I’m so glad my library request for this book was fulfilled in time for me to post a review during Transgender Awareness Week! Though there are many YA novels that focus on the GLBTQ experience, some of which include transgender characters — like Almost Perfect and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children — I cannot think of a single book for middle grade readers (aside from George) that even mentions transgender people, let alone talks honestly about what it means to be a transgender child. I appreciated the way that Gino brought readers into George’s mind in order to demonstrate how the often-rigid gender roles and expectations in our society might affect trans children/people.
Though the existence of GLBTQ people is nothing new, our society still has a long way to go before many people in the GLBTQ community will feel accepted, let alone embraced. In addition to activists working toward recognizing and providing equal rights and protections for people of all sexual orientations and gender identifications, it is also extremely important for children to have access to stories like this. Not only so children can build an empathy for people who have different sexual orientations and/or gender identifications than themselves, but also so that ALL children can see themselves reflected in the literature they read. #WeNeedDiverseBooks is about SO much more than ethnicity.
I don’t generally read a lot of graphic novels. I used to read some now and again to stay on top of what I needed to order for my collection, but now I just get to read for pleasure. My son is a big fan of both graphic novels and manga, though, so I tend to keep an eye out for recommendations of books he might enjoy. Recently, a colleague recommended this book and I requested it without even reading the description. (She has never failed me before, and I didn’t think she was about to start anytime soon!) When the book came, I saw that the blurb by Raina Telgemeier said the book was “Heartbreaking and hopeful…” I decided to see what about the story might be heartbreaking and whether this story might be too mature. If my son had specifically asked for it, I might have handed it straight over without even noticing, but I figured it warranted a little look if I was giving him a recommendation.
As it turns out, Sunny was sent to spend the summer with her grandfather in Florida because her parents didn’t want her to have to deal with the fallout as they attempted to intervene and get help for her brother’s substance abuse problem. I definitely believe that books are a fantastic way to broach tough subjects, and I think this book did a superb job of letting readers figure things out both gradually and without too many unnecessary details. Though the story didn’t hold back, the storytelling [via words and illustrations] was both subtle and sensitive enough for somewhat younger readers. Though I initially got this book simply because it was another graphic novel from the author of the Babymouse series and came as a recommendation by a trusted colleague, I’m planning to use this book to jump-start [another] candid conversation with my fifth grader about drugs and alcohol.
If you look back over my reviews through the years, you will notice quite a bit of doom and gloom — dystopian fiction, post-apocalyptic/survival stories, and realistic/depressing novels tend to be my bread and butter. I have found that reading and/or listening to too many depressing stories in a row can actually affect my mood, though, so it’s nice to throw a story like this into the mix. While it had enough to satisfy my strange cravings for doom and gloom, this book left me with an overall feeling of hope. Georgia was a great example of the fact that, while we can’t control what happens to us, we absolutely have control over the way we react to our circumstances.
Though Georgia was reeling from the loss of her mother, she was also determined to follow her mother’s final advice to “be brave.” For Georgia, that meant creating a list of fifteen things she wanted to accomplish — like approaching the boy she had secretly been crushing on. In the context of her mother’s recent passing, one could easily call it a bucket list. I preferred Georgia’s take, nevertheless, that this was not a list of things to do before she died so much as a list of things to do so that she could truly live. And while I certainly don’t wish my mother had died while I was in high school, I do wish that I had had the epiphany to stop caring so much what other people thought and to simply focus on living life to the fullest before I reached my 30s. Granted, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had come out of my shell sooner… but I lament the time I wasted on caring what everyone else thought when my choices would only, ultimately, effect me.
I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had never read Hatchet before. I’ve handed this book out to countless kids operating under the mistaken impression that I had actually read it back when I was in elementary school. I mean, I clearly remember talking about it in 4th grade… But, as it turns out, I only knew the basic premise of the story and filled in the rest of my so-called memory with bits and pieces from another survival story we read at the time — My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Luckily, I decided to take the time to listen to this story to “refresh my memory” now that my son was reading it in school. (Oops!)
Brian was a fairly typical “modern day” kid. He spent most of his time on school and leisure activities, and he depended on adults much more than he ever realized. He wasn’t fat, necessarily, but he wasn’t exactly fit either. Finding food always meant going to the fridge or the pantry — at most, to a grocery store. So, when his flight to visit his father for the summer ended with a crash in the Canadian wilderness, Brian was not sure he had what it would take to survive. The only other passenger had been the pilot, and the plane crashed because the pilot had died of a heart attack. With nothing more than the clothes on his back and the hatchet [a gift from his mom] on his belt, Brian had to find both shelter and food enough to last until he was rescued… If he even *could* be rescued. Because no one, including Brian, knew exactly where his plane went down.
It’s no wonder Hatchet is the “gold standard” for survival stories. Paulsen masterfully balanced Brian’s hope and drive to survive with suspense surrounding the real-life dangers of the Canadian wilderness. I think this book would be an excellent precursor to lessons on disaster preparedness and survival skills, and it’s also sure to be a hit with kids who already enjoy wilderness-based activities like hiking and camping.
