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Book Reviews of Literature for Children and Young Adults
Genre 6 Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult Literature
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David Shannon, Author
Author Study - Louis Sachar

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo
Tale of Despereaux
The First Part Last
The Giver
True Believer
 

Smith, Greg Leitich. 2003.  Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo.  New York: 

     Little, Brown, and Company.  ISBN:  0316778540.

 

     This story is contemporary realistic fiction.  The characters are similar to students in some of our schools today. The characters in the story are Honoria, Shohei, and Elias who have been friends for a long time. Each of them tells the story in short separate sections with a first person narrative. Honoria has been friends with Elias since kindergarten when they both showed the same interests in the Small Mammal and Reptile House at the zoo.  Shohei is not as serious about school and grades as his other two friends.  He is more Elias’s friend than Honoria. The author has some lighthearted moments in the story to show Shohei’s character.  Shohei’s adoptive parents try to acquaint Shohei with his Japanese heritage.  Finally Shohei has had enough.  He colors his hair neon green, puts shamrock tattoos on his cheeks, and dresses in green to show his parent’s Irish heritage when they invite a family over for dinner.

     The three are students at a private school, The Peshtigo School of Chicago.  This is a school for high achievers and the well to do.  Most of the story takes place at the school

     The plot of story revolves around the school science fair.  All of the students have to come up with a project.  Honoria decides she is going to investigate whether she can get piranhas to prefer bananas.  Elias and Shohei work together on an experiment testing the conclusion that Elias’s older brother had come up with about ten years earlier, that baroque music affects plant growth. Underlying the main plot is the relationship of the characters.  Elias likes Honoria who likes Shohei. Honoria tells Elias her feelings about Shohei.  She is unaware that Elias likes her.

     The science experiment goes wrong.  Elias cannot confirm his brother’s findings but Shohei copies Elias’s brother’s results as his own. Elias gets a bad grade so he decides to put on different music in the Atrium where Mr. Evans has plants growing to show that his conclusion was correct. He gets in trouble and has to go to student court.  The climax of the story comes when the judge decides that Elias has to recant his findings like Galileo did or be suspended.

     There are several themes in this story.  There is the theme of friendship and to stand for what you believe. These themes work together to make a story that will interest students.

 

DiCamillo, Kate.  2003.  The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a

     Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread. Illustrated by

     Timothy Basic Ering. Cambridge:  Candlewick Press.  ISBN:  

     0763617229.

 

     The Tale of Despereaux won the 2004 Newbery Award.  It is an animal fantasy told from the omniscient point of view where many times during the telling of the story the teller talks directly to the reader.

     The setting of the story is in a castle in medieval times.  The King controls his subject’s lives.  He outlawed soup so everyone had to get rid of his or her kettles and spoons.

     The book is divided into four sections.  The first three sections focuses on three different characters, Despereaux, Roscuro, and Miggery Sow. Their story is told separately then each of these three characters come together in the climax of the story.

     Despereaux is a mouse that does not behave like a mouse.  He loves stories.  He likes the light.  He loves music and he loves the Princess Pea. One day he is caught talking to the Princess Pea and the Mouse council banishes him to the dungeons under the castle. This is certain death.  No mouse has survived.

     Roscuro is a rat that lives in the dungeons.  He purpose in life is to make the prisoners miserable.  One day he is attracted to the light and goes upstairs in the castle. He frightens the queen to her death when he falls into her soup.  He vows revenge on the Princess Pea for looking at him with revulsion.

     Miggery Sow is a slow-witted girl whose father sold her for a red tablecloth, a handful of cigarettes, and a hen.  She is hit on the ears repeatedly, which has affected her hearing. She arrives at the castle to be a serving girl. She wants to be a princess.

     The climax of the story arrives when Roscuro and Miggery kidnap the Princess Pea and only Despereaux can save her. Roscuro tricked Miggery into helping him by saying he would make her a princess.  Despereaux finds the Princess Pea and Miggery.  He overcomes Roscuro.  The Princess Pea forgives Roscuro for frightening her mother and promises him soup if he will lead them out of the dungeon.

