Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taste of Salt

Frances Temple's novel, Taste of Salt, has stayed with me for years. I originally read it with a class when we were studying Haitian immigration. As terrible events occur in Haiti, I go back to this story and its engrossing and original plot.

After an attack from the rebels, Tonton Macoutes, Djo is laid up in a hospital. Due to his faithful service to Aristide, the Catholic priest turned president, Djo is given care in a free hospital opened by the leader. It is during this time that Jeremie, a girl with a promising future, begins to record his life story.

I really liked that the novel is split up between Djo's story and the scenes of his conversation with Jeremie. It provides the reader respite from the horrors of his daily life. Both Djo and Jeremie are extremely likable, giving readers characters they can identify with as they read the current news about Haiti. It was especially poignant to read Taste of Salt with Bahamian students, knowing that Haitian immigration is a pressing concern in their country. Instead of spouting what they hear their parents say, they learned why Haitian need to leave their homeland and they were able to form their own opinions.

Finally, there is one scene with a coffin that I think about constantly. I don't want to give anything away, but when you read that section, know that it has moved me on so many occasions. I highly recommend this novel.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thumbelina, Tiny Runaway Bride

In Barbara Ensor's retelling of Thumbelina, the author's conversational tone works better than it did in Cinderella. Perhaps this is because the book already features many diary entries, although another explanation is that I really didn't know the story of Thumbelina at all!

Apparently, Thumbelina is almost married off to a variety of animals until the end, when she meets a tiny king that falls for her. I don't think it is too much of a spoiler to state that Ensor gives the reader the traditional happy ending, but includes an alternate ending for the more independently-minded reader.

The silhouette illustrations and diary entries make this a quick read, although the fact that it is broken into chapters will make the developing reader feel more mature and accomplished. I suggest checking this book out of the is such a fast read that your book money would be better spent on more substantial fare.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Seesaw Girl

Before moving to Korea, I looked for a YA novel based in Korea but was out of luck. I had heard of A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, but never got to reading it. Well, I still haven't! My access to young adult books is really limited right now, but I managed to track down another book by Park, a slim book called Seesaw Girl.

Seesaw Girl tells the story of Jade Blossom, the daughter of a King's advisor in 17th century Korea. She is feisty and doesn't fit in with the traditional role of a girl during the time period. There is no massive conflict in the book, more a series of stories about how Jade Blossom pushes the expectations her family has for her.

Most enjoyable for me was seeing things that I still encounter in my daily life in Seoul. Our houses are still heated by pipes of hot water running under the floor and ladies still often cover their mouths when they laugh. This is a great primer for a family moving to Korea, for kids of Korean descent, for intermediate level history buffs, and for budding feminists. It is also simple enough to be broken into a class read aloud.

Something that struck me about Seesaw Girl is that it has a very realistic ending. In most books, Jade Blossom would run away and become a warrior hero, live in the forest, or not have to get married. Basically, things that are not realistic for the time. Instead, she gets a small slice of happiness and freedom in the station where she was born. I appreciate Park's decision to keep Jade's life realistic.

A question I have: where are all the modern day YA novels about Koreans or Korean-Americans? Every book I have seen has been set hundreds of years ago. My students need some current heroines!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Graveyard Book

The premise of The Graveyard Book is incredible: a baby escapes his family's murder and is raised in a graveyard as Nobody Owens, the beloved adopted child of ghosts and the guardians of the cemetary.

I loved reading about Bod's adventures growing up in the cemetary. His interactions with the other denizens play out in clever vignettes. Like all childhoods, there are moments of happiness, adventure, humor, and sadness. Young readers will love that even though Bod leads the most improbable life, he is really just like them.

The end of the novel focuses more on the eventual showdown between Bod and The Man Jack, his family's murderer. For me, this part of the book was far less interesting than just reading about Bod's daily life. Clearly, the Newbery Award committee disagrees! I would recommend this to students with a love of fantasy and science fiction, although I think just about everyone would enjoy it.