Module 14: Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Stories by Jane Yolen

Book Cover Image:

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

Book Summary:

This collection of twelve stories delves into fantasy in its many forms: fable, fairy tale, horror and literary variation.  Yolen uses both legend and literature as the basis for her stories, and creates fantastical variations on well-known tales.  One story revisits Wonderland, where Alice learns, in facing the omnipresent Jabberwock, that her courage lies in her ability to laugh at danger.  Another explores vampiric lore, detailing the horror of a young boy whose dead mother has returned to prey on his village. “The Bridge’s Complaint” tells the story of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” from the bridge’s perspective, turning the traditional story upside down.  Each of the twelve stories contains elements of familiar stories, although the reader sometimes does not realize the connection until the very end: in “Wilding,” a story of teenagers who turn into wild animals upon entering Central Park, the main character is rescued from a predator by a Max,  one of those in charge of the wild things.  After her incident, she leaves behind her wilding ways and decides to ask her mother if there is still something warm for dinner.

 APA Reference of Book:

Yolen, J. (1997).  Twelve impossible things before breakfast: Stories. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.

Impressions:

This book surprised me.  I don’t usually like short stories, and so did not anticipate enjoying this collection. However, the way Yolen uses traditional stories and well-loved literature as the basis for her stories made each story a small treasure.  Her use of the short story form is, as well, delightful:  each story moves slowly enough to develop a setting and background, as well as to build suspense; yet it also moves quickly enough to build to a climax and come to a final resolution.  Character development is minimal, but her use, in many cases, of already-familiar characters helps augment the in-story characterization.  I enjoyed each of the twelve stories, but my favorites were “The Bridge’s Complaint,” an alternate version of the traditional “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and “Wilding,” an imaginative elaboration of “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.

Professional Review:

” Although 9 of the 12 fantasy stories in this collection have been published before, it is truly nice, as Yolen herself says, to have them together “under one roof.” Yolen consistently writes fresh, off-the-wall stories that even children who don’t normally read fantasy will enjoy. Some of the tales have elements of horror: “Mama Gone” concerns a boy whose deceased mother is a vampire; “The Baby-Sitter” is about a girl who must follow a ritualistic pattern of movements to placate the mysterious “them” who lurk behind closed doors. Some are sweetly tragic, such as “Bolundeers,” in which a father saves his son from monsters. Others are twists on old stories: in “Lost Girls,” a Peter Pan takeoff, a new Wendy raises the consciousness of other lost girls and foments rebellion in Neverland. Yolen’s introduction and her final comments on the origins of each story add to the fun and provide wonderful insights into the writing process. “

Review Source:
Sherman, C. (1997, November 1). Twelve impossible things before breakfast: Stories by Jane Yolen. [A review of Twelve impossible things before breakfast: Stories by J. Yolen.]  Booklist, 94(5), 463. Retrieved from Gale Literature Resource Center.

Library Uses:

School Library Journal online recently published a blog post about the importance of reading aloud to teens.  Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Stories is a perfect choice for a read-aloud, perhaps in a scenario in which the school librarian “drops in” to a classroom and reads for five or ten minutes.  Each of these stories is short enough to read aloud in that time, yet gives the listeners the satisfaction of a complete story experience.  Additionally, most teens will connect the short stories with their more-familiar traditional versions.

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Module 13: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Book Cover Image:

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

Book Summary:

Callie’s life is filled with middle school drama of all sorts.  She thinks she really likes Greg, but Greg is pining over Bonnie, who seems to want nothing to do with him.  When Greg and Callie kiss, she thinks life can’t get better; when he ignores her the next day, she thinks life can’t get worse. Drama! Thankfully, she has her best friend, Liz, and her love of theater to distract her from the rejection. This year, the school is producing Moon over Mississippi, a musical; Callie knows she won’t try out for acting parts, but she is dying to try her hand at set production.  Callie has a close group of friends in the theater, and makes new friends when twin brothers become involved.  Through the drama of romantic ups and downs, set failures, a disastrous eighth grade formal, and even a bothersome little brother, Callie knows the “show must go on.”

 APA Reference of Book:

Telgemeier, R. (2012). Drama. New York: Scholastic/Graphix.
 

Impressions:

I didn’t think I would enjoy Drama, as I don’t read many graphic novels.  However, I quickly became engrossed in the story and the visual images:  reading this novel made me remember how I loved comic books when I was younger.  Telgemeier tells the entire story, of course, in dialogue between characters, supplementing their conversations with pictures that reveal facial expressions, postures, and mannerisms that help the reader understand each character. She handles sensitive material about sexual orientation matter-of-factly, making that part of the story, but not the focus of the story. In the end, she’s created a likeable middle school female character, one whose passion for her hobby and strong friendships helps her develop a self esteem that isn’t dependent on romantic relationships.