          Full-page illustrations are scattered throughout this book.  Booklist says, “Ering's soft pencil illustrations reflect the story's charm.” Each chapter beginning is framed with items that have meaning within the story.

     The theme underlying the story is forgiveness and how it not only benefits the person forgiven but the person who is doing the forgiving.  Despereaux forgives his father for reporting him to the Mouse Council and sending him to the dungeon.  The Princess Pea knew “ what she must do to save her own heart.” She had to fight the darkness, to go to the light, to go to forgiveness. Other themes in the story are told by Newbery Award Chair Eliza T. Dresang who says, “Time-honored themes of good versus evil, light versus dark, unrequited love, loyalty and search for identity have roots in many mythic and literary classics familiar to children. This story is sure to entice, challenge and delight readers of all ages.”

 

Johnson, Angela.  2003.  The First Part Last. New York:  Simon and

     Schuster Books for Young Readers.  ISBN:  0689849222.

 

     This contemporary realistic fiction story has won two awards, the Michael Printz Award and Coretta Scott King Award. In the story Bobby is only sixteen but he has a baby daughter he is going to raise.  He feels just like a child himself but he has to do what is best for Feather. The story is divided into four parts.  The first part and title refers to words Bobby thought while holding his baby, “But I figure if the world was really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last.  They’d be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end.” In the first three weeks sometimes he is overwhelmed with keeping Feather and wants, “I just want a note to get me out of it. Just one note.”

     This story is written with flashbacks.  Each short chapter is titled “then” or “now.”  Then is the time before Feather is born to provide information what Bobby’s life was like before he became a father and how his life changed after the baby. Now is the time after Feather is born.  Bobby is struggling with being a father while still a child himself.

     The story starts with Bobby’s sixteenth birthday, his girlfriend Nia approaches him and tells him that she is going to have a baby. The story progresses through the changes in his life switching from then to now to illustrate how Bobby’s life has changed and how he is changing.  “Some kids my age are hanging around this arcade.  I’ve been wanting to check out, but haven’t had the time, and probably won’t ever have.  They lean against the games and each other.  I look at them and feel like I’m missing something.” Now Bobby has to deal with the love he has for Feather and the daily routine of caring for her. In the “Then” chapters we follow Bobby through Nia’s pregnancy, their feelings, and decisions they have to make.

     The climax of the story is when Nia has problems with her pregnancy and goes into an irreversible vegetative coma when Feather is born.  Bobby tears us the adoption papers and decides he and Feather would be their own family. He makes the decision to go to Heaven, Ohio to raise Feather.

     The subject of teenage sex and pregnancy can be very controversial but it is a subject that affects our society.  Unlike the young man in this story, not many teenage boys decide to keep their babies. There is a theme of doing something, not because it is easy, but because it is the right thing to do.  To own up to your responsibilities.

     Kirkus Review says, “By narrating from a realistic first-person voice, Johnson manages to convey a story that is always complex, never preachy.” Johnson tells the story of a strong young man who is trying to do the right thing for his baby that he loves.

 

Lowry, Lois.  1993.  The Giver.  Boston:  Houghton Miflin Company. 

     ISBN:0395645662.

 

    This 1994 winner of the Newbery Award is a fascinating and thought provoking book.  The setting of the story is in a community where all aspects of living are rigidly controlled.  Everything the members of the community say or do is being observed.  If a member should transgress, the behavior is announced to the community. Even the weather is controlled.  There is no sunshine or snow.  It is always the same.  The members of the community cannot see colors nor do they have feelings. They do not have choices.  Their jobs, spouses, children, everything is chosen for them.  All children are taught to use precise language. Life there is so orderly, predictable, and painless. Persons who do not follow the Book of Rules or break the rules three times, babies who do not thrive, and old people who have lived long enough are released from the community.

