Sunday, October 31, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 10 - Pink and Say

Module 10 - Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco


Polacco, Patricia. Pink and Say. Philomel Books, 1994. ISBN: 0-399-22671-0

When young Sheldon (Say) is wounded in the Civil War, it is Pinkus Aylee who rescues him and carries him to his mother's house. While they are there, they become friends only to be torn away from one another by Confederate Soldiers who place them both in a prison camp. Say lives on to remember Pink who saved his life.

What I Thought
I was almost afraid to pick up this book. Everyone I know who has read it said it made them cry. Then I peeked at the ending and saw that Pink died and I didn't want to see a sad ending. But finally, I read it and I cried. But what made the difference was that I understood the story and felt it deep in my heart. This book really touched me. It's powerful.

There are 3 especially beautiful moments. One beautiful moment is when Moe Moe hold Say who can't sleep because he is afraid of death and afraid of his own perceived lack of courage. The other is when Pink wants to touch the hand of Say who once shook Abe Lincoln's hand. The last moment that is truly beautiful is when Patricia, the writer, points out that when her father told her the story of her ancestor, Say, he put out his hand and said, "This is the hand, that has touched the hand, that has touched the hand, that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln," (p. 34). This creates a chain of human lives that can trace history back to a connection. Patricia becomes part of the story of history. Her family tells this story to remember Pink, who had no family.


Outside Reviews
"This book, the story of Polacco's great-great-grandfather, has been passed down from generation to generation in the author-artist's family. Fifteen-year-old soldier Sheldon Russell Curtis - Say to his family - has been left for dead on a Civil War battlefield somewhere in Georgia. A fellow Union soldier, Pinkus Aylee, who is African American - "I had never seen a man like him so close before. His skin was the color of polished mahogany" - discovers him and, with much effort, drags the feverish Say home, where his mother, a slave named Moe Moe Bay, nurses Say back to health. As the boys regain their strength, they become as close as real family and discuss things close to their hearts. Pink shares his special talent: Master Aylee, his owner, had taught him how to read. "'To be born a slave is a heap o' trouble, Say. But after Aylee taught me to read, even though he owned my person, I knew that nobody, ever, could really own me.'" Say receives special comfort from Moe Moe when he admits that he deserted his troop and is afraid to return to the war. On the morning the two boys plan to leave and search for their respective troops, marauding Confederate soldiers arrive and kill Moe Moe. Pink and Say are later captured and become prisoners of the Confederate Army, in Andersonville. Although Say lived to tell this story of friendship and brotherhood, Pink was hanged within hours of arriving at the dreaded prison. Told in Say's colorful, country-fresh voice, the text incorporates authentic-sounding dialect and expressions - such as darky - that would have been used at the time. Polacco's characteristic acrylic, ink, and pencil illustrations are suitably dramatic and focus on the intense physical and emotional joy and pain of the story's three main characters. The remarkable story, made even more extraordinary in its basis in actual events, raises questions about courage, war, family, and slavery. A not-to-be-missed tour de force."

Fader, E., & Silvey, A. (1994). Pink and Say. Horn Book Magazine, 70(6), 724. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco is a rarity -- a picture book that can invoke tears. The true story, passed on by Polacco's great-grandfather, tells of 15-year-old Civil War soldier Sheldon "Say" Curtis, who was shot and left to die. Pinkus Aylee, a young black soldier known as Pink, saves Say, who is white, but both are endangered by marauding Southerners. Pink and Say is strong stuff for 6-year-olds; two sympathetic characters die. For older kids, it is a powerful introduction to the horrors of war, without melodrama."

Silver, M. (1994). An off year for kid lit. U.S. News & World Report, 117(22), 95. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

Using this book in the library
This book is a great addition to any unit or book group that is reading about war, history or Black History.

For more information
Visit Patricia Polacco's website about Pink and Say. There are printables and ecards available.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 9 - Chasing Vermeer

Module 9 - Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet

Balliet, Blue. Chasing Vermeer. Scholastic Paperbacks, 2005. ISBN: 978-043979927-0

When a Vermeer painting is stolen, Petra and Calder find themselves drawn to the mystery. They become friends and with the help of a Charles Fort book and various interesting characters, together track down the various clues leading to the painting's whereabouts.

