Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Four for Four

Four titles from the Rebecca Caudill nominee list for 2008 have kept me cozily reading this month. I'm not surprised that most of the books on the list feature male protagonists. J.K. Rowling was no fool when she made her star a boy. Why is it that girls will read books about boys, but it takes a minor miracle to get a boy to read a book about a girl?

Regardless of the underlying psychology, MVP: The Magellan Voyage Project, by Douglas Evans, will be a hit with all kids. The plot is a race to be the first twelve year old to travel around the world in forty days or less. The prize is four million dollars. What they didn't tell Adam Story is that he would be competing against 23 other kids, backed by some of the most ruthless despots in the world. This fast-paced, easy read has a lot of geography and world history references, similar to the original "Carmen Sandiego" products. Recommended.

The Schwa Was Here, by Neal Shusterman, is a melancholy story set in modern day Brooklyn. Anthony is the narrator, but the main character is Calvin Schwa, the invisible kid. He has the "Schwa Effect," by which he goes completely unnoticed by everyone, including his father, and if he is noticed, he is immediately forgotten. When the two boys befriend a blind girl, the inevitable love triangle threatens their friendship. But the story that drives the book is the mysterious disappearance of Calvin's mother from a grocery store when he was five years old. Lexie and Anthony set about uncovering the truth and proving to Calvin that he can be noticed for who he is.
Spoiler: Calvin's mother ran off with the butcher from the grocery store and abandoned him in the frozen food section. Very troubling and sad. Calvin's mother is described as someone who either had a life crisis or was struggling with depression. In the end, Calvin discovers that she has been writing to him for years and reunites with her. On the upside, Anthony's family is Catholic and they're not portrayed as evil freaks, just a normal loving family with ups and downs.
Recommended.

Listening for Lions, by Gloria Whelan, is my favorite of this group, reminding me greatly of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novels. Set in Africa, shortly after World War I, Rachel Sheridan grows up with her missionary parents among the Kikuyu people. When her parents are suddenly taken by the influenza epidemic of 1919, she suddenly finds herself alone. She travels to the nearest house, the home of the wealthy and cruel Pritchards, who have just lost their daughter, Valerie, coincidentally same age and red hair as Rachel. The Pritchards snatch up Rachel and force her to become Valerie, so that she may travel to England and win back the heart and inheritance of Mr. Pritchard's wealthy father. Rachel's future depends on when and where she decides to reveal the truth of her identity. Highly Recommended.

When Tobin McCauley's mother died of cancer, his father emotionally checked out, his older siblings became juvenile delinquents and his grandmother began a feud with his father, blaming him for her daughter's death and fighting over Tobin. Tobin survives by avoiding contact with everyone except Grandma. Chicken Boy, by Frances O'Roark Dowell, is about Tobin's life after he befriends one person. Henry is obsessed with chickens, raising them, singing to them, even working on a research project to determine if chickens have souls. Henry drags Tobin back into humanity, and as a result, Tobias brings his family together as well. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January Reads

I enjoyed and recommend The Misadventures of Maude March, by Audrey Couloumbis. Told by younger sister, Sallie, Maude's adventures are the result of misfortune and mistake. Sallie and Maude are orphans, raised by Aunt Ruth, who loses her life to a stray bullet in the first chapter. Their home is taken by the bank and they are forced to live with the preacher and his family. The never-ending chores and the loss of all their family possessions to their caretakers, does not deter the girls from making the best of a bad situation. When the preacher arranges a marriage for Maude to an elderly man and the girls are threatened with separation, they run away. They take the two broken-down horses, leaving their new dairy cow in exchange. Soon, they discover that the media can't be trusted. They find a newspaper article with Maude's name and description, claiming that she has lost her mind with grief and stolen the horses. Sallie is never mentioned.

The girls are headed for Independence, Missouri, hoping to find their long-lost uncle. Along the way, they meet Aunt Ruth's shooter, and star of "dimer" novellas, Joe Harden. Joe teaches the girls how to survive in the wilderness but Maude can't forgive Joe's unlucky shot and they part ways. Maude realizes her mistake and the girls set out to find Joe. They see his horse in front of a bank, and remembering his admonition, "Take your gun everywhere," they enter the bank with rifles. Of course they are mistaken for robbers, and the adventures continue to an eventual happy ending for all.

