Sunday, March 29, 2009

11 Birthdays

Imagine getting the opportunity to relive one of the days of your life. A do-over, if you will. You could right wrongs, do something less embarrassing, or simply enjoy something for a second time. Would you do it if you could? Think about it.

For Amanda, it's her 11th birthday. A birthday should be fun, but there are somethings that are conspiring against Amanda. Firstly, she hasn't spoken to Leo since her last birthday. Amanda and Leo were born on the same day, were best friends and celebrated every birthday together...until this year. Secondly, her mom has planned a movie themed party for Amanda, and she is stuck in an itchy Dorothy dress complete with ill-fitting ruby slippers. And lastly, Amanda is trying out for cheer leading instead of marching band in an effort to appease her friend Stephanie and to try and up her cool quotient. Not surprisingly, Amanda is happy to see the back of her 11th birthday.

So, imagine her surprise when the Saturday after her birthday turns back into Friday again. Amanda is certain that her family is playing a joke on her ... convincing her to get dressed, have breakfast and even go outside and wait for the bus with her sister. But it's not a joke. The bus comes, she's forgotten her lunch again, and is sitting in her desk when the same pop quiz she took "yesterday" appears. Amanda is desperately trying to keep it together. Could "yesterday" have been an incredibly detailed dream? Could she be psychic?

Imagine her horror when the "next" day is her birthday AGAIN! Everybody around Amanda seems absolutely clueless that this day is repeating over and over. At least almost everybody is clueless...

Wendy Mass has written an interesting friendship and family story with a pinch of magical realism. Once readers really take a moment to think about it, reliving a day might seem empowering on the surface, but dig a little deeper and it's quite terrifying. 11 Birthdays is the kind of book that begs re-reading and discussion. I think that this is a perfect title for a book-club read.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June

Ivy June and Catherine are quite different from one another. Catherine lives over in Lexington with her family in a home with 4 bathrooms. She attends a private school where she wears a uniform. And she is certain that she is loved by her parents. Ivy June lives up in the hills of Thunder Creek at her Mammaw's and Papaw's house since her own house is just too crowded with kids. She goes to public school via a long bus ride. And it's hard to tell from her folks if she is really loved.

What both girls have in common, however, is that they are part of an exchange program between their two schools. Ivy June will first be going to Catherine's house to stay and go to school for 2 weeks. After a week break, Catherine will be joining Ivy June at Mammaw's and Papaw's place. The exchange is part of their social studies program and is aimed at the disintegration of stereotypes.

But can two girls who are seemingly so different find common ground when it's really important? More importantly, can they overlook the prejudices of their friends and families?

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written a story about family and class that is authentic rather than didactic. At the hands of a lesser author this story could have easily turned into a lesson. Catherine and Ivy Jean are both flawed, but are at the point in their lives that they truly believe that they can change and move beyond or despite their family stations. Naylor brings in tension and family drama on both sides, and perfectly paces the ending so that readers are holding their breath and hoping for the best.

Filled with the scenery of the Kentucky hills and hollers, Faith, Hope and Ivy June was obviously a labor of love for Naylor. A perfect friendship story with something deeper for tweens to enjoy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Twilight Zone Graphic Novels

My dad always wanted me to watch the Twilight Zone on television with him. I wouldn't. I had a thing about black and white TV when I was younger, and I am sorry to say that I have as yet never seen an episode. When I received the arc for The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, and The Odyssey of Flight 33 I was intrigued, and I figured that they would make fun reading. I was right.

The Odyssey of Flight 33 caught my attention first. I am always a bit nervous when I fly, and these days of ditching in the Hudson have taken the every day feeling out of boarding a plane. Everything is going according to schedule on the Trans Ocean flight. The stewardesses don't have the kind of tea that a customer wants, others are making annoying small talk. (If you've ever been on a plane, chances are you've experienced these things!) Then all of a sudden, the crew and some passengers feel acceleration. Lots of acceleration. So much so that the instruments aren't even reading the speed anymore, and there is absolutely no contact with the ground.

All of a sudden there is a flash of white light, and things seem to even out. The pilot is eager to see land and brings the plane lower to take a look. Things do not look as they should. They get in touch with Laguardia Airport and ask for permission to land at JFK. The problem is that the folks at Laguardia have not heard of JFK. It hasn't been built yet.

Will Flight 33 ever find its way back to the present?

The Monsters are Due on Maple Street is a much uglier story that encompasses some of the paranoia present in 1950s America as well as the human condition.

The neighbors on Maple Street see what they think is a meteor late on a Saturday afternoon. Shortly thereafter all power is knocked out. Batteries included. Naturally, the folks on the street are confused and a little bit frightened as well. A couple of the men decide that they should go downtown and check out what is going on when young Tommy tells them that they shouldn't go. When questioned, Tommy sites the monster movies that he has seen...aliens never want people to know what is going on.

That's all it takes...a seed of an idea. Soon neighbors are turning on one another, and in true witch hunt fashion, nobody is safe. (This also makes an excellent curriculum connection to our 7th grade study of McCarthyism).

Each of these graphic novels begins with an explanation of the television series as well as a taste Cold War America. The back matter includes information from that particular episode of The Twilight Zone as well as a background about the adaptation of the stories from screen to page.

I have to say, at first I wasn't so sure about today's kids being interested in these books. My worries were completely unfounded. Out of all of our graphic novels, these are the ones that the 6th grade boys are passing from hand to hand. As soon as Jen got them into the hands of one boy, word spread. A few of them even sat SILENTLY during an indoor recess and just read them and passed them round robin style. I know that anytime a new title in the Twilight Zone series comes in, we will no longer even have to try to sell them. Simply put them on display and they take care of themselves.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles

Madeleine is a talented little cook, but her gifts are squashed every summer when she goes to work for her restaurateur Uncle Lard while her parents are off jet setting. Uncle Lard's establishment, The Squealing Pig does have some talented people working within, but the problem is with Lard himself. He insists on having specialties of the house that he concocts. Dishes like Pig's Ear Pizza, Kidney Burger with Double Cream, and Crab Ravioli in Warm White Chocolate Sauce! (p. 9)

One day Madeleine is away from the kitchen searching out her Uncle's favourite pate, when she follows a cat and stumbles upon a peculiar shop simply called Edibles. As soon as she steps through the door, Madeline knows that this is a special place. When Madam Pamplemousse (and her cat Camembert) suddenly appears and asks Madeleine what she wants, Madeleine feels a bit frightened but ends up asking for pate. But instead of the mixed innards pate that her Uncle loves, Mme. Pamplemousse hands Madeleine a jar of green pate, labeled "Pate of North Atlantic Sea Serpent with Green Peppercorn Mustard" (p. 21) Even though it is not what she needs, Madeleine takes it back to the restaurant and convinces the Head Chef to simply replace the mixed innards variety with the sea serpent variety for that evening.

The pate, however, has quite an effect on those who consume it, and soon Uncle Lard is thundering into the kitchen and demanding to know where it came from. When the jar falls out of Madeleine's pocket, Uncle Lard has the answer he needs.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse between Uncle Lard, Mme. Pamplemousse, Camembert, and Madeleine. Villainous Uncle Lard is over-the-top bad, and readers will delight in his ineptitude. Sue Hellard's illustrations perfectly compliment the text with Uncle Lard looking as piggish as can be, and there are simple no words for the food critic!

This story is a bit of a flight of fancy, and I think that it is perfectly suited for reading aloud. The sense of humour is sophisticated, and the young foodies in the audience will find themselves imagining just what kinds of dishes, are indeed, possible!