Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Graphic novels are the new hot thing. In the last five years I've heard more and more about these books and I must admit I'm a bit prejudice. How can a comic book be taken seriously? They're just about superheroes and misogynistic men. Well there's a reason graphic novels have had a comeback. Graphic novels capture stories that are deep, heavy, emotional, action-packed, etc. etc. This is the perfect medium for certain stories and kids and adults alike are jumping at the chance to read in this style. Graphic novels have been a heaven send for parents and teachers with reluctant readers.

In this young adult graphic novel, Hereville, the young Mirka wants to go on quests to kill dragons and other monsters. The only problem is she lives in an orthodox Jewish town. Mirka helps her little brother escape bullies, but must run from them herself. While fleeing, she stumbles across a strange house she's never seen and a witch. After stealing a grape from the garden, the witch's pig, who Mirka thinks is a monster because their village doesn't have pigs, terrorizes her until she saves it. The witch grants her a wish for saving the pig and decides Mirka needs to get a sword to fight dragons, but in order to get the sword, Mirka must defeat a troll. But Mirka is not just a troll fighting, dragon slayer, she's an Orthodox Jew. That means doing housework, going to school, and celebrating Shabbat.

This book took me about 30-45 minutes to read. I thought it was great! A perfect mix of fantasy, which draws many readers in, i.e. me, and fact. Mirka is a tom boy who doesn't want to learn how to knit or think about marriage. A lot of the novel deals with orthodox Jewish culture and happenings. Some of the vocabulary is in Yiddish, but on the bottom of the page there's always a translation. I learned a lot about the culture through this format and enjoyed the story.

Although Mirka's dreams may be childish, the story deals with some serious topics as well. Religion isn't exactly a topic that's paired with fantasy and as far as young adult fiction goes, it's typically not something touched on or the book is considered an 'inspirational' or 'religious' book, which often deters many from reading it. Here the Jewish community is important to the story and it's not just used as a setting, but it's an essential element that is talked about and explained. Mirka's mother has died and her family has been combined with her stepmother's. Bullies, popularity, obedience, and rebellion are all topics that are dealt with.

Thank you Mirka for reminding me that graphic novels are not flippant or a cheap form of literature. This was a fun, fascinating read.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Crossing Lines

Football and Homosexuals. Ahh...yes that sounds about right. Wait...well somehow writer Paul Volponi marries these two ideas. The ideas not the football players!

Adonis is a senior Varsity football player. He's excited for his final season to start, but the new school year starts with more drama than anyone anticipated. Alan, a new student at school, is a flamboyant gay man who is not afraid to stand up for himself and be himself. Adonis wants nothing more than to avoid Alan, but Ethan, the football team captain, has a problem with Alan's sexuality and the way he presents himself. Along with that, the fashion club, whose vice president is Adonis's sister, has made Alan their president. Adonis cannot escape Alan's presence or keep out of the issues. The girl he's dating is a good friend to Alan, and thinks that Adonis is the only football player with the balls to think for himself and do the right thing. As the drama and homophobia in school heighten, the football players plan a prank that will hurt and embarrass Alan. Where does Adonis stand on the line? He's unsure whether to be safe with his friends, or to cross the line and do the right thing.

This novel is a young adult title. It approaches some hard issues like bullying, homosexuality, homophobia, and peer pressure. Unfortunately I didn't think it really delved into these issues. Volponi certainly gets the homophobia point across. There are lots of slurs toward Alan and it hurts to see petitions going around school to try and get him kicked out. Although Adonis is uncomfortable with all of this, he never says anything to anyone and then he lies to the girl he's interested in by telling her he's totally against what the guys are doing. He backs up his friends and their hurtful opinions through most of the novel. I didn't like him. I understand what a difficult place he was in, choosing between whether to remain one of the guys or to do the right thing and become an outcast.

