How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

Standard

Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2008.  $16.95, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://us.macmillan.com/author/urishulevitz

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Hard times as an immigrant are escaped through reading and learning geography.

Summary:

After fleeing his wartorn homeland of Poland, a young boy finds himself and his family in a foreign land, poor and hungry.  When his father triumphantly returns from the bazaar with a map instead of bread for dinner, the boy and his mother are angry.  But soon the boy finds himself fascinated with the map.  Not only does it bring color to their dingy living space, but it transports the boy to wonderful places.  He learns names of exotic place, traces and redraws the map on any paper he can find.  He imagines what it is like on these foreign beaches, in deserts, snowy mountains, steamy jungles, elaborate temples, and cosmopolitan cities.  Taken away from his hunger and unhappiness, the boy realizes his father made a wise decision after all.

Evaluation:

This semi-biographical picture book portrays one small aspect of the immigrant experience.  The hardships of poverty and lack of food take a backdrop to the glories of reading the map and learning geography.  The book actually speaks more about the power of reading as an escape than the immigrant experience.  The language is simple and easy to understand.  The watercolors that accompany the text tell the story almost as well as the text.  The colors add to the tone of the story.  The picture that accompanies the text about war is washed with reds and blacks, with the people washed out and devoid of color.  The busy bazaar pops with color and details.  The worried and hungry narrator and his mother wait for his father in muted blues and browns as night falls.  The imagined travels are highlighted with bright colors.  More so than the physical trials of immigration, this story tells of the inner conflict and the relationship the boy has with his father.  This is reconciled when the boy understands why his father has chosen the map, thus the boy can end the story that he forgives his father.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: illustration, immigrant experience, joy of reading, family relationship

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
  • Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne
  • The Little Refugee by Ahn Do

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Notable Children’s Book
  • Charlotte Zolotow Award
  • Calecott Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The narrator’s home
  • His worry about his father coming home late
  • Places he visited through the map

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Do you think the narrator’s father made a good choice in buying the map?
  • What would you have said if it were your father?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because of the title.  I was curious to see how the immigrant experience played into learning geography.  Initially I thought it was because the author had to travel to a lot places.

Advertisements

Mister Orange by Truus Matti

Standard

Matti, Truus. Mister Orange. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012.  $16.95, 160 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.letterenfonds.nl/en/author/381/truus-matti

Links to Interviews with Translator:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: To deal with his brother’s departure for war, Linus makes friends with an imaginary superhero and a real life artist.

Summary:

When Linus’ older brother Albie goes to Europe to fight in World War II, Linus is left with Mr. Superspeed, the superhero Albie created, to reassure him that Albie will be safe.  Along with other changes, Linus now takes over the delivery of groceries for the family store.  One of his regular customers is a man he calls Mister Orange for the crates of oranges he delivers.  Mister Orange turns out to be an artist from Holland (based on Piet Mondrian), who left to escape the Nazi oppression of the arts and artists.  Linus soon befriends Mister Orange and they have interesting conversations about art and life.  It is Mister Orange that Linus turns to when he reads a letter from Albie that portrays the reality of war as opposed to the romanticized version that Linus imagined when Albie first left.  Convinced that imagination has no practical use in the world, Linus even stops his conversations with Mr. Superspeed.  Through his friendship with Mister Orange, Linus is able to move past his shattered innocence and find a place for his imagination and himself in the world again.

Evaluation:

The story was written with simple and straightforward language.   Told from the point of view of a child, there is an innocence and wonder about the world as experienced by Linus.  The conversations with the imaginary superhero add to the innocent atmosphere.  This is until his illusions are shattered by the harsh truth about war and about life.  Matti has a beautiful scene where Mister Orange talks to Linus about the value of imagination.  This really conveys his theme also about art and its value.  The characters are likeable and believable.  Linus and his family could be any family with a child off at war.  Their relationships and struggles are true to life and easy to sympathize with.  Mister Orange is based on a real artist, Piet Mondrian.  At the end of the book is additional information and resources about Mondrian.  Overall, this book, while set during World War II was more about art and life than about war.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: art, history, World War II, family relationships, comics, imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Erika’s Story by Ruth Vander Zee
  • Copprenickel Goes Mondrian by Maria Popova

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Conversations with Mr. Superspeed
  • Reading Albie’s letter about his friend dying
  • Mister Orange’s apartment decor
  • Conversation with Mister Orange about imagination

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Mister Orange says that you have to have imagination to be able to go to war.  Do you agree or disagree?
  • Can art fight wars?  How?
  • Why does the author use the conversations with Mr. Superspeed?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because I thought it was a novel about World War II.  It actually ended up being more about art and an artist.  However, the message about imagination was powerful and the characters were delightful.

