Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell (2005). Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler's Shadow. New York: Scholastic Nonfiction, 176 pages.

Bartoletti tells the story of the Hitler Youth program from its inception until the fall of the Reich. Using personal accounts from from various boys and girls, she tells the stories of those of both those supported and resisted Hitler.

I listened to this book. The narrator had good intonation and pronounced all the German names and phrases correctly - which is more than I can say for Bartoletti whose accent was painful for me a German speaker. She did clearly define all difficult concepts and words. The book is informative for more than just youth. The writing was sophisticated and not patronizing. Bartoletti did her research and used real accounts of soldiers who destroyed Allie tanks, students who opposed the Reich, and even average members of the Hitler Youth.

The book shed light on aspects of the Third Reich secondary to the Hitler Youth, but it still fit. For example, propaganda explained Kristallnacht as a spontaneous reaction to the murder of an official by a Jew. In reality it was a planned attack against the Jews. Also, the government forced the Jews to pay for all the damage. The German news announced that Hitler died fighting on the front lines in the Battle of Berlin rather than the true story. These lies were linked to the films and propaganda that the Hitler Youth were educated with. To reeducate the soldiers and youth raised as Anti-Semites, the showed the Germans films of footage from the concentration camps. Many of them were difficult to convince that the man who they fought for was a mass murderer.

Overall this was an excellent book that was sensitively written and hit on what I think are the major aspects of being young during the Third Reich.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, by Ann Brashares

Brashares, Ann (2003). The Second Summer of the Sisterhood. New York: Delacorte, 373 pages.

In this sequel to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the four girls have waited until this summer to pull out the pants and let them work their magic. Bridget, normally impetuous and confident, has hidden herself under hair-dye and excess weight. Spontaneously she leaves for a summer in Alabama to reacquaint herself with her mother's mother. Lena finds out that last summer's Greek boyfriend Kostos has a new girlfriend, but he manages to surprise on her doorstep. Carmen again has troubles with her parents, this time her mom. Tibby heads of to a summer film program in Virginia and learns a few things about what is good film making.

I liked this book even though it's cheesy and didactic. Besides the quotations at chapter breaks the dialog is full of those cliche adages about life, friendship and family. I think this is one of the reasons the book is so popular. It's comforting to see friendships exist as only in dreams. A pair of pants that fits four different shaped girls isn't the only fantasy here. The fantasy of being free to roam from state to state, sneak in and our of dorm rooms undetected, and having friendships so unconditional don't actually exist for teenagers. But the idea is attractive. The pedantic messages are often comforting and provide an objective viewpoint for a teen reader.

This book is full of those writing issues for which I criticized Meyer. I hold Brashares under the same scrutiny. But to be honest the quick pace of the book and the movement between characters distracted me from the writing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Meyer, Stephenie. (2005) Twilight. New York: Little Brown & Company 498 pages.

Bella, a clumsy and somewhat jaded teen, has just moved back to Forks, Washington to live with her dad. At school she is mystified by Edward who seems different from the rest and saves her life on multiple occasions. Edward is a vampire and before Bella knows it she's in love with him and the adventure begins.

So most people know that I struggled with this book. But it is my goal to write a fair and rational review. Thus, I'm going to start with what was good about it. Edward was attractive and at times downright sexy. I personally prefer men with a heart beat, but Meyer made him heroic in the most traditional sense. This made him easy to fall for. Second, although I had to wait almost 400 pages for it, I must say the climax was creative and exciting. That's all I'm going to say in case there are blog readers out there who haven't read the book yet.

Now for the critique. The writing left a little to be desired. In my opinion adverbs are the root of all evil and given Meyer's heavy use of them, she disagrees. The word "incredulous" was used multiple times in various contexts. It drove me nuts. To steal from The Princess Bride, "I do not think that means what she thinks it means." Second, probably over 100 pages of this book were spent with Edward explaining to Bella how dangerous he is. I kept thinking, "I know, I know - get over it! Less talking more action, Please!" Third, was the lack of a strong female character. I'm not used to reading books where the girl is constantly unable to take care of herself. I found this difficult to handle. Edward always had to be there to save her.

For the record, I did get sucked in. I think the only option is for Bella to become a vampire herself, and I'm proud of Stephenie Meyer for being so successful.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

Barrows, Annie & Blackall, Sophie (2006). Ivy and Bean: Book One. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 113 pages.

Mischievous Bean, formally known as Bernice, refuses to get to know Ivy, the new girl, because she is "nice," and nice equals boring. But when Ivy helps Bean escape the wrath of her older sister Nancy and shows Bean her secret spot, Bean starts to think that maybe she isn't so bad. Ivy even knows a couple witch spells to help keep Nancy in her place.

Ivy & Bean is a relatively recent transitional series to become very popular with good reason. The story line is fluid. simple and combines a lot of fun illustrations. The story is comical with a strong moral at the end which just makes the story fun. Bean and Ivy are both quirky in their own special ways making this a great team for a series of books.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Giff, Patricia Reilly. (2002). Pictures of Hollis Woods. New York: Scholastic, 166 pages.

Hollis Woods was abandoned as a child and since then has bounced from foster home to foster home from which she has a tendency to run. Now, she is 12 and at Josie's house, a lovely older woman who has the tendency to forget. Hollis brings her pictures to Josie's in which unfold her strong desire for a family and the story of how she almost had one once. When the social worker threatens to take Hollis away from Josie, she escapes with Josie to the place where she first found family.

I was so excited to read this book. I loved the title and the little silver medal on the cover. I must say I was disappointed. It was short, but slow and honestly just dull. It all seemed extremely melodramatic and unrealistic. I can see how a child would like it but I was left wanting.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

Creech, Sharon. (2001). Love That Dog. New York: Harper Trophy, 86 pages.

At the beginning of the school year, Jack is not so sure about writing poetry and makes that very clear to his teacher in his poetry journal. First he starts by writing complaints broken into short lines. He discusses poems that his teacher presents to the class until finally he is able to share the love for his dog in a poem inspired by “Mr. Walter Dean Myers.”

I went into this book thinking 2 things:

1) This is going to be another pet story
2) There is going to be some really good poetry here

I was wrong on two accounts. More than a story about a boy and his dog is a story about a boy realizing that it is okay to be who he is. The poetry improves as Jack gains confidence in himself and his work. The story is told only in his words and we get the teacher’s perspective only through him. This is not another Because of Winn Dixie.

Second, the novel may be in verse but it is a child’s verse. Myer’s novel Street Love (see below) incorporates a more mature poetry with metaphor, rhythm and all other expected elements. This obviously reflects a child’s voice – an immature effort at poetry. This doesn’t make it bad. In fact, it makes it accessible to a younger audience than it would otherwise and will build confidence in understanding poetry.

The book incorporates both classic and contemporary poetry in a creative and not pushy manner, but focuses on Walter Dean Myers the most contemporary of the authors. This adds a personal touch and may motivate a reader to further exploration.