Literary Fiction, with Reviews!

This semester I am enrolled in an Adult Reading Materials course at UNT where I have to read 2 books a week across various genres and then write book reviews. The information in this and future posts come directly from my assignments.

Reviews

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Bachman, Simon & Schuster, 2012, $16.00 paper, ISBN, ISBN 978147673802

a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_hr.jpg“People say Ove saw the world in black and white.” Orphaned at age 16 and used to be alone, Ove moved along in life a principled man – right was right and wrong was wrong. And then, one day, Sonja crossed his path. Sonja “…was color. All the color he had.” Ove and Sonja, complete opposites, completed each other. But when Sonja passes, he ceases to know how to exist and decides he must join her in the afterlife. His post-Sonja days are spent planning and trying to succeed in his suicide. Much to his dismay, his millennial neighbors (and his least favorite animal – a cat he calls the Cat Annoyance) repeatedly interrupt his plans by showing he has a purpose. Bachman travels throughout Ove’s life to craft a story about living and dying, friendship and animosity, paradigm shifts, and finally, life after death. A Man Called Ove will make young adults value their elders and help older generations understand and find the value in today’s youth and just maybe help readers discover their self-worth.

Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger, Atria, 2013, $16.00 paper, ISBN 978151645859

15803059.jpgFrank Drum was 13 in the summer of 1961. Looking forward to a summer of fun, Frank and his kid brother, Jake, work every Saturday on their grandfather’s yard in order to earn money for root beer and fireworks. Their summer turns tragic early on as both children experience four separate deaths. Frank and Jake are deeply entwined in the gossip, controversy, and secrets that fill their family and small-town following the deaths. They, through eavesdropping and breaking rules, are exposed to the harsh truths and realities of the grown-up world, to the complications and contradictions in which life is too rich. Ordinary Graces, a forced-coming of age tale, is filled with life lessons, consequences, loss, and graces, such as when Jake miraculously overcomes his life-long stutter in the midst of family stress. Krueger quietly and beautifully writes about the loss of childhood innocence and death paired. He offers up an eloquent novel that is part mystery, part story-telling that will leave young adult and adult readers pondering the losses they have faced, how they were changed because of it, and the means of moving on.  As Krueger closes Ordinary Grace, he writes, “The dead are never far from us. They’re in our hearts and in our minds and in the end, all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.” This final passage illustrates that death does not mean the loss of memories and that through grace, we are still alive.

Literary Fiction

Until recently, I didn’t understand what was meant by the term literary fiction. I was aware of the different genres and just simply classified the intensively detailed novels as intellectual fiction. The blog posts I stumbled across this week serve as a means of better understanding literary fiction and how the two novels I read fit into this categorization.

In a HuffPost blog, Steven Petite, writes, “Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses” (Petite, 2014). This statement perfectly describes how I felt reading Ordinary Grace and A Man Called Ove. I felt as if the characters in both works could very well exist currently – nothing seemed unbelievable – and both novels attempted to make sense of real world problems and feelings, particularly death and interpersonal relationships. In a separate HuffPost blog, an astute distinction is made about literary fiction: an emphasis is placed on complex issues while placing an emphasis on the writing, not the plot (Triska, 2013). Including the previous characteristics of literary fiction, Nathan Bransford takes the definition further. He points out that literary fiction focuses on character development and writing style. He also puts on the hat of myth-buster and argues that in good literary fiction, a plot is present and typically within the character, rather than the character taking part in the plot (Bransford, 2007). For me, that is Ove’s change over time as he is forced to interact with his outside world or, in Ordinary Grace, it’s Frank’s coming of age as he becomes privy to the real world and its harsh realities.

The Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) provides reviews of literary fiction.  LARB was particularly helpful in that as I read several of the book reviews, I was able to pick out the characteristics that make up Literary Fiction. For example, Jenny Hendrix’s review of Milan Kundera’s The Festival Insignificance immediately makes me think of A Man Called Ove when she writes, “ …the novel is peopled by lightly-traced, ordinary men leading insignificant lives concerned with largely minor things.” Just from this line, it sounds as though she is talking about Ove, however, this line, to me, evokes that the book is concerned with characters rather than action and adventure, as one could easily find in genre fiction. Hendrix later discusses another element of literary fiction – stylistic liberties. The novel she is reviewing jumps between time by the notion of the characters reminiscing. Both Ordinary Grace and A Man Called Ove play with the prose and time, as in the former the main character is recalling the events from 40 years earlier and in the latter, the book jumps back and forth in Ove’s life.

