Friday, April 27, 2007

A Change of Name & Address

Hey, everyone! I'm moving to a new blog address - getting it up and running right now. The new blog wil still contain lots of book review (hopefully a lot more than I've been writing lately, as my class is almost over!), but it will also contain more "2.0" Library and Lit goodies. Check it out here (and remember it's still a work in progress...)

Monday, April 23, 2007

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese was on my list to read before it won the Printz Award, thanks to Michael Cart's presentation at this year's ISLMA conference. He raved about it, so, even though it didn't sound like something I'd pick up on my own, I wanted to read it. It took forever for our library copy to get here, however. Then some students wanted it, and I loaned to to a teacher who was just getting into graphic novels...and so on. Finally, on Friday, a snagged it for myself and took it home to read over the weekend.

It's actually three stories that seem to have no connection. One is the story of Jin Wang, and American born Chinese, who wants nothing more than to fit in. The second is the story of Danny and his cousin Chinkee, who is a glaringly offensive portrayal of the stereotyped image of a Chinese immigrant - pidgin grammar, silk pajamas, etc. Last is the story of the Monkey King and his desire to obtain a higher consciousness and thus no longer be a monkey.

At first I was nervous the story lines wouldn't tie together and I'd be left trying to puzzle out their meanings. I had nothing to worry about, however. Gene Luen Yang does an excellent job of bringing the stories together to illustrate what it feels like to be and outsider in two cultures.

What I'm Reading: The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti

On My Bookshelf: Queen of the Slayers; Buffy Season 8; Beastly by Alex Flinn

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

Pride of Baghdad was incredible on two levels: first as a graphic novel, second as an illustration of the situation in Iraq. The story is based on real events: a pride of four lions escapes from the Baghdad Zoo when the city is bombed by the Americans. Told from the lions' point of view, we see the planes flying over the zoo, experience their confusion at the explosions, and their sense of excitement and trepidation when the realize they've been freed. Teens who don't know very much about the war will still enjoy Pride of Baghdad for the story & the illustrations, while those who possess more knowledge of the war will pick up on the subtle analogies between the zoo animals and the situation in the Middle East.
What I'm reading: American Born Chinese by gene Luen Yang
On My Bookshelf: The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti; Queen of the Slayers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson

CSI fans will like Ferguson's forensic mystery, the story of a girl whose father is the local coroner. Cameryn knows she wants to study forensics, so she talks her dad into maker her his assistant - a great way to get some real experience. The job gets interesting in a hurry when a high profile murder is committed in their little town - a town that hasn't seen a murder in Cameryn's lifetime. Cameryn's new job puts her right in the middle of the investigation, much to the chagrin of the medical examiner and her grandmother.

There are enough twists & turns in The Christopher Killer to make it a good mystery, and the forensic details may appeal to those who aren't fans of typical mysteries. Less gory than CSI (maybe - depends on how good your imagination is) but definately more detailed than the average mystery, The Christopher Killer is the first in a new series that is recieving acclaim from authors & forensics experts both.
I couldn't put this one down until I was done, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, Angel of Death, which is already out. The mystery kept me guessing for most of the book, and I enjoyed the exploration of Cameryn's relationship with her family. The family dynamics are what will make me, and other readers, rush to pick up the next book.
What I'm Reading: The Audacity of Hope by Barrack Obama
On My Bookshelf: Beastly by Alex Flinn

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Good Girls by Laura Ruby

Sadly enough, Laura Ruby's Good Girls is the only new YA book I've read in well over a month. I love books for younger children, too, but I really miss my YA books! I feel like I'm almost there - almost comfortable with the class - so I can actually start reading some things for older kids again. I can't wait to get my hands on America Born Chinese, the new Printz winner - our library's copy is in processing.

The good news is that Good Girls is a good choice to be the only YA book I've read lately. I started it a few months ago but put it aside; the opening did not seem particularly distinctive, and I couldn't remember why I was anticipating this one. However, I went back to it and I'm glad I did.

Audrey, a "good girl" who gets good grades, has been hooking up with her class's playboy, Luke. The hooking up has been all physical, and Audrey's pretty confused. Luke acts like he likes her when they're together, and she loves the way he makes her feel, but he barely acknowledges her at school. Knowing she should end things, Audrey hooks up with Luke one last time. But the last time might be one time too many.

There are some pretty detailed descriptions included in this book, but with good reason. Although describing it this way won't spark the interest of many teens, Audrey really is exploring her sexuality and figuring out how to take control of it, because, so far, it seems to be taking control of her. Teens will totally understand how Audrey feels, physically and emotionally, when she & Luke hook up.

