Wednesday, September 28, 2011

REVIEW: Smile (This book did make me smile--and gave me flashbacks to my braces days)

Telgemeier, R.  (2010).  Smile.  New York:  Graphix.

214 pages.

Appetizer:  Set over approximately four years (between 1988 and 1991, through the middle school years and up into the beginning of Sophomore year) in San Francisco, Smile is a memoir of Raina's tween years and her painful quest to shape her teeth into a smile that wouldn't cause her embarrassment.  It begins simply enough:  Raina is to get braces.  This plan is complicated when Raina trips while chasing a friend and lands on her face, damaging her two front teeth.  Complications ensue.

Many complications.

Aside from the issues with finally getting her smile to be the way Raina wants it to be, she's also dealing with acne, having a crush, realizing what she wants to do with her life, needing her first bra, learning that some of her friends are not so much friends as they are frienemies AND getting her ears pierced.  This book kind of reminded me of a puberty book (like Sex, Puberty and All That Stuff or What's Happening to My Body), but would be much less awkward for a young girl to receive or discuss with an adult.

At one point, Raina notes the need to talk about how tweens feel awkward about their bodies:

I feel like that is exactly what Smile does:  starts a conversation to help girls to feel a little less freakish.

This memoir felt so honest and made me reflect on my own memories of being eleven-twelve-thirteen-fourteen-ish (for better or for worse).  (For better...I focused in on the day I got my braces off in eighth grade.  My teeth felt so slimy!  Then, after I went back to school, Mike P., the boy I kinda-sorta had a crush on, was the first person to notice that my braces were gone.  Very exciting.)

I really liked the way Raina's continuing battle to get her teeth problems under control provided a unifying conflict to bring the story together.  The one aspect that weakened the text for me was the narration at the very end.  The equivalent of a voice over, on p. 206 Raina makes comments like "Instead, I threw my passion into things I enjoyed, rather than feeling sorry for myself" and "I realized that I had been letting the way I looked on the outside affect how I felt on the inside."

*Barfs a little.*

I, of course, agree that these are important messages to give to tween (and even some adult!) readers, the way the narration came in to sum-up the message felt a little too overty/teachy-preachy/didacticy for my tastes.

You had me until page 206, Raina Telgemeier.  Page 206.

Dinner Conversation:

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

REVIEW: The True Meaning of Smekday (I still heart it)

The last time I read The True Meaning of Smekday, I listened to the audio book...

And it was magnificent!

This time around, I decided to read the actual text, so the graphic novel portions would be a little easier to follow and so I could write a proper review of the book.

I actually only got about 40 or 50-pages in, before I found myself desperately missing the voice of Bahni Turpin and went back to the Odyssey Award-winning audio book.

(She adds so much personality to the Boov voices!)

And look, I still managed to write a review of the story.

Rex, A.  (2007)  The True Meaning of Smekday.  New York:  Hyperion Books for Children.

423 pages.

Appetizer:  As part of a school assignment and national competition, twelve-year-old Tip (AKA Gratuity Tucci) must write about "The True Meaning of Smekday" and describe her personal experience during the recent alien invasion.

Tip had quite the experience, to say the least.

In this hilarious road-trip story, Tip recounts how her mother was abducted by aliens, how she befriended a Boov alien who goes by the name J.Lo and how together the crossed much of the country in search of Tip's mom.

Although the middle part of the story does feel to drag on a little as Tip and J.Lo go from state to state encountering various characters, I absolutely love the way this novel explores and discusses issue of race, discrimination and the forced relocation of people.  (And those are topics that normally a person would be hard-pressed to say that they "love" anything about discussing them.)

There are so many wonderful humorous moments in the story that even a year after reading this book for the first time, can still make me giggle.

My biggest regret in terms of The True Meaning of Smekday is that I did not listen to or read it soon.  *Bows to Holly who had originally recommended the book to me months and months before I ever got around to reading it.*

I've used this book in my classroom twice so far.  Once, I read aloud a portion of pages 24-29 to demonstrate the misunderstanding of when people (in this case creatures) from different cultures meet and to highlight the power dynamic between different cultures meeting (and from there show how some science fiction novels include cultural critiques and can be a vehicle to discuss race relations as well has historical periods when people from a specific culture were forced to relocate...*wipes brow*  that's a lot for one little read aloud to be able to do.)

