Archive for July, 2013

Module 8–Mystery

The Body of Christopher Creed  by Carol Plum-Ucci

 

Summary

 

Torey Adams is  at a new boarding school.  We find out that he is there because of some things that happened back home.  The story progresses with the boy thinking about how he got where he is now.  A classmate, Christopher Creed, went missing.  He had been bullied for years and referred to as the school freak.  He was pushed around and beat up most of his life.  A letter was found signed by him, which made it seem like a suicide.  Others think he just ran away because no body was found.

 

Torey is really torn up about the missing boy because he knows he wasn’t always the nicest to him.  His desire to find out what happened to this boy leads to many town secrets being revealed and leads to his own self-destruction.

 

Plum-Ucci, C.  (2000).  The Body of Christopher Creed.  Florida:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing.

 

My impressions

 

This was a different type of mystery as we didn’t know if the boy was dead or just ran away.  We didn’t know if a crime had even been committed…but that was the mystery, what happened?  Torey is looking for clues and he is trying to solve this mystery throughout the entire book.  I don’t want to ruin the end of the book for any of you who might read it, so I will conclude that I thought it was a good mystery.  I definitely recommend this to everyone; I don’t think you will be disappointed.  I think the pace of the book was fast and was a page-turner.  I look forward to reading the sequel.

 

Reviews

 

Plum-Ucci makes a memorable fiction debut with this soapy tale of a teenager’s disappearance from a small New Jersey town asimmer with dirty secrets. Rumors fly when despised, perennial outcast Chris Creed vanishes, leaving an ambiguous e-mail note behind. Did he run? Commit suicide? Was he kidnapped? Murdered? Suspicion quickly centers on 17-year-old Bo Richardson, a hard case with a long juvenile record—but as Bo’s naïve schoolmate Alex discovers, finger-pointing is not evidence. Revelations unfold as Alex begins to look past his comfortable life and circle of superficial friends: the adults in town are still flinching over a similar disappearance a generation ago; the seemingly distraught Mrs. Creed is a control freak of the most damaging kind; a schoolmate psychologically abused by her mother’s current boyfriend reveals that the local police chief is one of her mother’s former ones. Most startling of all, to Alex at least, beneath Bo’s brutal exterior lies a fundamental decency. Alex’s insights into the fears and secrets of people around him, and the way ugly truths can be hidden by easy lies, are hard-won enough to be convincing, and the plot peaks with a gloriously icky scene in which Alex breaks his leg while breaking into an old, naturally sealed Lenape tomb, and watches a more recent corpse spontaneously decompose upon exposure to fresh oxygen. Unlike such similarly harrowing stories as Michael Cadnum’s Zero at the Bone (1996) and Jean Thesman’s Calling the Swan (see below), this leaves readers with hints that the missing person is still alive somewhere—but readers will understand why, if so, he’s not coming out of hiding any time soon. (Fiction. YA)

 

(2000, May 15).  Review of The Body of Christopher Creed.  Retrieved from

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/carol-plum-ucci/the-body-of-christoher-creed/

 

Suggestions

 

This book would make a great book talk up at the high schools.  I would like to created a book trailer for it, as it is quite mysterious and I think it would be the best way to get the kids attention.  I could see the words moving across the screen….  IN A TOWN WITH SECRETS ANOTHER BOY GOES MISSING.  IS HE A RUNAWAY?  OR IS HE DEAD?  IS THE KILLER SITTING NEXT TO YOU?……

 

Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the Dinosaur Bones

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Summary

 

While on a field trip to the museum with her class Cam (short for Camera) Jansen notices that some bones are missing from the skeleton of one of the dinosaurs.  Using her photographic memory and with help from her friend Eric, Cam starts her line of questioning to figure out who snuck the bones past one of the guards.  As they follow the Milkman home the two friends discover the dirty truth about the bones.  Caught inside the garage, Cam and Eric use the whistles they just bought at the museum to attract the attention of some dogs to cause a diversion.  Narrowly escaping Cam is able to impress the museum director with her mystery solving skills.

 

Adler, D.  (1981).  Cam Jansen:  They Mystery of the Dinosaur Bones.  New York:  Puffin Books.

