Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Realistic’ Category

One-Two by Igor Eliseev is an atypical reading experience. Set in Russia in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the USSR has just ended and Russia is still in its infancy, One-Two takes you into the mind of conjoined twins Faith and Hope. The style is at first disconcerting, being told from an alternating first and second person, but in the end feels like the perfect choice. A psychological drama, the novel reflects on how difficult but also how important it is to remain human.

Faith and Hope do not have an easy life. Their own mother, aghast at the sight of them, signed their death certificate. The twins were handed over to one institute and then another as experimental subjects. When the scientists wearied of the twins, they were transferred to boarding school where they experienced some measure of happiness. The windows had no grids, the air smelled of moss and pine, and the twins felt like normal children for the first time. They even developed friendships. Unfortunately, due to a suicide by one of the boarders, their stay was short-lived. The next stop was an orphanage, where once again the twins were viewed as objects of curiosity and sunk into misery. Their one relief was a library and the news that successful operations were being performed to separate conjoined twins. But again, these comforts were short-lived. One-Two is a hard story at times to read, as there seems be no redemption in sight.

But I want redemption for Faith and Hope, who from start to finish I am rooting for. I like who the twins are. They value friendships from their peers, the knowledge to be found in libraries, and the kindness of strangers. They’re also self-aware and know when they are being cowardly or mean, but also how to be strong in the face of relentless suffering and pain. I empathize with the twins who wish for a different appearance, just as many of us are dissatisfied with our looks. Faith grows up knowing the story of the Ugly Duckling by heart, because she wants to undergo a similar transformation. She treasures artwork of a friend who depicts them as beautiful. Whether accurate or not, I find enlightening the insights into life as a conjoined twin. One teacher tells the class that anyone cheating will be seated at separate desks, and Faith laments how impossible that would be. Then there are the constant questions from bystanders of how the two function day-by-day with bodies that are conjoined. Perhaps the most bittersweet is how the twins at times encourage other and at other times wish desperately to be their own person. Finally, I feel abhorrence at their treatment. When the twins take a bus ride, passengers make comments such as they’ll never get used to them and they’ll one day turn into haggish toads. At the orphanage, when staff see them, the twins are told to cover themselves. And these are among the least cruel reactions.

The style is initially what I least cared for. The first person is used when Faith describes her traumatic childhood, and the second person is used when she talks to her conjoined twin. There are times when I wanted to simply stay inside Faith’s head and times when I wanted to know what her sister thought not what Faith said to or about her. At the same time, the technique serves to increase tension, and thereby creates a frightening foreboding. While narrating her story Faith occasionally presents philosophical truths that seemed too mature for her to know at the age being depicted. At the same time, her emotions swing from optimism to despair, and feel agonizingly real. By the novel’s end, I felt as if the author could not have chosen any other way to tell his story.

One-Two by Igor Eliseev is one of those books that need to be reread due to its complexity. The twins manage to struggle past thoughts of revenge, suicide, and other dark emotions to hold on to the belief that their life has been amazing and full of miracle, and therein they teach us how to be human. Upon the initial reading one will grasp the essentials of the plot and the characters, but an additional reading will be needed to fully comprehend all the truths being imparted.

Graphic novels have grown in popularity over the past decade. In some libraries, the hottest children’s books are often graphic novels. Here are three graphic novel recommendations for different ages groups.

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard features a young boy who finds himself whisked back to the 16th century England while exploring an abandoned theater. He emerges on the stage of the Globe Theatre in the middle of a performance, much to the chagrin of William Shakespeare himself. A chase erupts, wherein the young boy frees and then befriends both a caged bear and an imprisoned baron. Kids and their parents will want to study the detailed illustrations to get the most out of this wordless paneled graphic novel.

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, the first title in the Lunch Lady series, introduces an uncover hero who assumes the guise of a lunch lady. A group of school friends who call themselves the Breakfast Bunch take a stand against bullies, agonize over what clubs to join, laugh at each other’s food choices, and debate who should win Teacher of the Year award. One day they follow the Lunch Lady home to see what she does when not serving meals. This leads to them teaming up with the Lunch Lady, her sidekick, and their crime-fighting gadgets against a suspicious substitute teacher. Mayhem abounds in this fast-paced madcap adventure, which has been a hit with both boys and girls.

For older readers comes the autobiographical novel called Smile. It tells of Raina who just wants to be a normal sixth-grader, but one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, damaging her two front teeth. This seemingly simple incident leads to years of agonizing over braces, headgear, surgery, and even a retainer with fake teeth. As if all this wasn’t already enough, Raina must maneuver her way through the confusion of changing friendships, dating, and self-identity. Although Smile takes place in the 1980’s, it still feels fresh. Anyone who has experienced the pain of dental work and adolescent angst will relate. Just as important, the novel will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to find their creative voice.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

From the ravaged tiny Polynesian island of Vaitea arises a hero and heroine for our times. Based on his ten years of Easter Island research, Edward Stanton has written an inspiring adventure about a brother and sister, their island, and how they saved it. In Wide as the Wind, Miru and Renga face tough choices and much hardship when they set sail to a distant island to find the seeds and shoots of trees that could reforest their homeland. Their return to Vaitea reaps romance and additional challenges in this teen historical novel.

