Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak

Bibliographic Data:
Sendak, Maurice. Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months. New York: Harper Collins, 1962/1990. ISBN 978-0064432535.

Maurice Sendak died today at the age of 83. He was best known for Where the Wild Things Are, which won the 1964 Caldecott award and was recently made into a movie. However, my family's favorite has always been Chicken Soup with Rice. Even today, if one of my kids says, “Cooking once, cooking twice,” the other two are likely to chime in with “Cooking Chicken Soup With Rice.” Singer Carole King recorded it as a song on her “Really Rosie,” album, a collaborative effort between her and Sendak.

Since this is May, here is Sendak's poem for May:

In May I truly think it best
To be a robin lightly dressed
Concocting soup inside my nest
Mix it once, mix it twice
Mix that chicken soup with rice.

Thank you, Mr. Sendak, for providing children with so many hours of entertainment and fond memories. You will be missed.

I think we'll we'll have Chicken Soup with Rice for dinner tonight, "Stirring once, stirring twice, Stirring Chicken Soup with Rice."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Poetry, Drama, Film, and Response: American Born Chinese

Bibliographic Data
Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006. ISBN 9781596431522.

Plot Summary
Yang takes three very different storylines and weaves them together seamlessly in this graphic novel. In the first storyline, the Monkey King, rejected by the other gods as 'just a monkey, wants to be recognized as "The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven." In the second storyline, Jin Wang is uncomfortable beinig one of the 3 Asian students in his middle school. In the third storyline, Chin-Kee, a horribly overstereotyped Chinese caricature complete with laugh track, comes to visit his cousin Danny at his "Amellican" high school and proceeds to make Danny's life miserable.

Critical Analysis
In Gene Luen Yang's book, three Chinese characters display three very different aspects of being Chinese. In the first story about the Monkey King of Chinese legend, the Monkey King finds his own style of coping mechanisms when he's rejected by all the other deities, both major and minor. In the second story, Jin has to learn to cope with being Chinese in a large urban school where not even the teachers can say his name right. And in the third story Yang creates a character, Chin-Kee, who combines all the negative Chinese stereotypes known to man, into one single obnoxious charfacter.

Yang's illustrations for this story show a world filled with action, color, and movement. Even in a panel showing nothing but the monkey king sitting in the dark on his rock throne with a caption saying, "He stayed awake for the rest of the night thinking ways to get rid of it." we sense the monkey king's tension and anger in the very stillness he's shown in (20).

In the storyline featuring middle schooler Jin Wang, there's an ongoing joke about how none of the teachers can pronounce Chinese names. On Jin's first day of school, the teacher and Jin have this dialogue:
     T: (to class) Class, I'd like us all to give a warm Mayflower Elemtnary welcome to           your new friend and classmate Jing Jang!
     J: Jin Wang.
     T: Jin Wang!
               (next panel)
     T: He and his family recently moved to our neighborhood all the way from China!
     J: San Francisco.
     T: San Francisco! (30)

Two years later, another student arrives from China. Different grade, different classroom, different teacher, but the following scene once more takes place:
     T: (to class) Class, I'd like us all to give a big Mayflower welcome to your new
          friend and classmate Chei-Chen Chun!
     W: Wei-Chen Sun.
     T: Wei-Chei Sun!
               (next panel)
     T: He and his family recently moved to our neighborhood all the way from China!
     W: Taiwan.:
     T: Taiwan! (38)

Yang is showing us that prejudice, even it's casual and unintentional, never changes. Later, there's a scene where Jin has been observed out on a date with a Caucasian girl by a Caucasian boy. Interestingly, this same Caucasian boy was the one who defended Jin from some bullies on his first day in American school. But now, this boy turns out be prejudiced also. He approaches Jin at school the day after the date, and has the following conversation with Jin:
     Boy: Can I ask you a favor?
                    (next panel)
     Boy: Can you not ask Amelia out again?
     Jin: You - You like her?
                    (next panel)
     Boy: What?! No, No! She's like a sister. to me! We've known each other since,
             like preschool or something. No!
                    (next panel)
     Boy: It's just that she's a good friend and I want to make sure she makes
             good choices, you know? We're almost in high school. She has to start
             paying attention to who she hangs out with (179).

Is Yang telling us here that everybody is prejudiced to some degree, even if you are a nice person? It seems like it. But there are many kinds of prejudice. Closely related is being ashamed of who are, and this is the path that Yang pursues in diverging his three story lines into one. The monkey king learns to accept that he is a monkey. In turn, he comes to Earth in the shape of Chin-Kee to show Danny, who turns out to be Jin in high school, that there's nothing wrong with accepting who you are. In fact, by accepting who he is, Jin helps his friend, Wei-Chen Sun, accept who he is too. Wei-Chen Sun turns out to be the pivotal point of the three story lines, since he is, in reality, the monkey king's oldest son, sent to earth to serve humans, specifically Jin. Chin-Kee's yearly visits to his cousin Danny's house were actually the monkey king's annual checking in on his son. Danny reverts back to Jin, and Wei-Chen Sun learns to accept his role in life also.

Yang has written an amusing book on the surface, but when you dig down deep, the reader starts to find facets and depths to this book. Are we all truly prejudiced? Is prejudice somehting we can turn on and off, or is it something we need to learn to cope with the hard way, like Jin? And finally, prejudice can assume disguises, such as the boy in Jin's middle school, 'trying to help Amelia make the best choice for herself.' If something like this were ever said to me, how would I respond? Yang shows Jin's response to be total speechlessness.

