Monday, August 13, 2012

Where Things Come Back

-- John Corey Whaley

Bibliography: Whaley, John Corey (2011). Where Things Come Back. New York: Atheneum. 228 pps.

Michael L. Printz
William C. Morris Debut 

Lily, Arkansas is a small town where most spend their time growing up figuring out ways to leave, and where those do leave, often find themselves reluctantly back only short years later.   When a pseudo ornithologist claims he has discovered that the Lazarus Woodpecker, thought to be extinct, has made its way back to the woods and riverbanks of the area, the town suddenly has some hope that there is a reason to stay here after all.  As this small town searches for meaning in an extinct bird’s revival, Cullen Witter struggles to maintain hope that his missing brother will also return to the boundaries of town.

Whaley creates a semi-thriller with Where Things Come Back.  He weaves two stories together with a small yet important link.  At times I felt like the story moved slowly, but by the end I was pleasantly surprised by the development overall.  Whaley bridges issues such as loss, hopelessness, growing up, and friendship among others.

Where Things Come Back could be a good book for grades 10th and above because of some content.  It would work well for individuals or small groups.

Friday, August 1, 2008

the first part last

Bibliography: Johnson, Angela. (2003). The First Part Last. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 131 pps.

Genre: Teenage parents/father, fiction, African-American, coming-of-age

Coretta Scott King Author Award
Michael L. Printz Award

Bobby is 16. He is doing well in high school, he has great friends, his parents care about him and have always taken care of him, he has traveled around the world... and he is a new father. Not only is Bobby a new father, he is a single father. Through a "then" and "now" perspective, Johnson relates Bobby's story of how he came to be the single parent to his daughter, Feather; his relationship with his parents; his relationship with his girlfriend, Nia, and her parents; and his relationship with his friends, now that he is a father. While Bobby's parents are very supportive, they refuse to take over of parent. They hold Bobby to his responsibilities. Bobby struggles to meet the demands of being a parent, a high school student, and a friend to his buddies. The reader is gradually taken step-by-step through the story through Bobby's eyes, and learns how it is that Bobby has come to his present situation, and eventually of the tragic story of what has happened to Nia, Feather's mother.

Johnson does a wonderful job of illustrating the reality of parenthood - especially teen-parenthood. Johnson also does well to dispel stereotypes of teenage parents - in particular African-American teenage parents - African-American families, and African-American boys. The First Part Last deals with a lot of tough issues that some teens may be struggling with. I would recommend this book for the tenth grade and above because of this content. A younger student who is familiar with the issues raised would also be a clear candidate. If this book were to be used in a class, I suggest using it as small-group or individual reading

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Bibliography: Hiaasen, Carl. (2002). Hoot. New York: Alfred A. Knoph. 292 pps.

Genre: Fiction, environmental protection, humor
A Newbery Honor Book
The SEBA Book Award for Best Children's Book
A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults
A Book Sense Book of the Year Finalist
A New York Times Bestseller

RoyEberhardt, a.k.a. "cowgirl", is the new kid at school...again. Roy and his family just moved from Wyoming to Florida, where he has trouble makinng new friends and adjusting to the school bully who continuously picks on Roy during the morning bus ride. One morning, while having his face squished against the school bus window, Roy sees a strange sight. A boy wearing shorts, a basketball jersey, and no shoes is running next to the bus. Roy assumes the boy is trying to get to the stop in time to get on the bus even though it still seems strange that the boy has no shoes or a bag. When the bus arrives at the stop, and the boy keeps running around the corner, Roy's suspicions mount. He totally forgets that Dana Matherson has his head jammed tight against the window, and he begins masterminding a plan to track the boy and find out what he is up to and why he is In the meantime, corporate giant, Mother Paula's All American Pancake House, is attempting to clear some land to begin the construction of its 469th restaurant. The foreman, Curly, is having trouble with a vandal who keeps uprooting his survey stakes and filling in the holes. Officer Delinko is hot on the case, and after a couple of missteps, he wants nothing more than to solve the case. Roy, Curly, the running boy, Dana, a wild girl named Beatrice, and officer Delinko all tangle together to create a wild story about standing up for what is right in the face of authority.