The second time I used the book, I first did a pre-reading activity in which my writing students had to invent and describe their own "Smekday" holiday.  Many of them seemed to have a lot of fun with it.  In terms of their thoughts on the book.

I also used the book to discuss audience, since during her narration, Tip mentions several times that she's writing for people in the future.

Mmm, delicious.  So much to talk about.

I have to admit though, *after* reading the book, only a handful of my students enjoyed the book as much as I did.  Many seemed to think it was too long.

My argument that the meandering middle just provided "more for them to love" only went so far.

Dinner Conversation:

"ASSIGNMENT: Write an essay titled THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY. what is the Smekday Holiday? How has it changed in the year since the aliens left? You may use your own personal experiences from the alien invasion to make your points. Feel free to draw pictures or include photographs" (p. 1)

"It was Moving Day.
Should that be capitalized? I never would have capitalized it before, but now Moving Day is a national holiday and everything, so I think it should be.
It was Moving Day, and everybody was crazy" (p. 3).

"I remember Apocalypse Hal was on the corner by the Laundromat.  Hal was a neighborhood street preacher who worked at the fist and crab place next door.  He wore a sandwich board sign of Bible verses and shouted angry things at passerby like "The end times are near" and "Seafood samples $5.99."  Now his sign just read "TOLD YOU SO," and he looked more anxious than angry.
"I was right," he said as I passed.
"About the fish or the apocalypse?" I asked.  He followed beside me.
"Both."  (p. 4).

"I stifled a laugh.  "J.Lo?  Your Earth name is J.Lo?"
"Ah-ah," J.Lo corrected.  "Not 'Earth.'  'Smekland'."
"What do you mean, 'Smekland'?"
"That is the thing what we have named the planet.  Smekland.  As to tribute to our glorious leader, Captain Smek."
"Wait."  I shook my head.  "Whoa.  You can't just rename the planet."
"Peoples who discover places gets to name it."
"But it's called Earth.  It's always been called EArth."
J.Lo smiled condescendingly.  I wanted to hit him.
"You humans live too much in the pasttime.  We did land onto Smekland a long time ago."
"You landed last Christmas!"
"Ah-ah.  Not 'Christmas.1  'Smekday."
"Smekday"  (p. 28).

"Okay.  Starting before the Boov came.
I guess I really need to begin almost two years ago.  This was when my mom got the mole on her neck.  This was when she was abducted.
I didn't see it happen, naturally.  That's how it is with these things.  Nobody ever gets abducted at a football game, or at church, or right after Kevin Frompky knocks all your books out of your hands between classes and everybody's looking and laughing and you have no choice but to sock him in the eye.
Or whatever" (p. 33).

"My birth certificate says "Gratuity Tucci," but Mom's called me Turtlebear ever since she learned that "Gratuity" didn't mean what she thought it did.  My friends call me Tip.
I guess I'm telling you all this as a way of explaining about my mom.  When people ask me about her, I say she's very pretty.  When they ask if she's smart like me, I say she's very pretty" (p. 37).

Tasty Rating: !!!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

REVIEW: Mad Love (is tons of mad fun!--but maybe a little too chaotic)

Selfors, S.  (2011).  Mad Love.  New York:  Walker & Company.

323 pages.

Appetizer:  Alice has been telling a lot of lies lately.  She's had to.  The biggest lie is that her mom, a semi-famous romance author, is "overseas," researching her next book.  The reality is far less glamorous, and despite being tired of the lies, Alice does everything she can to maintain her family's secrets.  This becomes almost impossible though, when the family savings are close to gone, her mom's publisher is demanding the next book and Alice speaks on her mother's behalf at a book event and a strange young man in the audience insists Alice tell his story.

The possibly crazy/super attractive/vaguely stalkery guy always wears a black hoodie and claims to be Cupid.  Yes, The Cupid.  But he goes by Errol now.

When Alice refuses to write "Errol's" story, he begins to make her romantic life (or lack there of) complicated.  The skateboarding boy--Tony--who Alice has been admiring from afar is suddenly in her life adding just enough stress that Alice might go crazy (one of her biggest fears).

I know it may seem like it took me over a month to read this book, but don't take that as a judgment on Mad Love.  Blame moving across the country and starting a new job.

I wanted to sit around and read this book.

What a breath of fresh air!

If you may remember, few but dear readers, I complained during my Starcrossed review that I was stuck reading a string of mediocre books that were related to Dudley the Dissertation's topic, the gods and creatures of myth.  Mad Love has cut the string!  It felt sooooo good to dip into a book by someone who can string a bunch of words together in a way that is clever, amusing and tells an engaging story.