What I Thought
This is a really fun book. There are a lot of clues and puzzles hidden and embedded within the story and illustrations. Synchronicity is very important in this book. Calder and Petra explore the world using clues that originally seemed unrelated and then turned out to have significant meaning. Calder's pentominoes are often part of this string of coincidences that help the two children solve the crime. When coincidence leads Petra to find a book about Charles Fort, they learn even more about the "connectedness" of events and objects. Fort believed and wrote about many strange, unexplained things. The spooky feel of the ideas of Charles Fort and all of the strange meanings Petra and Calder find in the world around them are a lot of fun. As humans, we all look for meaning and children reading this book will have a great time trying to decode what is a "real" clue and what is just "static."

Calder and his friend's cipher is also a neat puzzle. I am not good at codes, so it took me a while to decode their messages. Finding the clues in the pictures is also fun. This book has a lot of potential for children who enjoy puzzles, riddles and things of a spooky nature.

Another great thing about the book is the wonderful way it explores art and self-expression. Calder and Petra are free-spirits and people I would love to meet.

Outside Reviews

"Puzzles nest within puzzles in this ingeniously plotted and lightly delivered first novel that, revolving around the heist of a Vermeer painting, also touches on the nature of coincidence, truth, art and similarly meaty topics. Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay become friends in sixth grade at a school operated by the University of Chicago (Balliett taught at the University's Lab Schools), both of them independent thinkers excited by their maverick teacher, Ms. Hussey. For reasons unknown to her students, the teacher asks her class to ponder the importance of letters (the epistolary sort) and to mull over Picasso's ideas about art as "a lie that tells the truth." Readers have the edge on the characters, being privy to an enigmatic letter sent to three unidentified persons outlining a centuries-old "crime" against a painter's artistic legacy. These mysteries deepen exponentially when someone steals a Vermeer masterpiece and holds it hostage, demanding scholarly redress for misattributions within Vermeer's small oeuvre. The art mystery and the crisp intelligence of the prose immediately recall E.L. Konigsburg, but Balliett is an original: her protagonists also receive clues through dreams, pentominoes (math tools with alphabetic correspondences), secret codes (including some left to readers to decipher) and other deliberately non-rational devices. Helquist (the Lemony Snicket books) compounds the fun with drawings that incorporate the pentomino idea to supply visual clues as well. Thick with devilish red herrings, this smart, playful story never stops challenging (and exhilarating) the audience."

(2004). CHASING VERMEER (Book). Publishers Weekly, 251(24), 63. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"Art, intrigue, and plenty of twists and turns make this art mystery a great read. Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay set out to find the connection between their teacher (a freewheeling constructivist teacher), the eccentric woman in their neighborhood, the bookstore owner, and an international art thief. Balliett intersperses fascinating information about Johannes Vermeer and his paintings throughout the two friends' quest to solve the mystery--a mystery layered with pentominoes (a mathematical tool consisting of 12 pieces), puzzling clues, and suspicious strangers. Helquist's detailed black-and-white chapter illustrations hold hidden messages, clues related to the pentominoes, and more puzzles. Fans of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game will find equal pleasure in this debut by a talented writer."

(2004). CHASING VERMEER (Book). Kirkus Reviews, 72(10), 487. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this Book in the Library
Scavenger hunt! This book can be used as a jump-point for a scavenger hunt. Children can be encouraged to find clues hidden throughout the library relating to subjects from the book. Since there are more books about Petra and Calder, they can be part of the hunt, too.

For fun: 
Learn more about Charles Fort and visit the website of the Charles Fort Institute for the "study of strange experiences and anomalous phenomena."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 8 - Beastly

Module 8 - Beastly by Alex Flinn

Flinn, Alex. Beastly. HarperCollins Children's Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-06-087416-2

In this fun retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, the Beast is the narrator and we get to experience his inner transformation. This story follows the original legends fairly closely. There are some small twists and of course, the setting of modern day New York City changes things, too.

What I Thought
I enjoyed that the author chose to tell the story from the Beast's viewpoint. This gives the story a guy-friendly twist that a romantic fairy-tale wouldn't otherwise have. The author writes in a note at the end of the story that the fairy tale is very much a story "of two abandoned teens who find one another" (p. 303). This is a very satisfying way to understand the story: the Beauty of the story is abandoned by her father and the Beast is abandoned due to his appearance (which of course is the outside being made manifest to the world by the witch/fairy).

