Monday, December 1, 2008

The Lightning Thief - Genre 6 Fantasy, Fiction, & YA

Bibliography
Riordan, Rick. 2005. The lightning thief. Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 0786856297
Plot Summary
A troubled boy named Percy Jackson floats from school to school fighting ADHA, dyslexia, and bullies until he comes to Yancy Academy. Here, he finally finds a good friend named Grover and a teacher who believes in him. His troubled life seemed fairly normal until the day he accidentally vaporized his pre-algebra teacher. This event started Percy on a voyage of discovery he never could have imagined. He learns that Grover is actually a satyr, that his favorite teacher is actually a centaur, and Mount Olympus is located on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building. He also learns that he himself is the son of a god and spends his summer at Half Blood Hill - a camp for children of gods and other mythological beings. The camp is a safe place for the demigods to train against the monsters who will try to kill them in the mortal world.

Not long after Percy's arrival, he discovers that he, Grover, and Athena's daughter Annabeth must go on a quest to find and return Zeus' master lightning bolt and Hades' helm to prevent a war between the gods which would be devastating for mankind. The three successfully complete the quest and prevent the war but in the process discover a traitor at the camp. Though the traitor leaves, the reader knows he won't be gone forever which, along with Percy's decision to leave the safety of the camp for the school year, opens the story up to a series of novels.
Critical Analysis
With chapter titles like "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom" and lines like, "The guy on the bike would've made pro wrestlers run for Mama," one can't help but find the book humorous. Add that to battles to the death with various mythological monsters and the result is a captivating tale full of mystery, adventure, and fun.

The author seamlessly fuses ancient Greek mythology with modern life so that even if you know or remember very little about the Greek gods, you can still understand the story of Percy Jackson. While the adventures of Percy and his friends are certainly the stuff of fantasy, the author successfully leads the reader to suspend reality in favor of relating to the familar. The fight with the Minotaur is not as important as the feeling of loss and despair when Percy's mom disappears. The quest for Zeus' master lightning bolt becomes secondary to Percy's journey into becoming a good friend and hero. Ultimately, the reader can relate to the story - even those elements most fanciful. Afterall, is it really so hard to believe that L.A. is the gateway to the Underworld?
Professional Review Excerpts
from School Library Journal At the outset of this fast-paced tale by Rick Riordan (Hyperion/Miramax, 2005), it would seem that Percy Jackson is just another New York kid diagnosed with ADHD, who has good intentions, a nasty stepfather, and a long line of schools that have rejected him. The revelation of his status as half-blood offspring of one of the Greek gods is nicely packaged, and it's easy to believe that Mount Olympus, in modern times, has migrated to the 600th floor of the Empire State Building (the center of Western civilization) while the door to Hades can be found at DOA Recording Studio, somewhere in LA. With his new friends, a disguised satyr, and the half-blood daughter of Athena, Percy sets out across the country to rectify a feud between Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon. Along the way they must cope with the Furies, Medusa, motorcycle thug Aires, and various other immortals. Although some of Jesse Bernstein's accents fail (the monster from Georgia, for instance, has no Southern trace in her voice), he does a fine job of keeping the main characters' tones and accents distinguishable. He convincingly portrays Percy, voicing just the right amount of prepubescent confusion, ironic wit, and the ebbing and waning of concern for himself and those around him. Mythology fans will love this take and kids who haven't been inculcated with the Classical canon will learn aspects of it here while having no trouble following a rollicking good–and modern–adventure.

from Booklist The escapades of the Greek gods and heroes get a fresh spin in the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, about a contemporary 12-year-old New Yorker who learns he's a demigod. Perseus, aka Percy Jackson, thinks he has big problems. His father left before he was born, he's been kicked out of six schools in six years, he's dyslexic, and he has ADHD. What a surprise when he finds out that that's only the tip of the iceberg: he vaporizes his pre-algebra teacher, learns his best friend is a satyr, and is almost killed by a minotaur before his mother manages to get him to the safety of Camp Half-Blood--where he discovers that Poseidon is his father. But that's a problem, too. Poseidon has been accused of stealing Zeus' lightning bolt, and unless Percy can return the bolt, humankind is doomed. Riordan's fast-paced adventure is fresh, dangerous, and funny. Percy is an appealing, but reluctant hero, the modernized gods are hilarious, and the parallels to Harry Potter are frequent and obvious. Because Riordan is faithful to the original myths, librarians should be prepared for a rush of readers wanting the classic stories.
Connections
~ The easiest connection to make with this book is that of Greek Mythology. This book would be a great way to introduce students to the Greek gods and their stories.
~ Another great use of this book is in teaching the use of voice in writing. Fourth graders taking the TAKS writing test could learn a lot about how to give their characters personality and how the little details and comments can make a story more interesting.

