Review: Eve & Adam

Eve & AdamEve & Adam by Michael Grant

Feiwel & Friends (2012)

ISBN 9780312583514

Set in present day, this is a great story of a girl (Eve) who is nearly killed in a car crash but because her emotionally distant mother runs one of the most exclusive biotech research and treatment centers in the world, Eve is brough there to be surgically mended and cared for. As her condition improves, Eve is assigned a project to keep her occupied: build a boy. With vivid descriptions and intriguing ethical and practical obstacles, we watch as Eve creates the “perfect” boy. Should he be smart or funny? Should he be athletic or intelligent? Can he be everything or will some things cancel out others? It is a discussion-starter for sure and readers will want to talk about the themes in this story. A good pairing with Frankenstein.

This is science fiction – teen style. Short chapters and shallow characters might get tedious but because the book is short, it reads very quickly. There are only a few other characters in this story: Solo, a boy who has lived with Eve’s mother at the biotech facility all of his life, and Eve’s best friend Aislin who is described as a slutty girl with a drug dealing boyfriend. Neither of these characters adds much, although Solo and Eve have an antagonistic relationship that makes for witty and sharp dialog.

Quantitative: Lexile Level:560; ATOS 3.9

Qualitative: Middle Grades (6-8) and up. This book is considered “High-Low” for use with older students who may have a lower reading ability. It is a high interest subject and the characters will appeal to older readers.

Content Area: English; Science – Biology

Common Core Standards: RL.8.3, RL.8.9

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Review: The Robot Zoo

Robot ZooRobot Zoo by Philip Whitfield

Turner Publishing: GA (1994)

ISBN13: 9781840280821

Perfect for STEM, This is a really amazing book for use as a science informational text, exploring biomechanics. There is animal anatomy and plenty of very detailed illustrations and cut aways to allow children to see both the physical composition of their favorite zoo friends as well as mechanical illustration to show the physical make-up of each. There is also a very precise biomechanical engineering aspect to this book, as the robotic illustrations show readers how mechanisms could be designed to function in the same manner as the animal’s natural structure. This book is great for incorporating STEM concepts in the classroom and allows for the exploration and discussion of various robotic functions and the biomechanics of these living creatures. Similar to The Way Things Work books, this one shows the insides in a whole new light!

The computerized animals are fun and curiously frightening at the same time. Aside from the 3-page fold-out of the mechanized giraffe, which is not to be missed, one of my favorite illustrations was the mechanical rhinoceros. The extra-strong supports, shock-absorbing pads, ball and socket joints and dual food processors keep him running smoothly – and his fly swatter (tail) is perfectly suited for those hot days in Africa! But not all animals are so big – don’t miss the T4 virus on page 42 as well as the Glossary, which explains and compares matching anatomical and mechanical components for students who may not understand exactly how  ear drums or nerves function.

Quantitative: No Lexile Level or ATOS available.

Qualitative: Due to the anatomical and mechanical terms used in the illustrations, this book is best suited for use in grades 3 and up. It could also be used in lower grades with guidance and additional resources.

Content Area: Science – STEM

Common Core Standards: RI.1.1, RI.1.2, RI.1.6, RI.2.7,

Additional/Digital Resources:

Robot Zoo website: http://www.evergreenexhibitions.com/exhibits/robot_zoo/

AAAS Science NetLinks: http://sciencenetlinks.com/tools/the-robot-zoo/

Personal Note: This book is a little bit Magic School Bus and a little bit The Way Things Work and kids love it. The revelation of “what’s underneath” really appeals to kids K-5 and this book shows everything – from the visual receptors (eyes), food processors (stomachs),  to the waste disposal units (yes, that too)- nothing is left out!

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Review: A Bag of Marbles

A Bag of MarblesA Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo – Graphic Novel

Lerner Publishing (Graphic Universe): MN (2013)

ISBN13: 9781467707008

This story is based on the true story of Joseph Joffo who, at the age of ten in 1941, was sent by his father to go with his older brother, given fifty francs and instructions to flee Nazi-occupied Paris for unoccupied France. The story of their survival is amazing but this presentation of the story is not. The boys’ journey takes them across a dangerous landscape via every type of transportation available and on foot.

