By Elizabeth Wroten
On 26, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.
Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories–Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures–weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder.
I am ready to go live in a museum. Actually I have been ready since I read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (what kid wasn’t ready after that book), but Wonderstruck made me remember that desire. In Wonderstruck, Ben’s mother has recently died and while poking through some of her things he finds a few clues to who his father may have been. Using the clues, Ben runs away to New York City. He ends up at the natural history museum where he is befriended by one of the curators sons who hides him in an old storeroom that just so happens to be connected to his mysterious father. Toward the end of the story Ben visits a miniature model of the city that was originally an exhibit at the World’s Fair.
So, I’m not the biggest fan of the mixed graphic novel and written novel mediums, but Selznick’s stories are so good that it ends up not mattering. There is just something so cozy about the story and it’s settings. It might have to do with the scenes or the model of the city Ben visits, but I fell in love with this book. Plus Ben is such a neat kid. He’s got pluck and courage and curiosity. Just an all around great story about family and living in museums. 🙂
As a post script, I highly suggest reading the Author’s Note at the back where Selznick talks about how he got the inspiration for this story, it is so interesting. I could also see it being pretty inspiring for aspiring writers because his inspiration came from something serendipitous and mundane (he was given a behind the scenes tour of the NYC Natural History Museum and happened to catch a documentary on deaf culture and how the move from silent films to talkies impacted it).
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Sep 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten
Since I have been plowing through all these novels lately I haven’t made much of an effort to read anything online. Now that I’m reading a bit less, though, I have come across a few articles I thought I would share here (both for others and to help me remember to refer back to them!).
First up is a blog post from Meredith Farkas about how important it is to understand where errors are coming from. I could not agree more with this and think it’s applicable to all levels of education and across all subjects. When I first started out after college I began tutoring and I had one student that was really struggling with math. She was trying to do pre-algebra and it just wasn’t clicking for her. She was bright and I was baffled. It took me awhile but I finally realized, based on some mistakes she made, that she didn’t have any basic math skills (like fourth and fifth grade math) or any understanding of how numbers worked. As soon as I discovered that, we went back and covered the basics. I even stopped working on her pre-algebra with her to get her up to speed, except to limp through her homework. After a few weeks and before we had even finished her crash course in basics she was already better understanding the harder mathematical concepts. That was a turning point for me. I realized how important it was not to just see that students make errors, but what those errors can tell you about gaps in their learning and understanding.
Last Friday I was listening to Science Friday and they had on some guests talking about science fairs. Personally I wish we did a lot more with science in our schools, but for those self-motivated enough these science fairs sounded amazing. One comment that was made that really stuck with me, though, was that working on science projects is a good way for kids to learn about failure. I think our current system of testing kids like crazy really doesn’t value failure and what it can teach us. It makes kids see failure as something to be afraid of and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Apparently David Truss also had failure on the brain, because I came across this post from his blog two days later. It’s short but has some great thoughts.
And I guess I’ll get on the Banned Books band wagon. I came across this post from Teen Librarian Toolbox about changing the discussion of banned books. It reminded me of one of my classes in library school. I can’t remember which one, but the professor gave us some tips for dealing with upset patrons that might object to a material in the library. The very first thing she told us to ask (after apologizing that they were offended) was, what was it you were looking for when you found this and can I help you locate what you were looking for? That always sounded to me like changing the subject to avoid conflict, but in light of this post from TLT I realized it can be more about redirecting the conversation and not validating their complaint. Not sure how I would actually handle this situation IRL, espeically if a patron was irate, but it’s definitely something to chew on.
Okay that’s it for the time being. I may have more in the next few weeks, but in the mean time enjoy the reviews. I have ton of them to write still!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.
Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.
Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?
I don’t usually have a hard time enjoying the books I read to keep up with YA/MG publishing, but there are times when I go out of my way to finish a series or read the latest from an author I really like. Sarah Dessen is one of those authors that I choose to keep up with.
I wish these books had been out when I was in high school and that I had been aware of them. As much as I loved this story, I think I can generalize about Sarah Dessen’s books a bit in my reviews. She does such a good job of showing characters that aren’t perfect and are human. They think about boys and sex and clothes, but they also think about school and jobs and college and eating and driving and awkwardness. They also tend to deal with less than perfect families. We all struggled with being a teen (must be an echo in here, I just said that in my last review too) and Dessen gives teens a way to see that it’s all normal. Plus her writing is just so good; it’s so easy to fall into the story and hope it will never end.
