Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Library Wars (manga) vol. 1-2

I've been reading a lot of manga lately because that is what the kids at my library are reading. How can I resist a manga about library employees fighting censorship?

Book: Library Wars: Love and War (volumes 1 and 2) by Kiiro Yumi and Hiro Arikawa
Vital Stats: Volumes 1 and 2 were published in June and September 2010 respectively with volume 3 due out in December 2010. All are around 200 pages in length, published by Viz.
Age Appropriateness: Rated by Viz as T+: For Older Teens
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended with reservations

Book Synopsis:
In an alternate Japan, censorship is legal under the Media Betterment Act. In response libraries have militarized and formed the Library Defense Fore. (Side note, my library would be one thousand times more awesome if we had our own army.) After a childhood encounter where a member of the LDF saves her book, Iku is determined to join their ranks. She enrolls in librarian training and is the first female recruited into the defense force. There she has numerous run-ins with one of her instructors (Dojo) and a fellow recruit named Tezuka. She learns to work with them as they form a unit for both training and some real world missions. Of course there are the beginnings of some possible romantic intrigues (as you would expect in a book subtitled Love and Wars).

My Take:
I like Iku as a main character, she's a strong girl who cares about more than boys. (That's not as common as it should be in manga.) In fact when a guy expresses interest in her, she is very surprised and confused. She's more athletic than smart, but works hard to overcome it (once she realizes it is a problem). The series is simplistic in plot, a bit predictable, and I would have loved it when I was 12 that is f I had known what manga was when I was 12. It's going to appeal more to teens than adults, but it's going to appeal to people. It's fun, mostly lighthearted, and enjoyable.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection:
The T+ (or OT) rating for older teens can cover a variety of issues. So far, only through volume 2, I've not seen anything too egregious. There was one locker room/shower scene with some minor nudity (backs mostly). I'm worried that we might see more "fan service" wherein a manga creator (or manga-ka) includes nudity solely to make her fans happy. This could include two characters having a conversation in a shower/locker room that could easily happen in a cafeteria. No romantic relationships have formed yet (just hints and one date asked for) so I don't know how graphic or intimate those will get. And of course there is violence (the wars half of Love and Wars). They literally battle (guns, camo, the whole nine yards) over books. But the violence is sparse and not too graphic. I can recommend this to Christian teens with the caveat that I do not know what will develop in later volumes.

He holds victory in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.
-Proverbs 2:7-8

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hunger Games trilogy

The latest blockbuster books (and perhaps soon to be a movie) in the teen lit world are the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It's gotten so big that the purveyor of teen pop culture, Hot Topic, is now carrying a line of merchandising related to the books. (And yes I dragged my bemused friends in with me so I could purchase my "District 12 Tribute" t-shirt.) I loved Collins' previous juvenile (5th to 7th grade) work, The Underland Chronicles (first book: Gregor the Overlander) and she has far surpassed herself with this trilogy. However, it is not for the faint of heart, or the younger teens, and I'll explain that as well.

Book: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Book one: Hunger Games published by Scholastic in 2008, 324 pages
Book two: Catching Fire pub 2009, 391 pages
Book three: Mockingjay pub 2010, 391 pages
Marketed Towards: Teens
The Quick and the Short of it: Recommended for older, mature teens with reservations for violence

Book Synopsis
In a future world, after the collapse of our own society, there are 12 districts ruled brutally by the Capitol. Katniss Everdeen lives in a coal mining district where she and her family barely stave off starvation through illegal hunting. All of the districts' citizens find themselves near starvation and dependant upon the Capitol. To reinforce their superiority, control, and to punish the districts for an uprising generations before, every district must send two teenage "tributes" to the annual hunger games. The 24 tributes compete to the death in a brutal arena while the districts are forced to watch their children kill each other. When Katniss' younger sister is chosen as a tribute, Katniss volunteers to take her place. What happens in the arena that year will change their society and start a revolution, but all Katniss wants to do is survive to protect her family. The second and third books follow the continuing revolution and struggle.

My Take
LOVE these books! I read the first one immediately and was twitching with anticipation before each of the sequels came out. As I said before, I even braved Hot Topic for the first time since my own teenage years to procure a t-shirt. Collins' writing is brilliant and the books draw you in. I know almost as many adults reading these books as teens. They've started many an in-depth conversation and debate. I even picked up the paperback for the first one and I'm very selective as to which books I buy due to both space and monetary limitations. That is not to say however that they are right for every teen, every family, or every Christian.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
If you couldn't divine this on your own, there is a lot of violence in these books, a lot. Obviously the premise is a group of teenagers forced to fight to the death and then a revolution, a bloody violent civil war. However, the violence is presented in a reflective way and this book can spurn good discussion. Violence is clearly condemned, but shown to have it's place; yet it is still a very violent book.

On the other side, Katniss does develop relationships with two different young men who vie for her attention. Given the extreme situations and responsibilities they face, it hardly seems fair to refer to these teens as children. She is never shown or described as having sex with either of them, but a pregnancy is faked. After a number of extreme experiences, she deals with her PTSD by sleeping (merely sleeping) in the same bed and in the arms of one of the young men. The ramifications of her doing this and the emotional intimacy she is creating between the two of them is something she eventually has to consider. It might be an interesting discussion starter as to how pre-marital emotional intimacy can be as dangerous as pre-marital physical intimacy. Is that a fair thing for either person to rely that much upon another? What type of burden or relationship does that create?

So to recap - extreme violence and some intimacy, but still a great book, very thought provoking. I would recommend it for a mature older teen reader, but only you know your child and your family. It might be a great parent-teen read together and discuss.

When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. - Deuteronomy 20:1

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Amulet, Books 1-3

I apologize for abandoning this blog for the last month. I was promted at work and life rather exploded on me. I've got a bunch of half-written posts, and once again every intention of doing better from now on.