 

My impression

 

I love Cam Jansen books.  There has not been one that I didn’t like.  As a young child I read many of these and it was fun to go back and reread them as an adult.  I definitely recommend these books to young readers just getting into chapter books.  The text is big and the words are not difficult.  In second grade I got to meet the author, which just spurred me on to read them more and more.  These books got me hooked to mysteries, which I still read to this day.  I wanted and still want to be Cam Jansen.  I can’t hear a “click” without thinking about her.

 

Reviews

 

#1

Cam Jansen’s real first name is Jennifer, but her friends call her Cam because of her photographic memory. When she takes a mental picture, she says “click”. In this story, part of a large series of mysteries, Cam and her friend Eric are touring a natural history museum. Cam remembers that one of the dinosaurs had more bones in its tail the last time she visited. The tour guide denies this, and seems hostile to her inquiries.

Just as they leave the museum, Cam and Eric notice a mysterious milk truck picking up a carton outside the museum. Cam remembers that the brand of milk in the museum cafeteria is different. She and Eric set out on a dangerous mission to solve the mystery on their bicycles. It doesn’t really matter that the situation is unlikely. This book would be an entertaining read for new chapter book readers. With a similar feel to easy readers, but slightly denser text and smaller font, the book contains black and white pictures every 2-5 pages or so. Nothing violent happens, so the story would be suitable for readers 6 and up.

 

Because this book was originally published in 1981 and it is part of a large series, it was difficult to find online reviews of this book in electronic databases. Amazon.com quotes reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, but it is unclear whether they refer to this specific book. The quote from School Library Journal praised the clever plot and heroine, and said the book was a “zestful mystery”. The Booklist quote was less helpful, and merely praised the heroine. Amazon’s publisher review helpfully mentions that this book is suitable for readers who are transitioning to chapter books.

 

#2

The original Cam Jansen series follows the exploits of 10-year-old 5th grader Jennifer “the Camera” (aka “Cam”) Jansen and her best friend, classmate, and neighbor Eric Shelton. Cam got her nickname because of her photographic memory. All she has to do is say “Click,” and Cam can remember everything she’s seen, which comes in pretty handy when trying to solve mysteries.

 

David Adler has written several beginning chapter book series, but Cam Jansen is one of the earliest and most successful. He’s been writing the series since 1980 and now writes roughly one volume per year. He has also started a Young Cam Jansen series of even simpler chapter books. Reading level wise, I’d say children they’d interest children from kindergarden through fifth grade who are just starting to read chapter books. I didn’t read any of the the young Cam Jansen books, but it looks like they’re more limited in scope and probably would be considered “baby books” to anyone beyond 2nd grade.

 

Because the books are so short, I read essentially the first half of the series and the 25th anniversary special “The Valentine Day Baby Mystery” where Cam’s mom has twins, ending Cam’s only child status, and Eric’s mom has her car stolen, only to be returned when Cam’s quick thinking discovers the thief.

 

Overall I was surprised at how engaging these stories were. I would totally recommend them to children just starting to read chapter books. The print is big and there are still several black and white drawings scattered throughout the text, making them an easy transition from picture books. Plus, they’re well-written enough that I think they can nudge children to move on to better quality titles as they move on to longer chapter books.

 

Of course they’re not perfect, though. It seems that adults Cam and Eric interact with choose to not accept Cam’s photographic memory only when it’s necessary to create tension in the story. Otherwise most adults take for granted that this 10-year-old can solve diamond thefts and bank robberies. Still, it has to be empowering for kids to read about someone close to their age solving mysteries like that.

 

I was also kind of bothered by the way Cam always ends up being right. Sometimes she comes off as a little too cocky and unwilling to listen to others. In nearly every story Eric plays the wet blanket suggesting that they tell an adult what they’ve discovered rather than trying to catch the bad guy on their own. However Cam always forges ahead and ends up getting her suspect. Again, I’m sure kids love the feeling of accomplishment, but sometimes it feels like Cam’s walking the fine line between extreme confidence and recklessness, as in the Chocolate Fudge Mystery where she trespasses into someone’s back yard just because she thinks it’s weird that no one’s home. Her dad and Eric both tell her she shouldn’t be doing this, but Cam doesn’t care because she’s certain there’s a mystery to be solved. She turns out be right (there’s a bank robber hiding in the house) and her disregard for strangers’ privacy is forgotten.