Literary fiction is not a one-size fits all genre (or is it even a genre at all). There are some similarities across works of literary fiction – such as the emphasis on characters and the very real problems they face as well as stylistic liberties the authors take – but book reviews, articles, lists, and podcasts help readers determine what kind of character or what types of problems that would like to read about. They also provide examples of other literary fiction. For example, The Booklist Reader provides the longlist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, an award that is usually given to works of literary fiction. Some of the titles this year include Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardodips into genre fiction, as it is historical, but what makes it literary fiction is that the novel utilizes a writing style similar to plays and incorporate real quotes. Additionally, it focuses on the heavy grief that comes with the loss of a child (Seaman, n.d.).

Another recommendation comes directly from Penguin Random House’s Literary Fiction Book List. Haruki Murakami, no stranger to difficult language, utilizes short stories to weave together the stories of lonely men (Penguin Random House, 2017).

References:

Bransford, N. (2007). What makes literary fiction literary? Retrieved from https://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/02/what-makes-literary-fiction-literary.html

Hendrix, J. (2015). Dancing in the air. Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved from https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/dancing-in-the-air

Penguin Random House. (2017). Men with Women. Retrieved from http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/547925/men-without-women-by-haruki-murakami/

Petite, S. (2014). Literary fiction vs. Genre fiction. HuffPost. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-petite/literary-fiction-vs-genre-fiction_b_4859609.html

Ruzicka, M. (2017). 2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist Announced. Booklist Reader. Retrieved from http://www.booklistreader.com/2017/07/27/book-news/2017-man-booker-prize-longlist-announced/

Seaman, D. (n.d.). [Review of Lincoln in the Bardo]. Booklist Review. Retrieved from https://www.booklistonline.com/Lincoln-in-the-Bardo-Saunders-George/pid=8433908

Triska, Z. (2013). Literary and mainstream novels: What’s the difference? HuffPost. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/21/literary-novels-_n_3790198.html

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So I am addicted to conferences… my review of TXLA17

I was incredibly fortunate in that my employer paid for a full conference pass to TXLA17. This was my first conference and first time receiving professional development outside of work and oh my word, I am now addicted. Sign me up for ALA Annual, TXLA18, and whatever else I can attend!

First, can I talk about ALL. THE. SWAG?! I met around a dozen authors who gave me free signed copies of their books and I managed to score dozen more ARCs. Check out my list below! I ended up with seventy new books, mostly YA, some middle grades, kidlit and adult fiction. I was incredibly sore from carrying 3-4 bags both days. Some of my favorite authors included Bob Shea, who told me “It will be alright,” when I indicated that I was the mother of a 3-year old boy, Jeff Zenter, who is from Nashville, which is close-ish, to my hometown of Louisville, KY. He is also INCREDIBLY friendly (because he’s from the midsouth)! Also, I really liked Jenny Han, who had on the most adorable banana-patterned dress and gave out nail decals!

In addition to books, I was able to add to my notepad drawer at work with several post-it notes and note pads from different vendors and UNT!

Y’all thought I was joking…
Some of the flair from the conference (minus the UTSA Fiesta pin).
My first librarian-related item and a sweet bag!
Putting the swag into pictures… plus I got a bunch of new totes!
Starbucks nail decals? Yes, please!
Friday’s lines to get into the exhibit hall – out the door!
random swag!

Of course, it wasn’t just free stuff; professional development also took place. On Thursday, I attended 1 work-related session and one fun session. At my first program, I listened to staff from UTA Libraries discuss their implementation of card swipe and how they combine user data from the card swipe entry and exit with data from Voyager, Illiad, study room reservations, and the registrar (all while scrambling any identifiers like student ID numbers) to determine if library use correlates to student success – very important in an era where we CONSTANTLY have to prove our worth to stakeholders. They project to have preliminary results next year.

On Friday I attended two mini sessions, one on planning your library career and the other on leadership lessons for managers. I also attended a larger session that featured a presentation from the director of Anythink Libraries. Cool but not as applicable to academic libraries.