Reading this story, you definitely know what is going to happen. We know the fairy tale. We know how things turn out. However, you can't help rooting for the Beast in this story. Kyle (the Beast) is such a self-obsessed pretty-boy jerk at the beginning of the story. His inner transformation as he learns to love and care for others in this story is enjoyable to read. The author reveals his changes slowly, pulling away layers of his selfish protection bit by bit. His final triumph is just as satisfying in every other Beauty and the Beast story.

Outside Reviews
"Flinn is known for her gritty novels that openly address serious issues such as peer pressure and domestic abuse. This spin-off of "Beauty and the Beast" is no exception. Kyle Kingsbury is good looking, rich, a ladies man, and one of the most popular students at Tuttle High School. He's the type who everyone wants to be or be around. However, while he might be beautiful on the outside, he is selfish, arrogant, and cruel on the inside. Kendra, an unattractive and unpopular girl who Kyle never noticed before, refers to his behavior as "beastly." To get even with her for that remark, he publicly humiliates her at the school dance, sealing his fate. Later that night, Kendra reveals to Kyle that she is a witch, and that she is going to teach him the most important lesson of his life. The author explores important values through the depiction of Kyle and the people who are there for him (and those who are not) after his transformation. The story is well written and grips readers right from the beginning with an online chat session with Kyle/Beast and other fairy-tale characters. And, since it's told from the Beast's point of view, it will appeal to boys who otherwise might not pick it up. Beastly has romance, true love, tragic circumstances, magic, action adventure, and hope. It's a must-read for all fairy-tale fans, and has a knockout cover to boot."

Rosenblum, D. (2007). Beastly. School Library Journal, 53(11), 122. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"Flinn delivers a lighthearted and contemporary twist on Beauty and the Beast, and while there is nothing shocking nor any striking departure from the original, her retelling is eminently satisfying. Kyle Kingsbury is a gorgeous high school freshman, spoiled rotten by his famous anchorman father, a man who'd rather dole out cash than affection. Kyle attends the exclusive Tuttle School in New York City and torments those poor unfortunates who lack his looks and wealth. When he humiliates a girl at school, she transforms him into a horrific-looking creature. Kyle's only hope for breaking the spell lies in finding true love--as he reports online in meetings of the Unexpected Changes chat group (other members include Froggie and the mermaid Silent Maid). Flinn follows the fairy tale's original plot points closely, but falters in her depiction of the story's bad guys, over-the-top caricatures that simply ring false in her up-to-date setting. Kyle's father, for example, spends literally three minutes with him each day, the time it takes him to heat his dinner in the microwave. Even so, the happily-ever-after ending is rewarding, if not surprising."

(2007). Beastly. Publishers Weekly, 254(43), 58. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

Using this Book in the Library
This book is makes a great addition to other fairy-tale inspired books. An excellent display of a mix of YA, juvie and adult books can be made with Beastly,  Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, the graphic novel series, Fables and Jack of Fables, Firebird by Mercedes Lackey, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman's stories such as Anansi Boys, Stardust and the Sandman series, The Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley and Birdwing by Rafe Martin. There are even more wonderful myth and fairy-tale spin-offs out there, and of course there are many wonderful picture-book adaptations. Expanding the list to include classic Greek and Roman myths opens up even more books for this fun display. From my experiences recommending fairy-tale spin-offs, patrons who enjoy fairy tales will read any age-range book: they are looking for the fun of getting into the fairy-tale world.

For Fun:
A movie version of this book is coming out in March, 2011. Looks good! This is the official movie website and here's a trailer for the movie:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Interesting crafts -- Thai Dolls with a Halloween Twist

Today I made this "cute" little guy out of pipe-cleaners, yarn and buttons. Very easy. It's an adaptation of the guide by Andrea Graham that can be found here on this blog:

Fun craft for kids and teens? They can definitely be made into nice key chains and other cool things. Took about 20 minutes to make and didn't drive me crazy. I'd recommend this craft to anyone.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 8 - Catching Fire

Module 8 - Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne.  Catching Fire. Scholastic Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-439-02349-8

This book is the sequel to The Hunger Games. So anything I say here will definitely be a spoiler for the first book. Don't read any further if you don't want to be spoiled.
* * *
That said, here's the summary.