There are some other descriptions that are pretty detailed as well. After finding out her daughter is sexually active, Audrey's mother makes an appointment for Audrey with a gynecologist. It's Audrey's first exam, and she describes it all quite clearly. As far as I know, this is the only such description out there in a YA novel, and it's about time girls had something to help take the mystery out of this sometimes scary experience.

I thought about Good Girls a lot after I finished it, and not just because I didn't have time to move on to another book. Audrey & her experience stuck with me. I loved that Audrey got burned by her sexual experiences, but she didn't let that scare her away. I loved the character development of Audrey, Luke and her friends - Luke is very two dimensional at the beginning of the book, just like his relationship with Audrey. That changes as Audrey changes.

Good Girls isn't a horror story about a good girl gone bad, but it does show how easy it is to end up in trouble when you're a teen - even when you are a good girl.

What I'm reading: Black and White Airmen: Their True History by John Fleischman (for a review)

On My Bookshelf: The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (I've been reading in on my lunch break, but I'm not getting anywhere fast!)

Children's Literature Criticism

I've been doing a lot of prep work for the class I'm teaching this semester, and that means reading a lot of picture books & criticism, neither of which I feel particularly inclined to write about. However, I would like to put in a plug for an older but great collection of essays on children's literature: Celebrating Children's Books by Betsy Hearne & Marilyn Kaye. It is no longer in print, but if you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend you do.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Sold is on many librarian's shortlists for the Printz Award for this year, and with good reason. This powerful novel is the story of a young girl from Nepal, unknowingly sold into prostitution by her step-father. Taken hundreds of miles from her home, forced to work in a brothel, and cheated of her earnings by the madam, Lakshmi's life is bleak, and she has little hope of escape. Her earnings will never be enough to pay her debt to the madam, and the chances of her contracting a disease and being tossed into the streets is very real.

Sold, Lakshmi's story, is told in short vignettes, providing brief glimpses of the poverty of Lakshmi's mountain village, the love of her mother, and the bleak reality of life in the brothel. This style often leaves me wanting more of the story - more details, more development - but I think it is best for Lakshmi's story, since details would be almost too much to bear.

According to Patricia McCormick's notes, over 12,000 Nepali girls are sold into prostitution each year. While Lakshmi's story is fiction, it is based in the reality of many young girls.

SPOILER: Don't read past this point if you don't want to know about the end of the book!

The main flaw in the book, that I can see, is that Lakshmi is saved by Americans - Westerners. This sort of "Americans to the rescue!" ideal is troubling, since it may lead readers to see all Indian and Nepali people as uncaring and even evil, ignoring the plight of these young women, and Americans as the rescuers who always do the right thing. This might be misleading to a teen who is not familiar with these cultures, and whose multicultural reading is limited. It would have been gratifying to see Lakshmi's escape made possible by a member of her own culture.

What I'm Reading: This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn by Aidan Chambers

Thursday, November 30, 2006

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

John Green does it again. In his follow-up to the Printz winner Looking for Alaska, Green creates another cast of characters we'd love to know better.

Colin Singleton is a prodigy. Not a genius, just a prodigy. And now that he's eighteen and graduated from high school, his prodigy status has expired - and Colin's certain he'll never make it to genius.

When Colin's girlfriend - Kathrine XIX (the 19th in an amazing line of Katherines he has dated) dumps him, Colin's best friend Hassan convinces him to take a road trip. In Gutshot Tennessee, Colin and Hassan discover the grave of an Austrian archduke and the Theory of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which Colin thinks will prevent future heartbreak by all women named Katherine.

Is Colin a dumpee, or is he really a dumper at heart? Will he ever make "genius" - will he ever really matter? And what's with all the Katherines, anyway?

Not all teens will appreciate John Green's hilarious novel - some might find Colin just as annoying as his classmates do. Other's will see themselves in Colin's social ineptitude and his unluckiness in love. As with Looking for Alaska, Green has created a truly clever cast of characters and a truly clever book. Instead of Pudge's last words, this time he gives us Colin's anagrams, and, of course, his Theory of Underlying Katherine Predictability - complete with footnotes and a mathematical explanation of the formula (written by a real mathematician - see Appendix A).

