Monday, April 28, 2008

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

1. Bibliography:
Hale, Shannon. 2005. Princess Academy. New York: Bloomsbury Children's Books. 1599900734
2. Summary:
Miri is a fourteen-year-old girl who lives in the small town of Mount Eskel. When the priests of the land prophecy that the prince's bride would come from this town, all of the common girls aged 14-17 must attend a Princess Academy where they will be trained to become ladies worthy of the prince. While Miri excels at the academy, it is not the prince's heart that she longs to capture but a boy back home and the knowledge that will take her out of the town she doesn't quite realize she loves. As she struggles with her feelings and desires, she must become a leader at the academy and save the girls she has come to love.
3. Analysis:
What girl doesn't want to be a princess if not to just one person? Girls will identify with this common girl who stands there "dumb and embarrassed" around the boys she likes, unsure of her place. Although girls today are not shipped off to audition for the role of princess, they walk the halls of a school, showcasing their clothes and attitude in an effort to win the favor of those around them. Therefore, they can relate to this shy girl who is unsure of her physical stature and must learn to fill the big shoes of saving the girls at the academy from the evil Dan and his bandits who have captured the girls and hold them hostage. Since girls have been reading classic fairy tales like "Cinderella" and even modern fairy tales like "Aladdin," it is not a stretch for them to imagine a world where a mountain girl can become princess of the land.
The author gives vivid details of the "country girl come to the city," which made me laugh out loud. The teacher, Olana, greets the students only to be greeted with the scent of goats. She says," Do you people live with goats?" The following sentence doesn't have the girls answering verbally but says,"They did, of course, live with goats" followed by the rationale for doing so. This scene and others like it set the stage for what a big transformation it will have to be for one of these girls to be compatible with the prince.
Although the book follows a steady pace in the sequence of events, the end is wrapped up too quickly and too easily. Miri's time at the academy takes several chapters while the prince finding his love Britta, Miri finding out why her father never let her work with the others, and Miri's deciding to start a school seem rushed and deserved more time and explanation. The author also spends a lot of text discussing the rules to winning an argument and other things that Miri is learning when that text could have been spent developing characters or explaining what it is exactly that the people of her village actually do with the rocks and how it is that they communicate telepathically.
I enjoyed the book until its quick end and wrap-up. I would have liked to read more detail about Miri's work as a teacher since so much of the book's message to me was about the girls not just learning to fit into a different society but learning in general. Miri soaked up information like a sponge in the desert and more information about her sharing that would have smoothed out the ending for me.
4. Reviews:
Publisher Weekly: "Unfortunately, Hale's lighthearted premise and underlying romantic plot bog down in overlong passages about commerce and class, a surprise hostage situation and the specifics of "quarry-speech." The prince's final princess selection hastily and patly wraps things up." Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature: "This is a delightful tale for everyone who loves the fantasy that even a common girl can become a princess. "
5. Connections:
This would be a great literature circle book. I think if my school had enough copies, I would offer it as a selection and see if the students came to the same conclusion about the ending that I did. Excerpts like the one about sleeping with the goats or the climatic scene where Miri and Dan plunge over the side of the mountain would be great for teaching individual aspects of literature. Having the students read the selection of Miri fighting Dan to save the others aloud would be fabulous. I would stop right when they go off the edge, have the kids write what happens next, and then read what actually happens next.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

1. Bibliography:
Myers, Walter Dean. 1999. Monster. New York: HarperTempest. ISBN: 9780064407311

2. Summary:
Steve Harmon is only sixteen, but he is on trial for felony murder. Told through film format, Steve takes the reader though his trial with flashbacks to his life before going to jail. Steve is an average young man who makes a few choices that lead him to either being in the wrong place at the wrong time or participating in a heinous crime, depending on whether you believe the prosecution or the defense. The "film" shows Steve's day to day life in prison, his trial, and the eventual outcome of the trial.

3. Analysis:
This is an amazing book for so many reasons. First, the set-up is different, which grabs the readers attention. Its format is that of a film, so the story is told from a camera's point of view with film direction added to the narrative. Inside the action are glimpses of the narrator's thoughts through what appear to be journal entries. Lower readers will love the book because a lot of side elements like details on setting or extraneous information is left out, leaving just the pertinent information of the story. Therefore lower readers will not waste precious energy struggling to read extra information that enthralls faster readers but boggles down reluctant readers.
Second is the subject matter, which is a sixteen-year-old African-American boy on trial for murder. Because of his age, younger readers can relate to this thought process and feelings. Because the crime involved acquaintances of Steve, students can relate to the idea of friends getting them into trouble. Myers shows how fair-weathered friends will turn on one another to benefit themselves as Bobo does in the story. Because students can relate to the topic so much, it can be related to their own lives and be a way to not only communicate with the young adults but also give some advice without lecturing...let the book speak to them.
The third is the lack of detail. Myers leaves a lot of detail to the reader's imagination. Steve writes, "I hate, hate, hate this place," but he never tells us why. Readers are allowed to let their imaginations and prior knowledge/hearsay of jail to influence what could make Steve hate jail. Myers also has Steve say,"I feel terrible. My stomach is gassy and bloated. I still can't go to the bathroom in front of everyone." Although the sentences are short and simple, it gives the reader insight that even the most ordinary of daily events is not the same in jail. (Plus, young adult boy readers love anything about body functions!)

