Posts tagged ‘Newbery Honor’

November 14, 2012

from sugar and spice to the glucose cycle

My high school science education consisted of the following memories: breaking a flask (not a big deal, the teacher said), breaking a thermometer (kind of a big deal), breaking many other kids of lab equipment (increasingly a big deal), never (not once) getting the correct results on any physics or chemistry lab despite being studious, careful, and the last to finish pretty much every single time. I had a mild interest in biology but I always assumed I was “bad” at science. Despite good grades, which obviously didn’t reflected the trail of broken equipment I left in my wake, it never (NEVER!) occurred to me that I could be good at science.

Then enter college: I took an introductory biology course and fell in love. Bird migration! Ants who farm aphids! These were stories whose magic nobody could ignore. And to the surprise of everyone (especially myself and my professors who were wary of me from the first moment I refused to dissect a cat (I mean, really, a cat?), I became a bio major.

WHICH IS WHY I LOVED THIS BOOK!

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age: Middle School and Upper Elementary

So many reasons to buy this book for your daughter (and read it yourself!):

1. It’s historical fiction, set in Texas in 1899, but it doesn’t whop you over the head with that fact. There are some interesting details: the first telephone and the woman operator with her long arms, Granddaddy sitting in a car for the first time, etc. But the historical fiction gives you, the parent, an edge: You can talk about societal expectations for girls and your child will likely be very comfortable talking about them in the book, as it was over 100 years ago. Then, once the conversation gets going, you can talk about how things have changed, but how we still have a long way to go.

2. It’s a science-nature story, but you don’t have to be a scientist to like this book. Any girl reader who enjoys character-driven books will like this one. And they will be getting a great female scientist role model on the side! It’s mostly a girl-growing-up story, and this girl, the only one amongst a myriad of brothers, is struggling against the expectations of her family (she’s supposed to learn to sew and cook or how will she ever get a family?), wondering if she might ever be allowed to have dreams beyond that.  And if your girl does get hooked on science after reading this book, don’t let it die out! Give her a field guide and start looking up plants or insects or birds or stars. Or grab some jars and start collecting bugs.

3. The book is beautiful; the sentences read like honey dripping down…well, dripping down something honey would drip down. Trust me, the prose is gorgeous. And that’s good for anyone. (And it is a Newbery Honor book. So there.)

P.S. I did sit through only one dissection. There was this guy in high school who would spend free time working on his frog for AP Bio, and I would hang out and watch him. It was probably disgusting. Maybe unethical. But in his defense, he’s a surgeon now. And in my defense, I’m married to him.

February 15, 2011

Would you want a gift from a fairy? Maybe not.

C.S. Lewis once said “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”  I don’t know this because I am intellectual enough to remember profound quotes by famous people, but rather because it was written on the wall of the coffee shop where I hung out earlier today.  It struck my fancy immediately, and I’m happy that it fits into today’s blog post.  Because fairy tales are not only for the young.  Fairy tales are for all of us and they give us a sense of truth about the world that we can’t always find anywhere else.

This book, a Newbery Honor book, was one of my favorites that I’ve read in awhile.  I absolutely loved it and it was a true page-turner for me.  And because I had read NONE of the hype about the book, or any reviews, I was dumbfounded with shock and excitement on about page 180 at what I had missed.  Because of that, I’ve decided to hide some of my reviews below a “SPOILER” line at the end of this post.  This might be ridiculous because nothing I’m about to say is not already in reviews everywhere, or even basic descriptions of the book.  But if you haven’t followed that, you might enjoy the book even more as you follow the beautiful story of Ella all on your own.

Title: Ella Enchanted
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Genre: Fantasy
Age: Middle Grade

Summary and Review:

Ella has always lived with a curse, set upon her at birth by a foolish fairy: the curse of obedience.  If you think it doesn’t sound so bad to be obedient (or have your child be!) imagine always HAVING to be obedient.  Anything that anyone says, Ella has to do.  She can try to refrain, but it causes her pain and she eventually has to cave.  So if someone orders her to cut off her head, she’d have to do it.  As a result, Ella dances a dangerous dance in life and lives differently than anyone else.  Only her mother and godmother know the curse but it affects every second, every decision of her life.  After her mother dies, Ella is sent to finishing school by her absent and self-absorbed father.  She runs away on a quest to find fairy who cursed her and search for a cure.

SPOILER BELOW – SPOILER BELOW – SPOILER BELOW – SPOILER BELOW – SPOILER BELOW – SPOILER BELOW – SPOILER BELOW – SPOILER BELOW

 

Stuff to do with the kids:

Okay, so here’s the deal.  You might have figured it out just from the title–it’s pretty obvious.  After all, her name is Ella.  Her mother dies.  She has a fairy godmother.  She’s in love with a guy named “Prince Char”.  Sound familiar? Because that part all comes in the early part of the book.  And then, for those of us who are a little slow on the uptake, there are more clues later: her father marries an evil woman (who becomes her evil stepmother) who has two evil daughters (who become her evil stepsisters), and by then even I’m starting to figure it out.  It’s another Cinderella story!  But much more than that because the actual story of Cinderella doesn’t start until more than halfway through the book, and this is not a character we’ve seen before. Ella is not a weak-willed girl who follows orders and becomes a princess, rescued by the prince.

No, Ella is a strong, naturally rebellious girl who is fighting all her life against a horrible curse.  And the fight is a wonderful adventure, a great read, and a beautiful reintroduction to a favorite character.  Talking with your kids about her character and how different it is from your daughter’s original idea of Cinderella.

Teachers might like to ask their students to write their own versions of a fairy tale, taking this book as a wonderful example of how to do so.