Monday, June 25, 2012

REVIEW: The Serpent's Shadow (Prepare for the end of the world! Or rather, the end of another of Riordan's series.)

Riordan, R.  (2012).  The Serpent's Shadow.  New York:  Disney.

401 pages.

Bleeps (Blog-peeps, as my friend Holly asserts), I'm going to be honest here.  This book is the reason I haven't been posting much over the last two or three weeks.  I got stuck in the middle of this book and had to struggle to keep reading.

Appetizer:  Siblings Sadie and Carter Kane are back with their third and final transcript of their adventures to protect the world from some dangerous Ancient Egyptian magic that could descend the world into chaos.  This time, they're here to tell the story behind all of those earthquakes, tsunamis and the near end of the world.

Apophis, "the primordial force of Chaos" has been unleashed and Carter and Sadie must devise a way to stop it, preferably a way that won't kill them in the process.  A desperate plan will send them around the world, seeking information and preparing to achieve something no other magicians have ever managed to do.  But before they do that, the siblings will have to attend their first school dance.

I was surprised by the extent of romance in The Serpent's Shadow.  There was a downright paranormal romance vibe during the school dance mentioned above.  (Sadie finds herself with a dance partner who levitates them.  I kid you not.  I won't tell you the name of the boy causing the floating, because of course, Sadie's also the center of a love triangle, that has an arguably very strange resolution.)

Paranormal Romance
has infected 
the Kanes!!!!!!!!

Although a satisfying end to this trilogy, Riordan leaves the door open for further adventures with the Kane siblings and all of their friends.  (I'd bet a very small amount of money that these characters are going to make an appearance in the new Norse mythology series that Riordan is working on.  This is very exciting for my research, because instead of just hinting at the gods of different cultures co-existing in the same world, Riordan will directly address the issue.  But that could just be wishful thinking on my part.  Of course, it would also mean that a lot of my dissertation will become dated.  Sigh.)

Having now completed The Serpent's Shadow, I'm officially declaring that the Kane Chronicles is my least favorite of Riordan's several myth-based series.  It's not just that I'm least familiar with Egyptian mythology, but I also had trouble keeping track of a lot of the characters.  Many of the descriptions of the actions feel rushed (I've complained about this before with his writing.  Honestly, I think it's because of the crazy writing and researching schedule Riordan must be on to complete all of the tomes for his many series.  If I were in his position, I would have burned out long ago.).  I also wouldn't have minded a little more exposition and a few more reminders of the events from the previous books.  More than that, for me, the logic of this series is the hardest to keep track of and follow.

I also got annoyed with the way the narration kept denying the reader knowledge.  At least three or four times, the Kane siblings were given vague warnings or were about to find out something important when suddenly the informant had to leave or was distracted.  I could deal with this technique once or twice, but it got a little ridiculous that Riordan relied on it so often in an effort to try and maintain the sense of mystery.

But that's just me.  What are your thoughts?

Dinner Conversation:

"Sadie Kane here.
If you're listening to this, congratulations!  You survived Doomsday.
I'd like to apologize straightaway for any inconvenience the end of the world may have caused you.  The earthquakes, rebellions, riots, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, and of course the giant snake who swallowed the sun--I'm afraid most of that was our fault.  Carter and I decided we should at least explain how it happened." (p. 1)

"True, full-out Armageddon hadn't come yet.  It had been six months since the Chaos snake Apophis had escaped from his Underworld prison, but he still hadn't launched a large-scale invasion of the mortal world as we'd expected.  For some reason, the serpent was biding his time, settling for smaller attacks on nomes that seemed secure and happy.
Like this one, I thought." (p. 3).

"Its eyes turned the color of blood.  Its carved mouth twisted into a smile.  "Your magic is weak, Sadie Kane.  Human civilization has grown as old and rotten.  I will swallow the sun god and plunge your world into darkness.  The Sea of Chaos will consume you all." (p. 20)

"Honestly, he drones on and on about his plans for the Apocalypse, but he makes no plans at all for the school dance.  My brother's priorities are severely skewed.
I don't think I was being selfish wanting to go to the dance.  Of course we had serious business to deal with.  That's exactly why I insisted on partying first.  Our initiates needed a morale boost.  They needed a chance to be normal kids, to have friends and lives outside Brooklyn House--something worth fighting for.  Even armies in the field fight better when they take breaks for entertainment.  I'm sure some general somewhere has said that." (p. 77)

Tasty Rating:  !!