How I Live Now - Genre 6 Fantasy, Fiction, & YA

Bibliography
Rosoff, Meg. 2004. How I live now. New York: Wendy Lamb Books. ISBN 0385746776
Plot Summary
This story, told by the character of Daisy, tells about how life changes during and after war. An unhappy teenage girl named Daisy finds a home in England with the family of her deceased mother. Not long after her arrival, Daisy's aunt leaves on a business trip of sorts and while she is gone, a war breaks out seperating the children from Aunt Penn forever. The children survive fine on their own for awhile but as the war progresses, they are eventually seperated with the girls going to live in the home of an Army Major and the boys being moved to a farm turned make-shift Army post.

From the seperation, the focus of the book is solely on Daisy and her cousin Piper and how the two manage to survive a war and their escape back home. After a long, hard journey on foot back to their home, the girls lay low waiting for the boys or at least some news of the boys to arrive home as well. Unfortunately, the first news to arrive is that Daisy is being deported back to New York. Daisy stays in New York for the six years it takes for the war to subside enough for the borders to re-open then returns to a war-torn but slowly reviving England - the only place that ever felt like home. Though her return is not entirely easy or natural, Daisy knows she's home and will probably never leave again.
Critical Analysis
This story, set in a modern day war affecting England and the U.S., can really make the reader think about what a modern war might be like - how hard it would be on society and how things we take for granted could be gone rather quickly. Another compelling theme of the story is Daisy's issues with a hated stepmother and eating which would be more familiar subjects for most readers. While other themes exist as well, the main theme of the story is that of growing up and finding a place to belong - another issue relevant to young readers. The love story within the plot is controverial, somewhat unrealistic, and not the most interesting of the plot lines. While it has some merit, the more compelling part of the story is how Daisy develops a view of the world outside of herself as she survives a war and protects her younger cousin in the process.

While the characters, plots, and themes were mostly realistic and relatable, the style of writing left something to be desired. The style of writing probably correctly reflects the writing of the 15 year old girl who tells the story but it still proves to be a little discouraging. The reader is left with many unanswered questions and the need for clarifications. And while punctuation is not necessarily needed when thinking or speaking, its absence from written forms of communication makes a story hard to follow.
Professional Review Excerpt
from Publishers Weekly This riveting first novel paints a frighteningly realistic picture of a world war breaking out in the 21st century. Told from the point of view of 15-year-old Manhattan native Daisy, the novel follows her arrival and her stay with cousins on a remote farm in England. Soon after Daisy settles into their farmhouse, her Aunt Penn becomes stranded in Oslo and terrorists invade and occupy England. Daisy's candid, intelligent narrative draws readers into her very private world, which appears almost utopian at first with no adult supervision (especially by contrast with her home life with her widowed father and his new wife). The heroine finds herself falling in love with cousin Edmond, and the author credibly creates a world in which social taboos are temporarily erased. When soldiers usurp the farm, they send the girls off separately from the boys, and Daisy becomes determined to keep herself and her youngest cousin, Piper, alive. Like the ripple effects of paranoia and panic in society, the changes within Daisy do not occur all at once, but they have dramatic effects. In the span of a few months, she goes from a self-centered, disgruntled teen to a courageous survivor motivated by love and compassion. How she comes to understand the effects the war has had on others provides the greatest evidence of her growth, as well as her motivation to get through to those who seem lost to war's consequences. Teens may feel that they have experienced a war themselves as they vicariously witness Daisy's worst nightmares. Like the heroine, readers will emerge from the rubble much shaken, a little wiser and with perhaps a greater sense of humanity.
Connections
~ An obvious subject of discussion inspired by this novel would be that of a 21st Century war - could it really happen the way this book describes it, would the results really be as the book describes it, would the results be the same in the U.S. as they were in England, etc.
~ Another great skill to be taught through this novel is that of inferencing. Since there are many details left out and gaps in the story, the reader must fill in the blanks.
~ This story could also be used to teach the skill of writing dialogue.