This book is well-written and funny.  I liked the exploration of Alice struggling to write a romance novel.  I actually wound up reading a portion aloud to my writing class (When Alice looks at writing guides and lists the rules for writing a romance:  pp. 82-85.)

Although, by mid-novel, I did wish things would speed up plot-wise and that there'd be a little less random craziness and some more clear direction of where the story was going (and that Alice would make more progress on her goals).  That feeling didn't leave as I continued to read.  (Random horrible storm that Alice must go out in to rescue someone at the end?  Whattheheck?!)  In the Author's Note, Suzanne Selfors noted that she had to revise this story extensively.  Frankly, I thought it could have used another revision or two.  It felt like there were a lot of wonderful pieces that just didn't quite fit together.  My  head was left feeling a little crowded by the book's end.  Crowded, but also amused.

Dinner Conversation:

"When you're sixteen, summer is supposed to spread before you like a magic carpet, waiting to carry you to new, exciting places.  Paperback novel in hand, bare feet buried in speckled sand, long kisses with a boy in a kayak--that's what it's supposed to be about.  Summer, with its coconut and pineapple flavors, with its reggae rhythms, with its endless possibilities for adventure and romance.
But if you asked me on that Monday in July, I'd tell you that there was nothing exciting about my summer forecast.  My magic carpet looked more like a plain, beige indoor-outdoor kind of thing and it was nailed solidly to the ground" (p. 3).

"It's easier to tell lies when there are no loving eyes staring back at you.
I told lots of lies.
Deception had become my life.  It wasn't a compulsion.  I didn't do it for some sort of thrill.  I lied constantly because I'd promised my mother that I'd never tell anyone the truth about our situation.  Lie upon lie upon lie, heaped into a great big pile.  Like a dung beetle, I maneuvered that pile everywhere I went.  And I was sick of it" (p. 9).

"The guy stood.  "I have a question for Alice."
I tapped my flip-flops against the floor.  Though his eyes were somewhat shaded by the rim of his hood, his gaze was intense.  "Yes?" I asked.
"I have a love story to tell," he said.  "And I need you to write it for me.  When can you get started?"
A few women chuckled, then a long span of silence followed as the guy continued to stare at me.  Was this a joke?
Tom cleared his throat.  "You mean you want Alice's mother to write it?  Alice is the Queen of Romance's daughter.  Maybe you didn't hear my introduction."
"I know who Alice is," the guy said.  "I want her to write my story."
The word "want hung in the air, adding an eerie note to the atmosphere.  I shifted in my seat.  "Well, that's very nice and everything, but it's your story so you should write it yourself."
"I'm not a writer," he said.  "But I lived the story, so I remember every single detail.  All you have to do is read through my notes, then write it" (p. 15).

"My name is Errol, but I used to be called Eros.  Most know me as Cupid."  He continued to stare out the window.  "I wasn't named after Cupid.  I am Cupid.  The original, one and only Cupid."
Music and customer chatter competed with his statement, so no one turned to gawk or snicker.  But I'd heard him.  A pained smile spread across my face as I pretended to be interested.  My suspicions were proven.  Something was wrong with him and the last thing I needed was to be on his radar.
"There's only on thing I want," he continued.  "And that is to tell my love story to the world.  Not the version you find in mythology books, but the real story.  The true story.  I'm the only person who can tell  it and I want you to write it" (p. 55).

"Why couldn't I write Untitled Work in Progress for my mother?
Being the Queen of Romance's daughter made me the Princess of Romance.  I may not have inherited her Nordic bone structure, her sexy figure, or her naturally plump lips, but surely I'd inherited something.  And maybe that something was the knack for storytelling.  I'd gotten Bs in English.  I'd been raised on the romance genre.  It was such an obvious answer.  And what else was I doing with my summer?
I could devote every minute of every day to the project.  It didn't have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner, just something that Heartstrings Publishers would accept.  This could work.  It would work.  It had to work."  (pp. 81-82)

"Someone was watching me.
He stood across the street, looking right at me.  Foreboding rolled over me, dark and sinister.  If ever there was a time to run, it was then.  But I didn't run.  I couldn't.  Like in a nightmare I stood rooted to the spot.
"Alice?" Tony touched my arm.
Errol's hood concealed most of his face, but his mouth was tight with determination.  He held his left arm  straight out.  Then he pulled his right hand to his chest.  Something was going to happen.  Something bad.  I felt as helpless as a small creature caught in headlights.
And then, BAM!
Something collided with my chest.  A jolt shot through my body, electrifying the tips of my fingers and toes" (pp. 87-88).

