the World! (Babymouse #1)

Babymouse: Queen of the World! (Babymouse #1)
by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

Holm, Jennifer L. & Matthew. Babymouse: Queen of the World!. New York: Random House Children's Books, 2005. ISBN 9780375832291

Plot Summary: 
Poor Babymouse. No time to read any of her fantastic Adventure books because of homework, cursed with curly whiskers that refuse to be sleek and smooth, lacking a steady diet of cupcakes…it’s a hard life she’s leading. Clearly she needs to become Queen of the World and rule over all she surveys. There’s just one hitch, before that can happen. Babymouse needs—with every fiber of her being—she NEEDS to get invited to Felicia Furrypaws sleepover party.
Critical Analysis:
Graphic novels have quickly become a hit with young adults; they seem to enjoy that they can get a fun, quirky story with fun illustrations. They are often stories that they can still relate to, despite a lot of them not being in the contemporary genre. Babymouse, for instance, is a fantasy novel with a small mouse being the protagonist. Despite this, the character is still incredibly relate able. Babymouse feels inadequate compared to the other people around her, and she wants nothing more than to be accepted and invited to the slumber party of the year. Of course, in order to do so, we see Babymouse struggling with deciding if she wants to change who she is to fit in, or simply be herself and realize there is more to life than being popular.

Despite being low fiction, the plot still seems incredibly similar to books of higher fantasy, and qualifies it for the genre more than simply just having a talking animal as the main character. Babymouse goes through a quest of her own throughout the novel, and the reader gets to have the enjoyment of following along. Babymouse's journey happens to consist of pages of fun, pink illustrations as it is a graphic novel, which make it even more engaging for young readers.

The theme and style of the book are both quite obvious as well, and it is clear the Holm siblings have determined a combination of witty words and quirky illustrations that can teach universal themes. In this case, Babymouse must determine if it is really important to be like everyone else, and to be popular. The style of the novel is consistent throughout as there is only black, white, and pink utilized in the pages, making the whole novel cohesive, even as Babymouse discusses different stories of her own. Overall, the style is engaging and certainly easy to follow.

Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal: "You’ll be amazed at how much detail and how many funny moments the Holm siblings can pack into one Babymouse book."

From Publisher's Weekly: "Both tales share eye-grabbing black-and-pink graphics, and a perceptible Spiegelman influence simmers in the energetic ink illustrations of the dot-eyed heroine."

This is a wonderful graphic novel to use in order to help teach specific social skills, such as an extreme desire to fit in - this is especially beneficial for the middle school level when it seems like life or death. The rest of the books in the series would be great to use for connections as well. 

LS 5603 20 Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Puffin, 2001. ISBN 9780141310886

Plot Summary:
Melinda Sordino ruined an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. She had a good reason for doing so, but no one knows this. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth.

Critical Analysis: 
One of the greatest aspects of contemporary fiction is the focus on the character and their personal growth, without the need for tons of bells and whistles like you tend to see with other genres. It is understandable why this book has arrived on so many banned book lists, and why it garners controversy often. Melinda goes through something truly horrific, and she deals with the aftermath by herself, leading to a lot of struggle and emotion. Melinda is certainly a believable character, one that the reader feels for and roots for throughout the entirety of the book. The reader understands what she has gone through while none of the other characters do, making it that much more heart breaking. Melinda's personality, attitude, and dialogue is very believable for someone who has gone through something so tragic.

While the reader is told the school where the story is set, it really could take place at any high school, in any city. The students are the same ones we see everywhere, which makes the whole story that much more relate able. They have characters from every group, and they all act in a way that is natural for their high school age.  The plot is also steady and believable, while not always completely obvious or the norm. There are times when it is not clear what might happen next, and the ending could certainly go more than one way. It ends in a way that gives us hope for our protagonist, which is vital in a book with such deep and moving subject matter.

Anderson has a clear style that transcends through all of her books and makes her characters seem incredibly fragile and believable. The style of the writing is beautiful, and almost philosophical at times. The words are never too harsh or cruel, making it a great and appropriate read for high school level teens.

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager."

From School Library Journal: "Laurie Halse Anderson’s edgy first novel for teens was immediately recognized as groundbreaking, and its little-known author was praised for her ability to write artfully about tough topics such as date rape."

