Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
(first published in 1998)
This is not a new book, but since it still appears on school summer reading lists, I thought I'd try it.
The Shakespeare Stealer is a historical fiction adventure, featuring Widge, a poor orphan boy, recently apprenticed to first one, and then another unsavory master. As a "prentice," Widge is unfamiliar with the concepts of freedom, choice, honesty, and friendship. For Widge, life is merely a series of events over which he has no control; he survives them, or he does not.
When Widge's new master gives him the task of stealing William Shakespeare's latest play, The Tragedy of Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, he thinks of it as nothing more than another of life's turns. He will steal the play or be severely beaten. Only after Widge ingratiates himself with the Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare's acting company, does he realizes that, while life may be a grand stage upon which we are all actors, we have the ability to play our part as we choose.
The historical details are threaded into the story creating a rich tapestry which includes period dialogue, anecdotes about Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and an insider's view of theater life in Elizabethan London. The message of honesty, loyalty and friendship may be a bit heavy-handed, but the story line is full of intrigue and adventure; the action is fast-paced and exciting. My library has this book in the young adult (YA) section, but it would make a fine choice for grade 6 and up.
An ALA Notable Children's Book Award winner
There are two more books in this series: Shakespeare's Scribe and Shakespeare's Spy
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
I am a big fan of the original Green Wilma, so I was predisposed to like this one, and I did.
It's a silly bit of fluff - a frog that is accidentally whisked into outer space in a case of mistaken identity; but it's funny and cheery.
The rhymes flow effortlessly in the same cadence as the original Green Wilma story,
Suddenly the spaceship plucked her up into the air.
It pulled her in, and then it rose and flew away from there.
The artwork, bright colored pencils and watercolors, takes center stage, and Green Wilma herself, is irresistibly cheerful and expressive. I love it when an author illustrates his own work - it really shows in the connection between the written word and illustrated actions! Once again, Green Wilma is great fun!
Monday, July 20, 2009
Although populated by real and invented characters, The Brooklyn Nine has only one main character - baseball. Beginning with the earliest games of baseball, as played by the fictional German immigrant, Felix Schneider in 1845, through the war years, the modern era, and ending in 2002, baseball is the seam that holds this Novel in Nine Innings together.
Part Roots, part Forest Gump, each chapter in Gratz's novel follows the game of baseball through subsequent generations of Felix Schneider's young descendants. Each generation has its own chapter or "inning."
Along the way, baseball adapts to whatever history throws over the plate - the Civil War, the Vaudeville era, the Roaring Twenties, the Negro Leagues, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Sputnik, and the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Some pieces of baseball memorabilia pass through the generations or "innings", their significance fading over time.
The fictional characters in each chapter are, for the most part, wily and entertaining young baseball fans and players. "The Fourth Inning: The Way Things are Now, Coney Island 1908" features Walter Schneider, a batboy and feisty opponent of racism and anti-semitism, particularly when it's directed at him! "The Fifth Inning: The Numbers Game, Brooklyn, New York, 1926," features Frankie Snider, a quit-witted young girl, with a passion for the Brooklyn Robins and a soft spot for gamblers.
A few "innings" have a rather tenuous attachment to baseball, especially "The Seventh Inning: Duck and Cover, Brooklyn, New York, 1957," but overall, the book flows seamlessly. The Authors Notes for each inning, offer historical notes about events and real people featured in the book.
Because the main character of the Brooklyn Nine is our national pastime, character and plot development are experienced by the sport of baseball, rather than the individual "players" in the book. For this reason, it would make an excellent choice for some school assignments, but a poor choice for others.
The Brooklyn Nine is a fun and informative read, especially for fans of baseball or historical fiction. A winner.
The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings was chosen as a Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth 2009 book.
Note: And now that I've duly tried to review this book, I will quote one of my favorite passages from the story, taken from an exchange between Frankie Snider and the real-life, John Kiernan, sportswriter for the New York Times in the 1920s.
"Then why don't you write about what really happens?"
Kiernan searched the high blue sky for an explanation. "It's like -
it's like reading a book to review it. Somehow having to break a book down into
its parts to critique it sucks all the joy out for me. I greatly prefer to
write my story in advance, and then sit back and enjoy the sum total of the
afternoon. Besides, the truth is subjective."
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Scat is the latest of Carl Hiaasen's single-syllabled, adventure mysteries - following the very successful Hoot and Flush. As in his previous books, Florida's wildlife and wild places take center stage in this environmental mystery featuring the endangered Florida panther. The mystery begins when the stern Mrs. Starch takes her Biology class on a field trip to the Black Vine Swamp. One student, nicknamed "Smoke," had a run-in with Mrs. Starch a day earlier and fails to show up for the trip. A fire in the swamp forces the students to return immediately to school, but Mrs. Starch, who had driven her own car, never arrives back at the Truman School.
Teenagers, Nick and Marta, begin to unravel the tangled mystery, beginning with a video Nick filmed in the swamp.
Kidnapping? Arson? Theft? Environmental crime?
What exactly is going on in the Black Vine Swamp?
More than just an environmental mystery, Scat touches on the concept of crime (can it ever be justified?) and the Iraq War (Nick's father is stationed in Iraq). The mystery unfolds asynchronously and from varying perspectives, adding intrigue but making it a more difficult book for reluctant readers.
My library has this book classified as young adult (YA) fiction, but it's certainly appropriate for 5th grade and up.
I listened to the audio version. After my initial surprise at hearing the gruff, old voice of Ed Asner, I easily settled in to the story and his depiction of the characters. His voice is particularly effective in creating the voices of grizzled old Floridians, oil men, and law enforcement officers.
Better than my own recommendation, my teen-aged daughter enjoyed Scat and my "reluctant-reader" son read it for hours yesterday!
Monday, July 6, 2009
McBay, Bruce. 2008. Angels Inc. Vancouver: Tradewind.
Angels Inc. is the club started by good friends, Wendy and Zach. Although their purpose is to be helpful, more often than not, their good deeds turn out disastrously. All is forgiven, however, when they help catch a pair of scam artists.
This is an easy reader, written for a Canadian audience. Young U.S. readers may find the occasional European spelling (neighbourhood, for example) confusing, and the use of the word, "sucker" puzzling,
"Got the little sucker!"
Sucker just isn't a word that one would usually find in a U.S. easy reader.
The plot of the story has great promise, but the delivery is a bit lacking. Some of the dialogue is not believable,
"At least your dad let you bring his new Supermow."
"He didn't know the Creech place is so overgrown. I just hope the digitally balanced rotors won't get damaged,"
and the concept of scam artists posing as donation-seeking members of the Helping Hand Foundation , in order to gain access to valuable antiques stored in garages, etc., is likely too complex for the book's target audience.
Still, the book has its funny moments, and the simple black-and-white drawings by Kim LaFave show great expression and add interest. The cover, also by Kim La Fave is very attractive and in full color.