Posts tagged ‘Newbery’

September 26, 2011

a single good book in A SINGLE SHARD

My husband constantly makes fun of my reading habits. Examples: when one of his relatives picked us up at the airport and I spent the entire car ride home reading a book by flashlight. Well, flashlight app to be more accurate. Yes, I have a flashlight app and yes, it’s probably the most used of all my phone apps. It’s also great for reading at night in hotel rooms when the kids are trying to go to sleep.

Last night I told him I was exhausted and going to bed early and he came upstairs two hours later to find me with my nose in a book. I think I just have a special fondness for staying up late with a book. It conjures memories of Nancy Drew books in elementary school, staying up way past bedtime.

Recently, it conjured a different memory–that of staying up late reading to cram for a class in high school and college. I haven’t had to do that in while, but with my SCBWI writer’s conference coming up, I was mortified that I was about to meet Newbery Award-winning author Linda Sue Park without actually having read any of her books. So after the first day of the conference I came home and started A Single Shard around 9:00 so I’d be ready for my intensive with her the next day. My husband turned the lights out and put his head under the pillow.

9:00 PM for me today is probably the equivalent to what 2:00 AM was for my college self. It seemed a daringly late time to be starting a project; it felt like a secret endeavor, like I might get in trouble or had something important to do.  Maybe both. And so there I sat, cuddled under the quilt, my family asleep, sharing the nighttime hours with a story about a young boy. A simple story, told with simple words, on a simple night. It was heaven. I’m on a Linda Sue Park kick right now, so you’ll be hearing about more of her books later.

Title: A Single Shard
Author: Linda Sue Park
Genre:  Middle Grade
Age: 8 – 12, upper elementary and young middle grades

Summary and Review:

It won a Newbery so I don’t need to tell you it’s a great book. This is the story of a homeless boy and the man he lives with under the bridge. It is the story of the boy’s quest to learn pottery. It’s the story of how he learns about himself and how he learns to belong to others.

What stood out most to me about this book was how disarmingly simple it was. The prose is clean and spare, light on its feet. I found out at the conference that Linda Sue Park is also a poet and that comes through strongly in this book. If I told you what happened in the book–the boy wants to learn pottery and apprentices to a potter, you might start yawning. But even though the action is there, and the plot strong, it’s the characters that make this a story you want to read. It’s the boy’s simple yet ardent desire and his willingness to work hard—and always put others first—to fulfill it.

I read it about a week ago. I liked it then, but the more I think about it, the more the story seems to seep into some place deep inside me and I like it more and more every time I think about it. What really stayed with me is the boy, the main character, and how straightforward, honest, and hard-working he was. He was the kind of kid you’d like to raise, or teach, or meet, or be, depending on whether you are reading this as a parent, a teacher, a girl, or a boy.

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.

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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.