Professional Review:

“Like Telgemeier’s previous graphic novel, Smile (a 2010 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book), this new one will appeal to a wide range of readers. Seventh-grader Callie Marin loves musical theater, and though she isn’t much of a singer (which she good-naturedly proves to all in a hilarious scene), she expresses and fulfills her passion by working as a set designer for the school drama club. Her second year on stage crew turns out to be fraught with drama, on and off the set. Not only is the musical a love story, but in real life Callie has a crush on eighth-grader Greg, whose younger brother (and fellow stage-crew member) has a secret crush on Callie. Greg, however, is dating Bonnie, who dumps him for her costar in the play, West, who eventually dumps her for the boy whom Callie has just begun to like. Then Greg asks Callie out. Phew! But Telgemeier handles it all with aplomb and, despite the romantic drama, nothing happens beyond a few innocent kisses. She gets her middle-school characters just right–from kids who, like Justin, are gay and know it (“Gay? You can say it! I don’t mind”) to those who, like Callie, wouldn’t recognize a gay guy if he clasped his hands and squee-ed over musical auditions, as Justin does when they first meet. As in Smile, Telgemeier’s graphic artist skills make this novel a pleasure to read and re-read; of special note is her thoughtful use of the page turn–for surprise, for a pause, for emotional effect. “

Review Source:
Brabander, J. M. (2012, September-October). Drama.  [A review of the book Drama by R. Telgemeier.]The Horn Book Magazine, 88(5), 108+.  Retrieved from Literature Resource Center.

Library Uses:

This graphic novel can be part of several book displays:  displays about cartooning and graphic art;  displays featuring LGBTQ young adult literature; or  displays about theater production.

Module 12: Nevermore: A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe by Karen E. Lange

Book Cover Image:

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

Book Summary:

Lange explores the troubled, often misunderstood personality of one of the most-remembered figures of American literature.  Beginning with the untimely demise of Poe’s mother when he was very young, she traces a line of loss and morbidity through his life.  Although Poe had friends, family and even a wife to bring him some measure of  joy, Lange portrays a dark, sober individual who thought often of death.  She also focuses on Poe’s contributions to the canon of American literature, referring to both his famous explorations of the horrors of the human psyche, such as The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher; as well as to his lesser-known contributions, such as the detective  character Dupin.   As an artist, the Poe Lange describes suffered for both his genius and his criticism of other artists’ work; indeed, Poe made very little money from any of his publications.   Although his losses, both personal and financial, weighed heavily on him, Poe seemed to have eternal hope for a better life: at the time of his untimely, and misunderstood, death, he was preparing to remarry and to publish his own magazine.  In the end, Lange observes, despite great losses and a tarnished reputation, Poe’s legacy continues; he is, she states, “A writer who, 200 years after his death, still speaks to middle and high schoolers.” (2009, p. 58)

 APA Reference of Book:

Lange, Karen E.  (2009). Nevermore: a photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. Washington, D. C.: National Geographic Society.
 

Impressions:

For nearly ten years, I worked as a high school English teacher; the junior American literature class was usually part of my assignment.  Yet, for all I thought I knew about Edgar Allan Poe, Lange’s photobiography revealed facts that were unfamiliar to me.  In particular, I appreciated the description of the early losses of his life, and her speculation about how that may have colored his personality, and indeed his writing, far beyond childhood.  However, Lange’s biography, though dark, is not hopeless.  The Poe she portrays devoted his life to the pursuit of excellence in his craft, and to the pursuit of happiness in his personal life.  He was not the depressed, manic, nearly insane character as which he is often described.  The addition of photographs, both of Poe’s family and home, and of modern-day trinkets modeled on the Poe character, lend an element of authenticity to the biography, and provide information beyond that revealed in the text.  In addition, further reference material at the back of the book encourage deeper exploration. This is an excellent, balanced, and informative biography that reveals another side of the Poe legend.

Professional Review:

” This very readable biography introduces Edgar Allan Poe. Effectively orphaned before the age of two by his father’s abandonment and his mother’s death, Poe was taken in by a foster family and educated well. As an adult, he lived in poverty and struggled with alcoholism and emotional instability, but wrote well-crafted, original stories and poems that profoundly affected those who followed him, particularly mystery and horror writers. Illustrated with many period photographs as well as pictures of Poe-related places and artifacts, the book has varied, spacious page layouts in which shades of turquoise add color to some of the illustrations and backgrounds. The jacket art, which features a photo of Poe’s face, overlaid with lines of manuscript, peering outward with haunted eyes, will draw both fans of Poe and a new audience. A chronology and lists of quote sources, books, articles, Internet sites, and historical sites conclude this handsome introduction to an American original.”