"In an odd way I suddenly felt better, because of the two of us standing in that bedroom, Errol was clearly the crazier.  He thought he was the Roman god Cupid.  Sure, I might have heard a voice in my head; sure, I might have gone a bit wacko for a few hours, but I had no delusions about my identity.  I wasn't Isis, or Supergirl, or Bella Swan.  I was Alice Amorous, daughter of a semifamous, mentally ill romance writer, who would soon be getting food stamps if her mother didn't turn in another book.  Which I was supposed to be writing." (p. 137)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

REVIEW: Wonderstruck (I wasn't struck)

Selznick, B.  (2011).  Wonderstruck.  New York:  Scholastic Press.

629 pages.

Appetizer:  Set in Gunflint Lake, Minnesoa in 1977, Ben is missing his mother who recently died in a car accident.  During a stormy night he walks to his old home from his aunt's house.  Among his mother's stuff, he finds her rainy day fund and a book called Wonderstruck with a hand-written note that mentions a man named Danny and a bookstore bookmark of a store in New York City.  With these few clues, Ben hopes that he may finally find and know his father.  Just as he picks up the phone and try to call the number for the bookstore, lightning strikes the house and Ben's life is once again changed.

This picturebook/novel is also the story of a lonely girl named Rose in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927.  She admires an actress in a silent film named Lillian Mayhew.  After learning that Lillian will be in a play in New York City, Rose decides to run away to see her.

Both of their quests will take Rose and Ben to New York City and to the American Museum of Natural History.

Ben's story is told almost entirely in text and Rose's story is told almost entirely in illustrations.  Despite the differences in settings, there are moments when the tales connect and (eventually) unite.

When I began reading, I was frustrated because of the seemingly wide gaps between the two stories.  Initially only images like stars and lightning connect the two.  My brain was desperate for the two stories to unite.  Part of what made me fall totally and completely in love with Selznick's previous giant-picturebook/novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, was the way the setting, medium and content all worked together to add meaning to the story.  By the third or fourth time that I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I was still finding new meanings and connections among the different aspects of the story.

I can't say the same will happen with Wonderstruck.

Don't get me wrong, this novel is still impressive.  It has a E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler feel to it.  It just didn't *capture* me the way Selznick's Hugo Cabret did.

As a book, it does demonstrate a love of astronomy, dioramas, wolves, and museums, expresses a sense of loneliness and searching that I found very relatable and shows examples of the experience of being deaf in different times.

But still, Wonderstruck didn't capture my imagination or impress me the way The Invention of Hugo Cabret did.  (Not that books should always be compared.  But since these two stand alone in terms of their form, it's hard not to make comparisons.)

I'd be curious to know what some of you thought of the book, Few But Dear Readers.  Am I alone in my stance?

For the time being, here's one of the early moments when the stories overlap for you to enjoy.  Mary is watching a movie of a storm and Ben is in his mother's house, looking through her stuff as a storm approaches.  Enjoy.

(pp. 120-126)

Dinner Conversation:

"Something hit Ben Wilson and he hopened his eyes.  The wolves had been chasing him again and his heart was pounding.  He sat up in the dark room and rubbed his arm.  He picked up the shoe his cousin had thrown at him and dropped it on the floor.
"That hurt, Robby!" (p. 16).

"Ever since the accident, the wolves had appeared, galloping across the moonlit snow, red tongues wagging and white teeth glistening.  He couldn't figure out why they were stalking him, because he used to love wolves.  He and his mom had even seen one once from the front porch of their house.  The wolf had looked beautiful and mysterious, like it had stepped out of a storybook" (p. 17).

"He had believed his mother when she told him he'd never be lost as long as he could find the North Star.  But now that she was gone, he realized it wasn't true.
The mysterious quote from his mom's bulletin board echoed again in his mind.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" (p. 27).