I've said before how much I love graphic novels. I especially love graphic novels with great plot, great writing, great art, the type of graphic novel that has some meat to it. It's no surprise then that I love the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi and of course I've previously raved about Kibuishi's work. These books are a huge hit at my library and since I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of the third book (which came out this week), I should pass it on to one of my young friends who has been eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Book: Amulet. Book 1: The Stonekeeper; Amulet. Book 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse; and Amulet. Book 3: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi
Vital Stats: Published in 2008, 2009, and 2010 by Graphix (an imprint of Scholastic); 185, 217, and 197 pages with full color illustrations through all three.
Awards: Eisner Award nominee
Marketed Toward: Ages 9 to 12
The Quick and the Short of it: Recommended with some reservations for the use of magic and violence

Book Synopsis
In the first few pages of the first in this series of graphic novels, Emily watches her father die tragically in a car accident. She and her family (mother and brother) are forced by economic realities after his death to move to the house of her great-grandfather. Of course, in the grand tradition of comic books, her great-grandfather never died, he simply disappeared. When Emily and her brother, Navin, discover a hidden portal in his house, his disappearance makes more sense. Emily puts on a magic stone amulet she finds and together they enter a strange alternate world. Unfortunately when their mother follows, she is carried away by an enemy and then poisoned. With the aid of some of Great-Grandfather Silas' robots and the magic powers of the amulet, they rescue her. In the process Emily learns a lot about her new role as a "stonekeeper" (wearer and wielder of the magic amulet). It is a job she has inherited from her ancestor and one she will keep for life. The ultimate question is if she will control the amulet or if it will take control of her, and what she will give up to do this. By the end of the third book, the family has decided to make their new home in this magical kingdom of Alledia, but they know it will be an uphill battle, a war even, to control the stone and take back from the evil elf king who rules the land. (Did I mention there's an evil elf king? And various other villians? Oh yeah, they're there too. I'm summing up 3 books in one paragraph, stuff will be missed.)

My Take
Great story, beautifully drawn book, complex and engaging characters. I love these books and I'll keep reading the next issues. They're also a very popular choice in my library and pop up on all sort of "best of" lists. My only gripe is sometimes the plotline seems a teensy bit trite. (Less than once a book, not enough to deter anyone from reading it.) When Emily's father was lost, and her mother had to let go, couldn't hold on, couldn't save him, it was tragic. When Emily had the same experience with her mother, it was too easy of a parallel. But I'm an adult and this book is aimed (primarily) at middle grade readers who won't have this complaint. So ignore that and walk away knowing this is a great book to hand to a reluctant reader. The main character is a female, but her brother plays a huge role (and has his own part to play in the war), and I've not had any problem at all with boys refusing to read a "girl" book. Overall, highly recommended. (Well, except for what is in the next section.)

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
There's magic in this book. (You've probably figured that out on your own.) The amulet that Emily wears (and is unable to remove) talks to her and allows her to wield amazing powers (pick stuff up, blast stuff, etc.). There are other amulets and the stonekeepers (as those who wear the amulets are called) can be corrupted by the power or learn to control it. There are some battles, some violence, but nothing too graphic or off putting.

Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.
Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse.
-Proverbs 2:11-12

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chinese Cinderella

I meant to post a new chapter book review every Thursday, but I was away being a camp counselor for our church camp, and I forgot to pre-schedule it. I love biographies and memoirs and this is one I've been meaning to read for a while. When I received a copy of the author's first fiction book, it was the perfect motivation to read her original and most famous book. This memoir for children is an abridged/reworked version of her adult memoir, Falling Leaves, but even as an adult, I enjoyed the children's version more.

Book: Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah
Vital Stats: Published in 1999 by Delacorte Press, 205 pages
Awards: 2000 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Marketed Toward: The "Young Adult" market, more or less teens 12+
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended for the emotionally mature

Book Synopsis
Adeline Yen Mah tells the difficult story of her childhood. She is the fifth child, and a daughter, unwelcome in her family. When her mother dies from complications from childbirth, Adeline is blamed. After her father's remarriage, her place in her family is even more insecure. She is alternatively ignored and abused, only receiving minimal praise from a father who can't remember her name when she wins school prizes. Set during a backdrop of WWII and then communist revolution in China, Adeline Yen Mah (or Yen Jun-Ling in Chinese) had a rough childhood to say the least. The only ones who take an interest in her are her aunt and grandfather, but they are powerless to make a substantial change in her life. Yet she manages to overcome a cruel stepmother (worthy of any fairytale), an apathetic father, and siblings who are alternatively friends and foe to find herself and her own path in life.

My Take
Fantastic book! It's well written and captivating (I got through it in two days). Most fascinating for me were the insights into Chinese culture, the explanations of language and family structure. This book would be the perfect accompaniment to a unit on China. However it is not an easy book to read. The maturity level required for this book is higher than the reading level. While not as intense as A Child Called It, I would still recommend taking your child's emotional level into account. That being said, this is still a fantastic book. The children's biography covers her life until she is finally granted an escape, college in England. The adult biography glosses over the childhood years and focuses more on her life as an adult and her continuing struggles with her family even after she achieves her independence.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
The abuse doesn't usually take the form of physical abuse, but abandonment and emotional abuse can be as traumatic for the child and the reader. There is one particularly disturbing scene in which the author's beloved pet duck is killed by her father's dog. Both her grandfather and aunt are devout Buddhists, but their traditions are not lingered on much, actually I wanted more. Overall this program shouldn't be a problem for a Christian family provided you choose an appropriately emotionally mature child. I would think a minimum age is 12 or 13.

Your brothers, your own family—
even they have betrayed you;
they have raised a loud cry against you.
Do not trust them,
though they speak well of you.
-Jeremiah 12:6

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

One of my favorite middle grade children's chapter books (4th to 6th grade) in the last five years was Cynthia Lord's debut novel Rules, so I was thrilled to get an advance copy of her new book. I highly recommend Rules, especially to those whose lives are touched by someone with autism, and I found her newest book to be as poignant as her first.

Book: Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord
Vital Stats: Published August 1, 2010 by Scholastic, 192 pages
Awards:Lord won the Newbery Honor for Rules and a host of other awards
Marketed Toward: Ages 9 to 12
The Quick and the Short of It: Highly recommended

Book Synopsis
A small town on an island in Maine decides to bring foster children into their houses to raise the number of students and keep their school from being closed. Tess, still reeling from her best friend moving away, places high hopes on Aaron who is coming to live with her family. Of course he isn't exactly what she had hoped (an orphan like Anne in Anne of Green Gables), but real life is always more complicated than a book. Aaron is a gifted musician, but he's never played Monoply. He's angry, uninterested in island life or catching lobsters, and he's curious about his real mom. Grace tries desperately to help him consider the island his home, but when she tries to reconnect him with his mom she might have gone too far.

