Category: SLIS5420


Module 15: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

December 9th, 2012 — 6:18pm

To Kill a Mockingbird was published by Harper Lee in 1960. It is loosely based on Lee’s childhood and memories she has of her father and a case he defended when she was 10 years old. Since its publication, it has been frequently banned in public schools and libraries for offensive language, racism, and blunt discussion of rape, but it has also produced one of the most honorable and loved characters in fiction in Atticus Finch.

SUMMARY

The novel is narrated by Scout Finch, a young girl who lives in Alabama with her brother, Jem, and father, Atticus, along with their housekeeper, Calpurnia. It details several years in Scout’s childhood during the Great Depression and focuses on experiences related to two very different people in the town of Maycomb, Alabama — Boo Radley, who is a recluse and mysterious figure in the town, and Tom Robinson, who is a black man accused of raping a white woman.

Boo Radley is a legend in the town who is the subject of many rumors, the worst being that he is a prisoner in his own home after getting into trouble with local boys. He is rumored to have gone crazy — one story that Scout and Jem have heard is that one day Boo was sitting on the floor cutting papers with scissors when he calmly reached over and stabbed his father’s leg with the scissors. No one had seen Boo Radley since and it’s a game among the children to run past the house and avoid the pecans that fall out of the trees in the Radleys’ yard, sicne they’re poisoned. Atticus instructs Jem, Scout, and Dill (their friend who visits his aunt in Maycomb every summer) to leave Boo alone when he catches them daring each other to run up and touch the Radleys’ porch.

On their way to school one day, Scout notices something shining from the knothole in a tree in the Radleys’ yard and discovers that someone has left small presents, including chewing gum in foil, yarn, and dolls shaped like Jem and Scout. Scout thinks that Boo Radley has been watching them from his window, and thinks that maybe he isn’t so bad after all.

During this time. Atticus is appointed the lawyer for Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman from a poor family. Atticus accepts the case and defends Tom as he’d defend any other client, much to the disbelief of the town. Scout finds herself getting into a few fights at school when other children taunt her and call Atticus a “nigger-lover”. Atticus maintains that defending Tom is the right thing to do, which Scout and Jem agree with.

Atticus does not want Scout, Jem, and Dill to watch the court proceedings, so they sneak into the colored balcony and watch with the black citizens of Maycomb. Atticus proves that Mayella and her father, Bob Ewell are lying — Mayella and Bob say that Tom hit her on the right side of her face and held her down as he raped her; the doctor also testifies that the right side of Mayella’s face had been beaten. However, Tom Robinson is physically incapable of having hit Mayella on the right side of her face, as his left side is paralyzed from an accident when he was a teenager and the muscles in his arm were ripped up when his arm got caught in a cotton thresher. Atticus proves that Tom was trying to help Mayella, whom he felt sorry for due to her economic circumstances and friendless nature, when Mayella made sexual advances on Tom; Bob Ewell came home to see her flirting with a black man and beat her.

Despite the proof in front of them, the jury convicts Tom and finds him guilty. As Atticus leaves the courtroom, the people in the colored balcony stand as he passes. Dill, overcome by how rude the prosecuting attorney is, runs out of the courtroom crying. Jem and Scout follow him and run into the town drunk, who reveals that the bottle he drinks out of is actually soda — it’s easier for people to accept how he lives (with his black wife and children) if the townspeople think he’s a drunk and therefore not responsible for his actions. This is one of the first occasions that Jem and Scout that people and situations aren’t always as they appear.

After Tom’s conviction, he is sent to jail, and despite Atticus’s promise and work on an appeal, Tom is shot and killed when he tries to escape. The editor of the paper compares the conviction and killing of Tom Robinson to the killing of a mockingbird, which is a metaphor that Scout is familiar with — when Atticus gives Jem a gun, he tells him that he can shoot anything except for a mockingbird, as mockingbirds are innocent songbirds and only exist to bring beauty to the world. Scout realizes that Tom, and perhaps Boo Radley, are like mockingbirds.

Even though Tom is convicted, Bob Ewell is humiliated and upset with Atticus for revealing all of his faults in court. He vows revenge and spits in Atticus’s face when they meet on the street. On the night of the school play, when Jem and Scout are walking home (Scout in a ham costume), they are attacked in the dark. Scout is shoved to the side and can’t escape her ham costume, so she can only hear noises, which include a lot of scuffling and then heavy breathing. When she manages to break free of the ham, she sees a man carrying an unconscious Jem to the Finch house.

When she gets to their house, Atticus is calling a doctor. The doctor arrives and gives Jem a sedative and sets his broken arm. The sheriff, Heck Tate, arrives and tells Atticus Finch that Bob Ewell has been found stabbed with his own knife. When the sheriff and Atticus ask Scout what happened, she notices the mysterious man standing in the corner of Jem’s room and realizes that it’s Boo Radley who saved them.

Atticus and the sheriff decide that it is in both Jem and Boo’s best interest to claim that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife in the struggle with Jem — they know that if the word gets out that Boo saved the Finch children, the women of the town will bring him casseroles and fawn over him, which would be torture for the reclusive Boo. Tom died for no reason and now the man who was responsible is dead, is how the sheriff sees it.

Scout walks Boo home and he disappears into his house. Scout reflects that she never sees him again after that. She considers what life must be like from Boo’s perspective. She’s sad that she and Jem never repaid Boo for the gifts he left for them in the tree. She stands and looks at the street from the Radley house and imagines the town how Boo saw it. When she gets back to their house, Atticus is sitting by Jem’s bed and is reading a book, so she asks him to read to her. As she is falling asleep, Scout mumbles about a character in the book to prove that she’d been listening, but it also juxtaposes her encounter with Boo Radley:

“An‘ they chased him ’n‘ never could catch him ’cause they didn’t know what he looked like, an‘ Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things…Atticus, he was real nice…”

His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.

“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

IMPRESSIONS

I love this book. I really can’t talk enough about how much I love it and will be searching for the rest of my life for a man exactly like Atticus Finch and when I find him I will marry him.

The book paints a truthful picture of a Southern town and the racial injustice that exists. I’ve never understood why people, Southerners in particular, try to ban or become offended by portrayals of racism in America. It DID exist and people WERE ridiculously horrible to each other. It’s the same with the Holocaust deniers — why? It takes away from the picture of Southern hospitality, perhaps that’s it. However, this book showcases a spectrum of prejudices, as it details the prejudices of both whites against blacks and whites against whites of a lower economic and social classes.

To Kill a Mockingbird is on banned lists for offensive language and racism. The offensive language, I found, is nothing that would make one blush, other than the talk of “niggers” and “nigger-lovers” and the discussion of the rape of Mayella Ewell.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

In her first novel, Harper Lee writes with gentle affection, rich humor and deep understanding of small-town family life in Alabama. … It is an easy going but narrow minded community, whose foot-washing Baptists feel perfectly free to denounce Miss Maudie Atkinson, a passionate garden-lover (for whom the scent of mimosa is “angels’ breath”) because “anything that’s pleasure is a sin.” At the other extreme stand men like Atticus Finch, a high-esteemed lawyer and legislator and the embodiment of fearless integrity, magnanimity and common sense. … The dialogue of Miss Lee’s refreshingly varied characters is a constant delight in its authenticity and swift revelation of personality. … [but] The praise Miss Lee deserves must be qualified somewhat by noting that oftentimes Scout’s expository style has an processed, homogenized, impersonal flatness quite out of keeping with the narrator’s gay, impulsive approach to life in youth. Also, some of the scenes suggest that Miss Lee is cocking at least on eye toward Hollywood. Movie-going readers will be able to cast most of the roles very quickly, but it is no disparagement of Miss Lee’s winning book to say that if could be the basis of an excellent film.
New York Times

Two other novels have turned up which may be classified as respectable hammock reading, if anybody reads in hammocks anymore. Walk Egypt by Vinnie Williams is well-written soap opera, and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is sugar-water served with humor. . . .

To Kill A Mockingbird is a more successful piece of work. It is frankly and completely impossible, being told in the first person by a six-year-old girl with the prose style of a well-educated adult. Miss Lee has, to be sure, made an attempt to confine the information in the text to what Scout would actually know, but it is no more than a casual gesture toward plausibility.

