Friday, April 18, 2008

Module 7 Fantasy: Babymouse: Queen of the World!

Babymouse: Queen of the World!
Holm, Jennifer, L. and Matthew Holm. 2005. Babymouse: Queen of the World! New York: Random House.

Brother and sister team Jennifer and Matthew Holm have created a delightful, lovable hero in Babymouse, Queen of the World, a pre-teen rodent full of spunk and ingenuity. Babymouse struggles with all the angst of growing up, complete with feelings of insecurity, the desire for acceptance, and the daily challenges of school life. She has all the flaws of an endearing protagonist—she must straighten her less than perfect, curly whiskers each morning, she is not the most attentive student, and she must suffer the hardships of having an annoying baby brother who likes to pull on her tail. She tends to cope with the trials and tribulations of her existence through her overactive imagination where she wrestles giant squids, solves mysteries as a private detective, is a poker playing cowgirl, banished to Antarctica, and finally, Queen of the World. Additional characters such as her best friend, Wilson Weasel and her arch nemesis, Felicia Furrypaws (complete with naturally straight whiskers, of course) round out the creative cast of characters. At breakneck speed, Babymouse will slip into the most incredible daydreams and fantasies that rival the works of H. G. Wells and the Brothers Grimm. Drawn in simplistic black and white tones by the talented Matthew Holm, a graphic artist, Babymouse’s fantasies are highlighted in pink to aide the reader in visually keeping track of her reality and dream worlds. Just like Babymouse’s pink heart logo which can always be found somewhere on her, she carries a bit of that spark and imagination with her in either world, real or make-believe. The themes of friendship, acceptance, and independence will speak to readers of all ages. The simplistic format of the graphic novel will appeal to even the most reluctant reader. Luckily, there are many more adventures of Babymouse to be found in additional novels such as, Babymouse, Our Hero and Babymouse, Rock Star. As Babymouse, herself would say, “Typical”, she is anything but. Allow yourself to indulge in Babymouse.

Module 7 Fantasy: The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book One The Field Guide
DiTerlizzi, Tony and Holly Black. 2003. The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book One The Field Guide. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black have teamed up to bring us a delightful, action-packed adventure into the world of goblins, boggarts, faeries, pixies and brownies. The Grace children, older sister Mallory, and twins Jared and Simon must move with their recently divorced mother to a relative’s run-down, old Victorian house. The house provides the setting for the magical adventures that exist all around us if you only know where to look. “In a man’s torso you will find/My secret to all mankind/If false and true can be the same/You will soon know of my fame/Up and up and up again/Good luck dear friend.” This mysterious message begins a series of adventures for the threesome that will cause them to band together to overcome their problems and strive to help and understand creatures different from themselves. Jared finds a ‘field guide’ in Arthur Spiderwick’s secluded library that educates them in the world of these other creatures. After the siblings have destroyed a brownie’s home, Jared is blamed for a series of mischievous pranks played on the others. Exquisite, detailed illustrations exemplify the humor and imagination of the whimsical and playful adventures that the authors have created. The artistic account of Mallory, tied to her bed by her hair will make you laugh out loud. Determined to clear his name and right their wrongs, Jared prepares a new home for the brownie and harmony is somewhat restored in the odd, mysterious home. This short, picture filled novel will appeal to the most reluctant reader. The brief chapters with easy to digest plot and dialog will leave children clamoring for more. The Field Guide sets the stage for four other novels to follow which chronicle the adventures of the Grace children and their interaction with the magical world. The recently released movie tie-in has created much buzz and interest into this charming series.

Module 7 Fantasy: Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl
Colfer, Eoin. 2001. Artemis Fowl. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Poor little rich boy, Artemis Fowl’s family has fallen on hard times. His father is missing and presumed dead and his mother can barely cope with reality and is locked in her memories of the past, leaving Artemis to get by on his own, with help, of course, from his butler, Butler, a highly skilled, deadly, bodyguard with a heart of gold. After unlocking the code in the Book, the fairies’ Bible, of sorts, incredibly gifted, twelve year old Artemis devises a plan to kidnap an elf and receive a ransom of gold. Little does he know when he captures Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance) Unit that he has met his match. Eoin Colfer’s magical world of fairies and elves comes alive with colorful creatures and technical gadgets such as Foaly, a centaur, who controls all communication and transport devices, Mulch Diggums, a tunnel digging dwarf with a criminal history, and tough talking, cigar chewing, LEP Commander Julius Root. The ransom is paid and Holly is saved but it comes at a much higher price-- in the process, she saves Butler’s life and it seems that there is a connection here to be continued in future novels. There are talks of this series being made into a movie and the action packed drama and humorous dialog will appeal to readers of all ages. The story ends nicely with the main characters safe and sound and the objects being returned to their rightful owners. Artemis’ mother is restored to her normal self and readers are left with a happy ending but just enough loose ends to warrant anticipation for a sequel. The audio book version of this novel is outstanding as well. Read by the talented Nathaniel Parker the characters come alive with his gift of dialects and voice—don’t miss it!