 

And honestly, that’s the problem I had with these books when I was little. While it was cool to read about a kid doing cool stuff like solving robberies, I could always tell that the stories weren’t quite true to real life. I guess that’s why I always preferred stories of kids doing amazing things that were based off real stories like Island of the Blue Dolphins or at least seemed more realistic.

 

My husband, however, loved these books as a kid and said he read every one he could get his hands on when he was younger, so I guess that’s at least some proof of their appeal to both sexes. Both libraries I checked these books out from had multiple copies of the titles in this series and even then I had trouble finding all the titles actually on the shelf, so they continue to be popular titles. I think they would be great additions to a school or public library collection.

 

 

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/608374.The_Mystery_of_the_Dinosaur_Bones

 

Suggestions

 

This book, or any in the series, would be interesting to do along with a photography class.  Taking and using photos to test our memories about certain scenarios would be an intriguing way to tie this together.  There is a board game my son and I play where we have 30 seconds to look at a picture and then we have to answer questions about it.  Every question we get right moves us one space closer to the jackpot.  This game could be recreated using plots from the Cam Jansen mysteries.

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Module 7–Informational Nonfiction

Spiders by Nic Bishop

 

Summary

This informational book lets readers learn about the different aspects of a spider’s life from how they kill their prey to how they mate.

Bishop, N.  (2012).  Spiders.  Scholastic:  USA

My impressions

With real life pictures to reinforce facts this is a great read for beginning readers who want to learn about spiders and their lives.  I myself am not a huge spider fan but found the book very interesting.  The short concise text will let a beginning reader get through this book with ease.  There are a few big words throughout the book, but they are in bold print and explained in the glossary in case further discussion is needed.  Nic Bishop took all of the pictures himself and at the end of the book he has the pictures labeled with the spiders name and the page location.

Reviews

Striking close-up and highly magnified photos of a wide variety of spiders are the heart of this fascinating and versatile introduction to the order. From the opening page, pointing out that spiders predate dinosaurs but may be hunting in your very own basement, to the closing descriptions of the scientist-photographer’s methods, the text and pictures both intrigue and inform the young reader or listener. The simple text covers the most important points: differentiating spiders from insects, providing a physical description and describing senses and behaviors. Varied fonts signal the most important fact or idea on a page and identify each photograph. Most photographs cover a full-page or more. The design supports the subject. Where the text does not appear directly on the illustration, page backgrounds match the vibrant colors of the spiders or their world and include a subtle web design. Most remarkable is the gate-fold composite portrait of a jumping spider’s leap (and Bishop explains at the end just how he made that image). This splendid title should leap off the shelves. (index, glossary) (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-10)

(2007, August 1).  Review of Spiders.  Retrieved from

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/nic-bishop/nic-bishop-spiders/

Suggestions

This book would be great one to add to a story time as a non-fiction read with my preschool groups.  I have a cute spider craft made out of construction paper that we could make.

It would also be possible to photocopy colored pictures of the book to use in a display along with different dead spiders.  If we were able to get our hands on some live spiders that we could keep alive, that would be even cooler.

What If You Met a Pirate  by Jan Adkins

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Summary

Misconceptions about pirates plague our present day world.  Jan Adkins is hoping to lay some of those lies to rest.  This book answers questions about the daily life of a pirate, how they dressed and what their ships looked like.  Weapons are discussed in detail as well as the men that would be on board the ship.  Did you know that walking the plank never actually existed?  Find out more interesting facts through this non-fiction read about pirates.

Adkins, J.  (2004).  What if You Met a Pirate?  Connecticut:  Roaring Book Press.

My impressions

I was rather impressed with this book.  While it is not a book for younger kids, the text is too long and a bit complicated for beginning readers, it is a great book for kids grades 3-5.  Set up just like an Eyewitness book, but with illustrations from the author, this was a very educational book without looking like a textbook.  My son enjoyed this just as much as I did.

