Friday, May 24, 2013
England is ruled by the cruel, totalitarian Nazi-like regime called the Motherland. The country is zoned and Zone Seven is pretty much the end of the line, a place to put those who need to be punished. Standish lives there with his grandfather now that his parents have simply disappeared, gone to the 'maggot farm' (killed) as far as Standish is concerned. His father was headmaster at his school and was against Motherland's rule but basically tried to maintain a neutral stance. His mother, a teacher at his school, was more rebellious and refused to toe the Motherland's line.
The school in Zone Seven is not a place you want to draw attention to yourself. But Standish does, he can't help it: he was born with one blue eye and one brown eye and is extremely dyslexic, and since he can't read or write, he is the brunt of cruel, violent bullying by students and teachers at school. His only escape from all this is his imagination.
But all that changes for Standish when Hector Lush and his parents arrive in Zone Seven and start living in Standish's parent's old house. The two boys soon become best friends, and when Hector stands up to the teachers who delighted in bullying Standish, Standish is finally left alone by everyone.
After Standish tells Hector about his imaginary planet Juniper, the boys make plans for a space trip there, even building a papier-maché spacecraft for this mission. At the same time, Motherland is making plans to send a spaceship to the moon with three astronauts, to declare the moon a Motherland territory and solidify its place as the military leader of the world.
Things are going as well as they can in Zone Seven until one day, Hector and his family disappear. Of course, life at school goes back to being pretty lousy for Standish. And soon he discovers that his Gramps isn't who he thought he was - Gramps has some important secrets. But Standish has a few secrets of his own, as well - and one of them is that he know something about the Motherland's moon landing that could bring the whole regime down in front of the entire world.
So Standish makes a plan...
Maggot Moon is quite simply an edgy, dystopian novel but one of the best I have read in a long time. It is narrated in the first person by Standish, who has a refreshingly powerful, honest voice. In a short novel with short chapters, Standish's is a compelling story about repression, friendship, rebellion and conspiracy. Being deemed stupid at school because of dyslexia does give Standish a certain kind of freedom to experience and explore his inner and outer world, which a actually how his discovers the secret of the moon landing.
The rule of the Motherland has been compared to that of the Nazis. And it does indeed have similarities. The wall surrounding Zone Seven is very much like the ghettos the Nazis built to contain Jews before they too disappeared and were never heard from again. The Soldier/police, called Greenflies, resemble the SS and the man in the trench coat who tails Standish throughout is very much like a Gestapo agent. And of course, the desire of the Motherland for world supremacy resembles Hitler's wish for his Fatherland to dominate the world. And yet, despite these similarities, Maggot Mood has a fresh, inventive feel all its own.
The black and white illustrations of maggots, rats and other vermin in the corners of the pages throughout the book, all done by Julian Crouch add to the bleak starkness of Standish's world.
This book is recommended for readers 14+
This book was borrowed from a friend
A downloadable discussion guide for Maggot Moon is available from Candlewick Press
This is book 3 of my 2013 YA/MG Fantasy Reading Challenge hosted by The Book Cellar
This is book 1 of my 2013 2013 Dystopian Reading Challenge hosted by Book of Erisred
Monday, May 20, 2013
It is a house built from scratch, in the middle of a field. The family, Mom, Dad, big sister/narrator, and little brother, arrives at the field, tools and blueprints in hand. Then a small trailer pulls in, temporary shelter until the house is finished. Most of the work is done in the evening when Dad gets home from work, and weekends, so it is going to be a long process even though everyone pitches in, doing what they can.
Begun in fall, soon winter comes, followed by spring. More work is done on the house. Soon a cat shows up among the building materials along with summer. More building and before the end of summer, a frame-raising party is held with friends and family helping, along lots of food and fun:
By winter, the basic house is finished enough to live in, mostly around the warmth of a stove. Indoor work occupies the winter. and as time passes both Mom and Kitty Cat are pregnant. In spring it is time for another party - a moving party.