My Take
Simply put, I loved this book. It's beautifully written. The island life in Maine is so perfectly drawn that the setting could be an additional character. (I love books where the setting is rich and evocative as this one is.) Tess has a number of superstitions (such as the titular touching of blue which will make a wish come true) and each chapter is headed with a new superstition that naturally weaves its way into the action of that chapter. As I read this book, I flashed back to all the superstitions of my own childhood. Tess is a believable and a relateable character trying to make the most of what life has given her. If you're anything like me, you'll be rooting for Tess, for Aaron, and for the rest of the characters in this exceptionally well done book. Cynthia Lord deserves at least another mention on the Notable list for this marvelous book.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection:
There are the obvious issues inherent with a foster child, including that Aaron's mother has lost custody of him due to drinking issues. Other than that (which is minor and shouldn't be an impediment), I don't see any issues that would cause concern for a Christian family. Acutally I was thrilled to read a book where they attended church regularly. Tess performs Peace Like a River for the talent show and Aaron becomes the church organist. It's a refreshing book and one that I whole-heartedly endorse. There are a number of families in my church who have welcomed foster children into their homes and I'm thinking about sharing my copy of this with them.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." - James 1:27

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Prince of Mist

At the risk of sounding like a literary snob, I love reading Spanish Magical Realism. If you're unfamiliar with that genre, it is a mix of reality and fantastical elements by Spanish (or Mexican) authors. Great examples includes authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Laura Esquivel and books such 100 Years of Solitude and Like Water For Chocolate (my personal favorite). Last year when a coworker introduced me to a new author from Barcelona, I immediately devoured the two adult works of Carlos Ruiz Zafón that had been translated (The Shadow of the Wind and it's companion The Angel's Game). Those are amazing books, some of the best I've read in years, but definitely adult books. I do not recommend them to kids or teens. That why I was so excited (thrilled, over the moon, doing a happy dance) to get a copy of his first (translated) book for teens.

Book: The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves
Vital Stats: Published in May 2010 by Little, Brown and Company, 200 pages
Marketed Toward: Teens
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended, with a few reservations, for teens 14+

Book Synopsis
It's 1943 and the war is pressing in on daily life in Spain. On his 13th birthday, Max's father announces he is moving the family away from the city to a coastal town to escape the war. There his father opens up a watchmaker's shop and they move into a beach home abandoned after tragedy struck and the son of the previous owners drowned. That was not the only tragedy to strike this small community: years before a ship had sunk leaving only one survivor. Said survivor built the town's lighthouse and took in his orphaned grandson to raise. Max and his older sister become friends with the grandson, Roland, and together discover a mystery surrounding the drowned ship, the lighthouse keeper, a garden of creepy statues, and the previous occupants of the house. It's primarily a ghost story, with a bit about a deal with a devil thrown in, and of course a sense of magic.

My Take
I am not a person who enjoys being scared for the sake of being scared, but I loved this. The intertwining of the real and the not-quite-real is brilliant. It's not as fluid and poetic as Zaf´o;n's adult works, but it is much shorter and a quicker read. The story is less complex and fleshed out, but has the same interweaving of characters and places that make Zaf%acuteo;n's works so spine-tingling. Anyone who likes a creepy read, or beautiful writing, will find something to like here. However, I do have a couple of reservations, as always, read on.

Possible Issues
The first line of the book sets the stage: Max would never forget that faraway summer when, almost by chance, he discovered magic. So yes, this book includes magic. Choose for yourself how you feel about that. No main (or likeable) character practices magic, magic is shown as an evil force, and a consequence is always paid for practicing magic. The titular "Prince of Mist" is an evil-magician who grants wishes for people for a terrible price. (There's a nice object lesson about making a deal with the devil.) I do not feel that the presence of the supernatural element in this book should automatically preclude it from being enjoyed by an older Christian teen. Parents should also be aware that in the developing intimacy between Max's older sister, Alicia, and Roland, there is some physical intimacy. Max observes the two kissing and rolling around in the sand on the beach. Alicia also removes her dress before going swimming with Roland. Nothing is ever graphically described and at no point do they explain to exactly what level the intimacy between Roland and Alicia progresses.

"Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people like birds and I will tear them from your arms; I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds. I will tear off your veils and save my people from your hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. Then you will know that I am the LORD." -Ezekiel 13:20-21

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ending Randomness, Adding Structure

When I began this blog, I didn't know exactly where I was going. I knew I wanted to talk about secular books from a Christian perspective, and I knew that I had a LOT of opinions. I've been adding content fairly willy-nilly and just trying to find my style and my flow. But it is time to start adding more structure. So I'm starting with three defined goals and I'm publishing them to add in accountability (and honestly guilt) so that I do it.

Goal One:
A new review of a children's or teen novel every Thursday morning. (Morning being defined by West Coast time.)

Goal Two:
A feature on picture books every Monday.

Goal Three:
A index listing page of all reviews alphabetically.

My hope is to start this with a review on Thursday, July 1st. I'm at ALA Annual Convention right now where I've picked up some great Advanced Reader Copies to review. I'll head back home in a couple of days, but I'm doing a lot of reflecting about the state of librarianship, of children's and teen literature, and what I want from my career and this blog in particular.

I know that this blog has very few readers right now, but if you have any suggestions please let me know. And if you know anyone else who could use a Christian perspective on secular literature, please share. Somewhere in here is a goal to really start promoting this blog, but I'm not precisely sure how I want to go about that yet.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Tale of an Unknown Country volume 1

One of the biggest trends in graphic novels in the last ten years has been the growth of manga imports from Japan (and manhwa from Korea and manhua from China). These manga books are read right to left and "front" to "back" (in the Western prospective). Many of them are based on anime (Japenese cartoon shows) and are generally known by their large eyed characters. If reading right-to-left completely intimidates you, don't worry, you're not alone. Open the book up from the traditional front and most of the time you'll get a diagram explaining how it works and directing you to the other side of the book. The text is still printed left to right, but you'll read the panels and dialog bubbles right to left. It took me about 3/4ths of the first book to figure it out, but once you get it, it's fun. Promise. In fact what I struggle with most now in manga is telling the characters apart, but I'm working on it. The thing that parents should be wary of is a lot of manga contains graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, etc. Most manga publishers include an age rating on their manga to help you make a decision..

Book: A Tale of an Unknown Country by Natsuna Kawase

Vital Stats: Published in the US in 2009 by CMX*, 144 pages, black and white throughout
Marketed Toward: Ages 9 to 12
Rating: E for Everyone
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended for preteens and up, most likely to appeal to girls.
*CMX is the manga imprint of DC comics and is going under this summer. Therefore their titles may soon be hard to get.

Book Synopsis
Rosemarie is the princess of the kingdom of Ardela, a small country that celebrates nature and is primarily tourism based. In fact her country is so poor that she (a princess) sells bread and her brother (the prince) gives tours of the castle to the public (for a fee). Her brother is trying to broker Rosemarie's marriage to Prince Reynol of the nearby science and technology based (and rich) country of Yurinela. (Why yes, I do have my copy of the book right beside me so I can look up how those words are all spelled.) Rosemarie goes in disguise a maid to Yurinela to see what Reynol is like. Though no one is fooled by her disguise, her "meddling" in his life (forcing him to sleep and eat vegetables) causes him to fall in love with her. Apparently his willingness to smile causes her to fall in love with him. (Seriously I could discern no better reason.) Reynol visits her country and after some more shenanigans, they both admit they love each other and the engagement goes on. There are two more volumes in this series that I have not yet read.