     In this community lives the protagonist, Jonas who is approaching his twelfth birthday.  Each birthday for the children in the community is marked by an event until the age of twelve.  For example, sevens get jackets that are buttoned in the front, eights begin volunteer hours, nine year olds are given bikes to ride, and tens lose their braids and long hair. When a child reaches twelve they are assigned their life’s work.  This is where Jonas’s life begins to change.  He is selected to be the Receiver of Memories.  With the Giver he learns about colors, sunshine, snow, and feelings.  He discovers love. As the Receiver of Memories he has to carry the burden and pain of memories for the whole community.  He becomes angry with his friends for being satisfied with the sameness. 

     He is deeply disturbed when he finds out that when a member is released he is killed.  He witnesses his father kill a smaller twin baby because the community does not allow twins.  This is the turning point in his life.  He and the Giver decide that Jonas must leave and then the community would have to deal with memories good and bad. 

     Their plan gets changed when Jonas discovers that Gabriel, the baby to whom he has been giving some of his memories, will be released the next morning.  Jonas takes Gabriel and leaves.  The ending of the story is open.  The reader does not have the certainty that Jonas and Gabriel found a home or is it just a memory.

    The author’s selection of words in the story gives a feeling of sterility to the community, dwelling for house, sleepingroom for bedroom, referring to children by their ages, the matching of spouses, and naming and placement of newchildren. All the members of the community are always so polite and always apologize.

     The theme in this story is the value of having feeling and living life to the fullest or having a safe haven but no choices, no feelings, no pain, and no memories. Lowry creates this fantasy of a seemingly ideal community that has dark secrets which are slowly revealed under its supposed perfection.

    

Wolff, Virginia Euwer.  2001.  True Believer.  New York:  Antheneum

     Books for Young Readers.  ISBN: 0689828276.

 

     This contemporary realistic novel is written in free verse form and has been recognized for its writing. This is the second novel in the Make Lemonade Trilogy. This story is told in the first person narrative by the protagonist, LaVaughn.  LaVaughn speaks in a clear, sometimes lyrical voice with mature insights that come from her experiences.

     This story takes place in a poor and sometimes violent urban area where LaVaughn lives and goes to school. There are shootings at LaVaughn’s school and in her neighborhood.   Success in school is LaVaughn’s way out of there.  

     The author, Virginia Wolff reveals the main character, fifteen year old LaVaughn as she is experiencing the problems of growing up. She has had two best friends Myrtle and Annie since they were very young.  Together they have gone through many major life experiences but now their relationship is changing.  Myrtle and Annie have joined a church and have started distancing themselves from LaVaughn because she won’t go with them. LaVaughn contends with the issue of her beliefs that are now so different from her friends. LaVaughn is working to make her dream of going to college come true.  She has help from the teachers at her school that recognize her ability.  They get her into special science and grammar classes with Dr. Rose.  These classes put her with students who are high achievers like she is.  She also deals with the issue of homosexuality.  She has a crush on her old friend Jody until she finds out that he is homosexual.  She is trying to puzzle out her world. Her character’s confusion is imparted with these words, “I don’t know anything about anything.  I have been a chump and a fool.  Some days things add up, other days I know I was put on the wrong planet.”

     LaVaughn thoughts reveal what kind of person she is.  She is not always nice.  She wasn’t nice to Patrick at first because of his clothes and turned down his invitation to the dance.  She grows out of her narrowed mindedness about Patrick and looks beyond to see the person.

     The climax of the story is her sixteenth birthday party. Jody comes to her birthday party and gives her a present.  She realizes, “it came to me down there on the floor how it was not just Jody that was making me so miserable.  It was my not forgiving him for being Jody that was the worst, weighting me down.” This mature conclusion creates for her an illumination of Dr. Rose’s saying, “We will rise to the occasion which is life.”

     This uplifting book will take young readers through situations many of them will recognize and give them hope that they will triumph in the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

Created as a requirement for
LS 5603 Literature for Children and Young Adults
Texas Woman's University
Denton, TX
Created by J. Ketola
August 2, 2004