Thursday, July 27, 2017
Author: Laurel Snyder
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 269 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Started: July 23, 2017
Finished: July 26, 2017
From the inside cover:
"Nine on an island, orphans all,
Any more, the sky might fall."
On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleeping their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them - and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.
Today's Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny's best friend, Seen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now: to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they've always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back - and take her away forever from the only home she's known?
Acclaimed author Laurel Snyder returns with a powerful, original, unforgettable story of growing up - the things we fight to hold on to, and the things we struggle to let go.
This book has received a fair bit of hype both from authors and readers, and I can confirm it is definitely deserved.
The novel opens with a bell ringing in the distance; all the children running to meet the boat and its new occupant. Deen, the current Elder, takes his leave, while Jinny takes his place by caring for Ess and teaching her all she needs to know about living on the island. As the year passes, Jinny tries (while not always succeeding) to be a good Elder, both in teaching Ess and being a good example for Ben, who will replace her. She questions their existence on the island, wondering whether the oldest children actually need to leave to ensure that balance is maintained. These questions become more prominent in her mind when she discovers a letter written by Abigail, one of the first inhabitants of the island.
This book has a clear story but is so wonderfully open-ended, it leaves room for a reader's individual interpretation, this is something perfect for book clubs and classroom discussions. For example, we never find out exactly how or why the children are on the island, we don't even know what time period or alternate universe we're looking at. We know it's at least somewhat modern since the kids reference reading The Giving Tree and Harry Potter. We can assume, based on Abigail's letter, that the first child inhabitants of the island were sent away willingly by their parents, but it's hard to tell if we're dealing with some dystopian environment where the kids are sent away for protection or training purposes. Even the ending is ambiguous, which I like in children's books since it makes readers exercise their imaginations to end the story to their liking.
The themes in this novel are relatively open-ended as well. The main one explored is the transition from childhood to (young) adulthood, evidenced by Jinny's struggles on the island, but you can also identify themes of human development and parenting since the older children on the island disagree with each other on the proper ways to raise the Cares. There's even some nice Biblical imagery and symbolism thrown in, and fellow bibliophiles will even notice nods to The Lord of the Flies and Peter Pan (very superficial ones in regards to the former, since the kids coexist rather peacefully and don't murder each other).
A novel that appears simple at first glance but is actually very layered and quite literary; this is something children will be able to read and enjoy but only the more sophisticated and mature will be able to really appreciate.
Thoughts on the cover:
Lush and colourful, and I like how your eye is drawn to the boat with Ess inside, it echoes how the return of the boat is this thing hanging over everyone's heads each year.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Author: Irene N. Watts and Kathryn E. Shoemaker
Publisher: Tradewind Books, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 134 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction
Started: July 15, 2017
Finished: July 15, 2017
From the back cover:
Eleven-year-old Marianne is fortunate. She is one of the first two hundred Jewish children in the heroic rescue operation known as the Kindertransport, which arrived in London, England in December 1938.
Life in the new country seems strange. Marianne's few words of English and her attempts to become an ordinary English girl are not enough to please her foster mother, who wanted a girl as a domestic servant. She deeply misses her family that she had to leave behind.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Marianne finds herself being evacuated to Wales. She is shuffled from one unsuitable home to another - but there is a surprise in store, and Marianne's courage and resilience is finally rewarded.
The Kindertransport, which ultimately saved almost 10,000 children from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia in the nine months preceding World War II, was a triumphant human effort. Marianne's story is based on the kind of events that were actually experienced by the children. Author Irene N. Watts was one of them, arriving on the second Kindertransport in December 1938 at the age of seven.