"Was it days later or only a few minutes when his aunt Jenny appeared?  Her eyes were red and watery. She sat on the bed and stroked his hair.  He thought he could smell the food she'd been cooking at the lodge as she ran her fingers down his cheek just like his mom used to.  He watched her lips move.  He looked at the nurses talking to each other.  His head felt like it was full of leaves.  He opened his mouth to say he couldn't hear but nothing came out.
The nurse handed Aunt Jenny a piece of paper and a pen.  She wrote a note and handed it to Ben.
"I know you can't hear.  Don't try to talk.  Just lie still."
Ben's head throbbed.  How did she know what he'd been thinking?
"You've had an accident.  You're going to be okay, but you were hit by lightning." (p. 175)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

REVIEW: The Facts Speak For Themselves (but don't use quotation marks)

Cole, B. (1997). the facts speak for themselves. New York: Puffin Books.

184 pages.

Appetizer: Thirteen-year-old Linda was escorted into the police interrogation room with blood still under her nails. After being interrogated about the deaths of two men (a murder-suicide situation between the boyfriend and boss of her mother that Linda is somehow at the center of), Linda is separated from her little brothers and mother, who need her to watch over them, to stay at a center run by nuns.

She has meetings with a social worker to discuss her childhood of abuse, discrimination, abandonment and responsibility over her brothers.

Linda's story is touching, heartbreaking and the amount of responsibility she took on at such a young age is shocking.

This can be a wonderful book to give voice to the secret pains and dark scars that many children and adults have.

Although, as I was reading, I did wish that quotation marks were used to better mark dialogue.

This book may be dark, but it is also real...and difficult to put down after you start reading. (I know that if it were a movie, I'd hate it. It's kind of like Requiem for a Dream. You just know things are going to get worse and worse.)

Dinner Conversation:

"The woman policeman says why don't you come in here, and so I went. It was a little room with a table and some chairs. That was all. Instead of a window, there was a big mirror. I wouldn't look at that. I didn't want to see myself. I sad down and folded my hands. There was still blood under my nails, so after a minute I put them under the table" (p. 9).

"Listen, young lady, Sister says. You're not in charge anymore. This is a difficult situation, and it's going to take a little time to straighten out. Two men are dead, she says and bites her lip.
What two men?
Mr. Green and Mr. Perry.
That was how I found out. Jack had died in the ambulance and Frank had walked down into the basement of the parking ram and shot himself" (p. 20).

"I gave her the facts, and she wrote them up in a preliminary report. I know, because I got it out of her bag when she came back one afternoon to warn me about what was going to happen.
There's going to be a hearing, she says, and I want you to be as straight with the judge as you are with me" (p. 23).

"I want to write my own preliminary report, I said.
She looked at me a long time.
I think that's a very good idea, she says finally.
Will they read it?
Yes, she says. I'll make sure they do" (p. 25).

"Looked at in a certain way, the whole history of the world seemed arranged so we could meet that first time.
He said we were doomed by circumstance. Our fate was in the facts" (p. 141).

Tasty Rating: !!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Louisiana Series: An audio Book review of My Louisiana Sky (AKA the day I began to worry about Coral Snakes)

As a way to get to know my new state of residence, I've been trying to read literature about Louisiana. 

(The selection has proven to be a little...pathetic.  There's not much of a selection.  Especially since I'd like to read about more than just New Orleans.)

First off, let me tell you that my general knowledge of Louisiana was very limited before moving here:  Hurricane Katrina, other hurricanes, cajuns, Remy from the X-men, alligators, oil spill, Mardi Gras, True Blood/The Southern Vampire series (which, admittedly I've seen every episode of/read every book).

It's a pretty limited view of an entire state.

I actually had to bite my tongue during my initial Skype job interview to stop myself from asking if alligators and hurricanes were something I should worry about in the area I would be moving (Answers:  Not too concerned unless a hurricane displaces the alligators and Yes, be concerned:  power outages possibly lasting weeks, high winds and rain during the storms.)

So, I was left feeling like I wanted to see some of the other ways that my new state is presented.  I--of course--turned to children's literature.

I decided to begin my acquaintance (and this new series of reviews) with Louisiana in children's literature by listening to the audiobook of Kimberly Willis Holt's My Louisiana Sky.  She's the author of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, which I read five or six years ago and remember enjoying.

The premise is that Tiger Anne--a girl living in Saitter, Louisiana--faces a choice.  She and her grandmother have always had to look after Tiger's mother and father who are both "retarded" (to use the dated language in this historical novel).  When tragedy strikes, Tiger must face the choice of moving to Baton Rouge to live with her stylish aunt and staying home to care for her parents.