The conversation continues after Jin is struck speechless.
     Boy: Aw, geez. Look, Jin. I'm sorry. That sounded way harsher than I meant it.
             to. I just don't know if you're right for her, okay? That's all.
               (next panel)
     Boy: No hard feelings?
     Jin: ...
     Jin: Yeah.
               (next panel)
     Boy: And you can do me the favor?
               (next panel)
     Jin: ...
     Jin: I guess.
               (next panel)
     Boy: Thanks, Man! I appreciate it!

And the boy strolls off, once more leaving Jin speechless. As Jin sees Amelia down the street, he walks past her without even looking at her (180-181).

Prejudice is a harsh weapon, and Yang shows us, through his words and illustrations, that even when the user doesn't intend to hurt, it still does -- sometimes even more than when somebody DOES intend their prejudice to hurt.

As a side note, my 18 year old son read this book, and he caught something I was unaware of. In the endspiece, Yang has placed a picture of Jin and Weng wearing basketbal shirts. My son informed me that this is an "in" joke among his age group, because there's a YouTube video showing two Asian boys wearing these exact same red shirts, singing a Backstreet Boys song. Even the background is the same as in the video!

Awards and Honors
Cybils , 2006; Winner Graphic Novels Ages 13 and Up United States.
James Cook Book Award, 2007; Honorable Book United States.
Michael L. Printz Award, 2007; Winner United States.
National Book Awards, 2006; Finalist Young People's Literature United States.
Northern California Book Award, 2007; Finalist Children's Literature United States.
Quill Awards, 2007; Nominee Young Adult/Teen United States.
Best Books for Young Adults, 2007; YALSA; United States.
Best Books of the Year, 2006; School Library Journal; United States.
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2007; Bank Street College of Education; Outstanding Merit; United States.
Books for Youth, 2006; Booklist Editor's Choice; United States.
Capitol Choices, 2007; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States.
Choices, 2007; Cooperative Children’s Book Center; United States.
Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2007; YALSA; United States.
Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth, 2007; Booklist; United States.
Top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2007; YALSA; United States.
Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2007; YALSA; United States.
Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2007; YALSA; United States.
White Ravens Award, 2007; International Youth Library; United States.

Review Excerpts
Jesse Karp (Booklist, Sep. 1, 2006 (Vol. 103, No. 1))
Each of the characters is flawed but familiar, and, in a clever postmodern twist, all share a deep, unforeseen connection. Yang helps the humor shine by using his art to exaggerate or contradict the words, creating a synthesis that marks an accomplished graphic storyteller. The stories have a simple, engaging sweep to them, but their weighty subjects--shame, racism, and friendship--receive thoughtful, powerful examination.

CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices, 2007)
The Monkey King is tired of his second-class status. Adored by his own subjects, he is snubbed by human deities until he perfects his powers and literally beats those who would mock him into submission. Jin Wang is the only Chinese American student at his school. When Wei-Chen Sun arrives from Taiwan, Jin Wang thinks, “Something made me want to beat him up.” Blond-haired Danny’s life would be perfect were it not for his cousin, Chin-Kee, who embodies every offensive stereotype of the Chinese, from buck teeth and braided ponytail to mispronunciations (“Harro Amellica!”). Gene Luen Yang’s brilliant graphic novel moves back and forth between these three separate narrative strands, each one exploring issues of identity, belonging, humility, and friendship as the storylines develop. Yang’s narrative builds to an unforgettable and dazzling series of revelations as the three storylines surprisingly converge in a book that is eye-opening and provocative, pushing the boundaries of comfort for readers as it exposes racism from its most subtle to most overt.

Rosemary Knapp (Library Media Connection, January 2007)
In this graphic novel, three humorous and seemingly unrelated stories keep the reader's attention until they come together at the end. The first story concerns a Chinese-American boy trying to fit in. The second is a retelling of the Chinese fable of the monkey king… The third story involves a Chinese cousin who visits an American boy each year. The depiction of the cousin is so painfully stereotypical that you feel guilty laughing. In each story, the central character is unsatisfied with who he is and goes to great lengths to be someone else-with humorous results. The reader might be puzzled as to how the three stories are connected until the conclusion. It's a nice combination of a fable and contemporary stories to convey the wonderful lesson of accepting one's culture and identity with pride. A quick read, this title has engaging art, and at times, funny dialogue.

Book Hook
If you enjoyed this graphic novel, try some of Gene Luen Yang’s other graphic novels, like Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order (SLG Publishing, 2004) or The Eternal Smile: Three Stories (First Second, 2009), which he co-wrote with Derek Kirk Kim.

Online Connections
For more information on the Monkey King in Chinese mythology, click here.
To see the YouTube video referenced in this book, click here.

Poetry -- Things I Have to Tell You

Bibliographic Data
Franco, Betsy, ed. Things I Have to Tell You. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2001. ISBN 0763609056.

Plot Summary
Betsy Franco has amassed a collection of heartfelt free-verse poems and prose, all written by teenage girls.

Critical Analysis
These poems incorporate a wide range of emotions - first love, what it means to grow up female, sexual abuse, self-respect, independence, and family. Some of the poems talk about their loss of virginity. Some poems mention exploring their sexuality. One of my favorite poems is Apricot Bath:

          Apricot Bath
          by Lindsay Henry, age 17

          I don't want to be sexy right now
          I don't feel like arranging myself
          in positions that will delight your eyes
          Arranging myself so that my stomach doesn't show
          so that you can't see my feet
          I don't feel like making the effort
          I want to sit next to you
          in an apricot bubble bath
          and talk about why your politics conflict with mine
          without your staring at my breasts
          I want to sit cross-legged
          lean forward with my elbows on my knees
          and listen to your reasoning
          without your peering down between my thighs
          I want us to be two sexless beings
          Watching the steam curl off the water

          But if you must love me
          Love the little smooth scar on my knee
          not my eyes
          Love my round belly
          not my legs
          Love the two freckles on my neck
          that look like a vampire's kiss
          not my lips
          Love my square pudgy toes
          not my smile
          I want to inhale the apricot fumes
          brush the bubbles from your shoulder
          and argue with you over our beliefs
          I don't want anything to be sexual
          even though we're both naked and
          our feet are kissing under the tepid water
          I want us to stay in the bath
          until we don't know
          where water ends and skin begins
          Until I know
          Why you are who you are
          Until you love me
          for my flaws and what I believe in (30-31)

I don't remember being that intelligent at 17, to understand so deeply the difference between love and sexuality.

