A Blog of Children's Literature

Crossing Stones April 18, 2011

Crossing StonesCrossing Stones by Helen Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost (2009)

Novel in Verse, 178 pages

18-year-old Muriel Jorgensen is an opinionated young woman who begins to question the risks of war and the inequality of women. The Jorgensen’s live across from the Norman’s, and their properties are divided by Crabapple Creek, but the line is blurred as all the families use the creek’s crossing stones to see each other every day. Both mothers hope their children will marry within the families: Muriel and Frank Norman, Ollie (Muriel’s 16-year-old brother) and Emma (Frank’s 16-year-old sister). Muriel is not sure how she feels about Frank and is afraid to get caught up in the life of a housewife. However, before she can decide, Frank enlists and is sent abroad to fight in The Great War. Only Muriel openly expresses the risks American young men are taking while boys go away to war. However, Muriel and both families are not ready for the reality of war, its destructive nature, or the changes happening back home. Frost’s characters portray the common patriotic sentiment pre-WWI and the disillusionment after the war in their alternating verse narration. The poet’s form in particular is quite interesting, creating a flowing creek pattern in all Muriel’s poems, showing her developing thoughts and forming beliefs. Furthermore, Frost’s form for Ollie and Emma’s poems as “cupped-hand sonnets” connected through beginning and end rhyme shows their bond and the stepping stones they have been for one another. Crossing Stones would be an excellent supplement to a WWI study for any young adult, providing the experiences of people back home and touching on other major events occurring in the era, i.e. women’s suffrage, child labor, and women in the workplace.


Clockwork Angel April 13, 2011

Filed under: Reviews — akibird @ 3:01 pm
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Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1)Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1).
Clare, Cassandra (author).
Aug. 2010. 496p. Simon and Schuster, hardcover, $19.99 (9781416975861). Grades 9 and up.
REVIEW. First published April 13, 2011 (Akibird).

The first in Cassandra Clare’s new prequel series, Clockwork Angel takes place in Victorian London over 100 years before her bestselling Mortal Instruments series. Fans of the supernatural elements and creatures in the Mortal Instruments books will enjoy Clockwork Angel as it sets up the traditions and values of the Shadowhunters and their duty to protect humans from demonic creatures. Unaware of this other world full of vampires, demons, and part-angel nephilim, orphan Tessa leaves America to live with her brother in England only to be kidnapped by two warlocks when she arrives. Imprisoned for her gift of shapeshifting, Tessa is trained in preparation for a mysterious man called the Magister until a young Shadowhunter named William Herringdale rescues her. With plenty of action, adventure, and romantic mystery, Tessa, Will and other Shadowhunters must put all the pieces together to solve bizarre human murders, realize the dark purpose of some strange humanlike automatons, and stop the Magister before it is too late. Clare’s strong yet introspective protagonist draws the reader into this dark topsy-turvy world and keeps the pages turning as she struggles to find her brother, understand herself, and save London. With so much left unanswered, readers will be begging for the next in the series and jump at the chance to read the Mortal Instruments if they have not already.


Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka March 21, 2011

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up ScieszkaKnucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Knucklehead by Jon Sciesczka (2008)

Biography, 106 pages

In this hilarious memoir Jon Scieszka shares his childhood growing up with 5 brothers and getting into lots of mischief. As second oldest, he tells the advantages of being older: not being too close to the toilet when playing swords, charging your friends to watch your little brother eat cigarette butts, tying another brother into bed with all your dad’s ties, and so on. He also discusses all the adventures the brothers shared during summers in the wilderness, dealing with nuns at Catholic school, and joining the Cub Scouts. In the uproarious and witty style that is uniquely Scieszka, the author leads readers through the memories of brotherly prankhood, toy soldiers, and a raucous good time that will “darn near kill ‘em.” Reminiscent of the tomfoolery in films and TV like The Sandlot, Stand By Me, and The Wonder Years, Scieszka’s family pictures and personal accounts bring back the 1960’s in an All-American boy version, full of tricks and laughter in compact chapters of individual stories or themes. Knucklehead is a great read for any boy or anyone 8 and up, looking for a little trouble and a lot of laughs.


Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting

Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped FightingTruce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truce by Jim Murphy (2009)

Information, 144 pages

Through a well-explained backdrop, Murphy sets the scene of World War I and what became known as the Great War, for its trench warfare with modernized weaponry and lack of defensive measures that led to millions of casualties. In Truce, Murphy shares an objective view that shows all parties’ men honored to go to war, somewhat naively, before realizing that this would not be a simple fight or an easy win. After months of muddy and unsanitary conditions, soldiers found that war was not the glorious image they had in mind. While generals and commanders on both sides of the line ordered their men not to fraternize with the enemy, Christmas approached and a miracle occurred: soldiers defied orders and offered a temporary truce to celebrate the holiday and bury the dead. While the truce did not occur completely down the line, hundreds of thousands of men postponed fighting. Many found themselves in No Man’s Land, wishing their enemies peace and realizing that neither group of soldiers wanted war any longer, but the war would continue until politicians and reigning leaders brought it to an end. With sepia toned photographs and illustrations, Murphy drives home the hardship of the war and beauty in the short respite as enemies socialized and shook hands on Christmas of 1914. In larger print, the narrative captivatingly draws the reader into that December miracle and uses soldiers’ quotes from journals and letters on both sides, showing the wonder of peace. In the epilogue, Murphy makes a modern connection between WWI and the Iraq War, urging future generations to consider negotiations of peace and prohibition of propaganda use in order to avoid risking many innocent lives. With its timeline, easy to follow prose, and recommended further reading, Truce offers younger readers the opportunity to explore war through a different lens, examining “The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est, / Pro patria mori”.

Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum est” 1917


Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward JusticeClaudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Philip Hoose (2009)

Biography, 144 pages

Lauded by history legends Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice tells the tale of an unsung teenage hero who risked it all twice to fight the unconstitutional segregation on Montgomery, Alabama buses. At only 15, Claudette refused to give up her seat in the “colored” section of the bus for a white woman who wanted it. Colvin argued it was her constitutional right and was arrested and removed from the bus in a physically and mentally abusive manner. While Rosa Parks was eventually chosen to represent the movement because of her age, quiet demeanor, activist status, and background that crossed classes, Colvin was actually the first to refuse to move in Montgomery and jailed for her actions. Civil rights leaders hesitated to put their faith in the image of a working-class teenager who supposedly fought back and was too emotional. Many in the black community disowned Colvin and blamed her for her legal troubles, saying she should have known what happened. However, Colvin lit the fire that eventually sparked hope and bravery in the adults in her community, which led to the bus boycott in 1956. Interspersed narration from Phillip Hoose and Claudette helps paint the historical picture for the reader, while quoted dialogue allows the reader to be in the courtroom as witnesses are questioned. Side bars and primary source pictures and documents help acclimate the reader to the volatile time period. Books like Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice provide realistic role models for young adult readers and encourage them to make a difference at any age.


Countdown March 7, 2011

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?