This book has gotten a lot of controversy over the years due to the content contained within the pages, as it covers a topic that some see as taboo. This does mean teachers and librarians must be cautious when sharing this book. I do believe it is a wonderful suggestion to those mature enough to read it, and it can teach great lessons for teens struggling through many different life situations. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

Cushman, Karen. Catherine, Called Birdy. New York: Clarion Books, 1994. ISBN 9780060739423

Plot Summary:
Fourteen-year-old Catherine is the daughter of a knight and lady during the medieval times. Preferring to go by the nickname "Birdy," Catherine is a tomboy at heart who wants nothing more than to sneak off the the village to help with a festival and sing with the other peasants. Her father has much different plans for her, however. He intends to marry her off to the most suitable bachelor; read, the man with the most money. Her mother focuses on teaching her the manners of a proper wife, while Catherine works hard to get rid of the suitors as often as possible. 

Critical Analysis: 

Cushman does a wonderful job of creating a character who not only fits into the medieval time period of the novel, but also has typical teenage qualities that today's teens can still relate to. More than anything, Catherine is an amusing character. In her diary entries we get to see exactly how she feels about the suitors and her life, and it is often laughable for the reader to experience. The plot is intriguing and engaging as well, something that reminded me very much of something that Shakespeare would write in one of his own epic comedies. It is quite amusing that this young girl has become so good at getting rid of suitors. Of course, some young readers may be a bit confused by the idea of the protagonist marrying at fourteen, despite that being accurate to the time period.

The themes of this novel are also ones that today's students can still relate to. Catherine is a strong, stubborn character who knows exactly what she wants with her life, and is not afraid to stomp her feet about it from time to time. Catherine longs for a true best friend, there is angst in regards to her parents, she feels misunderstood, and wants to do something that will have some importance in the world. Birdy is flawed and selfish at times, which makes her an even more believable character, and really helps hit home on the themes that are covered.

As far as style, this is another novel that is written in the form of diary entries, and it is nice to see how matters progress in order of occurrence. With the history and time period, I think it is very beneficial to keep the story linear and continually moving forward. Cushman also has a wonderful gift for adding just the right amount of humor to her novel. This story could have easily gotten dull and repetitive had the character not had such an amusing personality. Cushman seems to know just how to give and take to make a successful story.

As far as authenticity goes with this novel, it does seem to be quite accurate. Not only does Cushman explain her love of history and how she spent a great deal of time researching medieval times to make this novel accurate, she has an extensive author's note with an abundance of other English and medieval history that can help to clarify some of the ideas in the story. With the dates and details provided, it is clear that she has done a great deal of research, and this was evident in her writing of the story.

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "Birdy's journal, begun as an assignment, first wells up in the reluctant and aggressive prose of hated homework, and then eases into the lighthearted flow of descriptive adventures and true confessions; the narrative device reveals Birdy's passage from rebellious child to responsible adult." 


This book would be a wonderful addition to any study of medieval times. It would be interesting to see a strong female character portrayed at this time period instead of the knights that most people typically think of.

LS 5603 20 Review: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

The Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz

Schlitz, Laura Amy. The Hired Girl. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2015. ISBN 9780763678180

Plot Summary:
It is the year 1911, and protagonist Joan Skraggs wants more than the life she has on the rural farm with her father. She wants a proper education and to find true love. Her father, however, does not believe that his daughter needs an education, and instead burns her book. That is the last straw for Joan, and she decides to run away to Baltimore where she is sure she can find something more to life. Finding a place to stay is harder than she expects, and that is how she comes to be hired by the Rosenbachs. A Jewish family who needs assistance for their aging housekeeper. Joan must learn to grow into a young lady while learning to accept those who are different from herself. 

Critical Analysis: 

Overall, the characters and plot of this novel were interesting and entertaining, though not always completely engaging. The events of the story are interesting, especially for a young woman in 1911. We understand that Joan is struggling with the loss of her mother and her father's reluctance to allow her a proper education. The fact that Joan wants to fight for these things make her a relate able and likeable character, despite her naive nature. While naive, it is clear that Joan does embody a typical fourteen-year-old. She does not understand the outside world, people of different cultures, or how difficult life could be outside of her rural farm with her father.

The setting was well-detailed and detailed, so that it felt as if the reader knew how Baltimore was in the 1900s. It was very interesting to see these things through the eyes of a young girl as well; one who had only known life and work on a farm up to that point. While the characters, plot, and setting were all very transparent, the theme did seem a bit muddled. Every time it seemed as if Joan had learned an important lesson, she said something naive or inappropriate again. While her personality made it likeable, it was a bit difficult at times to over look these flaws completely. I do believe that the overall themes were to accept others despite differences and to fight for what you want, but some digging had to be done at times to support these ideas.

The style of the novel stayed consistent throughout the entirety, which was certainly a redeeming quality for the novel. The diary style added a bit of interest as we were able to see the inner most feelings and thoughts of the main character as she tried to adjust to the new life she had made for herself. The language and terminology seemed appropriate for the time period as well as the age of the character, though I do believe some of it could prove challenging and confusing for young readers. The dialect is accurate, but a bit difficult at times.