Reviews

Adkins rejects the conventional glamorous image of the pirate to construct a scruffier, though only slightly less romanticized, one in this sweeping history of privateers, buccaneers, freebooters, and similar nautical nogoodnicks. Though he may characterize them as “violent, wicked criminals,” he downplays the more lurid tales of their bad behavior, focusing instead on generalities about their habits, hygiene (“Most pirates had bad teeth, and not very many of them”), and seamanship. He also introduces Sir Francis Drake, William Kidd, Henry Morgan, and other piratical luminaries—often so that he can go on about their bad ends. Scattering loosely drawn but practiced vignettes of men and ships around snippets of historical fact, Adkins offers nothing new beyond a distinctly personal tone, but the topic is hot just now, and there’s enough about ships and sailing here to draw more than narrowly focused pirate fans. (Picture book/nonfiction. 8-10)

(2004, September 1).  Review of What If You Met a Pirate.  Retrieved from

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jan-adkins/what-if-you-met-a-pirate/

Suggestions

This book could be used in a class discussion on pirates.  It would be fun to do a pirate theme day at the library where we had the facts learned from this book posted around the library.  Using a scavenger hunt the kids could find and decode clues to lead to the next pirate fact.  The winner(s) get the pirate treasure!

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Module 6–Historical Fiction

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

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Summary

This book is based upon the true story of Henry “Box” Brown and his escape through the Underground Railroad.  Henry was a small boy who lived on a farm with his mother.  They were slaves and while his master was nice to him, Henry dreamed of freedom.  That dream grew even stronger after he was moved to the master’s sons’ house without his mother.  He eventually married and had children of his own, but they too were sold one afternoon while he was at work.  Henry couldn’t live like this and devised a plan to get his freedom.  He mailed himself in a box to a place where slavery was illegal and he could be free.

Levine, E.  (2007).  Henry’s Freedom Box.  New York:  Scholastic Press.

My impressions

This has become one of my favorite historical fiction books.  When I was in school the subject of slavery was something that interested me very much.  I didn’t (and I still don’t) understand how anyone could condone the actions of these slave owners.  I get very emotional and angry when I hear about this subject.  This book brought about those emotions again.  The text was simple and told a story that tugged at my heartstrings.  The pictures were fantastic, I loved the colors and hues; they really set the tone.  I would love to get one of these pictures framed.  This was a great book based upon a horrible part of our history.

Reviews

Nelson’s powerful portraits add a majestic element to Levine’s history-based tale of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who escaped by having himself mailed to freedom in a crate. Depicted as a solemn boy with an arresting gaze on the cover, Henry displays riveting presence in every successive scene, as he grows from child to adult, marries and is impelled to make his escape after seeing his beloved wife and children sold to slaveowners. Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved, especially those who may have been tantalized by the entry on Brown in Virginia Hamilton’s Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (1993). (afterword, reading list) (Picture book. 8-10)

(2006, December 1).  Review of Henry’s Freedom Box.  Retrieved from

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ellen-levine/henrys-freedom-box/

Suggestions

During Black History Month this book definitely needs to make an appearance.  Doing outreach with the elementary schools would be one way to tie in their lessons with the library and this book.  Setting up reading sessions with the school librarian and the teachers would allow me to visit more then one class at a time.  This could also be done as a group assembly where as I read the book it is being acted out by the high school drama department.  It would be a way for the high school, elementary schools and the library to collaborate together.

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

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Summary

Tomas and his family spend winters in Texas working the fields and summers in Iowa doing the same.  They are migrant workers and live in houses that many families share.  Tomas’s grandfather likes to tell the children stories and encourages Tomas to go to the library in Iowa to learn more stories.  There Tomas meets  a librarian who helps find him books of interest and encourages him to continue reading.  He reads to her and teaches her phrases in Spanish all summer long.  When it is time to go back to Texas, he teaches her one more word….adios.

Mora, P.  (1997).  Tomas and the Library Lady.  New York:  Random House.

Reviews

_ A charming, true story about the encounter between the boy who would become chancellor at the University of California at Riverside and a librarian in Iowa. Tom†s Rivera, child of migrant laborers, picks crops in Iowa in the summer and Texas in the winter, traveling from place to place in a worn old car. When he is not helping in the fields, Tom†s likes to hear Papa Grande’s stories, which he knows by heart. Papa Grande sends him to the library downtown for new stories, but Tom†s finds the building intimidating. The librarian welcomes him, inviting him in for a cool drink of water and a book. Tom†s reads until the library closes, and leaves with books checked out on the librarian’s own card. For the rest of the summer, he shares books and stories with his family, and teaches the librarian some Spanish. At the end of the season, there are big hugs and a gift exchange: sweet bread from Tom†s’s mother and a shiny new book from the librarianto keep. Col¢n’s dreamy illustrations capture the brief friendship and its life-altering effects in soft earth tones, using round sculptured shapes that often depict the boy right in the middle of whatever story realm he’s entered. (Picture book. 7-10)