Katniss Everdeen who was one of the winners of last year's Hunger Games is preparing with Peeta and Haymitch to do the district tour. This isn't the usual tour: Peeta and Katniss are the only two to win the Hunger Games together. Their act of rebellion at the end of the first book (intentional or not) has set off insurrections throughout the various districts. President Snow even pays a visit to Katniss to scare her into submission. It almost works.... but things never go as Katniss or President Snow plan. Katniss has become a symbol of hope to many: the Mockingjay that wasn't ever meant to exist.

When Katniss and Peeta are ready to hear about the next Hunger Games, the Quarter Quell, they can't believe what happens. The Quarter Quell is particularly mean-spirited and very much aimed at Katniss and Peeta, denying them any hope or any happiness.

What I Thought
I've read this book twice now. Both times, I couldn't put the book down in the third part. I had to keep reading. I had to keep following Katniss' journey. I had to stay with her.

Katniss is an amazing character. She is intelligent, brave and resourceful. Her solution for the win at the end of the first book--that she and Peeta would either commit suicide together by eating the berries or see if the Game Master would let both of them win was amazing. However, her actions have set off rebellions in various districts. She never wanted to be a symbol of the rebellion, but she became one. Things get even worse by the end of the novel.

This story amazing. Katniss feels very real. Her hurts, her fears, her hopes all seem tangible. She is the narrator and we get to know her so well. She feels her short-comings and hates them. She tries to use her strengths not only to her own advantage, but also to the advantage of those she loves and cares for.

I came to know Katniss through the first book. In the second novel, there is a lot of action, a lot of scares and plenty of twists and turns. I have heartily recommended this book to everyone I know and I wish everyone would read it. It's about freedom. It's about fairness and justice and it's about being human.

Outside Reviews
"...the Hunger Games are fast approaching, and since this is the seventy-fifth anniversary, these Games will be a quarter Quell, an opportunity for the Capitol to add a cruel twist. This year’s twist seems particularly so, but Katniss and company are equal to it. The plot kicks into another gear as the fascinating horrors of the Hunger Games are re-enacted with their usual violence and suspense. Many of the supporting characters—each personality distinct—offer their own surprises. The stunning resolution reveals the depth of the rebellion, while one last cliffhanger sets the stage for a grand finale. Collins has once again delivered a page-turning blend of plot and character with an inventive setting and provocative themes."

J., H. (2009). Catching Fire. Horn Book Magazine, 85(5), 555. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"Catching Fire begins where The Hunger Games (Scholastic, Inc., 2ÜO8) ends. The story is told by Katness Everdeen, who survived the games in the fírst book, where the winner was the person who has killed the other participants, Katness manipulated the Gamemasters so that she and the boy Peeta, her competitor, both lived. Through her actions in the previous games and the Victory Tour, Katness becomes the symbol of the rebellion in the Districts to overthrow the cruel Capitol. After the Victory Tour, the government leaders announce that the living winners of previous Hunger Games are required to fight each other. As the book ends, Peeta has been captured and is in the Capitol, and the Districts are in rebellion again. This fast-paced book is filled with action and intrigue. Katness is a resourceful 16-year-old who strives to take care of her family and friends. Although the story seems to take place in the future, the reader can readily identify with its believable characters. Because Katness tells the story, we understand why she makes certain decisions. This book would appeal to readers who identity with action heroes who work to fight injustice."

(2010). Catching Fire. Library Media Connection, 28(4), 72. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this book in the library
Many libraries have been participating in their own versions of the Hunger Games. I heard about this at a workshop I attended recently that revolved around games and libraries.We never did find out exactly what they did in their own Hunger Games. So, I thought about how I would construct my own idea of The Hunger Games. It would be a four hour long program. Teens would be grouped into 12 different groups representing the 12 districts. There would be a lottery and 1 male and 1 female "tribute" would be chosen. At this point, the groups would collaborate to design outfits for their tributes. Then, they will present their tributes to the rest of the group where we would have a paintball contest in the parking lot "to the death." Winners receive excellent prizes and everyone would leave with a book of their choice.