The book’s setting is a small town in Alabama, and the action behind Scout’s tale is her father’s determination, as a lawyer, liberal, and honest man, to defend a Negro accused of raping a white girl. What happens is, naturally, never seen directly by the narrator. The surface of the story is an Alcottish filigree of games, mischief, squabbles with an older brother, troubles at school, and the like. None of it is painful, for Scout and Jem are happy children, brought up with angelic cleverness by their father and his old Negro housekeeper. Nothing fazes them much or long. Even the new first-grade teacher, a devotee of the “Dewey decimal system” who is outraged to discover that Scout can already read and write, proves endurable in the long run.

A variety of adults, mostly eccentric in Scout’s judgment, and a continual bubble of incident make To Kill A Mockingbird pleasant, undemanding reading.
The Atlantic

LIBRARY USES

I would force every patron of the library to read this book if I could. There are so many uses — book talks with teenagers, displays for banned book week, displays for summer reading, excerpts to introduce studying civil rights and Jim Crow in history classes.

REFERENCES

Adams, P. L. (1960, August). Review of to kill a mockingbird. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.cardinalstage.org/critical-responses-to-the-nove

Lee, H. (1960). To kill a mockingbird. New York, NY: J. B. Lippincott & Co.

Lyell, F. (1960, July 10). One taxi town. The New York Times.. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/archival/19600710tkamreview.pdf

Comment » | SLIS5420

Module 14: Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

December 9th, 2012 — 11:52am

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins is a free verse novel told through five teenaged narrators, all of whom are struggling with various sexual and drug related experiences. It was published in 2009.

SUMMARY

The book follows the experiences of five teenagers and is told through free verse poetry:

Eden — Eden has been raised in a religious family, Pentecostal, by extremely religious parents. She is in love with a boy named Andrew, but she knows that her parents will not approve; not only that, but her parents won’t allow her to date until she’s ready to be married. She dates him secretly — she’s sixteen and he’s nineteen, and she knows that her parents won’t hesitate to press statutory charges against him if they find out. Andrew and Eden go out one night and Eden tells Andrew that she loves him. Andrew tells her that he loves her as well, so much so that he wants “to take from you what I’ve no right to take.”

Eden’s parents find out about the relationship and assume that Eden is being possessed by the Devil. I mean, obviously. They send her to a camp called Tears of Zion for wayward youth. It’s not a very great place and she is mistreated through work and being kept in captivity. She begins having sex with a worker named Jerome in exchange for food and shampoo, and in hopes that he’ll eventually help her escape.

She manages to escape with Jerome and while at a gas station, she ditches him. She prostitutes herself to truckers for money and rides until she gets to a youth home that serves as a refuge for kids in similar situations. She emails Andrew’s mother and Andrew is glad to hear that she’s alive, as no one has told him anything about where she’s been.

Seth — Seth is a closeted homosexual; he has always known that he’s different, but he can’t come out since his mother died of cancer a year previously; his mother also had very conservative views of sex, having once said that his sixteen year old cousin who got pregnant was “a whore.” His father has said homophobic things in the past, so Seth lives with his secret: not only is he gay, but their priest had taken advantage of him as a child.

However, Seth is lonely and a hormonal teenager, so he posts on Internet personal ad and drives to Louisville and meets Loren; he wasn’t looking for a hookup, but gets to know Loren and falls in love with him. Loren introduces him to a cultural life that Seth doesn’t experience in Indiana.

However, Loren ends his relationship with Seth at around the time that Seth’s dad finds out that Seth is gay and kicks him out of the house. He ends up moving in with Carl, a man he’d met at a bar, and moves to Las Vegas with him. While in Vegas, Seth hooks up with a guy that he met in the gym; shortly after Carl reveals to Seth that it was a test — he paid the guy to act as bait to see if Seth would fall for him and he kicks Seth out. Seth resorts to escort sites on the internet to find new guys to live with.

Whitney — Whitney lives completely in the shadow of her sister, Kyra. She acknowledges that her mother loves her sister more and that Kyra does everything better. Needless to say, Whitney and her mother don’t get along. They live in Santa Cruz, California, and Whitney’s father works in San Francisco. Her family is mostly absent in her life, and she therefore seeks attention and affection from anyone who will give her the time of day.

Whitney is dating a boy, Lucas, who she’s in love with but has remained abstinent, due to the fear of venereal diseases and possible pregnancy. Whitney and Lucas meet at Kyra’s school choir concert and bond when he is the first person to ever tell Whitney that Kyra is a bitch. Lucas is three years older than Whitney — eighteen to her fifteen, and he introduces her to pot and kissing.

Whitney sleeps with Lucas and, in typical teenage boy fashion, he dumps her soon after. She moves with a friend, Bryn, to Las Vegas with his family, and soon starts sleeping with him. However, it’s soon revealed that he deceived her in order to get her to fall in love with him and starts using her for sex, forcing her to have sex with other people while he records it, and introduces her to harder drugs, to which she’s soon addicted. Whitney overdoses and lands in the hospital; her mother, father, and sister come to visit, but they’re still self-involved and don’t understand their roles in her problems.

Ginger — Ginger’s mother (though she insists on being called Iris) has had many boyfriends during Ginger’s life because of what she calls her “womanly needs” by what Ginger refers to as an “overinflated sex drive.” Iris has six kids by five different fathers and is addicted to all sorts of drugs — booze, pills, whatever. Iris supports her children through prostitution, which Ginger knows about. They’re living with Iris’s mother, Gram, for now, who is more of a mother to the kids than Iris.

One of Ginger’s brother is in a motorcycle accident and is in the hospital. While Gram goes to visit him, one of Iris’s boyfriends rapes Ginger — Ginger finds out that Iris is selling her to these men; not only is Iris prostituting herself, but her daughter now, too. This is the final straw for Ginger: she steals Iris’s money and runs away with her friend, Alex, to Las Vegas.

Alex’s aunt, Lydia, gets the two of them jobs as strippers, which soon turns to prostitution in order to make more money to survive. The Vegas police bust them and send them to a youth refuge home. Ginger calls Gram, who tells her that Iris is dying. Ginger goes home to care for her siblings while Alex stays in Vegas; when she gets home, she discovers that she’s pregnant, and she vows to be a better mother to her child and siblings than Iris or Alex’s mom were to them.

Cody — Cody doesn’t know who his real father is — he suspects that he might have raped his mother, since she’s such “a prude.” He, his mother, stepfather, and half-brother have moved from Witchita, Kansas, to Las Vegas. He lives a normal teenage life, going to school, working at GameStop, the usual. He’s always fooled around and partied under the radar, nothing too out of the ordinary for teenagers, right?

However, Cody’s stepfather, Jack, becomes sick and Cody’s brother starts getting into major trouble, and Cody’s drinking intensifies. It turns out that Jack has cancer — after he dies, it is up to Cody to help support the family. He begins online gambling and his drinking spirals into out of control territory.

Desperate for ways to make money, Cody meets Lydia, who helps set him up with men who will pay him for sex; he’s pretty sure he isn’t gay, but he’s also pretty sure that they have a lot of bills. Many of the “dates” involve Misty, as the men are interested in threesomes. During one of these nights, Misty’s boyfriend finds them naked with a client — the boyfriend is less than pleased, as he wasn’t aware of Misty’s job, and he attacks and beats them. When Cody wakes up, he’s in the hospital and is told that Misty and the client are dead. He hears his mother’s voice, begging him not to leave her, but he isn’t sure if it’s real.

IMPRESSIONS

Um. Wow. This book is nothing if not intense. It was difficult to read, for sure — I’ve been a teacher in two different schools with kids with less than desirable lives; many of the foster kids had stories similar to some of these children, especially Ginger’s.

In researching this book, I read an interview with Ellen Hopkins, who said that she wrote her books (including her prose novels about teenagers with drug addictions) to encourage teenagers to make good choices and seek help if they have problems out of their control. Many of my students saw this book on my desk and made sure to tell me how great Hopkins’ books are, so hopefully her message is working. I’m just not sure if the graphic nature and desperate circumstances are almost too unbelievable to seem real to some children.