In total, I attended to sessions for fun: Writers of Mystery (where I listened to fascinating personal stories from Joseph Kanon, Randall Silvis, and Josh Malerman) and my favorite, Kidlit vs. YA Authors: Lip Sync Battle 2, essentially a lip sync battle between various authors. So much hilarity.

If you are interested in knowing what titles I received, here you go! Hopefully I will review them soon!

  1. Little Monsters by Kara Thomas
  2. Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden
  3. What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
  4. The Go Between by Veronica Chambers
  5. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  6. Gertie Milk & the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy
  7. The Losers Club by Andrew Clements
  8. Odd & True by Cat Winters
  9. Waste of Space by Gina Damico
  10. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (author of The Serpent King) *AUTOGRAPHED!*
  11. Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin *AUTOGRAPHED*
  12. Lostboy by Christina Henry
  13. Rocket and Groot: Keep on Truckin’ by Tom Angleberger
  14. A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson
  15. Dear Reader by Mary O’Connell *AUTOGRAPHED*
  16. Goldeline by Jimmy Cajoleas
  17. The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge
  18. You Don’t have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
  19. The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale *AUTOGRAPHED*
  20. One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson
  21. The Life She was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
  22. Finding Mighty by Sheala Chari
  23. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han *AUTOGRAPHED*
  24. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid *AUTOGRAPHED*
  25. When I Am Through with You by Stephanie Kuehn
  26. Dinosaur Empire! By Abby Howard
  27. The Frog Princess Returns by E.D. Baker
  28. Burn Town by Jennifer McMahon
  29. Release by Patrick Ness
  30. Breaking by Danielle Rollins
  31. Ballet Cat: What’s Your Favorite Favorite by Bob Shea *AUTOGRAPHED*
  32. The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart *AUTOGRAPHED*
  33. Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell *AUTOGRAPHED BY ILLUSTRATOR*
  34. The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler *AUTOGRAPHED*
  35. We Are All Shipwrecks by Kelly Grey Carlisle *AUTOGRAPHED*
  36. Tales from the Haunted Mansion Vol. II
  37. Defectors by Joseph Kanon *AUTOGRAPHED*
  38. Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis *AUTOGRAPHED*
  39. Black Man Wheel by Josh Malerman *AUTOGRAPHED*
  40. Max Tilt: Fire the Depths by Peter Lerangis
  41. Forest of a Thousand Laterns by Julie C. Dao
  42. Absolutely Alfie and the Furry Purry Secret by Sally Warner
  43. Rapunzel and the Lost Lagoon by Leila Howland
  44. Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrell
  45. Behind Closed Doors by Miriam Halahmy
  46. Animal Rescue Center: The Homeless Foal by Tina Nolan
  47. The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey
  48. In a Perfect World by Trish Doller
  49. We Come Apart by Sarah Cossan & Brian Conaghan
  50. Note Worth by Riley Redgate
  51. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
  52. In 27 Days by Alison Gervais
  53. The Book of Massively Epic Engineering Disasters: 33 Thrilling Experiments for Young Scientists by Sean Connolly
  54. Genuine Fraud by e. lockhart
  55. Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy
  56. This Would Make a Good Story Someday by Dana Alison Levy
  57. Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker
  58. Genevieve’s War by Patricia Reilly Giff
  59. Royce Rolls by Margaret Stohl
  60. The Stout-Hearted Seven: Orphaned on the Oregon Trail by Neta Lohnes Frazier
  61. Lone Stars by Mike Lupica
  62. I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski
  63. The Glass Spare by Lauren DeStefano
  64. Carmer and Grit by Sarah Jean Horwitz
  65. The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi
  66. Revenge of the Star Survivor by Michael Mershcel
  67. Time Twisters: Time and Space by Kathryn Lay
  68. The Boy Who Harness the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer *AUTOGRAPHED*
  69. A Cat is Better by Linda Joy Singleton *AUTOGRAPHED*
  70. Blobfish Throws a Party by Miranda Paul *AUTOGRAPHED*

 

Stepping into the World of Comics

mausI recently read The Complete Maus for my comics and graphic novel course. I attempted to read Maus I several years ago but could not find a purpose. I think I wanted to read it simply because of the acclaim but the sadness of the Holocaust kept me away. Since it was required now, I had no choice. And, I devoured it very quickly! The work is magnificent. What I enjoyed the most is how human Vladek is portrayed – an angry, curmudgeonly old man who must save, save, save.