The ideas were too black and white. At the end it became here was the right thing you should have done, and here is the wrong thing that was done. Also, the climax came at the last 40 or so pages of the book. Volponi didn't dig into the afterward of what happens to Adonis and how he deals with having stood up for the gay guy. It felt like the end of the novel should be the middle of it. There was so much more to be  probed and I wish he would have looked into the opinions in this novel more. A lot of points were brought up that felt useless. Alan's family dynamic is brought up, but it feels like it's thrown away a bit. There were details that are stuck in there that are pointless because they don't go anywhere.

All in all I was thankful that this novel looked at issues that are rife throughout high schools and the world. However, the main character was a guy who thought he was an individual, but gave into peer pressure by remaining silent. Maybe he is supposed to represent the more prominent figure of the person who enables by being quiet. I just wish these ideas were more looked at. There's so much depth there that could have taken this novel to a different level.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Hunger Games

Every time I turn a corner I hear people talking about "The Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Most people have continuously told me to read the book! "It's so good". "You can't put it down". "You'll love it!" Sometimes that annoys me, especially when it's a bestseller. I want to go against the grain and not like it. Not this time though. All the talkers were right. This is an excellent book!

Set in the future, North America has become one country named Panem, and is ruled over by The Capitol. Katniss is a teenager who lives in District 12 of Panem with her mother and sister. In order to remind the districts of their disobedience from a long past rebellion, the Capitol puts people from each district in a sport called the Hunger Games. A girl and boy between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen in a raffle to go to the games, but these are not normal games. An arena is chosen where 24 kids from the twelve districts are sent. The point of the game is to survive and kill the other players. Katniss is taken from her district, so must use the skills she possess to stay alive or die at the hands of another.

Think of the games as a gladiator/survivor challenge and you have the right idea. I'm personally turned off by futuristic settings because I think of space and aliens and all sorts of weird technology. It's not futuristic in those terms. The people who live in this place are monitored and their food is divided, kind of like communism, but they live a very difficult lifestyle devoid of most conveniences. I thought the setting of the games was also great. It takes place in a foresty area, so it made for a nice, natural backdrop and reading about Katniss and her survival skills was fun and interesting. I couldn't stop reading and when I wasn't reading I was wondering what would happen next.

There is a lot going on in this book. Survival games, love stories, loss, rebellion, killing, and a future world that does not pity the poor and weak. This book was great and Collins created a great set up for the rest of the novels. It is not terribly bloody, but I would caution against young kids reading this. Stick with the 12+ crowd and I think it is fitting. I'm an adult and still thought it worked for me as well. Many of the themes are not adolescent, but Collins writes in an engaging way that is not overly serious or dramatic so as not to adhere this book to one age group. Katniss is a character who is firm and takes on more responsibility than a sixteen year old should, and although she's not the most sentimental or sensitive, she has layers that have yet to be delved into and her personality keeps you on your toes.

I would highly suggest reading this book. It has a great plot and is an easy read. Plus then you can finally join in on the conversations about it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Thief Lord

Reading Machine here at your service.

Today a Juvenile novel is my subject. The Thief Lord is a book I've wanted to read for quite awhile. It's about a gang of street children who live in an abandoned movie theatre and live off of the thievery of the Thief Lord, as he calls himself.

Prosper and Bo are two brothers who have run away from their Aunt and Uncle who threatened to split them up after their mother's death. Bo is a young boy of 5 or 6 years who has angelic features and Prosper loves him dearly and will not have the two of them seperated, so he runs away to Venice where they meet the others. In Venice, the boys discover the city that their mother told them so much about. Soon, however, a detective is on the boys' trail because their Aunt wants to find them. They must juggle the snooping detective, a man who cheats them out of money, a mysterious Conte who wants them to steal a precious item, a wonderful woman, and a magical object.

This is a tale about wanting to grow up and not being taken seriously as a child, among other things. Here is a story about kids who have no where else to go, but to each other. The world is both delightful and frightening to these children. How could a child whose father ignores him and believes everything he does is silly and childish not want to prove him wrong? Prosper most certainly would love to be older to be able to take legal possession of Bo and help them along in the world.

