Module 9: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Book Cover Image:

verity

 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015) http://www.ccpls.org.

Book Summary:

The friendship between Maddie and Julie begins when they meet as enlisted girls in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1939, at the beginning of Great Britain’s involvement in World War II.  It ends on a riverbank in occupied France in 1943. The story of the relationship that builds in between these times is revealed, scrap by scrap, by Julie, who writes on pieces of paper she earns by trading bits of British radio code with her Nazi captors.  Just before Julie – also known as Verity, Katharina, Eva, and Queenie — is captured, the plane she and Maddie are flying crashes in Nazi-occupied France.  Julie, under threat of torture and execution, gradually reveals British code and landing strip locations to the Gestapo, in exchange for her life and the ink and paper she holds dear.  Her rambling story of her friendship with Maddie, interspersed with almost casual descriptions of her suffering at the hands of the Nazis, builds the first half of the novel.  In the second half, the story is narrated by Maddie, who fills in details of how Julie came to be in France in the first place, tells of attempts to rescue her, and gives the reader the final, gut-wrenching conclusion.

 APA Reference of Book:

Wein, E. (2012). Code name Verity. New York: Hyperion.
 

Impressions:

In a good mystery novel, the ending shocks the reader, tears down all the inferences previously constructed, and yet concludes the story in a way that perfectly solves the puzzle.  This description perfectly captures my reaction at the end of Code Name Verity.  So many loose ends are suddenly, shockingly, tied up in Maddie’s portion of the novel, and the final conclusion, though terribly sad, is also profoundly satisfying.  Wein portrays the main characters, Maddie and Julie, precisely by not portraying them:  by instead letting the intrigue and mystery of the story carry the reader along just as it does Julie’s inquisitors.  Her masterful use of the technique of the unreliable narrator leaves the reader wondering what parts of Julie’s writings are truth, and what parts are fabrications; ironically, her code name, Verity, means truth.  Usually I can figure out a mystery novel halfway through, and then continue to read just to see if my conclusion is correct.  Not so in Code Name Verity:  I did not foresee the final ending until I read it, sobbing the entire time. Code Name Verity is more than a mystery novel: it is at once a mystery, a spy novel, and a brilliant example of historical fiction. This is a perspective of World War II not often seen in Young Adult novels; interestingly, the Nazi interrogators, though brutal, retain human qualities in Wein’s hands.  Ultimately, though, this is a story of love and friendship despite horrible circumstances, in the face of pure evil.  One friend sacrifices her life for the other; the other returns the favor by sacrificing her innocence.

Professional Review:

” If you pick up this book, it will be some time before you put your dog-eared, tear-stained copy back down. Wein succeeds on three fronts: historical verisimilitude, gut-wrenching mystery, and a first-person voice of such confidence and flair that the protagonist might become a classic character – if only we knew what to call her. Alternately dubbed Queenie, Eva, Katharina, Verity, or Julie depending on which double-agent operation she’s involved in, she pens her tale as a confession while strapped to a chair and recovering from the latest round of Gestapo torture. The Nazis want the codes that Julie memorized as a wireless operator before crash-landing in France, and she supplies them, but along the way also tells of her fierce friendship with Maddie, a British pilot whose quiet gumption was every bit as impressive as Julie’s brash fearlessness. Though delivered at knifepoint, Julie’s narrative is peppered with dark humor and minor acts of defiance, and the tension that builds up between both past and present story lines is practically unbearable. A surprise change of perspective hammers home the devastating final third of the book, which reveals that Julie was even more courageous than we believed. Both crushingly sad and hugely inspirational, this plausible, unsentimental novel will thoroughly move even the most cynical of readers.”

Review Source:
Kraus, D. (2012). Review: Code name verity. [A review of the book Code Name Verity by E. Wein] The Booklist, 108(17), 50.  Retrieved from www.proquest.com.

Library Uses:

Create a display about World War II, pairing fiction and nonfiction works.  Include Code Name Verity; The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepeyts; and The Boy who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti as examples of fiction.  Pair Code Name Verity with an autobiographical nonfiction book about a real female double agent, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley.

Module 8: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Book Cover Image:

finnikin

 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015) http://www.ccpls.org.