At the end of volume one is a bonus standalone story about two teenagers in a school who fall in love. The girl does the announcements and the boy falls in love with her voice. At first she is embarrassed by the crazy stalker, but then she comes to love him as well. (It's short, but trite.)

My Take
Despite occasionally being confused as to who was whom (particularly among the male characters), I enjoyed this book. It was a quick light read and exactly the sort of thing I would have loved as a 10 or 11 year-old girl. She's a princess and she is going to marry a prince, but only if she really loves him. No one's pressuring her into it, her brother turns out to have her best interests at heart. I can see 10 year-old me happily curled up on my pink rose bedspread reading this on a rainy afternoon. This series will have little to no appeal to boys. Often manga series can run into many volumes (40 or 50+ easily) and this one is happily complete in three. All in all it's a good choice for dipping your toes into the manga waters. I will be reading the next two volumes.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
All of the characters in the book are teens. Rosemarie's marriage negotiations are handled by her (slightly older) brother and Reynol's marriage negotiations are likewise handled by his older brother. (And by handled, I mean the older brothers make the final decision and hold all the power.) Books that depict teenagers falling in forever love and getting married are always slightly worrisome to me. I feel it can send a wrong message and give too much weight to teenage infatuation. While some people marry their high school sweethearts, most teenage relations are ephemeral. Also, where are the parents? Why are there no older adults anywhere in the book? There's no explanation for their absence, they simply don't exist, only teenagers who are close enough to the readers to be relatable, but old enough to act with a degree of independence. Mostly safe for a Christian family.

Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. - Jeremiah 29:6

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Binky the Space Cat

It's summer, time to run, to play, and to read light fluff for fun. Perfect season for graphic novels. This is one of my favortie graphic novels from last year (it helps that I'm a cat person) and sure to be a fun summer treat for any beginning reader.

Book: Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires

Vital Stats: Published in 2009 by Kids Can Press, 64 pages, full color throughout
Marketed Toward: Ages 6+
The Quick and the Short of it: Highly recommended for kids from beginning readers to beginning chapter book readers

Book Synopsis
Binky would like to be a space cat, but he's never left his space station (family house). As he plots and trains to go into outer space (outside) he continues to battle the aliens (bugs) that occasionally invade his home. He's finally ready to go, he built his spaceship, packed extra kitty litter, grabbed his stuffed mouse, but he realizes something. Can he really leave his humans behind? They need him to stay and protect from the aliens (bugs).

My Take
Love this book! It's colorful and engaging with a lot of jokes that will appeal to kids. Kids love to laugh by feeling superior so they'll chuckle when Binky labels bugs as aliens and the garden as outer space. It has a good balance of sweet, funny, adventure to appeal to both boys and girls, though I expect that it's appeal tops out at about 9 or 10 years old. I highly recommend this for early elementary school students.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
I see no issues with this book. It might be worth noting (to some) that Binky lives with two humans a mother and son and no mention is ever made of a father or lack thereof. He simply just lives with those two.

I love the house where you live, O LORD,
the place where your glory dwells.
- Psalm 26:8

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Geronimo Stilton

The perenially popular Geronimo Stilton is constantly in demand at my library. Originally written in Italy, they're an amazing import for emerging readers. They're perfect beginning chapter books that capture kids who are transitioning from picture books and readers to novels.

Book: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye by Geronimo Stilton

Vital Stats: Published in 2004 by Scholastic, 116 pages, full color throughout
Marketed Toward: Ages 9 to 12
The Quick and the Short of It: Highly recommended!

Book Synopsis
Geronimo Stilton is harried newspaper man living in a world of mice. He likes cheese and a quiet orderly life. All of that is turned topsy turvy when his sister, Thea, shows up with a treasure map and convinces him to join him on an adventure. They're also joined by their cousin Trap and a stowaway. As they make a brave sea voyage, they might just discover that what they though of as a treasure is different than the treasure they find.

My Take
These books are unbelievably colorful and engaging. Words are often written in a fun color and font in the middle of the text for emphasis. (Think like a comic book with POW being surrounded by a balloon.) Perhaps it's my grownup brain, but it took me about half the book to adjust to that, yet children eat them up. As of this writing none of the copies (and we have many) are available at my library because they're all checked out. Yesterday I had three children ask for these book by name within 90 minutes. They're fun, sweet, adventurous, and wonderful. These are at the top of my list of recommended books in the beginning chapter book range. (So in my opinion, probably works well for kids ages 7 to 10.)

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
I didn't see any issues in this book. Recommending without reservation.

Education Connection
Did you know that I write another blog? It's more geared for professional librarians and covers library programming and issues. One of my favorite programs is a book club for 1st to 3rd graders (age 6 to 9). Here is an entry about when we used this book as our book club choice. I've actually re-done this book club since then and should post an update. You might find some fun ideas to use even at home when your children read the Geronimo Stilton books.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Going Bovine

When this book won the Printz Award (like the Newbery but for Young Adult award, the highest one the American Library Association gives for teen literature), I was sitting behind the author's husband. He was so excited, and called his wife. Very sweet. Thus I was excited to go home and read this book.

Book: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Vital Stats: Published in 2009 by Delacorte Press, 480 pages
Awards: Printz Award
Marketed Toward: Teens (probably 14+)
The Quick and the Short of It: I wish I could recommend this, but I really can't. It's brilliantly written and engaging, but there are just too many issues.

Book Synopsis
Underachieving 16 year-old Cameron is skating through school, a minimum wage job flipping burgers, and spending a lot of time smoking marijuana. He has distant parents, an overachieving sister, and few friends. Then he starts hallucinating. At first he and everyone else assume it is drug related. However it is soon revealed to be mad cow disease. As he lays dying in a hospital room, he gets a classmate for a roommate, a little person (what used to be called dwarf or midget) named Gonzo. Cameron is recruited by a punk rock angel named Dulcie to save the world and in doing so perhaps himself. Enlisting Gonzo as a sidekick, they set off on a cross country road trip where they join spring break parties, Mardi Gras, cults, fight fire monsters, do more drugs, add a talking gnome who claims to be a viking god to their merry band, and in general have incredible assorted adventures.

