Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Poetry: Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
1. Woodson, J. (2003). Locomotion. New York, NY: Putnam Juvenile.
2. Summary: Since his parents died, eleven year old Lonnie Motion, whose nickname is Locomotion, has been adjusting to his new life. He has been separated from his letter sister, Lili, and is living with his foster mother Miss Edna. Miss Edna is constantly hushing Lonnie because she is not used to the constant energy he brings. Not only is Lonnie adjusting to a new home, he is also getting used to a new school filled with people who do not know anything about his past or background. The saving grace is his teacher Ms. Marcus. Ms. Marcus helps Lonnie express himself through his writing. Through his writing, Lonnie begins to remember his past and cope with his future.
3. Critical Analysis: Locomotion is a novel in verse. The story is told in 60 poems written by the main character, Lonnie. Each poem reveals more and more about Lonnie’s past and his feelings toward his present circumstances and his future. He is an adolescent boy and so his story is occasionally funny yet very poignant. The assignment turns into a cathartic experience for Lonnie that helps move him through his grief. When reading, Lonnie is a “presence you can feel like they were sitting next to you” (Kirkus, 2002).
According to Jacqueline Woodson’s website, Locomotion has won several awards: National Book Award Finalist, Coretta Scott King Honor, 2003 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, Horn Book Fanfare List, and School Library Journal Best Book, to name a few. Woodson states that she wrote this book because “Lonnie’s voice was in my head” (Woodson, 2011). Reviewers as a whole enjoy Locomotion. A reviewer on Amazon, Lisa, stated, “It is a moving story, and Lonnie's voice is spot on”. Lisa was accurate in her description of the novel as “moving”. The story is not meant to be lighthearted, although Lonnie injects some levity into the book from time to time. Lonnie’s story of losing his parents in a fire and resurrecting the happy life he knew is heartbreaking.
Although this was her first novel in verse, Woodson does an excellent job at portraying the genre of poetry as a means to tell a compelling story. Lonnie’s poems come in all forms. For example, in a sonnet, "Ms. Marcus says "sonnet" comes from "sonnetto"/ and that sonnetto means little song or sound/ It reminds me of that guy's name Gepetto/ the one who made Pinocchio from wood he found". The writing is clever and keeps the reader engaged in the poem at hand and the story as a whole.
Overall, Locomotion is an excellent novel for a YA reader that is looking for something moving. It would also be an great addition to a poetry unit in a classroom. With the various forms of poems found in the novel, it would be a clever way to review poetry as a whole while sifting through a story that has depth and complexity.

Kirkus. (2002, November 15). [Review of Locomotion by J. Woodson]. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jacqueline-woodson/locomotion/.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Historical Fiction: My Brother Sam is Dead

