Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

In American Born Chinese three tales are woven together, contributing to one overarching theme. Unlike a traditional short story collection, in which a story can be read at random, Yang’s short story cycle works best when the tales are read chronologically. Each story builds on the last story’s theme or lesson. Yang uses three characters to explore the construction of identity.

Opening the cycle is the Chinese folktale of The Monkey King. Yang’s adaptation of this “journey to the west” myth is hilarious and surprising. The Monkey King works hard mastering Kung Fu and wants to be recognized as an equal among other deities. Alas, his superiors are not impressed and The Monkey King undergoes many trials before realizing who he is and who he wants to be. The second story introduces Jin Wang, the son of Chinese immigrants, living in California and combating stereotypes as he tries to fit in, make friends and woo an all-American girl at high school. Chin-Kee visits his cousin Danny every year. Danny is horrified to be seen with Chin-Kee who exhibits extremely stereotypical Chinese behaviors.

Adaptation is a major theme connecting each story. The characters realize they must adapt to the culture already established. Each character struggles to adapt while deciding whether or not to embrace his own cultural heritage. Eventually, they take control of their identity but not before making a few mistakes. The text explores what it means to be a nation of immigrants and how the American identity is continuously forged. The three tales are linked in a surprising way which is slowly revealed.

When reading a short story the reader must look for information left off the page. Similarly, graphic novel readers must interpret the narrative when the full story is not supplied in text. In other words, you can’t skip over the pictures without losing significant parts of the narrative. This is true of American Born Chinese. The words and pictures complement each other. American Born Chinese leans heavily on its comic roots. Yang uses onomatopoeia with words like “SMACK” and “WHUMP” creating a fun sensorial reading experience.

Yang manages to bring humor and tenderness to a serious subject. While the format is sure to draw reluctant readers I would not hesitate to hand American Born Chinese to any teen reader. It has a little something for everyone.  Yang speaks about A.B.C. in the video found below!

Publisher: First Second, 2006     Pages: 233   
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: IC Public Library
This text counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

For teenagers like Brande’s characters, the competing messages of faith and science and the desire to express themselves in a perceived hostile environment is confusing and scary. I loved how Mena turned to blogging as way to express her beliefs, a place where she could think out loud and include others in respectful discussion. There were a number of totally unbelievable characters including the pastor and the teenager who falls down on the floor praying for people. The characters did not need to be so over the top to get the plot moving. 

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is the first audiobook I’ve completed. Kaili Vernoff’s voice was perfect for teenagers with her ability to reach those high, fretful notes teenagers are found of. Her subtle distinctions between characters made the text easy to follow. The book is written from Mena’s perspective as though she’s writing in a journal. I had the chance to see the print version and the audio is not missing anything. After the story, Brande interviews Kennth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University who argues that a belief in evolution is compatible with a belief in God. 

I’ll definitely try an audiobook again in the future. It was a long listen and I could have read the book much quicker. But I did get some house chores done while listening so that’s a plus! 
Summary: "Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you. All because you did the right thing. Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She's been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her—not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner in science class, who's pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth. And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine . . . and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.

Publisher: Listening Library, 2007     Duration: 6 hours 25 minutes     Pages in print: 272
Narrator: Kaili Vernoff
     Director: David Raplin
Rainting: 3.5 Stars     Source: IC Plublic Library  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Musings of a Grad Student: Big News!

With only eight weeks of the semester left it’s about time for an update on my journey towards an MLIS degree. Spring break is over and that means end of semester projects are underway.

For my Resources for Young Adults class, I am collection resources on Steampunk literature. In a few weeks I am facilitating class (giving a presentation and leading discussion) on science fiction and fantasy in YA lit. We are reading Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet of Amarkand and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan which I am currently reading. For my hour long facilitation I’ll be focusing on Levitathan and the steampunk genre, that is, if my teacher approves my plan. This is my first steampunk read and I’m enjoying it. If you know of any YA steampunk titles (or resources) let me know! I’m on the lookout for a read-a-like list. I’ve found a lot of fun sites about steampunk but haven’t found any controversy yet. Is there any controversy?