(1997, August 1).  Review of Tomas and the Library Lady.  Retrieved from

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/pat-mora/tomas-and-the-library-lady/

Suggestions

Starting a bilingual story time has been a dream of mine for a few years.  I have experimented with the idea a few times with a good response.  This would be one of those books that I would like to use.  There are a few Spanish words in there, but the story is the main thing I want to get across.  This is a true story about a Latin-American boy who grew up to be an educator and it all started because of one librarian.

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Module 5–Fantasy and Science Fiction

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

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Summary

Artemis Fowl is an extremely rich 12-year old genius.  His family has fallen on hard times after his father disappeared and Artemis is determined to get the family out of the hole.  After much research he has recently discovered the world of fairies and with the help of his bodyguard, Butler, he is going to attempt to steal the riches of the fairies.  In his pursuit he kidnaps Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit, which doesn’t turn out the way he thinks it will.  The fairies are armed with weapons just as good if not more advanced then the ones Artemis has created.

Colfer, E.  (2001).  Artemis Fowl.  New York:  Talk Miramax Books.

My impressions

I loved this book, which I actually listened to on audio.  My sister had recommended this book, but many of my friends said they could not get through it.  I decided that I would try the audio and I am so glad that I did.  Nathaniel Parker is the narrator and he does a phenomenal job.  There are so many different accents and dialects throughout the book (British, French, Russian) and he knocks it out of the park.  Maybe this is why I enjoyed the book so much, but I can’t wait to find out what happens in the rest of the series.  The high speed chases, the futuristic gadgets and the action kept me hooked from start to finish.

Reviews

We interrupt this New York Times Book Review for a special bulletin: There are fairies at the bottom of the garden. They are armed and dangerous. This latest invasion occurs in a fantasy called ”Artemis Fowl,” by an Irish writer, Eoin Colfer. Stylishly packaged in a jacket of golden foil, each page subscripted with a second text in invented runic letters, the book follows in an oddly resilient literary tradition of fairy interference in human affairs.

With august antecedents including ballads like ”Tam Lin” and plays like ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the subgenre took new strength from the 19th-century work of Grimm and Andersen, and grew to encompass tales of nonsense and moral instruction alike. Many of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s wry, bitter stories for adults, collected in ”Kingdoms of Elfin,” appeared first in The New Yorker. Both C. S. Lewis and L. Frank Baum called their children’s novels fairy tales. The disparate works share a common feature: the fairies’ morality is different from human sentimental do-goodism. But move over, Tinker Bell: here come the fairies and the humans in ”Artemis Fowl.” They’re another generation entirely.

Years ago, Paul Heins, genteel and scholarly editor of The Horn Book Magazine, advising critics to come to their task refreshed and open-minded, relied on a pair of courteous questions: What is the author trying to achieve? How well does he or she succeed?

One doesn’t have to search far for the author’s intention in the much-ballyhooed ”Artemis Fowl.” The publicity kit is larded with comparisons to Harry Potter, pressing home the golden commercial possibilities in this summer without a new book by J. K. Rowling, and describes the book as ” ‘Die Hard’ with fairies.”

Before questioning whether a ” ‘Die Hard’ with fairies” is suitable, desirable or even tolerable for young readers, let’s finish Paul Heins’s assignment: How well has the author done at fulfilling his aims?

D’arvit! as the fairies say expletively (the translation is not provided as it would only provoke censorship, the author tells us), D’arvit!: Colfer has done enormously, explosively well.

Artemis Fowl is a 12-year-old Irish criminal mastermind gifted with psychological cunning and technological expertise. He is not so much crippled as liberated by a total lack of moral compunction. Or so he’s described. Since Artemis’s father is missing and his mother is loopy with sedatives, generous readers may be inclined to cut Artemis some slack. The plot concerns the boy’s successful efforts to locate and steal a book belonging to a real fairy. Artemis cracks its codes and learns the secrets of the vast underground fairy civilizations, and he harnesses this knowledge to steal what is sometimes known as the legendary gold at the end of the rainbow — the otherworld’s Fort Knox.