I did not find the topic of the Holocaust to be too emotionally upsetting in Maus as I have in other works (Night or Number our Stars for example) or history books. Speigelman’s art was not as graphic as one would think when dealing with such a heavy subject – part of this could be because it was in black and white so instead of seeing red blood you saw a black puddle. Another reason could be that humans were not used in most of the graphic novel, mice rather. There were two scenes that stand out that were difficult to me. The first was when the crying children were swung against the wall and the second was when we discovered that Artie’s brother was poisoned. If you notice, though, the full scene of the children being killed (against the wall) was not presented. It almost looks as though it was erased.

 

I have also read Deadpool Vol. 1: Dead Presidents (three stars), The Watchmen (four stars), and many years ago I read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (five stars). Funhome, assigned in my history of sexuality in the U.S. course, was the first graphic novel I ever read and really stuck with me. When I was still working in the public library, a teenage girl approached me looking for graphic novels based on true stories. Her mother was with her and this was the first book that came to mind.

All three of these titles remind me history (even though Deadpool is tongue-in-cheek/slapstick humor) and how graphic novels can frequently be utilized in the classroom. Librarians, teachers, and, parents, please understand that there are so many benefits to using these in the classroom or letting your children read them.

  • increased vocabulary
  • increased interest in reading
  • strengthened skills (memory, sequence, understanding language, reading comprehension)
  • children with autism have the opportunity to learn about emotion through graphic novels

Teaching with Graphic Novels

Raising Super Readers: The Benefits of Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Literacy & Graphic Novels: Why There’s Nothing Wrong with Teens Reading Graphic Novels

Up next:

 

Module 10: The Sons of Liberty

51EfLeOYnuLLagos, A. & Lagos, J. (2010). The Sons of liberty. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books.

Summary: Graham and Brody are two runaway slaves from the Sorenson Plantation. seeking the help of Benjamin Lay, the friend of Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin’s son, William, a member of the royal army discovers the boys and tricks them into becoming a science experiment where he tortures them with electricity. He leaves them for dead only to his father to find them transformed with new powers. Benjamin Franklin takes them under his wing, and with the help of Benjamin Lay, embarks on a journey to train the boys to become fighters for what readers can only imagine will become America’s independence (the story ends too soon).

Impressions: My fascination with history is what attracted me to the book and I would hope that a graphic novel such as this, though incredibly far removed from fact might spark some child’s or young adult’s interest in the subject as well. I had a few issues with the graphic novel however, aside from some hand written text that was difficult to read (it was written in a cursive font and would have been easier to read at a large size), there was a difficulty in understanding the plot. I missed a key fact in the story. At the beginning, Ben Franklin’s son (I don’t remember if he was identified at that point) is taking animals to be tested with electricity. Later, I thought his son killed two runaway slaves but it turns out he was torturing them with electricity and other scientific experiments. As I was reading, I thought Franklin had found them dead and brought them back to life with electricity, in a Frankenstein type manner. The Lagos brothers could have been more clear in stating this fact or maybe I need to go back over these two sections.

Review: Colonial America isn’t your usual locale for superheroes, but such is the case here. Graham and Brody are runaway slaves, fleeing a cruel master and his slave hunter. Before they left, they were instructed to find the abolitionist Benjamin Lay, but first they encounter none other than Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, his son, William, has been using his father’s discoveries in electricity to play Dr. Frankenstein and subjects the two boys to electrical experiments. After they recover, they find out that they have gained an inexplicable and ill-defined set of superpowers. Under the tutelage of the Yodalike Benjamin Lay, the boys learn about their heritage, their abilities, and the African martial art dambe, of which Lay is a master. While this unique story certainly has possibilities, its flaws far outweigh its successes. Not only does the plot verge on the nonsensical, but it also meanders, changing direction and tone, and characters come and go without resolution. The colorful computer-aided artwork is at times dramatic, but it is also often clumsy and lacking any real emotional import. Other problems include the font chosen for Benjamin Franklin’s writing, which is illegible at times. Poor execution makes this a secondary purchase at best.

Davey, D.P. (2010, July). [Review of the book The Son’s of Liberty, by A. Lagos & J. Lagos]. School Library Journal56(7), p. 106-7.

Library Uses: Since graphic novels are becoming increasingly popular, it might be fun to start a graphic novel club or have a Learn to Write Graphic Novels night at the library. An expert from the community could be invited (or we could teach ourselves or just take a shot at it!) and spend an evening or afternoon drawing panels and writing.