Hoot is a quirky book that will appeal to younger readers. The book raises the question about how to do the right thing when you are going to have to break a few rules. Overall, that is the theme of the book; just do what is right - whether you are a junior high bully, an uncaring mother, or a corporate giant. Furthermore, Hiaasen intelligently and seemlessly incorporates a "big picture," world community topic of environmental protection. This book can be used in a variety of groupings from whole-class to individual. I personally think Hoot would appeal more to the younger spectrum of the adolescent readership - 12-15 year-olds maybe. This book can easily be included with lessons on the environment, or perhaps local commercial or community growth.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Bibliography: Hautman, Pete. (2004). Godless. New York: Simon & Schuster. 198 pps.

Genre: Adolescent literature, fiction, religion, coming-of-age, friendship

Awards:National Book Award

Have you ever experienced one of those summers where there was just nothing to do, except maybe hunt for snails and slugs? Or maybe you've had it up to here with your mom insisting that you visit the doctor again for blood work and to get checked out for narcolepsy? I mean, a teenager surely isn't supposed to sleep as much as you. No? Well, Jason Bock deals with these issues and a lot more as his summer vacation takes a spiritual turn in Godless. As he and his friend, Shin, hunt for wild gastropods beneath the town's water tower, Jack has a sudden epiphany, well, he gets his head rung first, then he gets the epiphany. With one quick strike of genius, Jack decides to create his own religion - The Church of the Ten-Legged God! Jack is a born proselytizer. He quickly recruits his best friend, Shin, local P.K., Dan, his love interest Magda, and the town bully, Henry. The five make a unique congregation as they explore the divine waters of their new religion. Like most religions, the Church of the Ten-Legged God struggles with factions and fanatics, and disbelievers and condemners. Once their new religion is uncovered after a deadly midnight mass atop their great God, new issues arise in the lives of these five, and Jack is left to deal with the responsibility he has to his congregation.

Hautman delves into leadership, the power of ideas, and the search for faith in Godless. It is a book that places many issues teens face into a believable plot. While the title may frighten some at first, a turn of a few pages should settle the nerves. I recommend Godless to seventh graders and above. Those wanting to incorporate it in the classroom may find less resistance if used as a read-aloud, small group, or independent reading.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Bibliography: Satrapi, Marjane. (2003). Persepolis: The story of a childhood. New York: Pantheon. 153 pps.

Genre: Graphic novel, memoir, biography, autobiography


ALA Alex Award
Best Books for Young Adults
Editor's Choice for Young Adults
York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
Library Journal Adult Books for Young Adults

Synopsis:Persepolis is a graphic novel that shares the story of Marjane Satrapi's life during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The novel spans her life from age 6 to 14. During this time fundamentalist rebels oust the Shah and issue in a new totalitarian regime. In 1979, when the Shah is overrun, the community and Marjane's parents are thrilled. They all hope for a new, diplomatic government. Satrapi's illustrations depict new sentiment in the community just a year later, however, when the schools have been segregated by sex, all bilingual schools and classes have been disassembled, and the veil has become obligatory in school.

While the grip seems to tighten on some of the freedoms of the people, many of the political prisoners of the revolution are released. Marjane descends from the last Emperor of Iran, and she has a great sense of pride in her family and herself, and she is overjoyed when she finally meets her uncle Anoosh who was imprisoned and tortured during the revolution. He tells her stories of his life, and she is captivated by the life he has led and the exciting adventures he has been on. Uncle Anoosh's stories and the independent culture Marjane's parents provide at home, cultivate Marjane's own independence. There are numerous run-ins with teachers, foils with the veil, purchases of Iron Maiden tapes, and even thoughts of torturing neighborhood friends. Throughout all of these trials, the Satrapi family does its best to keep a “normal” home full of education and culture. When Marjane reaches age 14, and the country has slid farther into dispute with Iraq, her parents decide it is not a safe or edifying place for Marjane to live. The novel ends with Marjane boarding an airplane for Austria, where she will finish out her schooling. While her parents say they will come to visit her in six months, we are left to believe that it may be much longer until they see each other again.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is the first volume of a two volume set. Persepolis: The
Story of a Childhood,
and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return can be found bound together under the title, The Complete Persepolis: Now a Major Motion Picture. As that title indicates, the two volumes have been made into a movie. It has won several awards.