Projects for Database Systems and Research Methods are to be announced this week. Not sure what to expect for Databases but for Research Methods I’ll be researching a primary source. That’s all I know right now.

Click Photo for Source
Now for my Big News! I’ve been hired for a children’s internship position at my local public library. The position became available early so I’ll be working for 16 months instead of the usual 10. I am so excited to be working side-by-side with librarians in the field! I have about two months to be trained before Children’s Day when they expect 4,000 visitors! Expect posts about what I learn in the field!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism by Michael Cart

Michael Cart’s latest work chronicles the development of young adult literature from its recognition in the 1960s to its present boom in the 21st century. Expanding upon his 1996 edition, Cart includes new discussions about poetry, nonfiction, graphic novels, audiobooks and the role of young adult literature in a multimedia age. Cart showcases various breakthrough texts and awards in the category revealing his role as an expert in and contributor to young adult literature.   

In “That Was Then,” the first of two sections, Cart and investigates how cultural shifts influenced YA lit in the 1960s-1990s. Realism emerged in issue-oriented/problem novels like Robert Cormer’s The Chocolate War.  But many were plagued by formulaic plots and imitation in the late 70s. Cart perceives “the problem novel is to YA what soap operas are to good dramas” (32). Eventually, readers rejected the problem novel and to some extent realistic fiction.

Providing escape, romance dominated most of the 80s and one can sense Cart’s dismay as problem novel sales plummeted  in the early 90s.  Cart blames sensational TV (like Jerry Springer) for reality’s unpopular status in literature. In part two, “This Is Now,” Cart explores the rise of new genres and formats in the 21st century. He delves into the Harry Potter phenomenon and consequent appeal of crossover novels.

Clearly Cart prefers darker, edgier literary titles, which he believes reflect reality. Whether this is true or not, his zeal for young adult literature is impossible to escape. Pointing out YA lit awards, such as the Printz Award which he helped create, Cart continuously reveals how libraries help shape and are shaped by young adult literature. Cart leaves the reader pondering creative formats which champion realism such as nonfiction graphic novels and photoessays. The text provides a comprehensive history of young adult literature and is an insightful and often humorous text. It is likely to interest MLIS students, current practitioners interested in improving readers’ advisory skills to young adults or those doing literary studies.  If you’re looking to understand how YA literature is created today there’s no better way than to study its history in From Romance to Realism.

Publisher: ALA, 2020     Pages: 242
Rating: 4.5 Stars     Source: U of Iowa Libraries

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Many Do You Read?

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is:  "Do you read only one book at a time, or do you have several going at once?" My Answer: During school I usually have several going. Right now I have six going...a chapter here, a chapter there. During the summer I like to read one book at a time. Sometimes two. I prefer to get sucked into one good story that I don't want to stop reading. 

If you're stopping by from the Hop, hi! I'm generally an eclectic reader but have been reading a lot of young adult books for a class. I generally read an array of children's, YA and adult fiction. I get in a few nonfiction every now and then. Thanks for hopping by!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson's books act as beacons. They alerts readers to the existence of hard places. In Wintergirls, Anderson tells the story of one nearly dashed to pieces by loss and emotional burdens. The lyrical prose reflects Lia’s decent into the depths of anorexia and the self-hatred and despair that accompanies her inability to control her life, to stop bad things from happening and to stop her pain.

The text is not a magnet. It never made me want to be near or experience Lia’s self-inflicted wounds but only to better understand the disorder. Lia’s eating disorder is severe and she does more than resist food. She also cuts and self medicates. And she is not the only person her actions hurt. Her family is wounded as well. The truths about anorexia are ugly. It was hard for me to read the book because Lia’s depression is deep and her emaciated body revolting to behold if only in text.