I think The Moon and More was particularly wonderful because it’s about that last summer between high school and college (or whatever is coming next). I remember that summer. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. Emaline’s summer really throws her for a loop. She was so sure about what was coming and it all changes, a disorienting experience we all share.
In reflecting back on my teen years, I always feel like I didn’t deal well with the confusion and hormones and relationships, everything that came with those years. Even though Dessen’s girls aren’t perfect they do tend to have a certain togetherness that I wish I had had as a model for how to deal with situations. Emaline is no exception to this and it made me love the book that much more.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 19, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life-which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job-Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That’s when things start to get crazy.
At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn’t brilliant compared to the other kids; he’s just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping-until, one night, he nearly kills himself.
Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
I have to admit I only found out about this book because it was a movie. That we watched. Before I read the book. It was a totally fabulous movie too. Which is why I picked up the book.
I talked a bit before about books-into-movies and I have to say this falls into the category of the book and movie were equally good. Since the book came first it deserves credit for the great characters and their development, but the movie really brought a few key scenes to life for me. Plus it had a great soundtrack.
That being said I really loved this book. You get into Craig’s head in a way you can’t in a movie and his struggles are so relatable. He’s got more intense anxiety than most people, but we’ve all been teens and I think what Craig goes through isn’t all that far removed from what we all experienced. The doubt about ourselves. The pressure to fit in, to do well, to seem like we have our sh*t together.
Craig’s a good guy though and so are the people he meets. They’re all suffering but Craig sees them for the people they are not just their neuroses. They also act as a catalyst for Craig to crawl his way out of his depression and anxiety. A lot of the people there won’t get better. Ever. And Craig recognizes this and decides he doesn’t want that or himself. All in all, a great story about self-discovery and choosing the light over the darkness in all of us.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
I have to admit I am a sucker for books written by Nigerian authors and/or set in Nigeria and that is the reason I picked up Akata Witch. I suppose if I had to booktalk this in a few seconds I would call it a Harry Potter read alike. But I feel kind of like I’m copping out comparing this book to Harry Potter.
It definitely shares a number of similarities. The four kids are wizards and witches. Sunny, the main character, was unaware of her abilities/ties to the magical community. There is a lot of learning about the power within yourself and your own inner strengths. There is also some good friendship material. It even kind of dragged in the same way I felt the first Harry Potter book did toward the beginning. But for some reason I just preferred these kids and this magical community to the Harry Potter one. Probably because I’m a sucker for Nigerian books.
All that aside this was a fun read. The story was pretty compelling and exciting. I loved that it felt very grounded in Nigerian culture and especially its traditional magic. I cannot speak to how closely it mirrors Nigerian magic, but it certainly feels authentic. Really this is what made Akata Witch stand out to me more than any other wizarding book (I’m looking at you again, Harry Potter). The depth of the culture really made the story more vibrant. And there was the added conflict of Sunny and Sasha feeling torn between being American and Nigerian. That just made the book feel more mature to me than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Sunny is a likable girl and she’s a pretty quick study so I never felt like shouting at her to stop being so naive or dense (I had that experience with a number of other books I read this summer). The other kids are fun too and possess enough sass and cheek to make them interesting, believable, but not exasperating.
All in all a fun book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man–a bioengineered war beast named Tool–who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.
I liked this one as much as Ship Breaker. It was a bit of the same and a bit different in terms of the story arc. The characters were all deeply flawed but likable. There was plenty of action but also heart. I love love love Tool. He’s a “good guy” but not a good guy and I love the ambiguity of it all. It makes it very real.
Okay, that’s done. Can we talk about the paperback cover for Ship Breaker and the cover for The Drowned Cities. Oh my god they suck. I’m not the type of person who is embarrassed to be seen with a book because it’s cover it terrible and I wouldn’t be embarrassed by this one. But let me tell you, if I hadn’t loved Ship Breaker I would not have picked this one up.
The eyes are just weird. The font is pretty ho-hum. The scratchy effect layered over the picture kinda works, but the hardback cover for Ship Breaker was perfect. It looked like the title was carved into one of the ships on the beach. It worked with the story and it didn’t tell you how to picture anything. Now I can’t get those eyes out of my head while I read these books. Also, I didn’t know what city was the Drowned City. Not for quite some time and it was pretty cool to try and pin it down. But if I hadn’t read the ebook version (or had looked more closely at that crappy cover, something I avoided doing) I wouldn’t have had that pleasure.
So please ignore the cover and read this book. It’s so worth the time.