Friday, May 30, 2008

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Yang, Gene Luen (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 233 pages.

This graphic novel intertwines an ancient Chinese fable with two modern tales of young life as an Asian-American. The Monkey King is eager to be accepted as a god, but is not welcomed into the feast because he is a monkey with no shoes. Henceforth, he attempts to denounce his monkey-hood to be accepted as an equal to the gods. In California, Jin Wang is trying to be accepted as a Chinese-American in his middle school. With a little help from his friend, Wei-Chen, Jin even manages to ask the girl he likes out, but not without some challenges. Last, Danny, a blond kid, somehow has a cousin who is the Chinese stereotype. He visits every year and destroys Danny's social life. Cleverly, these stories converge revealing a lesson about accepting ourselves.

I've said this before but graphic novels really aren't my thing. I respect them. In fact, graphic novels often incorporate more difficult vocabulary than their traditional counterparts. Reading a graphic novel depends on different set of literacy skills. That said, I'm just not the most visually literate person in the world. So in judging the book I'm trying to divorce myself from a general dislike. In this case I enjoyed it, but I didn't think it was amazing. The telling of the modern school stories interested me more than the fable of the Monkey King. I find mythology in all its forms dull. But all sections incorporated some clever dialogue and humor which kept me going. The art was clear and not difficult for a novice like me to understand. The actions in the images were consistent with the text. This book has earned a lot of acclaim and while I enjoyed it I'm not sure it was worth all the accolade.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis

Lewis, C.S. (1951). Prince Caspian. New York: Harper Trophy, 223 pages.

Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy are standing on a train platform headed for boarding school when they are mysteriously transported back to Narnia, but not the Narnia any of them remember. Cair Paravel is now a ruin, and it seems that evil men have over run the kingdom driving away the "Old Narnians." But Prince Caspian, heir to the throne and friend of the Old Narnians has stepped in to restore the country, but needs the help of the ancient kings and queens and Aslan himself.

I enjoyed this book almost as much as I enjoyed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It had a faster pace, more excitement, and stronger symbolism than The Horse and His Boy. I thoroughly enjoyed the parallels to faith portrayed by following the lion. And from an LDS perspective, I found strong links to apostasy and restoration. After the kings and queens left, another government prevailed and the stories of Aslan became legend and almost forgotten. A young worthy prince helps restore order but can only do it with the help of Aslan and the children.

As a children's story, I think it works well, although some parts such as the lengthy letter that Peter writes and Aslan's journey to collect trusting humans became a little dull and might drag on for a child,

Thursday, May 15, 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lee, Harper (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins, 407 pages.

Scout and Jem are two curious kids being raised by their widowed father in Maycomb County Alabama. Some of their activities include visiting their neighbors, playing with their friend Dill in the summer, and trying to figure out a way to lure Boo Radley, a reclusive and feared neighbor, out of his home. Life intensifies for Scout and Jem when their father defends an innocent black man in a rape trial. Suddenly the whole town is talking and Scout quickly learns who her friends really are.

It's so refreshing to read a book this good. First, it is beautifully written but a the same time accessible. Told from the eyes of a child, the sentences are well formed but not difficult. Because, Scout is trying to understand the adults around her, she meditates at length on many of the symbols. Second, Scout and Jem are trying to learn who they are and what they stand for which at times makes them a bit rebellious, but they aren't subverting their father. For someone who reads a ton of young adult literature this is new and different. Third, (and this is just my opinion), it's a candid yet respectful portrayal of Southern life during the depression. We can thank Atticus for that. With his even-temper and good natured respect for all even Ewell, the villain, could not be perceived as a demon.

I can't believe it took me almost 26 years to read this book. I think everyone should read it. It's that good and I normally don't recommend books across the board. But this is one of the exceptions.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Whale, by Valerie Tracqui

Tracqui, Valerie (2004). The Whale: Giant of the Ocean. Watertown, Ma.: Charlesbridge, 29 pages.

This brief book uses text, photos, and captions to tell the story of the humpback whale. The book discusses the whale's body structure, migration, mating, and other general topics. It also includes information on ongoing work to save the endangered species and brief introductions to other species of whales. While the main text is helpful and informative, I found that the most interesting parts of this book were the captions to the high-quality photographs. For example, I learned that humpback whales have two blowholes that spout air, water vapor, and mucous. Whales also have whisker like hairs on their faces to help them sense what is around them. I admit I'm a little biased in my enjoyment of this book due to my love of whales.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

Urban, Linda (2007). A Crooked Kind of Perfect. New York: Harcourt, 213 pages.

Ten year old Zoe has big dreams of becoming a world renowned pianist and playing at Carnegie Hall. But when her dad goes to the music store and comes home with a Perfectone Organ instead of a baby grand, she is terribly disappointed. Still, Zoe tries her best to prepare for the Perfectone Organ competition, but not without a few glitches along the way.

Fast-paced and funny, this book captures the true essences of what it is to be ten. From Zoe's struggle to fit in with her classmates to coming to terms with her quirky family - its all there. The book is structured in short journal like entries making it a very quick read and capturing Zoe's personality well. Some entries are straight narrative while others are lists or simply one sentence. At first, I thought this form was weak but came to terms with it along the way. This book is filled with pre-teen awkwardness that just brought a smile to my face.