4. Reviews:
School Libary Journal--"Monster is a must purchase for all middle and high school libraries. English teachers should be encouraged to use this audiobook as a possible writing prompt or as an introduction to readers' theater."-Lynda N. Short Copyright 2000 Cahners Business.
Children's Literature--"This is a powerful, intense, thought-provoking story. It is great for discussions about the judicial system, pre-judging, self-perception, parent-child relationships and our prison system."

5. Connections:
I use literature circles in my classroom, and I believe this would be a great book for literature circle. Those kids who hate long books or choose books simply based on length would love the style and set-up of the book while still making me happy by reading a great book.
I think it would also be a great book to read as the book club book through the school library. I think the book has so many aspects for discussion that it shouldn't be limited to one subject area. I think it's also a book that kids should be able to bring out the topics that interest them most because there are so many: parent-child relationship, jail, making good choices, law and trials, friends, and many more.
(In fact, I read this book during silent reading time in my classroom, and I had three or four kids put their names down to read it when I finished.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley

1. Bibliography:
Stanley, Diane. 1998. Joan of Arc. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN: 9780064437486
2. Summary:
Joan of Arc is a young woman who believes she has been called by God to save her country, France. She risks her life to help aide a man named Charles, who she believes is the man who should be king. Although she is brave in her efforts and lives through dangerous encounters, she is ultimately killed as a martyr for her beliefs.
3. Analysis:
This book is recommended for ages seven and up, and I believe it is written in a way that would appeal to that age group. The book begins with a small background knowledge page of the 100 years War and a pronunciation guide for the French words and continues to aide readers in their comprehension of the information and storyline. A war on American soil is incomprehensible to most American students, so the author sets a stage of what life was like for the French during this war, telling the reader that "You have never known what it's like to live in peace. Neither have your parents or grandparents." In addition, a concept like a person hearing voices would be characterized as insane by today's standards, so the author points out that the people of this time "were deeply religious and viewed the world not from a scientific point of view but rather a spiritual one. They accepted the unexplainable much more readily than we would today." With that matter cleared up, the reader is ready to embark on the journey with Joan.
The events of Joan's life are told in very simple, concise sentences. The facts are presented, but other events like Joan's predictions of events are presented as facts although many people today would be and are sceptical of her ability to foresee the future events such as seeing herself struck with an arrow. In a time of continual war for generations, it is not surprising that the citizens would rally around a central figure who seemed to have a secret communication with God.
The final scene of the book where Joan is burned at the stake is a powerful historical lesson on allowing the mob mentality to eat away at the common sense of a nation. Here in America, it is unfathomable for the citizens of a town to get together to watch someone die, especially in such a horrific way. The simple way the scene was set up gives the sense of how "normal" this occurrence was in this time period. However, the quotes from the secretary of the king of England where he says,"We are all lost for we have burned a saint" demonstrates the compassion that even Joan's enemies felt towards her.
The illustrations for the book are great. They give a feel for the time period in which the story takes place. The rich colors illustrate the emphasis on royalty and tradition while pictures of the knights in their armor give a visual of the warfare methods of the day. The picture of Joan's death stands out. It is a mainly darkly colored page except for the red stages where the royalty sat, red for the innocent blood that was now on their hands.
Finally, the author leaves the reader to decide if Joan was mentally ill, determined to believe she was the one to fulfill old French prophecy, or if she was indeed the chosen one. "Sometimes in studying history, we have to accept what we know and let the rest remain a mystery."
4. Reviews:
Publishers Weekly: "Appealing to the audience's intelligence and imagination, this book stimulates an interest in both its particular subject, Joan of Arc, and history in general," said PW in a starred review.
School Library Journal: This narrative description of the greatest of French saints is a work of art, a good story, and a model of historical writing."
5. Connections:
Excerpts from this book would be great to use as comparisons to today's viewpoints, warfare tactics, and views of heroes. The pictures could also be used to exemplify the dress, colors, and daily life of the time in which Joan of Arc lived and died.

Trouble Don't Last by Shelley Pearsall

1. Bibliography:
Pearsall, Shelley. 2002. Trouble Don't Last. New York: Yearling. ISBN: 9780440418115

2. Summary:
Samuel is an eleven-year-old slave. He was born into slavery, but Old Harrison, an old slave on the same farm as Samuel, grabs him one night and runs with Samuel towards freedom. Throughout the book, the reader travels on a journey to freedom with the two characters where they meet with unusual characters, treacherous adventures, and ultimate reward.

