24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: juvenile

Abby Reads: Snow White by Matt Phelan

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2016, 216 pages
Graphic Novel Retelling

In 1920s New York City, Samantha “Snow” White is suddenly without a mother but living the financial high life with her father. When the Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies catches Snow’s father’s eye, Snow’s life changes pretty quickly. For a time, she is sent away. And when an inheritance becomes available, Image result for snow white phelanthe Queen will do whatever she can to get the lion’s share — including hire a murderer for Snow. Following the traditional plot of the classic “Snow White” fairy tale, Matt Phelan provides both the story and art for Snow White: A Graphic Novel with a twist in setting and circumstance.

Phelan’s take on “Snow White” is excellent. A writer must have a reason, generally speaking, to cast an old favorite in a new setting, and Phelan succeeds fantastically here with his Roaring Twenties look at “Snow White.” The new setting allows for great commentary on poverty and wealth while adding a huge potential for aesthetics, of which Phelan takes great advantage. As both writer and illustrator, Phelan mixes both arts well. His illustrations are truly lovely things to examine with a sketchy, noir, watercolor style tinged with just the right touch of magic and arresting splashes of color where it best serves him.

While the text is quite sparse, the images of the graphic novel carry the story well, even in more nuanced moments. Exact facial expressions and implications throughout the text help to develop characters in specific ways that can’t be translated through text. Although the Queen is an antagonistic character, even with the spare text, her personality and motivation are well-developed, allowing readers not necessarily to sympathize, but to certainly understand her position. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Queen’s desire for a large financial net — particularly as someone who works as a performer — is attractive, and it’s well illustrated through Phelan’s story even without spelling it out. Phelan’s one shortcoming with his art style is an occasional tendency to draw too much chaos into an image, making it unclear exactly what has happened from one pane to the next. Often, the surrounding work is enough to clarify, but on occasion, scenes of violence are difficult to follow.

Rather than the traditional dwarves, Phelan employs young street urchins to come to Snow’s aid in her time of need. Each with a street name, the apparent orphans are reliant upon themselves to live and get into some light mischief along the way. While Phelan mostly avoids magic and fantasy in his Snow White, the urchins are a perfect stand-in for the seven dwarves, if they don’t carry the wisdom the original dwarves are known for. The Dickensian twist works well within the context of 1920s New York City, too, and makes for a charming addition to the retelling.

Phelan does fall a little short in pacing with the narrative. With plenty of exposition leading up to the main event and conflict, the story feels a bit front-heavy. The role of the rescuing prince — here, a detective — seems to come from nearly nowhere, and his consequences are difficult to see form from any earlier appearances. His involvement earlier on might have solved this in some fashion, even as an appearance in Snow’s childhood to help bring the story full circle. It’s primarily this that makes me think Snow White: A Graphic Novel might have benefited from another round or two of edits.

The work stands solidly, however, as a whole. The artwork is truly remarkable and something I’d be willing to hang in my home, if not keep the graphic novel as a piece on a coffee table. Phelan very successfully brings “Snow White” to a new setting and to great effect, certainly enhancing the original story with his choices. His art and text mix beautifully and, while a few elements needed tweaking, the graphic novel is a win. Interestingly, the book is evidently targeted at elementary-school- and middle-school-aged children, though the quality and layers could easily serve an older, adult audience.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010, 320 pages
Juvenile Fiction

In Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind, Melody Brooks is eleven years old and has never spoken a word. In her wheelchair, she often meets issues of inaccessibility, but as she tells readers in her first-person narrative, she thinks things could be just a little easier if she could express herself with words. Image result for out of my mind sharon draperThough she has some very basic tools to communicate about things like needing the bathroom and being hungry, she’s been unable to make many deep connections outside herself due to her cerebral palsy. When a new technology comes into her life, Melody is suddenly able to get more involved than ever before, but there are challenges she perhaps didn’t anticipate that must be met.