These young women also think about their future vs. their present:

   To Live
   by Miriam Stone, age 16

                                          reacting with phosphorus      learning without
                                          I don't react                          knowing
   I sit in my                         I see through the paper          without room
   crunched-in                      and my pen writes                  to learn how
   restraining                        poetic equations                    to know myself
   desk, they call it,              my mind plus my life              to be myself
   with my paper                   equals                                  trial and error
   and my pen                      something beyond this           minus lab write-up
   and I am                           doodles litter my                   feeling without
   supposed to see               notebook like snowflakes        a thesis
   the blackboard                  dancing through the trees       learning youth
   around the tall boy            beyond the window                 mi futuro
   en frente de mi                 the lined paper                       learning how to live
   and my mind on my          lines with soul                       without a textbook
   text and my pen on           forgetting cosines                   without a teacher to
   the page I am                   life without phosphorus           correct grammar
   supposed to                     and my life                             to live to learn myself
   for me                              mi futuro                                to live to know myself
   para mifuturo.                   beyond desk-chairs                 to live to be somebody
   but my head                     And dull muraled halls             who's learned how
   won't translate                   j.v.varsity and                         to live (58)
   this language                    setting the curve          
   log base b of a squared;     school play and G.P.A.
   carbon monoxide               textbooks

These young poets show surprising depth through their writings. They have so much to say, but being teenage girls, it's hard for them to get somebody to listen sometimes: "Look out--I opened my mouth/and out came ideas/you don't think are pretty" (13). Some are exploring their feminie wiles, as in the selection below - make sure you read this passage out loud to get a sense of the strong rhyme and rhythm:

          This conquette can get
          Any man she's set
          Eyes upon--
          A female Don Juan.
          The best, I confess,
          Cannot help but obsess
          Over me,
          Devil walking,
          In one hell of a dress. (23)

The poetic imagery is also very strong in this collection, such as in "I am stuck inside this cocoon" (29), and "I look for my shield/and find my mask under the bed/I slip it on; it's warm and secure/but still a little uncomfortable" (32), and "my friend and i/got caught in a storm/with tears for rain,/and shouts for thunder, lightning fists/lashing out" (41).

These young women have a lot to say, and Betsy Franco has created an outlet for their deepest thoughts. There are poems in here about drug abuse, thoughts of suicide, and "A Man's Strength, But a Woman's Mind" ( 24-25). Maybe these thoughts, written out as they are to share with the world, may help another young woman when she needs support through a crucial time.

Awards and Honors
Amelia Bloomer Project, 2002; American Library Association-SRRT; United States.
Best Books for Young Adults, 2002; American Library Association-YALSA; United States.
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2002; Bank Street College of Education; United States.
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2002; American Library Association-YALSA; United States.
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007; The H. W. Wilson Co.; United States.
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Young Adults' Choices, 2003; International Reading Association; United States.

Review Excerpts
Korbeck, Sharon.(School Library Journal; May 2001(Vol. 47 Issue 5))
"In allowing the words of teens from across the nation to shine through, without polishing or pushing, Franco has succeeded in compiling one of the brightest collections out there today. In a mixture of prose and poetry, the young women express their fears, dreams, relationships, and angst. There are some poetic turns of phrases here ("we put on our chatter/like red lipstick/with the same amount/of greasy enthusiasm") and some strong language. And while the poems are triumphant in their realism, the book is elevated by the inclusion of gritty, unposed black-and-white photographs. These pictures, not taken to illustrate the poems, do so in an exemplary fashion. Like snapshots from personal photo albums, the images of a multicultural array of "everygirls" are harmonious complements to this outstanding collection."

Horn Book (The Horn Book Guide, Fall 2001)
Several striking entries in this compilation of poems and prose lift it above the majority of such offerings; all of these writers take on issues of family, love, body image, drugs, and sexuality with clarity and insight. The black-and-white photographs are neither literal illustrations of the pieces nor portraits of the writers; they reflect the emotional currents of the writing and provide further expression of a diverse group of young women.

Book Hook
Pair this book with Betsy Franco's You Hear Me?: Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys (Candlewick, 2000).

Online Connections
Betsy Franco's website can be found here.

Poetry -- Zombie Haiku

Bibliographic Data
Mecum, Ryan. Zombie Haiku. Cincinnati, OH: How Books, F+W Media, Incorporated, 2008. ISBN 9781600610707.

Plot Summary
In a series of progressively mindless (in true zombie style) haiku, Mecum shows us that even zombies have a heart - even if it isn't beating anymore.

Critical Analysis
A haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry, containing three lines. The pattern for the poem consiste of 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables. Haiku are usually about beautiful, peaceful aspects of nature. So what can you say about haiku purportedly written by a dead, mindless, decaying zombie?