Module 9: Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word

imagesRaczka B. (2011). Lemonade: And other poems squeezed from a single word. New York, NY: Roaring Book Press. 

Summary: Raczka takes single words and turns them into poetry, some of which are riddles and puzzles. He takes poetry and turns it into a game. For example, Raczka will take the word lemonade and form a poem using only the letters from lemonade. Or from the word pepperoni: one pie / no pepper / no onion.

Impressions: Children, I believe would find this highly acclaimed poetry book fun. Afterall, it attempts to take a so-called boring subject and make it fun. As a child, I enjoyed puzzles like this and would sit for hours trying to solve them. When I read this book, all I could think of was a mind-numbing game of Boggle (how many words can I find) or the game of how many words can be formed from this one word. The book honestly was irritating for my 28-year old self (I have little patience anymore). I don’t have time for the weird spacing. I’m anal retentive and like things orderly and organized. It’s cute, clever, but for me, definitely not something I can get with.

Review: “Raczka credits Andrew Russ for inspiring him to try his hand at creating poems by rearranging the letters of a single word. The letters that make up each word in the 22 selections are placed directly under the matching letters of the original word, which is used as the poem’s title. The resulting odd spacing of letters and words adds an element of puzzlement to the deciphering of some words and requires a certain facility with the English language, along with the capability for recognizing words whose letters are placed horizontally, vertically or diagonally; backwards or forwards; separated by one space or six, or an entire line with no punctuation included. Each poem is printed on the verso of the following page with words in correct order. A clever, catchy, and challenging collection.”

Scheps, S. (2011, May). [Review of the book Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word, by B. Raczka]. School Library Journal, 57(5), p. 137.

Library Uses: I appreciate the value of the book and what it is trying to do and I can definitely see how it could be used to promote poetry awareness. During national poetry month, this book could be used to inspire kids to create similar poetry.

Module 8: Mystery at the Club Sandwich

138096Cushman, D. (2004). Mystery at the club sandwich. New York, NY: Clarion Books.

Summary: Nick Trunk is a private eye who works for peanuts. He’s put on a case by Maggie Trouble, who works for Lola Gale, a singer at the Club Sandwich. Lola has lost her lucky marbles. Nick has to follow the clues, which consist of an ostrich feather and expensive peanut butter in the form of a smudge on the door and an empty jar, and interview the suspects, which include a mediocre magician, the chef, and Maggie. After spending an evening at the pier watching fisherman do what they do best, Nick solves the case by rounding up all the suspects into one room.

Impressions: As soon as the clues were given, it was easy to determine who the criminal was but Cushman tries to throw you off by throwing in some red herrings. The book was illustrated in black and white to fit the PI theme and was difficult to not read with that soft PI voice from the movies. I think children would find the book entertaining and have fun guessing who the real thief is.

Review: “Black and white illustrations give this mystery just the perfect setting, as Nick tries to solve who stole singer Lola’s marbles at the Club Sandwich. This elephant gumshoe is sure peanut butter and ostrich feathers are the clues he needs as he narrows down his list of suspects. Nick, of course, just works for peanuts. Full of puns that both students and adults will enjoy, teachers will find this a great book to share with students when working with a list of clues to solve a problem. It would be interesting to have students track who they think is guilty of the crime and see if they change their minds as the story progresses. The 1940s era illustrations give the reader the feeling of an old time detective story. Add it all up and this case is closed and this book is recommended.”

Manczuk, S. (2005, January). [Review of the book Mystery at the Club Sandwich, by D. Cushman]. Library Media Connection23(2), p. 71.

 

Library Uses: A mystery library program could be held – a whodunit of sorts, started off with this book – mix between “who took the cookie from the cookie jar” and “Clue” by adding clues in the library and having the children look for the clues and identifying the culprit.

Module 7: Chameleon, Chameleon


51L8Kdr+qSLCowley, J & Bishop, N. (2005). Chameleon, chameleon. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Summary: A chameleon discovers his tree no longer serves him as it is out of food, so he travels through the jungle in search of a new tree that will provide a tasty bite to eat. Along the way he meets several harmless reptiles and amphibians and one dangerous insect. At last, he arrives at a new tree and makes an unexpected friend.