There’s no getting away with writing a review for Out of My Mind without mentioning R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. Both telling the story of a child with physical challenges (one more cosmetic than the other), both novels were published within the last seven years. While Out of My Mind appeared in 2010, Wonder came out in 2012. Between the two, Out of My Mind is superior for the simple fact that it does better work in not falling into the trap of being inspiration porn. Melody is angry and not afraid to show it. She is not always kind, she is not always understanding. And it is this that makes her a sympathetic character, paradoxically enough. Where Auggie of Wonder is known for being extra kind (and certainly this is admirable), he is also essentially awarded for having a disability, which boils down to something offensive — people with disabilities are more than their disabilities, and it is exactly Melody’s negative traits that demonstrate this so clearly.

Another success of Out of My Mind is Draper’s refusal to treat ten-year-olds like toddlers. Frequently, Melody’s peers do things that are cruel, even as they know they are wrong for it. Draper makes no excuses here, heightening the realism of the novel, which again further brings home the point. Even adults are not immune to mistreating Melody, though sometimes this happens — as in real life — with good intentions. The discomfort Draper brings out on the page is excellently handled because she does not suppose that this behavior is cartoonish or the result of a lack of realizing the action is wrong. Sometimes, people are just cruel, and where Palacio tip-toes around this concept, Draper takes it head on in a much more effective manner.

There are some shortcomings in Out of My Mind. On top of being a difficult topic, the first half of the narrative is startlingly slow and repetitive. This serves Melody as a character, of course, and readers’ empathy for her — just as Melody’s life has been monotonous and frustrating in part, as a result of her inability to communicate as others do, so is the reading experience prior to her acquisition of communication assistant technology. Too, Melody is said to have a photographic memory, but this trait doesn’t seem to play out in the reality of the story — perhaps this is a miscommunication of what exactly “photographic memory” means in Melody’s case, but she still must drill trivia questions as she prepares for a tournament in a series of study sessions with her neighbor/caretaker.

I can’t outright say that I loved Out of My Mind. Stylistically, I struggled with Draper’s writing and found it to be slogging in many places. There’s no doubt that the novel touches on a difficult and important topic, but this alone does not a great or enjoyable book make. Though certainly a useful story for a classroom, book club, or heart-to-heart discussion, Out of My Mind is not the thing to reach for if you’re looking for a fun, strictly-entertaining read. Still, if you’re between Wonder and Out of My Mind, go with the latter — not only does the book mostly avoid being inspiration porn, but it also was written by a woman of color and touches on life with cerebral palsy in a reflective and no-punches-pulled manner.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998, 233 pages
Juvenile Fiction

After he is wrongly convicted of shoe theft in Louis Sachar’s Holes, Stanley  Yelnats is sent to a correctional facility known as Camp Green Lake. At the institution, he, along with dozens of other boys his age, are forced to dig precise holes throughout the barren desert. Meanwhile, Image result for holes louis sacharsomething from Camp Green Lake’s past is tickling the current inhabitants and influencing their lives in ways they could never begin to believe. As Stanely builds relationships with the other boys in the camp and begins to learn about the kinds of cruelty adults can bestow, a clever and quiet plot unfolds in fabulous reveals from chapter to chapter.

Despite being a fairly simple novel in many ways, Holes is quietly powerful with not only an incredibly-planned plot, but also with an unusual level of social commentary woven in through example rather than heavy-handedness. One of the most striking examples of this social commentary is Stanley’s conviction. Sachar makes it clear that had Stanley’s family had more money and more able to afford a competent legal team to represent him, he would not have been unjustifiably sent to Camp Green Lake. Stanley learns even more about social justice issues as he enters the camp, where he interacts with boys of color and begins to understand some of the implications of their lives. One awkward step away from this pattern is a description from the narrator, in which boys who are digging holes are described as being racially ambiguous due to the dirt on their faces.

With two plot lines running alongside each other, separate in history but together in consequence, Sachar handles most of the overlapping well. Though this concept could easily be difficult for younger readers to follow, Sachar’s attention to detail, refusal to overwhelm, and commitment to clear connections makes the structure completely accessible for its target audience. A few places marked as chapter breaks can feel jarring, but the overall effect is worth it and it is this feature that makes Holes so unforgettable.

Of course, how the two primary plots came together did not seem quite so impressive for me this time. I’ve both read the book and seen the film Holes. I recall my first reading being entrancing, so I have hope that my original experience holds up today. But knowing exactly how Stanely’s situation would be impacted by Kissin’ Kate Barlow did take some of the magic away from the book.