The fairies, however, fight back, and their military stratagems occupy most of the book. The campaign is conducted by Leprecons, fairies engaged in ”Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance.” These are specially trained forces whose job is to retrieve rogue fairies from the earth’s surface and avoid potential discovery by the Mud People — that is, us.

Our adrenaline is kept primed by the promises of impending violence, though mercifully most of it is sidestepped. The fairies employ an arsenal of technological devices more state-of-the-art than any budding mercenary could hope for — it’s the stuff that 12-year-old tech-geek dreams are made on. And the slick descriptions do possess their own mesmerizing power. ”The centaur pointed to a live feed from the Eurosat, which was displayed on a large plasma screen. ‘This red dot is the troll. He’s moving toward Martina Franca, a fortified town near the city of Brindisi.’ ” Heady stuff, although the Leprecon commander admits that science is ”taking the magic out of everything.”

But science and technology perform their own kind of spells. If magic wands and invisible cloaks have given way to iris-cam implants — well, fairies have to get with the times, too. This doesn’t bother me, nor that the prose is cliched. I’m troubled by the fact that though the prose lacks luster, it doesn’t lack lust: a spicy, nonerotic, slobbering bloodlust.

In a nervy and unnerving marriage of style and substance, Colfer adopts the rhythms of macho banter from television police dramas, Hollywood espionage thrillers and B-grade buddy war films. Here’s a troll making toward a hoped-for feast of human flesh: ”Once you’ve had open-air meat, it’s hard to go back.” Or: Fowl’s aide-de-camp, a bodyguard named Butler, reads Guns & Ammo for entertainment. He’s a loyal goon. He proudly packs a Sig Sauer pistol as well as knives, a two-shot derringer, garrote wire, etc., all lovingly itemized. Ready to do serious battle, ”Butler hunkered down . . . and checked his safety catch. Off. Good. Come and get me, fairy boys.”

Lines like these are other than clever. They’re insidious. They appeal to a real but ugly appetite. It’s a shame to report it, but ”Artemis Fowl” has been rinsed clean of anything approaching genuine magic.

Sure, I admit that introducing today’s 12-year-old boys who have been raised on ”too much damned TV” to the merits of ”Mary Poppins” or ”The Wind in the Willows” is itself a sort of ”Mission: Impossible.” But in ”Artemis Fowl” we’re treated to graphic descriptions of dwarf flatulence and vomiting into a closed helmet. If you have a reader curious about the uses and abuses of power, go back to the masterly ”Wizard of Earthsea,” by Ursula K. Le Guin, or the darkly complex ”Dark Is Rising” series, by Susan Cooper, or even the terrifying and funny sci-fi fantasy ”The Ear, the Eye and the Arm,” by Nancy Farmer. The truth is, fairies in their essence are said to possess glamour, a word that originally meant something like charm — the ability to bewitch. Hardware may intrigue, caustic belligerence may be sexy to a contemporary 12-year-old, but neither ingredient bewitches. Despite a brave and promising premise, ”Artemis Fowl” is charmless.

Nonetheless, young readers may thrill in seeing that the clandestine mysteries of faerie are, like all aspects of our culture, subject to decay in the light of day. Even the fairest of the Leprecons are a far cry from the twiggy-limbed creatures in the shrubs of Arthur Rackham’s drawings. But that’s what the author intended: ” ‘Die Hard’ with fairies.” ”The movie rights alone will be worth a fortune,” one character admits. What Colfer has done, and very ably, is to pitch a great movie idea. Pure gold, in fact.

Gregory Maguire, co-director of Children’s Literature New England, is the author of the ”Hamlet Chronicles” series.

 

Maguire, G.  (2001, June 17).  Children’s Books (Review of Artemis Fowl).

Suggestion

I have a lot of excitement for this book and would definitely include this in a middle school book talk.  For the book talk I would create a book trailer, which I am already imagining how to lay it out.

If I did a program with this book, I would try to collaborate with the Radford University or Virginia Tech science departments.  Artemis created and built all of his gadgets and it would be fun to have the teens create something (like a robot) with the help of some actual scientists.