For fun:
Visit the "official" Hunger Games website, If you are even a casual fan of the Hunger Games trilogy, you'll enjoy this site. There is fan-art, fan-made videos, biographies and information about the upcoming movie.

Make sure you watch the excellent fan-made-trailers. My favorite is this one:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

SLIS Module 7 - Fat Kid Rules the World

Module 7 - Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going

Going, K.L. Fat Kid Rules the World. G.P Putnam and Sons, 2003. ISBN: 0-399-23990-1

Overweight 17 year old Troy Billings hates himself and his life. He has no friends, thinks his family hates him and is miserable and wants to commit suicide. Instead, his life changes when the legendary Curt MacCrea "saves" Troy's life at the subway station. Curt enlists Troy in his new punk rock band as the drummer. This dramatically changes Troy's life and gives him something to believe in and look forward to in life. Curt, however, has his own problems. He's a dropout and his parents don't care if he lives or dies. Troy isn't sure if he can handle the pressure of being a punk rock drummer, but something in him wants to try anyway.

What I Thought
I love this story! I love Curt and Troy and I enjoy seeing how life changes for the better for both of them. Self-expression is very important in this story. When Troy learns to start expressing himself, his world changes for the better and he gains courage. It's wonderful to watch Troy, who used to be friendless and suicidal change into a person who embraces himself, his size and everything about himself. It's slow, but it starts to happen and I felt that it will continue even after the story ended.

I love Curt's descriptions of art and expression. He's the one that teaches Troy that it doesn't matter what you like: enjoy it no matter what. Shout out who you are. He teaches Troy that we are all mortal, all busy "stuffing our faces." Curt is a lonely person, too, and when he and Troy find each other, there's a beautiful friendship that starts to grow.

Since both Troy and Curt are outsiders, I think that anyone on the outside of the social norm can relate to them. Their growth as people, especially Troy's growth, is fun to watch. Also beautiful, is Troy's reconciliation with his father and brother. When Troy is able to love himself, he can reach out to others.

Outside Reviews
"Overweight and friendless, high school senior Troy Billings is standing on the edge of the  subway tracks contemplating suicide when a dirty and disheveled young man engages him in conversation and prevents him from taking the plunge. He's Curt MacCrae, a legend at Troy's school for being "the  only truly homeless, sometimes student, sometimes dropout, punk rock, artist god among us." For reasons that Troy does not at first understand, Curt invites him to join his band as a drummer, even though Troy has only minimal experience with music. Both characters are strongly defined. Hyperactive and frustratingly enigmatic, iconoclastic Curt has the soul of an artist, as well as a self-destructive streak fed by incessant pill-popping. Troy's obesity is over stated (references to his sweating and huffing-and-puffing seem to appear on every page), but his emotional neediness is palpable and genuinely moving. As the friendship between the boys develops, Troy explores New York's punk music scene (about to give his debut performance, he throws up on the stage; the  audience loves it) and comes to a better understanding of both his brother and (wonderfully portrayed) widowed father. But his emerging sense of self-worth also leads him to make a decision that could destroy his friendship with the increasingly troubled Curt. In this gritty and intense novel--perhaps more of a character study than a plot-driven story--these two disparate and desperate teenagers attempt to save each other and, quite possibly, end up saving themselves as well."

Sieruta, P. (2003). Fat Kid Rules the World. Horn Book Magazine, 79(4), 456. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"Big, fat, miserable, insightful Troy, 17, is contemplating suicide but is saved by Curt, a cadaverous, brilliant, homeless, druggie guitarist and neighborhood punk rock icon. Determined to make Troy his drummer, Curt becomes a sometimes part of Troy's truncated family. Troy's dad, a bitter ex-Marine who cannot fathom his fat son, undergoes subtle growth to become the  pair's unlikely savior. Funny, frightening, gritty, passionate, and real, this is an amazingly textured study of complex personal growth of almost symbiotic characters in crisis."

Hofmann, M. (2005). Fat Kid Rules the World. School Library Journal, 51(11), 59. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this Book in the Library
We are using this book for Teen Read Week 2010 since the theme is "Books With Beat." The book is part of a display and a reading list that includes other YA books that deal with music or poetry.

