Sunday, November 16, 2008

The First Part Last

Bibliography: Johnson, Angela. 2003. The First Part Last. New York. Simon and Schuster: Books for Young Readers ISBN 0689949222

Plot Summary: Bobby, a teenage boy, receives the incomprehensible news on his sixteenth birthday that his girlfriend Nia is pregnant. Through first person narrative from Bobby's perspective, the reader is allowed to view the male side of teen pregnancy. The emotional roller-coaster filled with What-Ifs: what if we keep the baby? What if we put the baby up for adoption? What if this had never happened? keep the reader wondering what the eventual outcome will be, resulting in an unexpected twist.

Critical Analysis: Angela Johnson offers a moving and poignant rendering of the teen pregnancy issue. Johnson chooses to focus on the lesser-known protagonist in the drama, that of the teenage father.
Using a unique, almost poetic style, the action is revealed in a way that shows first the story that is occurring "Now" in its own chapter and the past action that occurred "Then". through the Now and Then chapters, the reader is brought along through the story via the eyes of the young father in first person narrative. Very little profanity is used, despite the fact that the young protagonist is a male teen who resides in a large inner city neighborhood. To leave such language out of a modern, realistic novel with this theme would be insinuating that it doesn't exist.
Teens will find several characters in this novel with whom to relate and with whom to cry when it is disclosed at the end of the story that Bobby's girlfriend Nia experiences complications in her pregnancy. Nia's voice is show only once when she reveals that something has gone wrong, "I'm flying up high over everybody...and even myself...I guess this is what it must feel like to be dying." The What-Ifs are finally answered also when Bobby tells his new baby daughter that " were mine...'cause now that she was gone I wouldn't sign the papers" which will allow for much discussion between teens as to whether Bobby did the right thing or not.

Review Excerpts:
From BooklistGr. 6-12. Bobby, the teenage artist and single-parent dad in Johnson's Coretta Scott King Award winner, Heaven (1998), tells his story here. At 16, he's scared to be raising his baby, Feather, but he's totally devoted to caring for her, even as she keeps him up all night, and he knows that his college plans are on hold. In short chapters alternating between "now" and "then," he talks about the baby that now fills his life, and he remembers the pregnancy of his beloved girlfriend, Nia. Yes, the teens' parents were right. The couple should have used birth control; adoption could have meant freedom. But when Nia suffers irreversible postpartum brain damage, Bobby takes their newborn baby home. There's no romanticizing. The exhaustion is real, and Bobby gets in trouble with the police and nearly messes up everything. But from the first page, readers feel the physical reality of Bobby's new world: what it's like to hold Feather on his stomach, smell her skin, touch her clenched fists, feel her shiver, and kiss the top of her curly head. Johnson makes poetry with the simplest words in short, spare sentences that teens will read again and again. The great cover photo shows the strong African American teen holding his tiny baby in his arms. Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal Grade 8 Up-Brief, poetic, and absolutely riveting, this gem of a novel tells the story of a young father struggling to raise an infant. Bobby, 16, is a sensitive and intelligent narrator. His parents are supportive but refuse to take over the child-care duties, so he struggles to balance parenting, school, and friends who don't comprehend his new role. Alternate chapters go back to the story of Bobby's relationship with his girlfriend Nia and how parents and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy. Bobby's parents are well-developed characters, Nia's upper-class family somewhat less so. Flashbacks lead to the revelation in the final chapters that Nia is in an irreversible coma caused by eclampsia. This twist, which explains why Bobby is raising Feather on his own against the advice of both families, seems melodramatic. So does a chapter in which Bobby snaps from the pressure and spends an entire day spray painting a picture on a brick wall, only to be arrested for vandalism. However, any flaws in the plot are overshadowed by the beautiful writing. Scenes in which Bobby expresses his love for his daughter are breathtaking. Teens who enjoyed Margaret Bechard's Hanging on to Max (Millbrook, 2002) will love this book, too, despite very different conclusions. The attractive cover photo of a young black man cradling an infant will attract readers.Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Conduct a book talk on the novel after school hours- might need to include parental permission
Display other books on teen pregnancy such as the following:
The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom (graphic novel)
Annie's Baby (anonymous)
Chill Wind by Janet MacDonald
Choices by Dianne Wolfer
Dance for Three by Louise Plummer
Dancing Naked by Shelley Hrdlistchka
Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye by Lois Lowry

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Bibliography: Hiaasen, Carl. 2002. Hoot. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, Inc. ISBN 0375829164

Plot Summary: Roy Eberhardt has moved from Montana to Florida where he is the 'new kid' and immediately earns the nickname "Cowgirl" from one of the worst bullies in the school. While riding the bus to school and avoiding the Bully, Roy notices a strangely ragged-looking boy without shoes running with the agility of a deer. His curiosity awakened, Roy starts a search to find out who this boy is. In doing so, he begins an uneasy friendship with a girl who turns out to be the boy's sister and discovers the boy is staging a one-man assault against a national pancake house which plans to illegally build a new restaurant right over the homes of endangered burrowing owls. Together, the three work to prevent the business from becoming a reality and save the owls.

