Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

“When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for a long time...” - from inside the jacket.

Jack is invisible. At least he feels that way. His parents sometimes act like they can’t remember he even exists and then they dump his at his aunt’s. What’s a twelve-year-old to do?

Jack does not believe in fairy tales. But strange happenings force him to reconsider who he is and what he’s capable of.

I loved Barnhill’s writing for two reasons. First, as a native Iowan I know she’s spent time here, listening to the corn grow and cicadas chirping at night, because it’s reflected in her writing. Iowa isn’t flashy -- there aren’t any mountains or big cities -- but it has a quiet beauty which Jack discovers as he investigates the mysteries written in The Secret History of Hazelwood, written by his uncle. Secondly, Barnhill captures the essence of otherness in her writing which makes for good fantasy. I love writing that creates a mysterious atmosphere by leaving room for the imagination.  It makes you go, whoa, what in the world?

There is resolution in the ending but not a “happy ending” in a traditional sense. I found it very satisfying and think children readers will, too. Jack must make a difficult choice and any decision will have its consequences for him and those he cares about. This book shows how the world is not black and white, that good and evil are more complicated concepts than we wish they were. It’s unusual to find a children’s book that is willing to show this. I felt Barnhill’s representation of the ideas of good and evil, sacrifice, bullying and true friendship were masterful. The characters were great though there may have been one too many. That’s my only “complaint.” I loved the bodyguard cats, Gog and Magog. Hysterical! I can’t wait to see what Barnhill writes next!

Publisher: Little Brown, 2011 Pages: 323
Rating: 4.5 Stars Source: Public Library

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Musings of a Grad Student: Final Semester in Library and Information Science!

It is my last semester as a graduate student! I’ve been to each class once and they all look interesting. 

Here are descriptions of my classes:

  • Search and Discovery: A required course, it covers online information sources like subscription databases. We’ll also cover info-seeking behavior, the reference interview and types of searching structures found online. 
    • Interesting Assignment: Client Based Final Project in which I will identify a real-life client with an information need. I will produce an annotated bibliography of resources for this client.

  • Topics in Book Studies: Creating Library Content: Digital or physical, library materials are diverse. How did they get to the library? How did they get written/coded/filmed, why, and who publishes these materials and why? How do different medias work together and influence the creation of other materials? 
    • Interesting Assignment: Topic-Specific Contributions. Each week I will discuss how my chosen topic (an aspect of children’s lit that I haven’t nailed down yet) interacts with the publishing model under investigation that day.

  • Children’s Literature II: Reading Gender in Children's and Young Adult Literature: Oh, my, I am excited for this class! Most of the books are geared towards children with a few that overlap into middle grade YA. I’ll be posting about my reads for this class so watch for those reviews! 
    • Interesting Assignment: Bookstore/Library Visitation and Field Notes. I’ll be spying on a children’s library department while my colleagues check out a book store children’s department for an hour observing workers, shoppers, displays and the general layout.

It is fast approaching, the wave. The crest grows higher as the base swells. Soon I will lose sight of the sky. Will it swamp me this wave? Will I drown? Will I ride up and over the crest, breaking through the foam and soar into empty air? Am I ready to fall, splash and start rowing? Yes. Yes, I am. Four months to May!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen

Kevin is becoming one of my favorite characters. He’s such a …. character! Always scheming someway to get things done, he’s a path-of-least-resistance kind of teen who acts before thinking things through.

In Flat Broke, Kevin needs to make quick cash to take his crush to a dance. Due to his previous shenanigans (in Liar, Liar), Kevin’s allowance has been taken away, his aunt won’t hire him anymore and his babysitting gig isn’t paying like it used to. Kevin, crafty and undaunted, finds creative ways to make a fast buck. But like most get rich quick schemes, Kevin’s plans don’t work out as he hoped.

I laughed a lot while reading. Below are some quotes to demonstrate the humor that any attempt by me to analyze will surely ruin. I’ve added who is speaking for clarification. 

Kevin: I don’t want a ride.
Sister: What do you want?
Kevin: Money
Sister: How much? And Why? And you know I don’t just give money away for nothing. There’s a vig.
     I raised my eyebrows, glad that one of the books I’d read had been written by a guy in the witness protection program, explaining his former career as a loan shark. I knew that a vig was the interest due on money borrowed. My sister is a dark and mysterious person. More likely, she read the same book in our basement. I was starting to like her more and more. (Paulsen 20).

Kevin: Auntie Buzz.
     She looked up from her desk, started to smile, remembered she was still mad about the way I’d lied to her, and scowled.
Kevin: I’m here to make you an offer, I said 
Aunt: I have an MBA, I’m wired on too much caffeine and I have a grudge against you. You think you have what it takes to do business with me?
Kevin: Yup.
Aunt: I’m a sucker for self-confidence. State your case. (Paulsen 22)

Despite the fact that all my ideas turned into poo on a stick, everyone around me farts gold dust these days. (Paulsen 115)

I hope Paulsen writes more about Kevin! If you're looking for a good middle grade book that's funny look no further!

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2011     Pages: 118
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: Public Library

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

If you’re new to the classics scene, especially Victorian era classics, and have been previously daunted by the length of Victorian novels, I recommend trying A Christmas Carol. I enjoyed this novella. In only a few pages, Dickens creates interesting characters that you care about and a story you want to finish. Even if you've seen movies based on this tale the book is still worth reading. 

Dickens was a master at writing for his audience, pulling on just the right strings, and those strings still pull 21st century readers. The supernatural element creates a surprisingly spooky environment for a Christmas story. I have to wonder if people thought Dickens was crazy -- “You’re going to write a ghost story about Christmas?” -- but it works and is truly a wonderful, touching little story about a greedy man who reconnects with the important things in life -- people. Did you read A Christmas Carol? What did you think?

Publisher: Dover, 1991     Pages: 68
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: purchased copy

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Challenge Complete: POC

The People of Color Reading Challenge was the first reading challenge I participated in and I am so glad I did. I've come across interesting and creative authors and illustrators that I might have never read had it not been for the challenge. I signed up for level 4, 10-15 books, and read 17 total that counted towards the challenge. So, here are the books I read with my brief thoughts. Links are to my reviews.

Children's and Young Adult Titles:
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang 
    • I loved the three stories melded into one! The Monkey King story especially ruled! The illustrations were excellent.
  • Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U. S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and R. Gregory Christie 
    • Awesome Western story. Awesome illustrations. A favorite for sure.
  • The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
    • I've read little fiction set in the Middle East and I just loved this heartbreaking story. 
  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose
    • The photos from the 1950s surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Claudette's involvement in it really made this book stand out for me.
  • Exposure by Mal Peet
    • Poverty, wealth, obscurity, celebrity. An assigned read that turned out to be great. 
  • Latasha and the Little Red Tornado by Michael Scotto 
    • Written by a newer author this was a touching little story about a girl and her dog.
  • Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
    • A boy works through his troubles by writing poetry. Received much praise but not from me.
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia William
    • The sisters' rivalry made this otherwise slow story interesting for me. 
  • Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey 
    • A look through a child's eyes at what it was like for African American families to travel by car during the Jim Crow era. A thumbs up.
  • Shadow by Suzy Lee
    • A wordless book. It's strength was its simplicity.
  • Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
    • It left me feeling a little unfulfilled but incredibly immersed in culture -- and very hungry.
  • Wave by Suzy Lee
    • Another wordless book. Very imaginative.
  • WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
    • The illustrations were great. The narrative got a smidge slow. 
  • Zan-Gah by Allen Richard Shickman
    • Was hoping for a bit more action though there is plenty of it. 
Adult Titles: