Thursday, January 10, 2013

Week 2: Caldecott, Newbery & Printz Reviews

Caldecott Reviews:

"Bear Has A Story To Tell" by Philip C. Stead. Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Bear has a story to tell is about getting ready for winter.  Bear is tired and ready to sleep but first he has a story he wants to share with his friends.  He starts with mouse, but mouse need to collect seeds, so bear stops to help.  Bear then offers to tell duck his story but duck is getting ready to fly south.  Bear helps duck get ready to leave.  This continues with frog and mole until the first snowflakes fall and bear decides it is time to go to sleep. In the spring bear wakes and all his friends return, ready to hear bear’s story.

This story is simple with a message of patience and friendship.  The illustrations perfectly match the feel of the book.  With soft, muted watercolors, Stead creates simple backdrops, leaving the details in the expressions of the animals.  This husband and wife team previously won the Caldecott medal for A sick day for Amos McGee and again they achieved the perfect pairing of text and art.

"A Home For Bird" by Philip C. Stead (author & illustrator)

While out foraging for interesting things Vernon the toad discovers an extremely quiet blue bird and they become fast friends.  Vernon introduces Bird to his friends and shows Bird all his favorite places but Bird says nothing and Vernon begins to worry that Bird is not happy.  With the help of his friend Porcupine and Skunk, they decide Bird is not happy because he misses his home.  Together Vernon and Bird set out on a journey to find Bird’s home.  Vernon shows Bird many new places but it is not until they discover a clock shaped like a bird house that Bird finally speaks.
Stead’s illustrations are created with a mix of pencils, watercolors, and pastels.  At first glance the illustrations appear sloppy but as you are reading the story, you start to notice the detail that Stead has added to his pictures. The pictures help to move the story along, adding the detail that the text does not offer.  On the first page before the text begins, readers see a cuckoo bird falling off a truck full of household items.  This one pictures sets the stage for the story.  Each time Vernon shows Bird a place to live, it is the illustrations that show the reader where they are.  A home for bird is a wonderful story of unconditional friendship told both through text and pictures. 
"Homer" by Elisha Cooper (Author & Illustrator)
Homer is the story of a sturdy old yellow labrador that spends his days lying on the front porch looking out over the ocean.  One by one members of his family leave that house inviting him to join them; to explore the fields, to walk the beach, to swim, or to run to the market.  And one by one Homer declines, content to observe the day from his spot on the porch.  As each member returns home they check in with Homer showing him what they discovered or telling him what they did.  As the sun sets, Homer leaves the porch, returning inside to eat his dinner and climb into a chair to sleep.  At the end of the day Homer is asked by his owner if he needs anything and he replies saying he has everything he wants, “I have you.” 
Elisha Cooper used pencil lined watercolors to illustrate her story.   The illustrations are simple, clean, and inviting.  Each layout show a page with someone inviting Homer and the second page showing Homer content with his decision to stay.  This format continues until everyone leaves the house.  Then you see a full spread illustration of everyone out exploring and Homer in the distance lying on the porch.  As everyone returns home, the illustrations go back to the earlier format.   While the text tells the story of Homer’s day, it is the illustrations that show the depth of this story.  It is difficult to look at this book without feeling relaxed and content.  Homer offers a wonderful sense of home and family, content and at ease with his family and surroundings.  This is a beautiful example of illustrations building a story.
Newbery Reviews:
"Lions Of Little Rock" by Kristin Levine
Lions of Little Rock is about a twelve-year-old girl starting middle school in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1958.  In school students learn about the “Little Rock Nine.”  Nine black high school students were integrated into an all-white high school in 1957.  This story takes place one year later after the integration.
Marlee is a twelve-year-old girl starting her first year of middle school.  She is an introvert who only speaks to her family.  At school she does not speak and she allows herself to be bossed around by her best friend Sally.  The only person who tries to understand Marlee is her older sister Judy.  On Marlee’s first day of school her sister challenges her to try and make a new friend and she does.  The new girl in Marlee’s class is everything that Marlee wishes she could be and she wants to be her friend.  Liz helps her to learn to speak up.  Marlee is making progress until one day when Liz stops going to school and leaves without saying goodbye.  Rumors quickly spreads through the school that Liz was caught passing as a white student.  
Despite the previous year’s government forced integration, schools in Little Rock are still segregated.  The school board has refused to even open the high school for fear of allowing  black students to attend.  The town is divided.  To make the situation worse for Marlee, her sister has been sent to live with a relative in order to attend high school.  With no one to turn to, Marlee decides that she wants her friend back; she does not want to go back to being the girl that does not speak.  In order to stay friends, they have to be willing to take on segregation at the risk of their own and their families’ safety. 
This piece of historical fiction sheds light on a year that is given little attention in classroom history books.  While students are taught about the integration of Little Rock in 1957, many people do not realize that 1957 was only the beginning of a lengthy battle for integration in schools.  Lions of Little Rock does an amazing job of showing readers what it was like to grow up in the midst of the Civil Rights movement providing points of view from different sides and age groups.  Levine’s characters are genuine, and even her secondary characters are well-developed and greatly influence that direction of the story.
"Splendors And Glooms" by Laura Amy Schlitz

Clara Wintermute, the only daughter of a wealthy doctor, is turning twelve years old and begs her parents to invite the master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini and his assistants Lizzie Rose and Parsefell to entertain the guests at her birthday party.  Clara is Clara wants a birthday party filled with laughter and excitement.  Clara was not always an only child.  She had a twin brother and sisters who all died from cholera.  Her home has become filled with grief, guilt, and secret in the past couple of years. 
Grisini is more than a master puppeteer.  He has a criminal past involving dark magic.  He sees Clara’s birthday party as an opportunity to make a fortune.  The evening after the puppet show Clara goes missing and Grisini and his assistants become the primary suspects.  Lizzie Rose and Parsefell search for clues as to what happened to Clara and believe that Grisini has done something awful, discovering his evil intentions.  Next Grisini disappears and Lizzie Rose and Parsefell find themselves in trouble with the law and have to flee London, falling into a trap set by Grisini’s old rival.
Schlitz introduces two storylines; one of Lizzie Rose and Parsefell and the other of a dying old lady trying to fight off death knocking at her door.  These storylines merge into one dangerous story with everyone fighting for their lives.  This Victorian gothic story offers dark comedy, deadly magic, and powerful friendships. 
Printz Reviews:
"Every Day" by David Levithan

Every day is the story of "A", a teen who wakes up every morning in a different body, living a different life.  The only thing A knows it that when he/she goes to sleep he/she will wake up in a different body but a body that is the same age as A and within a certain distance of the previous place.  A has no specific gender, race, or physical appearance.  A has made peace with this life and has established rules to live by: never get attached, avoid being noticed, and do not interfere with the life choices of that body.  There rules help A get through each day, until the day A wakes in the body of sixteen-year-old Justin.  As Justin, A meets Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon.  A can see how Justin continues to put Rhiannon down making her feel inadequate by accessing Justin's memories.  A knows that he/she cannot should not change that but decides to change the course of the day and takes Rhiannon to the beach, spending the day sharing stories and connecting on an extremely personal level. But this only gives Rhiannon hope that Justin is a good person and tomorrow when A wakes up she will not be with Rhiannon.  The next morning A wakes in a new body longing to see Rhiannon.  Going against the rules created, A has become attached and is willing to interfere in people's lives that he/she embodies to see Rhiannon again.  A has to decide how fat to go to be with Rhiannon and if she can be trusted with A's secrets.  Levithan offers up the possibility of unconditional love, loving someone purely for who they are inside.   

"The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green

Sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster is clinically depressed. Three years earlier she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. She is considered a survivor thank to a medical miracle that shrunk the tumors in her lungs. She is forced to drag around an oxygen tank in order to breath and has to live with the understanding that the cancer can always come back. Hazel's parents and doctors want her to attend a weekly support group for cancer survivors, which she does with resistance until she meets Augustus Waters. Augustus lost his leg to cancer but since then has been cancer free. Hazel and Augustus make an immediate connection and bond over Hazel's absolute favorite book Imperial Affliction, about a girl diagnosed with cancer. Hazel's dream is to meet the author who lives in Amsterdam. Hazel is given the opportunity to when she receives a letter from the author inviting her to meet him if she is ever in Amsterdamn. With Augustus's help Hazel has a change but what Hazel experiences is far from what she has hoped for.

There are a lot of books about teens with cancer, but this is one of the few that examines what it is like to live with cancer; not to die but nor to be cured either.  HAzel is expected to live her life as if she has a future where she can get married, graduate college, and have a job.  But the reality is she can just as easily dir from the disease.  This book examines all the different sides of the disease, from death to survival and everything in-between.

"Diviners" by Libba Bray
Evie O’Neil has been sent to New York City in the 1920s to temporally live with her bachelor uncle after creating a scandal in her hometown in Ohio.  Evie is thrilled with her punishment.  She plans to make the most of her banishment, touring speakeasies, movie halls, and department stores.  But her plans for a wild and exciting new life are dampened by a rash of cult-based murders.  Evie and her uncle Will become entwined in the investigation when the police consult Evie’s uncle Will, the curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (known to the locals as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies).   Evie cannot resist being part of the investigation believing that her own personal secret can assist in finding the serial killer.  While Libba Bray focuses on Evie, she also offers points of view from a long list of other characters:  Sam, Jerico, Theta, Henry, Memphis, Mabel, Gabe, etc.  While the story of the occult serial killer is solved, numerous subplots are left unfinished, which may frustrate many readers.  This book is the first in Bray’s new series. If you do not like books that leave you with unanswered questions, this is not the book for you. Diviners is over 400 pages.  If you find this overwhelming, check out the audiobook.  Well worth the listen with a wonderful narrator that makes it easier to keep the numerous characters straight in your head.  

Check back next Friday for the next set of reviews for the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz award.

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