The prose of the novel made it interesting and easy to read — at 640 pages, when I first got the book it seemed daunting, but it was a fast read. It also gave the narrators five distinct voices and poetic styles.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Five teenagers from all over the U.S.—three girls, two boys, some straight, some gay—end up as prostitutes in Las Vegas in this multiplevoiced novel in verse. Among the different stories are a preacher’s daughter breaking free from abuse, a closeted gay young man who hides his love life from his widowed and homophobic father, and the lesbian daughter of a prostitute. Hopkins has never shied away from tough subjects; descriptions of sex, while not overly graphic, are realistic and will likely provoke controversy. A master of storytelling through free verse, she uses multiple poetic devices to construct well-defined, distinctive voices for the five teens. Like E. R. Frank’s Life Is Funny (2000), the multiple protagonists are easy to identify and their stories compelling, especially when they begin to intersect. Teens will queue up for this one—some, admittedly, for the sensational subject matter—and find Hopkins’ trademark empathy for teens in rough situations.
Booklist

Five teens desperately seek to find their way through the darkness in Hopkins’s latest epic novel in verse. Eden flees an evangelical household; Cody blocks out a family illness with gambling and sex; Whitney gives up her body in exchange for the love she finds so elusive; Seth struggles to define himself as a homosexual; and Ginger comes to terms with an awful truth about her neglectful mother. Burden after burden piles on the teens’ shoulders until they resort to the unthinkable in order to survive. As they near rock bottom, their narratives begin to intersect. It is only when their paths converge that a glimmer of redemption appears out of the hopelessness. From the punch delivered by the title, to the teens’ raw voices, to the visual impact of the free verse, Hopkins once again produces a graphic, intense tale that will speak to mature teens.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This one is difficult. I don’t see myself using this as a booktalk, as the backlash from parents might be negative and overwhelming. However, it could be used in a display, perhaps for suicide prevention or another awareness campaign.

REFERENCES

Carton, D. (2009). Tricks. Booklist, 105(22), 62.

Hopkins, E. (2009). Tricks. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Maza, J. (2009). Tricks. School Library Journal, 55(10), 128.

Comment » | SLIS5420

Module 13: Maus by Art Spiegelman

December 2nd, 2012 — 10:08pm

Maus is a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. He tells his father’s story of his experiences during the Holocaust through animals — the Jews are portrayed as mice and the Nazis as cats. Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

SUMMARY

The novel begins with a flashback from Art’s childhood in Rego Park, NY, where Art and his friends are rollerskating. Art falls down and his friends all leave him. When Art goes back to his father, crying that his friends left him, his father replies ominously, “Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends!”

The narration then cuts to 1978, where Art is interviewing his father about his experiences in the Holocaust for a book that he’s always wanted to write. The story includes both Art’s visits with his father, exploring the strained relationships between Art and his father, Vladek, and Vladek and his second wife, Mala, whom he married when Art’s mother, Anja, committed suicide in 1968, and Vladek’s memories of his life in Poland in the 1930s and 1940s. The book begins with Vladek courting Anja and marrying into her wealthy family and ends with he and Anja arriving at Auschwitz (a second volume, Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began, tells of their time in the barracks of Auschwitz to the bungalows of the Catskills).

Vladek and Anja married and had a baby, Richieu, but Anja, who has always been an “emotional” sort, has an emotional breakdown (what we would today probably recognize as postpartum depression) and she and Vladek go to a sanitarium until Anja is better. When they come back to their town, they discover that the Nazis have taken over. Vladek is drafted into the Polish Army and is sent off to fight the Nazis, but is taken as a prisoner of war.

When he is released from POW camp, he has to sneak across the German controlled land to reunite with his family. The city has been turned into a ghetto, and in 1943, they’re taken to a work camp. Vladek and Anja send Richieu off with Anja’s aunt when the Nazis begin rounding up and transporting Jews, hoping that he will be safe with her; however, they find out after the war that when Anja’s aunt was in danger of being taken by the Gestapo, she poisoned her three children, Richieu, and herself, killing themselves before the Gestapo could take them to an extermination camp to die.

Vladek and Anja manage to escape the ghetto and avoid the Gestapo, hiding with random Polish friends that they bribe with the last of their money and jewels for safekeeping. They arrange with smugglers to be taken to Hungary but are betrayed by the smugglers — they sell them out to the Gestapo, and Vladek and Anja are taken to Auschwitz. Vladek mentions that Anja kept diaries while in Auschwitz and that these are the only accounts of her experiences in Auschwitz, but when Art asks to see them, reveals that he destroyed them after her suicide. Art is furious, and the book ends with Art calling Vladek a “murderer” as he walks away.

IMPRESSIONS

The book is horrifying. The anthropomorphized characters do nothing to make the tale of the Holocaust less severe and heartbreaking. It’s always difficult to read about the brutalities that people inflict on each other and this is no different.

The narration, with the side by side stories of “present day” Art and Vladek that melt into Vladek’s memories, is very effective. I was never confused about that was going on and it made the storytelling aspect make sense, especially as told in Vladek’s broken English.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Told with chilling realism in an unusual comic-book format, this is more than a tale of surviving the Holocaust. Spiegelman relates the effect of those events on the survivors’ later years and upon the lives of the following generation. Each scene opens at the elder Spiegelman’s home in Rego Park, N.Y. Art, who was born after the war, is visiting his father, Vladek, to record his experiences in Nazi-occupied Poland. The Nazis, portrayed as cats, gradually introduce increasingly repressive measures, until the Jews, drawn as mice, are systematically hunted and herded toward the Final Solution. Vladek saves himself and his wife by a combination of luck and wits, all the time enduring the torment of hunted outcast. The other theme of this book is Art’s troubled adjustment to life as he, too, bears the burden of his parents’ experiences. This is a complex book. It relates events which young adults, as the future architects of society, must confront, and their interest is sure to be caught by the skillful graphics and suspenseful unfolding of the story.
School Library Journal

“Maus” represents Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs, Poles as pigs and the French as frogs. Mice and cats summon up the sort of conflicting associations that help to give the comic strip its metaphorical weight. Mice can be either adorable, like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, or the vermin to which the Nazis likened Jews. By exposing his characters to a range of interpretations, Mr. Spiegelman rejects precisely the caricatures that are supposedly a drawback of the comic-strip form.

His imagery is inextricably bound up with his text. But it is the text that ultimately propels “Maus” and sticks in the mind. If in several of the sketches the artist approximates German Expressionism, in the finished scenes he almost entirely avoids such obvious devices, opting for a simplified style remarkable for being so unremarkable. As much as possible, both visually and linguistically, Mr. Spiegelman allows the painful facts of Vladek’s life to speak for themselves, with a minimum of melodrama and sentimentality. It is not meant to take away from the undeniable power and seriousness of “Maus” as literature and history to say that Mr. Spiegelman’s manner of drawing is the least memorable aspect of his achievement.
New York Times

LIBRARY USES

This would be a great addition to either a Holocaust display or to a graphic novel collection. It would also be a good addition to a school library for teachers to access to showcase how memoirs can take different forms.

REFERENCES

Keeler, R. G. (1987, May). Maus. School Library Journal, 33(9), 124. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/5795317/maus-book-review

Kimmelman, M. (1991, December 27). Examining how ‘maus’ evolved. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/27/arts/review-art-examining-how-maus-evolved.html

Spiegelman, A. (1986). Maus. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Comment » | SLIS5420

Module 12: Charles and Emma: the Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

November 27th, 2012 — 11:29am

Charles and Emma: the Darwins’ Leap of Faith is a biography by Deborah Heiligman. It details the life of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, who was deeply religious, and how they managed to live together peacefully in spite of their different scientific and religious doctrines.

SUMMARY

The biography begins with Charles compiling a list of reasons to Marry or Not to Marry in 1838; he was in his late twenties and had just returned from a five year voyage on the HMS Beagle. Among the reasons to not marry are to have more time to travel and pursue his studies; reasons to marry are to have children and that a wife is better company than a dog.

He decides to marry and he and his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, become engaged and marry, despite some fundamental differences in their religious backgrounds: when Emma’s beloved sister, Fanny, died, she became even more religious and believed in an afterlife, while Darwin was doubting the Gospels based upon his research and discoveries in the realm of natural science, specifically that there was proof of evolution in different animal and plant species.

They married and were very much in love — Charles and Emma had ten children, eight of which survived to adulthood. They hated to be parted from each other and indeed spent very little time apart.

The book uses letters and journal entries to detail the everyday thoughts and feelings of the Darwins, who’s lives are chronicled from their courtship through their deaths. Despite their religious and scientific differences, they lived happy lives together.

IMPRESSIONS

This book was very thoroughly researched, which in part made it very boring. The attempts to make it personable are what bogs the narrative down. I don’t feel like it’s necessary to include every minute detail of their lives — for example, when Charles and Emma bought their first home after marrying, the author includes all of the details of its appearance, including the fact that “there was a dead dog decomposing in the garden.” WHY?!

