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Karen's Book Reviews
Fiction - Historical and Fantasy
Evaluating Books
Picture Books and Easy Readers
Traditional Lit and Poetry
Nonfiction and Biography
Fiction - Historical and Fantasy
Fiction - Realistic
Patricia Polacco - Biography
Patricia Polacco - Bibliography
Patricia Polacco - Bio-Critical Analysis

October 25 - November 14, 2004

Almond, David. Kit's Wilderness. Delacorte Press, New York. 1999. ISBN 0385326653.

This fantasy novel by David Almond received the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature from the American Library Association in 2001. The haunting novel tells the story of Kit Watson, a thirteen year old boy whose family moves back to Stoneygate, England, an old coal mining town, to care for his widowed grandfather. Kit has trouble fitting in with the others until he meets a troubled boy named John Askew, who convinces him to join his group in a game of "death". The game is intended to recreate the death of coal mine workers who perished in the great tragedy of 1821, two who happened to be young boys named John Askew and Christopher Watson. When it is Kit's turn to "die", he discovers more than he ever imagined. Publisher's Weekly writes, "Some regular players consider the game to be make-believe, but Kit senses something far more profound and dangerous, and the connection he forges with the ancient past also circuitously seals a deeper bond with Askew". He is haunted by the ghosts of the dead coal miners. He and John are the only ones who have experienced this phenomenon. Thoughout the story, Askew becomes more and more haunted by the ghosts of the past and the crisis invloving his family. The only one that can pull him out of it is Kit. Kit has to decide if he considers himself more important than his friend.

Another character in the story, Allie Keenan serves as the person that keeps Kit grounded in reality and forces him to not go down the same path as John. Allie is a bright light that shines for Kit throughout the story, guiding him in the right direction.

Almond's references to the seasons occur throughout the book. The story itself is divided into the different seasons. The author uses winter and ice to evoke the deep and dark feelings in the story. Susan P. Bloom of Hornbook Magazine writes, "everything shifts and slips, slithers and slides (words that Almond employs literally and metaphorically) in this novel with its winter middle of snow and frost and ice: in Kit's classroom the students explore the movements of the continents and discover the Ice Age; Allie plays the role of the evil ice girl in a school production of The Snow Queen and undergoes a miraculous thawing".

This novel is best suited for young adult readers ages twelve and up because of some of the subject matter. It would be best as a novel study rather thatn a read aloud, so that a more in depth anaysis could be made into the meanings expressed in the book.

Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the First: The Bad Beginning. Harper Collins Publishers, New York. 1999. ISBN 0064467667.

"If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better of reading some other book." So begins the unfortunate adventures of the three Baudelaire children: Violet, the oldest at fourteen, Klaus, the middle child - "a little older than twelve", and Sunny - the youngest and only an infant. Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler, tells the tale of the three children, who are about to embark an a series of unfortunate events. In "Book the First", we are introduced to the family and right off they learn that their parents have perished in a horrible fire. The fire has also destroyed all of their possessions. Mr. Poe, a banker and executor of the will, informs the children that they must go and live with some far off relative, the evil and conniving Count Olaf, who is after the family fortune. Count Olaf makes them sleep in horrible conditions and do all the chores and housekeeping. Their only friend is their next door neighbor, Justice Strauss. When Count Olaf concocts a plan to gain the family's money, the children uses their many talents: for Violet, a knack for putting things together, for Klaus, the ability to research anything, and for Sunny, the ability to bite anything that wishes them harm, to foil his dastardly plan. The story continues in a series of other books, that young readers are sure to enjoy.

The author uses dark humor to capture the reader's attention immediately. He also uses many literary devices in the story: for instance, the process of giving each character a particular voice. When talking about Sunny saying the word "Gack!" over and over (she is only an infant after all), he explains that this probably meant "look at that mysterious figure emerging from the fog!"

"Mr. Snicket" also frequently explains difficult vocabulary to the reader. For example, "Violet was sleeping fitfully - a word which here means 'with much tossing and turning' - on the lumpy bed, and Sunny had wormed her way into the pile of curtains so that she just looked like a small heap of cloth." Linda Bindner of the School Library Journal writes, "the writing, peppered with fairly sophisticated vocabulary and phrases, may seem daunting, but the inclusion of Snicket's perceptive definitions of difficult words makes these books challenging to older readers and excellent for reading aloud".

This series of books are best suited for students in fourth grade through seventh grade. Young readers will enjoy the language used by the author and the different inventive ways that the Baudelaire children survive one unfortunate event after another.

Peck, Richard. Fair Weather. Dial Books, New York. 2001. ISBN 0803725167.

This wonderful and heartfelt historical novel for young adults was a Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee for 2003-2004. The story is set in 1893, the year of the World's Columbian Expostition in Chicago, Illinois (the World's Fair). Richard Peck tells the story of Rosie Beckett, her older sister Lottie and their younger brother Buster. These "country bumpkins'"receive an invitation from their Aunt Euterpe in Chicago to attend the Exposition. The children are accompanied by their Grandfather, a colorful character who longs to see "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show" and is in "love" with Miss Lillian Russell, a popular performer of the time. The family attends the fair and experiences things that they have never seen before - most notably a city lit up by electricity! "Peck fluidly works in the children's sense of awe as they observe the skyscrapers and the smooth surface of city roads", writes Jeff Zaleski of Publisher's Weekly.

