Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Carbon Diaries 2015 review

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd

Holiday House, 2009. 978-0-8234-2190-9

Synopsis: Global warming has ravaged the environment, and in the year 2015, England decides to introduce carbon rationing as a measure toward saving the Earth. Fifteen-year-old Laura’s diary chronicles the first year of carbon rationing and its effects on the country and on her family. She is doing her best to keep her grades up, hold her band the dirty angels together, and see if she can’t get the boy next door to notice her. With storms are ravaging the country and her family is tearing apart at the seams, Laura’s only wish is that things will go back to normal.

Why I picked it up: I lived in Portland, Oregon for a while, and they are really passionate about going green, but what sold me was the sort of science fiction element to go with the environmentalism.

Why I finished it: Laura is a charismatic narrator that immediately draws the reader into the chaotic, enviro-driven world on London in the near future. Within her entries are scattered pictures of her drawings, blurry cell phone photos, copies of her school essays, and email correspondences from her cousin Amy in America. Lloyd has managed to successfully capture a combination of teenage angst, drama, and romance set against a backdrop of the world quite literally falling apart and the strange mix of going green agendas with a sort of science fiction feel helped to color the setting. The story is set in London and Lloyd herself is British, so some of the language and the geography are likely to go over American readers’ heads if they don’t already have some familiarity with British culture. There is a helpful glossary at the end of the book that explains some of the jargon Laura uses in her entries and a bit about the British school system. Also included is an index of websites that promote living green.

Other related materials: The Carbon Diaries 2017 (sequel) by Saci Lloyd; Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi; The Place of Lions by Eric Campbell; Blue Water, Blue Island by Michael T. Barbour; Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose; Life as We Knew It by Sarah Beth Pfeffer; Scat by Carl Hiaasen; Little Brother by Cory Doctorow; Matched by Ally Condie; Numbers books by Rachel Ward; Green Thumb by Rob Thomas; Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French

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Feature Presentation: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Sean Bean, and Pierce Brosnan

20th Century Fox, 2010. Rated PG

Synopsis: Under-achieving high school student Percy Jackson is having a bad week: first, he gets attacked by his English teacher (who is actually a harpy) on a school field trip to the Museum of Natural History, then his mom gets kidnapped and taken to the underworld, and he is sent to a place called Camp Half-Blood where he is informed that he is accused of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt. On top of all of all that, he is told that he is the son of the sea god Poseidon. No wonder he has ADD. With his friend Grover Underwood and fellow camper Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena, Percy must take a cross-country journey to the gates of the Underworld to save his mom and recover the missing lightning bolt before the summer solstice.

I read the book before I saw the movie, and after having seen the movie, must provide the disclaimer that the two are separate entities. Unlike the literal film translations of the Harry Potter films, The Lightning Thief has created its own Percy Jackson cannon that I personally felt left a lot to be desired. The film completely leaves out the prophecy from the books that is so central to the plot and has aged the characters so that their cross-country journey sans adult supervision doesn’t seem so illogical. I was also disappointed in the fact that they made Annabeth into Xena, Warrior Princess rather than the tactical member that she is in Riordan’s novel. However, the good news is that despite how the film deviates from the book, you won’t need to have read the book to understand the story. By itself, the film is an enjoyable fantasy adventure that makes for an ideal family movie. The main characters are likable, and Jackson playing Grover added a great humor element to the story, not to mention that Logan Lerman is pretty cute. The secondary characters are sort of flat, and I was confused by the inclusion of Persephone, since she seems to have little to no influence on the story – and in fact, many of the minor gods were likely introduced so that the directors could have the fun of throwing in as many Greek myths as possible into a 118 min. film. The second book in the series The Sea of Monsters is also being made into a film to be released within the next year, and I am hoping they can turn the film cannon around, but don’t know if the Olympians film adaptations can recover.

Other Movies like this one: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Harry Potter films, I am Number Four, The Last Airbender, The Chronicles of Narnia films, Tron, Pirates of the Caribbean films, How to Train Your Dragon

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Kneeknock Rise review

Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt

Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Square Fish, 2007. 978-0-312-37009-1

Synopsis: Egan is sent to stay with his aunt in Instep for the annual fair, which celebrates the ancient tale of the Megrimum (pronounced Meg-ra-mum) who lives at the peak of Kneeknock Rise, a mountain overlooking the town. On stormy nights, the creature will awaken and its cries and wails can be heard in the town below. Much superstition surrounds the creature and it is said that those who have gone in search of the Megrimum have never returned. With the excitement of the fair approaching and his determination to prove to his cousin Ada that he is not a sissy, Egan begins to search for the answer to the ancient mystery of the monster.