REVIEW: Squish: Super Amoeba (Number One)

Holm, J.L. & Holm, M.  (2011).  Squish:  Super Amoeba.  New York:  Random House.

94 pages.

Appetizer:  Squish is a young amoeba who loves comic books and twinkies.  His best friend, Pod, is planning to fix global warming, but only after Squish agrees to trade lunches with him.  Their friend Peggy is a paramecium who is happy all of the time.

When Lynwood, a particularly big and mean amoeba, targets consuming Peggy amoeba style (as opposed to eating with a mouth, human style) Squish tries to stand up to the bully and finds himself pressured to help Lynwood cheat in science class in his effort to do the right thing.

I liked many of the elements of Squish.  The scientific facts were subtly included, preventing the book from becoming annoying.  I liked the arrows that provided a lot of details and gave the book a pseudo-academic voice (but that were really quite funny).  I also like that Squish was a comic book fan and aspired to be like his favorite hero, Super Amoeba.

My one big complaint about the book is that--I can't believe I'm saying this, but--I wished it'd been a little more didactic about providing suggestions to deal with bullying.  The conflict with Lynwood is resolved in a quick and humorous way that wee-bullied kids can't rely upon.

I can't believe this is happening...I'm always so opposed to everything teachy and preachy.  (There is a brief suggestion about telling a teacher...and that's fine...I just wish it hadn't occurred after Squish asked for help from his dad whose response was to initially offer no help at all.)

I also could have used more character development with Pod and Peggy.  Peggy's ceaseless optimism was annoying.  Plus, when Lynwood almost eats her...she doesn't even notice.  I get that Squish has to be the one to save the day, but it'd be nice if this paramecium could be a little more self-aware.  Hopefully the rest of the series will include some more development for these supporting characters.

In contrast to the Holm siblings' other series, Babymouse, Squish is arguably a graphic novel series that will appeal more to boys while including subtle facts from a microbiology lesson.  

I'm very excited to see the other books in the Squish series mix-up the color scheme a little more.

Side note:  When you google images of 'babymouse,' you end up with some super cute results:

At the end of the book, there were a few extras for readers to try.  I appreciated that they included a short science experiment to grow mold, but I imagine there are some parents who will appreciate it far less.

I preferred the instructions on how to draw a Squish:

Here's my attempt:

Dinner Conversation:

Tasty Rating:  !!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

REVIEW: Croak (with a similar concept to the tv show Dead Like Me)

Sorry I haven't been posting much!

I am deep into revising one of my YA novels and it seems to be all I have time for.

I've gone through almost the entire book in about five days.

Hopefully, once I'm done with this revision I'll be able to give my mind a rest and focus a little more on reading.

Damico, G.  (2012).  Croak.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

311 pages.

Appetizer:  Lex is a very angry teenager.  Like way angrier than most.  She used to be an A-earning, hall monitoring, respectful girl like her twin sister, Cordy.  But for some reason, Lex just can't get along with anyone anymore.  Frustrated, her parents have decided to send her to stay with her Uncle Mort in a strange small town called Croak for the summer.

Separated from her sister for the first time, Lex quickly learns that there's something fantastic about Croak and that she won't be milking cows or feeding chickens over the summer like she'd been led to believe.  Instead, she's to be trained as a grim reaper with her new partner, the attractive and strange Driggs.  As Lex quickly settles in and excels at her new occupation, she and Driggs notice a pattern among some unusual deaths.  Will they take it upon themselves to do more than the grim reapers are ordered to do and try to find a potential serial killer?  (I bet you can guess the answer.)

There's a lot of really wonderful humor in Croak.  It was refreshing:

"'You just missed it...," Elysia told her.  "Ferbus swallowed a button.""It fell off my shirt!" he yelled, as if this explained something." (p. 235)
The above was one of my favorite moments.

Having complimented the humor, I have to admit that, along with the omniscient narration, it got in the way of me being able to connect with Lex as a character.  Worse, the humor also prevented me from feeling the seriousness of some of the situations Lex found herself in.