Critical Analysis: Hoot is written with a protagonist many students can relate to. Roy is a new kid and is picked on by the biggest bully in school. Roy is not a large boy and even some girls are bigger than him, a common sight in junior high schools.
The novel's language fits in to today's lingo without using too much contemporary slang which will allow Hoot to remain a contemporary realistic fiction novel for many more years. Hiaasen uses some mild profanity from the bully when he says, "Yeah, well, they'll be laughin' even louder when I kick your skinny ass to kingdom come, Cowgirl" or "You must be crazy. After all the crap that's happened to me, you're so dead, Eberhardt." While some might find the language too severe for the intended audience, it is slight enough to be exchanged for more acceptable vocabulary if the book is used in a read aloud.
The setting of Florida with its description of the heat and humidity rings true along with the theme of good vs. evil, which manifests itself in several vignettes in the novel: Roy vs. the Bully, Mullet Fingers vs. the Corporate Business World, and Endangered Owls vs. Man.
Students who love animals will be able to relate to the feelings of Mullet Fingers and Roy when they want to save the burrowing owls.

Review Excerpts:
From School Library Journal Grade 6-9-Packed with quirky characters and improbable plot twists, Hiaasen's first novel for young readers is entertaining but ultimately not very memorable. Fans of the author's adult novels will find trademark elements-including environmental destruction, corrupt politicians, humorous situations, and a Florida setting-all viewed through the eyes of a middle-school student. Roy Eberhardt has just moved with his family to Coconut Cove. He immediately becomes the target of a particularly dense bully who tries to strangle him on the school bus. Roy seems more concerned, however, with discovering the identity of a running, barefoot boy he spots through the window of the bus. Meanwhile, plans to build a pancake house on a vacant lot are derailed when someone vandalizes the construction site. The two story lines come together when Roy discovers that the runaway boy is disrupting the construction to save a group of burrowing owls. Roy must help his new friend, nicknamed Mullet Fingers, as well as fend off the bully and adapt to life in Florida. The story is silly at times but rarely laugh-out-loud funny, and there are several highly unlikely scenes. Also, it wraps up a little too neatly-Roy's classmates join him to protest the construction project, his father finds the missing environmental impact report, and the owls are saved. While Roy is a sympathetic protagonist, few of the other characters are well developed. Students looking for humorous, offbeat characters and situations will probably prefer Louis Sachar's Holes (Farrar, 1998) or books by Daniel Pinkwater.
From Booklist: “It seems unlikely that the master of noir-tinged, surrealistic black humor would write a novel for young readers. And yet, there has always been something delightfully juvenile about Hiaasen’s imagination; beneath the bent cynicism lurks a distinctly 12-year-old cackle. In this thoroughly engaging tale of how middle schooler Roy Eberhardt, new kid in Coconut Cove, learns to love South Florida, Hiaasen lets his inner kid run rampant, both the subversive side that loves to see grown-ups make fools of themselves and the righteously indignant side, appalled at the mess being made of our planet. The story is full of offbeat humor, buffoonish yet charming supporting characters, and genuinely touching scenes of children enjoying the wildness of nature. He deserves a warm welcome into children’s publishing.”

Have students research endangered animals in their state.
Research qualifiers for animals to be on endangered or extinct list.
Have students rainstorm other solutions Mullet Fingers could have used against the pancake restaurant.
Practice letter writing by writing imaginary Letters to the Editor protesting the building of the restaurant on the owls homes.

Among the Hidden

Bibliography: Haddix, Margaret Petersen. 1998. Among the Hidden. New York. Aladdin Paperbacks ISBN 0689817002

Plot Summary: Luke Gardner is 'among the hidden' in a futuristic society that is strangely a regression of today's society. In his world, families are allowed to have only two children, but Luke is the illegal third child of the Gardners, a modest farming family. When the Government forces the family to sell some of their land to build houses on it, this causes Luke to have to hide inside his house night and day, never even going outside. Only when Luke watches the homes through the vents in his attic bedroom and sees an extra face in a window of a home where he knows only two children live, does he realize there is another illegal third child within yards of his home. Luke then has to decide if he is willing to risk being found out in order to meet a 'shadow child' like himself. When Luke does meet the other shadow child, a girl named Jen, she introduces Luke to a lifestyle and a manner of thinking he had never considered: overthrowing the Government to allow Shadow Children to live.