Why I picked it up: My mother read it to her fifth graders and she recommended it to me.

Why I finished it: When Egan first comes to stay with his aunt a few days before the fair, he still seems unsure as to what to make of the tradition and superstition surrounding the Megrimum: is it real or is it just a legend blown out of proportion? Egan instantly bonds with his uncle’s dog Annabelle, who was left behind when his uncle disappeared near the top of Kneeknock Rise. Annabelle is very much like my dogs: she is loyal and loving, though she seems to be a few crayons short of a box, which readers who own dogs are likely to appreciate. What I liked the most about the story was that it is an original folktale that has not gone through the mill of being told and retold and distorted to fit a purpose. Babbitt’s drawings sprinkled intermittently throughout the book added a fun visual element to the story, which is laid out in short paragraphs rather than chapters to keep the flow of the action going. It was a quick read and the little mystery enjoyable, though I thought the characters were largely forgettable.

Other related materials: The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt; The Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt; Goody Hall by Natalie Babbitt; The Devil’s Storybook by Natalie Babbitt; Abel’s Island by William Steig; The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden; The Bears of Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh; Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry; The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh

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Tuck Everlasting review

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1975. 978-0-374-37848-6

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Winnie Foster has always been a good girl and done what she is told. But she is tired of living her life inside the fence of her family’s cottage in the middle of their wood and decides to go out into the wood to explore. In the wood, she meets Jesse Tuck at the base of a tree whose roots grow over a spring that grants its drinker the ability to live forever. The Tucks share this secret with Winnie, telling her that she must never tell anyone about the spring or about them. But unknown to Winnie and the Tucks, there is someone else who also knows their secret, someone who will do anything to expose the Tucks and take the spring for themselves.

Why I picked it up: I don’t remember why I initially picked it up way back in elementary school, but it was likely because I needed something for silent reading or I saw it in the Scholastic catalog.

Why I finished it: The book is both funny and sad, touching on a base desire of all people to live forever. What most people see as a blessing the Tucks see as a curse, since even serious injury appears not to relieve them of their eternal life. One might be able to find a religious element within the story if they really wanted to, but to me the story isn’t necessarily supposed to reflect any. The story starts out with three seemingly unrelated elements (and tells the reader this much) before beginning to weave them together in a narrative that at its heart is about love, companionship, and the desire to be free – Winnie desiring to be free of the life inside her fence, the Tucks desiring to be free of their everlasting existence. I have read the book before, but was surprised at the quickness of the read, despite the first couple of chapters taking their time before it began to pick up. The characters are likable and the ending somewhat predictable, but what the reader gains from the story is much more valuable than it would first appear.

Other related materials: Tuck Everlasting (1981) (movie); Tuck Everlasting (2002) (movie); Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt; Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt; Holes by Louis Sachar; The Danger Box by Blue Balliett; Sixth Grade Glommers, Norks, and Me by Lisa Papademetriou; Hoot by Carl Hiaasen; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

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London Calling review

London Calling by Edward Bloor

Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. 978-0-375-84363-1

Synopsis: Martin Conway doesn’t have the ideal life: his family is a mess, he doesn’t like school, and he would much rather spend his time in his basement bedroom on the computer than anything else. Then his Nana leaves him a radio when she dies, a radio that was sent to his grandfather in London during the 1940s. Through the radio, he is contacted by a boy named Jimmy, a boy who died during the London Blitz. He needs Martin’s help so that his soul and that of Jimmy’s father can be at rest, a task to which Martin reluctantly agrees. Jimmy transports Martin to 1940s London in his dreams, showing him real people and places that seem to be part of a larger dreamscape, but when he wakes have vanished. Part of him believes his dreams, part of him thinks he is just going crazy.

Why I picked it up: The title reminded me of a song of the same name by The Clash.

Why I finished it: The story weaves together science fiction and historical elements to tell the story, which isn’t necessarily unique, but the way the mystery unfolds keeps the reader guessing as to the significance of some seemingly insignificant things. Martin is like many 13-year-olds I know: they don’t like school, they are not doing well in their classes because of disinterest or boredom, and just want to be able to do what they want, have a say in their own life. Martin’s interest is piqued by the radio and, largely for scholastic purposes, is able to fit together a project that relates to science, history, and literature, though throughout much of the book he seems to muddle his way through whatever information he comes across. The narrative skips back and forth between reality and the ‘dream world’ Martin is being shown by Jimmy as Martin tries to fit together the pieces that will link the two together. Bloor does a wonderful job of contrasting the different relationships in the story with the overarching plot without overdoing either element, since this is part of what is driving the story forward. The historical element to the story made me want to do my own research about London during the German Blitz, even though this is gone over again and again in most world history courses.