An angsty premise that is one-part coming of age story and two-parts character figuring out her own identity through a major decision story.  I could get into it.

I especially liked that Tiger was a tomboy who played baseball better than most of the boys.

I downloaded and started listening...and absolutely *hated* the tones the narrator used to voice the various characters.  Sometimes her Southern accent didn't match the Louisiana accent I've been enjoying for the past few weeks.  Often when she gave voice to minor characters, she spoke in tones that made them sound completely and unnecessarily idiotic. 

I was not a big fan.  I probably would have enjoyed the story more if I read it.

I did eventually ease into the story.  Especially when a character died of a heart attack after seeing a coral snake.  (So...coral this something I have to worry about now?)

Louisiana, please advise.

Then towards the end of the book, there was a hurricane.


At least there weren't any alligators.

How much I learned about Louisiana:  Not too much.
How much I felt comforted about some of the supposedly-scary aspects of the state usually presented by the media:  Also not too much.

I have since discovered there was a children's movie made of the My Louisiana Sky, starring Juliette Lewis and a younger Michael Cera, among others.


Netflix guesstimates I'd give the movie two stars.


I did add the movie to my queue.  It will stay at the bottom and I'll get to it when I get to it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

REVIEW: Darth Paper Strikes Back (YAY!!!!!)

Once again, I must apologize for the lack of posts.  It would seem that as stressful as preparing to move halfway across the country was, actually moving and starting the new job is even *more* stressful.

Lucky for me, there was a happy book delivery to my new home....

I have been waiting for this book to come out for YEARS several months.  I absolutely loved The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and taught it to my undergraduate children's literature classes.  It was one of the few books that the vast majority of my students seemed to enjoy.  (There were, of course, always a few Star Wars-haters or disinterested-ers who couldn't get into it.  There were also people embarrassed to be seen carrying around a book with such a nerdy cover.

Then there's me.  I want a poster of this cover to put up in my office.*  Whatever.)

But more than the fun Star Wars references, Angleberger seems to *get* it.  He seems to truly remember what it is to be a kid; the concerns and the humor.

So, I was very happy about the sequel:  Darth Paper Strikes Back....

[Cue Star Wars music!!!!!!!!!]

Appetizer:  "It is a dark time at McQuarrie Middle School."  Harvey has been causing trouble by making an origami Darth Vader and it's only the first day of seventh grade.  Worst of all, Dwight has been suspended and may have to go to a correctional and remedial education facility.  Before Dwight left the school with his Yoda finger puppet, Yoda managed to give one last bit of wisdom:  To ask Tommy, Kellen and some of the other kids at McQuarrie to build a case file to prove that Dwight isn't a danger to anyone.

What follows are the accounts of many of the seventh graders, speaking about the good deeds Dwight (and Yoda) did over the summer at the skate park and during the fall in science class and at other events.

The fact that Angleberger includes a "multicultural inclusion gone wrong" episode was of particular interest to me.  Caroline, who was a love interest to Dwight in the previous book, but who has now started going to a private school, is having trouble with an "understanding our differences" policy at her school since she is the one who is different.  Caroline has a severe hearing impairment.  She usually reads lips, but since her new classmates try to converse with her by yelling or using sign language (which Caroline does not use) she is having trouble understanding them.

Yoda's advice to Caroline *does* involve telling a lie (which I won't reveal the specifics of).  I wasn't too crazy about the lie.  But the fact that the situation was included and that Yoda/Dwight still provided a fun solution that made me think Angelberger or Yoda needs to start an advice column for middle schoolers.  He does an amazing job of encouraging empathy across different backgrounds and experiences.

As I continued to read Darth Paper Strikes Back, a few concerns did come to mind.  In this book, Harvey is presented as being a villain.  Although I will admit he was my least favorite character during the first book, he still represents a very real characterization.  So, I wanted to see a bit more understanding of his perspective sooner.  Also, this book includes pseudo-swear words (You know, %$#@, etc.).  The reason I mention this is because I know for a fact that second graders read this series.  I could see parents of children that young being upset by such typing.  (There was also use of the word "crap" on page 71, which, when I was little I used to get into debates with other kids over whether that was a swear word or not.  The character who uses the word does get in trouble for his bad attitude after using the word.  But still... *shrugs*  Parents of second-graders be warned.)