3. Analysis:
This book is capturing in many ways. I had to finish it in one day because I had to find out what happened to Samuel and Old Harrison. First, the author sets an authentic setting with wonderful dialect. Conversations with comments like," Now, let's git them hogs fed 'fore they start chewin up the walls," create the southern feel and colloquialisms.
Second, the vivid descriptions of the interaction between Samuel and the other slaves and Mas'er Hackler and his family create a stirring in the reader to want to do something to help Samuel. Anger swells as as Mas Seth trips Samuel, causing him to break a dish and creating an uproar in the house. The author creates a sense of urgency that Samuel must escape and thankfully he does. Another way the author urges the reader to take up the cause of freedom is to describe from a young boy's perspective the wounds on Old Harrison's back. "I had seen them a hundred times, and seeing them always brought the snake twisting back around my throat. I couldn't do a thing but look again. The terrible stripes tore back and forth like the jagged scars that lightning makes when it splits through the bark of trees." Although brief, the description leaves the reader feeling like Samuel did--"Seeing them just made me feel weak all over and sick."
On the journey, the author keeps the story lined up with historical evidence. Many of the places like the homes people hid runaways in, the river crossing, and the network of help are all historically accurate. The interesting characters like the widow Lucy Taylor who still saw and talked to her dead husband provide a light note in an otherwise somber journey.
Finally, the author creates a feeling of suspense. The reader is often left wondering if Samuel will face the end result many runaway slaves did: recapture and punishment if not death. The final challenge when Samuel is captured and must finally believe and present himself as free is wonderful. He learned to "walk free" and his courageous act won him not only his freedom but those with him.
The author gives us a fabulous ending, one where Samuel's mom is there waiting for him in freedom and all those involved live happy lives.

4. Reviews:

Kirkus Review: "This succeeds as a suspenseful historical adventure with survival at stake and makes clear that to succeed Harrison and Samuel, as well as others, must never give up even while combating manhunters, bloodhounds, mental illness, disease, hunger, cold, and their own despair."

5. Connections:

This book would be great in an ELA classroom for discussion on dialogue and suspense. It would also serve well either in excerpts or in whole during a lesson on the Underground Railroad or slavery.

The Fighting Ground by Avi

1. Bibliography:
Avi. 1884. The Fighting Ground. New York: HarperTrophy. ISBN: 9780064401852.

Jonathan is a thirteen year old boy in America in the year 1778. Although he is young, he leaves his home one day to fight with the American forces. During his one day of service, Jonathan encounters enemy forces, learns about fighting, and a little about how all people are the same inside.

3. Analysis:
The book's set-up of having each section divided by time sets the scene for a young boy's daily routine. However, the day is anything but ordinary. Avi takes the reader for a journey into the personal day of a soldier in the Revolutionary War that is intriguing and very insightful to the daily life of the soldiers.
American students always hear that the soldiers in the American wars were young, but Avi drives the fact home by contrasting Jonathan's enthusiasm with his inept ability to perform. In the opening scene, Jonathan is ready to fight, even daydreaming about it. "His father's flintlock musket leaned against a stump. The cartridge box and powder horn were also there. The gun was primed, ready to be used. Jonathan knew how." These sentences show how Jonathan had been planning to help fight in the war and his confidence that he was equipped to fight. However, a few hours later, this confidence fades as he is "unsteady" and fails to load his gun quickly and accurately, revealing how most American boys were ill-prepared to fight.
American textbooks often idealize the American side of the war, but Avi gives a balanced approach. He shows the commander of the group to be a coward. He walks by Jonathan and does not really help. He only goes to the house to defeat the enemy after Jonathan heroically escapes with the young boy. He also shows the softer side of the enemy forces by having them not kill Jonathan and feed him instead.
In fact, it is the interaction with Jonathan with the Hessians that is the most compelling part of the book. Avi shows Jonathan's terror in the situation by not translating the Hessians' conversations. As the Hessians speak rapidly at Jonathan, the reader too feels confused and isolated. It is not until the end of the book that the reader realizes that the Hessians mean Jonathan no harm and want to "Let him go!" This interaction--Jonathan's saving the Hessians and their want to let him go free--show the most important theme of the book: that we are all human no matter what side of a war we are on.

4. Reviews:
Notable Children's Books of 1984 (ALA)
1984 Best Books for Young Adults (ALA)Notable
1984 Children's Trade Books in Social Studies (NCSS/CBC)
1984 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction for Children

5. Connections;
This book would be a great extended lesson in a history class. Because it's a quick read, it would be easy to read a little each day or to assign it as an extension homework assignment.