Historical Fiction: My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier

1. Collier, C. & Collier J. L. (2005). My brother Sam is dead. Bloomindale, IL: Scholastic.
2. Summary: Tim Meeker has always looked up to his older brother, Sam. After Sam returns from college, he informs his family that he plans to join the American Revolution by enlisting in the Rebel army. Sam’s parents, who are British supporters, are appalled. Tim soon realizes that he will have to choose a side- between the Revolutionaries and Sam or the Loyalists and his father.
3. Critical Analysis: My Brother Sam is Dead was a Newbery Honor book in 1974. The story is told from young Tim’s point-of-view. The story spans four years, where Tim grows from a boy to a young man. Tim is in the middle between his father, Mr. Meeker, a strong and stubborn man, and Sam, his older brother who is full of fresh ideas and youthful vigor. The majority of the novel focuses on this triangle. While Sam and Mr. Meeker seem to be constantly at odds, Tim is walking the fence between who he yearns to be like. “I asked myself what Sam would do if it were him…he'd do something daring. The most daring thing to do would be to track down Father…Then it came to me that even though rescuing Father was the daring thing to do, it wasn't the smartest thing. So I asked myself another question: what would Father do?” (p. 156).  Shuffling between Sam’s brash, courage and father’s practicality, Tim learns to judge situations himself and act in his own way.
Because this novel is set during the American Revolution, it is an excellent source of credible information. The story is revolving around one family’s experience with war; nonetheless, the story has a plethora of factual innuendos that show life during the 18th century. For example, there is a scene where Tim is in church and is explaining that the upper balcony is where the lesser people (blacks, Native Americans, and children) sit. This small statement opens the readers eyes to daily life in the American Colonies. In an epilogue, the Collier brothers explain their desire for historical accuracy. They go on to say that  the characters and setting were inspired by actual people and places.
Readers have mixed reviews about My Brother Sam is Dead. Posted in Goodreads, Stephanie Holmes calls this book excellent, “The joy of love and the tragedy of death, with the details of the history of our country are all in this book.”  And, I have to agree with Stephanie. The book is filled with themes and motifs that most YA books are lacking. To top it off, the book is a historical fiction novel that teaches while readers hear the story of Tim and Sam. Another Goodreads’ user, Adam, believes that the story is lacking a plot. I couldn’t disagree more. The plot is war and its effects on the Meeker family. So much is happening in this story.
Interestingly, the book has been challenged quite frequently in public and school libraries. According to an article by the National Coalition Against Censorship, the book has been challenged due to its inappropriate language, mainly the use of the word “damn”. However, the book has remained on the shelves because of its gripping story of one family’s experience with war and the courage it takes to grow into one’s own beliefs.
Adam. (2007, October 21). [Review of My brother Sam is dead by C. Collier & J.L. Collier]. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/122756.My_Brother_Sam_Is_Dead.
Holmes, S. (2008, January 13). [Review of My brother Sam is dead by C. Collier & J.L. Collier]. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/122756.My_Brother_Sam_Is_Dead.

National Coalition Against Censorship. (2009, February 26). ‘My brother Sam is dead’ kept in Muscogee school libraries. Blogging Censorship. Retrieved from http://ncacblog.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/my-brother-sam-is-dead-kept-in-muscogee-school-libraries/.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Silence of Murder

Mystery: The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall

1. Mackall, D.D. (2011). The silence of murder. New York, NY: Ember.
2. Summary:Raised by an alcoholic mother, Hope Long’s life has not been the easiest, but it gets a lot harder when her brother, Jeremy, goes on trial for the murder of a beloved baseball coach. Jeremy has autism and has not spoken in twelve years. With the town convinced of Jeremy’s guilt, it is up to Hope and her two friends, T.J. and Chase, to unravel the clues and sift through the secrets to prove Jeremy’s innocence.
3. Critical Analysis: The Silence of Murder is Dandi Daley Mackall’s first mystery novel. It has received excellent reviews and was the recipient of the Edgar Award for best mystery novel. The story is told by sixteen-year old Hope Long. Hope and her eighteen-year old brother Jeremy are being raised by an alcoholic mother, referred to as Rita, whose dating life is always up and down. With a less than idea homelife, Jeremy and Hope have always been close. Jeremy hasn’t spoken since he was a young child. Hope believes it all began when Rita struck Jeremy after he informed her that God can sing. “She struck like a rattler, but without the warning. The slap echoed off Jeremy’s face, louder than the roar of the engine. “God don’t sing!” she screamed” (p. 4). Although Jeremy’s selective mutism is something that many people believe makes him insane, Hope knows different. Mackall does a phenomenal job portraying the love that Hope feels for Jeremy. Hope does not see Jeremy as crazy. In fact, the first 100 pages of the novel offer sweet recollections of Jeremy’s selflessness.
Although The Silence of Murder received many excellent reviews from entities such as School Library Journal and Booklist, there were a few reviews that found the book less than perfect. For example, Kirkus reviews found the characters and storyline too artificial, “the mean parents, bumbling defense lawyer and preening prosecutor all play to type, their characters flat” (Kirkus, 2011). I agree to an extent with this review. The defense lawyer and prosecutor were completely in line with all portrayed lawyers. And, although sweet, Hope’s love for her brother makes it seem he is perfect rather than real.
The Silence of Murder is a mystery. And, true to form, the novel offers twists and turns that keeps the reader guessing. The reader is presented with several good candidates for a suspect and plenty of motives for the killing. It appears that Coach Johnson, loved and admired as he was, was not the perfect man the community found him to be. Furthermore, the myriad of secrets that are uncovered unveil an ending that is both heart-breaking and surprising.