As far as authenticity goes, I had a difficult time determining if this book was based off of much research as there was not much noted in the book itself. Schlitz did explain why she used certain terminology, and explained that the idea came from seeing her own grandmother's journal. While it does seem to fit with the time period, it is a bit difficult to fact check this information without more sources discussed by the author.

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "Schlitz (Splendors & Glooms) has crafted another exquisite literary gem, one told entirely via Joan’s vivid, humorous, and emotionally resonant diary entries over a year and a half." 

From School Library Journal: "Writing a book that could only be written by her, published by the only publisher who would take a chance at it (Candlewick), Schlitz’s latest is pure pleasure on the page."


Other books that are similar and could be suggested to students who enjoyed this book could be Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. 

Naturally, as historical fiction, this book could be used to get a better glimpse at how life was back in 1911. Of course, there is a bit of controversy around the main character and her views, so those things could be discussed as well.

LS 5603 20 Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys

Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group, 2012. ISBN 9780399254123

Plot Summary: 
It is Lithuania in 1941, and Lina and her family are trying to live a normal life. Lina has been accepted into a wonderful art program for the following year, and is looking forward to summer, but everything changes drastically for her family within a short amount of time. The Soviets come into the country looking for those who have "broken the law," and Lina's father seems to be taken. That evening, the Soviets come to their house and Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, Jonas, have twenty minutes to get their things together. They encounter horrible conditions and treatment at the hands of the Soviets as they are transported to Siberia to work in camps. They must find a way to stick together and survive when everything seems to be falling apart around them.

Critical Analysis: 

"Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy--love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit." 
 -Ruta E. Sepetys 

This book offered so many wonderful qualities for those looking for a raw and beautiful historical read about a history that is often hidden and overlooked. Our fifteen-year-old protagonist Lina is so easy to relate to, even as she struggles through conditions that a lot of us could not fathom. She cares deeply about her family and their safety, and is a wonderful artist. And she is flawed, which is one of her best qualities. Despite the hardships, Sepetys wrote of Lina in a way that shows she is still a teenage girl trying to understand certain aspects of life while dealing with a horribly reality. The plot is so provoking and shocking, that the book is impossible to put down. There is no way to know what will happen to our characters next, as the events are ever changing and always shocking. Nothing is sugar-coated, and while some parts were difficult to read, I do believe they were essential in order for readers to truly understand the distress these individuals went through at the time. 

 The setting of this book was easy to follow, though it did change many times. Lithuania is not a country that most people are familiar with, and so Sepetys did a wonderful job of giving enough background knowledge without overwhelming readers with details. Every time the setting changed, they were described beautiful and could be pictured easily in the reader's mind. As for theme, the quote shared above says it all. While the characters struggled with loss, fear, and grief, they also had an abundance of love between one another, and a desire to help keep one another alive despite starting as strangers. This shares the universal theme that love can conquer even the most difficult of times. 

As far as authenticity goes, this book passes with flying colors. The details and descriptions were always so clear that it was obvious that Sepetys had done her research, and the accounts seemed too realistic, despite being fictional characters, to be made up without any historical support. Sepetys went on to explain in an author's note that she traveled to Lithuania twice during the writing of the novel, and discussed the history with several people who were involved as well as historians. It is clear that she put a lot of time and energy into making sure the book was as authentic as possible.

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "The narrative skillfully conveys the deprivation and brutality of conditions, especially the cramped train ride, unrelenting hunger, fears about family members' safety, impossible choices, punishing weather, and constant threats facing Lina, her mother, and her younger brother."

From School Library Journal: "I did not know the details; and that is what Between Shades of Gray provides, the details of living, of dying, of survival. Of finding love and beauty and hope in bleakness."


This book, or at least excerpts from it, would be a wonderful addition to any World War II lesson or discussion. In fact, after reading it, I believe it is a necessity. There is always so much talk and study of Hitler's reign of terror, that it is often pushed aside just how deadly Stalin was as well. This book brings light to that.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life by Candace Fleming

Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life
by Candace Fleming 

Fleming, Candace. Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2005. ISBN 9780689865442

Plot Summary: Fleming creates a "scrapbook" biography of Eleanor Roosevelt's life so that fans and readers may get a closer and more in depth look into her life. The book covers everything from Eleanor's schooling to the speeches she made once she was in the position as First Lady. The book describes the countless ways that Eleanor has effected the lives of the entire nation, from helping those in poverty with low-cost housing, to taking care of her own grandchildren. We get a look in Eleanor's life in and outside of the White House. 

