Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fantasy - The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. Neil Gaiman. Ill. by Dave McKean. New York: HarperCollins Pub., 2008. ISBN 9780060530938.

Neil Gaiman has written a ghost story that is also a story about the power of family ties. Nobody Owens is raised by a cemetery of ghosts when his real family is murdered one night. He is given the nickname Bod along with the Freedom of the Graveyard, which enables him to pass through solid things, see the ghosts in the cemetery, and see in the dark. He is tutored by Silas, who although it is never explicitly stated, seems to be a vampire, and Miss Lupescu who turns out to be a werewolf. His ghostly mother and father love him, and he has the normal adventures any boy growing up in a cemetery would have. Despite his happy life, Bod still can't stop wondering what's outside the cemetery fence. Bod comes to realize that since he's still alive, he won't be able to stay in the graveyard forever. One day, he learns about the man who killed his family and is still looking for Bod. Unfortunately, venturing outside the fence brings Bod face to face with Jack Frost, the killer. He manages to use the Freedom of the Graveyard to escape Jack and his cohorts safely, but over the next few months, Bod comes to realize it's time for him to venture out into the world. The confrontation with Jack Frost gave him the confidence he needs to succeed in the outside world. Not only have his ghostly parents learned to let him go, but Bod has learned how to let go of them as well and venture out on his own.

One style technique of Gaiman's I especially enjoyed was how the ghosts have lived their mortal lives from ancient unknown times to about 80 years before the story takes place. They all use different colloquialisms and grammar appropriate to their lifetimes, and it's funny to read how Bod switches back and forth to address each ghost respectfully using his or her own criteria of what respect consisted of when he or she was still alive.

Awards and Honors:
• Battle of the (Kids') Books, 2009 Nominee United States
• Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children's Literature, 2009 Honor   Book Fiction and Poetry United States
• Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of
  the Year, 2008 Honorable Mention Best Novel for Young Readers That Adults
  Would Love If They Knew About It United States
• Cybils, 2008 Winner Fantasy and Science Fiction (Middle Grade) United States
• Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award, 2009 Winner United States
• Indies Choice Book Award, 2009 Winner Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book United
• John Newbery Medal, 2009 Winner United States
• Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 2008 Runner Up Young Adult Literature United

Holly Koelling (Booklist, Sep. 15, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 2))
Starred Review* While a highly motivated killer murders his family, a baby, ignorant of the horrific goings-on but bent on independence, pulls himself out of his crib and toddles out of the house and into the night. This is most unfortunate for the killer, since the baby was his prime target. Finding his way through the barred fence of an ancient graveyard, the baby is discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a stable and caring couple with no children of their own—and who just happen to be dead. After much debate with the graveyard’s rather opinionated denizens, it is decided that the Owenses will take in the child. Under their care and the sponsorship of the mysterious Silas, the baby is named “Nobody” and raised among the dead to protect him from the killer, who relentlessly pursues him. This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming. Although marketed to the younger YA set, this is a rich story with broad appeal and is highly recommended for teens of all ages.

Nicola Turner (Children's Literature)
Gaiman, famous for his creepy and often scary tales, Coraline and The Wolves in the Wall, has created in his new novel something that is neither creepy nor scary, despite its chilling first chapter and spectral cast of characters. This is a story about the power of family--whatever form it takes--and the potential of a child who is raised with love and a sense of duty. Nobody Owens (Bod) is adopted by a couple of ghosts after narrowly escaping death at the hands of the mysterious man who murdered the rest of his family. After much debate, he is granted the “Freedom of the Graveyard” by its long dead inhabitants. His guardian, Silas, who is neither dead nor alive, brings him food and ensures he is educated in the ways of the dead and the living. Of course, life for young Owens is not all smooth sailing. Bod must face the ghoul gate, the ancient force that waits in the oldest grave, and the mysterious man who still searches for the boy he failed to kill. The story of an orphaned boy being hunted down by a secret society and protected by magic sounds familiar, but while the story of Harry Potter resonates here, the sympathetic, flawed, and ultimately very human character of Bod saves this from being merely a reshaping of Rowling’s epic tale. In fact, Gaiman’s title is an homage to Kipling’s The Jungle Book. I cannot help thinking, however, that this novel should be the first in a series. There are too many questions unanswered. While I never really believed that Bod was ever in any real danger in the graveyard, a boy who sets off in to the world of the living with his “eyes and heart wide open” can only be headed for uncertainty.