Kirkus Reviews. (2011, August 31). Review of The Silence of Murder. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/dandi-daley-mackall/silence-murder/.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
1. Ness, Patrick. (2010). The knife of never letting go. Read by Nick Podehl.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick on Brilliance Audio.
2. Summary: Todd Hewitt is the youngest boy in a town of men.  The thoughts of each man and animal are audible to everyone in the form of Noise.  Todd is a month away from being a man when everything changes. Todd and his dog, Manchee,  discover a silence in the Noise. Todd realizes that this silence is something he must keep secret from the rest of the men in the town. However, a secret like that is impossible to keep when your Noise is broadcasted for the townsfolk to hear. Todd and Manchee are forced  to run  away from the only life they have ever known. Along their way, they discover the same eerily quiet hole in the Noise: a girl. Todd, Manchee, and the girl set off  on a journey to learn the truth in their existence.
3. Critical Analysis: The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. Ness’s novel was the recipient of The Guardian children's fiction prize and was a starred review from Booklist and School Library Journal.  This highly acclaimed novel follows Todd Hewitt on a coming-of-age quest against the evil Mayor Prentiss.
The novel is told by Todd and unfolds very slowly. This was frustrating for me at first because I wanted to know the details to this New World. However,  the slow unfolding was very effective in the world-building that took place. Ness has created an entire world and civilization that the reader needed to discover. With the slow-pacing, the reader could build the bits and pieces into the plot.  And, even more, the slow pace allows readers to get to know the other main character, Viola. Viola was a part of a scout ship from another group of settlers headed to New World. While scouting with her parents, the ship crashed killing all but herself. Todd is very unsure of Viola at first.Their relationship truly blooms and grows as they battle for their lives.
Patrick Ness does not skirt around difficult issues- he has Todd tackle them head on. For example, when Todd flees for his life, he is given a knife , a "big ratchety one with the bone handle and the serrated edge that cuts practically everything in the world", to protect himself. Yet, Todd isn’t sure if he can use it or not.  The idea of killing to protect oneself is something that most people have thought about. Todd is unable to kill, it is what sets him apart from the others in the book. Another difficult issue that Ness beautifully addresses is the idea of loss. Todd lost his parents when he was an infant and was being raised by neighbors. After fleeing the town, all Todd has is  his mother’s journal (which he can’t read because he is illiterate) , the knife, and Manchee. Manchee is the most loyal of dogs. He sticks by Todd and protects him as much as he can. Todd suffers the greatest loss when he must sacrifice Manchee to save Viola. This is such a powerful part of the book because it signifies that Todd is no longer a child, but turning into a man.
Partick Ness’ writing is very clear. The diction reflects the way Todd, an illiterate teenager, thinks and talks. “I never ended up reading too good. Don’t matter. Ain’t nobody in Prentisstown ever gonna write a book” (19).  Todd is such a believable teenager. Although the plot can be somewhat deep, Ness adds in enough humor  (especially from Manchee) to take the edge off some of those more intense moments.