For Fun:
Watch a home-made book trailer for this story.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 7 - Does My Head Look Big in This?

Module 7 - Does My Head Look Big in This? - Ramda Abdel-Fatah

Abdel-Fatah, Ramda. Does My Head Look Big in This?  Orchard Books, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-439-91947-0

Amal Mohamed Nasrulla Abdel-Hakim is a junior in high school in Melbourne,  Australia. The story is set in 2002 and Amal has made a very important decision: like her mother and one of her friends, she has decided to wear the Muslim head scarf, the hijab, full time. The story starts with this decision and shows how her friends, family and peers react to her decision. Amal has other concerns, too: boys, friendship, faith and grades. It's a fun, fast-paced read and good chick-lit.

What I thought
Amal is a very engaging narrator. I connected with her right away and learned a lot about "real" Muslims, as opposed to the media's sensational depiction of those who follow Islam. Amal's faith is important to her, but so are her grades and her friendships. She is a smart, funny, sharp young woman. Some of the best parts of the book are Amal's sarcastic quips to enemies and ignorant peers. Her relationships with her family, friends and neighbors is very interesting and enlightening. Amal is a person I would like to know and I also would love to meet her friends and family. All of the characters in the story are interesting, quirky and memorable.

Amal is a good ambassador for her faith. She is strong and while she isn't perfect, she does try to respect other's beliefs, and wants others to respect hers. Sometimes she doesn't succeed and finds herself too judgmental, but she learns from her mistakes. I learned a lot about Islam. Many people think that the Koran and Muslim faith is supposed to keep women down. Amal showed me that her faith does not hamper her or other strong women in their ability to be what they wants to be in the world. I learned a lot about Islam in a non-confrontational, fun way. In a post 9/11 world, it's important for all of us to learn to understand each other, and this book is a great teacher.

Outside reviews

"With an engaging narrator at the helm, Abdel-Fattah's debut novel should open the eyes of many a reader.  Headstrong and witty, 16-year-old Amal, an Australian-Muslim-Palestinian ("That means I was born an Aussie and whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens") decides during winter break from her posh private school that she's ready to wear the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, fulltime, as a testament to her faith.  Amal knows she will face discrimination by classmates and misinformed people but she is committed to her decision; her parents are initially concerned, but ultimately rally behind her. Their worries, in fact, are well-founded:  Amal attracts her share of stares and taunts both at school and around town, but she finds strength, not only from her convictions, but from her close-knit group of friends, who for various reasons--being Japanese, Jewish, nerdy or body-conscious--are perceived as being outside "the norm." As Amal struggles with her identity in a post-9/11 world ("Do you have any idea how it feels to be me, a Muslim, today? I mean, just turn on the television, open a newspaper.… It feels like I'm drowning in it all"), her faith--and an array of ever-ready quips--help her navigate an often-unforgiving world.  Using a winning mix of humor and sensitivity, Abdel-Fattah ably demonstrates that her heroine is, at heart, a teen like any other. This debut should speak to anyone who has felt like an outsider for any reason."

(2007). Does My Head Look Big in This?. Publishers Weekly, 254(21), 56. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"With Does My Head Look Big In This, Abel-Fattah has not only taken the typical chick lit genre to a new level, but she also filled it with a number of uniquely drawn characters, such as Amal's aunt and uncle who have militantly assimilated into Australian culture with their gift shop-looking living room and the polar opposite aunt and uncle who are bound and determined to arrange their daughter's marriage. And most memorable is the Greek neighbor; Amal befriends the prickly woman and slowly learns of her sad life story. But for the teen girls who will surely enjoy this book, there are a good many annoying snobs, smart-yet-sensitive boys, and girls with the body and identity issues thrown in to round out the group. Abdel-Fattah has effectively managed to create a book that, like in the style of the short-lived television show My  So-Called Life, would appeal both to teens and their parents (although with the pretty shiny polka dots on the cover, I predict that mainly teens will be attracted to it)."

Waters, J. (2007). Does My Head Look Big in This?. CM: Canadian Review of Materials, 14(7), 9. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text database.

Using this book in the library
This book would be a great book club pick. It has so many different topics that would be fun to discuss. It also helps people learn to understand and respect people who are different from them. The theme of tolerance and understanding is threaded throughout the book.