Thanks to My Mother by Schoschana Rabinovici

Standard

Rabinovici, Schoschana.  Thanks to My Mother.  Dial Books, 1998.  $17.99, 247 pages.

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

  • 11 year old Suzanne survives the horrors of the Holocaust due to her mother’s quick thinking and determination for her to live.

Summary:

Suzanne is eight years old when the Germans invade the Soviet Union and occupy Vilnius, Lithuania where she and her family lived.  Thanks to My Mother is a memoir told from Susie’s point of view of the next four years.  Although her immediate and extended family stays in her grandfather’s apartment to avoid persecution, all fourteen eventually are moved to the Vilnius Ghetto.  Through a combination of good luck and quick thinking, the family survives in tact until the ghetto is liquidated and they go to the Rossa Cemetery.  There Susie’s mother saves her from being split off to the group of old people and children (who will be killed) by carrying her in a canvas backpack.  Susie and her mother are then transported to Kaiserwald and Stutthof concentration camps, where they live amidst deplorable and horrifying situations where, again, Susie survives when her mother realizes danger is near and creative finds ways out for Susie.  The horrors culminate in an eleven day death march through freezing conditions to Tauentzien concentration camp, where Susie got sick.  She was too sick to be evacuated as the Red Army made advances, and was actually unconscious when they were liberated. They were finally reunited with their single living relative, her uncle.

Evaluation:

This memoir was an difficult read for me.  The details of daily life for poor Susie, her family, and the other families in the camps were heartbreaking.  The writing style is very straightforward, told from the eyes of a child.  As such, there are some instances where an adult audience realizes that Susie’s aunt is pregnant in the ghetto, but Suzanne thinks it’s just food poisoning.  The strength and force of Susie’s mother is amazing.  Trusting her instincts and using creative thinking, she is able to save Suzanne and herself in such dark and dangerous situations.  The details about other characters and their actions drew a truthful, if sometimes depressing, portrait of humanity.  Though there were plenty of cold and detached Germans, there were also those that showed quick glimpses of compassion.  Of the people in the concentration camps, the depth of despair, frustration, fear, and at the same time, love, friendship, hope are overwhelming in the characterization.  This was an intense and difficult read, but rewarding in that both Susie and Raja survive to tell the tale.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: non-fiction, memoir

Appeal Factors: non-fiction, history, World War II, Holocaust, memoir, mother-daughter relationship, survival story

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • A Child of the Warsaw Ghetto by David Adler
  • Hidden Children by Isaac Millman
  • The Liesel Rosenburg Story by Megan Novack

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “Actions” at the Vilnius Ghetto
  • Sneaking Susie into the Rossa Cemetery
  • Batja’s mother having to choose between saving Batja or her younger sister

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • This memoir has been criticized as lacking “redemptive vision.”  Does it?
  • How does this portrayal of the Holocaust and concentration camps compare to other similar literature you have read?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was a memoir about survival of the Holocaust and the story of a mother’s love for her daughter.  It made me think of a real life version of the movie Life is Beautiful.  As a mother of two, it was heartbreaking to imagine what Susie’s mother went through to keep Susie alive through those horrible things.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Standard

Vanderpool, Clare.  Navigating Early.  Delacorte Press, 2013.  $16.99, 320 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.clarevanderpool.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:
What do pi, two boys, and a search for the Great Appalachian black bear have in common?  The adventure of a lifetime.

Summary:

At 13, Jack has just lost his mother and his father has just returned from World War II.  Unable to cope with his wife’s death and his son, his father sends Jack to a military boarding in school.  There Jack is an outcast until he befriends Early Auden, the weird kid obsessed with pi, who listens to Billie Holiday in the rain, and who lives in an old custodial closet.  When both boys find themselves left at the school over the holidays, Jack agrees to go on a quest with Early to find the legendary great black bear.  After hijacking a boat from the school, they encounter pirates, volcanoes, a hundred year old woman, secret caves, and more amidst the forests of Maine.  Along the way, both boys deal with their individual losses that they may not have realized they were feeling.

