A Blog of Children's Literature

Goth Girl Rising August 9, 2011

Goth Girl RisingGoth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lyga, Barry.
Goth Girl Rising.
Oct. 2009 (galley). 388p. Houghton Mifflin Books.
Grades 9 and up.
REVIEW. First published August 9, 2011 (Akibird).

After a stint in rehab, Goth Girl Kyra is back with a vengeance and aiming for Fanboy for putting her in the hospital. Occurring six months after Lyga’s popular The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl, Goth Girl Rising switches to Kyra’s narration and shows a lost teen who must transition back into reality and return to school and so-called friends. Truly understanding girl bravado, Barry Lyga portrays Kyra as outwardly confident with her shaved head, blue lipstick, and killer attitude. However, his creative genius unravels Kyra’s true feelings in her evolving poetry and letters to comic legend Neil Gaiman, exposing a girl grieving the loss of her mother and her muddled relationships. The author’s exploration of Goth Girl’s psyche accurately reveals a damaged soul, terrified of abandonment. Rather than talk openly about her feelings, Kyra is willing to sabotage the life of the boy she loves to fill her emptiness and avoid rejection. With a plethora of eye-opening moments and references to popular graphic novels, Goth Girl Rising will be a favorite of fans of the first in the series and also of those interested in angst and identity formation. Lyga’s use of graphic novels in the characters’ lives shows the format is not just about superheroes and tights but can lead to deeper questioning about life, death, and what it all means.


After Tupac and D Foster March 7, 2011

After Tupac and D FosterAfter Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (2008)

Contemporary Realism, 160 pages

Jacqueline Woodson masterfully winds this fictional tale of friendship and loss around the last years of life for rap phenom Tupac. D Foster walks into the lives of two best friends at age 11, before Tupac is shot for the first time. D is immediately one of the girls, and over the next two years, around the block they are referred to as Three the Hard Way. As a foster child, D has seen beyond her share of tragedy and stolen hope and yet clings to the possibility of her mother returning for her one day. As many others have, D relates to Tupac’s lyrics of hardship and injustice and finds him a beacon of light in a dark time. Somewhat sheltered from the world beyond their block, the other two girls begin to understand the world at a more developed level through D’s eyes. Without being overbearing, Woodson threads Tupac’s impact through the story, really capturing why he was so successful: when many listened to his music they saw themselves and their neighborhoods reflected in his social commentary. Woodson is also not afraid to address some weighty themes, such as homosexuality and its treatment in the hood, jail, dreams of pro-ball, throwaways, and single parents, but does so in an interwoven pattern that is never overwhelming or destructive to the girls’ story, but instead creates a backdrop for their maturity and greater understanding of the way the world works. While the narrator is never named, her first-person narration pulls the reader into the story, really connecting with her life, thoughts, and experiences with D. Mirroring the impact of Tupac’s death and everlasting influence, D’s companionship is lost as her mother returns for her and takes her away, leaving the girls a bit wiser and forever remembering what they learned from D Foster. After Tupac & D Foster would be a great read for a young adult admirer of Tupac or an urban fiction fan who can handle some of the more philosophical explorations of life.



CountdownCountdown by Deborah Wiles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Countdown by Deborah Wiles (2010)

Historical Fiction, 377 pages

Wrapped up in atomic war threats during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 11-year-old Franny is trying to get through the fifth grade and live a normal life. However, life is anything but normal when her uncle, dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder from WWII, is having flashbacks, her sister is disappearing for long periods of time and receiving secret letters in code, her annoying brother Drew is perfect and loved by all, and her best friend Margie starts to turn her back on her and competes with her for the affections of Chris, the boy who lives across the street. With impending doom on the horizon, Franny tries to keep things together by telegraphing her thoughts to people, learning new words in her Word Wealth Junior, doing all her extra credit, and solving mysteries with Nancy Drew. In Countdown, Wiles captures the mindset and heart of an average fifth grader dealing with the terror and imminent threat of nuclear war during the 1960’s culture and social climate. Images of the Kennedy’s, fallout shelters, Civil Rights activists, and astronauts interspersed with lyrics from period music, stories of influential people, political speeches and propaganda paper the pages of Countdown to set the scene for readers to understand Franny’s life and her fears. Wiles does an excellent job of drawing on history and artifacts to intertwine with Franny’s narrative, while the book designer ,Phil Falco, has helped marry historical fact and fiction with the layout of images and textual design. Countdown is eye candy for any history lover, while the story is a great look into the minds and hearts of children during October of 1962. With its bibliography and media credits, the book would be an excellent starting resource for fifth through eighth grade students learning about communism, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, or JFK.