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

When the book opens, Charles Darwin is trying to make a decision, and he is doing so in time-honored fashion: drawing a line down a piece of paper and putting the pros of marriage on one side and the cons on the other. As much as Darwin is interested in wedded life, he is afraid that family life will take him away from the revolutionary work he is doing on the evolution of species. However, the pluses triumph, and he finds the perfect mate in his first-cousin Emma, who becomes his comforter, editor, mother of his 10 children—and sparring partner. Although highly congenial, Charles and Emma were on opposite sides when it came to the role of God in creation. Heiligman uses the Darwin family letters and papers to craft a full-bodied look at the personal influences that shaped Charles’ life as he worked mightily to shape his theories. This intersection between religion and science is where the book shines, but it is also an excellent portrait of what life was like during the Victorian era, a time when illness and death were ever present, and, in a way, a real-time example of the survival of the fittest. Occasionally hard to follow, in part because of the many characters (the family tree helps), this is well sourced and mostly fascinating, and may attract a wider audience than those interested in science. Austen fans will find a romance to like here, too.
Booklist

Beginning with Darwin’s notorious chart listing reasons to wed and not to wed, Heiligman has created a unique, flowing, and meticulously researched picture of the controversial scientist and the effect of his marriage on his life and work. Using the couple’s letters, diaries, and notebooks as well as documents and memoirs of their relatives, friends, and critics, the author lets her subjects speak for themselves while rounding out the story of their relationship with information about their time and place. She shows how Darwin’s love for his intelligent, steadfast, and deeply religious cousin was an important factor in his scientific work–pushing him to document his theory of natural selection for decades before publishing it with great trepidation. Just as the pair embodied a marriage of science and religion, this book weaves together the chronicle of the development of a major scientific theory with a story of true love. Published for young adults, this title will be equally interesting to adults drawn to revisit Darwin on his 200th birthday.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This could be an unconventional addition to a Valentine’s Day display or used as a booktalk for high school students. In a school library setting, excerpts could be used to highlight the ways Darwin struggled with religion; coming from a conservative small Texas town, there are many parents who oppose their children learning Darwinism and evolution, so this could be a balm for them.

REFERENCES

Cooper, I. (2009, January 1). Charles and emma: The darwins’ leap of faith. Booklist, 105(9), 68. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/36295882/charles-emma-darwins-leap-faith

Heiligman, D. (2009). Charles and emma: The darwins’ leap of faith. New York, NY: Holt.

Hunt, E. (2009, March 1). Celebrate the darwin bicentennial. Retrieved from School Library Journal website: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6637736.html

Comment » | SLIS5420

Module 11: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

November 14th, 2012 — 10:48am

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow is an informative book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. In it, she has researched the Hitler Youth and details the lives of several teenagers growing up in Nazi Germany.

SUMMARY

The book follows the timeline of the formation of the Hitler Youth, starting with Hitler’s appointment as chancellor and ending with the aftermath of World War II and the unification of East and West Germany as a democratic state in 1990. Within the information, the author uses the examples of several members of the Hitler Youth. Membership in the Hitler Youth (called Hitlerjugend for boys and Bund Deutscher Madel for girls) was compulsory for the young people of Germany. Many of the youth believed that what they were doing was for the betterment of Germany because that was what they had been taught and told for years. However, some teenagers disagreed with what was required of them and what Hitler was doing and put up active resistance, printing and distributing pamphlets telling about Hitler’s lies and the true work of the Nazis and the concentration camps. The author used both diaries and personal interviews to share the experiences of the variety of young people in Germany in the 1940s.

The book focuses solely on the events of WWII as it pertains to the Hitler Youth. It paints a grisly portrait of youth taken advantage of by their government and their leader. Hitler said about his Youth, “I begin with the young…We older ones are used up…But my magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? Look at all these men and boys! What material! With them I can make a new world.”

IMPRESSIONS

The Hitler Youth was a topic that I’d never explored; I’m pretty sure I only knew they existed from watching Swing Kids. But this book was fascinating. I saw parallels between then and now — I’ve often wondered how young people in our society can be closed-minded and prejudiced, and this book showed that children are especially susceptible to propaganda and the direction and influence of adults. I say adults and not their parents because in a few instances, the youth were so entranced with Hitler that they turned in their parents to the Nazis for saying “unpatriotic” or disparaging things about Hitler or the Nazi Party. It was very 1984, where adults feared their children.

The inclusion of the interviews and personal anecdotes made the book read more like a narration and less like a textbook. It was very well put together, though at times I lost track of the timeline of the events and what was happening elsewhere in the world. The chronology was loose in the book, but it didn’t keep the information from being effective. There was also a plethora of pictures — pretty much one or two on every page — which also distracted from the chronology of the story.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Hitler’s plans for the future of Germany relied significantly on its young people, and this excellent history shows how he attempted to carry out his mission with the establishment of the Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, in 1926. With a focus on the years between 1933 and the end of the war in 1945, Bartoletti explains the roles that millions of boys and girls unwittingly played in the horrors of the Third Reich. The book is structured around 12 young individuals and their experiences, which clearly demonstrate how they were victims of leaders who took advantage of their innocence and enthusiasm for evil means. Their stories evolve from patriotic devotion to Hitler and zeal to join, to doubt, confusion, and disillusion. (An epilogue adds a powerful what-became-of-them relevance.) The large period photographs are a primary component and they include Nazi propaganda showing happy and healthy teens as well as the reality of concentration camps and young people with large guns. The final chapter superbly summarizes the weighty significance of this part of the 20th century and challenges young readers to prevent history from repeating itself. Bartoletti lets many of the subjects’ words, emotions, and deeds speak for themselves, bringing them together clearly to tell this story unlike anyone else has.
School Library Journal

What was it like to be a teenager in Germany under Hitler? Bartoletti draws on oral histories, diaries, letters, and her own extensive interviews with Holocaust survivors, Hitler Youth, resisters, and bystanders to tell the history from the viewpoints of people who were there. Most of the accounts and photos bring close the experiences of those who followed Hitler and fought for the Nazis, revealing why they joined, how Hitler used them, what it was like. Henry Mentelmann, for example, talks about Kristallnacht, when Hitler Youth and Storm Troopers wrecked Jewish homes and stores, and remembers thinking that the victims deserved what they got. The stirring photos tell more of the story. One particularly moving picture shows young Germans undergoing de-Nazification by watching images of people in the camps. The handsome book design, with black-and-white historical photos on every double-page spread, will draw in readers and help spark deep discussion, which will extend beyond the Holocaust curriculum. The extensive back matter is a part of the gripping narrative.
Booklist

LIBRARY USES

This, like Between Shades of Gray, would be well used for Holcoaust Memorial Day. It would also be a good booktalk for middle school students. In a school library setting, this would be a good companion piece to a class reading The Diary of Anne Frank; reading excerpts from this book and showing the pictures would help pique interest in the era.

REFERENCES

Bartoletti, S. C. (2005). Hitler youth: Growing up in hitler’s shadow. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Medlar, A. (2005, May 30). Book of the week: Hitler youth by susan campbell bartoletti. School Library Journal, 176. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA604629.html

Rochman, H. (2005, April 15). Hitler youth: Growing up in hitler’s shadow. Booklist. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=1180952&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

Comment » | SLIS5420

Module 10: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

November 14th, 2012 — 8:15am

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is historical fiction about Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic region during World War II. It is narrated by Lina, a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, as she and her family are deported to Siberia.

SUMMARY

The novel opens with men from the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, taking Lina, her mother, and her brother, Jonas, from their homes on June 14, 1941. Her father, provost at the university, has already been taken. They’re loaded on a truck with some of their neighbors and a few people they don’t recognize. They’re horrified that the next stop is at the hospital, as one of the people they are scheduled to take is a woman who is at that moment giving birth; they load her and her newborn baby into the truck as she’s bleeding onto her hospital gown.

Lina’s father, Kostas Vilkas, helped his brother and his family escape Lithuania to Germany, which put him on the black list as an accessory. Lina’s mother, Elena, speaks fluent Russian, which allows her to communicate with the NKVD. He is taken to a different camp from the rest of the family. They are stuffed into a train with even more prisoners, including the Andrius Arvydas and his mother, the son and wife of an officer in the Lithuanian army. The conditions in the train are horrible and they’re travelling through Europe for three weeks without stopping. On the train, the young woman’s baby dies and she is shot by an officer when she’s overcome by grief.