Sachar’s narrator speaks in a familiar and conversational style that feels entirely natural and fun. Holes has just about everything you could want in terms of literary value. It’s well-planned, engaging, imaginative, unique, and quite a ride. If you haven’t gotten to Holes yet, take a weekend ad get to it — you’ll thank yourself.

❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Random House, 1970, 192 pages
Juvenile Fiction

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume encounters Margaret, a young girl who has moved with her parents from New York City to the suburbs and is beginning to question what it is to be religious and what it is to be a woman. With crossover between her personal religious life and her new social circle, Margaret finds tension in her parents’ relationships with their own parents as well as neighborhood friends and 37732their older brothers. Blume asks important questions about what religion means to the unindoctrinated religious explorers and what it means to be a young girl growing up in America.

Prior to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, I had never picked up a Judy Blume novel. Where I admittedly expected some level of innocence and naivete (this was published in 1970! Certainly those were simpler times. No? Well, another discussion for another day), I found a great deal of honesty and challenging topics wrapped up in a beautifully simple narrative and prose. Without a complicated plot, Margaret is left to ponder the wonders of the world and the universe, leaving plenty of questions unanswered for young readers to think on themselves. Despite the natural complexity of religion and puberty (and what a combination!), Blume makes both simple and accessible for her young target audience.

What was especially impressive was Blume’s dedication to making the depiction of Margaret and her friends one of the truest I’ve seen of young girls’ friendships. A particular scene in which Margaret’s group of friends determine rules for their friend group stuck out as especially familiar to me, despite the absurdity of it. I, too, could recall sitting down with friends, notebooks in hand, to place arbitrary rules on our group about boys, communication, and other relevant aspects of our lives. (As an aside, from a professional perspective, I can now tell you that this type of play is in preparation for adulthood, which is pretty neat and makes Blume’s work here even more impressive. As Margaret and her friends are on the verge of experiencing puberty, they are also mentally practicing their adult lives through these exercises. Interesting!)

Similarly realistic, if perhaps slightly underdeveloped, is Margaret’s secret crush. These new feelings that develop within her are scary in some ways, so they’re largely ignored until they can’t be. Even when the crush cannot be ignored, Margaret tiptoes around it, creating a delicious sort of tension that will entice readers to read on.

Meanwhile, though the book is written for older children and younger teens, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret can easily be enjoyed by adults. Plenty of the subtleties of Margaret’s life (to which she does not catch on) are fascinating to watch play out in various ways. Where adults will be savvy about the implications and consequences of various events, Margaret is often oblivious beyond some surface information. This is not Margaret being stupid, either, but it highlights a compelling piece of childhood that we often forget. That said, there were moments and a general feeling of lack of development — while the book remains completely accessible, its deeper symbolism and meaning are really not so deep at all, which might leave something to be desired for readers who prefer to do a little more thoughtful work.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret only takes a couple of hours to read and is a fun experience. Glittering scenes with her grandmother make for a unique piece to an already-important story. Whether you’re religious or not, this novel provides a nice look at what it can mean for some and where sometimes, meaning falls short.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Bantam Books, 1908, 309 pages*
Fiction

*The edition I read was published by Bantam Books in 1987, but I’ve maintained the original publication date for an indication of style and content.

It is decidedly odd to go about reviewing something so classic and well-known as L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, but because it is part of my 2017 Read Harder challenge, I feel compelled to include it this time Anne of Green Gablesaround. Anne of Green Gables is the canon of my childhood. I grew up watching the Megan Follows adaptation on VHS and, later, DVD. I read the first few books once when I was a teen and recently decided to make another effort to get through the whole series, starting again at the beginning. In short, the first tale of Anne Shirley occurs when she is thirteen and newly sent to Prince Edward Island by mistake to live with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert (siblings, not spouses). As Anne begins to heal from the trauma of being a mistreated orphan, she relies on her imagination and intellect to connect with the people in her community and become a shining star among them.

So many people seem put off by the idea of Anne. They imagine the book as Pollyanna-ish, and they’re not necessarily wrong. However, what makes Anne of Green Gables so timeless is that, while it certainly is hopeful and optimistic, it is also realistic at its heart. The recent Netflix adaptation really brings this to light: though Montgomery may handle it differently, if we really consider Anne’s situation, she is a young girl who is likely suffering from her upbringing severely. Based on the anecdotes she shares with her new family, there’s no doubt Anne was severely abused and, if we consider further, it’s likely her rabid imagination is in fact an escape from or even symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Without modern psychology, Montgomery might not have been aware of the true impact of her work, but the reality is, Anne of Green Gables is a much deeper story than many might think.