The Shadows of Ghadames

The Shadows of GhadamesThe Shadows of Ghadames by Joëlle Stolz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shadows of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz (2004)

Historical Fiction, 118 pages

Ghadames, a city in Libya near Algeria and Tunisia, is changing along with its customs and gender roles. Caught between the past and the future at the end of the nineteenth century, Malika, a girl on the brink of adulthood, is bothered by some of the cultural restrictions of women and yet scared of her unknown future and womanhood. Built on tradition and religious beliefs, Ghadames holds two unique cities—the streets below belong to the men, who roam freely doing their business and the city atop the roofs belongs to the women to do their work, buy from the traveling market, and communicate with other women to build solidarity. It is here that women free of men’s eyes can remove their veils and display the beautiful tattoo artwork on their bodies, symbolizing fertility, safety from evildoers, and pain on their rivals. Malika dreams of learning to read and write but knows her mother does not support this idea outside of custom. However, Malika’s father and his second wife, Bilkisu, both know Malika shows promise and desires to learn more of the world than rooftops. These looming restrictions of womanhood all start to change when Bilkisu rescues an unconscious man in the streets, pursued by the Aïssaouïa men of the city, forcing Malika’s mother to reconsider her social constructions. As a French journalist reporting on the past, Stolz fascinatingly weaves culture, tradition, and history along with beautiful language of imagery and detail in Malika’s observations. Malika’s position in life is metaphorically described like a dirt plot, currently fallow, but evolving into an extensive garden full of education and womanly knowledge. Young adult readers interested in Muslim culture, gender roles, and the evolution of society will enjoy this short but powerful tale. In this unique coming-of-age story, Malika questions the invisibility of women, adulthood, and what it means to love. Can any person who loves, man or woman, actually be free?


What Happened on Fox Street

What Happened on Fox StreetWhat Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb (2010)

Contemporary Realism, 218 pages

Fox Street is a block full of families, best friends, and a dead-end that really is the beginning of a ravine and a Green Kingdom, overflowing with secrets and nature. For Mo Wren, Fox street is the best place on earth, even during the worst draught of her lifetime and without her mother whose memory still lives on in Mo’s surroundings. With her mother gone, Mo becomes responsible for many of her family’s needs and is shocked to hear that her hardworking father wants to sell their home to a business man who desires to take down all of Fox street, one house at a time. Fox Street is a story that unravels a great mystery of family, confirms young crushes, and reinforces the magic of hope. Springstubb’s language will speak to an 8 to 12-year-old reader while sharing a taste of beautiful metaphors and imagery describing family, friendships, and growing up. While the book does not have an abundance of action similar to that of the survival tactics in The Hunger Games, Springstubb’s plot development builds on age-relatable issues that touch on surviving life’s dilemmas day-to-day and the thought processes behind important actions and decisions. A great find for a longer chapter book reader who has the patience to let a story unfold like life’s small epiphanies!


Nation March 3, 2011

NationNation by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nation by Terry Pratchett (2008)

Historical Fiction-Survival Story, 367 pages

When a tsunami-like wave wipes out an entire civilization, the sole survivor, Mau, questions the gods’ existence and struggles to find a reason to live. Without his people’s acceptance of his transition into manhood, Mau wavers between a boy’s fears and a man’s determination. Fortunately for him, his reason to continue on is found in the marooned existence of a ghost girl, a trouserman girl who is the sole survivor of her British ship. The two overcome the loss of their cultures, societies, and faiths as they struggle to communicate and do what is right to restore the Nation. As more and more people show up looking for shelter and assistance, Mau becomes a leader and challenges death in order to save others. Throughout the narrative, gods speak to him and question his defiance, but ultimately his innervoices teach him much about being a man, using reasoning, and believing in the unseen. While the book is set in what appears to be 19th century on a small island in the Pacific during British reign, its setting is in “a parallel universe” on one of the Mothering Sunday Islands in the Pelagic Ocean. Although the setting and historical time periods are blurred, the true attraction in Pratchett’s work is the complex lens in which the narrative examines culture, spirituality, humanity, and truth through the eyes of two teenagers, forced to quickly abandon worthless traditions and cling to important moral beliefs. With its twists and turns, Nation takes its readers on a journey full of adventure and discovery. I would highly recommend this book to any young adult reader who enjoys the challenge of weighty subjects and adventure.


Heart of a Shepherd

Heart of a ShepherdHeart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry (2009)

Contemporary Fiction, 176 pages

Taking care of an entire farm is tough work, but for sixth grader Brother, the pressure is on as the only remaining son to help his grandparents run their Oregon ranch while his father is deployed in Iraq and his brothers are away. Tender-hearted Brother shares his thoughts on being a man and shows that he knows more about ranching than his self-confidence lets him admit. Dealing with the desperate need to grow up to be like his father, worrying about war and its human sacrifice, and figuring out what to do with his life, Brother struggles with many realistic situations, especially in the lives of many children of deployed service men and women. Luckily, he has strong grandparents that guide him in his father’s absence, a new priest who understands more than the rest, and modern technology to stay in touch with his faraway family members. Parry does an excellent job painting the backdrop of Brother’s ranching lifestyle, including the amount of manual labor involved in running a ranch and the dangers that nature presents. Described as a shepherd, Brother has a thoughtful and caring demeanor that ultimately leads him to understanding his calling in life. While Brother is sensitive and aware of others’ feelings, he still has the strength to hold his own among his four older brothers and inspire all children to find who they are meant to be. Although it has stereotypical boy themes, such as ranching, adventure, and manhood, Heart of a Shepherd delves deeper into a richer understanding of these threads in the book’s tapestry. I would definitely booktalk this contemporary “American” tale to fifth through eighth graders for its exploration of faith, adulthood, service, and lifestyle.