Module 7 Fantasy: Ender's Game

Ender’s Game
Card, Orson Scott. 1977. Ender’s Game. New York: Tom Doherty Associates Books.

The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of a six-year-old boy in this futuristic science fiction thriller by Orson Scott Card. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for outstanding books in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, Ender’s Game is an exhilarating, fast paced adventure of Andrew (Ender) Wiggin, a young boy thought to be the world’s only hope against the aggressive ‘Buggars’. These highly evolved, insect-like aliens have attacked Earth years earlier and are attempting to do so again. Ender is selected and sent to a training ‘academy’ to learn anti-gravity military tactics and battle strategy. Forced into endless situations where he is set up for failure, Ender prevails victorious time and time again. Unbelievably fighting, commanding and winning every battle in which he competes, Ender is prematurely advanced into the ultimate battle—a showdown with the Buggars. He has no idea until it is over that this was the real deal. He defeats the enemy and saves the world but feels betrayed by the lie of being led to believe it was yet another ‘game’. By this time, he is only about eleven years old. Ender is gifted with the ability of feel incredible empathy yet have a deadly knack for self-survival. Orson Scott Card creates a psychological thriller on many levels of strategy, relationships, and conflicts that will account for hours of symbolic analyzing. At its most basic level, Ender’s Game is a story of Good vs. Evil and the hardships of politics and war. Military buffs and political strategists will enjoy this highly complex novel. Not for younger readers as it is filled with technical words and descriptions in addition to scenes of violence and adult language.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Module 6 Historical Fiction: The Pharaoh's Daughter

The Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt
Lester, Julius. 2000. The Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt. New York: Silver Whistle.

“I know that being born something doesn’t mean that’s what you are” so states Almah in The Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt. In this fictional account of Moses told by Newbery Award winning author Julius Lester, religion and Egyptian history intersect to reveal the story of the young prophet and his early struggles with self awareness, identity, and purpose. Lester takes great strides to separate the commercialized, modern view of Moses (think Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments) to one of his own unique creation. The basic story of Moses being spared from death and raised by the Pharaoh’s Daughter stays true, but Lester creates a fictional coming of age story of one of the greatest Old Testament icons and gives him a realism and humanity unmatched thus far. The moral conflicts that Moses, called Mosis in Lester’s version, his sister Almah, and Batya, the Pharaoh’s Daughter, must face are complex and difficult, to say the least. Mosis knows his life was spared because he is destined for a higher purpose. In keeping with the historical accounts of Moses being quiet and ‘thick tongued’, Lester keeps his dialog simple and succinct. Almah, on the other hand, is a complete creation of Lester’s imagination. A free spirit, independent, strong willed and probably the earliest feminist, Almah is her own person, reveling in her ritualistic sun worship, going against all her cultural teachings, bringing shame and dishonor to her family, but it is she who will save Mosis’ life, not once, but twice. The Biblical story of Moses’ sister is vague, to say the least, but Lester’s interpretation of her carries the story and adds juxtaposition and conflict to the narrative. Told from various viewpoints, first Almah’s then Mosis, and then Almah’s again gives the reader insight and adds dimension to the two most central characters. We feel the anguish and despair of these two first hand as they struggle with their choices, which they know will be against everything they have been raised to do. Through the Introduction, Author’s Note, Glossary and Bibliography readers will understand Lester’s inspiration, choices, and historical trivia that will add depth to the overall concept of the story. The Pharaoh’s Daughter is a fresh, exciting take on a very old tale and readers will come away with a new respect for the time period, inspired to learn more.

Module 6 Historical Fiction: Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy
Curtis, Christopher Paul. 1999. Bud, Not Buddy. New York: Delacorte Press.