The train finally stops in Siberia, at a camp where they are assigned to live in shacks and work as beet and potato farmers. They stay there for a while, and Lina finds solace in her art. She has always been an artist and she’s particularly drawn to the work of Edward Munch. She decides to draw pictures of people and events so that she can send them to her father in hopes that he will find them.

While they’re at the camp, Andrius and his mother live in the officers house, where they are fed and treated better than the others. Lina is upset with this special treatment, but when she confronts Andrius about it, he reveals that his mother is prostituting herself to the officers to keep the officers from killing him. She’s horrified by this and distraught with his anger, which makes her realize that she’s falling in love with Andrius; when they reconcile, it’s shown that Andrius has similar feelings. He gives her a special stone to bring her luck and to remind her of him.

The NKVD tries to force the prisoners to sign papers saying that they are criminals and acknowledging that they’re being sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor and that they will pay a war tax of two hundred rubles per person, which most of them refuse to sign. Jonas becomes sick with scurvy from the lack of vegetables in his diet and almost dies until Andrius steals a can of tomatoes from the officers house. Soon after he heals, the prisoners hear that some of them will be transported to a different location. Some people are fools enough to think they’re being transported to America, but Lina knows better.

The prisoners, which now include prisoners from other camps, are taken farther north in Siberia. The NKVD take them to an empty field and tell them that they will have to build their own shelter, and quickly, as the arctic chill begins in September. They suffer through the cold temperatures and hypothermia. It is here that Lina discovers why they’ve been deported and that she is being punished because her beloved cousin and best friend, Joana, was able to escape — she is dying to allow Joana to live. It also here that a guard reveals to them that Lina’s father has been killed in prison. Lina’s mother takes sick and she dies in the shack.

Lina and Jonas are able to hide her body from the officers so they can bury her properly. The other prisoners help them, as a testament to how much they have become a family within themselves — they need each other to survive and Lina’s mother in particular was a unifying force due to her calm demeanor and peaceful spirit. Lina paints a map to her mother’s grave so that she will never forget where it is. Lina is determined to survive the camp and now cares for Jonas.

The other prisoners all take their turns with illness — scurvy, dysentery, typhus, hypothermia. They’re dying more and more every day. Jonas becomes very ill and just when Lina is afraid that he won’t be able to survive the night, an inspection officer, a doctor, appears at the shack. Dr. Samodurov is to inspect all of the prisons to report that everything is fine and the prisoners are being treated fairly, but he tells Lina that is not going to submit false reports. He spends ten days at the prison; he helps the prisoners store fish for the upcoming storms and plot a burial yard for the dead. The doctor tells her that it’s possible that her father hasn’t died; the guards have told prisoners before that people have died, only to be found living somewhere.

Lina is determined to live to reunite with Andrius. When they left each other, they promised that they would meet again, and when Lina closes her eyes, she can imagine that they are together as she holds the stone.

The novel ends with an epilogue from 1995 in Lithuania. A construction crew has discovered a wooden box int he ground that contains a glass jar full of papers. The papers contain drawings and a letter:

Dear Friend,

The writings and drawings you hold in your hands were buried in the year 1954, after returning from Siberia with my brother, where we were imprisoned for twelve years. There are many thousands of us, nearly all dead. Those alive cannot speak. Though we committed no offense, we are viewed as criminals. Even now, speaking of the terrors we have experienced would result in our death. So we put our trust in you, the person who discovers this capsule of memories somewhere in the future. We trust you with truth, for contained herein is exactly that — the truth.

My husband, Andrius, says that evil will rule until good men or women choose to act. I believe him. This testimony was written to create an absolute record, to speak in a world where our voices have been extinguished. These writings may shock or horrify you, but that is not my intention. It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Lina Arvydas
9th day of July, 1954 — Kaunas

IMPRESSIONS

This book was incredibly moving. This was a side of the Holocaust that I wasn’t very familiar with, but it was equally as horrifying — in fact, one of the characters in the book points out the similarities between Stalin and Hitler. The horrors that people can commit to others, blindly, without cause or reason, is stunning. I’ll never fail to be amazed by the deplorable ways that people treat others.

That being said, the story was effective for several reasons. Lina’s story is told through flashbacks to events in her family, adding a dimension to the story of her relationships and her life before they were taken. I enjoyed Andrius’s character because he had his own experience that added to the plot; it didn’t feel like he was added solely for a romantic element. There were so many descriptions of Lina drawing that I began to wish that there had been reproductions of drawings to add just one more realistic element to the story. The epilogue was great, because I was a little disappointed in the ending that left Lina in the camp, so knowing that they survived and she and Andrius married was cathartic.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Sepetys’ first novel offers a harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939. In the case of 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia, where conditions are all too painfully similar to those of Nazi concentration camps. Lina’s great hope is that somehow her father, who has already been arrested by the Soviet secret police, might find and rescue them. A gifted artist, she begins secretly creating pictures that can-she hopes-be surreptitiously sent to him in his own prison camp. Whether or not this will be possible, it is her art that will be her salvation, helping her to retain her identity, her dignity, and her increasingly tenuous hold on hope for the future. Many others are not so fortunate. Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, estimates that the Baltic States lost more than one-third of their populations during the Russian genocide. Though many continue to deny this happened, Sepetys’ beautifully written and deeply felt novel proves the reality is otherwise. Hers is an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.
Booklist

This bitterly sad, fluidly written historical novel tackles a topic woefully underdiscussed in English-language children’s fiction: Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror. On June 14th, 1941, Soviet officers arrest 15-year-old Lina, her younger brother and her mother and deport them from Lithuania to Siberia. Their crammed-full boxcar is labeled, ludicrously, “Thieves and Prostitutes.” They work at a frigid gulag for eight months-hungry, filthy and brutalized by Soviet officers-before being taken to the Siberian Arctic and left without shelter. Lina doesn’t know the breadth of Stalin’s mass deportations of Baltic citizens, but she hears scraps of discussion about politics and World War II. Cold, starvation, exhaustion and disease (scurvy, dysentery, typhus) claim countless victims. Lina sketches urgently, passing her drawings along to other deportees, hoping they’ll reach Papa in a Soviet prison. Brief flashbacks, seamlessly interwoven, illuminate Lina’s sweet old life in Kaunas like flashes of light, eventually helping to reveal why the repressive, deadly regime targeted this family. Sepetys’ flowing prose gently carries readers through the crushing tragedy of this tale that needs telling.
Kirkus Reviews

LIBRARY USES

This book would be an excellent vehicle for a book talk. I would also recommend it be used in a display for Holocaust Memorial Day on May 8; it is important that the story of the genocide in the Soviet Union be told as well as the atrocities committed by Hitler.

REFERENCES

Between shades of gray. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(2), 138.

Cart, M. (2011). Between shades of gray. Booklist, 107(11), 68. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/58626231/between-shades-gray

Sepetys, R. (2011). Between shades of gray. New York, NY: Philomel Books.

Comment » | SLIS5420

Module 9: Double Helix by Nancy Werlin

November 10th, 2012 — 12:40am

Double Helix by Nancy Werlin is a mystery novel for young adults. It was published in 2004.

SUMMARY

Eli Samuels is a high school senior who is not going to college after graduation — instead, he has applied for a job at Wyatt Transgenics and is planning on working for a year before going to college. He has a girlfriend he adores, Viv, and a strained relationship with his father. His mother, Ava, was an economics professor at Harvard before becoming stricken with Huntington’s disease. Eli had found a letter from Dr. Wyatt, the head of Wyatt Transgenics, which inspired him to apply for the job.

In his job at Wyatt Transgenics, there a few things that strike him as odd — Dr. Wyatt takes a keen interest in him and invites him to his house to meet a young lady, Kayla Matheson. Transgenics is the act of transferring genes from one organism to the other, which this company is doing through proteins in rabbits milk. Or something, that part was confusing, but it’s Eli’s job to take care of the rabbits.

It turns out that Eli’s parents knew Dr. Wyatt because they went to him when they knew that Ava was a carrier for Huntington’s but they still wanted to have children. Dr. Wyatt harvested her eggs and performed gene therapy to be sure that Eli didn’t have Huntington’s. Unbeknownst to the Samuels, however, Dr. Wyatt kept the other eggs he harvested from Ava and had been performing genetic experiments on them; Eli finds out through seeing a picture of her mother as a teenager that one of those eggs grew up to be Kayla Matheson, and while Eli was bred specifically to be clear of Huntington’s, Kayla has not.

