Friday, January 25, 2008



Jerry Spinelli (2000)

Two great reads in a row... "Stargirl" is the hippie-chick non-conformist new kid in school, and no one understands her weird ways. Lots of popularity, acceptance, and fitting in issues, and fighting for who you are/who you want to be... also caring for others, and missed oportunities -- I kept rooting for the guy to wake up, be strong, don't let her go!

connections: the sequel Love, Stargirl, A Walk To Remember (YA?), the X-Men

Onion John

Onion John

Joseph Krumgold

Newbery Medal 1960*

Fathers and sons, boys and mentally challenged homeless immigrants, small town vs. the space race... smooth, clear writing, dated references but still resonates as a story of a boy learning to make his own decisions and facing the prospect of growing up...

For older students, the role of the US in the world (back then it was communism, now...) and facing career/life choices; for all, caring for others, respecting beliefs/cultures, communication...

Plenty of excitement, different events to keep the reader interested -- a solid 5 stars for this one...

* (in hushed, deep Oscar-telecast voice:) Mr. Krumgold has previously won the Newbery in 1954 for ...And Now Miguel

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

Kate DiCamillo (2003)
Newbery Medal 2004

Our hero is the runt of the litter, but has magical gifts. He falls in love with the Princess and finds the honor and bravery within himself to save her, and restore soup to the kingdom. I thought the portrayal of the rats as spiteful filthy creatures was uncalled for, and this book should be banned. The fat, deaf, slow servant girl was hilarious though.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Autobiography of My Dead Brother

Autobiography of My Dead Brother

by Walter Dean Myers (2005)

National Book Award Finalist

Inner city boys, struggling to stay out of gang/crime life, unsure of how to stand up and act like a man, and unsure how art and music and childhood friendship meshes with the violent world they're faced with. Contains drawings and cartoons by narrator/1st person lead, a graphic novel feel. Music of gospel & jazz.

Worldview/Teaching Philosophy I need to work out: I think kids (and adults) of all race/culture/socio-economic backgrounds should read a wide variety of points of view, but not just to say "see, black people write books too..." or "some kids grow up this way..." -- I want to remind kids of the common bond they shared in kindergarten, the commonality of daily life that goes under skin color...

I'll have to come back to this...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Adolf Volume 3: The Half-Aryan

by Osamu Tezuka

I usually have quite the battle with the boys over limiting the comics/manga stuff they can read -- otherwise it might be all they read. I'm sure we'll have similar battles when they're older and try to drink light beer, and I take very seriously the father's responsibility to guide them and steer them towards the good stuff. No Budweiser for my boys, and no crappy comics either...

The issue with the manga art is of course the number of bare bottoms and pairs of frilly panties that appear every couple of pages, plus the fact that they need to check out 15 -20 books at a time just to read half the series! Are they churning this stuff out, or what? Anyway...

I checked this one out, and will go back for the rest of the story. There is some violence and the usual love story melodrama, but that's to be expected. The key is the WWII/Jewish persecution storyline, and how the young protagonists experience being thrust into the dangerous confusing adult world.

Explorations of worldview, questioning authority, cultural/religious differences, as well as how to tell a story in a different medium (or, when is a comic book not just a comic book?)...

connections: Maus by Art Spiegelman, Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder

by Richard Peck (2000)

Newbery Medal 2001

A city girl goes to live with her country Grandma during the Depression; hilarity ensues. Lots of personality and humor, believable narrator voice and many episodes to explore (hunting/stealing, Halloween, high school cliques, neighbors, 193o's, radio...)

This is the sequel to A Long Way to Chicago, Peck's 1999 Newbery Honor book.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Journal of Biddy Owens

The Journal of Biddy Owens / the Negro Leagues

by Walter Dean Myers (2001)

Part of a series, "life as it was" through diaries of people in America, Biddy Owens is the clubhouse attendant for a Negro League baseball team in 1948. Not fluff, very well written; poignant in touching on race, family, and even the realization of not being good enough to make the team. It helps to know baseball for this one, to follow the action (reminds me of those old-time sports stories for boys) and for the real world characters that populate the book (Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, the new center fielder Willie Mays)... there are even photos of baseball in the 40's, and historical notes on baseball integration and the Negro Leagues. I did not like the "Epilogue" detailing the fictional lead and his family's life after the story, it rang false, almost like trying to trick me into thinking Biddy was real, and unnecessary.

(some comments and an interview with the author here)