Montgomery doesn’t only set Anne up well with a well-defined personality. Anne’s growth over the three years in which Anne of Green Gables takes place is marked. Her evolution is clear, even in its slow movement and focus on character over plot. This coming of age is realistically handled and spurred by events that make sense, showing Montgomery’s attention to detail and dedication to realism despite Anne’s flights of fancy. It’s this striking balance that keeps Anne and her story at the front of modern consciousness. The one break from realism is, perhaps, Rachel Lynde, who has a cartoonish edge. Still, this aura serves Anne’s story in a way that contributes to its realism at the end of the day.

On top of this, Montgomery tells her story with beautiful, descriptive, and imaginative prose. It’s no wonder that so many people venture to Prince Edward Island to see the rolling dunes, secret forests, and authoritative cliffs Montgomery describes. Anne’s environment is so distinctly pictured that there’s no doubt she is anywhere but where Montgomery writes her to be.

The focus on character development and setting does mean a sacrifice in plot. Anne, of course, has a desire: she wants a family and a place to belong. She wants to be loved. This problem is basically solved reasonably early on, leaving Montgomery to track the conflict in Anne’s day-to-day rather than an ongoing issue that might be solved as a plot by the end of the narrative. Literary fiction, or character-driven fiction, is arguably more difficult to achieve in children’s literature. While the concept of children’s literature was only just emerging when Montgomery was writing (and certainly she contributed largely to it), it’s handled reasonably well here. I might not expect a seven-year-old to sit through the entire novel totally enraptured, but each chapter features a sort of anecdote of Anne’s life, making the novel a great option for bedtime reading that satisfies while teasing enough to encourage reading the next night. “What scrape will Anne get herself into next?” readers will want to know.

If that Anne of Green Gables is an easy-to-read, if slightly slow-paced classic is not enough temptation for you to read it, I can also tell you it is humorous and soothing, reminding us often of the best parts of humanity and childhood, even as Anne suffers from a sort of lack of childhood. Anne will surprise you in quiet ways and loud ways. The caveat, of course, is that Anne is a work of its time and there are moments that make its historical context evident. Perhaps due in part to the location, racial diversity is essentially nonexistent, though the themes are certainly universal.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #9, “Read a book you’ve read before,” and I leave it behind with four-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1962, 211 pages
Juvenile Fantasy

It’s been years since twelve-year-old Meg Murry saw her father who is on a mission assigned by the United States government in Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time. Though she knows it involves something called a tesseract, Meg’s understanding of what her father is doing ends about there. 18131When her brother Charles Wallace meets the enigmatic Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who, the witchy women send Meg, Charles, and Meg’s schoolmate Calvin on a journey to find and free Charles and Meg’s father, but there are dangers in other worlds they have not even begun to imagine.

Reading this at twenty-five was an exercise of the mind. Now that I’m working as a children’s librarian, I’ve felt nostalgic about my own elementary school years. I first read A Wrinkle in Time in an advanced English class in fifth grade. At the time, I recall understanding this novel on a far deeper level than I did this time and I’ve been unable to recreate what it was I understood then that I don’t now. I don’t believe this is a failing of the book however — rather, I think it takes an incredibly talented author to pull this off.

A bit chaotic and with a staccato pace, A Wrinkle in Time still stands up as something unique and wonderful. Despite the reaching Meg and her companions do across the universes, it never seems unnatural that they’d be doing so without adult supervision. And when adult supervision does arrive in the form of Mr. Murry, he’s utterly useless. L’Engle breaks a truth to kids here that often goes ignored until adulthood and sometimes even beyond: parents are not infallible, nor are they all-knowing.

L’Engle is funny in moments, bestowing the name of “Happy Medium” on a fortune teller and weaving humor into situations that are trying for the young characters. L’Engle’s focus is always on the children, too — even when in a nearly bodice-ripping moment, Calvin kisses Meg, readers are not at all apprised of Mr. Murry’s reaction, though he is standing nearby. Given that the last time he saw Meg was when she was only seven or eight years old, this event must be at least a little shocking to him and L’Engle does not divulge it.