1. This novel lends itself well to Readers' Theatre.
2. If possible, visit a nearby cemetery to make gravestone rubbings like Mr. Frost
    was doing when Scarlett first met him in Chapter 7.
3. How many diffferent Jacks in the story can the students identify? For example,
   Jack Frost, Jack of all trades, Jack Dandy. Can the students come up with any
   more Jack names that would work in this story, such as Jack Sprat?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Graphic novels - Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale

RAPUNZEL'S REVENGE. Written by Shannon and Dean Hale. Ill. by Nathan Hale. New York: Bloomsbury, 2008. ISBN 9781599902883.

Fairytale heroine meets the Old West in this hilarious graphic novel version of Rapunzel. When Rapunzel escapes from her tower, she runs into Jack, a loner with ideas of his own, including how to get his goose to lay golden eggs. Rapunzel uses her hair as a lariat to get her and Jack out of frequent scrapes, and in the end, Jack turns out to be none other than the Jack of beanstalk fame. Jack subsequently grows a beanstalk to rescue our fair heroine. But Rapunzel has everything under control. Or does she? When Jack plants a kiss on her at the end of the story, will there be a hapy ever after for this adventurous duo, or will more fairy tale adventures await them? Although it seems funny to hear Rapunzel and Jack using Old West jargon, the dialogue is short and sweet and fits perfectly with the setting. The illustrations are bright and vibrant, and it's almost possible to believe Jack and Rapunzel could be real.

Awards & Honors:
Cybils, 2008 Winner Graphic Novels (Elementary/Middle Grade) United States

Tina Coleman (Booklist, Sep. 1, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 1))
This graphic novel retelling of the fairy-tale classic, set in a swashbuckling Wild West, puts action first and features some serious girl power in its spunky and strong heroine. Young Rapunzel lives a lonely life, never knowing what lies beyond the high garden walls of her mother’s royal villa until one day she climbs the wall to see what’s on the other side. When she finds that the world outside is a dark place oppressed by her mother’s greed for power and uncovers the real secret of her own birth, she is imprisoned in a magic tree tower. In her years of captivity, she learns a lot about self-reliance and care for her exceptionally long hair, and eventually she is able to escape, vowing to bring down her mother’s cruel empire. Hale’s art matches the story well, yielding expressive characters and lending a wonderful sense of place to the fantasy landscape. Rich with humor and excitement, this is an alternate version of a classic that will become a fast favorite of young readers.

Laura Lehner (VOYA, October 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 4))
This version of the classic fairy tale Rapunzel is set in the old Southwest, complete with cowboys, coal mines, and coyotes. Rapunzel is a young girl living in a fortress with Mother Gothel, an enchantress who can make plants grow at her whim. Although their home is overflowing with fruits and flowers, it is surrounded by a wall that masks the desert and coal mines outside-Gothel owns everything, and the native people depend on her good will to keep their crops growing. When Rapunzel sneaks over the wall on her twelfth birthday, she sees the desolate world over which Mother Gothel rules, and she meets her real mother who was forced to give Rapunzel to Gothel at birth. To punish her curiosity, Gothel imprisons Rapunzel inside an enchanted tree that has only one window, far above the ground. Just as in the original version, Rapunzel's hair grows prodigiously. But this girl does not need a prince to climb up and rescue her. She uses her braid as a lasso to escape the tree and goes on many adventures that lead her ultimately to reunite with her mother and find true love in a boy named Jack, whose companion is an uncooperative goose. The Hale team creates an engaging heroine. Rapunzel gallivants across the unexpected setting, meets a cast of characters both humorous and threatening, and in the end comes to inherit the land that Gothel had stripped of life and returns it to the native people. This novel presents entertaining girl power at its quirkiest.

