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.

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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.

Module 9: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Book Cover Image:

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 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.