Eli and Kayla sneak into a basement office where Dr. Wyatt had been performing tests on the children he’d made from Ava’s eggs (the experiments were nothing of the Dr. Mengele variety, just checking their growth and how they were developing thanks to the genetic enhancements they had as zygotes). They steal all of his files and Dr. Wyatt mysteriously vanishes after Eli and Kayla call the FBI; the epilogue reveals that the company is now called General Transgenics and Eli is enrolling in school to become a bioethicist to insure that no one else can perform genetic experiments on eggs.

IMPRESSIONS

I did not particularly enjoy this book. I found the mystery aspects to be weak. The foreshadowing in the beginning is not a shadow as much as a fore-boulder that rolls through the town, smashing everything in its path. There is nothing subtle in the set-up. Eli was also a particularly unsympathetic character to the point that I wanted to stop reading the book before I was halfway finished. This is not one I’d recommend to my students, unless they were particularly interested in biology and genetics.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

In this mesmerizing novel, Werlin (The Killer’s Cousin) adapts the medical mystery genre to explore the bewildering, complex issues surrounding experimental gene therapy. Narrator Eli Samuels, about to graduate from high school, has fired off an e-mail to Quincy Wyatt, a world-famous scientist and head of a genetics research corporation-stunningly, Wyatt summons Eli and offers him a job. Eli is thrilled, but the news horrifies his father, who, without explanation, asks Eli to turn it down (Eli takes it anyway). Eli’s father’s silence on the subject of Wyatt has many precedents within Eli’s home. Eli’s mother is rapidly deteriorating from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary illness. Eli has not told his girlfriend, Viv, about his mother nor even introduced Viv to his father. Eli has talents he hides, but somehow Wyatt knows of them and even takes pride in them. Meanwhile Eli knows that his father conceals other information-and that Wyatt has somehow been pivotal to his family. The characterizations feel somewhat incomplete, but the plot moves at a tantalizing clip, with secrets revealed in tiny increments, and hints and clues neatly planted. Werlin distills the scientific element to a manageable level, enough for readers to follow Eli as he ponders Wyatt’s work and his mother’s illness. As the author tackles bioethical issues, the story’s climax appeals to reason and love for humanity without resorting to easy answers. Brisk, intelligent and suspenseful all the way.
Publisher’s Weekly

Eighteen-year-old Eli Samuels, whose once-vibrant mother is losing her long battle with the ravages of Huntington’s disease, is hired at the Wyatt Transgenics Lab. Eli’s father is dead set against the job because of a secret he harbors concerning the lab’s owner, Dr. Quincy Wyatt, and Eli’s mother. Shortly after starting work, the teen meets Kayla Matheson, a beautiful girl who eerily reminds him of a photo of his mother when she was young. Slowly, Eli uncovers one layer after another of the shocking truth about Dr. Wyatt’s genetic-engineering experiments and their connection to his parents, Kayla, and himself. With the support of his longtime girlfriend and soul mate, he confronts Dr. Wyatt in a taut climax to the story. Werlin clearly and dramatically raises fundamental bioethical issues for teens to ponder. She also creates a riveting story with sharply etched characters and complex relationships that will stick with readers long after the book is closed. An essential purchase for YA collections.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This book would be a good book for a book talk, perhaps with other science fiction/medical books (Frankenstein or Unwind come to mind) or cross-curricular to introduce a unit on genes in a biology class. It could lead to great discussion about medical ethics and whether parents should be able to decide what genes their children have.

REFERENCES

DOUBLE HELIX (Book). (2004). Publishers Weekly, 251(7), 173.

Forman, J. (2004). Double Helix: A Novel (Book). School Library Journal, 50(3), 222.

Werlin, N. (2004). Double helix. New York, NY: Dial Books.

Comment » | SLIS5420

Module 8: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

November 4th, 2012 — 11:12am

Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a science fiction book published in 2007. It takes place in a future America where a civil war has been fought over abortion and a compromise has been made — all pregnancies will lead in a child, but parents have the option to have undesirable children “unwound” between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. To be unwound meant that they would be harvested and their body parts would be used as organ donations and put in other people; because 100% of the children are being used, they’re still alive, so it’s technically not an abortion. The book follows a group of teenagers who are scheduled to be unwound but have run away and are attempting to survive.

SUMMARY

Connor’s parents have signed the unwind papers because he is a rebellious teenager; Risa is from a state home orphanage and is being unwound due to a surplus of children and not enough money to support them; Lev is being unwound as a tithe, a sacrifice from his religious family to serve the society with organ donation.

Connor runs away before he is taken to a harvest camp, but in doing so, he causes Risa’s bus to crash and takes Lev as a hostage to prevent being shot by the Juvey-cop, so the three of them are thrust together. Connor also shoots the juvey-cop with his own tranquilizer gun, so Connor is even more on the run. Lev is initially resistant to the escape, as he has been conditioned to believe that it is his duty to be unwound. They escape to the next town and attempt to get on a school bus to pretend to be regular teenagers and not raise suspicion; however, as they’re getting on the bus, Connor is distracted by a baby who is being storked — part of the unwinding laws has given the society “storking,” which is legal abandonment by mothers who do not want to raise their children and would have gotten an abortion. The lack of abortion has not created unwanted babies, and as long as mothers aren’t caught, they can legally leave their baby on the doorstep of a house, which makes the baby the homeowners’ responsibility. Connor notices the baby, as he shares with Risa and Lev, because years before his family was storked, but rather than raise the baby, his parents re-storked it to a neighbor. Two weeks later, they were storked again, but to their horror, they realized it was the same baby; their neighbors have been passing the baby around from doorstep to doorstep for two weeks, and the baby is now sickly and dies when Connor’s parents take it to the hospital. Connor has unconsciously gone to the baby and picked it up as the owner of the house opens the door. Risa, Connor, and Lev now have a baby to care for.

When they get to the school, they hide in the bathroom. Unbeknownst to Connor and Risa, Lev slips out and tells the secretary of the school that two unwinds have taken him hostage. While Lev is in the office, he calls his parents and his pastor, Pastor Dan, answers the phone. Pastor Dan tells him that he’s kept his name out of the papers so Lev can get a new life — this goes against everything Lev has been taught to think about unwinding and tithes. He had grown up thinking that this was God’s plan, but now to hear that his pastor is telling him that unwinding is wrong, he doesn’t know what to think or do. Lev pulls the fire alarm to create havoc and help Connor and Risa escape the juvey-cops and to escape himself. A kind teacher helps them by directing them to a woman who is helping unwinds. There are a group of kids she’s hiding in her basement, including a big bully type named Roland.

Sonia, the woman who’s hiding them, keeps them until a man who drives an ice cream truck shows up to take them to their next destination. The teacher, Hannah, comes back to take the baby from Risa — she knows they won’t get far with a baby and she promises Risa and Connor that she’ll care for it. The kids are taken to their next holding area, a warehouse next to an airport.

Meanwhile, Lev has joined forces with a kid named Cyrus, who calls himself CyFi and nicknames Lev “Fry”, for small fry. Cyrus and Lev are on their way to Joplin for reasons Cyrus won’t reveal to Lev. On their way, Cyrus suddenly changes his demeanor and personality, until he steals something and freaks out. He reveals to Lev that 1/8th of his brain has been replaced by a brain from an unwind and that part of his brain sometimes takes over and makes him do terrible things. He’s on his way to Joplin to find out what it is the unwind wants him to do there and to see if he can understand him better. Cyrus teaches Lev some street smarts along the way, as Lev has been sheltered his entire life.

When they get to Joplin, Cyrus’s brain directs them to the unwind’s former house, where the unwind’s parents are very confused and scared. Cyrus starts digging in their backyard, revealing all of the things that the unwound kid stole before he was unwound. Lev escapes after he screams at the unwind’s parents to tell Cyrus (who is now being controlled by the unwind’s brain) that they forgive him.

Risa and Connor, as well as the other kids that are in hiding, have been packed into crates and taken by plane to a place called The Graveyard — it’s literally an airplane graveyard in the deserts of Arizona that a former Air Force admiral has taken over and is using as a refuge for unwinds. They’re sad to see that Roland survived the trip, as he has become more and more of a bully and influential with the other kids. Risa understands what Roland is doing and convinces Connor that he needs to not rise to Roland’s challenge — the story of Connor’s escape from the juvey-cops has become legend, and the unwinds are all telling the story of the “Akron AWOL”, who they don’t know is Connor. Roland indeed tries to challenge Connor when he corners Risa in the bathroom and attempts to rape her — Connor interrupts but remains calm, telling Roland that the two of them broke up. Connor later tells Risa that he barely managed to control his anger, and they realize that they have feelings for each other. Lev has also made it to the Graveyard, but his personality is almost unrecognizable to Risa and Connor — he’s angry and rebellious, nothing like the gentle tithe they knew.