Other related materials: Taken by Edward Bloor; Crusader by Edward Bloor; Story Time by Edward Bloor; Tangerine by Edward Bloor; A Plague Year by Edward Bloor; The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke; Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry; Under a War-Torn Sky by L.M. Elliott; Solder’s Heart by Gary Paulsen; Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix; The Crispin: Cross of Lead by Avi; Don’t You Know There’s a War On? by Avi; Nothing But the Truth by Avi

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Story of a Girl: A Novel review

Story of a Girl: A Novel by Sara Zarr

Little Brown, 2007. 978-0-316-01453-3

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Deanna was caught by her father having sex with her brother’s friend Tommy in the back of a car and three years later, Deanna is still trying to figure out what happened. Her father will barely look at her, her mother wants to believe that everything will magically be okay, her brother and his girlfriend have to deal with being teenage parents, Tommy leers at her when he sees her, and she is batting conflicting feelings for her friend Jason. Having sex with a then high school senior has marked Deanna as a whore and a slut (among other things), but doesn’t want that one event to define who she is or who she wants to become. Her only outlet is a journal in which she writes a story of a girl on the waves, whose situation mirrors her own.

Why I picked it up: It was featured in a blog post talking about books with characters in situations that place them outside the “artificial world where parents work for unnamed people at unnamed jobs yet either receive masses of money, or conversely can’t get jobs at all”.

Why I finished it: The story is fast-paced and draws the reader in within the first few pages which describes the night that Deanna was caught by her father in the back of Tommy’s car. As a narrator, Deanna is easy to relate to, even if we are not in her same shoes: struggling with a sense of identity after making what turns out to be a life-altering mistake seems to be the over-arching theme throughout the book. This is something that not only Deanna is struggling with, but her brother as well, who is living in their parents basement with his girlfriend and their baby daughter. The interpersonal and familial relationships are artfully shown as both the cause and effect for Deanna’s actions as she goes through her summer trying to find a way to deal with if not completely erase this image that has been created of her by her peers and her parents. I found the climactic episode with Jason to be a little bit predictable, and the story dramatically slows at the end as the summer draws to a close, making it harder to stay focused. However, the book is realistic in its portrayal of socioeconomic situations and consequences for one’s actions, which I found eye-opening and refreshing in a literary world where things often need to have a neat ending in order to be satisfying – but it is definitely more for older teens.

Other related materials: Hate List: A Novel by Jennifer Brown; Before I Die by Jenny Downham; Snitch by Allison van Diepen; Sweethearts by Sara Zarr; Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers; Season of Ice by Diane les Bequets; Manstealing for Fat Girls by Michelle Embree; Funny How Things Change by Mellisa Wyatt; Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt; Forever… by Judy Blume

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Tales from Outer Suburbia review

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009. 978-0-545-05587-1

Synopsis: Collection of fifteen short stories set in the Australian suburbs, where things are a little less normal than one would think. Outer Suburbia may be thought only to exist in our minds, but Tan shows us that it is really there, and explores some of the comings, goings, and happenings of its strange but real inhabitants. In Outer Suburbia, one will find neighborhoods where brightly colored missiles decorate every yard, meet an exchange student from another world, wait for a blind reindeer that demands a special offering, and learn how to make your own pet.

Why I picked it up: I was intrigued by the cover and the style reminded me a lot the artwork of Range Murata.

Why I finished it: One of the reasons I love short stories is that they are a literature snapshot of sorts, isolated incidents that allow the reader to move from story to story without having to worry about keeping track of characters or an extended plot. Plus, if you get interrupted, it doesn’t particularly matter where you pick up again because each of the tales is different. Each story has its own unique illustrations that go along with it, and the art helps create the other worldly and fantastic feel of the book. My particular favorite was the story titled “Distant Rain”, which deals with lost or forgotten poems, because it is laid out like found poetry and almost reads more like a poem than a story. Each title is enchanting and strange, offering up a sort of imaginary world that exists within our own which we are unable or unwilling to see.

Other related materials: Lost and Found: Three by Shaun Tan by Shaun Tan; The Arrival by Shaun Tan; The Bird King and Other Sketches by Shaun Tan;  The Red Tree by Shaun Tan;  The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan; The Haunted Playground by Shaun Tan; Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate; So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez;  I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson; Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper; The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman; Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch; The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan; Wonderstruck by Brain Selznick;  The Graveyard Book: A Novel by Neil Gaiman; The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales by Chris van Allsburg;  The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris van Allsburg

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