Drama

th1V25E54SDrama by Raina Telgemeier is a book that hasn’t stayed on the shelf long in my library. It recently came back in long enough for me to have a chance to sit down and read it in order to see what had caught the attention of the students. The major appeal of this book has to be the fact that it is a graphic novel with some great and vividly colored illustrations, while at the same time offering a contemporary story about the life of a seventh-grader. The story follows the main character, Callie who is the set designer for stage crew in her school’s drama club. The entire book revolves around the production of Moon over Mississippi and the dynamics (in some cases drama) between all of the students working together in the cast and crew. Callie deals with her relationships with other characters, the poor ticket sales of the production and her trouble with a faulty prop cannon. She has awkward encounters with the opposite sex and trying to decode what they mean (typical for any 12 or 13-year-old), but at the same time she has real friendships with boys her age and a great best friend who helps her through the ups and downs.

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Really this story is so great because of the way that kids can relate to the main character and the everyday situations that are part of middle school/ junior high experiences. It made me remember how central school was for me. I can also make an easy comparison with the kids that I work with; it’s very much how they interpret what’s going on in their world and how some things that might be trivial to an adult are really important to kids. I love that Callie was so passionate about theater. She has bigger goals than just putting on a play and her ambition is part of her charm. This is a great middle grade book; I’d really recommend for anyone from 5th grade- 8th grade. Raina also did great on creating characters that were interesting and I liked that she incorporated the LGBT aspects in a way that is relatable and realistic for boys who are gay or questioning their sexuality. Overall it’s just a quick fun read with a lot of humor. This may even be more enticing for some reluctant readers. Raina has some other great graphic novels that look to be similar in style to Drama that I’ll have to check out soon.

Toys Go Out

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If you liked Toy Story, you’ll like Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic.  This 2006 chapter book by Emily Jenkins (gorgeously illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky) will remind you what it’s like to be 9 years old and wonder what happens to your toys when you go to school.  The main characters are Plastic, Lumphy the buffalo, and StingRay.  The mystery of what type of animal Plastic is makes up one of the first chapters.  These three friends have worries that may mirror the struggles of childhood (What am I? Who loves me? What about change?).  

This is a light, fun read for elementary school children.  It features six chapters, each containing a whole story.  One illustration per chapter leaves just enough to the imagination.  For some reason, the prose sometimes cuts into free verse for several lines before changing back; I personally found this unnatural, but others may enjoy it.  I found it very funny and safe: perfect for a bed time story.

Published by Schwartz & Wade. 128 pages. List Price: $16.95.

Ashes

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This book really has one overarching theme of survival.  The first of these survival themes is survival in the wilderness. Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick 17-year-old Alex is an orphan who is has terminal cancer. She’s fed up with the different treatments that aren’t going to help because her brain tumor is inoperable. She decides it’s time to take a journey into the middle of the wilderness to scatter her parents ashes, so she leaves home without telling her aunt and heads out on a weeklong  hike to her destination.  On her trip a phenomenon occurs that she later finds out is has to do with electromagnetic pulses. All her electronic devices stop working and Alex witnesses some strange behavior from some animals, along with a shocking and sudden death during the phenomenon. As the story progresses we find out that most people didn’t survive the EMP. The EMP also gives Alex some interesting new abilities that make up some of my favorite parts of the story. Along the way Alex has also ends up in care of an 8-year-old girl named Ellie. This is when the second part of the survival theme comes in to play, zombies. We find out that some people didn’t just die in the EMP, they changed. I thought the mix of wilderness and zombie apocalypse survival was great and for me Alex somehow becomes a more relatable character around this point in the story. Eventually Alex and Ellie meet Tom, a 20-year-old war veteran who helps save their lives. Together the three of them struggle to make it out of the wilderness alive.

 I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that the second half of the book is completely different from the first half. There are some many changes that it almost feels like a different story and there are a lot more characters introduced. At first I couldn’t decide if these changes were good or if I liked the story after this point, but ultimately I decided in some ways it made a little bit of sense for the characters to find other people who weren’t just on the run. This half is where Alex gets to the town of Rule. Rule is a little strange and there are a lot of parts where some of the characters in the town are kind of mysterious and cryptic about some of the things that Alex asks about.  It’s really more about survival in society for this portion of the story and I think it was a really a natural progression for the plot to go. There are also some interesting characters in Rule for me, the author throws them at you a little fast, so you meet about ten people in a few chapters, but it’s not that difficult to figure it all out. The tumor is in the back of Alex’s mind through the whole book and I thought that was another great aspect of survival. Having her think about the “monster” as she calls it and how long she has left before the end.