Impressions: I laughed throughout this entire book. Bishop’s way of capturing this chameleon’s personality paired with Cowley’s short sentences had me almost in tears as I read it.

Review:

“The Blue Ribbon-winning duo of Cowley and Bishop (see Red-Eyed Tree Frog, BCCB 3/99) returns to their format of gleaming photographs and brief lines of text to chronicle the slow progress of a chameleon from one tree to another in search of food. The sentences are vigorous phrases (“What’s this?/ A scorpion!/ Watch out, chameleon!/ The scorpion’s stinger/ is poisonous”) presented in large font for easy reading; they occasionally trail across multiple pages, matching the action of the photographs and forming a narrative that develops the primary chameleon into a sympathetic character. In luminous stills that capture the journey moment by moment, two startlingly hideous geckos, a garish tree frog, a tiny chameleon, and a hostile scorpion disturb the main character’s equanimity as his telescopic eyes swivel to evaluate all potential threats. The reptilian traveler is shown in postures that point up the drama of his expedition (his refined tiptoeing past a scorpion is choice), creating by their visual continuity a sense of movement usually found in film. An impressive series of photos show the chameleon using its powerful tongue to snatch a caterpillar off a distant branch, then chewing and gulping its prey before being menaced by a defensive female chameleon. Youthful nature buffs will be entranced by the vivid photography, enticed into reading by the attractive brevity of the energetic text, and intrigued by the surprising facts about chameleons and the photographer’s methodology related in the informational pages at the end of the book.”

Card, T. (2005, April). [Review of the book Chameleon, Chameleon, by J. Cowley & N. Bishop]. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 58(8), p. 332.

Library Uses: This book could be read before an library petting zoo. I have worked in several libraries where reptiles were brought during summer reading.

Module 6: Pink and Say

51Xh9z+IgELPalacco, P. (1994). Pink and say. New York, NY: Babushka Inc.

Summary: Pink and Say tells the story of a generational family tale of Sheldon Russell Curtis, or Say, and his friend Pinkus, or Pink. Sheldon was white solider in the Union Army who was left for dead following a battle.
Two days after being injured, he was was found in a field with an injured leg by Pink, an African American Union soldier. Pink dragged Say all the way to his mother’s house where he and his mother nursed him back to health.

While in Pink’s and his mothers’ house, Sheldon discovered he did not want to return to war and confided a dark secret. Meanwhile, Pink confirms that he and Say must return to war.

As Pink and Say are preparing to leave, marauders arrive at Pink’s house. His mother hides the boys under the floor while she steps outside to shoo them away. Under the floor, the boys here a single gun shot. When they reappear, they find Pink’s mother’s lifeless body.

After burying her, they set out to return to the Union Army, however, they were captured by the Confederate Army. Pink was hanged while Say was eventually released.

Impressions: I did not expect this book to as depressing as it was even though my undergraduate thesis dealt with slavery and race relations in the Antebellum South. I suppose I expected something more hopeful for children. With that said, I appreciate the honesty. It is always refreshing to read Historical Fiction with rich characters and when I find outliers, such as Pink and Say, it is even more intriguing.

What is incredibly fascinating about this story is that it is a family tale. This is not a story that Polacco pulled from her imagination; her family has passed it down for generations and it is now her story to pass down.

Finally, Polacco’s illustrations are beautiful. Each character is colored in a way that they come to life – such as their rosy cheeks or red knuckles and Polacco has a way of emphasizing the important part of the story within the illustrations, such as when Pink and Say let go one last time. In this illustration, the reader clearly sees the grasp Pink and Say have on one another while two  men attempt to pull Say away.

Review: “Gr 2-5-This poignant picture book tells of an interracial friendship that develops during the Civil War. Sheldon, a young white soldier nicknamed Say, is left for dead in a pasture in Georgia and found by Pinkus, or Pink, an AfricanAmerican Union soldier who carries him to his mother’s home. Pink’s mother nurses the stranger back to health and comforts him with words of compassion. The brutality of the war comes to life as the woman is shot by marauders, and the two boys are captured by Confederate soldiers and sent to the infamous Andersonville prison. Say lives to tell his tale to his grandchildren but Pink is hanged shortly after imprisonment. The translation of this moving story is excellent and as faithful as possible without the colloquialisms that permeate the original. The sensitively rendered full-page illustrations work especially well with the text.”