What’s special about A Wrinkle in Time is its ability to describe complex concepts of physics in such a way that make sense to both children and adults. The title itself is one such example, as the children learn their travel through space is aided by a ripple that allows them to skip from point A to point C without traveling through point B. It is only when you truly understand a concept that you can describe it so simply, and L’Engle shows her ability here with great strength.

Another achievement of A Wrinkle in Time is Meg’s revolutionary character. As a young girl in the early 1960s, Meg is interested in math and science — this is so much unlike the majority of the literature at the time and, even, today, done to the extent and with such realism as Meg is, that readers can’t help but cheer for her, even when she is churlish and brusque.

You may not be able to appreciate A Wrinkle in Time the same way as an adult as you did as a child. But the merit is still there. Give this novel another look before the film comes out and you might find something in yourself you didn’t know was there to begin with.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012, 320 pages
Juvenile Fiction

I want to start this review by noting that Wonder by R. J. Palacio is problematic. I acknowledge that and I’ll get into it, but before I do, you need some context. Wonder begins with Auggie, a ten-year-old born with a severe facial deformity. When he agrees to attend school with the encouragement of his family (who had, up until this point, home-schooled him), Auggie encounters the cruelties of the world in the form of bullying (harassment, really) and misunderstanding. The book turns its point of view over to various people in Auggie’s life, giving them each the opportunity not only to talk about themselves but also their relationship to Auggie and the effect Auggie and his deformity have on their lives.

I think, already, you can see some of the issues with this book. Palacio admits in supplemental material in the edition I read that she does not have a facial deformity. In fact, the inspiration for Wonder came from her own humiliation at seeing a child in a park with a deformity and how she responded. You can read about that on her website. The moral of Wonder is kindness. And, obvious spoiler: Auggie overcomes his bullies

through kindness and the like and is essentially given an award for being a decent human being while others were not so decent to him (massive understatement). In many ways, Wonder is inspiration porn (learn more about that here). Like many of the other problematic material I’ve discussed on this blog, I’m not in a position to comment a whole lot here as I am able-bodied. (Additionally, if you are a member of this community and I’ve used outdated or offensive terms or have otherwise not spoken well here, please do let me know so I can fix it!)

What I can comment on is the book as a book and its merits and shortcomings as a piece of literature. So let’s move to that with the previous paragraph in mind (and work toward better representation in all art forms — one more aside, this kind of art is out there. It’s largely a matter of publication companies being willing or unwilling to, y’know, publish it. The way to show them we want this material is to buy it. So do that. Or check it out from your library. That’s important, too.)

Although I’d heard the hype about Wonder prior to reading it, I was not aware that it was told from multiple points of view. In fact, I didn’t know until I turned to the last page of Auggie’s first section in the book to find a new narrator. I admire Palacio’s commitment to creating distinct voices for each of the narrators in the book, but ultimately found there were too many narrators and certainly not enough narrators with sufficient consequence to warrant their appearance as a narrator. Palacio’s use of different narrators does provide a unique and, at some points, powerful move toward demonstrating empathy, but this achievement is overshadowed by the simple overwhelm of points of view.

The multiple-narrator strategy is only one thing that makes this book challenging. Though marketed toward older children (Amazon recommends ages 8 through 12), the book avoids overly simplistic vocabulary and sentence structure. This is where, I think, the book gets a lot of its appeal for adults. Palacio never talks down to her readers, but instead uses dialogue and monologue in such a way that is realistic, which helps to heighten the real-life importance of the overall message of kindness. This realism has the drawback of slowing the book down. Readers must be invested in the characters (perhaps, in part, hence the many narrators) if they want to be at all invested in the book. Indeed, Wonder is much more literary fiction for children than it is your average plot-driven work due to the focus on its characters and their development.

The movie for Wonder is scheduled to come out in 2017. I have my reservations due to what I’ve discussed above (in addition to casting an actor without a facial deformity as Auggie and certainly, I’m sure, other things as we get closer to the release will reveal), but with Daveed Diggs playing English teacher Mr. Browne, I might have to give it a try when it appears on Netflix.

 

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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