Yet, beacons are necessary. If no one tells us about the danger, if no one tells others who are caught in life’s storms that they are not alone, what a tragedy that would be. Yes, we need beacons like Wintergirls.  Visit Laurie Halse Anderson's website here.

Publisher: Viking Juvenile, 2009     Pages: 288

Rating: 3.5 Stars     Source: Purchased

Thursday, March 10, 2011

News: Brief Status Update and Giveaway Winner

The winner of the $35 credit to CSN Stores is Katherine! Congrats!

Today is my last day of class before spring break - finally! I thought it would never get here! This week has been crazy with midterms/papers and the usual homework so posting has taken a back seat. I have several unwritten posts swirling in my head so expect your blog reader to fill up in the near future! =) What posts, you ask?
  • Book reviews, of course! I'm excited to review Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism by Michael Cart. It was great and should be of interest to many of my followers.
  • Musings of a Grad Student post because the semester is half way through and I have much to report.
  • A post about Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Something thought out and beefed up with references. Such a post is a ways off but I think it could be cool!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Three Children's Books!

If a Dog Could Blog is written by Lolo LeDeaux, a basset known as "Killer." Each page is a post from her blog. Killer gets into plenty of mischief and adventures. This is a cute tale that might be fun to read with kids who show an interest in your blogging. I recommend reading it with your kids as many of the terms and phrases might be unfamiliar to youngins. Illustrated by Susan Shorter, the pictures are simple but bright.

Daddy's Little Squirrel by Kayle Shurley Davidson is a tribute to the bond between fathers and daughters. Kallie loves helping her dad around the ranch getting the day's chores done. I like how this story shows a kid and parent working together. I remember doing so with my parents and it built great memories while teaching me that work wasn't a plague to avoid. Stephen Adams' illustrations are cute and cheery. However, I was surprised that one illustration is repeated three times. The book ended rather abruptly but was still cute.

Sohpie Gets Curtains! by Adelene Keeler Smith follows the construction of a terrier's elaborate dog house. Sohpie has a team of designers, architects and financiers to make her dream house a reality. Upon completion Sophie's doggie friends arrive for a house-warming party. The back includes a glossary of terms. The illustrations by Floyd Ryan Yamyamin are lively and capture Sohpie's lavish lifestyle.

Of the three, Sohpie has a traditional plot to follow with the party being the climax and a swift resolution of a content dog. The previous two lacked the traditional plot - exposition, rising action, climax and resolution which would have brought better focus to each story. Killer's blog posts are fairly random as are Kallie's adventures. Nonetheless, the ideas behind these stories are cute. My favorite was definitely Daddy's Little Squirrel.

All three children's books were given to me for free for review.
All published by: AuthorHouse, 2010     Pages: 28 for each
Rating: 1.5, 2, 2 Stars respectively     Source: Free from publicist

Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler

The daughter of a gypsy mother and the son of a fame-seeking father appear to have nothing in common but the wackiness of their families. But what is family? Calliope and Eliot find each other at a cross-roads in their lives. Each is puzzled by their parents’ choices and struggles under their need for parental affection and care. Scrambled Eggs at Midnight is a quirky, funny and charming romance of two teenagers itching for adulthood but longing for family.

The characters were a lot fun. Cal is smart and Eliot is adventurous. Eliot’s mom is totally unpredictable and her actions made my eyebrow raise more than once. Cal’s mom and Eliot’s dad were not the most realistic characters. A Renaissance fair “wench” and a religious fat camp director are not the most normal jobs. But the sentiment of not understanding one’s parents is relatable. And fear of abandonment is a terrible burden which Cal deals with. I wish the parents were better developed. It’s too easy to read the story and assign everyone’s problems to these two people. And that’s hardly realistic. Cal and Eliot’s romance is cute and innocent. Quickly they realize that they have a friend, someone to count on and someone to love. If you’re in the mood for a fun, happily-ever-after story, Scrambled Eggs at Midnight may be for you.

Publisher: Speak, 2007     Pages: 272
Rating: 3 stars     Source: IC Public Library