Have your students write their own graphic novel representations of a fairy tale of their own choosing.

Contemporary Realistic Fiction: Jellicoe Road

Marchetta, Melina. JELLICOE ROAD. New York: HarperTeen, 2008. ISBN 9780061431845.

Meet Taylor Markham. When she was eleven, her mother dropped her off on Jellicoe Road and never came back. Now she’s 18, a tough survivor, and trying to figure out the puzzling pieces of her life. Why did Hannah disappear and is the manuscript she left behind fact or fiction? Who is the mysterious Brigadier who seems to show up at the exact times when the last thing Taylor wants is adult interference? Is Jonah Griggs her future or her enemy? What secrets do Sergeant Santangelo and his son know about Taylor’s past? And who is the mysterious boy in the tree who persists in appearing in Taylor’s dreams? Told by Taylor in first person alternating with excerpts from Hannah’s manuscript, we follow Taylor on her journey of discovery as she and Jonah travel to Sidney to look for her mother and the answers to Taylor’s questions. Along the way, Taylor learns the joys and fears of loving somebody else and what it means to become a responsible, caring adult. The story is set in Australia sometime between the year 2000 and the present, and one of the recurring themes is how Taylor connects a song from the 80’s with the father she never knew. Some of the colloquialisms and slang are Australian, but understandable in context to American readers. The storyline is confusing at first for two reasons: First is this story realistic fiction or fantasy because of the boy in Taylor’s dreams? Second, the frequent switches back and forth between Hannah’s story and Taylor’s story are confusing at first, but once the reader understands what’s happening, this problem disappears. At that point, we find ourselves really caring about what will happen to Taylor when she finds her answers. What Taylor ultimately discovers about her past is totally unexpected, but it will help both Taylor and Hannah ultimately resolve the past.

Awards and Honors:
• Best Books for Young Adults, 2009; YALSA American Library Association; United
• Best Young Adult Books, 2008; Kirkus; United States
• Kirkus Book Review Stars, August 1, 2008 ; United States
• Cybils, 2008 Finalist Young Adult Novels United States
• Michael L. Printz Award, 2009 Winner United States

Daniel Kraus (Booklist, Nov. 1, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 5))
Taylor Markham isn’t just one of the new student leaders of her boarding school, she’s also the heir to the Underground Community, one of three battling school factions in her small Australian community (the others being the Cadets and the Townies). For a generation, these three camps have fought “the territory wars,” a deadly serious negotiation of land and property rife with surprise attacks, diplomatic immunities, and physical violence. Only this year, it’s complicated: Taylor might just have a thing for Cadet leader Jonah, and Jonah might just be the key to unlocking the secret identity of Taylor’s mother, who abandoned her when she was 11. In fact, nearly every relationship in Taylor’s life has unexpected ties to her past, and the continual series of revelations is both the book’s strength and weakness; the melodrama can be trying, but when Marchetta isn’t forcing epiphanies, she has a knack for nuanced characterizations and punchy dialogue. The complexity of the backstory will be offputting to younger readers, but those who stick it out will find rewards in the heartbreaking twists of Marchetta’s saga.

Stephanie Petruso (VOYA, December 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 5))
Taylor Markham has been living at the Jellicoe School since her mother abandoned her at a gas station when she was eleven. Taylor's whole life is a mystery to her-from what happened to her mother and who her father was to why certain people in town are so interested in her well-being. As the Jellicoe School students begin their annual territory wars with the Townies and military school cadets, Taylor is thrown together with Jonah Griggs, the leader of the Cadets. Although they are sworn enemies, Taylor and Jonah have a history and find themselves drawn to one another. Together they begin to unravel the tragic story of the five teenagers who started the territory wars a generation before and how their lives are tightly linked with Taylor's own…. The interwoven lives of Taylor and the doomed teenagers from the past create a complex tale with some great twists that readers will not see coming. It is a great choice for more sophisticated readers and those teens who like multifaceted stories and characters.

Since this book is recommended for high school level or above because of the intense themes, this would be an excellent choice to read in a high school health class to discuss the negative aspects of drug abuse and/or teen pregnancy.