Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Lowry, L. (1993). The giver.New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.
1994 Newbery Medal
Interest Level: 5-8, Reading Level: 6.0
Giver Quartet:
1 – The Giver
2 – Gathering Blue
3 – Messenger
4 – Son

The Giver by Lois Lowry is a futuristic science fiction novel set in dystopian world in a community under the illusion of a utopian existence. This community not only does not allow but has genetically engineered as much as possible to provide an existence without such things as feeling, hunger, inequalities, pain, color, love, and memories of their distant and ancient past. The Giver is about Jonas, when he turns twelve, like all other children in their community who are given their permanent job assignments based off of observation and tedious calculations by the Elders that decide the future of each and every citizen in their community. If they do well they are rewarded, if they do not acclimate to the highly structured lives expected of each member of the community, then they are released outside of the community.

Jonas is to become the next Receiver of Memory and he must learn all there is to know from the former the Giver, the former receiver of memories. Jonas, knowing that he has memories no other community member has and that those members have caused emotional and physical pain for the Giver, and though he begins expressing that some memories are unfair not to share with others, and he is still a carrying young boy and is willing to accept the pain that comes with the transfer of unpleasant memories in additional to the happy ones. He learned learns of war, starvation, sledding in the snow, colors, a sunburn and a broken bone, as well celebrating Christmas with a family. When Jonas learns that “released” from the community actually means death as he observes a recording of his father end the life of the weaker of the twin infants, he decides that the community must have all the memories he has been given over the past in his training well aware of the pain it will bring with those memories.

The Giver, often used in upper elementary school curriculum (ages 9-10) may be more suitable than other dystopian novels in which world devastation, human suffering, and death is commonly seen whereas in The Giver, Lowry introduces this utopian dystopia in a unique and unforgotten that allows for each reader to use their own interpretation to determine whether Jonas has made the best decision and even use their own imagination as to what may come next. Lowry’s novel offers ample educational material ranging from creative writing in Language Arts, genetic engineering  or even optical illusions as Jonas was observing as he occasionally saw color prior to being chosen as the Receiver of Memories for  science curriculum. Philosophy discussion may include the ideas of a utopia vs. dystopia and comparing similarities between the two, sociology curriculum discussions can focus on viewpoints and the effects of individual feeling that may cause conflict by comparing/contrasting diverse cultural and religious issues within a local community. And in a world where there is more instability than a generation earlier, dystopian novels provide tweens the opportunity to read material they can identify with since a dystopian future may not be as far away as we once believe with wars, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, increasingly more devastating natural disasters and other environmental concerns.  Those that enjoy The Giver may be interested in reading the remaining three books in the Giver Quartet (The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, Son), Jeanne DuPrau’s Books of Ember (The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, The Diamond of Darkhold), Or Susan Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay).

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Rocklin, J. (2011). One day and one amazing morning on Orange Street. New York, NY: Amuelt Books.
2012 Beatty Award
Interest Level: 3-6
Reading Level: 5.2
Genre: Historical Fiction
Subjects: Neighborhoods, Trees, Oranges, Friendship, Family Life, California

“The street I lived on was like a book of stories, all different, but bound together.” – The Memoirs of Ethel Finneymaker

One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street tells a story of friendship, struggle, illness, fear, anxiety, war, aging and sadness; all woven together in a cluster of individual plots centered around each character as they deal with the conflicts in their lives. The author tells of the power of friendship and courage, as each of the characters in the book come to find compassion, strength and hope, individually and together, the story unfolds with each separate plot coming together at the end of the story as the children and adults, using their own forms of conflict resolution, find a common bond that links them together forever under the shade and history of Orange Street’s lone orange tree. In the span of only a day and a half, the reader gets to know the children who grew up on Orange Street, those who live there now and those who once lived there, as well as the history of the tree that brings them all together. In telling the street’s history, we learn of the Great Depression and the Vietnam War and the toll they took on those who lived through them.