For more information and an enjoyable read:

An interview with Randa Abdel-Fattah

Sunday, October 3, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 6 - Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Module 6 - Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Gantos, Jack. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Harper Trophy, 1998. ISBN: 0-06-440833-7

Joey Pigza is a young boy with very serious Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It's so bad he can hardly sit still, think straight, make good decisions or stay on track with a task. However, he wants to do things right and wants to be normal. The story starts out with Joey still living with his grandmother who also has ADHD. In fact, Joey comes from a long line of ADHD people, and his father has left the family and his mother "chased" after him. Joey's mom comes back into the picture and is horrified by how Joey and his grandmother have been living. The grandmother moves out, mom moves in and starts helping Joey by getting him medications and rules to live by. However, it's not quite enough and a very bloody accident with scissors sends Joey to a new school where he receives the help he needs.

What I Thought
At first, I couldn't read this book. I started it and then put it back down. I was horrified by the way that Joey felt inside: like he was a rubber band that couldn't stop bouncing--the way he understood that he was hurting himself and others but just couldn't stop. The feelings Joey described were too raw and too painful. Compounding Joey's problems are the fact that his family life has been extremely dysfunctional his whole life. His mother is trying very hard to help Joey and is obviously much better and more mature than she'd been previously, but her earlier actions of leaving Joey as a child to "chase" Joey's dad were very hurtful. Joey loves his mom and she loves him, but they've been hurt and they've hurt each other. This hurt winds its way through the story and feels very real, very raw and is often heartbreaking.

Now, that said, this story is not a downer! Joey is a very like-able boy and the people in his life, including the teachers, the school nurse, his mother, other students and other student's parents want him to succeed. One parent of a "special" student tells Joey that he is an inspiration to her. Joey's journey to be well is a tough one and, as evidenced by the other books about him, not over yet!

Outside Reviews

"Besides swallowing his house key, hyper young Joey Pigza  also loses a fingernail in a daring experiment with a pencil sharpener, steals and consumes an entire shoofly pie on a field trip to Amish country (then, sugar-crazed, twists his ankle leaping from a barn loft), and — with the "secret extra-sharp teacher scissors" — accidentally slices off the tip of a classmate's nose ... The book's action, like its narrator, is nonstop, and as the novel races along, readers may worry about Joey's welfare — for years he's received inadequate medical attention. However, Joey's forthright, kidlike commentary provides frequent comic relief; also, help is on the way as both his until-recently-absent mother and his school take action .... Joey is always explaining to people that he's really a good kid; readers of this compelling tragicomedy will know almost from the start that Joey's not just a good kid — he's a great kid."

Brabander, J. (1998). Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Horn Book Magazine, 74(6), 729. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"In some ways, the experience of hearing Joey Pigza brings the  listener closer to actually knowing and understanding him than can reading printed text-neatly indented and carefully punctuated. Joey's thought processes do not take place in sentences, and his life is not organized in paragraphs. The world that he describes is a place where all the "words were crowded together in a long line of letters and sounds that just didn't make sense. It was more like listening to circus music than to talk." And this is the way the author chooses to narrate Joey's adventures: at a hectic, almost undifferentiated pace, creating the  impression of a world forever sliding out from under him, a clownish world where laughter and pain are closely layered and control is often an illusion. Gantos's voice, like Joey's, is youthful and brash; maddening, manic, edgy; yet each syllable seems yoked to a wistful, helpless self-awareness. Somehow, in the almost unceasing flow of words, he manages to reveal both the bravado and the bravery that a child in Joey's situation must muster in order to survive. Joey's story is, ultimately, hilarious and heartbreaking, without easy answers or definitive conclusions."

Beavin, K. (1999). Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Horn Book Magazine, 75(6), 763. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this book in the Library
At my library, boys ask for this book very often. In fact, our branch didn't own a copy of it until last year and we bought it because so many boys were coming in and having to request the books from other branches. The story must resonate with kids who feel different and give them a voice. I have had some people tell me they think this book is funny. I think it's a hard read, emotionally. However, I would be glad to recommend it to kids because it will help them understand others and their own feelings. Good Reader's Advisory pick for boys and other reluctant readers.

More information
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website about ADHD.