After the reader gets a handle on the characters and setting, the story takes off. Fans of dystopian fantasy will be enthralled by the New World and breathtakingly unique storyline.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Printz Award: How I Live Now

Printz Award: How I Live Now
1. Rosoff, Meg. (2004). How I live now. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

2. Summary: Fifteen-year old Daisy is leaving her home in New York to live with family in England. Although she has never meet her relatives, she is glad to leave her father and pregnant stepmother, "Davina the Diabolical". Daisy soon begins to love her aunt and four cousins, especially her fourteen-year old cousin, Edmond. Daisy is learning to adjust to her new life with her cousins and her growing affection for Edmond when war begins to erupt around her; ripping apart the family and destroying the land.

3. Critical Analysis: How I Live Now is a highly-acclaimed novel written by Meg Rosoff in 2004. It garnered much respect in the literary community and was the recipient of many awards, including: the 2004 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, the 2005 Michael L. Printz Award, and the 2005 Branford Boase Award.

In How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff touches upon subjects that today's young adults face: teenage love, self-importance, and family ties (to name a few). On the other hand, Rosoff boldly ventures into topics that are more uncomfortable to address. The protagonist, Daisy, struggles with the blame she places upon herself for her mother's death, "It's a shame, starting out your first day on the planet as a murderer but there you go, I didn't have much choice at the time" (p. 19). And, with her father's dating life and now marriage, Daisy feels quite out-of-control. She becomes anorexic in order to garner some control of her life and soon realizes she is good at it. In a 2013 interview with Elena Shepperd for Mic.com, Meg Rosoff explains that she wanted to talk about the problems that teenagers today face, what she dubbed as "first world problems". Rosoff does such a wonderful job with Daisy's character development. Daisy begins the novel with an inward-facing attitude which slowly begins to change as she needs to be a protector and guardian for her nine-year old cousin, Piper. Another subject that some challengers of the book found taboo was the fact that Daisy and Edmond were in a relationship as cousins. Challengers believe that the topic of incest is too sensitive for young readers.

The wonder in this book lies in Daisy's narration and interior monologue. Her voice is so pure and unfiltered:

Let’s try to understand that falling into a sexual and emotional thrall with an underage blood relative hadn’t been on my list of Things to Do while visiting England, but I was coming around to the belief that whether you liked it or not, Things Happen and once they start happening you pretty much have to hold on for dear life and see where they drop you when they stop. (47)

Readers are instantly drawn to understand Daisy's position. She speaks as most teenage girls do, with a self-important air. Daisy casts her concern for the war strictly in terms of how it affects her.  And, eventually, the war does affect Daisy by tearing her away from Edmond. This juxtaposition is where the true question of the novel is revealed: is the power of love enough to overcome the power of war?

Touching on sensitive subjects, How I Live Now is a beautifully written, powerful novel. There is no mistaking why it is so critically acclaimed.


Sheppard, Elena. (2013). How I live now author Meg Rosoff on what happens when your book becomes a movie. Arts.Mic.  Retrieved June 23, 2014 from http://mic.com/articles/72639/how-i-live-now-author-meg-rosoff-on-what-happens-when-your-book-becomes-a-movie.

Contemporary Realistic: Why We Broke Up

Contemporary Realistic: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

1. Bibliographic Information: Handler, Daniel. Illustrations by Maira Kalman. (2011). Why we broke up. New York City: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

2. Summary: Min Green, quirky and imaginative, and Ed Slaterton, a popular jock, just ended their short relationship, and Min is writing a letter to Ed explaining why they had to break up. The letter is placed inside a box filled with mementos from their relationship: a protractor, movie stubs, and a cookbook, just to name a few. Min, being no one's fool, has left the box and mementos upon Ed's door as a reminder of their time together and to show that he did not get the upper hand on her.

3. Critical Analysis: Why We Broke Up is by Daniel Handler, who also wrote A Series of Misfortunate Events (a best-selling series for young readers) under the name Lemony Snicket. Why We Broke Up has received favorable reviews from several places, such as: Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Horn Book.