Again, friends and family come by to help the family, Mom, Dad, big sister, little brother, new baby and kitties, offically move into their new home:
Building Our House is a gentle, straight-forward narrative, with sparse text that nevertheless conveys much. Not only does it give basic step by step details about how a house is built, it also revels in the idea of family and working together. Everyone in the family does what they can, and no matter how small the task, it is important.
And just as it revels in family, it also celebrates extended family and friends, working together to help accomplish something and fostering the sense of community that.
I found this to be a really delightful story to read and I think that it will appeal to both boys and girls and that if you are reading this with a child, you may find that the wonderful very detailed watercolor-and-ink illustrations done by the author are sure to spark lots of close examination and conversation. (So the idea of family/friends doing something together comes full circle).
This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
When the mixed breed puppies are born, the is a runt among that is about to die, but Stanley saves him and named him Soldier after his brother Tom. His father's anger has become explosive and one day he gives Rocket's puppies, except for Soldier, to some tinkers camping nearby. Then one morning, Stanley wakes to find Soldier and his Da gone. Fearing the worst, he races after them, but by the time he gets to the lake, his father standing there - alone.
Hurt and angered beyond measure, Stanly, now 14, decides to lie and enlist in the army so he can be sent to France to find his brother. It is clear the Stanley is much to young for combat, but he manages to get on his Sergeant's wrong side. But he also meets Scots-born brother Hamish and James McManus, who take him under their wing. One day, Hamish shows Stanley a notice asking for volunteers to train with messenger dogs for combat.
Stanley gets accepted into the training program and is given a Great Dane named Bones, a mistrustful suspicious abandoned guard dog. It takes a lot of hard work to train Bones, but eventually he and Stanley are shipped off to France.
Devastated at his canine losses, first Soldier then Bones, Stanley decides to tell the army his real age and go home, but instead they give him another dog, this one named Pistol. This dog is a traumatized, out of control mix breed who takes to Stanley immediately, which is surprising, since no one else has been able to get near him. Do Pistol and Stanley share the same need - just to be loved and wanted?
Sam Angus's Soldier Dog is one of the most compelling wartime animal stories I have read, on a par with, but different from, Michael Morpurgo's War Horse. Both books take place on the battlefields of World War I, but the real battles being fought are the personal ones that result from being hurt and betrayed by those who should be taking care of their children and animals.
Stanley is a strong, well-developed character who will resonate with boys as well as girls. His father's anger is volatile and at times pretty scary but he never physically hurts Stanley or his dogs, for that matter. I have to be honest and say that I don't like characters (or people) who have such unpredictable explosive tempers, but I thought that Angus did a great job on making Da believable, but not too frightening.
Much of this book occurs in wartime France. The battlefield scenes can be a bit graphic, but not overly so. And the descriptions of what happens when you are hit with mustard gas are not nearly as bad as the real thing. Hopefully just enough to make young readers realize that war is a terrible thing, but on the whole this novel should not offend young readers.
Soldier Dog is a debut novel for Sam Angus. The idea for it came to her after hearing a story on the radio about animals used in World War I, and there were some real canine heroes on that war, just like Bones and Pistol. You can read about the real messenger dogs that inspired this novel and more on Angus's Soldier Dog website.
And there is a very interesting interview with the author over at Red House in which Angus talks about wartime messenger dogs.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Friday, May 10, 2013
The story begins in April 1687 and Kit (Katherine) Tyler, 16, is sailing to her new home with her puritanical aunt and uncle in the colony of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Kit has grown up in her grandfather's lavish home in Barbados after the death of her parents. But now he is gone, too and there is no money to maintain the kind of life Kit had with him.
