Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This is yet another autobiography! This one is about the childhood of Jackie Woodson. These stories are told in a poetic prose that has a certain rhythm and doesn’t follow the conventional style of paragraphs as it seems to have stanzas instead. This memoir follows Jackie through her childhood, as her parents divorce, as they move from Ohio to the South, as they leave her grandparents for New York and details the tragedies and triumphs along the way. It has a sweet voice that shares the pain and joy as only a child can. She explains the racism, the violence, the anger and the stop signs she encountered with an openness and lack of bitterness that is interesting and insightful. She balances the negatives with her family experiences and the love she experienced. I loved this book with the soft rhythm and veins of racism, strength and vitality but I wonder how much of it is lost on a younger reader? They would have no problem “reading” it but would lose so much of the underlying meaning that I’m not sure it’d be worth the read. 

Ages 12-15 

Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher

This is an autobiographical memoir, so a collection of stories of Ralph as a young boy-from birth to about 11 I'd guess, although I'm not sure of the exact age. It is about life in an Americana that no longer exists, for sure: tales that can only stir the memories of these boys that grew up in Average-Smalltown, USA in the 1950's. I'm not sure how much kids today can relate but it has a very "Stand by Me" quality to it.  I didn't really enjoy it. I wanted it to have a bit more punch to it, be more interesting, have more action, emotion...something. Instead it seemed like a collection of stories from a very average kid. Some people like that, but I want a book to take me away somewhere I want to be and I have never wanted to be a boy or in Average-Smalltown, USA. Ha!

Ages 8-12

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo is a graphic novel with characters that remind me of Arthur the cartoon from back when my kids were little. I don't think they are weird aardvarks but strange bunnies perhaps? This novel tells the story of a girl Cece who loses her hearing and has to assimilate back into society. It starts by explaining how Cece lost her hearing and the whole book is told by Cece so we get to know her thoughts, fears and questions. It really is an in-depth look at what could go on in the mind of a girl as she tries to find her place in a new school, faces her fears and wonders about how she is perceived. The main character is a deaf girl, but I think most of the questions and thoughts she has about fitting in are universal.  It's an interesting perspective and feels very genuine. It has a babyish quality to it, but I think that enhances the voice, as opposed to muting it (no pun intended).   

Ages 8-12 Newberry Honor

Monday, August 17, 2015

The White Giraffe

The premise of this book is that fate has determined that a girl has magical powers over the animals in Africa and only she can save a magical white giraffe. I have to admit I was not excited about this book. It's just not my type of book.

Basic plot line: Martine, an 11 year old girl in England, loses her parents and has to live with a grandmother she didn't even know who runs a wildlife reserve in Africa. She arrives and her grandmother is cold and she feels a desperate loneliness, although she falls in love with Africa and the richness of life and the variety of animals. She meets a wild woman who tells her she has the gift and eventually she figures out she can save and communicate with animals. Rumors are there is a white giraffe that lives on the reserve that people are trying to capture which she discovers and she has to figure out if she can save, not only the white giraffe, but the reserve itself.

Given that I wasn't excited about this book, it was actually pretty good. You root for the girl and there is a bit of a mystery about who is trying to destroy the reserve and who killed her grandfather, which adds to the excitement. And it is a fantasy for sure, that a little girl can communicate with animals and befriend a giraffe. But it is also heart warming somehow.

Parts that made me a bit crazy were more character development and genre than anything. The girl loses her parents and has to return to a grandmother she doesn't know. The author doesn't seem to genuinely depict the loss a kid feels, but at the same time how do I know and it's a heartbreaking thing so can the book really focus on that? There is a balance between glossing over it and harping on it and all of it seems to be not genuine. That would my biggest gripe about the book.

My other would be that there are several storylines running and it's a lot to absorb and some are stronger than others. Who killed her grandfather? Who is poaching animals? What about the giraffe? Will she ever have a good relationship with her grandmother? What about Tendai? Is he a good person? And what does the wild woman mean? Is Alex helping the reserve or hurting it? Can she heal animals? Are they all resolved in the end?

It is a predictable story with many plot deviations but good for 4th and 5th graders.