I also had trouble with the magical concept of loopholes (The grims can only transport to where there is a dead body intended for them to reap, but the killer somehow controls where he or she goes using loopholes).  I just didn't buy the way Damico structured them into the world.

The mystery seemed a little forced as well.  At one point, Lex learns more important information solely because her friends didn't feel like telling her details sooner.  That seemed a little sloppy to me.

Overall, I had trouble connecting with the book.  It was more than just the fact that I felt like the narration kept the characters at a distance. Some of the situations just seemed a little too awkward or unrealistic (like how Lex met Driggs for the first time:  she walks in on him using the bathroom.  Despite her supposedly feeling completely awkward about this, they talk for several minutes.  I didn't buy it.).

Dinner Conversation:

"Lex wondered, for a fleeting moment, what her principal's head might look like if it were stabbed atop a giant wooden spear.
"I can't imagine why you're smiling, young lady," Mr. Truitt said from behind his desk." (p. 1)

"Lexington Bartleby, age sixteen, had spent the last two years transforming her squeaky-clean, straight-A life into that of a hooligan.  A delinquent.  A naughty little rapscallion, as it were.
To the untrained eye, it appeared as though Lex had simply grown bored.  She had begun acting out in every way that a frustrated bundle of pubescence possibly could:  she stole things, she swore like a drunken pirate, and she punched people.  A lot of people." (p. 3)

"Mr. Bartleby looked at his wife, then at his non-tethered daughter, then up, at nothing.  Anything to avoid the squirmy, hurt visage of his troubled baby girl.  "You're going to go stay up north with Uncle Mort for the summer," he told the ceiling.
Lex, who a second ago had been fully prepared to explode into a vicious rage and had even started planning some sort of dramatic dive through the plate glass window, chair and all, was for once shocked into speechlessness.
Mrs. Bartleby put her hand on Lex's shoulder.  'I know it's a rather odd decision, but we think that a few months of fresh air could do you some good.  You can get in touch with nature, lend a hand on Uncle Mort's farm, maybe even learn something!  You could milk a cow!'" (pp. 6-7)

"Both sides of the highway came to a standstill.  Ambulance sirens screamed through the dull thudding of the rain as more emergency vehicles tore onto the scene.  Lex surveyed the wreck with nothing more than a fleeting interest and a grim expression--until something bizarre appeared.
A white, blinding flash of light.
Startled, Lex peered through the rain.  It was so brief--like the flash of a camera--that she couldn't even be sure she had seen it at all.  Or, if she had, it must have been lightning--except hadn't the light come from inside one of the cars?  But that made no sense.  The vehicle was crumpled beyond recognition, there were no signs of life." (p. 15)

"That same electric crackle shot through the air once more as Uncle Mort opened his mouth to speak.  "Lex," he said, "Croak is a portal--one that sits between our world and the next."
A strange noise escaped Lex's lips, something between a stupefied gasp and a dubious snicker.  "What?"
"That's why you're here.  I'm going to teach you how to do what I do."
"And what is that?"
He leaned in close.  She could feel his breath on her face.
"I Kill people." (p. 36)

"'But seriously.  We really have the power to whack people?'
Zara let out an exasperated huff, as if she'd been over this countless times before.  "We're not hit men, Lex.  We don't cause death.  We're just there to pick up the pieces.
"Okay, a guy's head is chopped off.  He's dead, right?  But his soul isn't.  Our job is to remove that live soul from the dead body." (p. 61)

"'You're here because of a textbook spike in misanthropic tendencies and violent behavior.  The one thing we all have in common."
There it was, spelled right out for her.  An explanation.  Lex's heart leaped so high, she wouldn't have been surprised if it jumped out of her chest and started tap-dancing across the shingles.  After all this time, all the questioning, all the detentions--a concrete answer." (p. 73)

Tasty Rating:  !!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

REVIEW: A Monster Calls (A stunning examination of grief, recovery and story by @Patrick_Ness)

Ness, P.  (2011).  A Monster Calls.  Somerville, MA:  Candlewick Press.

206 pages.

Appetizer:  Thirteen-year-old Conor has a multitude of problems:  His mom is sick and the treatments may not be working.  His grandmother, who he doesn't get along with, is coming to the house to help.  He almost never hears from his Dad who has a new family in America.  He's bullied by three kids at school and all of the teachers and other students treats him differently because Lily, who had once been a close friend, told everyone about how ill his mom is.