"Lottie had my hand in a grip of steel. We hadn't bargained on anything like this. We were scared, of course, but I longed to be a poet, to pin this vision to a page. It had a beauty beyond your wildest dreams, and so big, it made us mice."

The characters all lend a different spin to the experience of the World's Fair. Rosie wants to take in all she can, she is on the verge of becoming a "grownup". Lottie is searching for true love and waiting for her life to begin. Buster is a happy-go-lucky seven year old, who never lets things get him down. Granddad is searching for one last hurrah. Aunt Euterpe is looking for acceptance and love, she wants to be a part of a respected group of residents that she admires.

The author uses his knowledge of Illinois history to enhance the story. He utilizes postcards that Rosie sends back to her parents to express the wonderful, exciting experiences that the children and Granddad encounter. Peck also uses actual photographs of the fairgrounds and personalities of the day to help the reader to better picture this exciting time in history. He creates a realistic story around celebrities such as Scott Joplin, Susan B. Anthony, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Lillian Russell.

This story will be enjoyed by young adult readers ages nine through thirteen. Kitty Flynn of Horn Book Magazine writes that Peck " makes the exposition come alive as much for his twenty-first-century readers as for his richly imagined characters".

Park, Linda Sue. Seesaw Girl. Clarion Books, New York. 1999. ISBN 0395915147.

This book, set in seventeenth century Korea, was a Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee for 2001-2002. This historical novel tells the story of Jade Blossom, a young girl from a prominent Korean family. She is expected to spend her time learning her "duties", sewing, laundry, and managing a household in order to prepare herself for marriage. When her best friend, Graceful Willow gets married and moves to her husband's home, Jade begins to see that she is growing up and her life is changing. She accepts her destiny, but sill questions why she is not allowed to do certain things because she is a girl. Pat Scales of Book Links writes, "Jade Blossom resists the restrictions on girls and women in seventeenth-century Korean society and yearns for a glimpse of the world outside the walled house where she lives". She questions her older brother, Tiger Heart, about all the things he is allowed to do - reading, painting, trips outside the Inner Court, discussions of business and politics. She longs to experience all the things that are forbidden to her. Jade decides to sneak out of the Inner Court to visit her friend and discovers a whole new world. She also learns a valuable lesson about understanding others.

The author, Linnda Sue Park, has been interested in the Choson period (1300-1900) since she was a child. She has used her knowledge to write a wonderful story that shows the struggles of girls and women of the period and keeps readers interested. The reader feels Jade's struggle to learn more about life and broaden her experiences.

"Jade caught her breath. The mountains towered over the city...somehow their great solidity was a comfort to spite of the confusion in her head, the mountains would never change...she wondered what it would be like to actually walk those slopes and knew with a pain in her heart that she would only do so in her dreams".

The illustrations by Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng were done in watercolor. The pictures show great detail and add even more interest to the story by clarifying the emotions, feelings, and experiences of the characters.

This story was written for young readers ages nine through thirteen. It is a great account of the way that girls and women have struggled in the past.

Kindl, Patrice. Goose Chase. Puffin Books, New York. 2001. ISBN 0142302082.

"The King killed my canary today. Now, I know full well that the customary way to begin a tale such as mine is: 'Once upon a time, when wishes still came true, there lived a poor orphan Goose Girl,' or some such fiddle-faddle. But what do I care for custom? 'Tis my own story I am telling and I will tell it as I please. And as I find myself plunged into it right up to the neck, I see no reason why you should not be also."

And so Patrice Kindl begins the delightfully humorous journey of Alexandria Aurora Fortunato, an orphaned goose girl that lives in a very small house "nestled under the cliffs of Sorrow Mountain" in the kingdom of Dorloo. Her father died when she was very young and her mother died of a fever. Her mother makes her promise to care for their flock of twelve geese. One day, an old beggar woman comes begging for a bite to eat and Alexandria gives her the last piece of bread, along with some water. The woman tells her she is a good girl and puts a spell on her. Whenever she brushes her hair, gold dust will fall like rain. When she cries, her tears will fall as diamonds. She will be as lovely as the dawn. According to Alexandria, this is just the beginning of her troubles. She is kidnapped by King Claudio the Cruel and the dim-witted Prince Edmund of Dorloo, who are fighting over her hand in marriage. After being locked in a tower and told to sew her wedding gown, she is rescued by her beloved flock of geese and makes her escape, only to be captured by a trio of ogresses. When Prince Edmund shows up looking for her, Alexandria thinks that things couldn't possibly get any worse. When she and Edmund are caught by the Baroness of Breakabeen, a friend of the cruel King, Alexandria uses her magical abilties to help them escape. The adventure continues while love and admiration begin to blossom between the goose girl and the Prince. A surprising discovery at the end of the story will keep readers wanting more! Connie Tyrell Jones of the School Library Journal writes, "Kindl's writing is full of imagery and alliteration, and is peppered with old-fashioned and nonsense words that add to the fun".

The author utilizes a strong and unique feminist voice for the main character that makes the story a delightful read for young readers. The language of the tale is that of fairy tales - 'tis, 'twas, 'ye, etc. - that could confuse some readers, but it adds to the appeal of the story and would not be nearly as interesting without it. The mishaps of Alexandria, the geese, and her suitors will appeal to many readers. Jeff Zaleski of Publisher's Weekly writes, "Those familiar with the Brothers Grimm's "The Six Swans" may not be surprised by the ending, but it's how Kindl gets there, tying up all loose ends along the way, that will hold readers' attention".

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