It is easy to see why Christopher Paul Curtis has won so many awards. His gift of finding just the right voice for his characters has put him head and shoulders above the rest. The title character, Bud, in his Newbery Award winning Bud, Not Buddy, is an eternally optimistic, independent orphan who never lets life get in his way. He makes things happen--which is why he runs away from his abusive foster family in the middle of the night, determined to find his ‘father’, the great jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. All he has left from his deceased mother are a few music flyers, some rocks, a blanket and his memories that he carries in an old battered suitcase. When he gets the idea to find his family he lets nothing deter him from his quest. Set in the era of the Great Depression, Bud’s personality is the polar opposite from the mood and tone of the time. His sunny disposition and positive spirit bring a ray of hope that will carry the reader through the darker times of the period and keep looking toward a better horizon. Curtis’s ability to draw realistic, multi-faceted and dynamic characters, full of quirks and tics, with strong voices and their own charm comes from the wealth of characters in his own family on which to build them. In the afterword of the book, we find that two of the major characters in the story were loosely based on Curtis’ own grandfathers. The pictures and author’s notes add a depth and realism to the story that allows the reader to feel as if they really knew these people and their problems. Curtis’ easygoing style and humorous, tongue-in-cheek dialog give this read all it needs to be a favorite for years to come. What is the mystery that surrounds the crotchety Herman E. Calloway? Why does he so dislike the effervescent Bud, and may even fear him? Well, you just have to read to find out.

Module 6 Historical Fiction: Willow Run

Willow Run
Giff, Patricia Reilly. 2005. Willow Run. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

In her follow-up to Lily’s Crossing, Newbery Award winning author, Patricia Reilly Giff continues the tale of eleven year old Meggie Dillon as she moves from her beloved Rockaway, New York home to Willow Run, Michigan where her father has taken a job in a manufacturing plant building B-24 Bomber planes during World War II. Meggie is a solid character, adept, caring, independent, resourceful, with a strong sense of integrity. Even though she and her friends repeatedly steal from the ice cream vendor because they think he is a spy, she feels a great deal of guilt and eventually repays him with a gift greater than money. Patricia Reilly Giff creates a moving account of life on the home front complete with all its sacrifices, suspicions, fears, and hopes. Meggie must face prejudice when some thugs paint a swastika on the window of her adored, German born Grandfather’s house. She bravely chases them away, cleans up the mess and tries to keep the incident from her family. She helps the ice cream vendor, who turns out not to be a spy, but an apprehensive teenager who must face his civic duty to fight for his country, come to terms with his decision and secretly invites her Grandfather to come and keep up his garden while he is gone. Giff expertly reflects the tone of the times in the heartbreaking anxiety felt by the supportive families of the soldiers serving overseas when her brother, Eddie, is reported missing in action after storming the beaches at Normandy, France on D-Day. Many pop culture icons keep this story true to the times with references to Spam, movie reels and Meggie and her Grandfather’s chronic addiction to contest entry forms, one of which they eventually win. Patricia Reilly Giff’s tale of life in the World War II era is a satisfying read that will leave you inspired and uplifted.

Module 6 Historical Fiction: The Green Glass Sea

The Green Glass Sea
Klages, Ellen. 2006. The Green Glass Sea. New York: Viking Press.

Dewey Kerrigan struggles to keep afloat as she charts her course in life. After her grandmother suffers a stroke and is forced to move into a nursing home, Dewey once again faces abandonment as she travels across the country to live with her often-absent father. Looking forward for the opportunity to spend time with him, she moves to a mysterious, uncharted town, Los Alamos, New Mexico, where Mr. Kerrigan works with scientists and engineers to create a secret ‘gadget’ during World War II. Dewey, with her love for order and rules moves in with Suze, an unruly, boorish classmate, when her father must leave again. The two begin to bond and find common ground in comic book heroes which act as somewhat of an allegory for the ‘larger than life’ world in which they find themselves. They escape into the comics as a way to find some sort of purpose for their gifts. Dewey, with her skills at machinery and technology and Suze with her gift of art and creativity come together to overcome their differences and face the world and all its problems. Set against the stark, primitive backdrop of the barren Southwest, Scott O’Dell Award Winner Ellen Klages paints a poignant picture of friendship, acceptance, and loss in The Green Glass Sea. The story stays true to the time period with appropriate dialog, phrases, music and entertainment references. Klages’ offers up some often overlooked impacts of the Los Alamos situation. The children and community members of that particular group faced many challenges such as when high school seniors wanted to apply to college they were denied because their school, much less, town did not even exist due to its top secret security. Family members cards and letters were screened as if they were prisoners. The title, itself, refers to the test bomb dropped on White Sands, New Mexico and how the heat of that event turned the sand to a ‘green glass sea’. Klages’ hits her mark with this one.