Oddest of all, a monster begins to visit Conor some nights at 12:07 AM.  Surprisingly, Conor isn't frightened by it.  He has a nightmare that is far worse; one that he fears more than anything and refuses to tell anyone....

The monster insists he tell Conor three stories and in return Conor must tell him the truth of his nightmare.  The monster's stories prove strange and Conor seeks ways that they and the monster can help him with his grief and difficult situations, most important among them, saving his mother.

The characters of A Monster Calls were originally the children of Siobhan Dowd, who died far to young.  The novel I most associate with her name is Bog Child, a book that I have been meaning to review for several years.

A Monster Calls recently won two (COUNT THEM!  TWO!!!!!!  One and one equals two!...boy, am I good at math....) Carnegie Awards:  One for text and one for illustration.  I think both awards are well deserved.  It was wonderful to ease into a well-written book and the art did an amazing job of adding to the tone and eeriness of the story.  Here are some of my favorite images:

I set this one as one as one of my desktop backgrounds!

Also, if you'd like to read about the creation process for A Monster Call's, click here.

I found A Monster Calls to be a great complex read (although, certainly not a book to pick-up if you want a laugh).  It has the feel of a classic.  The way Ness deals with the emotions Conor is avoiding and enduring is beautifully done and can provide a lot of comfort to anyone who has shared some of the feelings Conor struggles with.

Dinner Conversation:

"The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do.
Conor was awake when it came.
He'd had a nightmare.  Well, not a nightmare.  The nightmare.  The one he'd been having a lot lately.  The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on." (p. 1)

"He felt a rush of panic, his guts twisting.  Had it followed him?  Had it somehow stepped out of the nightmare and--?
"Don't be stupid," he told himself.  "You're too old for monsters."
And he was.  He'd turned thirteen just last month.  Monsters were for babies.  Monsters were for bedwetters.  Monsters were for--
Conor. (pp. 2-3)

"I have come to get you, Conor O'Malley, the monster said, pushing against the house, shaking the pictures off Conor's wall, sending books and electronic gadgets and an old stuffed toy rhino tumbling to the floor.
A monster, Conor thought.  A real, honest-to-goodness monster.  In real, waking life.  Not in a dream, but here, at his window.
Come to get him.
But Conor didn't run.
In fact, he found he wasn't even frightened.
All he could feel, all he had felt since the monster revealed itself, was a growing disappointment.
Because this wasn't the monster he was expecting." (p. 8)

"The monster gave an evil grin.  The wind died down and a quiet fell.  At last, said the monster.  To the matter at hand.  The reason I have come walking.
Conor tensed, suddenly dreading what was coming.
Here is what will happen, Conor O'Malley, the monster continued, I will come to you again on further nights.
Conor felt his stomach clench, like he was preparing for a blow.
And I will tell you three stories.  Three tales from when I walked before. (p. 35)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

REVIEW: Supernaturally

White, K.  (2011).  Supernaturally.  New York:  HarperTeen.

336 pages.

Appetizer:  Set six months after Paranormalcy, Evie has been living a normal life for awhile now.  Her boyfriend, Lend (half-human, half-water elemental) is off at college and they only get to see each other on the weekends.  And poor Evie still has to go through high school and the indignity known as gym class.  Normalcy was nothing like her favorite TV show, Easton Heights, had prepared her for.

But, with the return of her former boss/mother figure/warden, Raquel, to her life, Evie learns that she can return to the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA) on her own terms, an idea that horrifies Lend.

Filled with manipulations, searches for the past, murder attempts, an application to college, and many other unexpected complications, Evie struggles to balance friendships, loyalties and her own newfound power to drain souls.

As with it's predecessor Paranormalcy, Supernaturally is chock-full of humor and action that reminded me of a slightly lighter version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  (It's dealing with similar tensions:  good vs. evil--the complex reality that most people and creatures are a mix of both, a strong female character who's in love with an immortal but also tasked with helping to save the world, supernatural creatures, etc.)

I enjoyed Supernaturally, but the more I read, the more I felt like I wanted it to have a clearer central mystery or problem.  Having typed that though, since Evie is struggling with normalcy, it makes sense that the novel explores conflict in a realistic and normal (or as normal as you can get with a fantasy) manner.