Review Source:
 Phelan, Carolyn. (2009). Review: Nevermore: A photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. [A review of the book Nevermore: A photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe by K. Lange ] The Booklist 105(15), 35. Retrieved from Literature Resource Center.

Library Uses:

During the school year, around the time of Halloween, prepare a spooky story program for middle school students.  Darken the library; play spooky music; and read or storytell one of Poe’s short stories, along with other spooky tales.  After the program,  visit the classroom to booktalk  collections of Poe’s works, as well as nonfiction books about Poe.  Include this nonfiction book in the booktalks, and show some of the pictures  to the students.

Module 11: Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

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Book Cover Image:

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

Book Summary:

Sheinkin’s nonfiction account explores the discoveries, explorations, betrayals and experiments leading up to – and beyond – the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of World War II.  He begins at the end — with the investigation of the spying activities of Harry Gold, a United States chemist who spied for the Soviet Union throughout World War II.  Sheinkin then flashes back to the beginning of the story, presenting biographical information about Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who would eventually head up the U. S. team that developed the atomic bomb.  From there, Sheinkin skillfully leads readers through the scientific and political developments that led to the bombing; through multiple espionage campaigns involving the FBI, the KGB, and the OES; through the research and testing of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico; and through the final devastation of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  At each new development of the story, a photo gallery introduces the key players in that part of the action.  Sheinkin ends his thorough exploration by addressing the aftermath of the atomic bomb, the development of nuclear weapons, and the resulting arms race.

 APA Reference of Book:

Sheinkin, S., & Colvin, J. (2012). Bomb: The race to build–and steal–the world’s most dangerous weapon. New York: Roaring Brook Press., & R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company.
 

Impressions:

I have been delaying reading this book for several years, mostly because the book cover seemed uninteresting.  Although I understand the historical accuracy of the cover — a background of a mushroom cloud, with a representation of The Enola Gay in front — the color and images do not draw the reader in.   The cover, however,  belies what lies within the book.  From the beginning, Sheinkin creates an atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and urgency, all while remaining historically accurate.  His explanations of the physics of atomic energy make the concept understandable for the target audience; his descriptions of the competing teams of scientists make real the concept that World War II was fought on many fronts.  Most interesting are the multiple stories of espionage.  His skillful placement of these spy stories in the midst of the most detailed scientific developments demonstrates his understanding of his audience:  at the point when the prose threatens to become too intellectual, the action of espionage draws the reader back in.  Despite the less-than-dramatic cover, this story engages the reader from the beginning.   Not only did I thoroughly enjoy Sheinkin’s book, I learned much about the atomic arms race, as well.

Professional Review:

” While comprehensive in his synthesis of the political, historical, and scientific aspects of the creation of the first nuclear weapon, Sheinkin focuses his account with an extremely alluring angle: the spies. The book opens in 1950 with the confession of Harry Gold – but to what? And thus we flash back to Robert Oppenheimer in the dark 1930s, as he and readers are handed another question by the author: “But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” Oppenheimer’s realization that an atomic bomb could be created to use against Nazi Germany is coupled with the knowledge that the Germans must be working from the same premise, and the Soviets are close behind. We periodically return to Gold’s ever-deepening betrayals as well as other acts of espionage, most excitingly the two stealth attacks on occupied Norway’s Vemork power plant, where the Germans were manufacturing heavy water to use in their own nuclear program. As he did in the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner The Notorious Benedict Arnold, Sheinkin here maintains the pace of a thriller without betraying history (source notes and an annotated bibliography are exemplary) or skipping over the science; photo galleries introducing each section help readers organize the events and players. Writing with journalistic immediacy, the author eschews editorializing up through the chilling last lines: “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.”

Review Source:
Sutton, R. (2012). Bomb: The race to build-and steal-the world’s most dangerous weapon. [A review of Bomb: The race to build – and steal – the world’s most dangerous weapon by S. Sheinkin.] The Horn Book Magazine, 88(6), 127-128.  Retrieved from www.proquest.com.

Library Uses:

 Because of the less-than-interesting cover, this book would be a good candidate for a “Blind Date with a Book” display.  Cover the book, along with others, in colored paper; if desired color-code the books to depict their genre.  Then,  label the books with interesting words that draw the reader in:  for Bomb, use labels such as “Spies!”  “Bombs!” “Undercover Agents!”  Display along with several multi-colored books.