This is supposedly a poetry journal by an anonymous poet. Ryan Mecum starts his anonymous poet off with poems about normal poetry topics. The human who eventually becomes the zombie writes about love, flowers, and springtime. BUT. There are notes in another handwriting, scribbled on the front title page by a different individual named Chris Ryan. Chris tells us about the plague, and about how "somehow, people turn into these things when they die or if one bites them" (2). Ironically, the haiku just before Chris's scribbled note is:

                 My soul hovers up
          climbing from its stomach cave,
             to give my heart warmth. (2)

What foreshadowing! If this poor guy only knew what his stomach and heart will be subjected to over the next few hours. A few more haiku further on, our soon-to-be zombie poet writes:

               Fifty years from now,
          When I am slow, old and gray,
             will she be there, too? (3)

Missed again! He won't be gray in fifty years, he'll be gray by tomorrow evening. Slow, too.

Things progress from bad to worse. Our hero writes about being trapped high on a billboard sign with a horde of zombies waiting below for him:

                  for hours, I sit.
            Morning turns to afternoon,
            and they keep staring. (22)

Our plucky hero climbs into his car and waits to die after trying unsuccessfully to escape the zombies without being bitten. At this point, Mecum cleverly adds splashes of red to the pages, and the handwriting becomes erratic. Oh, no, what's happening?

           Something is not right.
          If my blood is in puddles
         Why do I feel strong? (29)

Now that our protagonist has (un)succesfully changed into a zombie, Mecum's poems get outrageously, disgustingly funny. Zombies are always hungry for fresh human meat, and this hunger is aptly demonstrated:

           You think I'd get full
          eating so many people,
          but really, I don't. (50)

Even Mecum's weakest haiku serves to highlight the zombie's singleminded hunger:

                    Brains, BRAINS, Brains, brains, BRAINS.
          BRAINS, brains, Brains, BRAINS, Brains, brains, BRAINS.
                 BRAINS, Brains, brains, BRAINS, brains. (32)

Mecum illustrates this book with photos taken by the zombie poet before and after his transformation into a zombie. Although the photos aren't very clear when taken by the zombie poet vs. the human poet, this is in keeping with the theme of the book, that this poetry journal was created by a zombie with nothing on his mind but the desire for human flesh. What we do make out fits in with the haiku surrounding each photo. For example, when the zombie enters a wheat field in search of humans hiding in the dark, the photograph shows two zombies staggering through a wheat field at night. When the zombie hordes travel down the highway, there is a photo of out-of-focus zombies staggering down a highway with arms askew and legs stiff.

Although my 14 year old daughter found this book totally repulsive, Zombie Haiku raised an interesting dilemna in my mind. If this zombie poet thinks only of eating human flesh, then how does he maintain enough sensibility to write perfect haiku? My rational side says it's not possible and I should just accept this book as fantasy, but my poetic side tells me that poetry is something that is internalized, not something that can be detached from your spirit. This book could raise all kinds of questions such as "Is the zombie's soul still alive?," "Is poetry an instinct or something we acquire?" and so on. Unfortunately, this kind of metaphysical discussion is beyond the scope of this blog, but it's still interesting to contemplate.

Admittedly, the gross subject matter might be a little much for the squeamish, but if you read beyond the rotting body parts, bloodsplatters, and maggots to the poetry within, this haiku collection is actually addressing the questions I raised in the previous paragraph. This man's/zombie's poetry cannot be contained within in him. No matter what happens to the poet's body, the poetry will come gushing out - just like the blood, guts, and assorted other body parts in these poems.

Awards and Honors
Baker & Taylor Paper Clips July 2008 (Formerly Hot Picks)

Review Excerpts
Robert Kirkman, author of The Walking Dead and Marvel Zombies
"A thoroughly unique and entertaining experience. Ryan Mecum has quite possibly found the only corner of entertainment not yet infected by the zombie plague--haiku--and made me wonder why it took this long, as the two seem to go together like zombies and brains. I highly recommend it to fans of all things zombie." (Amazon.com)

David Wellington, author of Monster Island
"The most inventive zombie book in years!" (Amazon.com)

Book Hook
Pair this book with Ryan Mecum's brand new book, Vampire Haiku (How Books, 2009).

Online Connections
  • For "The King of Giggle Poetry," Bruce Lansky's views on writing Haiku, click here.
  • For another weird but hilarious look at zombies, check out "What to Do in a Zombie Attack", available here.
  • For more information on zombies, click here.
Amazon.com. Last accessed November 18, 2009 from http://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Haiku-Good-Poetry-Your-Brains/dp/1600610706/ref=dp_return_2?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books

Historical Fiction--The Wednesday Wars

Bibliographic Data
Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday Wars. New York: Clarion Books, 2007. ISBN 9780618724833.

Plot Summary
It's 1967, and the Vietnam War is in full swing. But seen through Holling Hoodhood's eyes, the war is minor compared to his personal affairs. Holling doesn't know what to think of his life. His 7th grade English teacher hates him and makes him read Shakespeare. His sister is a flower child and is always arguing with their conservative father. His father, a successful architect, assumes Holling will take over the family business one day. But nobody seems to care what Holling wants. Through his firsthand account of the humorous events which seem to befall only him, Holling finds his own identity and does some growing up along the way.

Critical Analysis
It’s 1967, and the Vietnam War is going strong. But Holling Hoodhood barely notices. He’s got problems of his own to worry about. But this year, something will happen to Holling, something he never expected. Holling is about to meet the Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare. And with the Bard’s words to guide him, Holling will never be the same.

The story is written in the first person narrative, and it is a monthly accounting of Holling’s 7th grade school year. Due to unavoidable circumstances, Holling and his 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Baker, are in class by themselves for the last hour of each Wednesday, and Holling is convinced that Mrs. Baker hates his guts.

          “So, being a Presbyterian was now a disaster. Especially on
          Wednesday afternoons when, at 1:45 sharp, half of my class
          went to Hebrew School at Temple Beth-El, and, at 1:55, the
          other half went to Catechism at Saint Adelbert’s. This left
          behind just the Presbyterians—of which there had been three,
          and now there was one.