I was not drawn into this novel until at least half way through its pages. Although Venice provides a beautiful backdrop, I did not find the story as engaging or adventurous as I originally thought it would be. It wasn't until a mystical element was thrown into the pot that I felt the story took on a more lively and intriguing feel. Overall I did think it was good and relatively fast-paced. I would recommend it to those of middle school age. I certainly see many children enjoying this one.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My First Romance...

I've read a few romances before, but I've never read a full blown romance novel. Well the fates decided it was time to end that. As part of a project I read a romance novel. Well I found one that sounded good and was secretly excited to read it, so I did something unheard of...I finished the assignment about a month in advance!

Anywho, the novel I chose was The Bride and the Beast by Teresa Medeiros. It is a take on Beauty and the Beast, but it's definitely it's own adaption of that. I would say that Teresa was lightly inspired by the general storyline of the fairytale, but it's not a the same old Disney tale we've all seen. Gwendolyn is a rational, intelligent, virtuous woman in a Scottish Highland village where almost no one else is. She's one of the few women who hasn't thrown her skirts over her head and allowed any man to enter. Unfortunately her rationality is about to be tested. The village was cursed by the Laird upon his death. Someone in the town betrayed the Clan and gave the MacCullough family, the leaders, up to the English. The Clan leader died and his son was thought to be dead with him. Now the curse is reigning down on them in the form of a mysterious dragon who has taken refuge in the castle. At the request for the money the traitor received for betraying his Clan, the villagers don't know what to do, so being superstitious folk, they decide the dragon might satiate his appetite with innocent blood i.e. a virgin. Gwendolyn is left for the dragon to gobble up, but soon she discovers that the dragon is no mythical creature, but a man struggling with his beastly side and his humanity. The Dragon, as he calls himself, must keep Gwendolyn at the castle for fear she will tell the villagers his secret. But soon he discovers that having her there may be more a threat to his passions than he thinks...

This was an easy read. It took me a day to get through it and I found myself always drawn back to the novel after I had put it down. It's fast-paced, steamy, and mysterious. The heroine is no twit and the hero is of course a hunky man with a mysterious past, and lots of dark thoughts. Cliché? Well yeah, it's a romance! I was surprised and delighted that *spoiler* Gwendolyn and the Dragon were married before they went full out steamy romance on each other. That was a nice change from what I think of when I think of romance.

So I've discovered a new genre and I completely understand why many people get caught up in these books. They're fun, imaginative, and mind-numbing (in a good way). It's easy to sit down with one of these books and get lost in it, which is wonderful if you are stressed or just need to get out of the world you live in for a while. Romances awaken all those fantasies that my cynical 21st century self has pushed aside. Men in kilts? Order me up one! Flowing dresses? In the French fashion if you please! A romance that defies the ages? I think we could all use one of those.

So if you're a judger, like I am, maybe you should stop judging people who are reading books with half naked men and women on the cover and see what the rage is all about. You might actually like it. But hey, it'll be our little secret.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Halloween is magical, at least to me. There's a spellbinding aspect about this holiday that gets me giddy as a school girl. Walking into homegoods stores and seeing the bounty of spooky ceramics, dolls, trinkets, and wall hangings brightens my round little face. The chill in the air and the crisp leaves falling from the skeleton boughs above them are timeless. The change of season is my favorite of the year, but there's one main component that adds to my adoration of this season. Halloween.

Other holidays have lost a lot of their appeal to me. Christmas is taken over by consumerism, St. Patty's by mass alcohol consumption, Easter way too much pastel! But Halloween still retains its age old magic, traditions, and mystery. There's a communion with nature, magic, mystery, terror, spirituality, and the unknown that can never be explained fully or taken away from my love. That doesn't mean I don't want to figure out why I feel this way for my beloved season, so I turn to books.

Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, wrote Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History and gave a well written, concise history of where Halloween came from and how it transformed into the holiday we know and love in contemporary times. The Celts were the first to celebrate what we envision as Halloween. Their Festival of Samhain, lord of the dead, was a late autumn festival during which the Celts celebrated the dead and the beginning of winter, the spirit season. Villagers offered sweets to appease mischievous spirits, or for more harmful, evil spirits, villagers dressed up as ghouls and led a parade out of the village to trick the spirits into leaving. See some similarities? Of course, witches are a major part of the holiday because practitioners were able to practice their craft at a higher level during this spiritual season. Once Christianity came, the leaders of the church put in new holy days where the old pagan celebrations originally set. Thus began All Saints and All Souls Day. People made soul cakes for these days and gave them to the poor. Soon boys and the poor began going door from door begging for soul cakes.

Come colonial times, the pagan traditions were set aside, at least in their out and out format, but harvest festivities and Guy Fawkes day were passable. As religious fervor calmed, the traditions came back and new ones were born. Halloween took on romantic aspects. Girls used superstitions and divination to learn who their future husband would be. Ghost stories were told and came from regional tales and cultural backgrounds.

During the 20th century, Halloween became a national holiday, but the trick part of trick-or-treat became a little too mischievous for communities. In an effort to divert trickster children causing property damage on this night, communities began holding parties for kids. From here, our Halloween parties, trick-or-treating, and the treats, tricks, and costumes all fell in place from the old world, to the new traditions.

Lesley's book was informative without being overly detailed about everything. She didn't use scholarly terms that are such a turn off unless you're doing heavy research. I thought this book was a great source for my Halloween history. I'm still ever so curious about the pagan routes of the holiday. Witches, bats, black cats, fairies, ghouls, and ghosts are the eerie, mysterious part of the season that haunt me and leave me wanting more. It may be a bit early to be thinking about Halloween, but I like to live up the season while it's still around.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Children's Books Extravaganza!!

I have two fall projects courtesy of my professors. Typically homework makes me cringe, but say HELLLOOO to my favorite classes: Materials for Youth, and Adult Reader's Advisory. As a library science student I need to be able to assist patrons with book suggestions, whether I know anything about the genres/authors/titles they're interested in or not, so classes like these are vital to boost my knowledge base and confidence. Well time to tell you about my projects...READ BOOKS!!! For my children's class my on going project is to read at least 70 children's and YA's books (40 picture books & 30 novels). For my adult's class I need to read 3 novels from different genres.

Well I've taken on my children's project head on. So now to share with you some of my favorite titles thus far.

"I Stink" by Kate and Jim McMullan is a fun, short picture book. Catchy title right?? I saw it and giggled, so just think what a kid would think. They'd love it! The pictures are cartoonish with lots of color. This is a book about...no not me!...about a garbage truck and what he does, so not only is it a fun read, with lots of noises and a talking dump truck, but it's informative. Here's a great book for a little one and a book I see being a favorite of many children. Great for young kids 2+.

"Scarecrow Pete" by Mark Kimball Moulton. The drawings are reminiscent of autumn, which is why I was originally drawn to this book. It's a well illustrated picture book about one of my favorite subjects, BOOKS! A boy finds a talking scarecrow in his family's vegetable patch and Pete, the scarecrow, helps him discover that books are a great way to learn, travel the world, and have fun. Pete and the boy have a good old time reading classics like "Moby Dick", "Peter Pan" and "The Wizard of Oz". The text rhymes, so it's a fun read-out-loud book for parents and their children. I think this one is good for kids who are reading or starting to read.

"You and Me and Home Sweet Home" by George Ella Lyon is such a sweet and time appropriate book. The girl and her mother in this book do not have a home and are forced to live in a relative's back room until neighbors and friends build them a home. In the current social climate with tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes taking down homes and communities left and right, this is a book that resonates with plenty of people across our nation. I was touched by the building efforts and thought the book was tasteful and well written. This is a great book to show kids that not everyone has what they have and to be thankful along with showing that helping others is important. Good for 4+ kids.

Well that's all for now. I'll get to some big kid reads soon enough, and hopefully I'll still be able to keep up with my own leisure reading, but I'm not complaining about my "homework". Silly teachers must have forgotten that homework is supposed to be miserable. Me=1, Professors=0.