The book started off a little shaky for me and I wasn’t sure I would like Alex, the protagonist. It took me a few pages to feel ready to be in head for the duration of the book. Once the story picked up for me though, it did not disappoint. I think Ellie and Tom were great characters as well, along with some of the later characters in Rule (Jess, Lena, Chris, Peter, and Kincaid just to name a few). I thought the story had a lot of great action packed parts, it was also pretty gruesome. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who doesn’t like a little bit of horror. The end of the book has a big cliff hanger that was something I didn’t see coming at all and I’m really looking forward to reading the second book in this trilogy, Shadows.

YA: Cinder

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This is a very interesting take on the classic fairytale of Cinderella, with a very compelling dystopian and slight science fiction twist. Cinder takes place in the fictional future of T.E. or third era, which is explained to be the years of peace on Earth after World War 4. Cinder is a cyborg living in the commonwealth of New Beijing, China.  In society cyborgs are considered 2nd class citizens. The protagonist, Cinder is the best mechanic in Beijing and the only source of income for an uncaring stepmother and two stepsisters. There is an ever present threat of a plague that has wiped out a large portion of Earth’s population. There is no known cure and contracting it is a guarantee of death in a few swift days. The plague is an interesting and important part of the story, Cinder’s youngest stepsister and only real human friend suddenly contracts the plague and is part of the catalyst for some major events in the story. The other important element is the commonwealth’s tense relations with the Queen of Lunar. The Lunar are people from Luna (the moon) and were once people from Earth that colonized the moon long ago. They have the ability to use bioelectricity to bend people’s will and perception. Tension between Earth and Luna increases when Cinder gets involved after the handsome Prince Kai of Beijing asks her to fix an android for him.

Cinder is a really great book for anyone that loves a little bit of everything in their books! There are great elements of science fiction, supernatural, adventure, romance and action. Marissa Meyer is a great storyteller who has put genres together that I would have never thought would work, but managed to make it one of those books you just can’t put down. The characters are really fun and well thought out. Despite a major part of the plot twist being obvious, the story stays fresh and never gets boring. I thought Cinder was a really great protagonist and a lot more interesting because she was not the typical female heroine. I liked that she was kind of an outsider type of character as the protagonist. I also really loved Iko and thought having an android best friend was a great part of why Cinder was so likeable and interesting. Queen Levana was also a favorite character for me, just because she was so horrible and easy to dislike. I would probably recommend this for anyone interested in a mix of genres and strong storytelling or for anyone who was looking for something new and fun to read!

And Tango Makes Three

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This is the fourth-most challenged and/or banned book from the decade 2000-2009.  Clearly, many are uncomfortable with this book because it shows that sometimes an animal may choose a mate of the same sex.  I believe that parents should have the right to choose which books are inappropriate for their children, but I don’t think that any parent has the right to say which books are inappropriate for all children.  I think a book like this could teach critical lessons in tolerance and celebrating diversity.

Controversy aside, this is a lovely story.  Roy and Silo, two male penguins, bond with each other and try to hatch several rocks.  Naturally, this fails.  When another couple has one too many eggs to take care of, a zookeeper gives Roy and Silo the extra egg.  They care for it until Tango, their baby, hatches.  This really did happen at Central Park Zoo (in NYC).  The story was co-written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; it was illustrated by Henry Cole.

The Snowy Day

Sick of the winter weather?  Peter, the protagonist from The Snowy Day (by Ezra Jack Keats) isn’t!  I love this book–I think it’s an American classic.  It’s sparse, imaginative prose coupled with its simple collage illustrations perfectly capture the sense of wonder felt by young children in a world blanketed with snow.  The book was first published in 1962 and was immediately celebrated for starring a black protagonist–it really stood out in the white-washed field of early 1960s children’s literature.  I personally feel that it’s very important that all kids have a chance to read books about kids that look like them, and that’s why this book was so monumental in the history of children’s literature in America.  This is a great book for story time in the library, or for a bed time story at home.  Enjoy!

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The Higher Power of Lucky

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron just may be my new favorite children’s book.  Lucky is a great role model for 10-year-old girls; even though her mother is dead and her dad has abandoned her, she’s an empowered young woman that I really admire.  She lives in the tiniest small town you’ve ever heard of, but she still manages to have fun collecting insect samples (à la her hero Darwin) and working at the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center.  

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One thing Patron did right was to keep the cast of characters to a manageable minimum.  Lucky has a lovely French caretaker, Brigitte (Brih-zheet)–but she’s worried Brigitte will move back to France instead of adopting her.  Her best friend Lincoln is an avid knot tier, which sounds boring, but is actually interesting.  There’s also the pesky Miles, a younger boy who always wants a cookie and for someone to read him Are You My Mother?.

I listed to this book as an audiobook, read by Cassandra Campbell.  She did an excellent job and really brought the (already excellent) story to life for me.  I highly recommend the book, especially the audiobook!