          Me” (3).

The story is set in Long Island, New York. Holling lives in a medium sized town, and his father, a successful architect, is constantly trying to place situations and people from town into the context of his architectural practice. If they can’t lead to more architectural jobs, they’re not worth Mr. Hoodhood’s time and energy.


          “So, Holling, what did you do that might make Mrs.
          Baker hate your guts, which will make other Baker family
          members hate the name of Hoodhood, which will lead the
          Baker Sporting Emporium to choose another architect, which
          will kill the deal for Hoodhood and Associates, which will drive
          us into bankruptcy, which will encourage several lending
          institutions around the state to send representatives to our
          stoop holding papers that have lots of leg words on them—
          none of them good—and which will mean that there will be no
          Hoodhood and Associates for you to take over when I'm ready
          to retire?”

          Even though there wasn’t much left of [dinner], it started to
          want to come up again.

          “I guess things aren’t so bad,” I said.

          “Keep them that way,” he said” (8)

Mrs. Baker finally settles on Shakespeare to pass the time on Wednesday afternoons. This serves to convince Holling now more than ever that Mrs. Baker hates his guts. But it’s through the time that Mrs. Baker spends with Holling, discussing Shakespeare’s words and meanings that he begins to make sense of what else is happening in his life.

Because Holling is familiar with Shakespeare, he gets a part in the Festival Theater’s performance of The Tempest. When pictures of him playing the part surface at his school (With him wearing yellow tights. And white feathers on his butt!), more problems result. His sister’s on his case about the photos, his classmates want to stick up for him but are too afraid of the bully who did it. And Mrs. Baker goes on to Macbeth.

Through one incident after another, one Shakespeare play after another, Holling finally starts to make sense of things. He makes the astonishing discovery that Mrs. Baker doesn’t hate him after all. He and Mrs. Baker establish a secret code word between the two of them, “Chrysanthemum for something really good” (170). He makes the varsity track team and Mrs. Baker (who turns out to have won a silver medal for running in the 1956 Olympics) coaches him.

          “Mrs. Baker leaned back in her chair. “It was for the women’s four-by-one
          hundred relay. Don’t look so surprised. You didn’t think I’d spent my whole life
          behind this desk, did you?”

          And I suddenly realized that, well, I guess I had. Weren’t all teachers born
          behind their desks, fully grown, with a red pen in their hand and ready to

          “Go home now, Mr. Hoodhood,” said Mrs. Baker. “And tomorrow,
          run like Jesse Owens”” (170).

A sure sign you’re growing up is when you realize your teacher is a person, too.

Another sign you’re growing up is when you realize you make your own decisions about becoming a man, not your father. After Mrs. Baker, Holling’s father and sister are the next most important minor characters. Holling’s father is dictatorial and believes that his way is the only way. Holling’s sister, Heather, picks on him and insults him like most big sisters and is constantly fighting with her father, trying to assert her independence and make him see that other people might have important opinions also. By the end of the story, Holling has overcome his fear of confronting his father, and he finds out his sister really does love him and is even proud of him.

Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King make short appearances in the story also, as the news of their assassinations deeply affects Holling.

At his friend Danny’s Bar Mitzvah at the end of the story, Holling finally realizes he can live his own life, not the life his father has planned for him.

          “”It was a whole lot more than chanting at everyone,” I said.

          “Let’s get in the car,” said my mother.

          “No,” said my father. He put his arms up on top of the station
          wagon’s roof. “I’d like to know what Holling thought was a whole
          lot more.”

          My stomach got tight. “He became a man,” I said.

          “You think that’s how you become a man, by chanting a few

          “You think you become a man by getting a job as an architect?”

          My father straightened. “That’s exactly how you become a man,”
          he said. “You get a good job and you provide for your family. You
          hang on, and you play for keeps. That’s how it works.”

          “I really do think we should get in the car,’ said my mother.

          “I don’t think so,” I said to my father. “It’s not just about a job.
          It’s more. It has to do with choosing for yourself.”

          “And you didn’t even have to go to California to figure all that
          out,” said my father. “So who are you, Holling?”

          I felt Heather looking at me. And somehow—I didn’t know how—
          I thought of Bobby Kennedy, who could have made all the

          “I don’t know yet,” I said finally. “I’ll let you know.”

          “What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo,” said my father. He got into
          the station wagon and slammed the door. My mother blew me a
          kiss—really—and then she got in, too.

          And my sister got in last of all.

          She was smiling.

          I could hardly breathe.

          When they drove away, I went back inside Temple Beth-

Back inside the synagogue, Holling’s classmates are all still at Danny’s Bar Mitzvah. Mrs. Baker is there also.

          “Everyone was laughing and jostling to their places. I needed to
          go find mine.

          “L’chayim!” I said to Mrs. Baker.

          “And she smiled—not a teacher smile. “Chrysanthemum,” she
                    said“ (260).

The theme of this story is man vs. man (Holling vs. his dad, Holling vs. Mrs. Baker, Holling vs. the bully), but ultimately, it’s a story of man vs. himself. Danny wasn’t the only boy who became a man that day.

While reading this story, I couldn’t help but think of my older brother. He is Holling’s age, and I wonder if he was as aware of the Vietnam War as Holling. To me, it’s terribly ironic that Holling thinks the war is wrong, but my brother came very close to serving in Vietnam. The war ended in April of 1975 and my brother graduated one month later.

