Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘young adult books

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Many years I used to own It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville. Then I gave my copy to my younger brother. Yet I have never forgotten it. When I recently saw it at a library book sale, I immediately grabbed a copy. Upon rereading it, I was surprised at how undramatic the story and how average the main character is compared to many of today’s books. Yet I still love the book.

The main character is fourteen-year-old Dave. His life is peopled with his parents, an eccentric cat lady neighbor named Kate, a couple friends, and eventually a girlfriend. Oh, and then there’s cat. He’s a stray that sometimes visited Kate and to whom Dave gave a permanent home partly to spite his dad who prefers dogs.

I found it refreshing to read a book that is just about a nice boy and his life in New York, especially about a boy who is good and fun but still has moods, shows attitude, and makes mistakes. I also appreciated reading about a cat and especially one who stays put throughout the book. So many stories about pets and their owners are about either dogs or about animals who are separated from their owner and now must make the long treacherous journey home. Okay, there is one chapter where Cat escapes from the family’s car during their road trip, but this chapter ends up being more about how to avoid bullies and why parents should listen to their children than about an herioc pet.

In a sense, this book could have been set in anywhere. The themes explored are universal. In another sense, this book belongs in New York with its apartment complexes, subways, traffic jams, homeless people…. I like the story both for its themes and its sense of place.

This book is largely about relationships … and change. I am a sucker for these books, especially done with humor and morals intact. Dave and his dad fight. Dave’s mom has asthma attacks when they do. Dave befriends Tom, who stole once on a dare. He also meets Mary, but before he is ready to date. The lives of all these individuals of different ages gently interwine to tell a tale of gradual change. That every one of the significant characters are basically decent people doing the best they can is part of the charm of It’s Like This, Cat.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara reads like the classics that I grew up with and which turned me into a lover of children’s books. Ogiwara is surely a writer to savor like hot chocolate on a cold day. Or is she?

Language alone cannot sustain a tale. The plot must also pull one. This is where I started to have doubts about this book. So many of the events confused me. I felt as if Ogiwara was explaining concepts alien to me, but which were so integral to the story that I could not fully appreciate the book’s depth. Yet the exotic worlds she introduces made me even further aware that I was not reading any ordinary writer.

The closest experience in reading Ogiwara that parallels is my first exposure to ethnic foods. For Chinese food to initially feel palpatable to me, I needed it coated in sweet sauce. For Sushi to feel comfortable to me, I needed it laden with tempura. The foods were so unusual I could not fathom liking them unless they were dunked in familiarity. Ogiwara sets her book in ancient Japan and incorporates its mythology. The landscape and its people fascinate me, the way treasures do in a museum. Yet those treasures are often enclosed behind glass, forbidden to touch, and so remain items about which to simply marvel. At times I felt caught up in Ogiwara’s tale of war and passion, but often I also simply felt overawed in a world unknown to me in my North American culture. While I can now savor ethnic foods without additions, I suspect I may need to better understand Japanese culture to develop a similar appreciation for Dragon Sword and Wind Child.

The book starts with Saya waking to a reoccuring dream. In that dream she met five people and soon enough she encounters those people in real life. They are the people of the dark or of the earth. They claim she is one of them. Later that very same day, while trying to make sense of their claim–because she was raised to worship the light, she meets the revered son of the God of Light: Prince Tsukishiro. He calls Saya the Water Maiden and invites her to join him in his palace to later wed.

So far, the book resembles a traditional good (light) against evil (darkness) fantasy story with some romance mixed in. It quickly departs from this norm. Saya moves into the castle of light, is followed by one of the five earth people, encounters an argument between the prince and his sister who claims that Saya is indeed of the dark, and…. These struggles are not part of any American folklore of which I am aware. The story becomes even more muddled for me, when the people of the earth talk about rebirth while the people of the heavens talk about being immortal. I sense Ogiwara is talking here about reincarnation, but am uncertain what other mythologies are covered, all of which makes me uncomfortable.