The only problem is that her aunt and uncle don't know she is coming, and, oh yes, Kit doesn't know they are Puritans. And to make matter worse, on the way to Wethersfield Kit manages to get on the wrong side of Goodwife Cruff when she jumps into the Connecticut River to retrieve a toy belonging to her daughter Prudence Cruff. Naturally, the first mutterings of witch are heard since Puritans believe that only witch's don't drown.
Of course, Kit's aunt and uncle take her in and to her delight, she discovers that she has two cousins - Judith and Mercy, both around her age. Kit tries to fit in but her impulsiveness keeps falling into disfavor by those around her. After she suggests that the kids in Mercy's "dame school" act out a Bible story, Kits runs off in tears after the minister harshly chastises her for it and finds herself in the great meadow where the witch of Blackbird Pond lives. The so-called witch is just a woman named Hannah Tupper, who had been run out of Massachusetts by Puritans for being a Quaker after being cruelly punished for her religion and is barely tolerated in Wethersfield by the Puritans there.
During a visit to Hannah, Kit also discovers that they have a mutual acquaintance - Nat Eaton, the son of the captain of the boat that brought Kit to Connecticut from Barbados. Though she is somewhat attracted to Nat, he seems more interested in helping Hannah.
Hannah's cottage is an attractive place to outcasts - soon Prudence Cruff is also a regular visitor. Not allowed to attend Mercy's "dame school" because her mother claims that she is too simple to learn, Kit secretly teaches her to read at Hannah's and discovers that Prudence often spends time there without her.
At the same time, Kit is being courted by William Ashby, a wealthy young man who could provide her with the kind of lifestyle she had enjoyed in Barbados. The only problem is that Kit isn't attracted to William and the reader can immediately see he is more suited to her cousin Judith.
Trouble begins when a serious illness befalls the residents of Wethersfield, causing some of the children to die. When Hannah is blamed for causing it using witchcraft, a band of citizens plan to go to her cottage, kill her and burn down her home. Kit hears about the plan, but she is busy taking care of the gravely ill Mercy. Can she do anything to save Hannah from certain death? And later, save herself from accusations of being a witch, too?
I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond on my own the first time and I thought it was a good story about a
|Original 1958 Cover|
The Witch of Blackbird Pond also provides a wonderful window into the culture and everyday life for the girls and women in this country in the 17th century, including education, courtship, marriage and running an efficient home and even ideas about friendship.
The author, Elizabeth George Speare, really researched her topic, making this one of the best historical fiction novels for young readers. She has skillfully blended in well known historical facts of the time and place well that we have planned a summer trip to Wethersfield to see it for ourselves.
This book is recommended for readers aged 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library
If you are thinking of using this book in the classroom or for homeschooling, here are some excellent guides that you might find useful:
The Glencoe Literature Library Study Guide to The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Independent Reading Guide to The Witch of Blackbird Pond
This is book 1 of my 2013 Pre-1960 Classic Children's Books Reading Challenge hosted by Turning the Pages
This is book 4 of my 2013 Award Winning Reading Challenge hosted by Gathering Books
Monday, May 6, 2013
Last week, I finished reading two middle grade novels, one is old favorite and one has just been published, but both were excellent and reviews will follow shortly:
1- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
2- Soldier Dog by Sam Angus
1- In Andal's House by Gloria Whelan
2- Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
3- Building Our House by Jonathan Bean
1- The Hero of Ticonderoga by Gail Gauthier
2- Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill
3- The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley
1- Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo
What are you reading?
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh, illustrated by Wilson Ong
To prepare Lee, his grandparents give him a coaching book which tells him everything he needs to know to convince the immigration authorities in San Francisco that he is really the son of Fu Ming, an American citizen. The book includes such minute details as the number of windows and doors in Fu Ming's house and where they keep their rice bin.
Each night for three weeks, PoPo quizzes Lee to make sure he has learned the information in his coaching book. Finally, Lee sails for America. He continues studying his coaching book, but throwing it overboard just before disembarking.