Adventure is at the forefront of this tightly-written novel. Prior to embarking on their journey, Miru and Renga learn the sailor’s craft. Their grandfather teaches them to weave sails of pounded bark, cut full-sized paddles, make nets of mulberry cloth, and fashion birdbone hooks. He also teaches them to coast the island in a longboat, navigate by the sun, moon, and stars, recognize winds, currents, and constellations, and to fish. After recruiting a third crewman, the brother and sister duo set sail. On their journey, they brave the elements. The wind gusts. The sea roars. Supplies are washed overboard. The sun burns, parching their throats. They encounter sharks and their third crewman is attacked. Miru, Renga, and their third crewsman sail fifty-two days before finding land, and this is just the beginning of their adventure.

At the heart of Wide as the Wind also lies a theme. Years of tribal wars have devastated Vaitea. Tribes people who survived are now facing starvation. To save them, Miru must personally sacrifice romantic love, suffer injury and loss, and even risk his life. Even when they return from their journey to a distant island with the seeds and shoots of trees necessary to reforest their homeland, the tribal wars threaten to continue. Although some historical accounts suggest that extinction of natural resources of the real-life Easter Island inhabitants started long before internal conflicts, the latter certainly didn’t help. In basing his story on a real place, Stanton has crafted a parable that shows how mankind’s violence can lead to environmental destruction and even the end of a world.

Wide as the Wind has many other positives. The characters are realistic. Miru and Renga are likeable teens to which every reader can relate. Miru disagrees with his father’s choices, enjoys swimming with dolphins, and sneaks away to spend time with his girlfriend. The descriptions are vivid; the diction is strong. Here’s just one phrase for example: “He sat down with them on paving stones that glittered with brine and fish scales….” There are even moments of humor. One of the funniest is when birds poop on Miru’s head, just after he’s received the call to save his people. My one complaint is that I felt at times the action moved too fast and kept me at an emotional distance from the characters.

Author Edward Stanton has written eleven books. His fiction, poems, and essays have appeared in publications across the world. He is a professor of literature, and has won grants for his travel, research, and writing. Wide as the Wind is a worthy addition to his literary accomplishments. It has won the 2017 silver Moonbeam Award for Young Adult Fiction and the 2018 silver Feathered Quill Award for Teen Fiction.

Alphabet books are popular because they are good at teaching letters. With so many available, how do you choose between them? Click Clack ABC by Doreen Cronin introduces ABCs through a fast-paced story about farm animals preparing for a picnic. At times, the style is so frenetic that the plot is hard to follow. By drawing on characters from her best-selling picture books, Cronin ensures readers will feel comfortable. She also infuses clever alliteration. The result is a fun and educational tale.

From Alyssa Capucilli comes Biscuit, a sweet yellow puppy. Ten of his innocent and charming adventures have been collected into a sturdy cloth-bound book titled Biscuit Storybook Collection. Part of the I Can Read imprint, these stories are perfect for new and emergent readers, while also enjoyable for adults. The plot has a formulaic style that sometimes results in a forced twist. Nonetheless, I wanted to pull Biscuit right out of the pages and cuddle him. Even when he causes trouble, he’s such a winsome puppy. Biscuit tries repeatedly to please his young owner and doesn’t have a mean bone in his small body. His antics are irresistible!

Humor, mystery, and romance abound in two titles by Sarah Weeks: Pie and Honey. The titles are also unified by themes of family, death, and pets. In Pie, Alice’s Aunt Polly takes her world-famous pie crust recipe to her grave. Or does she? The search for the lost recipe leads one person to ransack Polly’s shop, another person to steal her cat, and another to question residents. In Honey, Melody doesn’t mind not having a mother until she overhears her dad call someone ‘Honey’. Has her dad fallen in love with someone? Who could it be? No one will answer these questions. Nor will they talk about her mom. Melody’s story alternates with a story of a dog that has concerns of his own. When secrets are revealed in both titles, lives are forever changed.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

Friendship is a central theme that runs through the following three books. Friends can help us through challenges and to solve problems. While working through our differences isn’t always easy, friends fill our lives with happiness.

Sophie and Friends is part of a touch-and-feel durable board book series for readers ages three months to three years. The story is sweet and the illustrations are cute, but there isn’t much to touch.  Sophie the giraffe and her five friends like doing things together: Lazare the cat lives to make everyone laugh, Kiwi the bird enjoys baking cookies, Margot the turtle loves to jump over puddles, Josephine the mouse likes to hide, and Gabin the bear treasures bedtime stories. Although some of the other books in this series have pop-ups and more textures, readers will still enjoy exploring the fabrics in Sophie and Friends. They’ll also like the fun adventures.

The simplicity of Jon Klassen’s design and the deadpan humor underlying his stories never fail to entertain. In We Found a Hat, two turtles find a hat. The problem is there’s just one hat, and they both want the hat. The friends agree that the hat looks equally good on them, but it’d be wrong for one to have the hat, and so the solution is to forget about the hat. Easier said than done! Aimed at readers ages four to eight, the story encourages reading independence with only one sentence per page. In addition, this 54-page story has been smartly divided into chapters, which heightens the suspense. The ending is perfect.

Readers of the classic Ramona books need look no further than Clementine by Sara Pennypacker for another lovably-rambunctious character. Clementine’s week hasn’t been going so well. She’s been sent to the principal’s office for cutting off her friend’s hair. Margaret’s mom has refused to allow the two girls to be alone together. The disastrous week is made worse partly because of the effort Clementine puts into making everything right again, including trying to glue Margaret’s hair back on and offering to sacrifice her own hair. Like Ramona, nothing Clementine does comes from a mean heart, but rather from a creative mind. Clementine is quirky, hilarious, and unforgettable.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.


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2018

I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.

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