One scene in which Maude, who has been disguised as a boy for most of the book, decides to recover her feminine identity, visits a house of ill repute, is handled in a delicate and sensitive matter. The heavily made-up ladies of the house donate clothes and fix Maude's hair for no charge. The author does a masterful job of presenting the action without any information about the real occupations of the characters. Highly Recommended.

Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven is a young adult novel, written in a stream-of-consciousness style, over the span of about ten years. Fourteen year old Jake lives at a national wildlife preserve called Smokehill, one hundred miles from anywhere. Somewhere on the 500 million acre property, real, endangered, fire- breathing dragons live, but are rarely seen. Jake gets to go on his first overnight into the wilderness, and comes across the unthinkable. First, there is the dead body of a dragon poacher, next to a dying dragon. Lastly, Jake notices five dead baby dragonlets, and one still living. Jake takes the surviving dragonlet and puts it down his shirt. Dragons are like marsupials, in that their young spend at least one year in their mother's pouch. This single action changes Jake, the fate of Smokehill, and the world's treatment of dragons forever.

There are a few troubling points in the book. Jake's widowed father has a relationship with another researcher and the two decide to wed when it is discovered that they are expecting a baby. As a young adult, Jake falls in love with his childhood playmate, Martha, and they decide to get married. Before the wedding, Jake gives Martha's sister, Eleanor some thankful acknowledgment for letting he and Martha use their shared bedroom for a few hours here and there. Finally, there is the tacit acceptance of a character's homosexual identity, and the theme that this character is a kinder, better person because he has a gay lover.

Young adult novels are all too often merely juvenile fiction with adult themes thrown in. Dragonhaven is a fascinating story, and if the author would stick to Jake and the dragons, I could recommend it. As it stands, there are too many issues to overlook. Not Recommended.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Four for Four

Four titles from the Rebecca Caudill nominee list for 2008 have kept me cozily reading this month. I'm not surprised that most of the books on the list feature male protagonists. J.K. Rowling was no fool when she made her star a boy. Why is it that girls will read books about boys, but it takes a minor miracle to get a boy to read a book about a girl?

Regardless of the underlying psychology, MVP: The Magellan Voyage Project, by Douglas Evans, will be a hit with all kids. The plot is a race to be the first twelve year old to travel around the world in forty days or less. The prize is four million dollars. What they didn't tell Adam Story is that he would be competing against 23 other kids, backed by some of the most ruthless despots in the world. This fast-paced, easy read has a lot of geography and world history references, similar to the original "Carmen Sandiego" products. Recommended.

The Schwa Was Here, by Neal Shusterman, is a melancholy story set in modern day Brooklyn. Anthony is the narrator, but the main character is Calvin Schwa, the invisible kid. He has the "Schwa Effect," by which he goes completely unnoticed by everyone, including his father, and if he is noticed, he is immediately forgotten. When the two boys befriend a blind girl, the inevitable love triangle threatens their friendship. But the story that drives the book is the mysterious disappearance of Calvin's mother from a grocery store when he was five years old. Lexie and Anthony set about uncovering the truth and proving to Calvin that he can be noticed for who he is.
Spoiler: Calvin's mother ran off with the butcher from the grocery store and abandoned him in the frozen food section. Very troubling and sad. Calvin's mother is described as someone who either had a life crisis or was struggling with depression. In the end, Calvin discovers that she has been writing to him for years and reunites with her. On the upside, Anthony's family is Catholic and they're not portrayed as evil freaks, just a normal loving family with ups and downs.
Recommended.