Awards and Honors
  • Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2007; Winner Best Novel for Young Readers That Adults Would Love if They Knew About It United States.
  • Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2007; Winner Book We Could Have Sold More of with a Better Jacket United States.
  • Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2007; Winner Favorite Middle Grade Novel United States.
  • Cybils, 2007; Finalist Young Adult Fiction United States.
  • John Newbery Medal, 2008; Honor Book United States.
  • National Parenting Publications Award, 2007; Gold Book Ages 12 & Up United States.
  • Society of Midland Authors Book Awards, 2008; Winner Children's Fiction United States.
  • Thumbs Up! Award, 2008; Nominee United States.
  • Best Books for Young Adults, 2008; YALSA American Library Association; United States.
  • Best Books for Young People, 2007; Washington Post; United States.
  • Best Young Adult Books, 2007; Kirkus; United States.
  • Children's Book Sense Picks , Summer 2007; American Booksellers Association; United States.
  • Editors' Choice, 2007; Booklist; United States.
  • Notable Children's Books in the English Language Arts, 2008; NCTE Children's Literature Assembly; United States.
  • Notable Children's Books, 2008; ALSC American Library Association; United States.
  • Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books, 2007; Cahners; United States.
    Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, April 16, 2007; Type Cahners; United States.
  • Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth, 2008; Booklist; United States.
Review Excerpts
Gillian Engberg (Booklist, Jun. 1, 2007 (Vol. 103, No. 19))
"On Wednesday afternoons, while his Catholic and Jewish schoolmates attend religious instruction, Holling Hoodhood, the only Presbyterian in his seventh grade, is alone in the classroom with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, who Holling is convinced hates his guts. He feels more certain after Mrs. Baker assigns Shakespeare’s plays for Holling to discuss during their shared afternoons. Each month in Holling’s tumultuous seventh-grade year is a chapter in this quietly powerful coming-of-age novel set in suburban Long Island during the late ’60s.... {Schmidt} knits together the story’s themes: the cultural uproar of the ’60s, the internal uproar of early adolescence, and the timeless wisdom of Shakespeare’s words. Holling’s unwavering, distinctive voice offers a gentle, hopeful, moving story of a boy who, with the right help, learns to stretch beyond the limitations of his family, his violent times, and his fear, as he leaps into his future with his eyes and his heart wide open."

Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, September 2007 (Vol. 61, No. 1))
"Holling Hoodhood is the only Presbyterian at Camillo Junior High, a condition that would have no significance at all except for the fact that, on Wednesdays, Catholic and Jewish kids are dismissed early for religious instruction, leaving Holling as the lone remaining student in Mrs. Baker’s seventh-grade class. She’s as perplexed as he as to how “the class” should proceed, and they settle uneasily into a routine of reading successive Shakespeare plays, which Holling interprets as a sure sign that Mrs. Baker hates him. Nonetheless, over the course of the school year—as divided into monthly chapters and narrated by Holling—they form a bond of friendship that sees him through rough patches at home with his bombastic father and flower-child sister and Mrs. Baker through the ordeal of awaiting news of her husband, who has just gone MIA in Vietnam."

Kathie Fitch (VOYA, June 2007 (Vol. 30, No. 2))
"Seventh grader Holling Hoodhood lives in the Long Island suburbs in the Perfect House with his less-than-perfect, architect father, his subservient mother, and his flower-child sister. On Wednesday afternoon, half of his class leaves for Hebrew School at Temple Beth-El while the other half goes to catechism. Holling is the lone Presbyterian so he stays behind with his teacher, Ms. Baker, whom Holling knows hates him. She introduces him to the plays of William Shakespeare, an assignment that Holling assumes is punishment but which actually enhances his life. There is a lot going on in this novel not all related to the politics of the turbulent 1960s. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and the unpopular Vietnam War play a part in Holling's seventh grade year but so do two rats, Sycorax and Calliban, with their clacking yellow teeth; a part as Ariel in yellow tights; a track team; bullying and racism; a camping trip; and disappointment in a first love. Ms. Baker gently guides him through everything even as she brokenheartedly deals with the news that her husband is MIA."

Book Hook or discussion questions
  • If you want to read more from Gary D. Schmidt, try Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.
  • For more stories about a funny relationship between a student and his teacher, read Frindle (Clements, 1996) or Don't You Know There's a War On? (Avi, 2001).
Online Connections
For information on Shakespeare's life and times, click here.
For information on the Vietnam War (from PBS), click here.
For a video of Bobby Kennedy's speech announcing Martin Luther King's assassination, click here.

Biography--Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life

Bibliographic Data
Sandler, Martin W. Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life. New York: Walker Pub. Co., 2008. ISBN 9780802796660.

Plot Summary
Martin W. Sandler takes a different approach from most Lincoln biographers. In this book he links photos and images of Licoln's life and times to current events, icluding the history of the art of photography. Through his concise text, Sandler shows us how Lincoln and the budding photography industry both profited and gained over the years of Lincoln's life, in a way tbat wouldn't have been possible if these two 'forces' hadn't come together at the same time in history. Not just a LIncoln biographiy, this book also serves as a basic ntroduction to the beginning of celebrity photogra0phy.

Critical Analysis

           “It was through the camera that the most remarkable events
           in Abraham Lincoln’s life were revealed, events that not
           only disclosed but shaped his life as well” (68).

Photos occur everywhere throughout this book, which is only appropriate considering that the book addresses how photography and Lincoln’s career developed so closely together, almost in a symbiotic relationship. Every page of this book until the end pages contains one or more photographs, paintings, or images. Sandler doesn’t restrict himself to photos of only Lincoln, though. We see a slave family, we are witnesses to the hanging of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, and we are even taken to the battlefield of Antietam to observe, through the haze of the cannons, the single bloodiest day to ever occur within the Continental United States.