Then I got to the last forty pages...I wasn't crazy about those pages.  As always, I won't spoil the end for you.  So, please allow me to talk about the ending in very vague ways.

*Vague Spoilers for the Ending*

Let me list my issues:

--Evie is injured and she seems to be seriously suffering, but instead of seeking medical attention, the pain suddenly is no longer a problem and she extensively listens to a crazy character plotting craziness.
--Evie has a number of impressive realizations that seemed to come way too quickly.
--The final chapter felt both forced and rushed.

All of this left me feeling so-so about the book.

*End Vague Spoilers*

The final novel in this series, Endlessly, will be out next month.

So much pretty purple.

Dinner Conversation:

"Oh, bleep.  I was going to die.
I was going to die a horrible, gruesome, painful death.
My hand twitched at my side, reaching for the pink Taser I knew wasn't there.  Why had I ever wanted this?  What was I thinking?  Working at the International Paranormal Containment Agency might have been close to indentured servitude, and sure, I had some nasty run-ins with vampires and hags and creeptastic faeries, but that was nothing compared to the danger I faced now.
Girls' gym." (p.1)

"This wasn't how high school was supposed to be.
Don't get me wrong, I'm super grateful to be here.  I always wanted to be normal, go to a normal school, do normal things.  But it's all so, so...
Since school started a month ago, there hasn't been a single catfight.  No wild parties where the cops got called, either.  And as far as masquerade balls and moonlit rendezvous and passionate kisses in the hallways, well, all I can say is Easton Heights, my former favorite TV show, has taken a serious hit in my estimation.
I still think lockers are awesome, though." (pp. 3-4)

"'Raquel.' David's voice was low and annoyed.  "Evie is not going to get sucked back into IPCA.  What was the point of telling them she was dead if you come here six months later and bring her back in?"
"I told you, the situation is different now."
I held up my hand again, tired of them talking around me.  "I can take this one, thanks.  I miss you, sure, but I don't want to come back to IPCA.  You sterilize werewolves!"  That was one of the many crimes I had discovered the International Paranormal Containment Agency committed in the name of keeping the world a safer place." (p. 17)

"I knew I should listen to Lend, stay away from IPCA, be grateful for my normal, boring life.  I should live for the weekends, when I got to see him, and ignore the nagging pain always pulling at the back of my mind that it didn't matter how much time I spent with him, how much I loved him, he could never really be mine because I was temporary and he was forever.
I was fine.  This was enough.  Besides, Lend didn't want me to help IPCA.
But Lend wasn't here, was he?" (p. 39)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

REVIEW: Wonder

Palacio, R.J.  (2012).  Wonder.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.

310 pages.

Appetizer:  Ten-year-old August "Auggie" Pullman is going to school for the first time in his life.  He, his parents and his sister, Via, who is starting the ninth grade at a different school, are all nervous about this.  Auggie's face looks different from those of other kids.  Due to a one in several million chance of genetics, people stare at Auggie wherever he goes.

Despite the fact that his parents, the principal, and some of the teachers and students try to create a welcoming environment for Auggie at Beecher Prep, Auggie still faces bullying, questions and betrayals from his classmates who fear being near him.  At times, Auggie will want nothing more than to return to homeschooling.

What a powerhouse of a book with such a moving story!  Experiences of love and loss, kindness and cruelty, and devotions and betrayals abound.  With content related to science (genetics), social studies (Ancient Egypt) and messages about bullying, acceptance and being kind, this is a great classroom read for 4th-6th graders.

Wonder is an allusion-rich text.  I found myself wishing I'd watched all six of the Star Wars movies more recently so I could know exactly what Auggie was describing.  There are also references to The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Our Town, and a particularly powerful reference to the Cheese Touch from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, that truly demonstrates how ostracized Auggie was during the first part of fifth grade:
Tristan didn't even care about the spilled powder on the floor or that he ruined the experiment.  What he was most concerned about was getting to the lab sing to wash his hands as fast as possible.  That's when I knew for sure that there was this thing about touching me at Beecher Prep.
I think it's like the Cheese Touch in Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The kids in that story were afraid they'd catch the cooties if they touched the old moldy cheese on the basketball court.  At Beecher Prep, I'm the old moldy cheese." (p. 72)
Yikes!  And very moving!  The way Palacio and Auggie describe his classmate's behaviors ring true.  This book can be a very upsetting mirror for some readers' behaviors.  (But don't worry, this metaphorical mirror doesn't always reveal the worst of ourselves.  Palacio does a great job of showing the complexity and varied natured of a lot of the characters' struggles.)