Listening for Lions, by Gloria Whelan, is my favorite of this group, reminding me greatly of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novels. Set in Africa, shortly after World War I, Rachel Sheridan grows up with her missionary parents among the Kikuyu people. When her parents are suddenly taken by the influenza epidemic of 1919, she suddenly finds herself alone. She travels to the nearest house, the home of the wealthy and cruel Pritchards, who have just lost their daughter, Valerie, coincidentally same age and red hair as Rachel. The Pritchards snatch up Rachel and force her to become Valerie, so that she may travel to England and win back the heart and inheritance of Mr. Pritchard's wealthy father. Rachel's future depends on when and where she decides to reveal the truth of her identity. Highly Recommended.

When Tobin McCauley's mother died of cancer, his father emotionally checked out, his older siblings became juvenile delinquents and his grandmother began a feud with his father, blaming him for her daughter's death and fighting over Tobin. Tobin survives by avoiding contact with everyone except Grandma. Chicken Boy, by Frances O'Roark Dowell, is about Tobin's life after he befriends one person. Henry is obsessed with chickens, raising them, singing to them, even working on a research project to determine if chickens have souls. Henry drags Tobin back into humanity, and as a result, Tobias brings his family together as well. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January Reads

I enjoyed and recommend The Misadventures of Maude March, by Audrey Couloumbis. Told by younger sister, Sallie, Maude's adventures are the result of misfortune and mistake. Sallie and Maude are orphans, raised by Aunt Ruth, who loses her life to a stray bullet in the first chapter. Their home is taken by the bank and they are forced to live with the preacher and his family. The never-ending chores and the loss of all their family possessions to their caretakers, does not deter the girls from making the best of a bad situation. When the preacher arranges a marriage for Maude to an elderly man and the girls are threatened with separation, they run away. They take the two broken-down horses, leaving their new dairy cow in exchange. Soon, they discover that the media can't be trusted. They find a newspaper article with Maude's name and description, claiming that she has lost her mind with grief and stolen the horses. Sallie is never mentioned.

The girls are headed for Independence, Missouri, hoping to find their long-lost uncle. Along the way, they meet Aunt Ruth's shooter, and star of "dimer" novellas, Joe Harden. Joe teaches the girls how to survive in the wilderness but Maude can't forgive Joe's unlucky shot and they part ways. Maude realizes her mistake and the girls set out to find Joe. They see his horse in front of a bank, and remembering his admonition, "Take your gun everywhere," they enter the bank with rifles. Of course they are mistaken for robbers, and the adventures continue to an eventual happy ending for all.

One scene in which Maude, who has been disguised as a boy for most of the book, decides to recover her feminine identity, visits a house of ill repute, is handled in a delicate and sensitive matter. The heavily made-up ladies of the house donate clothes and fix Maude's hair for no charge. The author does a masterful job of presenting the action without any information about the real occupations of the characters. Highly Recommended.

Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven is a young adult novel, written in a stream-of-consciousness style, over the span of about ten years. Fourteen year old Jake lives at a national wildlife preserve called Smokehill, one hundred miles from anywhere. Somewhere on the 500 million acre property, real, endangered, fire- breathing dragons live, but are rarely seen. Jake gets to go on his first overnight into the wilderness, and comes across the unthinkable. First, there is the dead body of a dragon poacher, next to a dying dragon. Lastly, Jake notices five dead baby dragonlets, and one still living. Jake takes the surviving dragonlet and puts it down his shirt. Dragons are like marsupials, in that their young spend at least one year in their mother's pouch. This single action changes Jake, the fate of Smokehill, and the world's treatment of dragons forever.

There are a few troubling points in the book. Jake's widowed father has a relationship with another researcher and the two decide to wed when it is discovered that they are expecting a baby. As a young adult, Jake falls in love with his childhood playmate, Martha, and they decide to get married. Before the wedding, Jake gives Martha's sister, Eleanor some thankful acknowledgment for letting he and Martha use their shared bedroom for a few hours here and there. Finally, there is the tacit acceptance of a character's homosexual identity, and the theme that this character is a kinder, better person because he has a gay lover.

Young adult novels are all too often merely juvenile fiction with adult themes thrown in. Dragonhaven is a fascinating story, and if the author would stick to Jake and the dragons, I could recommend it. As it stands, there are too many issues to overlook. Not Recommended.