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Book Reviews of Literature for Children and Young Adults
Genre 5 Historical Fiction/Biography
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Author Study - Louis Sachar

  • A Single Shard
  • Soldier's Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charlie Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers
  • Leonardo Da Vinci
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963

Park, Linda Sue.  2001. A Single Shard. New York:  Clarion Books.  ISBN:

     0395978270.

 

    The 2002 winner of the Newbery Award is a historical fiction story that takes place in twelfth century Korea. The setting of the story is in Ch’ulp’o, a village important for its celadon ceramics because of the clay that is there.  In Ch’ulp’o many people make their living by being potters. Park creates this setting where the main character, a young orphan named Tree-ear lives.  Tree-ear arrived in Ch’ulp’o when he was just a toddler and lives under the bridge with Crane-man.  Crane-man took care of Tree-ear until Tree-ear was old enough to take care of both of them.  Everyday Tree-ear forages for food for himself and Crane-man.

     One day after watching the master potter Min, he accidentally breaks a piece of pottery that Min makes.  He offers to work to pay for it from there Min hires him.  Min’s greatest desire is a royal commission for his pottery.  Tree-ear offers to take some vases to  Songdo to show to the royal emissary.  On the way the pottery gets broken and all Tree-ear has to show is a single shard. This is the climax of the story as Tree-ear tries to show the shard all that is remaining of the pottery, to the royal emissary and he gives a commission to Min.

     The reader learns of the Tree-ear’s strength of character.  Even though he is poor, he tries to do what is right.  Crane-man is a major influence.  He and Tree-ear discuss moral dilemmas.  Tree-ear had seen Kang’s new idea for inlaying but he wasn’t sure if it was stealing if he told about it.  Crane-man wisely says, “If a man is keeping an idea to himself, and that idea is taken by stealth or trickery – I say it is stealing.  But once a man has revealed his idea to other, it is no longer his alone.  It belongs to the world.”

    The theme reflects the determination and values of doing what is right even if there is no expected reward.  These same values are important today.  Tree-ear was respectful and good things came to him even when it looked as if everything was going wrong. He was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a potter.

     Park tells the steps for making celadon pottery by the many tasks that Min assigns to Tree-ear.  The reader gets a feel for the village life and times by the way the different tasks are done; using a wagon and spade to get the clay, providing wood for the village kiln, showing their wares to the emissary. The respectful attitude of Tree-ear to his elders is typical of the culture that places a great importance on respect.  Min’s wife is a static character.  She is a sweet and thoughtful woman.  She sees things her husband does not.  She helps Tree-ear by giving him extra food, clothing, and helping with Crane-man while Tree-ear goes on his journey.

     Park’s style of writing creates a believable story with interesting characters that keeps the reader engrossed until the end. Kathleen Odean, chair of the Newbery Award Selection Committee says, "Tree-ear's determination and bravery in pursuing his dream of becoming a potter takes readers on a literary journey that demonstrates how courage, honor and perseverance can overcome great odds and bring great happiness. Park effectively conveys 12th century Korea in this masterful piece of historical fiction,"

 

Paulsen, Gary.  1998.  Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment

     and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota

     Volunteers.  New York:  Delacorte Press.  ISBN: 0385324987.

 

     The title Soldier’s Heart is based on the lasting mental damage done to soldiers by war. The brutality and horror of combat leaves the young soldiers with mental burdens impossible to carry.  At the end of the story Charley Goddard has a soldier’s heart from which he never recovers. Paulsen depicts the horrors of war that Charley endured as a soldier.

     Charley Goddard is only fifteen when he goes off to enlist in the army to fight in the Civil War.  There is much excitement and no one wants to miss the shooting war. There are parades and it is like a circus.  Everyone is thinking that the war will be over by fall.

     After the horror of Bull Run seeing a man lose his head when he is hit by a cannonball and two bullet hit each other in the air, Charley feels that he shouldn’t be there. He heaves until he couldn’t anymore. The story is told from an objective point of view and a chronological order of the battles and experiences Charley has while he is in the army.

     In this historical fiction novel Paulsen doesn’t spare the reader the horror that Charley faced.  In the second battle a young soldier gets a stomach wound.  If you got a stomach wound at this time in history, the medics could do nothing for you.  They leave you there on the battlefield until you die.  Charley helps a young man who got a stomach wound end his life. Charley has to stack dead bodies as a windbreak from the cold of the blowing wind. He describes the blood lust of battle when the choice is to kill or be killed, “the joy of killing to live.”

     He is struck by the irony of war. One night a Confederate soldier speaks to Charley.  He is a farmer just like Charley.  They trade coffee and tobacco.  Charley knows the next day he would have to kill that farmer if they met in combat.

     The end of the story is open.  The story ends with Charley back home after the war. Charley is not going to have a happy ending.. “He was tired and broken, walking with a cane and passing blood, and he knew it wouldn’t be long for him.” He goes on a picnic and takes a loaded revolver with him.  He contemplates killing himself but that day he puts the gun down and watches the river. There is an author’s note that fills in what happened to Charley after the story is over. The author’s note explains that though this book is a work of fiction it is based on a real person and factual events.  Charley Goddard fought at the Battle of Gettysburg and was wounded.  He survived the war but died at the age of twenty-three.

     In the foreword, Paulsen tells about battle fatigue, shell shock, or post-traumatic stress disorder.  He explains what it is that affects many soldiers after experiencing battle and that after the civil war no one recognized what it was.