This graphic novel focuses on one of many experiences from the Kindertransport from Germany, and later of the child evacuations from Britain. Marianne Kohn is offered a spot on the Kindertransport and arrives in London at the end of 1938. She is placed with a family who only agreed to take in a refugee for the domestic help and to look good to their circle of friends, so needless to say they're not exactly concerned for Marianne's well-being, and even accuse her of embarrassing the family when her Jewish identity is brought up. The same experiences plague her when she is evacuated from London to Wales less than a year later when Germany declares war. Though this story has a relatively happy ending, I know historically that this wouldn't have likely been the case. The thing that stands out for this particular story is that it can be adapted in relation to modern day Syrian refugee experiences, except in this case one could argue that the shared experiences between historical Jewish refugees and modern day Syrian refugees (racism, hostility, culture shock, language acquisition, etc.) are faced by the whole family rather than just the children as shown in the story here.
The art style is where this book loses marks for me. The heavy pencil sketches and shading, while adding to the atmosphere and mood, don't really allow for appreciation of detail, and in some cases even makes it difficult to differentiate between characters when there are multiple people in a panel.
A good choice of graphic novel to add to your historical fiction section, with lots of modern day applications if you choose to use it in a classroom setting.
Thoughts on the cover:
The dark pencil sketch of Marianne against the bright red background makes is nicely eye-catching.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 517 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Adult; Fantasy
Started: June 29, 2017
Finished: July 9, 2017
From the inside cover:
Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who's ever been chosen. That's what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he's probably right.
Half the time, Simon can't even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor's avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there's a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon's face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here - it's their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon's infuriating nemesis didn't even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you'd expect from a Rainbow Rowell story - but far, far more monsters.
If you've read this author's novels, particularly Fangirl, you will immediately recognize the characters from Carry On. This is the Harry Potter-esque story and universe mentioned in Fangirl that the main character writes fanfiction about; Carry On is the author's take on her own invented universe mentioned in another work, a story within a story (let your brain tackle that for a second). You don't need to have read Fangirl first to understand what's going on in this novel, I only mention it because I do think one needs details and background to understand the context in which a book was written.
Carry On follows protagonist
First off, yes this is a thinly-veiled Harry Potter-esque story, and some people won't be able to get past that. The novel relies on the reader knowing details of the Harry Potter novels, however, in order to do what it does best: take fantasy tropes and turn them on its head. Though Simon is the Chosen One and is a magical powerhouse, he can't properly control his magic at all. Rather than being revered, he's actually pretty isolated outside of his small circle of friends. His mentor, the Mage, doesn't act like the father figure that mentors are supposed to emulate. His nemesis, Baz, is more than what meets the eye. The war and its opposing factions (and even the Humdrum itself) aren't as clear cut either. Though the Harry Potter series did get past pure tropes and into some more depth in its latter instalments, we can all agree that there are a lot of fantasy properties that are guilty of this; even Harry Potter was at the beginning, there's a reason why we study the first Harry Potter novel as an example of the Hero's Journey in grade 9 English.
In addition to being a parody of the "Chosen One" narrative, this novel is impressive for including an LGBT romance (spoiler-not-really-a-spoiler, Simon and Baz end up together). The two are adorable, and the alternating points of view that the author employs make for some very amusing scenes where we see what Simon and Baz are thinking nearly simultaneously. Baz was very well-developed and my favourite character second to the Mage (even though we learn more about him from other characters and their narration than from his own since he's absent for a good chunk of the book). I also enjoyed how magic worked in this book: rather than spells said in Latin (or languages that sound a heck of a lot like Latin), spells are made by saying a set of words or a phrase with conviction, so many of the ones that Simon and his friends use are actually sayings or a turn of phrase from popular culture, such as a concealing spell made using the words, "These aren't the droids you're looking for." (I laughed at so many of these).
You should give this a read, if not for the positive LGBT portrayal or turning the "Chosen One" portrayal on its head, then give it a read just for the Harry Potter-esque parts....think of it like an alternative universe.
Thoughts on the cover:
The image above was from the hardcover version, but I have to say I much prefer the paperback version shown below:
I mean, come on, how can you not like this one better, it's pretty drool-worthy (does the cover image then technically count as fan art?)