The Lightning Thief  By Rick Riordan

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Summary

Percy Jackson is a 12 year old boy.  He lives with his mother and stepfather (whom he does not get along with).  He has started at a new school because of some trouble he got into at his last school.  While on a field trip with his new classmates he discovers that things are not as they seem as his pre-algebra teacher turns into a Fury and attacks him.  With the help of his crippled friend Grover and his Latin teacher Mr. Brunner he escapes.

Within hours of finding this information out, Percy’s mother is kidnapped by one of the gods and he is led on a mission to save her.   While killing a Minotaur, he is injured and wakes up three days later at Camp Half-Blood, a camp for boys and girls who are just like Percy, half human and half god, a demigod.   He finds out that Grover and Mr. Brunner are in fact a satyr and centaur, respectively.   With the help of his friends from camp he faces down god after god while trying to figure out whom his father is while also trying to keep Poseidon, Zeus and Hades from starting a war.

Riordan, R. (2005).  The Lighting Thief.   New York:  Hyperion Books for Children.

My impressions

I enjoyed this book very much.  I love how Riordan combined humans and Greek gods together.  I am originally an Anthropology major, with a focus on Ancient Greek culture.  This was a fun way to go on an adventure at the same time learning about Ancient Greece and the gods.  I thought the interactions between the characters were believable and I wanted to go to Camp Half-Blood myself.  I can see why children of all ages would love these books.

I was not a huge fan of the movie.  The Director left out a bunch of important stuff and changed details around.  Normally I can handle this and expect it, but for some reason I didn’t approve of this movie.

Reviews

Harry Who?

By POLLY SHULMAN

Boys love action heroes. Entertainers from Homer on have known how to enthrall the barely bearded with tales of derring-do, whether their chase scenes are powered by wind, oats or rocket fuel. Two new adventure stories cleverly draw on great examples of this tradition: the Greek myths, which gave us the word “hero,” and the Arthurian legends, which celebrated honor equally with courage. Both follow a more recent model – Harry Potter – in taking as the hero an ordinary boy who at first seems set apart from his peers, not by any special talent but by his painful home life and his difficulties fitting in.

Percy (for Perseus) Jackson, the narrator of “The Lightning Thief,” lives with his mother and abusive stepfather, the aptly named Gabe Ugliano. He never knew his real father. A troubled student teetering on the brink of special ed, he suffers from dyslexia and A.D.H.D. – or at least, that’s what his guidance counselors have always told him. But after his pre-algebra teacher turns into a harpy and tries to kill him, his mother risks her life taking him to a summer camp where she hopes he’ll be safe. There he finds out just how special he really is.

“The letters float off the page when you read, right? That’s because your mind is hard-wired for ancient Greek,” explains a fellow camper, gray-eyed Annabeth. “And the A.D.H.D. – you’re impulsive, can’t sit still in the classroom. That’s your battlefield reflexes. In a real fight, they’d keep you alive. As for the attention problems, that’s because you see too much, Percy, not too little. Your senses are better than a regular mortal’s. . . . Face it. You’re a half blood.”

So is Annabeth: her mother is the goddess Athena.

The Greek gods didn’t die just because people stopped believing in them, Chiron, a counselor at the camp, tells Percy. (Yes, that’s the Chiron, the centaur who taught Hercules.) They couldn’t – they’re immortal. Alive and as irritable as ever, they storm and quarrel, especially over the children they’re forever having with mortals. And these days it’s just as dangerous to be a demigod as it was in the days of ancient Greece, when jealous immortals would target their spouses’ mortal children or angry uncles would take out family differences on their weakest relatives.

As one of those half-human heroes, Percy must master his powers, learn his true parentage, triumph over his enemies and avert an Olympian battle that threatens to overwhelm the earth. That may sound like a tall order for a middle schooler, but Percy’s up to it. After all, this is the boy who strangled a snake that slipped into his cot during naptime in preschool.

“The Lightning Thief” is perfectly paced, with electrifying moments chasing each other like heartbeats, and mysteries opening out in sequence. The action never feels gratuitous; it draws its depth from the myths at its source. “If you were a god,” Chiron asks, “how would you like being called a myth, an old story to explain lightning? What if I told you, Perseus Jackson, that someday people would call you a myth, just created to explain how little boys can get over losing their mothers?”

Yet the old stories do explain lightning; similarly, “The Lightning Thief” creates a model of a boy who gets over losing his mother and transforms his limitations into powers. Many readers will find parallels between the quarrels of the gods and those of the adults around them. What child hasn’t felt at the mercy of mighty, unpredictable beings?