My Take
As I said in the intro, this is a extremely well written book. My coworkers all loved it. It was engaging (though I did feel it went on a little bit too long, I had to force myself through the last 70 pages), original, funny, and touching. If you asked me to name four other books like it, I'd be hard pressed to name even two. The Printz Award is supposed to go for excellence and this is excellence by worldly standards. And unlike other award winners, it will appeal to the target audience. It's a good, possibly brilliant, book and I wish I could recommend it.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
I should have kept a list as I was going because I'm going to miss some issues. We'll start with the drug use, specifically marijuana. This is the third teen book I've read in a row where marijuana use is treated very casually. Did I miss the part where it was legalized? Talking with a coworker, she didn't think it "was that big of a deal". But to me it is still a big deal and the increasingly casual way our society treats marijuana use signals a change in attitude. There is legislation to legalize marijuana in California as I write this, but for now the practice is being normalized in literature.

Cameron also graphically lusts after one of his classmates; there are other sexual activities described and speculated upon, underage drinking, etc. Some questionable language as well. It might be a fairly graphic and accurate look at the world of many teenage books. The question is if you want to read a book that reflects life as many teens live it in the world, or if you want to aim for something higher. There is an argument to be made about knowing enough of popular culture to communicate with the rest of the world, but we also have a responsibility to focus on that which is higher. It might help to reach the right kid in the right situation, but it would have to be done very carefully. And there are quite a few theological issues dealing with the portrayal of angels and the end of the life and afterlife. That is to be expected in a non-Christian book.

Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. -Romans 13:5

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Babymouse (Graphic Novel Series) volumes 1 to 3

I've already confessed my love of graphic novels, and now let me further confess that I love all things girly, pink, sparkly, and pretty. I am that girl and I am so without shame. Thus I've been in love with Babymouse since it premiered 5 years and 12 volumes (to date) ago.

Book: Babymouse: by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
volume 1: Babymouse: Queen of the World!
volume 2: Babymouse: Our Hero
volume 3: Babymouse: Beach Babe

Vital Stats: Each volume is around 90 pages, published by Random House, and available in paperback or hardback
Awards: ALA Notable Children's Book Award among others
Marketed Toward: Ages 9 to 12
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended, with some slight reservations, for anyone second grade and up, but most likely to be enjoyed by girls. (I've never seen a boy in the library so much as pick one of these up, but the girls can't get enough of them.)

Book Synopsis:
These books feature the tale of young Babymouse who loves cupcakes, monster movies, her best friend Wilson the Weasel, and her family. She uses her fantastic imagination and many flights of fancy (frequent daydream sequences have her doing anything from blazing a pioneer trail to fighting giant monsters) to cope with school, Felicia Furrypaws the bully, and the other trials and tribulations of life. The adorable and charming illustrations are done in only three colors: varying shades of black, white, and pink. It sounds limiting, but it is amazing how much is done with something that simple.

Babymouse: Queen of the World!
Babymouse wants to be queen, she wants to be popular, but she is not. The queen is that bully Felicia Furrypaws and when everyone (or so it seems) but Babymouse is invited to Felicia's slumber party, Babymouse is never more aware of her social position. Babymouse obsesses about the slumber party until she has the chance to "earn" an invitation by allowing Felicia to turn in a book report Babymouse wrote and claim it as her own. Despite having made plans with Wilson, Babymouse attends the slumber party only to discover it isn't much fun at all. At the 11th hour, she remembers herself, leaves the slumber party, and rejoins her true friend.

Babymouse: Our Hero
She dreams of being a hero, but all too often she is just a regular Babymouse. Never has she seemed more ordinary or even awful than in gym class. When a dodgeball game is announced, Babymouse knows that she is doomed to misery, but when the day finally comes (after a week of worry), she surprises everyone (even herself) by firing the winning shot.

Babymouse: Beach Babe
School is over, summer is here, and Babymouse is very excited about her family's vacation to the beach. She has grand plans for surfing (harder than it looks), sunbathing (sunburns), snorkeling (sharks), and much more fun. Unfortunately in her own attempts to have fun, she keeps ignoring her little brother Squeak, finally breaking his heart when she laments her lack of "cool" playmates. Squeak runs away causing a distraught Babymouse to find him. Their vacation ends up being a lot of fun as the two of them play together.

My Take:
These books are sweet and cute. The moral of the story is transparent (to adults at least) and predictable far in advance, but it is never irritating or cloying. The artwork is charming and the characters extremely likeable. Girls seem to love this series at my library and I love recommending it to them. This is officially marketed at 9 to 12 year-olds, but I really think its appeal is a bit younger than that. I've got only a few reservations (see below) that keep me from giving it whole-hearted review. Let's say that it is four out of five cupcakes (to put it in Babymouse-ese).

Possible Issues of Concern/Christian Connection:
Usually Babymouse learns a good lesson in each of her books (to know your true friends, to be brave, to enjoy playing with your little brother in the first three volumes respectively). The only issues I have are minor. In the second book, Babymouse's winning dodgeball shot hits Felicia Furrypaws directly in the face in what looks like an extremely painful hit, even when rendered in black and white and pink. Ouch! Don't try that at home! And in the third book, Babymouse's beach outfit (though never played for overt sexuality in anyway) is a pair of knee-length board short and a midriff revealing tank top. In one dream sequence in that volume she is a mermaid (err mermouse) wearing a shell bikini top. Other than those two outfits, all other outfits pictured are appropriately modest in the book series.

You Might Also Like:
The Lunch Lady graphic novel series by Jarrett J. Krosoczkais a similar size and shape and uses the same three-tone illustration scheme (only in that case, black, white, and yellow) and features a bevy of lunch ladies who fight evil in various forms. A good guy-friendly option (though still sure to appeal to girls as well).

Better a meal of vegetables where there is love
than a fattened calf with hatred.
-Proverbs 15:17

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Day-Glo Brothers

From the first moment you see this book with its bright colors against a dark background, it will grab your attention. (My scan of the book does NOT do it justice.) And it's likely to grab the attention of any kids with you as well. Have you ever thought about where fluorescent colors come from? I know I never did before this remarkable book.

Book: The Day-Glo Brothers: the true story of Bob and Joe Switzer's bright ideas and brand-new colors by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani

Vital Stats: Published in 2009 by Charlesbridge, 44 pages with black and white and day-glo colored illustrations throughout
Awards: Cybils award, Sibert Honor Book
Marketed Toward: Second to fifth grade, 7 to 10 years-old
The Quick and the Short of It: Highly recommended for elementary students, especially those with an artistic or scientific bent

Book Synopsis:
In non-fiction picture book style (which means vivid illustrations and 1 to 3 paragraphs of text per two page spreadd), this book tells the story of two brothers and some bright ideas starting in the 1930s and continuing through their remarkable lives. The two brothers, Bob and Joe Switzer, are entrepreneurial young men who liked magic tricks, solving problems, and working hard. While trying to make some of his light magic tricks better, Joe recruited his brother Bob recovering from an injury and very bored. Together they started playing with the newly developped black lights and fluorescence for ways to improve the magic strips. One night in their father's pharmacy, they discovered certain bottles would glow. Thus they began mixing up various chemicals, reading up about it, and learning to make glow-in-the-dark paints. they found they were useful not only for magic tricks, but also advertisements, store windows, posters, and more. Eventually of course it would also be used to make reflective strips for airports, ships, and road signs.