Because photography was in its childhood stages, the photographs sometimes are not very clear, but others are of very high quality. For example, the only known photograph in existence of Lincoln at Gettysburg on the day of his famous speech is reproduced on pages 4 and 5. Sandler tells us told that a specific circled person within the photograph is Lincoln. The photograph is printed three times, once in its entirety, a close-up of one section, and then the close-up of a third section, which contains Lincoln’s image at Gettysburg. Although Pennsylvania Governor Curtis and his son are clear in the second reproduction, the circled image in the third section of the photograph looks more like Ulysses Grant than Lincoln to me. However, the librarian who, in 1952, found the plate this image was printed from was much more experienced at looking at old photographs than I am, since she worked in the Still Pictures Branch of the National Archives. Other than this one image, the photographs are all fairly clear.

Although this biography is not arranged in strict chronological order, some of the information builds on itself. However, this is not to the point where the book has to be read in sequential order. Most of the double page spreads are self-contained essays. A Table of Contents would have aided the book greatly; however, there is an index, list of places to visit, and lists of websites and books for more information.

Sandler’s choice of words in many passages is flawless; for example, “Union troops were trounced” (50), “a sad and weary Robert E. Lee left the courthouse, mounted his horse, and rode slowly away” (70), and “Eyes crazed with anger, Booth planned Lincoln’s assassination carefully and ingeniously” (78).

Sandler gives thorough photo credits and a list of sources in the back of the book. He specifically states, “The following sources have been particularly important in presenting key concepts in this book...” Further down the same page, he writes, “Here is a bibliography of the most significant sources I used in my research...” (95).

Although primarily about Lincoln, Sandler also gives us information about the first half of the 19th century, especially when he discusses Lincoln’s visit to New Orleans as a young man. The sights and sounds of 19th century New Orleans come alive in the text:

           “Lincoln was thrilled by the prospect of visiting his first
           genuine city. Although he was fascinated with the sight of
           the towering sailing vessels that jammed New Orleans Harbor
           and with the crowds of people from around the world that
           filled the city’s streets, he was shocked at something else
           he witnessed.

           More than 200 slave dealers conducted their business in New
           Orleans, and Lincoln was horrified at the sight of gangs of
           men, women, and children shackled in chains, being prodded
           along to the auction blocks to be sold off like horses or
           cattle” (16).

Many of us remember being forced to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in junior high or middle school. Placed in the context of Lincoln’s life and presidency, though, Sandler’s lead-up to it takes the words of what might have been just another dreary history lesson, and transforms them into a vibrant passage.

           “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on
           this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and
           dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

           Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether
           that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated,
           can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that
           war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a
           final resting place for those who here gave their lives
           that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and
           proper that we should do this.

           But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not
           consecrate—we can not hallow this ground. The brave men,
           living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it,
           far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will
           little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can
           never forget what they did here. It is for us the living,
           rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which
           they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is
           rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task
           remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take
           increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the
           last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve
           that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation,
           under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that
           government: of the people, by the people, for the people,
           shall not perish from the earth.”

Martin W. Sandler has taught American history at the university level. He is an award-winning television writer and producer. He has written more than 60 other books. One of his other books, The Story of American Photography, was named a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book. He has also written an award-winning history series for young readers for the Library of Congress.

Awards and Honors
  • Cybils, 2008 Finalist ; Non-Fiction Middle Grade/Young Adult Book United States.
  • Booklist Book Review Stars , Sep. 15, 2008; United States.
  • Choices, 2009; Cooperative Children's Book Center; United States.
  • School Library Journal Book Review Stars, October 2008; Cahners; United States.
Review Excerpts
Ilene Cooper (Booklist, Sep. 15, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 2))
"This extraordinary book is a tribute to the way contemporary and future generations came to view Lincoln....Part biography, part history of the Civil War, the book touches on many interesting topics....Although it’s the pictures that provide the “wow factor,” Sandler’s perceptive words have their own elegance. Well sourced and offering numerous ways to learn more (although, surprisingly, the fine Lincoln museum in Springfield is not cited), this will be an excellent tool for history classes; and browsers, too, will be caught up in Lincoln’s story."

CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices 2009)
"Martin W. Sandler documents Lincoln’s rise to power through a chronological arrangement of photographs, accompanied by the fascinating stories behind each one, along with what they tell the modern reader about Abraham Lincoln."

Horn Book (The Horn Book Guide, Spring 2009
"This well-researched photo-essay provides an engaging account of its subject and the historic events that shaped our nation. Using Lincoln's own words, anecdotes, and more than one hundred photographs, this biography vividly portrays the integrity, wit, and compassion of the president who ended slavery and reunited the country."

Book Hook
If you enjoyed the photodocumentary approach taken in Sandler's book, don't miss Russell Freedman's Lincoln: A Photobiography. (Sandpiper, 1989) which won a Newberry Medal in 1988, or The Civil War by Geoffrey C. Ward, Kenneth Burns, and Richard Burns (Vintage; Mti edition, 1994).

Nonfiction: Bodies from the Ice

Bibliographic Data
Deem, James M. Bodies From the Ice : Melting Glaciers and the Rediscovery of the Past . Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. ISBN 9780618800452.

Plot Summary
James W. Deem takes his readers all around the world in this photo essay of mummies and other frozen bodies throughout the world. We are introduced to the Italian Iceman, Ötzi. He takes us to Mount Everest, where we learn what finally happened to some famous missing explorers, and some other not-so-famous lost individuals. We are also taken to the other side of the planet, to the Andes Mountains of South America and to North America. He explains how these ice mummies were preserved, and why there are so few of them. We also learn about icebergs and glaciers, with a special emphasis on how the greenhouse effect is slowly causing them to disappear.

Critical Analysis
James W. Deem is a retired college professor. According to the inside back cover, he didn’t know anything about glaciers until he started writing this book. However, he did know something about mummies. Some of his prior nonfiction works include Bodies from the Ash and Bodies from the Bog.