Obviously, this book is about a breakup between two high school students. This story has been told before, but Handler tells it with a fresh voice and memorable characters. His writing makes you wonder how he knows so well what it feels like to be a young girl in love. The story is told from Min’s letter to Ed. Her narrative is witty and remarkably endearing, with a sharp edge that shows she can be very independent, "Stop saying no offense,” I said, “when you say offensive things. It’s not a free pass” (114). While both characters could be described as self-absorbed (as most teenagers are), that is what makes the novel and story seem true. Handler does such a wonderful job with the portrayal of Min and Ed that the reader can picture them exactly in one’s mind. The only downside to Min’s character is the annoyingly long ramblings she does in parts of her letter. If readers can look past this, they will enjoy Min’s voice.

The story itself is told in a long letter from Min to Ed explaining why the relationship was doomed from the beginning. The letter references items in the box that is left upon Ed’s doorstep. Maira Kalman created the artwork for Why We Broke Up. Each item referenced by Min is beautifully illustrated. Her whimsical drawings go wonderfully with Handler's prose- a true compliment to each other.

With a title like Why We Broke Up, I knew the story was ill-fated from the beginning, but it did not stop me from devouring the pages in order to discover Min and Ed's story. This contemporary realistic novel is delightful example of how an old story given be given a fresh twist.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Challenged Books: The Chocolate War

Challenged Books: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

1. Cormier, Robert. (1974). The chocolate war. New York: Knopf.

2. Summary: Jerry Renault is still reeling after the recent death of his mother. However, at a school like Trinity High School, he is not likely to find much sympathy. Trinity is led by a gang known as The Vigils, headed by Archie Castello. The Vigils make assignments that other students must complete. These assignments range from physical to psychological. Jerry gets an assignment from The Vigils that he is to refuse to sell chocolate at the school’s annual fundraising sale. After the assignment ends, Archie informs Jerry that he is to now participate in the selling of chocolates. Jerry begins to think about a poster in his locker that says, “Do I dare disturb the universe?”. Jerry feels like he must disturb the universe and The Vigils’ plan by refusing to sell the chocolates. This act at first deems him a hero by his peers, but as Archie and The Vigils pick up their intimidation factors, Jerry is turned into an outcast and victim.

3. Critical Analysis: Since its publication in 1974, The Chocolate War has been near the top of the most frequently censored books. According to Tasha Robison, reviewer in an online periodic book review YA Why?, the book has been banned and censored due “its violence and its several brief-but-frank masturbation scenes” (Robison, 2012). With brutality and sex aside, the book is written for teenagers. The story centers around our protagonist, Jerry Renault, in his desire to disturb the universe. He single-handedly takes on the bullies of the school, The Vigils, and a corrupt teacher, Brother Leon. In fact, Jerry is a remarkable character. Although he is all alone in his endeavor, Jerry shows strength, determination, and bravery. His stoicism is tested as he is tormented and humiliated until the very end of the novel. At no point, does Jerry complain about his lot or tell his father.

Cormier’s theme of disturbing the universe is very powerful. No one at Trinity High School has dared to disturb or defy The Vigils or the corrupt teachers. Jerry does disturb the universe, and for a small time, wakes up the rest of the student body to the wild goings-on at Trinity. Nonetheless, Archie and his gang turn the tides again, and Jerry is left alone to fight, literally, his battle. To me, this was the hardest part of the novel to read. After all the torment that Jerry has endured, I wanted the novel to end with Archie and his gang defeated. Cormier ends the novel with a depressing and “winner takes it all” mentality. This is a profound idea to discuss with students today. Is there always a happy ending? Was disturbing the universe worth the trauma that Jerry endured? This book is an amazing portrayal of going against the tide to be one’s own person in a teenage world of trying to fit in.


Robison, Tasha. (2012). Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War is a much-banned, malevolent gem. YA Why? Retrieved June 16, 2014 from http://www.avclub.com/article/robert-cormiers-ithe-chocolate-war-iis-a-much-bann-83405.