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. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Imagination Designs