Book Summary:

Finnikin is a young man whose father was captain of the King’s Guard in their beloved homeland of Lumatere.  Following a coup by a neighboring lord, Lumatere is placed under a curse that isolates the country from the outside world. Finnikin, his father, and several others have been living in exile for a decade, waiting for a chance to save their country.  Hope comes in the form of a strange girl, Evanjalin, who claims that Finnikin’s friend and heir to the throne, Balthazar, is still alive. Evanjalin has a strange power: she can “walk the sleep” of others – in other words, share in their dreams.  She uses the information she discovers, as well as her own boldness, to push events to a climax so that Lumatere can finally be freed. In doing so, Evanjalin has to hide her own secrets, however — secrets that will affect Finnikin and the entire country if discovered.

 APA Reference of Book:

Marchetta, M. (2010). Finnikin of the rock. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
 

Impressions:

 Marchetta spins a tale of a land torn apart by war, betrayal, and slavery, and of characters who are attempting to heal and restore their people. The complex plot line flows smoothly as Marchetta’s intelligent writing style weaves disjointed characters and events into a unified novel. One common element of high fantasy missing from Marchetta’s work is the presence of monstrous creatures; instead, the evil forces in this novel have human faces. In that way, even though the setting and some of the characters’ abilities are fantastic, the themes are powerfully real, and pertinent to both historic and current events. Be aware that, because so many of the story events are based on real-world happenings, all types of human brutality occur in this story; it is one for more mature readers. This novel is the first of the Lumatere Chronicles; the sequels are Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn.

Professional Review:

“A kingdom stolen and ravaged, a dark curse, a blood oath, and fierce love drive this sweeping fantasy set in an imagined feudal land. Since Lumatere was taken over by brutal enemies who slaughtered the royal family, Finnikin has wandered for ten years with his mentor, the king’s First Man, training in combat and diplomacy to prepare for a new Lumatere. An impenetrable black mist shrouds the kingdom, preventing their return, so Finnikin and Sir Topher seek a new land for the suffering Lumateran exiles. Then a strange message brings them to a cliff-top temple and a young novice, Evanjalin, who propels them on a journey fraught with danger but resolutely toward home. Revealing bits of her prophetic visions (but withholding other parts), Evanjalin both fascinates and infuriates Finnikin – a sure sign of romance – and readers will guess that she is more than a simple novice. Finnikin is a dashing hero (handsome, intelligent, a brilliant swordsman, and “no stranger to women”), but the mysterious Evanjalin is the stronger leader; their fateful love is entwined with the fate of the kingdom. A fully realized medieval world of bloody battles and dark mysticism, the fantasy is a clear allegory for the real-world atrocities of war, addressing sickness, hunger, violence, even rape. Swagger and swordplay among the men and tender moments between the young lovers lighten their hardships and hint at a hopeful ending.”

Review Source:
Adams, L. (2010). Finnikin of the rock. [A review of the book Finnikin of the Rock by M. Marchetta] The Horn Book Magazine, 86(3), 86-87. Retrieved from http://proquest.com.

Library Uses:

A central theme of this novel is exile.  Introduce this novel to junior high and high school students by referring to current news stories that show exiles and refugees, then ask students to imagine not being able to live in their homeland.  After posing this situation, give a booktalk about Finnikin of the Rock that focuses on the struggles of the Lumaterans to find and restore their homeland.

Module 7: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Book Cover Image:

alaska

 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015) http://www.ccpls.org.

Book Summary:

In Looking for Alaska, we meet Miles Halter as he is about to embark on an adventure that will propel him, in his words, into “the Great Perhaps.”  Miles is a student of last words; he reads biographies only to find out what, at the moment of death, were the utterances of people from all walks of life.  And when he read the last words of Francois Rabelais – “I go to seek the Great Perhaps.” – Miles adopts this philosophy as a reason to leave behind his milque-toast life in Florida and attend Cutter Creek Academy, a boarding school in Alabama.