Jeremy Johnson Johnson was rather unlucky. Not only did his mom leave him and his dad, but his father became so crippled by depression that he became a total recluse. Jeremy became, in essence, the adult of the household and started taking care of things to the best of his abilities. After Jeremy was involved in a prank gone awry, though, he was ostracized by the townspeople who had previously given him enough work to get by. With the final “balloon payment” of the mortgage on his father’s bookstore [aka his home] coming due very soon, Jeremy began to panic. Fortunately, he had a friend, Ginger, who had a crazy plan and a guardian angel of sorts, Jacob, looking after him. Whether he was actually an angel is debatable, but there was no doubt that Jeremy could definitely communicate with the ghost of Jacob Grimm — one of the famous Brothers Grimm. Jacob was pretty sure he had not yet passed on completely because he still had a purpose on earth, and he was certain that his purpose was to keep Jeremy safe. Readers who are familiar with Grimm fairy tales will surely guess that something “grim” is in the cards, but they’re not likely to guess exactly what until it’s already too late. This clever combination of old-fashioned fairy tales and modern storytelling has plenty of suspense and plot twists to keep readers on the edge of their seats, and I’m glad I can finally settle back in mine again. :-)
I can’t even begin to explain how happy my son and I were when we found out that Rick Riordan was going to have a new series based on Norse mythology! When we read Loki’s Wolves, we actually lamented the fact that Riordan didn’t have a Norse mythology series yet and just prayed that one was coming. We’ve really grown to love Riordan’s ability to weave snarky and silly humor into books that actually teach readers quite a bit about mythology. As a mom and librarian, I have loved seeing kids flock to the non-fiction section to find out more about the characters of Greek and Roman mythology they encountered in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series. As a reader, though, I have simply enjoyed the way that the stories of characters in the different series were so artfully woven together and worked so well with the existing myths.
In this book, we are introduced to a character named Magnus Chase — a homeless kid from Boston who has been on the run ever since his mom died. Though she was actually killed by supernatural wolves, Magnus was fairly certain no one would believe him and decided that running from the law was easier than trying to convince people he didn’t murder her. When his cousin, Annabeth — Yes! *That* Annabeth! — and her dad come to Boston to look for Magnus, he ended up running into another uncle, Randolph. His mom was always adamant that Magnus should stay away from him, but it was too tempting to find out what Uncle Randolph knew. Randolph tried to convince Magnus that he was a demigod and that his father was a Norse god, but that didn’t really make sense. Only after he was killed by a demonic villain and woke up in Valhalla did Magnus begin to believe this could all be true.
Especially with the in-story pronunciation help (via other characters helping Magnus correctly pronounce the names of legendary places and characters), I think this series makes Norse mythology a lot more approachable and is likely to create a huge surge in interest. (I can only hope they do a better job if and when they turn this series into a movie!)
I am always frustrated when people try to ban books that speak about the harsh realities of human history. I can sort of understand wanting to shield children from those atrocities, but to what end? Especially when those books are being challenged at the high school level, at a time in their academic careers when students are supposed to study the events of global history. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t remember much of what we learned about Iran from the lectures of my global history class, but I am fairly certain I won’t ever forget Satrapi’s story. Not only does this graphic novel provide an accurate timeline, but it also illustrates, with both words and images, how the Iranian people were affected by the Islamic Revolution. Sure, I found some of the stories/images to be upsetting — particularly the scenes in which men recalled the ways in which they were tortured — but no more so than stories and images from my studies of the Holocaust. The way I see it, we owe it to our children to be real with them so they can fully appreciate the current situation in Iran.
Experiencing this revolution through the eyes of a child helped me to understand, on a very basic level, both the scope of what happened and the complexities of Iranian history that are glossed over in a classroom. Things are not nearly as “black and white” as many people would like to believe. I won’t soon forget the mix of sadness and fascination Marjane experienced, for example, when she listened to her Uncle Anoosh’s stories about his life in exile and then when he was captured and put in prison; nor her anguish when he was sent back to prison and she could be his only visitor. History textbooks don’t usually appeal to me, but narratives like this are hard to put down! I was very impressed to see how seamlessly Satrapi included names and dates vital to learning about the revolution within the context of such a compelling story.
I think that a first person account, such as this, makes it much easier for readers to understand how some people could have been manipulated to accept the extreme changes that were made — like the re-writing of textbooks, moving away from bilingual and coed schools, and making women and girls wear veils in public. (FYI, in case you didn’t already know, fear is an amazingly effective motivational tool.) Yet, I found that my disgust at the tactics used against these people was outweighed by hope. It was inspirational to learn about people who found the strength to stand up for what they believed in and to revolt against what they knew to be wrong, despite all they stood to lose. I can only pray that this message of hope is what young people take away from this story and that future generations turn that hope into actions that will bring about peace.
Happy Banned Books Week!