As the story opens, we discover each character’s struggle within their families, and we are introduced to a mysterious stranger who shows up early the first morning parked near the orange tree and empty lot, and of that ominous orange cone in front of the lot on the sidewalk. Mrs. Snoops (Ethel Finnymaker) called by that name because she is perceived to snoop on everyone on Orange Street, is alarmed by the orange cone across the street and calls 911 to report a crime, one that has yet been committed. She knows something is up, as does everyone else as the day progresses. Overwhelmed by their own problems, however, the characters go about the first day on Orange Street just trying to resolve the conflict they are confronted with.

In the time span of a day and a half, we learn of the struggles of each resident of Orange Street. Mrs. Snoops, the keeper of Orange Street’s history, who suffers from memory loss and the effects of aging. Bunny Perkins, a quirky, oversensitive little girl, plagued by rituals and superstitions that she believes she must continue to practice in order to prevent her mother from dying in a plane crash on one of her many business trips. Leandra Jackson is worried about her grandfather who wears a pacemaker after a heart attack and of the news that her parents are having another baby. She has fears she will no longer be important and special. Ali, whose brother can’t speak since having surgery for a tumor on his brain, she is afraid he will never be able to talk or walk or be the same again. Robert Green, a loner, feeling different than the others, has been told he is developmentally and emotionally slow. He spends his days trying to impress the other children with magic tricks in a painful effort to fit in. To make matters worse, his best friend has just moved half way around the world and he misses him. We learn of a few other residents of the street, as well as Ruff, the dog, and finally the mysterious stranger, a past resident of Orange Street whose father died in the Vietnam War. We learn of all of these very special characters, as they make their way through the pains and joys of growing up. They come together, around the fragrant and historical Valencia orange tree, each of them with memories of the tree and how it bonds them together forever. This is a story of hope, of courage, of learning to work together to make a difference, in each of their lives and on the street they have come to love.

The story is easy to read, threaded with emotion and history. The story is told in third person, although it is never quite clear who is telling the tale, it almost seems as though the narrator is the orange tree itself, as it tells the story from a unique position on the street; an empty lot among all of the houses. Readers will come to care about each child who grew up there and feel moved by each story. Although there is sadness, how each life touches the others, and how the children all come together at the end as they find resolution to their troubles, the reader is left with a sense of love, peace, and joy. Although primarily written for a younger tween audience, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street would be a delight for all readers, boys and girls alike. It is a nicely paced story, with aspects of historical fiction. And for those who enjoyed books such as Pie by Sarah Weeks about a secret pie recipe, a cat, and a community that must work together, or The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson about 57 Japanese girls that came to America as a gesture of friendship between their countries, the story shares of their experiences as well as the loss of 13 of them.

Cunningham, D.L. (Director), Siegel, A. (Producer), LeBoff, J. (Producer), Platt, M. (Producer), Schmidt, R. (Producer). (2007). The seeker: The dark is rising [Motion picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.
Interest Level: 5-8
Genre: Fantasy
Subjects: Good and evil, time travel, signs and symbols, book adaptation
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Rated: PG
Running Time: 99 minutes

“This warrior is a boy.”

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is based on the young adult novel The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper and stars Alexander Ludwig most recently known for his roles as Cato in The Hunger Games and Seth in Race to Witch Mountain. The story follows Will Staton, the seventh son of a seventh son immediately after his fourteenth birthday in which he learns he is the most important person in the fight between the light and the dark as the Old Ones introduce him to his destiny with only five days to search for six signs hidden in space and time by one of his ancestors. These six signs will give either the Rider of the Dark the power to rule the world, or the Light the power to vanquish the Dark, and it is entirely up to Will to find the power to believe in himself so he can save the world.

Will Staton (Alexander Ludwig) the protagonist is assisted in his search for the signs by the Old Ones. The Old Ones that protect and guide him include Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane), Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy), Dawson (James Cosmo), Old George (Jim Piddock), and Will’s girl crush from his school, Maggie Barnes (Amelia Warner). And the Rider (Christopher Eccleston) of the Dark, the antagonist is disguised as the village doctor.