My Take:
Apparently no one else had written about the invention of neon colors because the author found no supporting material and did almost all her research from interviewing family members and reading the papers of the Switzer brothers. What a great resource for a historian! (And what a great inspiration for young historians.) The story is simply told, but quite inspiring. At the end there is a nice (but brief) author's note on research and notes on the science of fluorescent lights and day-glo colors.

My favorite (striking) feature of this book is the use of day-glo colors. The pictures begin in black and white and as the brothers invent and perfect the color process, more and more neon colors are introduced.

Possible Issues of Concern/Christian Connection:
I did not see any issues of concern with this book. I really enjoyed how the book talked about the two brothers' different personalities, different workstyles, and how that contributed to their teamwork. How their different strengths allowed them to work more effectiely. I also really appreciated the emphasis on their hard work and persistence, good traits to encourage.

One of the brothers had dreamed of being a doctor and saving lives, while that never happened, the use of his colors on signals has helped to save lives (starting with WWII) as the book points out. The other brother wanted to dazzle crowds as a magician and ended up doing so with his colors. A Christian parent could make a nice point about how our plans and God's plans for our lives may not always be the same, but how He can use us just the same.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -Jeremiah 29:11

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon

When librarians go to conferences, publishers often give them free copies of upcoming books as publicity tools. These are called pre-pubs or ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies). At the American Library Association Midwinter conference I picked up a couple of them that I'll review here in the next few weeks. This first one is by the award winning David Almond and is due out next month (April).

Book: The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon by David Almond; illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Vital Stats: Published by Candlewick Press in April 2010, 128 pages with full color illustrations throughout
Marketed Toward: 9 to 12 years
The Quick and the Short of It: This is delightful fantasy that should sit well with anyone who likes Roald Dahl though it does not quite reach his level of brilliance.

Book Synopsis:
One day a boy named Paul stays home from school and has a delightful adventure. He feels oppressed by the weight of the city (somewhere in England) and the apartment building (where he lives with his parents in the basement) and decides to touch the sky. So he travels to the top of his apartment building meeting several people along the way. At the top of the floor lives an eccentric woman named Molly (or is it her identical twin sister Mabel?) and with her Paul shares his (newly discovered) theory that the moon is actually a hole in the sky. Reuniting with his parents, they join Paul and Molly to meet Molly's brother Benjamin who also believes Paul's moon theory. Of course the only way to test it is for Paul to climb into the moon. Doing so involves all the characters met thus far and leads to even more interesting people.

My Take:
I liked this book. The final copy (though not my advanced copy) will have full color illustrations which I am quite looking forward to. It should be a beautiful book. This is full of the delightful nonsense that appeals to kids and tweens. Can you climb into a moon? What would you find if the moon were a hole in the sky? Who else might have accidentally fallen into it? I don't think this book will reach classic or award winning status. It's never laugh out loud funny or extremely moving. However it is a very solid, piece of amusing that will suit very well for anyone looking for a light read. I can't wait to recommend it as summer reading this summer at my library.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection:
Quickly and briefly: Paul is described on page one as a boy who "didn't like school and school didn't seem to like him". There are various incidents of characters calling each other "silly" or saying mildly disparaging things to each other. The worst of these incidents is stopped and an apology is demanded and forgiveness given. The ideas that live in Molly's brother Benjamin's head are described as potentially being "the salvation of us all". Not meant in a religious sense, but might be interesting for someone who has only heard that word in a religious context. There is an often repeated phrase about sausages being better than war. It veers a bit close to cursing when one person refers to something as "no blinking good". There is also a moment where Paul (aided by many adults) climbs a ladder on top of a building. Please don't try that at home! None of those things should dissuade anyone from reading the book, but they are presented to make your own judgments. Often in children's literature the parents are non-existent, absent, or ineffective. However in this story, Paul's parents are very much main characters, seeking him out when he is missing and joining him on his adventures. It's a nice thing to see in a kid's book.

There would be a way to read a Christian allegory into this entire story. Paul is depressed and longs to escape the world. So he climbs up to the sky and eventually into the moon. Inside the moon is a delightful world full of other explorers who've ended up there. They all live in peace and happiness together in the moon. You could draw an allegory about escaping to Heaven, but I have no evidence that the author intended any such thing, especially since Paul chooses to return to his home.

You Might Also Like:
Anything by Roald Dahl, my favorite is The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) or The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. -Genesis 1:16

Monday, March 15, 2010

Graphic Novel: Copper

To reflect the changing face of comic books, they were renamed graphic novels. The genre now includes the traditional super heroes and funny comic strips as well as fantasy, adventures, memoirs, and much more. It's one of my favorite genres to read and it's great for encouraging reluctant readers. Often graphic novels can lead readers to find traditional novels. While there is an amazing plethora of graphic novels to choose from, not all of them are truly kid-friendly. Many are written for and aimed at older audiences and can contain more mature content. Yet there are still a lot of great choices available for younger readers as well. Today's review title was one I was eagerly anticipating. It began as a webcomic. Many comic artists are finding that they can support themselves from a webcomic and sale of related merchandise (i.e. books, tshirts, etc.), in fact some newspaper comics (such as Sheldon by Dave Kellett) have even moved only to the online only model which allows for more artistic freedom and more potential than the traditional print model. I read a lot of webcomics, it can be a lot of fun. Of course there are no editors or censors so choose your webcomic carefully!

Book: Copper by Kazu Kibuishi

Awards: Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2009
Vital Stats: Published in January 2010 by Graphix, 96 pages, full color throughout
Marketed Toward: Late elementary school and up
The Quick and Short Of It: This book should be a big hit (and safe for) anyone who enjoys Calvin and Hobbes.