Module 10: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Book Cover Image:

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

Book Summary:

Mattie Gokey lives in upstate New York at the end of the 19th century, and does the best to fulfill the role of her deceased mother to her younger siblings.  Her father, distant and aloof since her mother’s death, does not understand Mattie’s desire for an education, and particularly does not understand her love of writing.  For Mattie, however, writing is the one part of her life that brings her freedom and exhilaration.   Her teacher encourages her to apply for a college scholarship, but even though she fills out the paperwork, Mattie can’t see herself actually leaving home and her family responsibilities to pursue a college education.  Compounding this feeling is the fact that she has a suitor, Royal, who seems to yearn for Mattie’s family’s land as much as for Mattie herself.  It seems to Mattie that a life of marriage and family has already been decided for her.

When her family’s financial situation goes from bad to worse,  Mattie convinces her father to allow her to take a summer job at a nearby lake resort.  There,  a young woman named Grace Brown makes an odd request of Mattie:  she hands her a bundle of letters and asks Mattie to burn them; a day later, Grace Brown’s dead body is brought back into the hotel.  She had gone boating with her companion — Mattie is unsure if his name is “Carl” or “Chester” — and it appears that both drowned.  Mattie can’t burn the letters; compelled to discover the story within them, she stays up late reading.  Within Grace’s letters, and Carl/Chester’s replies, Mattie learns the truth about a murder case.  Although Grace is now dead, her letters help Mattie to step out into a life of her own design.

 APA Reference of Book:

Donnelly, J. (2003). A northern light: a novel. New York: Harcourt.
 

Impressions:

The powerful story of how societal norms and expectations destroy one young woman’s life, and threaten to destroy another’s, captured me from the beginning of Donnelly’s novel.  In particular, the innocent, unsuspecting voice of Grace, revealed  through the letters Mattie reads, is unforgettable.  Donnelly’s style masterfully weaves together Mattie’s story, Grace’s letters, and the subplots about family and friends in the North Woods.

However, when I read the author’s notes at the end of the novel, and there discovered the truth of the Chester Gillette murder trial, and of how Donnelly came to learn of the story, my appreciation for this well-written, historically accurate novel grew.  The letters from Grace are not fictional, but based on actual letters that were presented as evidence during the trial.  Adding to the authenticity of the story is the thorough bibliography upon which Donnelly based the facts of the novel.  Donnelly notes that, “My grandmother, who worked as a waitress in a Big Moose camp in the twenties, says Grace Brown still haunts the lake.  Her letters will always haunt me.” (p. 383)  I would add that this novel, one of the most well-crafted I’ve read, will haunt me, as well.

Professional Review:

“Jennifer Donnelly’s first book for adolescents is a love story, historical novel, murder mystery, and coming-of-age tale all rolled into one engaging work of literature. The novel is based, in part, upon the sensationalistic true story of the murder of Grace Brown, whose body was discovered in the waters of Big Moose Lake, on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains of New York state. Donnelly uses this event to spark and shape an intricate story that is large in scope and powerful in design.

The year is 1906, and 16-year-old Mattie feels trapped. Her mother has died, her elder brother has fled, her father is emotionally distant, and she is now responsible for domestic chores on the family farm, including taking care of her younger sisters. These responsibilities interfere with Mattie’s desire to write. Her liberal-minded teacher, Miss Wilcox, encourages her to apply to Barnard College. Mattie fears, however, that even if she is admitted on scholarship, she will not have the money to go and, more important, will not have the courage to leave her father and sisters when she thinks they need her most.

Mattie’s dilemma is further complicated by Royal Loomis’s romantic interest in her. Mattie admires Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte, all of whom refused to give up their writing. . . . Despite this realization, Mattie feels safe and secure when she finds herself in Royal’s arms.

When money gets tight, Mattie convinces her father to allow her to spend the summer working at Glenmore, a resort a few miles up the road from her rural community in the Adirondacks. There, Mattie and her coworkers learn of the death of one of the patrons, a young woman who drowned while boating with her male companion, Carl. Just prior to her death, the woman, Grace, gives Mattie a bundle of letters and begs her to dispose of them. Overtaken by curiosity, Mattie reads the letters and learns the truth behind Grace’s relationship with Carl. This truth drives her to make a difficult decision regarding her own future.”

Review Source:
Glenn, W. J. (2003). A northern light. [A review of A Northern Light by J. Donnelly.]  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(3), 265-265,268.  Retrieved from www.proquest.com

Library Uses:

The Chester Gillette murder trial, the historical event upon which A Northern Light is based, was also the inspiration for Theodore Dreiser’s play, An American Tragedy.  In a high school library setting, create a rotating display of novels, plays, and nonfiction books that correspond to the time period being studied in history classes.  When the early twentieth century is the focus of study, make arrangements with the history teacher to booktalk this novel; if one of the literature classes is reading An American Tragedy, booktalk the novel there, as well.