What I'm Reading: Far From Normal by Kate Klise

On My Bookshelf: Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

My Lost and Found Life by Melodie Bowsher

Ashley Mitchell is a character many teens will love to hate. Rich, popular, beautiful and snobby, Ashley is just the type of girl we like to see get what she deserves. And in My Lost and Found Life, it seems like she does.
Ashley's mom has always made sure Ashley had everything she wanted. Being a single mom might be tough, but Ashley doesn't have to think about her mom's life -she's too busy thinking of herself. So when her mom tells her things will have to change - their expensive lifestyle has to stop - Ashley doesn't want to hear it.
But the next morning Ashley's mother is gone. It seems the expensive lifestyle they've been living is thanks to her mom's theft - her mother has been stealing money from work for years. Now she's taken off with a million dollars, and left Ashley alone.
Living in a trailer behind a gas station, working in a coffee shop and struggling to make ends meet, Ashley's former life seems pretty far away. But the toughest part for Ashley isn't her living conditions or her money problems. It's wondering what happened to her mother. Ashley just can't believe her mom left her behind, and Ashley can't forgive herself for the terrible things she said to her mother the last time they spoke.
Ashley's growth as a character is admirable; her self-centered personality transforms into a self-confidence that serves her well as she has to make her own way in the world. Bowsher's writing is occasionally stilted, and she tends to "tell" things rather than "show" them, but she turns Ashley from a unlikable snob into an strong young woman. Despite the rough spots, Ashley's story is definitely enough to keep you reading.

What I'm Reading: Kathy Reich's Deadly Decisions
On My Bookshelf: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Monday, October 16, 2006

Getting Buffed

I'm using an upcoming unit in our SciFi/Fantasy class on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an excuse to read up on Buffy criticism. Here's a sampling of what I've read so far:

Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Television Show
This was a great introduction to Buffy criticism. A collection of essays written by scifi/fan authors who are Buffy fans, it includes some fun essays (Is That Your Final Answer...? by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad) as well as some readable discussions of important issues (Where's the Religion in Willow's Wicca?). This one assumes familiarity with all seven seasons of the show.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A Critical Reading of the Series by Anne Billson
A general critical look at the show overall, this work includes brief summaries of each season at the beginnings of each chapter. The first chapter is a great look at the history of female heroes in TV (or lack thereof) and Buffy's role as a trailblazer for strong female characters. Chapter Two gives some great background info on the show (how it came to be), and the remaining chapters look at issues like "Love and Other Catastrophes" and "Revenge of the Nerds." Again, probably best to be familiar with all seven seasons, although the summaries will help if your memory needs to be jogged.

What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide by Jana Riess
Although it sounds as if it could be a bit preachy, this was a completely readable look at all the spiritual aspects of Buffy - and when I say all, I mean it wasn't just from a Christian perspective. I loved the comparison of Buffy to a lama (she is a chosen one who inherits the wisdom of all those who have come before her) as well as the exploration of the themes of sef-sacrifice, friendship, self-reliance, spiritual mentors & humor's role in spirituality. This is not a stuffy tome that will be a turn-off to non-religious fans, but a great exploration of several of the weightier themes addressed in the show.
Appendixes contain summaries of each season as well as character profiles, but to really appreciate the book, you should watch the shows themselves. There are also a few spoilers for the Buffy spin-off Angel in this one, especially in the chapter on redemption, which examines Angel's character closely.

What I'm Reading: More Buffy books!
On My Book Shelf: Buffy, and Finding Serenity, a collection of critical essays on Joss Whedon's series Firefly

Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children's Novels by Roberta Seelinger Trites

A little bit of theory and criticism to get me thinking. Trites is one of the professors in Illinois State University's English Dept, part of their masters/PhD program in young adult and/or children's lit. I'm thinking of applying next year, so I'm doing a little recon.

In Waking Sleeping Beauty, Trites examines several children's/YA novels through the lens of feminine criticism. She begins by discussing feminist criticism, and points out that it doesn't just look at female characters or "girl" books, but at all books where feminist issues of subjectivity, voice, etc. are important. A book can be a feminist novel even if it has a male protagonist.
As literary criticism, most of the chapters are quite readable. I found Trites' explanation of "subjectivity" as a literary term a bit foggy; a more clear explanation would have been helpful since it is an important concept referred to repeatedly throughout the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed the early chapters, examining voice and subjectivity in classics like Little Women (one of my favorites), Cassie Binegar and The Hero and the Crown. However, as I got further into the book, I found myself wondering where the recent title were. The book was published in 1997, but the majority of the YA texts examined were published in the 1970s and 1980s. While the concepts Trites examines are universal and can certainly be applied to books from any era, I missed a discussion that included text that were more contemporary. However, in all, Waking Sleeping Beauty is an excellent introduction to the feminist study of children's literature.

What I'm Reading: Stacks of Buffy books
On my bookshelf: More Buffy books & Finding Serenity