     A grainy oval picture of a young Union soldier is opposite the title page adds a dimension of reality to this book. Included in this book is a map showing the location of the battles that Charley fought and how he got there whether it was by train or by foot. A bibliography is provided showing the sources where Paulsen got his factual information.

     This story is a very graphic and gripping story about the brutality and inhumanity of war.  Paulsen is a master at recreating the battlefield during the Civil War.

 

Stanley, Diane. 1996. Leonardo Da Vinci.  New York:  Morrow Junior

     Books.  ISBN: 0688104371.

 

     Diane Stanley created this wonderful biography of Leonardo Da Vinci.  This book contains a pronunciation guide for difficult to pronounce names. She includes a postscript that provides information about Leonardo after his death and what happened to his notebooks. Also included is a bibliography and a list of other recommended books about Leonardo for young readers. The book is beautifully illustrated with drawings by Stanley on one side and at the top of the text cutouts of drawings from Da Vinci’s notebooks or paintings. Booklist says of the drawings, “These vivid drawings, chosen to reflect ideas and events in the story, juxtapose well with the large illustrations created with colored pencil, gouache, and watercolors on the facing pages.” The left pages are framed with scrolled gold bars which enhance the time period of this biography. Many readers will find the cutouts from Leonardo’s notebooks with his inventions fascinating.

     In the beginning of the book Stanley gives an overview of the importance of Leonardo Da Vinci and how the world he lived in was changing.  She gives her readers an insight into the era he lived in which today is called the Renaissance. The book is organized into chronological order.  It starts with his grandfather writing his name in a leather-bound book to record his birth.

     Included are many interesting facts from Leonardo’s life.  Leonardo’s father never married his mother and because he was illegitimate many noble professions were closed to him.  He could not be a notary like his father or a doctor, pharmacist, or a banker. Since he showed a talent for drawing his father apprenticed him out to the famous artist Andrea del Verrocchio.

     Stanley gives interesting facts about artists during that time.  They studied architecture, sculpture, “made patterns for tapestries and carpets, painted banners for festivals, and produced the sets and costumes for pageants.” They were craftsmen.

     Leonard created a new kind of art when he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the church of San Francesco Grande.  For the first time the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus did not have halos.

     In Leonardo’s notebooks he drew anatomy of the human body.  Stanley provides her readers with this interesting note, “He developed a way of drawing anatomy that medical artists follow to this day.” His notebooks are full of his inventions from scuba gear to a submarine.  He was really an extraordinary man who was ahead of his time.

     Leonardo died at the age of sixty-seven with the King of France at his bedside.

     Booklist says of this biography that, “The craftsmanship that makes this biography so solid in concept, appealing in design, and accessible in presentation extends to the scholarship behind it, as glimpsed in the appended postscript and bibliographies.”

     The design, writing, and illustrations make this a very inviting biography to read about a fascinating man.

 

Curtis, Christopher Paul.  1995. The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963.

     New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN: 0385321759.

 

     The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 is a story that will evoke outright laughter and tears.  It is about an African American family set during a turbulent time in our country’s history, the civil rights movement. Curtis brings that time to life with small details he includes in his stories that relate to the 1960s.

     The Watsons live in Flint, Michigan. Kenny, the story’s protagonist, tells the story about the weird Watsons, his family.  Kenny is ten years old and a sweet child.  He gets picked on because he has a lazy eye.  He has a Dad, Mom, sister Joey and an older brother, Byron.  Byron is thirteen and an official juvenile delinquent.  Byron and his friends pick on Kenny and Byron is headed for trouble.

     In the beginning of the book the Watsons are trying to keep warm during one of Michigan’s cold spells.  Curtis describes the cold, “It was so cold that if you were stupid enough to go outside your eyes would automatically blink a thousand times all by themselves, probably so the juice inside of them wouldn’t freeze up.”  Curtis effectively uses repetition when describing the cold, “It was so cold that if you spit, the slob would be an ice cube before it hit the ground.  It was about a zillion degrees below zero.” 

     Kenny tells of the mean tricks his brother plays on him.  He tells what happens when Byron kisses his reflection in the side mirror of the brown bomber, their car.  Because it was so cold his lips stuck to the mirror. Readers will laugh out loud how the Watsons try to figure out a way to get Byron off the car. Dad thinks it is very funny and teases Byron.  He provides such comic pictures of Byron attached to the car as he drives down the street to the hospital.

     Curtis creates very believable and likeable characters.  The reader will laugh out loud at the situations Byron’s rebellion creates but will also see the good in the juvenile delinquent. The Mom and Dad are at their wits end not knowing how to handle Byron and decide to take him to Grandmother Sands in Birmingham to let her straighten him out and go to school there, that would remove him from the bad influences of his friends.

     The climax of the story occurs when the church in Birmingham that Joey attended that morning gets bombed. . This is based on a real life incident.  She is fine but Kenny is traumatized by what had occurred.  After they get home, he hides behind the couch in what he calls the World Famous Watson’s Pet Hospital trying to let the magic heal him.  In a heartwarming scene Byron is able to help Kenny overcome his guilt and sadness.

     The theme of the changing relationship of the two brothers is touching and provides a believable and happy conclusion to the story.

     Curtis won many awards for this wonderful story.  It has received the 1996 Newbery Honor award,  a Coretta Scott King Honor, and an American Library Association Notable Book, among others.

 

Created by J. Ketola
 as a requirement for
LS5603 Literature for Children and Young Adults
Texas Woman's University
Denton, TX
July 23, 2004