Though the film was not as popular with many fans of The Dark is Rising Sequence from the 1970’s due to significant differences in characters and plot, the movie is undoubtedly enjoyable due to the suspense, action, popular cast, and visual effects. Those who enjoyed the films Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Inkheart both based of the books with the same title, or the television series Legend of the Seeker based off of the adult fantasy series, The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind should easily find The Seeker: The Dark is Rising highly entertaining.

Kenan, G. (Director). (2009). City of Ember [Motion picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.
Interest Level: 5-8
Genre: Action & Adventure, Kids & Family, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Rated: PG
Running Time: 94 minutes

“What if there is an exit from Ember?” – Doon Harrow

Everyone is literally afraid of the darkness in the movie City of Ember based on the first book of the Books of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. They live in fear of the lights extinguishing as the generator fails. The city was created by the Builders, a team of scientists and engineers that hoped that building an underground city to escape “the end of the world” mankind would survive and future generations may be able to live in an environment not knowing of the devastation on the Earth’s surface. As time goes on in the city of Ember beyond the Builders’ desired 200 year plan, the generator begins to fail, the food is running low, and the city’s structure is collapsing. Ember has already ran out of time and the box with directions to exit the city is lost after the seventh Mayor and when found it’s purpose is unknown, the fate of Ember is left to two teenagers, Lina and Doon to save themselves and all of mankind.

As Lina and her friend Doon piece together the puzzle of how to escape from what’s left of the scraps of directions by the Builders, they gather whatever information they can as they begin working in the community after their completion of school. Lina is a messenger and Doon a pipeworks technician, and the two highly inquisitive and observant friends discover clues on wall, floors, and two plastic keys, one in Lina’s possession and the other in the Mayor’s. Together, knowing that leaving their city is against the law, they still plan their escape. The path begins with the technician lockers (rafts in disguise) in the Pipeworks to the Generator room where the water meets with the river and ends at a staircase leading to the Earth’s surface.

As Lina and Doon escape from the generator room to the outside of Ember it may seem reminiscent to some of an amusement park log ride. I am glad to know that matches will remain enough in tack to still ignite 200 years after a nuclear holocaust… Maybe the theory about Twinkies needs to be reconsidered. On the Earth’s surface, the two are initially despondent as they see only darkness, unaware of the difference between night and day growing up underground with only artificial lighting. When the sun rises, Lina discovers the sky is blue as she imagined in her drawings and together they discover a crack in the Earth from which they can see Ember and send a message tied to a rock to all the other inhabitants with directions how to leave.

The characters include; Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronana), descendant of the seventh mayor of Ember who found a box with directions from the Builders how to exit the city. Poppy (Amy and Catherine Quinn) is the little sister of Lina. Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway), closest friend to Lina Mayfleet, conspires to escape Ember. Loris “Barrow” Harrow (Tim Robbins), Doon’s father and close friend of Lina’s father that died in their attempt to escape Ember many years prior. Sul (Martin Landau) a narcoleptic loony pipeworks technician that’s in charge of training Doon, and Clary (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a greenhouse worker and friend to Lina’s father end up being Lina’s and Doon’s greatest aids in their escape to the Earth’s surface. And, Ember’s current Mayor, Mayor Cole (Bill Murray) hides the impending doom of the city from its inhabitants as he hoards food and plans his own escape.

City of Ember was rated a 6.4 by IMDb and a 53% by Rotten Tomatoes, yet a review by Teen Ink states that the movie was “quite impressive”. The city itself appears similar to the overly crowded and filthy living during the 19th century British industrial Revolution as seen in films based off of the work of Charles Dickens such as Oliver Twist (2005) or the PBS Masterpiece Classic, The Tales of Charles Dickens. Thought the first part of the movie may seem a little dull, the overall story, set design, action in the second half, and actors/actresses makes this a film appealing to those of all ages, particularly tweens since DuPrau’s Books of Ember are considered middle-grade novels. The quest to save the lives of others and following clues may remind older viewers of the movie The Goonies or a more recent film such as The Forbidden Kingdom.