Critical Analysis: Among the Hidden could be considered both low fantasy and science fiction. Haddix combines both elements in such a way that the society Luke lives in seems frighteningly realistic and at times even familiar. Ordinary lifestyles are introduced early in the novel, with the believable characters of the Gardners, a simplistic, hardworking family of traditional beliefs and habits except for one: the conceiving and raising of Luke, an illegal third child in direct disobedience to the laws of the Government.
Haddix chooses not to use futuristic or scientific vocabulary , making the novel an easy read for most students. Only when Luke reads propaganda about the Government does the reader encounter higher vocabulary, "...elements of the overpopulation crisis were foreseen in the 1800s, an uninformed observer could only wonder why humankind came so near to total annihilation." As the plot unfolds, much of the government's descriptive persuasions are explained by Luke and his new companion, another Shadow Child.
The eerily realistic settings with common effects found in today's homes such as computers, phones, security alarms, blue jeans, and junk food, make the issues of hypocrisy and bias within the story hit hard for a young reader of developing opinions. Today's youth could find it difficult to comprehend Luke's compliant acceptance of his hiding when he describes his life as, "He was special. He was secret."
Margaret Haddix gives young readers a thought-provoking novel with plots on which to use maturing problem-solving skills.

Review Excerpts:
From Publishers Weekly: This futuristic novel focuses on a totalitarian regime and the Internet. PW noted, "The plot development is sometimes implausible and the characterizations a bit brittle, but the unsettling, thought-provoking premise should suffice to keep readers hooked." Ages 8-12.

Novel could be used to practice debate: The Government vs. The Shadow Children
Students research famines and population growths and predictions and develop ideas for preventing such a world as the one Luke was born into.
Survey students to see who is a third child or more in their family.
Practice letter writing by writing a Letter to the Editor to defend Shadow Children

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Island of the Blue Dolphins

O'Dell, Scott. 1960. Island of the Blue Dolphins. New York: Dell Publishing Co. ISBN 0440940001

Plot Summary:
A little-known island off the southern coast of California in the early to mid 1800s is the setting for O'Dell's story. Karana and her brother, members of an Indian tribe living in the village of Ghalas-at, are accidentally left behind on the island when the tribe decides to relocate to the coast of Southern California. After her brother is killed by wild dogs, Karana is left completely alone, a girl Robinson Caruso. Based upon a true story, Karana spends 18 years alone before being found and brought to California. What transpires here is a story of courage, steadfastness, self-discovery, and hope.

Critical Analysis:
O'Dell's story is not long and each chapter is a story unto itself. It is written in a quiet manner, where one can feel Karana's thoughts and understand her. Karana's pain and anguish at losing her brother are very keen. Scott O'Dell has conducted his research on the islands mentioned in the story and the life of these ancient Indian groups and has utilized it in the novel. There are notes at the end of the novel where the author explains more about the idea for the novel.
While Karana does survive, she does so with the knowledge gained from watching her older sister and the women in her tribe. None of her activities are beyond what might have actually happened within her tribe. O'Dell uses Indian superstitions in giving Karana cause to think of what might happen to her if she makes weapons, a job assigned only to the men and warriors of her tribe. Necessity makes Karana finally break the tribal taboo, only to discover that nothing happens to her when she makes bows and arrows and a fishing spear.
Written completely in first person, the reader sees all the action from Karana's viewpoint, but it is a viewpoint that includes the emotions and reactions of other characters in the novel.
Island of the Blue Dolphins is quietly written but filled with much for readers to learn about the value of life and companionship.

Review Excerpts:
School Library Journal: "A haunting and unusual story based on the fact that in the early 1800's an Indian girl spent 18 years alone on a rocky island far off the coast of California."

ALA Booklist: "A moving and unforgettable story."

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books: "Recommended."

Horn Book: "Strange and beautiful, revealing courage, serenity, and greatness of spirit."


Encourage students to research more about the Lost Woman of San Nicholas and other Indian groups of the time period.

Research the Aleut Indians.

Encourage students to research more on earthquakes and tsunami waves, both of which occur in the novel.

Extra research can be conducted on the animals and food plants Karana mentions in the novel.