If Riordan were any less inventive, the symbols might seem heavy-handed. When Percy first meets Chiron, for example, the centaur is disguised as a Latin teacher who uses a wheelchair; when Percy learns his true nature, the wheelchair metamorphoses, revealing a horse’s body in a cage. But Riordan’s sense of humor rescues the book from didacticism. With 15 years’ experience teaching middle school, he understands what his readers will find funny.

When Percy’s best friend, Grover, reveals that he’s a satyr, Percy finally gets why Grover has such a bleating laugh. When Grover is struck by lightning in one particularly dramatic chase scene, Percy tells us: “I shook his furry hip, thinking, No! Even if you are half barnyard animal, you’re my best friend and I don’t want you to die! Then he groaned ‘Food,’ and I knew there was hope.” Grover later asks, “If you’re not going to eat it, could I have your Diet Coke can?”

He finds himself in the path of the Minotaur, who’s “seven feet tall, easy . . . bulging biceps and triceps and a bunch of other ‘ceps, all stuffed like baseballs under vein-webbed skin,” and wearing nothing but bright white Fruit of the Looms. When the half-dressed half man, half bull charges at Grover, Percy distracts him by waving his red raincoat and shouting: “Hey! . . . Hey, stupid! Ground beef!”

Though Riordan tosses off myths on every page, transforming them into contemporary episodes with magic worthy of Ovid, he has plenty left for what I hope will be a long series.

Like “The Lightning Thief,” “The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp” has an unlikely hero – which is getting to be the likeliest kind. “I studied hard for my driver’s test, but I flunked it. So I took it a second time and flunked again, but I didn’t miss as many questions, so at least I was improving as a failure. Uncle Farrell pointed to my scores as proof I lacked the guts to achieve even something as simple as a learner’s permit,” the action begins, introducing a whole raft of themes: Alfred’s perception of himself as a loser, his discouraging home life, his stubborn determination and, of course, cars.

As a knight descended from one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table tells him: “Who can say what valor dwells in the soul unless the test comes? A hero lives in every heart, Alfred, waiting for the dragon to come out.” The boy who couldn’t get his learner’s permit is soon racing north from Florida to Canada in a Mercedes, a Ferrari Enzo, a stolen police cruiser (a Crown Victoria), a Jaguar, a Chevy Suburban, a helicopter and a horse, switching vehicles whenever the one he’s in smashes up, a nose ahead of bad guys riding (among other things) Suzuki Hayabusas and helicopters.

A ction adventures are always better with a MacGuffin. In “The Lightning Thief,” Percy and his friends have to recover Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt before the gods start a war over it. In “Alfred Kropp,” the stolen item is Excalibur, King Arthur’s magical sword, the most powerful weapon ever known. Its wielder cannot be defeated, which presents a problem to Alfred and his allies, the descendants of the knights of Camelot, sworn to protect the sword.

To make matters worse, Alfred’s the one who stole the sword and handed it over to the bad guys – before he knew they were the bad guys. That he was able to take it should give readers familiar with the Arthurian legends a hint about his mysterious paternity.

Unlike “The Lightning Thief,” though, “The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp” draws little of its energy from its source myths. Yancey’s knights lack the melancholy poetry of their ancestors; they seem like something out of a video game, or at best a Hollywood movie. When Alfred checks out “The Once and Future King” from the library, he can’t get through it. T. H. White’s classic Arthurian novel may be slow going for kids who don’t like to read, but “The Lightning Thief” and the Arthurian legends themselves are proof that a story can have plenty of action without sacrificing depth.

Polly Shulman’s young adult novel, “Enthusiasm,” will be published next year.

Shulman, P.  (2005, November 13).  Harry Who?  (Review of The Lightning Thief).  Retrieved from

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/13/books/review/13shulman.html?_r=0&pagewanted=print

Suggestions

This book would be great to use during Ancient Greek teaching activities at school.  It would also be very fun to make a book trailer for.  I’d like to take a group of my after school kids and teach them about iMovies.  This book is one that many have read and would be a great starting off point for making book trailers.  It could become a monthly program and even turn into a contest.  I would also love to have a Camp Half-Blood event where we get to become a demigod for a day!

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