At Cutter Creek, Miles experiences both the academic challenge and the lack of parental supervision that boarding school offers.  For the first time in his life, he makes friends:  Takumi; Lara; his roommate, Chip – better known as the Colonel; and Alaska.  Alaska, a clever, funny, messed-up girl with a penchant for pranks and other illicit teen pleasures, also loves books.  Her entire dorm room is filled with them – what she calls her “Life Library.” As far as last words go, Alaska knows only those of one person, and she’s not even sure if they’re historically accurate: according to a famous novel about Simon Bolivar, the general’s dying expression was “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?”  Alaska takes this to mean the labyrinth of suffering that is a part of human life, and Alaska has had plenty of suffering in her own.

At Culver Creek, besides the regular academic subjects offered at most high schools, students also take a comparative religion class. This turns out to be Miles’ favorite, partly because it lets him think about the Great Perhaps. For their midterm paper, the aging professor requires the students to compose what they think is the most important question human beings have to answer, and then to consider how the three major world religions have answered that question. Miles centers his paper on what happens after life, the ultimate Great Perhaps.

When the time comes to assign the end-of-year paper, the religion professor has a new question for the students to answer.  The question was both the thesis of Alaska’s midterm paper; and probably Alaska’s last question:  “How will I ever get out of the labyrinth of suffering?”

For Alaska Young, the answer seems to have been “straight and fast.”  Her friends spend most of the second semester of school trying to determine whether Alaska’s end was intentional or accidental — a “suident or accicide.”  In the end, however, they determine that it doesn’t really matter.  What matters more is that they had a friend named Alaska, that she made some terrible mistakes, and that they forgive her – and one another.

 APA Reference of Book:

Green, J. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books.
 

Impressions:

It was with a somber heart that I read John Green’s Looking for Alaska (2005).  From the beginning of the novel, the ominous chapter titles –  titles such as “one hundred thirty-six days before,” and “nine days after” —  imply that tragedy will strike at some point.  Unfortunately, the book’s tragedy is all-too-common in my community, and in our nation.

Green’s novel explores the tragedy of adolescent suicide from the viewpoint of those friends who, left behind, wonder how they failed to read the signs.  Some even wonder if Alaska’s death was really a suicide, as she always seemed so vivacious, despite the awful pain she’d endured.   In my experiences, helping three of my teenage daughters through the suicides of three different friends, the emotions that Green’s characters experience are exactly what my daughters have felt:  a sense of failing their friend; confusion; shock; a feeling of “but he always seemed so happy.” Miles and his friends express all of these emotions, and more, after Alaska dies. Green captures quite accurately what the teens who are left behind go through.

He also captures Alaska – both the crazy, reckless nature of a girl who is trying to mask her pain from herself and others, and the deep, introspective brooding of a troubled soul with no firm grasp to pull her out of “the labyrinth.”  Green draws Alaska with such realism that the reader connects with her, cares for her, and mourns her when she dies.

As Miles writes his final paper, he thinks of Alaska:  “. . . if Alaska took her own life, that is the hope I wish I could have given her. Forgetting her mother, failing her mother and her friends and herself — those are awful things, but she did not need to fold into herself and self-destruct. Those awful things are survivable, because we are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be.  . . . We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken.” At least for Miles, the labyrinth comes to represent not only the condition of human suffering, but also the conditions of friendship, adventure, and love.

In the end, it seems, there are no right answers for the question of how to escape from suffering.  There is instead just a choice to go on living. The Colonel sums it up best when he says, “After all this time, it still seems to be that ‘straight and fast’ is the only way out — but I choose the labyrinth.  The labyrinth blows, but I still choose it.”

As a mom, an educator, and a librarian, I wish we could tell all the  Alaskas in our world that we just want them to choose the labyrinth.