Critical Analysis: 

Candace Fleming is another author that I did not know much about before getting into this module. While I do my best to read a lot of nonfiction, especially those books written specifically for young adults, this author is one that was not on my radar. After finding this book, I quickly realized that Fleming has written many biography style books, many in this same "scrapbook" style. My librarian informed me of how great her writing is, and how knowledgeable she seems, and I have to agree. The number of books would be proof enough, but Fleming does seem to have a wonderful reputation. However, if reputation is not enough, Fleming has included almost twenty pages of sources in the back of her book, and a note about the sources that she used. In the source notes, Fleming noted that she went to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park which has the Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Manuscript Collection that "includes two million pages of private letters, diaries, office files, memoranda, invitations, scrapbooks, pamphlets, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and much more" (Fleming, p. 160). With so many first-hand documents, it would be impossible to deny the accuracy of which Fleming completed this book. 

The design of this book could have easily become overwhelming for readers, especially younger readers, if Fleming had not been so deliberate at how she set up the book. The book is bigger than most books, and so the pagers are bigger and offer more space for text. Instead of filling every page with just text alone, which would make for an overwhelming read, the pages are sectioned and divided off in ways that make the most sense. There are textboxes, most with their own subtitle so it is clear what that specific box is discussing. Some pages have three or four different boxes, allowing the reader to get plenty of information on each page, but without it being completely overwhelming. The book is also in chronological order, which makes Eleanor's life much easier to follow for readers. As far as the design goes, it is appealing to readers as well. There is a large number of graphics and pictures, and each is explained. There are not just pictures, however, but also letters, report cards, birth certificates, diary entries, and a plethora of other items that were written by or related to Eleanor and her life. 

While the book is separated well, the style is more matter-of-fact than some of the other book selections in the module. The writing is not necessarily exciting or light because it is giving a great deal of facts. The details are interesting, though, which keeps the book from being boring despite the straight-forward style of the writing. Fleming's writing proves her interest and knowledge of the material, which makes it a much more enjoyable read. 

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "Short chapters arranged into a pastiche of narratives and deftly supported by photographs, newspaper articles, letters and humorous cartoons explore how this sad "Little Nell," as her father called her, emerged from an unhappy albeit privileged childhood to become an indefatigable champion of the poor and powerless."

From School Library Journal: "Fleming weaves well-researched primary quotes and accounts into a mainly chronological narrative that touches upon Roosevelt’s fortes and flaws, accomplishments and controversies."


-This book would be wonderful to use in a variety of lesson plans, whether it is learning about President Roosevelt and Eleanor during their time in office, or if it is a discussion of women's rights and women that have had a huge and positive impact on the country. 

-Other books that could be paired with this title include: The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, Ben Franklin's Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman's Life, and Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart all by Candace Fleming. 

LS 5603 20 Review: An American Plague by Jim Murphy

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
by Jim Murphy 

Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. New York: Clarion Books, 2006. ISBN 9780395776087

Plot Summary: 
Jim Murphy writes an interesting, insightful piece about the illness known as the yellow fever and the toll that it took on the nation, but most specifically in Philadelphia. He uses first-hand accounts to chronicle the power of the illness and how it related to the beliefs and medical practices of the time period. Murphy also focused on how specific people handled the contagious outbreak from free African Americans to George Washington, whom was President at the time. Murphy also delves into possible cures for the disease, though these things did not come about until almost a century later.

Critical Analysis: The Yellow Fever is something that is often learned about in history class, though not in depth to the degree that this book allows. While I had not read anything by Jim Murphy before this book, nor had I even heard about him, I learned a great deal of him after deciding to read one of his books for the module. He has written a great number of books, a lot of them informational, which does help to make him seem a credible source. He has a positive reputation for these types of books, which is imperative, especially when using a book with young adults. Murphy includes almost fourteen pages of sources in the back of the book, including first-hand accounts. He stated in the sources section that he "consulted a great many books, newspapers, magazines, personal journals, and letters" (Murphy, p. 141). This shows that Murphy is knowledgeable about the topic, and if he was not he sought out a reliable source. These things work together to make the book quite accurate. 

The organization and design of the book is appealing, and it does seem like it would draw young adults in well, despite the fact that the book looks more like a "chapter book" than a picture book. As for organization, the book is broken up into chapters. While there are not any subtitle, each chapter is labeled with a date that helps readers maintain chronological order and avoid confusion of time frame. This means that each chapter is a day or event, breaking up the text in a way that is more easily digested for all ages. The design of the book is quite good as well. There is a map at the front so that readers can have an idea of what area is being discussed as they read the information. At the beginning of each chapter there is a page that includes magazine or newspaper print which adds interest, especially since all of the pages provided are relevant to the book. There is a plethora of clear pictures used, each accompanied by a caption so that the reader can easily determined what is happening in the picture, and why it would be included. 