Book Synopsis:
Copper began as a webcomic and can still be read here. It features the adventures of a boy/young man (he seems to live alone and is perhaps early twenties, but younger with his sense of wonder and adventure) named Copper and his dog, Fred. Copper is eager, enthusiastic, optimistic, and a bit naive, while his dog Fred is more of a pessimist, worrier, realist, and a bit more jaded. Together they have dreams, imaginations, flights of fancies, and adventures. Most of the book is single page standalone mini-stories where they go fishing, dance with robots, go hiking and more. (I just wanted an excuse to link to some of my favorite strips.) Interspersed among the standalones are a few longer multi-page stories. The entire book is rich with colors, rounded characters, cuteness and wonder. It's a book that inspires the imagination. The last few pages are an in-depth discussion by the author of how each strip is created. Perfect for inspiring budding comic artists with some great tips and techniques.

My Take:
We've all had to accept that there will never be any more Calvin and Hobbes, but fortunately there are a great number of artists to take their place. I gave this book to a friend of mine with two boys, she thought her kids (ages 5 and 8) were too young to get it. Fair point, but the next level up of kids will love it. I know I finished the book chucking, happy, and wanting more.

Possible Issues of Concern/Christian Connection:
One character calls another an idiot, another time an "old fool" and refers to something as it "sucks". (I've got two of the strips linked so you can see it in context.) It's online so you can read for yourself for free, and decide for yourself. I think with the 11+ crowd it should be fine.

You Might Also Like:
I also recommend the Sheldon by Dave Kellett I linked earlier. Great strip about a 10 year-old orphan genius who owns a billion dollar software company (he's a tech genius), is being raised by his grandfather, and shares his life with friends, a talking duck, a pug, and a lizard. Read it online or get one of the books. (Recently on Saturdays he's been doing a new sci-fi comic, don't let it confuse you.)

Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of Him who is perfect in knowledge?
- Job 35:16

Sunday, March 14, 2010

House Of Night Series

Unless you've been living in cave for the last few years, you're aware that vampires are the thing in teen literature. Enough has been said about The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer that there really isn't much for me to add (though yes I do have opinions, I always have opinions, this is why I write a blog). Teen girls have gone absolutely mad about vampire books; it's my single most requested thing in that age group. One other popular series that I get a ton of requests for is the House Of Night series by P.C. and Kirsten Cast. I've read and will review the first two books in this series. These books, written by a mother/daughter team from Oklahoma, seem to be marketed toward teens and young adults. My library has them in the adult section, but other libraries put them in the teen section, and they seem to primarily read by teens. My quick informal survey of other library catalogs seems that half of the libraries put them in adult and the other half in the teen section. For the record, the book spells vampire as "vampyre", but I find that to be an obnoxious pretense (much like "ye olde shoppe") and refuse to humor them, so I will be spelling it more conventionally. Also, as I review this I'm going to mention many issues that should make it a no-read for Christians, but I'm not even addressing the vampire part.

Book: Marked and Betrayed by P.C. Cast and Kirsten Cast (House Of Night series)

Awards: American Library Association Notable Children's Books (at least one volume)
Vital Stats: around 300 pages per volume, 6 books out with the 7th to be released in April 2010, St. Martin's Press
Marketed Toward: Teens and Young Adults
The Quick and Short of It: I do not recommend this book for any Christian person of any age. (So if you want, you can stop reading the review now, or I'll try to briefly explain.)

Book Synopsis:
In the first volume (Marked), Zoey a "normal" teenager is marked by the vampires. For unknown reasons as some teens go through puberty their body goes through a change. If they reject the change, they die; their only hope is to go to the house of night wherein they will turn into full fledged adult vampires. The process takes years and they spend the time in "vampire finishing school" learning about their new life. So Zoey is marked, and while this is life changing, it also offers her an escape from a home life that she feels is unbearable. Before getting to the house of night, she seeks out her Cherokee Indian grandmother, encounters Cherokee spirits and has a vision of the goddess that created the vampires. This causes her mark to fill in, making her super special. At the school, she makes friends, attempts to settle in to her new life, but encounters vampire politics, runs up against the leader of the vampire girls, etc. Fortunately she has all sort of special powers due to her filled in mark and connection to the goddess and is able to take control of the student group. In subsequent books she faces more adversaries among the vampires and from outside society, discovers more powers, has relationships with various boys, so on and so forth.

My Take:
Before I get into the very obvious Christian issues, let me address the literary merit. It's light fluff and we shouldn't read too much into it. However the Casts do fall into a common trap for young adult literature. Zoey is perfect. She has powers that have never before been seen in any vampire, she's the most powerful vampire every in history, she can do anything, she's amazing. Ugh. (For other examples of this trope see Clan of the Cave Bear (series) by Jean Auel.) Authors shouldn't fall in love with their own character. A perfect character is not a relate-able character. Other than that (majorly annoying in my opinion) flaw, this is no better nor worse than any other escapism teen lit.

Possible Issues of Concern/Christian Connection:
I'm guessing you got a lot of these issues already, but here we go. A brief list of the simple to explain: homosexuality (one of her vampire friends, a very major concern, it's definitely approved of and treated as normal and yes in later book he's in a relationship), underage drinking (which Zoey disapproves of, kinda), marijuana use, and sexual activities (in the first book she witnesses and describes fairly graphically sexual activities between others, in later volumes she begins to participate). There is the casting of circles and calling of the elements and the spirits in rituals that have been lifted word-for-word from new age and pagan websites (see plagiarism accusations here). She contacts the goddess, the goddess speaks to her in a quiet voice only she can here. I could go on, but you get the idea. In later books as she bounces between her human boyfriend and a vampire boy, she also develops an extremely inappropriate relationship with an adult male vampire. I rather just wanted to slap her and explain that no good comes from an adult man being interested in a teen girl.

Perhaps to me the most offensive was the portrayal of the step-father. He is a leader in the "People of Faith" community and is portrayed as overbearing and insufferable. Her mother is in what the writers probably think of as an example of a submissive marriage, but it bears no similarities to the Biblical submissive marriages I have seen. The mother is devoid of any freewill, only nodding mutely at whatever her husband says. This change since her second marriage is what most tears Zoey apart from her family. Over and over again people of faith (no they never say Christian) are shown as villians and a submissive marriage is shown as a trap and completely oppressive. But hey, they don't curse! No bad words! Or I was just so overwhelmed by all of this other stuff that I let the cursing slip on by.

Confession, I read the first two books in full and summaries of the rest of them. I feel that was enough to make a judgment (and I couldn't handle reading anymore), but I had to be honest about it. In case you didn't get my point, I am not recommending this book for ANYONE to read. I only went on for as long as I did to justify it, to give you reasons why you shouldn't read it as a Christian.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. -Romans 12:2

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Space Books in the Sibert Award

Every year in January, the American Library Association hosts at their midwinter conference The Youth Media Awards. The most famous of these are of course the Newbery Medal (for written works for children) and Caldecott Medal (for illustrations for children). However a whole slew of awards are given out for both teen and children's works. One of my favorite awards is the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal or to put it more concisely, the Sibert Medal honors non-fiction books for kids. Non-fiction is some of my favorite things to read and I thought I'd start my reviews with two of them.