Colmant-Donabedian, T. (1998, February). [Review of the book Pink and Say, by P. Polacco]. School Library Journal, 44(2), p. 132.


“Polacco relates a true incident from her family’s history in this powerful story set during the Civil War. Fifteen-year-old Sheldon “Say” Curtis has been wounded and left for dead by his fellow white Union soldiers. Pinkus “Pink” Aylee, a 15-year-old African American Union soldier, finds Say and carries him home to his mother, Moe Moe Bay. Pink and his mother nurse Say back to health, and the two boys forge a strong bond of friendship, even though Pink plans to return to his military unit. Before they can leave, marauders kill Moe Moe Bay. Pink and Say are captured soon after and taken to Andersonville prison, where Pink is hanged within hours of his arrival. Say survives to tell the story and pass it on through generations. Polacco’s artwork shows dramatic perspectives and faces full of emotion. As the friends are wrenched apart in prison, they are able to clasp hands for a moment as Pink says, “Let me touch the hand that touched Mr. Lincoln, Say, just one last time.” This picture book is a departure for Polacco in terms of content and audience, but the familial ties still remain.”

Johnson, N.J. & Giorgis, C. (2005, September). [Review of the book Pink and Say, by P. Polacco]. Booklinks, 15(1), p. 55.

Library Uses: The book is a realistic look at the grey area that certainly existed during a time that is often thought of as black and white. Pink and Say shows readers a stone that is often unturned.

One suggested activity would be to read this book to tweens and follow it with a guest speaker, such as a historian or a professor, who can verify some of the information in the book and give more historical information about the Civil War and the relationships between African Americans and white soldiers.

Module 5: Gossamer

GossamerLowry, L. (2006). Gossamer. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 

Summary: Where do dreams come from? At night, the imagined emerge from the heap, carefully deciding which of your personal belongings to touch in order to gather memories. After collecting these fragments, they then bestow them upon you as you sleep.

Where do nightmares come from? The sinisteed scorch through your walls when you are weak and vulnerable and inflict your fears and awful memories upon you as you sleep.

In Gossamer, Fastidious is tasked with training Littlest One in the art of collecting fragments and bestowing. However, Littlest One is quite curious and a too irritating for Fastidious. After speaking with Most Ancient, Thin Elderly agrees to switch places with Fastidious.

Thin Elderly has more patience with Littlest One and can see he potential. He recognizes her skills and value, such as her gossamer touch and inquisitive mind. When John, a fragile, abused boy is placed in the home they are working to deliver dreams, Thin Elderly and Littlest One much protect him from the sinisteed and ultimately the Horde.

Littlest One proves her ability by being brave, strong, and resourceful while Thin Elderly’s patience and unwavering faith in her helps her to succeed in saving John.

Impressions: Gossamer was such a beautiful book. I just do not know how else to describe it! Lowry is incredibly creative! When I figured out that the imagined were collecting fragmements from objects to create dreams, I was filled with excitement – how original and stunning!

My son is only 2 1/2 but I read bits and pieces of this to him before bed and even he laid there, engaged. The way Lowry writes is incredibly captivating and is better read aloud than to oneself. If it can capture the attention of a toddler, imagine what it can do to a class of elementary students or middle schoolers; you don’t need pictures, at all.

Review: With this slender novel, two-time Newbery Award Medal winner Lois Lowry answers the age-old question: Where do dreams come from? Littlest One is training as a dreamgiver. With a touch as light as gossamer, she takes seriously her job of gathering memories from people’s possessions and returning the pleasant memories as dreams. When she and Thin Elderly, her mentor, get a new assignment, they realize that their new job will be difficult. The woman is old and John is a troubled boy with an abusive father. He has recently been placed in foster care with the old woman. But nightmares visit the boy each night and threaten to undo the good work that Littlest One and Thin Elderly do to bring happiness to their charges. Lowry skillfully crafts three stories into a successful whole in this enchanting novella. With her own gossamer touch Lowry’s prose resonates with lyricism and sensitivity. To fully appreciate the prose, teachers and librarians should read this aloud. Strong characterizations and multiple themes (love, trust, work ethic, abuse, growth, and coming of age) lend it to engaging class discussions.”

Litherland, T.N. (20016, November 1). [Review of the book Gossamer, by Lowry, L.]. Library Media Connect, 25(3), p. 75.