As far as style of the writing goes, it seems that Murphy did a wonderful job. He included a great amount of information for the readers, while not making it completely overwhelming. Instead of taking a medical approach, which would have been easy to do based on the topic, Murphy discusses the Yellow Fever in a way that can be understood by anyone regardless of their medical knowledge. He brought in emotion and interest, making it far from a boring, textbook-esque read. The dialogue from first-hand accounts adds to the slightly narrative style as well. 

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "In marked contrast to the clipped, suspenseful pace of his Inside the Alamo (reviewed above), Murphy here adopts a leisurely, lyrical tone to chronicle the invisible spread of the deadly disease that not only crippled Philadelphia (then the temporary capital of the U.S.) but also set off a constitutional crisis."

From School Library Journal: "As far as the story goes, we may not know what to expect, but we’re secure in its descriptions: “I get it,” we may be saying to ourselves. “I can picture this world—it’s weird and cool. I wonder what’s going to happen?”"


-This is a wonderful book to supplement a social studies classroom when discussing the same topic or time period. 
-Other books that can be paired with this text: The Secret of the Yellow Death by Suzanne Jurmain and Frontier Living by Edwin Tunis. 

LS 5603 20 Review: Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone

Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780763636111

Plot Summary: The "Mercury 13" were a group of women who were determined to find out just what it takes to be an astronaut. Of course, when NASA was established in 1958 there were two main and strict qualifications; you had to be white, and you had to be a man. This story is about a group of thirteen women who knew that they were just as strong as any man, and challenged the government when they were told that they could not go to space. Despite these women never making it to space as they dreamed to, they were still a wonderful example that empowered young women to take their place as pilots and commanders. 

Critical Analysis: 

As I have gotten older, I have had a growing interest in reading nonfiction and informational texts, especially over topics that interest me. When looking at the module list, Almost Astronauts stood out to me before anything else. I find learning about events that have effected women's rights very interesting, and I could tell that this book would do just that. As I began to read, I was very intrigued by all of the facts that were provided, but also by the dialogue included. This was not expected, as it is not something that is usually apparent in informational books. That is where the concern of accuracy came into play, and so I made sure to read the included Author's Note as well. In that information, Stone explained the means she went through to get the facts for her book. That information stated that "the course of [her] research let [her] to many books, articles, scientific papers, audio recordings, and videotapes" (Stone, p. 120). Of course, all of these sources tend to be used for all informational texts, so I was not yet convinced. However, Stone went on to say that she spoke with many of the Mercury 13 women herself, some through phone calls and emails, but she also met a group of them and spent a weekend together where she was given more first hand accounts. Therefore, the information instantly becomes much more accurate. There was a large number of sources included, and it was even broken up by chapter and page numbers, which I found very useful. 

The organization and design of the book are both very good, and successfully support the information and purpose of the text. The book is written in chapters with interesting titles that make the reader want to continue reading. Throughout the chapter, there is a great deal of subtitles, some of which are specific dates of relevant days and events. The book follows chronological order, which makes it much easier to follow the story and understand how the events occurred in history. Throughout the chapters, there is also an abundance of illustrations, and they are all relevant to the information being discussed at that point in the text. Each picture also has a caption to explain specifically what it is. The pictures and interesting and clear, and certainly add to the overall appeal of the text. As far as organization goes, there is also a table of contents, index, and list of sources. 

The author includes the right amount of information in the book without it being overwhelming, but also without "dumbing down" the information just because the book is intended for young adults. The vocabulary is appropriate, and it includes the terminology that is important to the topics discussed, which could lead students to do more research if they are not sure of terms provided. The tone makes it clear that Stone is interested in what she is writing, and also has a motivating and empowering style to it. Despite the negatives that are discussed due to the historical situations, the tone continues to remain positive, which I think is important for young readers. Stone presented the information in an interesting and engaging way. 

Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal: "This appealing Sibert Award winner, notable for the author’s strong point of view, explores the reasons and biases behind the decision."

From Publisher's Weekly: "A gripping narrative surfaces in Stone's text, as the women are repeatedly thwarted by NASA, discriminated against and patronized by society. "


-One of the best ways I have already used this book in my classroom is to connect it back to our discussions over women's rights and how things have changed since the past, but how some things are still unfortunately close to the same. 

-Other books that would be good to read as paired texts could include Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh and Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca.
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