Professional Review:

” Sixteen-year-old Miles Halter’s adolescence has been one long nonevent -no challenge, no girls, no mischief, and no real friends. Seeking what Rabelais called the ‘Great Perhaps,’ he leaves Florida for a boarding school in Birmingham, AL. His roommate, Chip, is a dirt-poor genius scholarship student with a Napoleon complex who lives to one-up the school’s rich preppies. Chip’s best friend is Alaska Young, with whom Miles and every other male in her orbit falls instantly in love. She is literate, articulate, and beautiful, and she exhibits a reckless combination of adventurous and self-destructive behavior. She and Chip teach Miles to drink, smoke, and plot elaborate pranks. Alaska’s story unfolds in all-night bull sessions, and the depth of her unhappiness becomes obvious. Green’s dialogue is crisp, especially between Miles and Chip. His descriptions and Miles’s inner monologues can be philosophically dense, but are well within the comprehension of sensitive teen readers. The chapters of the novel are headed by a number of days “before” and “after” what readers surmise is Alaska’s suicide. These placeholders sustain the mood of possibility and foreboding, and the story moves methodically to its ambiguous climax. The language and sexual situations are aptly and realistically drawn, but sophisticated in nature. Miles’s narration is alive with sweet, self-deprecating humor, and his obvious struggle to tell the story truthfully adds to his believability. Like Phineas in John Knowles’s “A Separate Peace”(S & S, 1960), Green draws Alaska so lovingly, in self-loathing darkness as well as energetic light, that readers mourn her loss along with her friends.”

Review Source:
Lewis, J. (2005, February 1) Review: Looking for Alaska. [A review of the book Looking for Alaska by J. Green] School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://bookverdict.com.

Library Uses:

Create a book display for National Suicide Prevention/Awareness Month in September; feature Looking for Alaska, along with other titles about teen suicide and the survivors.  Some possibilities include Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher; Impulse by Ellen Hopkins; Where She Went by Gayle Forman; and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Module 6: Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg

Book Cover Image:

cowpoke clyde

 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015) http://www.ccpls.org.

Book Summary:

Cowpoke Clyde has finished cleaning his house and is ready to enjoy a bowl of hot soup, when he notices that Dawg, his faithful companion, needs a bath.  Clyde gathers the necessary supplies, alerting Dawg to his plan, and sending him scurrying out of the house into the ranch yard.  On each double-page spread,  Clyde tries to catch Dawg, but only succeeds in soaking the cats, the hog, the mule, and himself.  Finally, Clyde gives up and decides he’ll just take a relaxing soak under the moon.  As Clyde quits chasing and starts crooning, Dawg can’t resist jumping in the bath with his owner — causing Clyde to realize he doesn’t have to fight with Dawg to get him clean.

 APA Reference of Book:

Mortensen, L., & Austin, M. (2013). Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. Boston, MA: Clarion Books.
 

Impressions:

 I thought Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg was an excellent book. It featured interesting illustrations and a fun rhyme.  Each double-page illustration gives a small preview of what’s to come on the next page, helping children with prediction skills.  The illustrations also lead off the right-hand side of the page – encouraging the page-turn to continue the story.  The rhyme of the text is a second way that prediction skills are strengthened, as each rhyme concludes with the next page’s main word; it’s easy to imagine reading this with a child, and having them yell out the word to finish the rhyme – engagement!  Finally, the ending of the story demonstrates a change in both Cowpoke Clyde, who gives up forcing his dog into the bath, and Dirty Dawg, who decides bathing with his master isn’t so bad, after all.

Professional Review:

“At the end of a satisfying day, Cowpoke Clyde decides that the only thing he’d forgotten to clean was his “ol’ Dawg, his faithful, snorin’ friend,/all caked with mud from end to end.” However, corralling Dawg is definitely not a snap, and Clyde’s continued efforts result in a cumulative disaster of frantic chickens, flying feathers, spilled soup, biting fleas, a slippery hog, hissing cats, and a braying mule, all “gettin’ soaked” instead of Dawg. Even the hog gets a wide-eyed close-up here. Finely crafted acrylic scenes contain a wide range of angled perspectives and shadows within Clyde’s tiny shack and outside on the ranch. Cartoon figures cavort across the spreads and escape their frames. Rhyming couplets reveal a cowboy twang of missing final “g’s.” A first purchase for most libraries”

Review Source:
 Elam, M. (2013, April) Cowpoke Clyde and dirty Dawg. [A review of the book Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg by L. Mortensen] School Library Journal, 59(4), 138.

Library Uses:

Read aloud with kindergarten students, allowing them to complete each couplet with the rhyming word.  Tell them that, most of the time, a clue to the correct word can be found by carefully studying the picture on the preceding page.