The kids in the camp, however, are becoming more and more unsettled — Roland has been getting them against the Admiral, and they rebel, destroying things and trying to attack him. The Admiral, who was in the hospital wing with Risa, has a heart attack. Roland, Connor, and Risa fly the helicopter to take the Admiral to the hospital to try to save the Admiral. While they’re there, Roland turns in Connor, Risa, and himself; however, he barters with the cops for his life by turning in the kids at the Graveyard.

The cops raid the Graveyard and take all of the kids to a harvest camp. Risa’s musical talents grant her amnesty from immediate unwinding; the head of the camp has made a band of the talented kids so that they can play music on the roof of the unwinding facility so calm the kids. Roland is unwound, and a description is given in the book, and it’s horrifying. Just saying.

Connor is set to be unwound, and Risa recognizes him. Lev has joined with other kids to become a clapper, people who turn themselves into bombs by having explosive chemicals put in their bloodstreams that detonate when they clap. They plan to detonate the harvesting facility, but when Lev finds out that Connor is going to be unwound, he moves up the detonation time to save Connor.

Just as Connor is being taken into the harvesting facility, the two other kids that are clappers with Lev detonate themselves and the harvesting facility is destroyed. Lev intended to clap as well, but at the last minute changes his mind, determined to pull out unwound youth from the wreckage and save Connor. Connor, Lev, and Risa are all taken to the hospital — Connor’s injuries have made him the recipient of unwound parts, including, to Connor’s horror, and arm from Roland. The nurse at the hospital has given him the ID of a guard from the facility that had been killed, to keep Connor from being harvested himself. Risa, having been on the roof with the band when it collapsed, is now paralyzed from the waist down and is refusing treatment, which saves her from being unwound. Lev’s blood is still full of chemicals, and because he is the only one who did not clap, has become a sort of folk hero and media darling, as he chose to save people rather than destroy them.

The novel ends with a party at the Admiral’s house, celebrating the birthday of his son, who he and his wife unwittingly had unwound. All the people who received parts from his son attend, bringing him entirely there. Connor and Risa go back to the Graveyard, carrying on the Admiral’s work as he had refused a heart from an unwound and is now too weak to go back. They also reveal, however, that they will be seeking to destroy other harvesting facilities, so that unwinding will end completely.

Time for a sequel!

IMPRESSIONS

This book was amazing. The argument about abortion is very topical in today’s political climate. The writing and the narration, which switched between several points of view, kept it fresh and interesting — it was nice to get different perspectives to explain different parts of the society, like the clappers and the storking. The story was amazing and well executed; at no point did they have a new concept that wasn’t fleshed out and well explained.

I was reading this during the school week, and I had the book on my desk; when my students saw it, they all went craaaazy about wanting to talk with me about it. They all loved the book and were excited to discuss it. As soon as I finished it, I put the sequel on request at the library.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Following in the footsteps of Jonathan Swift, Shusterman uncorks a Modest Proposal of his own to solve a Pro-Life/Pro-Choice dilemma. Set in a future in which abortions are outlawed but parents have the option of signing over their 13- to 17-year-olds to be used as organ donors, the tale focuses on 16-year-old Connor, who falls in with other prospective Unwinds and finds a temporary refuge (thanks to a clandestine organization with its own peculiar agenda) before being captured and sent to Happy Jack Harvest Camp. Though laced with intrigue, betrayals, and narrow squeaks, the story is propelled less by the plot (which is largely a series of long set pieces) than by an ingeniously developed cast and premise. But even readers who gravitate more to plot-driven fiction will find this present-tense page-turner thrilling, though it’s guaranteed to leave some feeling decidedly queasy—despite the (improbable) happy ending.
Booklist 2007

What keeps “Unwind” moving are the creative and shocking details of Shusterman’s kid-mining dystopia. First, there are the Orwellian linguistic tricks. People who have been unwound are not “dead” — they are “in a divided state.” Then there are the rules and rituals. Before being unwound, Lev is honored with a lavish “tithing party,” which bears a strong resemblance to a bar mitzvah. The most terrifying scene is devoted to the unwinding itself. The author’s decision to describe the process is a questionable one — a book’s great unknown can leave the strongest impression on a reader — but he executes as precisely as the surgeons who perform the unwinding.

Ultimately, though, the power of the novel lies in what it doesn’t do: come down explicitly on one side or the other. After all, there are benefits to unwinding — children with fatal diseases can be saved by perfect transplants. And if the people of Jesusland can come to understand their countrymen in the United States of Canada — or vice versa — aren’t we all better off?
New York Times 2008

LIBRARY USES

This book is begging to be used in a book talk for high school students. Begging.

REFERENCES

Peters, J. (2007, October 15). Unwind by neal shusterman. Booklist. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=2120692&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

Shusterman, N. (2007). Unwind. New York, NY: Simon And Schuster.

Vizzini, N. (2008, March 16). Young and in the way. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/16/books/review/Vizzini-t.html?_r=2&

Comment » | SLIS5420

Module 7: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

October 28th, 2012 — 7:46pm

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is a book of realistic fiction. Published in 2009, it details the horrifying world of eating disorders.

SUMMARY

Lia Overbrook is an eighteen year old senior in high school. The opening of the novel is a breakfast scene, where she avoids eating while being told by her stepmother that her best friend has been found dead in a motel. Lia lives with her father, stepmother, and stepsister. Lia has also been suffering with anorexia since she was in eighth grade.

The story is told through flashbacks and current day. The flashbacks detail how she and Cassie made a New Years Resolution/pact with each other to be the thinnest girls in the school — Lia accomplishes this by anorexia, Cassie by bulimia. They are best friends until one day their junior year, when Lia is driving them in a car and she passes out because her blood sugar is low. Lia is subsequently hospitalized for her eating disorder and she she is released, Cassie blames Lia for encouraging her own eating disorder, and they become estranged.

Lia attempts to figure out the details of Cassie’s last few days. Her body was found in a motel and she had called Lia thirty-three times on her cell phone the night she died, but Lia didn’t answer. When Lia went to the motel, an employee named Elijah asked her if she knew anyone named Lia, because Cassie had left a message for her. Lia begins to see Cassie’s ghost, who becomes more and more angry as she encounters it.

Lia has to be weighed every day by her stepmother, Jennifer, but Lia has rigged the scale and wears a robe that has weight sewed into the pockets. Her weight drops from 101 to 93. Lia’s mother, Dr. Marrigan, sees her at Cassie’s funeral and is concerned by her appearance. Lia has become estranged from her mother due to what she sees as her mother trying to control her. However, when Lia’s young stepsister, Emma, walks in on Lia cutting herself on her chest and sees Lia covered in blood, Lia’s parents agree that it would be for the best for Lia to stay with her mother for a while.

While staying with her, Lia’s mother makes a deal with her — she’ll tell Lia details of Cassie’s death if Lia eats. Cassie’s autopsy revealed that she died from Boerhaave syndrome — a rupturing of the esophagus due to repeated vomiting. She had gotten the motel room after a fight with her parents, drank a copious amount of vodka, and died when her esophagus ruptured.

Lia tells her therapist that she has been haunted by Cassie’s ghost, and her therapist tells her that this, along with her weight loss, makes her need to be hospitalized in the psychiatric institution again. Lia goes to Elijah, who she’s become friends with, and tells him she wants to run away with him when he leaves town. He tells her that she can go as long as she tells her family first — when she refuses, he tells her how lucky she is to have a family that cares and tells her that it seems like her family is trying to help her. She falls asleep and when she wakes up, Elijah and her money are gone; he’s left her a note that tells her she needs to stay and get help.

Lia is alone in the motel and is near death. Cassie’s ghost appears to her again and Cassie tells her how excited she is that she’ll be joining her soon; they also talk about the good parts of being alive. Lia manages to harness her energy to make it to a phone and calls her mother and tells her to come get her.

The last chapter opens with Lia in the hospital again. The difference this time is that Lia wants to be healed and is working toward recovery both on herself and with her relationships with her parents. The novel ends with a message of hope for Lia’s recovery and the message that help is always there for you if you can accept it.

IMPRESSIONS

This is a very powerful book. I’ve had friends struggle with eating disorders and it was heartbreaking to think that this resembled their struggles.