Library Uses: As previously mentioned in my impressions and review, Gossamer is an excellent read-aloud. It would be a wonderful book to read to classes over the course of a couple library visits, as it is not very long. It would also work great as a book talk.

Module 4: Wonder

wonder-book-cover Palacio, R.J. (2012). Wonder. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Summary: August, or Auggie, was born with a rare disorder that causes him to look different and as a result, he has been homeschooled since kindergarten. Now that he is entering middle school, it has been decided that he should attend a real school. While at school, Auggie has to deal with not only the prejudices children have because of his disorder but also the issues that come with growing up and being in middle school.

Via, Auggie’s older sister, is now in high school and has decided she wants to go by Olivia. She wants a new identity, one where people don’t know here as Via, the girl with the deformed brother. She has lost her best friends with high school, has become part of school theater, has a new boyfriend, and is suddenly fighting with her mother. Why can’t anyone realize that Olivia exists, too?

And then there are the various people in Auggie and Olivia’s lives. Auggie becomes acquainted with Jack Will and Summer, his two best frends and Julian, his enemy. Olivia says goodbye to Miranda, her friend since elementary school and hello to Justin, her musician boyfriend. Bringing the story together are Auggie’s and Olivia’s parents.

Impressions: When I worked at San Antonio Public Library, older tweens and younger teens were asking for this book left and right and after reading it I can see why it is so popular. What I liked most about the book was not that you learn about acceptance of people who are different than you, sure that is the major theme of the book, but that Palacio incorporated the chapters offering the perspectives of the other characters. Too often in books, and in life, we get one side of the story. As I read Auggie’s story and I got to the Bleeding Scream part, I was angry at Jack Will. But when I read his chapter, I realized that he was in middle school and felt peer pressured and ultimately said something stupid, not thinking of the consequences. We have all been there.

Review: “After being home-schooled for years, Auggie Pullman is about to start fifth grade, but he’s worried: How will he fit into middle school life when he looks so different from everyone else?

Auggie has had 27 surgeries to correct facial anomalies he was born with, but he still has a face that has earned him such cruel nicknames as Freak, Freddy Krueger, Gross-out and Lizard face. Though “his features look like they’ve been melted, like the drippings on a candle” and he’s used to people averting their eyes when they see him, he’s an engaging boy who feels pretty ordinary inside. He’s smart, funny, kind and brave, but his father says that having Auggie attend Beecher Prep would be like sending “a lamb to the slaughter.” Palacio divides the novel into eight parts, interspersing Auggie’s first-person narrative with the voices of family members and classmates, wisely expanding the story beyond Auggie’s viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie’s arrival at school doesn’t test only him, it affects everyone in the community. Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too.

A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.”

Kirkus Reviews. (2015, November 15). [Review of the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio]. Kirkus Reviews, p. 73.


“Kids’ books about befriending somebody “different” could fill a library. But this debut novel rises to the top through its subtle shifting of focus to those who are “normal,” thereby throwing into doubt presumptions readers may have about any of the characters. Nominally, the story is about 10-year-old August, a homeschooled boy who is about to take the plunge into a private middle school. Even 27 operations later, Auggie’s face has what doctors call “anomolies”; Auggie himself calls it “my tiny, mushed-up face.” He is gentle and smart, but his mere physical presence sends the lives of a dozen people into a tailspin: his sister, his old friends, the new kids he meets, their parents, the school administrators—the list goes on and on. Palacio’s bold move is to leave Auggie’s first-person story to follow these increasingly tangential characters. This storytelling strategy is always fraught with peril because of how readers must refresh their interest level with each new section. However, much like Ilene Cooper’s similarly structured Angel in My Pocket (2011), Palacio’s novel feels not only effortless but downright graceful, and by the stand-up-and-cheer conclusion, readers will be doing just that, and feeling as if they are part of this troubled but ultimately warm-hearted community.”

Kraus, D. (2012, February 1). [Review of the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio]. Booklist, 108(11), p. 77.

Library Uses: This is a great book to use during National Bullying Prevention Month (the STOMP Out Bullying campaign) which I see no reason libraries (or if someone was in a school library) can’t be apart of – as a community organization, we should play a role in ending bullying). Also, this is another great read for a book talk or tween book club. I can think of so many things to discuss, such as bullying, not jumping to conclusion, feelings about growing up, friendship, miscommunication.