Archive | August, 2011

Fantasy: The Graveyard Book (Audio Book)

8 Aug

Gaiman, Neil, and Dave McKean. The graveyard book . New York: HarperCollins Pub., 2008.


“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”

Nobody Owens has no memory of life outside the graveyard.  He crawled into it when he was only a toddler.  His mother, father and sister had just been murdered.

The ghosts of the graveyard decide to adopt the orphaned child on that very night and give him the name Nobody “Bod” Owens.  For the next fifteen years Bod lives in the graveyard learning from the souls of the people buried there.  Silas, his guardian and mentor is not quite dead, but not quite alive.  He is adopted by Mr. And Mrs. Owens one of the more respected couples of the graveyard.  Bod learns from the dead, how to make himself disappear, how to create fear amongst the living.  He learns of ghouls, witches, and the generations of souls buried since before the arrival of the Romans.

Bod is often reminded that he is not safe amongst the living.  The man Jack, the murderer that killed his family is still looking for him, looking to finish the job.

Neil Gaiman’s epic fantasy The Graveyard Book follows the life and adventures of Nobody Owens, the living child of the graveyard.  From mishaps to mystery this book is full of life that is sure to capture the imagination of young readers.


I chose to review the audio version of this book.  The narrator is captivating and does an excellent job of creating the mood of the story.  The story is complimented with ghoulish music between chapters, creating a sense of adventure throughout the book.  Neil Gaiman does an incredible job developing the characters of the book- the wise Silas, calm and thoughtful, Mr. and Mrs. Owens lighthearted and loving, Scarlett the young girl that is Bod’s only connection to the real world.  Gaiman creates a world where the graveyard becomes a safe and comforting place, a place of adventure but also loneliness.  The reader is transformed into the realm of the supernatural, where the dead pass on the lessons of how to haunt the living.  Even in the fictional world of witches and ghouls Gaiman does not fool the reader, Bod still has to find ways to get real food and learn to read.  While filled with fantasy and action, the book still illustrates universal themes of friendship, loneliness and longing.  Imaginative young minds are sure to love the uniqueness of the story. The Graveyard Book is perfect for stimulating creativity and imagination amongst young readers.


“Wistful, witty, wise-and creepy. This needs to be read by anyone who is or has ever been a child.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )

“This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming..this is a rich story with broad appeal. ” (Booklist (starred review) )

“Lucid, evocative prose and dark fairy-tale motifs imbue the story with a dreamlike quality. .this ghost-story-cum-coming-of-age-novel as readable as it is accomplished.” (Horn Book (starred review) )

“THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, by turns exciting and witty, sinister and tender, shows Gaiman at the top of his form. In this novel of wonder, Neil Gaiman follows in the footsteps of long-ago storytellers, weaving a tale of unforgettable enchantment.” (New York Times Book Review )


*Neil Gaiman’s website for young readers: including book trailers

*Teacher’s Guide:


Graphic Novels: American Born Chinese

8 Aug





Contemporary Realistic Fiction: Speak

8 Aug




Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999.


“We fall into clans:  Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Goths and Shredders.  I am clanless.”

As Melinda Sordino beigns her freshman year of high school there is one thing she is sure of- she is unwelcome.  She has put on weight, she doesn’t fit in any of her clothes, she has stopped brushing her hair and she has done the unthinkable… she called the cops on one of the biggest parties of the summer.

Melinda is nobody.  She doesn’t speak.  She hides in bathrooms and janitors closets just to get away, to be alone.  It isn’t just school.  She has stopped talking to her parents and has lost all of her friends.  The only thing that she’s finds solace in is her art class, a place where students can do their own thing and listen to the radio in silence.  Maybe she should tell someone what happened.  Why?  No one would listen.  No one would care.

Laurie Anderson masterfully develops the story of Melinda Sordino, a teenage girl navigating high school just like any other girl but this girl has a secret, a dark secret that leaves her silent and distant from the world around her.  Will she ever tell?  Will she ever get the strength to speak?  What unfolds is a journey of trauma and healing, of comedy and sadness and a story that is an inspiration to any young teenager with secrets to be told.



Laurie Anderson creates an absolutely compelling, fabulously written tale of teenage life and trauma of a young girl in this contemporary realistic fiction.  Melinda is funny and relatable, detailing language and thoughts that are common of anyone that has ever attended high school.


“The room does not smell like apple.  It smells like frog juice, a cross between a nursing home and potato salad.  The Back Row pays attention.  Cutting dead frogs is cool.”

“It is easier to floss with barbed wire than admit you like someone in middle school.”


However, woven into the humor and realism is a very real story of teenage rape, peer pressure and depression.  Melinda lives through the torment of her peers who only know half of the story, and she watches as her attacker is doted upon by her former best friend.

“Mr. Freeman thinks I need to find my feelings.  How can I not find them?  They are chewing me alive like an infestation of thoughts, shame, mistakes.  I squeeze my eyes shut.  Jeans that fit, that’s a good start… I will make myself normal.”


This is an absolutely incredible story of honesty and strength in the face of a terrible act of violence.

*Note this book has been banned due to content in several districts.


An uncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will hold readers from first word to last. — The Horn Book, starred review

Melinda’s sarcastic wit, honesty, and courage make her a memorable character whose ultimate triumph will inspire and empower readers. —Booklist, starred review

The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn…its raw and unvarnished look…will be hard for readers to forget. — Kirkus Reviews, pointer review

Awards for Speak:
A 2000 Printz Honor Book
A 1999 National Book Award Finalist
An Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist
A 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
Winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite Award
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Top Ten First Novel of 1999
A BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Horn Book Fanfare Title



*lesson plans for high school:;


*interview with Laurie Anderson on the banning of Speak:



Historical Fiction: One Crazy Summer

1 Aug




Garcia, Rita. One crazy summer .New York: Amistad, 2010.


Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are sent on a plane from their home inBrooklynto visitOakland,Californiaand the mother that abandoned them with their father when Fern was only an infant.  This story is the journey of three girls, desperately wanting to make a connection with a mother that disowns them.  The girls are mostly left to fend for themselves, picking up Chinese take out and going to the Black Panther Community Center for food and companionship.  For the next twenty eight days the girls try to connect with Cecile (their mother) with very little progress.  They find food, companionship and lessons with the Black Panthers and learn more about their mother through her involvement with them.  By the end of their stay, the girls do get some recognition from their mother and “one crazy summer,” with the Black Panthers that they will remember forever.


One Crazy Summer has received numerous awards including the Coretta Scott King Award, recognition as a Newbery Honor Book and the Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction.  A quick Google search reveals rave reviews amongst numerous notable publications.


While the themes of family sticking together (the three children) and innocence of children in comparison to highly political Black Panthers are good themes and educational, I had an extremely difficult time getting through this book.  I began with the audio version and then switched to reading the text myself to see if the audio was distracting from the writing.  The first half of the book is mostly anti-climactic with the children co-existing with a mother that disowns them.  The story becomes a little more interesting towards the middle as the children become more involved with the Black Panthers but even still it is not enough to make up for the extremely slow start.  I found the ending to be extremely disappointing as there is no real resolution with their mother other than a brief conversation and finally calling the children by their names.


Nonetheless the book has received numerous positive reviews. I can only speculate that my disappointment resides with my lack of knowledge about the Black Panther movement or sensitivity towards mothers that abandoned their children.  This was also the last in my collection of historical readings for this genre and I may have been spoiled by the previous reads that I found much more captivating.


“Delphine is the pitch-perfect older sister, wise beyond her years, an expert at handling her siblings…while the girls are caught up in the difficulties of adults, their resilience is celebrated and energetically told with writing that snaps off the page” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The setting and time period are as vividly realized as the characters, and readers will want to know more about Delphine and her sisters after they return to Brooklyn…” —Horn Book, starred review

“Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion.” –Booklist, starred review

“Delphine’s growing awareness of injustice on a personal and universal level is smoothly woven into the story in poetic language that will stimulate and move readers.” —Publishers Weekly

“Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. With memorable characters (all three girls have engaging, strong voices) and a powerful story, this is a book well worth reading and rereading.” —School Library Journal, starred review



Historical Fiction: The Midwife’s Apprentice

1 Aug



Cushman, Karen. The midwife’s apprentice . New York: Clarion Books, 1995.

The story begins in medievalEnglandwhere a young abandoned homeless girl goes looking for warmth in the night.  Under a compost heap of trash and rotted hay she finds a warm place to lie for the night.  This girl has no name; the only name that she has ever known was “Brat!”  Soon enough Jane the midwife finds the girl hiding in her dung heap.  Jane puts the girl to work in her home and before long she becomes known as (dung) Beetle, the midwife’s apprentice.  Beetle helps the midwife with gathering and preparing herbs and medicines, and watches outside windows as Jane helps deliver babies all over town.  Beetle watches and learns from the midwife and one day is even mistaken as a real girl named “Alyce.”  Beetle decides to take the name for her own.  Alyce soon gets a reputation for being a good midwife’s apprentice but after failing to deliver a baby without Jane’s help she flees the town in disappointment and shame.  Alyce starts a new life and continues to live in silence and shame as a failed midwife’s apprentice.  That is until she finds herself delivering an unexpected baby all on her own.  Alyce learns that perseverance and determination were the only things holding her back from being a good midwife.  A young girl that has never known love discovers the strength and beauty within herself.  Alyce returns to town, this time with the confidence to be a midwife’s apprentice.


Karen Cushman relates universal feelings of shame, disappointment, growth and determination in this quick historical novel.  We follow a young girl on her journey from homeless, nameless, to “Brat, Beetle,” and eventually as “Alyce.”  Alyce’s strength and character develop slowly throughout the book, a great pull for any young reader.

Cushman creates the medieval setting with descriptions of how to care for dirt floors, dialect between the characters and medieval recipes for assisting with labor.


“…cobwebs for stanching blood, bryony and wolly nightshade to cleanse and comfort the mother, goat’s beard to bring forth her milk, and sage tea for too much, jasper as a charm against misfortune, and mistletoe and elder leaves against witches.”

The author concludes the book with a description of midwifery in medievalEngland.  Many of the spells and recipes used by Alyce and Jane the midwife were often used medicines for assisting with labor.


This book is recommended for grades 6-9, students should have a general idea of medieval times and midwifery to be able to thoroughly understand the context of the book.


“With simplicity, wit, and humor, Cushman presents another tale of medieval England. Here readers follow the satisfying, literal and figurative journey of a homeless, nameless child called Brat. . . . Earthy humor, the foibles of humans both high and low, and a fascinating mix of superstition and genuinely helpful herbal remedies attached to childbirth make this a truly delightful introduction to a world seldom seen in children’s literature.”– School Library Journal, Starred


“This novel is about a strong, young woman in medieval Englandwho finds her own way home. . . . Kids will be caught up in this short, fast-paced narrative about a hero who discovers that she’s not ugly or stupid or alone.”Booklist, ALA, Starred Review


A fascinating view of a far distant time.’ — The Horn Book, starred review