This is Lia’s explanation for her eating disorder:

Why? You want to know why?

Step into a tanning booth and fry yourself for two or three days. After your skin bubbles and peels off, roll in coarse salt, then pull on long underwear woven from spun glass and razor wire. Over that goes your regular clothes, as long as they are tight.

Smoke gunpowder and go to school to jump through hoops, sit up and beg, and roll over on command. Listen to the whispers that curl into your head at night, calling you ugly and fat and stupid and bitch and whore and worst of all “a disappointment.” Puke and starve and cut and drink because you don’t want to feel any of this. Puke and starve and cut and drink because you need an anesthetic and it works. For a while. But then the anesthetic turns into poison and by then it’s too late because you are mainlining it now, straight into your soul. It is rotting you and you can’t stop.

Look in a mirror and find a ghost. Hear every heartbeat scream that everysinglething is wrong with you.

“Why?” is the wrong question.

Ask “Why not?” (Anderson 2009)

I don’t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with image issues. Every person, men or women, has something about their appearance that bugs them. I am no stranger to an image issue and a certain amount of obsession with my weight.

However, the book ending on a hopeful and positive note was refreshing. Though Cassie died, Lia was able to survive, though there is an admittedly difficult road ahead. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was that her family was there, whether Lia wanted them or not, the entire time. The relationship with the mother was also very real. What teenaged girl doesn’t think their mother is trying to control their lives? As well they should, because I’m around teenagers all day long at school and they are like naked moles. Hormonal, emotional, naked moles.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

At times Lia’s narrow, repetitive mind-set makes her a frustrating narrator. Certainly her obsessional behaviors (counting calories, ritually berating herself) are central to the illness, but at such times Lia can feel more like a concatenation of symptoms than a distinct person.

This very quality, however, may make Lia recognizable to many teenagers. One issue the author must have confronted is the potential of “Wintergirls” to be a “trigger” for anorexia, as psychologists term it. Can a novel convey, however inadvertently, an allure to anorexic behavior? While to my mind there is nothing in “Wintergirls” that glamorizes the illness, for some the mere mention of symptoms is problematic. “It’s about competition,” an anorexia sufferer once explained to me. “Sometimes all it takes to get triggered is to read about someone who weighs less than you do.”

We recognize Lia, but it’s sometimes hard to relate to her. Withdrawing, she sees life as if it were a series of meals to be gotten through (“I bit the days off in rows. . . . Bite. Chew. Swallow”). Parts of her story are hurried, telescoped, and this can make it hard for the reader to feel much about what is occurring.

Yet the book deepens. Where Lia had been hiding the extent of her illness before Cassie died, pretending to eat, playing the part of the “good girl,” increasingly, as her self-destruction gathers force, the truth emerges; the surface placidity of her life begins to crack.
Feinberg 2009

The intensity of emotion and vivid language here are more reminiscent of Anderson’s Speak (Farrar, 1999) than any of her other works. Lia and Cassie had been best friends since elementary school, and each developed her own style of eating disorder that leads to disaster. Now 18, they are no longer friends. Despite their estrangement, Cassie calls Lia 33 times on the night of her death, and Lia never answers. As events play out, Lia’s guilt, her need to be thin, and her fight for acceptance unravel in an almost poetic stream of consciousness in this startlingly crisp and pitch-perfect first-person narrative. The text is rich with words still legible but crossed out, the judicious use of italics, and tiny font-size refrains reflecting her distorted internal logic. All of the usual answers of specialized treatment centers, therapy, and monitoring of weight and food fail to prevail while Lia’s cleverness holds sway. What happens to her in the end is much less the point than traveling with her on her agonizing journey of inexplicable pain and her attempt to make some sense of her life.
Edwards 2009

LIBRARY USES

I would anticipate this book to be used in a booktalk with a teenaged audience, but I think that it’s very important to introduce this book for parents to use to have discussions with their teenagers. This book would be a good conversation starter for parents.

REFERENCES

Anderson, L. H. (2009). Wintergirls. New York: Viking.

Edwards, C. (2009, January 14). Wintergirls by laurie halse anderson. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6628521.html

Feinberg, B. (2009, May 8). Skin and bone. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/books/review/Feinberg-t.html?_r=0

2 comments » | SLIS5420

Module 6: Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

October 24th, 2012 — 9:04pm

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale is a children’s book by Mo Willems. It was published in 2004 and won the Caldecott Honor in 2005.

SUMMARY

Trixie is a little girl who lives in Brooklyn with her parents and her stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. One day, Trixie’s father takes her and Knuffle Bunny to the laundromat. On their way back a cross Brooklyn, Trixie suddenly loses her mind and goes “boneless” and screams and cries, much to her father’s confusion. When they get back to the apartment, Trixie’s mother immediately identifies the problem — Knuffle Bunny is missing.

The family treks back through Brooklyn to the laundromat where they rescue Knuffle Bunny from the washing machine and Trixie exclaims, “KNUFFLE BUNNY!!!!” as the first words she ever spoke.

IMPRESSIONS

The illustrations for this story are cartoon drawings done on top of photographs of Brooklyn, which was very interesting and fun to look at. The story of a toddler who lose its toy wasn’t particularly compelling to me, but then again, I’m not the target audience. I also found it a little ridiculous that the father is so clueless that he doesn’t realize that Trixie is suddenly without a toy that she’s never far from. Are men truly that clueless when it comes to their kids?

On a more personal note, the idea of having to drag a screaming child across town is more proof that I do not want kids and need to renew my birth control prescription.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Trixie steps lively as she goes on an errand with her daddy, down the block, through the park, past the school, to the Laundromat. For the toddler, loading and putting money into the machine invoke wide-eyed pleasure. But, on the return home, she realizes something. Readers will know immediately that her stuffed bunny has been left behind but try as she might, (in hilarious gibberish), she cannot get her father to understand her problem. Despite his plea of “please don’t get fussy,” she gives it her all, bawling and going “boneless.” They both arrive home unhappy. Mom immediately sees that “Knuffle Bunny” is missing and so it’s back to the Laundromat they go. After several tries, dad finds the toy among the wet laundry and reclaims hero status. Yet, this is not simply a lost-and-found tale. The toddler exuberantly exclaims, “Knuffle Bunny!!!” “And those were the first words Trixie ever said.” The concise, deftly told narrative becomes the perfect springboard for the pictures. They, in turn, augment the story’s emotional acuity. Printed on olive-green backdrops, the illustrations are a combination of muted, sepia-toned photographs upon which bright cartoon drawings of people have been superimposed. Personalities are artfully created so that both parents and children will recognize themselves within these pages. A seamless and supremely satisfying presentation of art and text.
School Library Journal

This comic gem proves that Caldecott Medal-winner Willems, the Dr. Spock and Robin Williams of the lap-sit crowd, has just as clear a bead on pre-verbal children as on silver-tongued preschoolers. On a father-daughter trip to the Laundromat, before toddler Trixie “could even speak words,” Daddy distractedly tosses her favorite stuffed bunny into the wash. Unfortunately, Trixie’s desperate cries (“aggle flaggle klabble”) come across as meaningless baby talk, so she pitches a fit until perceptive Mommy and abashed Daddy sprint back to retrieve the toy. Willems chronicles this domestic drama with pitch-perfect text and illustrations that boldly depart from the spare formula of his previous books. Sepia-tone photographs of a Brooklyn neighborhood provide the backdrops for his hand-drawn artwork, intensifying the humor of the gleefully stylized characters-especially Trixie herself, who effectively registers all the universal signs of toddler distress, from the first quavery grimace to the uncooperative, “boneless” stage to the googly-eyed, gape-mouthed crisis point. Even children who can already talk a blue streak will come away satisfied that their own strong emotions have been mirrored and legitimized, and readers of all ages will recognize the agonizing frustration of a little girl who knows far more than she can articulate.
Booklist

LIBRARY USES

Definitely for a children’s story time. This can be used in a “bring your favorite stuffed animal” day or in a craft to make their own Knuffle Bunnies.

REFERENCES

Mattson, J. (2004). Knuffle bunny. Booklist, 101(2), 241. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/14623526/knuffle-bunny-book

Topol, M. (2004, October 04). Book of the week: Knuffle bunny. Retrieved from School Library Journal website: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA457411.html?industryid=47054&q=knuffle+bunny

Willems, M. (2004). Knuffle bunny: A cautionary tale. New York: Hyperion.

Comment » | SLIS5420

Back to top