Often stories which appeal because of the wonder of their exotic worlds fail to capture our imagination upon rereading, because we begin to assimilate these other worlds into our mindset. Japanese culture aside, I will need to give Ogiwawa’s book another read to make a decision. Through her elborate tale of fantasy, she explores faith, love, immortality, death, perfection, compassion, and an endless list of other ideas. As such, the book is far more complex than the average children’s book and deserves esteem. How much I still need to determine.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Have you ever dreamed of being heir to a throne? Mia hadn’t, but suddenly finds herself with a kingdom to rule. If you expect the book Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot to resemble the movie, to actually show her dealing with being a princess, think again. This is just another teen romance, and not a very good one at that, and should stay on the shelves.

True, I admit that I saw the movie first and so came to the book with certain expectations. For example, I envisioned reading about how tough becoming a princess can be for us average people but how sweet Mia overcomes the challenge with awkwardness and humor. I also anticipated reading pages upon pages about how Mia is trained in all the proper royal etiquette such as how to sit, walk, dance, dress, and talk. Next, despite how cliche the plotline sounds, I expected Mia to eventually endear herself to her the royal staff, incite the jealousy of popular students, and develop closer bonds with true friends. I wanted the story I saw on screen.

Yet sometimes a book is better than the movie. And so I think I could have lived with a different book, if not for all its flaws. From page one until the end, Mia complains about her life. In this way Mia is like the girl we see on the screen, except in the book she also swears, lies about most everything, and basically just seems more crude. She also struggles in school, frequently copies her homework off others, and disdains most of her teachers. She likes to shop, wants to be popular, and does not have any interest in doing anything with her life except to date. While these may be on the top of the list for many girls, the emphasis on them in the book makes it difficult for me to believe that she would have the ability to be a princess.

Even at this point, I probably could have forgiven the book except for one major drawback. The whole premise of the book is that Mia learns she is heir to the royal throne. This could have made for a worthy twist, except we rarely see Mia being trained to be a princess. Remove a few lines here and there that refer to her royal family or obligations and you wouldn’t even know that Mia was training to become a princess. Minus its gimmick, this book is just another teen romance. As such, it disappointed me.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

From the day I could hold a book, I have loved to read. My dad regularly scoured magazine and book recommendations searching for the best children’s books to purchase for me. When I reached adolescence my reading tastes expanded to include adult classics and bestsellers. Yet my heart remains with the world of children’s books. My shelves overflow with them, to the point that everyone marvels at my collection–and no one will help me carry my endless boxes of books during moves. One day I hope to have my own published books on my shelves. This blog is for me and all lovers of books for young people.

In my resource room, I invite students to write titles of recommended books on our white board. To encourage their participation, I promise to read each book they list. After I read a book, I often add suggestions of similar books. On a weekly basis, I also ask students to share opinions of their newest reads. In turn, I share my reactions to my newest reads. Near the end of the 2010 school year, I carted home about a dozen Golden Sower books that students had read. After I finished reading the last of the books in my pile, my husband suggested, “You should start a blog of children’s book reviews. You’re always reading children’s books anyway. You might as well review them.” My students are the inspiration behind this blog. This blog is also for them.

How Books are chosen for Review

My choice of books will focus foremost around those that my students read, but I will also pick books to read from my personal collection, along with recommendations: offered by my siblings, at Children’s Books and Young Adult Reader Club groups within Good Reads, and pretty much anyone who intrigues me with their latest book read. If you don’t see listed the best or worst book(s) you’ve ever read for young people, post the title and I will try to review it as time and availability allows.

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Closing Thoughts
Reading and talking about books for young people is my passion. I hope my reviews will inspire you to check out a few books for this age group and discover new treasures. If books and young people are already a regular part of your life, I hope you will return often to my blog and regularly participate by rating books, posting your own thoughts, and even recommending other books for young people for me to read and review.

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