I was rather surprised when I reached Part II of Wonder and I realized that the book jumped to Auggie's sister's point of view (and in later parts to those of some of both siblings' classmates).  I wanted to stay with Auggie!  But, the more I read, I saw the importance of seeing different characters' perspectives and motives.

Also, I'm rather fond of Wonder's booktrailer.  You can watch that here:

Here's also a Publisher's Weekly article describing how support for Wonder has lead Random House Children's Books to launch an online anti-bullying campaign called Choose Kind.

Dinner Conversation:

"I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.  I eat ice cream.  I ride my bike.  I play ball.  I have an XBox.  Stuff like that makes me ordinary.  I guess.  And I feel ordinary.  Inside.  But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go." (p. 3)

"'I don't want to go to school,' I answered, folding my arms.
"It would be good for you, Auggie," said Mom.
"Maybe I'll go next year," I answered, looking out the window.
"This year would be better, Auggie," said Mom.  "You know why?  Because you'll be going into fifth grade, and that's the first year of middle school--for everyone.  You won't be the only new kid."
"I'll be the only kid who looks like me," I said.
"I'm not going to say it won't be a big challenge for you, because you know better than that," she answered.  "But it'll be good for you, Auggie.  You'll make lots of friends.  Any you'll learn things you'd never learn from me." (p. 12)

"They were just being normal dumb kids.  I know that.  I kind of wanted to tell them that.  Like, it's okay, I know I'm weird-looking, take a look, I don't bite.  Hey, the truth is, if a Wookiee started going to the school all of a sudden, I'd be curious, I'd probably stare a bit!  And if I was walking with Jack or Summer, I'd probably whisper to them:  Hey, there's the Wookiee.  And if the Wookiee caught me saying that, he'd know I wasn't trying to be mean.  I was just pointing out the fact that he's a Wookiee."  (p. 62)

"For me, Halloween is the best holiday in the world.  It even beats Christmas.  I get to dress up in a costume.  I get to wear a mask.  I get to go around like every other kid with a mask and nobody thinks I look weird.  Nobody takes a second look.  Nobody notices me.  Nobody knows me.
I wish every day could be Halloween.  We could all wear masks all the time.  Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks."  (p. 73)

"August is the Sun.  Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun.  The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun.  The only celestial body that doesn't orbit August the Sun is Daisy the dog, and that's only because to her little doggy eyes, August's face doesn't look very different from any other human's face." (p. 82)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

Monday, June 4, 2012

REVIEW: The One and Only Ivan

Applegate, K.  (2012).  The One and Only Ivan.  New York:  Harper.

304 pages.

I've taught one of Katherine Applegate's other books, Home of the Brave, four or five times over the last several years and with each rereading I'm still impressed by Kek's perspective and the level of empathy Applegate manages to create for her characters.  I was super excited to pick up her latest book The One And Only Ivan.

Appetizer:  Ivan is a lone silverback gorilla who has lived in a small exhibit in a mall for decades beside an elderly elephant named Stella, parrots, a macaw and a stray dog named Bob.  While Ivan makes do with his small domain, more than anything, he longs to see other gorillas.

After a new young elephant named Rosy arrives at their small mall, it falls to Ivan to help take care of her, bringing up some painful memories and cementing the fact that the small band of animals need a different possibility for their future.

With some parallels to the classic Charlotte's Web and based on a true story, Applegate anthropomorphizes Ivan the silverback gorilla to capture his unique perspective, sense of longing and explore issues related to animal abuse.

At first I struggled with how humanized and well spoken Ivan was.  But despite this difficulty of suspending my disbelief, I still found the text to be accessible and a quick read.  Each of Ivan's vignette's is short, causing me to think, I'll read just one more...oh, look, I've read fifty pages...."

