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 08, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
He wears a black band on his lower right leg and an orange flag on his upper left, bearing the laser inscription B95. Scientists call him the Moonbird because, in the course of his astoundingly long lifetime, this gritty, four-ounce marathoner has flown the distance to the moon—and halfway back!
B95 is a robin-sized shorebird, a red knot of the subspecies rufa. Each February he joins a flock that lifts off from Tierra del Fuego, headed for breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, nine thousand miles away. Late in the summer, he begins the return journey.
B95 can fly for days without eating or sleeping, but eventually he must descend to refuel and rest. However, recent changes at ancient refueling stations along his migratory circuit—changes caused mostly by human activity—have reduced the food available and made it harder for the birds to reach. And so, since 1995, when B95 was first captured and banded, the worldwide rufa population has collapsed by nearly 80 percent. Most perish somewhere along the great hemispheric circuit, but the Moonbird wings on. He has been seen as recently as November 2011, which makes him nearly twenty years old. Shaking their heads, scientists ask themselves: How can this one bird make it year after year when so many others fall?
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a sucker for birds. While many librarians are crazy cat ladies, I am a crazy bird lady. We own seven. So of course I read this book, right? Well, I almost didn’t. I got about halfway through the first chapter and found myself incredibly frustrated with the sidebars that kept interrupting my reading. They either cut off the paragraph I was in the middle of or horned in on the side crying out for attention, right in the middle of my sentence. It’s apparently been awhile since I’ve read any nonfiction intended for a young audience or a textbook. I like sidebars, and these had a lot of excellent and pertinent information, but who placed them in the book? Jeez. They were so distracting.
Sidebar rant aside, this is a book about one incredible bird, a bird who has lived nearly 2o years to fly the equivalent of the distance to the moon and at least halfway back. It’s also the story of his species and many other speices. The book does a brilliant job of subtley showing its audience how all things in nature are connected and how all our actions have an impact. In the end this is a book about conservation, but it addresses a polarizing and touchy subject lightly and by employing such a remarkable and unlikely hero that it never feels like preaching.
I was constantly reminded of the documentary Winged Migration, the movie Fly Away Home and even Project UltraSwan. Kids need stories like all these as they are the kind that inspire children to want to be conservationists, biologists, or ornithologists. Or just simply to get outside.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, Feb 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show, a menagerie of human curiosities and misfits guaranteed to astound and amaze! But perhaps the strangest act of Mosco’s display is Portia Remini, a normal among the freaks, on the run from McGreavy’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave. Free at last, Portia begins a new life on the bally, seeking answers about her father’s disappearance. Will she find him before Mister finds her? It’s a story for the ages, and like everyone who enters the Wonder Show, Portia will never be the same.
Despite the cover, this is not the book for the kid who wants to run away and join the circus. Too bad because we’ve all been there, right? I mean, there is some running away and there is a circus, but really it’s a book about finding. Finding yourself, finding your family, finding a family, finding a future, finding where you belong and who you belong to.
In actuality, this a a book for kids who like their fiction a bit dark and even a bit sad and melancholy. It is absoultely beautifully written. Even though most children have not been sent off to a home for wayward girls for being too imaginative and unmanageable, Portia is so familiar a character. She’s headstrong, angst-y, and ready to grow up, but she also longs for the more magical and comforting time of her childhood. In the end her story isn’t about being sent away or looking for her father, but about finding a place in the wider, lonely world and making a family for herself from the hodge-podge of people she finds herself amongst.
Wonder Show really reminded me of Carnivale, a television show from a few years back. It was dark, conflicted, and…adult. This book tried to be and there were hints of cruelty, sexuality, and abuse, but in the end it was a middle-grade novel. I think if nothing else, this Yalsa Hub reading challenge is teaching me a lot about what I like to read and what I can see value in for other readers. The thing is, I will read just about anything and, if not love it, at least lose myself in the story. And I guess what I’m finding is I like the more adult books and, really, as a kid I think I would have too. Leaving out the complexities of the world, especially a world as dark as a traveling freak show, always feels like pandering to me. Yet, I still connected with the book and with Portia.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 26, Nov 2012 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When it comes to finding out about new books and materials, I’m a pretty traditional girl. I subscribe to review journals; I follow blogs; I poke around online; I even occasionally hear about stuff by word of mouth. But the latest book I came across was not found through any of these channels. No joke, I found it at the grocery store. It was a nice grocery store, but a grocery store nonetheless. I think it was the illustrations that drew me to it on the book table by the cheeses. They resemble Maira Kalman’s artwork.
I really hate those ploys at the grocery store that try to snare you into buying something really expensive simply because it’s a non-food item that you are buying from the food store. I also hate the way they lay things out to entice you to buy more than you need, mostly because it’s so darn clever. But I am so glad I gave in this once.
The Perfect Thanksgiving is, at heart, a simple story that I think everyone can relate to. The narrator, a young girl, compares her family’s zany Thanksgiving feast and festivities with that of another young girl, Abigail Archer. Abigail’s family has the Martha Stewart equivalent of a Thanksgiving. The pies are perfect, there are chocolates on the pillows for all the guest, for whom there is ample room. The turkey is all white meat and is expertly carved.
The narrator, who’s name you never learn, has a family and Thanksgiving more like what ours looks like. Things are spilled, the pies come from the store, her mother dresses casually and makes Jell-o molds. There is too much family to fit in the house and the relatives create lots of havoc and noise. It is a boisterous holiday to say the least.
However, at the end, the little girl points out that her Thanksgiving and Abigail’s are the same in one very, and ultimately the only, important way. They both enjoy loving families. This message is a good one for all children, but I think it is even more resonant in this day and age where families look more like those on Modern Family than on Leave It To Beaver. No child should feel bad because their family doesn’t fit some “traditional” model and I think this book does a sweet job of presenting that message in a way that doesn’t feel forced or apologetic.