In San Francisco, Lee and the other Chinese passengers are taken to the Angel Island Immigration Station, given physicals and, if their health is good, they are given a bunk bed in a dormitory until they are called for questioning.
And when he is called, Lee is subjected to hours and hours of interrogation more than once.
What is a paper son, you might be wondering. Basically, it was a way for Chinese people to emigrate to the US at a time when our borders were closed to them due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. But after the earthquake of 1906, records were lost so no one really knew who was born in the US and who wasn't. This enabled many Chinese immigrants to claim they were related to an American citizen of Chinese descent - for a price. In Fu Lee's case, it cost $100.00 for each year of his life, in other words, $1200.00, not a small sum for poor farmers like Gong Gong and PoPo. Of course, there is an explanation at the back of the book about this and about Angel Island, the West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island.
Paper Son is one of those historical picture books for older readers that presents an aspect of history in fictional form. I really like these kinds of books for classroom use, but I wonder if an 8 or 9 year old would read this on their own.
That said, this is really a very informative, well-researched book. The text is complimented on every page by the soft, almost muted though expressive paintings of Wilson Ong, which convey what Lee must have been feeling from trading in his real identity for one that isn't real, to being alone in a strange country, never knowing who to trust.
I have only one criticism of Paper Son- the Chinese words aren't clearly defined. I could figure out that Gong Gong means grandpa and PoPo means grandma (and that would be on the mother's side of the family) and that Gum Saan refers to the United States, but could a young reader? I wonder. Regardless, I definitely love this book and highly recommend it.
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was obtained from the publisher.
Friday, April 26, 2013
If you pick up Hokey Pokey and find you can't get into it, all I can say is KEEP READING.
Hokey Pokey is the story of Jack, who wakes up one morning in Hokey Pokey and discovers his beloved bike Scramjet has been stolen - by a girl nemesis no less, named Jubilee. So he climbs Gorilla Hill, the highest peak in Hokey Pokey, gives his famous Tarzan yell, calling on his Amigos Dusty and LaJo to help him find it. But something else has happened that day in Hokey Pokey - something feels different. Jack senses it and so does LaJo. But what is it?
Jerry Spinelli has always been a favorite author in this house and he has done it again. He understands that childhood is not really a time in our lives, so much as it is a place. Think about it! When you recall being outside playing with your friends, do you really see it in terms of time or in terms of place? For me, it is place. For instance, I still remember the feel of concrete on my knees as I crawled around the ground playing Skelly and never thinking of the dirt and germs I was gathering. That Skelly court was a definite place.
But, time happens within place, so Hokey Pokey is really a brilliant metaphor for childhood. Jack has reached an age - as in coming of age. His stay in Hokey Pokey is coming to a end and adolescence, that great unknown, is looming. And Spinelli has captured that transitional moment perfectly as Jack wanders through his last day in Hokey Pokey - the temporary distancing between him and his friends (unitl they too, come of age), seeing Jubilee through different eyes, dealing with 'The Destroyer', it is all there but different now.
Hokey Pokey may be the place where kids live and adults don't, but it is also a place language is its most organic. Names (not in the bullying sense) for kids like Newbies, Snotsippers, Sillynillies and Gappergummers denote age by distinguishing feature. Places like Tantrums, Stuff, Cartoons denote place by activity. Compound nouns and verbs like bestfriendship, longspitter, speedbiking, runamucking - all so simple, yet all so descriptive.
Spinelli got it right, all of it. It is spot on genius in its lyrical simplicity. Coming of age doesn't usually happen in one day, but by placing Jack's in one metaphorical day and place, we can watch it happen like those time lapse films of flowers blooming. The inexplicable changes in attitude, the confusion, the constant going forward into the unknown, seeing the world through different eyes, it's all there and more, so much more.
A funny thing happened while I was reading Hokey Pokey. An overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for my own Hokey Pokey days swept over as never before. So I called up my old Amiga just to have a little chat.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was provided by the publisher.