The Tale of Despereaux - Genre 6 Fiction, Fantasy, & YA

Bibliography
DiCamillo, Kate. 2003. The tale of Despereaux. Ill. by Timothy Basil Ering. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763617229
Plot Summary
This is "the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread," as the spine of the book states. In four books and a coda, DiCamillo tells of an unusually small mouse with unusally large ears named Desperaux. In addition to not fitting in physically, Despereaux never seemed to be able to concern himself with the things of mice - eating, scurrying, etc. Instead, Despereaux found he loved music, reading, and Princess Pea. These loves ultimately banished him to the dungeon...where the story of a rat named Roscuro is told. The reader learns that rats are supposed to love darkness and suffering but Roscuro loves the light and escapes from the dungeon. His shocking appearence at a party leads to the queen's death and the subsequent outlawing of soup, bowls, and spoons. This event, while setting in motion Roscuro's return to ratty and revengeful ways, introduces us to the story of Miggery Sow (Mig), a mistreated peasant girl who comes to live and work in the castle. At this point, all the characters merge into one story. It involves kidnapping and the loss of tails, bravery and love. Ultimately, the story is one of forgiveness and healed hearts.
Critical Analysis
The characters of the story can be hard to relate to since readers are not mice, rats, or living in a medieval castle. However, the struggles and desires of the characters are very familiar. We've all felt at least once that we don't belong and most of us desire to be more than we are. You don't have to be a king or a princess to miss loved ones who have died. And though the storyline jumps to different characters and the various areas of a medieval castle making it somewhat hard to follow at times, it is a wonderful tale of love, forgiveness, and being true to oneself. The author pulls the reader in by directly addressing the reader through comments and questions. Ering's illustrations also help to bring the reader into the story by providing a frame of reference for the settings and characters. His delicate and detailed pencil drawings show the light and darkness not only of the setting but also of the characters. Though the switch of settings and storylines can be a bit confusing, in the end, they come together in a beautifully woven tapestry.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Amazon.com Kate DiCamillo, author of the Newbery Honor book Because of Winn-Dixie, spins a tidy tale of mice and men where she explores the "powerful, wonderful, and ridiculous" nature of love, hope, and forgiveness. Her old-fashioned, somewhat dark story, narrated "Dear Reader"-style, begins "within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse." Despereaux Tilling, the new baby mouse, is different from all other mice. Sadly, the romantic, unmouselike spirit that leads the unusually tiny, large-eared mouse to the foot of the human king and the beautiful Princess Pea ultimately causes him to be banished by his own father to the foul, rat-filled dungeon.
Children whose hopes and dreams burn secretly within their hearts will relate to this cast of outsiders who desire what is said to be out of their reach and dare to break "never-to-be-broken rules of conduct." Timothy Basil Ering's pencil illustrations are stunning, reflecting DiCamillo's extensive light and darkness imagery as well as the sweet, fragile nature of the tiny mouse hero who lives happily ever after.

from School Library Journal A charming story of unlikely heroes whose destinies entwine to bring about a joyful resolution. Foremost is Despereaux, a diminutive mouse who, as depicted in Ering's pencil drawings, is one of the most endearing of his ilk ever to appear in children's books. His mother, who is French, declares him to be "such the disappointment" at his birth and the rest of his family seems to agree that he is very odd: his ears are too big and his eyes open far too soon and they all expect him to die quickly. Of course, he doesn't. Then there is the human Princess Pea, with whom Despereaux falls deeply (one might say desperately) in love. She appreciates him despite her father's prejudice against rodents. Next is Roscuro, a rat with an uncharacteristic love of light and soup. Both these predilections get him into trouble. And finally, there is Miggery Sow, a peasant girl so dim that she believes she can become a princess. With a masterful hand, DiCamillo weaves four story lines together in a witty, suspenseful narrative that begs to be read aloud. In her authorial asides, she hearkens back to literary traditions as old as those used by Henry Fielding. In her observations of the political machinations and follies of rodent and human societies, she reminds adult readers of George Orwell. But the unpredictable twists of plot, the fanciful characterizations, and the sweetness of tone are DiCamillo's own. This expanded fairy tale is entertaining, heartening, and, above all, great fun.
Connections
~ This book could be used in a study of the medieval time period - living arrangements and social standings.
~ This is also a good a good story for teaching point of view and perspective.
~ Another connection to be made with this story is that of good versus evil - what makes a character good or bad, there are consequences to our actions, etc.