In terms of topics to teach, Ivan proves himself to be quite the artist.  Picasso and Rembrandt are mentioned and a teacher could use these mentions and Ivan's own discussion of art as an opportunity to discuss how art can inspire change and influence emotions.  A teacher could also have students research the behavior patterns of gorillas or elephants.  You could also focus on issues of animal abuse with students examining instances reported in the news, exploring laws related to the treatment of animals or maybe writing creative stories about animals that include happy endings.

With a little bit of extra work, a teacher could also discuss bias and the way the story leads the reader to see from a particular perspective.  (To help draw out the way a book employs ideology to try to sway readers, I might pair The One and Only Ivan with the picturebook Vegan Is Love:  Having heart and taking action by Ruby Roth which has caused a bit of controversy and is pretty overt as the title expresses about its stance toward the treatment of animals.)

This is a complex story with a lot of beautiful and poetic language that also takes on a lot of serious and difficult issues:  Cruelty towards animals, removing them from their natural habitats, the experience of losing a loved one and of having to take care of others, feelings of isolation, etc.
This novel also serves as an examination of human nature.  Ivan and his animal friends have both been loved and mistreated by the humans in their lives.  And while humans do largely serve as the villains throughout the book, they aren't always found wanting (pages 102-104, for example).

Dinner Conversation:

"People call me the Freeway Gorilla.  The Ape at Exit 8.  The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback.
The names are mine, but they're not me.  I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan.
Humans waste words.  They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.
Everyone knows the peels are the best part." (p. 2)

"I live in a human habitat called the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  We are conveniently located off I-95, with shows at two, four, and seven, 365 days a year." (p. 6)

"'He looks lonely,' they say.
Not long ago, a little boy stood before my glass, tears streaming down his smooth red cheeks.  "He must be the loneliest gorilla in the world," he said, clutching his mother's hand.
At times like that, I wish humans could understand me the way I can understand them.
It's not so bad, I wanted to tell the little boy.  With enough time, you can get used to almost anything." (pp. 21-22)

"Because she remembers everything, Stella knows many stories.  I like colorful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings.  But any story will do." (p. 63)

"When I say the words, they surprise me.  "You want me to take care of Ruby."
Stella nods, a small gesture that makes her wince.  "If she could have a life that's...different from mine.  She needs a safe place, Ivan.  Not--"
"Not here," I say.
It would be easier to promise to stop eating, to stop breathing, to stop being a gorilla.
"I promise, Stella," I say.  "I promise it on my word as a silverback.'" (p. 112-113)

"It didn't take long for my parents to find my name.  All day long, every day, I made pictures.  I drew on rocks and bark and my poor mother's back.
I used the sap from leaves.  I used the juice from fruit.  But mostly I used mud.
And that is what they called me:  Mud.
To a human, Mud might not sound like much.  But to me, it was everything." (p. 125)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

REVIEW: Darth Vader and Son

Brown, J.  (2012).  Darth Vader and Son.  San Francisco:  Chronicle Books.

Here's a nice gift for dads and sons who are already hooked on Star Wars.

Appetizer:  Containing 60-ish illustrations by cartoonist and father Jeffrey Brown, Darth Vader and Son shares imagined portraits between Darth Vader and a four-year-old Luke Skywalker.

Here's the introduction from the book in Star Wars style, of course:

As a long time Star Wars fan, I was really excited when I first saw this book mentioned on the internetz.  As with The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, I needed nothing more than a glance at the cover to know I needed the book now.

While still enjoyable, when my copy arrived and I read Darth Vader and Son, I was a little disappointed to see that there wasn't a cohesive plot throughout the picturebook.  Rather the book shows vignettes of real father-toddler moments with a Star Wars twist.

My favorite illustrations tended to be the ones that were twists on famous lines from the movie series:

Darth Vader and Son is a fun quick read that parents can appreciate.  In terms of young Star Wars fans, I have no doubt that there are four to seven-year-olds who will love staring at and examining some of the illustrations.  It could be a very powerful experience jumpstarting some wee-little ones' imaginations to see such a young Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars universe:

Also, on a slight tangent, according to his mini-autobiography on his website,  Jeffrey Brown and I hail from the same hometown:  Grand Rapids, Mi.  *waves at a fellow Grand Rapidian*

Dinner Conversation:

Tasty Rating:  !!!


Related Posts with Thumbnails