The inside back cover also states that Deem wanted to write this book, not only as “a memorial to the people recovered from melting glaciers, but also to the glaciers themselves.” The final chapter, “Saving the Past,” is filled with statistics that give evidence of how fast our glaciers are melting, the problems this might create if they disappear totally, and an inset list of “Personal Ways to Help the Environment” (page 53).

Deem starts his book off with the oldest and perhaps most famous ice mummy, Italy’s Ötzi. Photos of Ötzi’s excavation from his ice tomb are included, with informative captions of what each photo shows. The next chapter transitions from Ötzi to basic concepts of glacier science, or glaciology. Deem builds on these concepts to explain scientific theories of how Ötzi and a few other ice mummies survived the glaciers and their movement. Further chapters discuss the history of the science of glaciology, ice mummies from other continents, the discovery of Sir George Mallory’s frozen body on Mount Everest (Mallory disappeared on an attempt to reach the summit in 1924. With the discovery of his body, scientists and historians hoped to determine if Mallory was the first to reach the top of Mt. Everest and not Edmund Hillary in 1953. With the discovery of his body, there is both evidence for and against this assertion, and the question remains unanswered.).

Deem makes sure his readers understand the terminology in the discipline of glaciology. He does this by providing pronunciation guides within the text, for example, “Ötzi (rhymes with tootsie)” (page 6). He also italicizes and defines new words and immediately uses using the words in their correct context within the text, for example,

          “Once formed, the glacier becomes a giant conveyor belt—
          essentially a moving river of ice—with two main parts; a
          higher accumulation area and a lower ablation (or melting)
          area. Although snow accumulates and melts in both parts,
          the accumulation area (where more snow falls than melts)
           pressures the glacier ice to advance to the ablation area
          (where more snow melts)” (page 11).

Deem’s style of writing is informal but knowledgeable. Even when he’s warning about the potential dangers associated both with mountain climbing and the glaciers’ melting, his tone remains informative and never ‘preachy.'

Photographs, both of landscapes and mummies, clarify and expand on the text by offering further information. The photographs are especially fascinating in the chapter dedicated to the discovery of Ötzi. They show the excavation of his body, the artifacts that were found with him, and close-ups of interesting features of his body. The book also contains maps, sketches, magazines, postcards, and paintings from both today and as far back as 1790. Deem’s painstaking research becomes apparent when he even includes a photograph of a Tlingit family from 1895. In the photograph, the father is wearing the same type of hat as was worn by an ice mummy found in North America. This particular ice mummy was believed to be related to Indians of the area and was subsequently returned to the First Nations Tribe for burial. Out of respect for their ancestor, the First Nations declined to photograph the body and cremated it according to their customs. (page 43-47). The mummy’s ashes were later sprinkled over the glacier where he was discovered.

The book contains many useful resources for readers who want to learn more. There are lists of ways readers can personally help the environment, suggested glaciers to visit all around the world, helpful websites, a bibliography and acknowledgements, and an index.

Awards and Honors
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, 2009; Honor Book United States.
  • Best Children's Books, 2008; Kirkus; United States.
  • Capitol Choices, 2009; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States.
  • Children's Catalog Supplement to Nineteenth Edition, 2009; H. W. Wilson Company; United States.
  • Choices, 2009; Cooperative Children's Book Center; United States.
  • Kirkus Book Review Stars, October 15, 2008; United States.
  • Notable Children's Books, 2009; ALSC American Library Association; United States.
  • Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2009; National Science Teachers Association; United States.
  • School Library Journal Book Review Stars, December 2008; Cahners; United States.
Review Excerpts
Horn Book (The Horn Book Guide, Spring 2009)
"Deem continues his interest in mummified bodies... in this book that sits at the intersection of several disciplines. After introducing the oldest ice mummy (5,300-year-old Otzi), Deem gives readers a tour of mummified bodies found in ice the world over. The design, with its variety of photographs, captions, and sidebars, seals the appeal."

John E. Dockall (Science Books and Films (Vol. 45, No. 2))
"In Bodies from the Ice, author James Deem has compiled a highly useful and readable volume on a unique aspect of human history and prehistory.... In addition, the author provides a clear discussion of the science of glaciology (the study of glaciers) and how events in prehistory can be preserved. He concludes with a chapter on the scientific importance of the human past in relation to glaciers, and the ever-present threat of losing more of the world’s glaciers as climates continue to change. The book is small, but accurately portrays the process of science from discovery to investigation. A general audience would benefit from reading it, and it is appropriate as well for junior high and high school audiences. The book could also be used for classroom discussions pertaining to global environmental change, history, prehistory, and scientific inquiry."

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2008 (Vol. 76, No. 20))
"With global warming, the glaciers that crown our highest mountains have retreated, revealing humans who died there long ago. This respectful photo-essay opens with the story of Ötzi, found in the Alps in 1991 more than 5,000 years after his death. Deem goes on to explain how glaciers work to preserve and destroy human remains and to provide some historical background. Looking beyond Europe, he describes Inca children sacrificed on high Andean peaks, the discovery of the body of George Mallory, who died on Mt. Everest in 1924, and a man who died between 1670 and 1850 in what is now northern British Columbia whose DNA revealed connections to present-day First Nations Canadians. Clearly identified lithographs, paintings and archival photos help readers see how much has changed in these high altitudes, while maps make clear the locations of particular discoveries. Photos of skulls, mummified bodies and artifacts will fascinate readers. An intriguing read..."

Book Hook
Combine this book with Deem's other books in this series: Bodies From the Bog (1998) and Bodies From the Ash (2005). Both books are also published by Houghton Mifflin.

Online Connections
For more information on Ötzi, click here.
For the National Snow and Ice Data Center's webpage on glaciers, click here.