discusses the realities of war, injustice, and oppression. Satrapi reveals this story in a clever way through the eyes of a young child and through the medium of the graphic novel. By sharing her story in this manner, Satrapi helps many of us grasp some of these realities with which we have no experience.
This is the first graphic novel I have read, and I have become a quick fan. The graphic novel medium is one that allows the reader/viewer to not only "listen" to an author describe what they see and feel, but also see the ideas, thoughts, and in this case memories of the author.
I think the graphic novel is a great way to bridge readers into other-culture literature, especially new languages. I can see how the graphic novel can easily be used in ELL settings where a student may not quite understand all of the words, but can grasp the concepts from the illustrations.
Additionally, the graphic novel could be a great way to get leery readers more involved and engaged. While this genre produces lengthy pieces, they take less time to finish than more traditional genres of the same length.
I recommend Persepolis for 10th grade and up. The theme and some of the content could initiate some great discussion in the higher grades. Of course, this book will not cut it as a read-aloud. You have to see the pages. With that said, use this as a whole class, small group, or individual reading.

Poetry for Young People

Bibliography: Hughes, Langston. (2006). Poetry for Young People. Eds. David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad. New York: Sterling Publishing. 48 pps.



Coretta Scott King Award
A School Library Journal
Best Book of the Year, 2006.
Washington Post Book World Top 10 for Children, 2006.

Synopsis: Poetry for Young People
provides the reader with a introduction to the poetry of Langston Hughes. The book begins with an introduction that offers a short biography of Hughes and his career. Following the introduction, 26 of Hughes's poems are presented and accompanied by colorful illustrations by artist Benny Andrews. Each poem is introduced with a short blurb that describes an aspect of the poem such as where Hughes found the inspiration for a particular poem, the theme of the poem, the structure of the poem, etc. The editors include factual information at the bottom of the pages of many selections that provide definitions of words in the poem or information on places or people that are featured in the poem.

Editors David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad include several great Langston Hughes poems in Poetry for Young People. Their selections include short poems that illustrate a variety of themes including life's hardships, music, dance, identity, dreams, and injustice. Hughes incorporates African-American culture, African themes, social and political commentary, and cultural dialects into his works that offer young readers a unique view at poetry. Furthermore, these themes and literary devices offer several topics of discussion for classes and material for poets.
These poems are great for various-aged readers and are especially great for younger readers who may not be well versed in poetry. The short poems offer a great starting point for many readers, and the themes, structures, and styles hold the attention and thought of older readers. I recommend Poetry for Young People for readers age 12+.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Boy Girl Boy

Bibliography: Koertge, Ron. (2007). Boy Girl Boy. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc. 164 pp.

Genre: Young adult, fiction, friendship, homosexuality, self-discovery

"I'd be safe and warm...If I was in L.A....California dreamin'...On such a winters day..." Elliot, Teresa, and Larry, three childhood friends from small town Illinois, have for years planned to run away to California after their high school graduation. In the final months before they take their flight, these inseparable friends live through a series of events that lead to new questions and discoveries and to each examining his and her "Westward" pledge to the trio.

Review: The opening chapter of Koertge's Boy Girl Boy sets both the form and feel of the book: "Everything looks different told from different ways." Koertge tells the story of the three California-destined teenagers, Elliot, Teresa, and Larry from three different perspectives; that of Elliot, the underestimated jock; Teresa, who does well in school, but who struggles emotionally with the weight of a mother who abandoned her and her father, and her father's attempted suicide and disconnection; and Larry, who realized when he was thirteen that he is gay and must now navigate very gingerly throughout his "small-town" community.

I enjoyed the multiple perspectives of the issues the three deal with throughout the book. On the other hand, I felt like Koertge was often broad on the issues and did not delve beneath the surface of the individuals. Nonetheless,
I would keep the book on my shelf for individual students who had familiarity with, or interest in the issues raised (abandonment, homosexuality, growing up, drugs, death/violence, self-perception, expectations, and religion). Furthermore, while some of the topics of the book squelch Boy Girl Boy from being an option for whole-class reads, a teacher could find ways of including sections of the book for a broader lesson: teaching "perspective" is of course one lesson that jumps out straight away; and individual excerpts may help to highlight and open discussion on various issues.

Because of the nature of some of the topics in Boy Girl Boy, I recommend readers in their junior or senior year.