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.


Alabama Moon April 13, 2011

Alabama MoonAlabama Moon by Watt Key
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alabama Moon by Watt Key (2006)

Adventure, 304 pages

Moon Blake is only 10 years old, but he knows how to survive in the wild and live off of the forest. Moon and his Pap have been avoiding the law and living in a half underground structure deep in the woods for almost all of Moon’s life. When his father dies unexpectedly and tells Moon to go to Alaska and find others like them, Moon is thrust into a whole new world outside the comfort of his natural surroundings. Moon then really learns what it’s like to run from the law as a boys’ home director and a sadistic constable are out to get him. Using his outdoor survival skills, Moon attempts to break out of confinement, find his way to Alaska, and live free. However, Moon’s heart begins to change as he makes friends with boys at the home, particularly Kit a sickly boy who admires Moon and his former lifestyle. In his first novel, Watt Key does an exceptional job portraying a boy who knows everything about survival but has a lot to learn about friendship, trust, and himself. The reader sees Moon grow into a multilayer character with his increasing doubts in his father’s plans for him, his inability to make an adequate medicine for Kit, and his ultimate decision to stop running. Readers who like adventure, strong male characters, and stronger introspection will appreciate Moon’s narration and his journey home. I would recommend Alabama Moon in a booktalk to share with 9-12 year olds who enjoy adventure and heart.


The Great Wide Sea

Filed under: Adventure and Fantasy — akibird @ 3:39 pm
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The Great Wide SeaThe Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Great Wide Sea by M. H. Herlong (2008)

Adventure, 288 pages

15-year-old Ben lost his mother in a fatal car accident and now has to deal with a father who has lost all sense of himself in the grieving process. In a rash decision, his father gets rid of their house, their belongings, and life as they knew it to move them onto a boat for a year. Feeling like the only sensible one, Ben is forced to grow up and be responsible for his two younger brothers, 11-year-old stargazer Dylan and 5-year-old security blanket-holding Gerry. Just as things seem like they are starting to get better, their father decides they will extend their travels to Bermuda and beyond, when all the boys really just want to go home. After a rough evening, Ben awakes to find his father missing and realizes he is now truly responsible for their survival and welfare. As a storm brews over the ocean, Ben, Dylan, and Gerry all most overcome physical, mental, and emotional limitations to survive the great wide sea. In her first book, M. H. Herlong does an amazing job using language to weave frayed relationships and ripped sails into a tale of survival, family, and the sea. The Great Wide Sea is a great book for an adventurer, a sibling, or a teen looking for insight into struggling relationships and life.


The Breadwinner

The BreadwinnerThe Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (2001)

Adventure, 170 pages

In this heart-wrenching story, Deborah Ellis creates the life of Parvana, a Afghan girl whose father has been arrested and whose family now depends on her to provide for them because of the strict laws forbidding women to leave home without a chaperone. Parvana’s own more restricted life as a young girl soon changes as she cuts her hair and dons a deceased brother’s clothes to become a boy street merchant to make a living for her family. Ellis’ writing style shares the truth and hardship inflicted by the Taliban and a brave young girl who works around their laws to survive. Parvana’s life is full of sacrifice as she gives up her childhood to become the breadwinner for her family. At only age 11, her life has been full of bombs, beatings, and war, and yet she fights to be brave like Malali, a historical young girl who tore off her veil and spirited Afghanistan’s troops into a battle against the British who invaded the country. Ellis does a fine job writing material that is accessible to younger readers, yet does not paint a perfect picture of an Afghan woman’s world or its culture. She dances a fine line through Parvana’s experiences, celebrating family and instances of women’s rights, while shining light on the harsh reality of many. Similar to Persepolis and The Shadows of Ghadames, The Breadwinner questions the roles of young women in a changing world, providing a protagonist that attempts to overcome a cruel social system and does not live a fairytale existence.


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.


Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World

Sir Charlie ChaplinSir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman (2010)

Biography, 288 pages

In this page-turning biography of Chaplin, Sid Fleischman tells the story of how the speechless Little Tramp was born and stole the hearts of all moviegoers during the great silent film era. The writer captures Charlie’s perilous beginnings in the Kennington slums as a poor Cockney and how his life took him to the trademark slapstick skits that thrilled audiences and left them in uproarious laughter. Fleischman takes the reader on a joy ride, showing how the king of comedy created the hackneyed techniques with banana peels, beautiful ladies, and silent antics, as well as how his perfectionist nature as a director led Marlon Brando to call him “a fearsomely cruel man.” While not holding back the unflattering reality of Chaplin’s demeanor, Fleischman shows the genius in Chaplin’s work and his ability to play on pathos (The Kid), combine farce with tragedy (The Great Dictator), and make social commentary (Modern Times), mostly within the beautifully silent pantomime style that was iconically Chaplinesque. Fleischman’s unique writing style also develops the building narrative with witty one-liners that end paragraphs or chapters and keep the reader enthralled. The design of the book, with its vintage script, unobtrusive elegant flair, and brilliant picture placement, allows the text to flow seamlessly back into the days of silent Hollywood. I would most certainly recommend this book to readers 10 and up who are attracted to the lives of stars, the limelight, and comedy.


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.