I'm a space geek. As a child there were family vacations to Cape Canaveral and other NASA sites. Someday there will be a moon base (about 15 years if you believe the official NASA site) and someday they will need a children's librarian. I'll be too old by then most likely, but I'll still apply. So I was thrilled when two space books made the Sibert Medal list. Last year was the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing and a number of great space books came out. It's a good time to be a space geek.

Book: Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

Awards: Sibert Medal, Finalist for YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (basically the award for teen non-fiction)
Vital Stats: Published by Candlewick Press in 2009, 133 pages, full color with many photographs throughout
Marketed toward: Ages 9 to 12
The Quick and Short of It: Highly recommended for anyone, especially for students working at a 3rd to 6th grade level

Book Synopsis:
Shortly after the announcement of the country's first astronauts, the Mercury 7 (John Glenn, Alan Shepard and company), a number of female pilots were called in to undergo astronaut testing. Dubbed the Mercury 13 by their supporters and "astronettes" and "astrodolls" by the press, the women not only passed astronaut tests, they exceeded expectations. However NASA chose not to continue the testing process nor use these women in anyway in the space program. What followed next was a heated battle with the press, the public, and notable figures of the day all taking sides. Even after an appeal to the Vice President (LBJ) and testimony before Congress, the women never won their case. It would be another 20 years before Sally Ride went into space and even longer after that before a women would enter space as a pilot.

My Take:
I'm a space geek and I didn't know about the Mercury 13 women. I found the book fascinating and could not put it down. Anyone within earshot got to hear me read out loud particularly amazing or interesting bits of information in a near-constant commentary. It's an incredible story of amazing women who underwent difficult testing and public scrutiny and did it all with grace and valor. They are undoubtedly pioneers for all of us. According to the book, in 2007 only 6% of all pilots are women and only 3.5% of people who have the approval to fly commercial jets are women. I'm proud to say that one of my good friends is an awesome commercial jet pilot, former airforce pilot, air force academy grad, and a strong Christian. I believe it is possible to be all of these things. This book is a fantastic one to give to any child interested in being a pilot or astronaut or to any girl (or boy) who is looking for strong (female) role models.

Possible Issues of Concern/Christian Connection:
No real possible issues of concern other than one paragraph which discusses how either menstration or the sexual temptation women pose would be issues with putting them in space with men. One paragraph, not graphic, shouldn't be a problem at all.

On a very cool note, the "leader" of the Mercury 13 women was an Oklahoman named Jerrie Cobb. Described as "deeply spiritual" after failing to have the Mercury 13 women accepted as astronauts, she decided there still was a way for her to contribute as a pilot. She went to South America and delivered food, medicine, and supplies to the natives living in the Amazon. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for this work. (Talk about a female role model!)

Book: Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

Awards: Sibert Honor Book
Vital Stats: Published by Athenum Books in 2009, 48 pages, illustrated throughout with watercolors
Marketed Toward: Ages 4 to 8
The Quick and the Short Of It: I highly recommend this book for younger children

Book Synopsis:
Poetry and watercolors combine to tell the story of Apollo 11 in simple language. An author's note at the end fills in the details.

My Take:
This book has graceful free verse (and poetry is not my favorite thing to read) and beautiful watercolors. It's a great introduction to the Apollo program and might interest a child in learning more. It's too long for me to use in a storytime and too long for very young (think under three) children, but would be perfect to share one-on-one or as a bedtime story with the early school children (or the almost ready for school children). A marvelous addition to the fantastic array of space books out there.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection:
None that I can see.

You Might Also Like:
If either of these books are interesting to you, you (or your children) might also enjoy The Wright Sister by Richard Maurer which tells the story of Katharine Wright Haskell, sister of "The Wright Brothers" and their support, cook, promoter, and companion during the years they developped their plane and promoted it. For the budding space enthusiast, I recommend Team Moon: How 400,000 people landed Apollo 11 on the moon by Catharine Thimmesh, a great middle grade non-fiction work that focuses on the extraordinary effots of so many people to get man to the moon, including the little old lady seamstresses who sewed the spacesuits by hand. (This was the 2007 Sibert Medal winner.)

When I consider your heavens,
the works of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
-Psalm 8:3-4

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Beginning and an Explanation

People who know me tend to know two important things about me. I'm a Christian and a librarian. I was raised in a Christian family and accepted Jesus and put on Christ in baptism when I was 13. I decided I wanted to be a librarian when I was 9 years-old, started volunteering at a library as a teen, and I've been working as a professional librarian since I finished my masters in library science a few years ago. As a youth librarian, I read a lot of children's and teen books and talk to a lot of kids and parents about books. It's a great time in children's literature, there's a lot of great things happening and great authors writing. However as the moral standards of our culture changes, so also is what is acceptable in teen and children's literature changes.

I know a lot of parents, both Christian and non-Christian parents, who worry a lot about what their children are reading (and watching on TV and seeing on the internet). I am by no means a media expert, but I do know a lot about children's and teen books. As a librarian, I've seen all extremes, from parents who allow their children to read anything to parents who refuse anything but Christian literature. I believe there is a happy medium in between. The answer is not to banish all literature but Christian literature. For one thing, you'll miss a lot of great literature. Nor is it to throw your children into the lion's pit. I believe as Christians we must meet people, our friends and neighbors, the lost, where they are in the world. We can not isolate ourselves entirely from the world. Even Paul in Acts 17 showed an awareness of the culture around him when he stood up in the Areopagus and referenced their culture in the form of the altar to the "unknown God".

Often as Christians, we say that we want to be "in the world and not of the world". This is my personal contribution to this slightly. In this blog I will review books intended for children and teens. I intend to read secular literature from a Christian perspective. As a child, I was allowed to read some more challenging books under my parents' guidance. A lot of literature can be used as a teaching tool if there is an adult sitting there with the child/teen explaining why you believe differently than what is presented in the book. However there is a lot of literature out there I have trouble recommending to anyone, children or teen (or even adult for that matter) and yet it is being marketed for those audiences.

Many of my friends from church (even churches I have attended in the past) have emailed me for advice regarding literature for their children. There is so much out there that even if it is your full time job (as it is mine) it can be hard to keep up with it all. Please feel free to email me any questions, especially if you're curious about a specific book. I pray that this will be of some help to parents trying to sort out the confusing world we find ourselves in.

"My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified." -John 17:15-19