This is a series that grows with the students though.  The first book included a lot of different voices in episodic short chapters and had drawings in the margins throughout the entire story.  Darth Paper Strikes Back includes longer chapters, fewer voices, conflicts that build across chapters and, due to some of the plotting, the margin illustrations are not used in the final third of the story.  The book is slowly helping younger readers to transition to novel reading.  Good show.  Good show, I say.

Angleberger also begins to build an argument about the way creative and unusual kids are treated under the "Teach to the Test" mentality that schools have.  Here's an excerpt from Tommy's point-of-view that demonstrates this:

I was almost to my locker when I saw Principal Rabbski up ahead.  She likes to stand in the middle of the hallway so that all the kids have to detour around her. 
I put my hand up and pointed Origami Yoda right at her. 
"If you strike down Dwight, he will grow more powerful than you can possibly imagine!" said Origami Yoda. 
Rabbski sighed. 
"Tommy, I think it's time you and I had a little talk." 
..."Listen, Tommy," she started.  I've heard about your petition or whatever it is that you're going to give the school board tonight.  I can't talk to you about another student's disciplinary problems, but there are a few things you need to understand." 
She had a lot to say.  A lot of it was about the Standards of Learning tests that we have to take and how important they are to the students and to the school.  She said some students were a constant distraction from the Standards of Learning.  Not only were they hurting themselves, they were also hurting other students and the whole school, since school funding was based on test scores. 
"When I see you in the office for screaming at another student one day, and the next day you're walking down the hall with a Yoda puppet, being disrespectful to me, that just proves my point," she said.  "You're a good kid, but another kid has got you confused and distracted.  I need you to put Yoda away.  Put your petition away.  And concentrate on the real reason you're here:  To learn.  To ace the Standards test." 
Well, I was confused and distracted, but there was no way I was buying all that.  It had an Emperor Palpatine sound to it.  (pp. 129-131)
Well put, Tommy.

*Sets timer and begins waiting for the third book.  Also starts taking bets on whether there will be three or six books in this series.*

Dinner Conversation:

"It is a dark time at McQuarrie Middle School...
When did it start?  I can tell you exactly when it started.
The first day of school.  The very first day of seventh grade.  We didn't even get one good day.  We got, like, five minutes" (p. 1).

"Paperwad Yoda?  Sorry, this isn't the year of Paperwad Yoda."
And then he goes, "Bom bom bom bom-ba-bomb bom-ba-bomb."  Vader's theme.
And he sticks out his hand and there it is:  an origami Darth Vader, made out of black paper, with shiny silver eyes and a red paper lightsaber.
There are a lot of things that might have happened next.  I was about to say, "That's awesome," because I did think it was awesome.
But before any of us guys could say anything like that, Rhondella says, "Aww, it's so cute!"
And Sara says, "Yeah, it really is cute, Harvey."
And Amy says, "He's so teeeny!"
Harvey was furious, of course."  (pp. 2-3)

"This case file is to try and save Dwight and Origami Yoda from the school board.  His is it going to save them?  I have no idea.  But Origami Yoda said to do it, so we're doing it.
That was the last piece of advice Origami Yoda was able to give us.  Since then we've been on our own.  Actually, it's worse than that...
Instead of Dwight and Origami Yoda, we're stuck with Harvey and Darth Paper!" (pp. 8-9)

"Dwight looked like a zombie.  He was too freaked out to say anything.
But he held up Yoda, and Yoda said, "Out of school kicked we have been."
"Kicked out?  For what?  For having Yoda?  No way!" said Kellen.
"Way yes," croaked Yoda.  "Save Dwight you must."
"The truth for the school board you must write.  Another case file is needed."
I was going to ask him something useful about the case file--like, why we needed to write it or what it should be about--when Kellen butted in.
"Should I doodle on it again?" asked Kellen annoyingly.
"Hurt that could not, I guess," answered Yoda.
The Dwight's mother and Principal Rabbski came out of the office, and I didn't have a chance to ask my useful question" (pp. 16-17).

"Dear School Board,
Having had some time to reflect on the incident with the pre-eaten wiener, I have come to the conclusion that Dwight/Yoda are the good guys while the rest of the kids around here are a pack of wild savages who would think it was really funny if I ended up puking from food poisoning or getting a tapeworm or worse!" (p. 92)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

*Can somebody make this happen?  I've done multiple searches and an Origami Yoda one doesn't seem to exist.  Who wants to be a hero and find/make me a poster?!


Related Posts with Thumbnails