Evaluation:

Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early is a wonderful story of two boys searching for a way to deal with their losses.  Although Jack seems  more mature than other 13 year old boys, he is a likeable character who is struggling to deal with the loss of his mother.  Early’s character is also different from other characters being on the autism spectrum.  His earnestness and faithfulness to the belief that his brother is alive is endearing.  The additional story of Pi was a little confusing initially.  But it was understandable how Vanderpool was using it to mirror the boys’ adventure or to bring attention to certain aspects of their experience.  The other characters and how they are related to each other and the boys also make the story more complex.  The language and the writing style of the story are also more complex.  The ending of the story is tied up very nicely, with all the characters accounted for and each boy finding the closure that he has been searching for.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, coming of age adventure, quest, magical realism, historical fiction

Appeal Factors:  adventure, friendship, buddy quest, story within a story, mystery

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Three Times Lucky
  • Tangerne
  • The Sea of Trolls

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2014 Printz Honor Book
  • 2014  Best Fiction for Young Adults
  • 2014 Notable Children’s Books

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Early’s story about Pi
  • The boys’ run in with the pirates
  • Early’s confrontation with his dad

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Gunnar talks about how people searching for something are sometimes running away from something.  What are Early and Jack running away from?
  • The author has described Early as being on the autism spectrum.  How does this affect his character and the story?
  • Why does Pi’s story seem to match so well with Early and Jack’s adventures?

Why I Chose This:

The title and the cover of this book caught my eye.  With the picture of the two boys in their boat look like they are about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.  I was curious to see who or what Early was.  To be navigated, I thought it was a place.  But knowing that Early is a person, it is an interesting title because to navigate Early is to make sense of his thoughts and emotions, which is made especially difficult being on the autism spectrum.

Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Standard

Sheinkin, Steve.  Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal –  the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.stevesheinkin.com/index.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

The true story of cutting edge technology, espionage, military commandos, ruthless dictators, and the world’s most dangerous weapon.

Summary:

Written as a spy-thriller, Bomb opens with the moments before Harry Gold is caught in his own home with evidence that he has been involved in the spy game for 17 years.  What enfolds is the enthralling story of how the atomic bomb came to be.  From the minds and labs of scientists, to the spies who sought their secrets, to the commandos sent to destroy enemy progress in the nuclear arms race, and all the political environment that created and supported these tumultuous times.  Key figures in the story include Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, Eugene Wigner, Leo Szilard, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Knut Haukelid, Leslie Groves, Enrico Fermi, Jens Poulsson, Robert Serber, Harry Truman, Dorothy McKibben, Richard Feynman, Moe Berg, and Paul Tibbets.

Evaluation:

This is the kind of nonfiction that would engage younger readers (any readers for that matter).  The narrative style of this book read more like a spy novel or Cold War thriller than dry nonfiction texts that turn readers off of nonfiction.  Facts were told in narrative stories about the characters, anecdotes that were linked together to create the overall picture of the duplicitous race to perfect the atom bomb.  The sub and parallel plots make this read slightly more complex.  Each part of the book was set up to look like a case file, complete with black and white photographs of key people with type written text “paper clipped” to them.  The language used was contemporary and accessible for readers.  The pacing of the book was fast enough to keep readers engaged and the writing suspenseful enough to keep readers turning the page to find out more.  Thematically, readers are encouraged to consider the state of affairs and implications of technology and weapons and the climate (like ours today) where they may come from and be used in.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  non-fiction, history, popular history, narrative history

Appeal Factors:  war, weapons, espionage

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos by Jennet Conant
  • American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird
  • The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb by Edward T. Sullivan

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newbery Honor Book
  • National Book Awards – Finalist
  • Robert F. Sibert Award
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The scene of the “chain reaction” success of splitting the atom
  • The Norwegian raid on the Vemork plant
  • When Lona Cohen was almost caught on the train by the FBI agents

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the story end the same way it began?
  • Do you think that the Americans who spied for the Soviet Union gave legitimate responses as to why they spied?
  • What elements of the way the story was told or the way the book was written or organized made it seem more like a spy thriller than a nonfiction text?

Why I Chose This:

The title of this book was what hooked me into choosing it for this database.  It received high praise for being different from other nonfiction texts, even from adult readers.  Besides the race for technology to create the atom bomb, the element of “stealing” and spying to get the technology sounded interesting to me.  I was also interested in learning more about this topic.