I was disappointed with the language choices in this book and frankly I think younger readers would find it disappointing as well. It is not authentic and appears to be written in the hopes of attracting a specific age of reader rather than to make a great story that could be enjoyed by readers of any age. With phrases such as ‘hop to it’ ‘don’t have a fit’ ‘hold your horses’ ‘stop blubbering’ ‘you’re gonna get it’ and ‘doorbell ditches’ set against the backdrop of 1941 Paris, the symmetry is severely lacking. It is difficult to imagine YA readers buying in without realizing the graphic has been dumbed down.

However, I was very impressed with the graphic art itself. The street scenes, characters and situational depictions are beautifully done and integrated into an amazing journey of their own. I especially liked the graphics of the story within the story that the boys’ father tells them at bedtime. The drawings are stylized to offset them from the main graphic novel content. It is a common technique but cleverly used here.

Quantitative: ATOS 2.5

Qualitative: Middle Grades (6-8) The story is graphic and contains violence and some profanity. The themes of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany and occupied France, anti-Semitism and violence against Jews are depicted visually which brings them into stark focus for readers. Recommended for mature readers with prior knowledge of these themes.

Content Area: History – European – France – Nazis; History – Jewish; History – Holocaust; Biography; WWII;

Common Core Standards: RI.6.2, RI.6.3, RI.6.7, RI.6.9; RI.8.1, RI.8.3, RI.8.7

Additional/Digital Content:

National Holocaust Museum website – Educator resources: http://www.ushmm.org/educators

Holocaust survivor stories and links: http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/people/survivor.htm

Personal Notes: The original published version of this story (published by University of Chicago Press, 2001) was also a graphic novel, intended for ages 11-18. Joseph Joffo first published his memoir in France in 1971 and it has since been translated into 18 languages since then.

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Review: Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America

Paper Son: Lee's Journey to AmericaPaper Son: Lee’s Journey to America by Helen Foster James

Sleeping Bear Press: MI (2013)

ISBN13: 9781585368334

This is a lovely book exploring the experiences of one fictional boy coming from China to become the “paper son” his parents paid for. Although I liked the picture book in general, the pace felt rushed for the format and without pre-teaching, students will not understand the significance of the location or context of the events. This will likely leave K-3 students with a lack of character development and little understanding of the motivations and underlying influences that move the actions of the characters along. The illustrations by Wilson Ong are beautiful but I would have appreciated one or two similar to the last image, showing the characters in identifiable locations as a visual aid for young readers. Overall, this book could be a valuable part of any classroom library when used in conjunction with non-fiction  titles and resources to provide background information and context. There is a somewhat useful explanation of Angel Island at the end of the book, but overall the lack of bibliography and other media to link the story to primary sources prevents it from being a stand-alone resource.

Quantitative: ATOS 3.6

Qualitative: Lower grades K-3 picture book.

Content Area: History: US – Chinese Immigration; State – California – Chinese Immigration

Common Core Standards: RL.k.1, RL.k.3, RL.k.6; RL.1.1-RL.1.3, RL.1.7;

Additional/Digital Resources:

Li Keng Wong’s immigration story narrative: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/asian-american/angel_island/

Angel Island – California State Park website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=468

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Review: My Beautiful Hippie

My Beautiful HippieMy Beautiful Hippie

by Janet Nichols Lynch  New York: Holiday House (2013)

ISBN: 9780823426034

The author’s ability to bring the reader into the ’60’s without handing out the same old canned psychedelic drugs and crazy clothes really brings this book to life. As the story unfolds, it is a very sweet coming of age journey which happens to take place near the Haight-Ashbury district of the early 1960’s as it blossoms from a working middle-class San Francisco neighborhood into the hot-bed of hippie culture. The real discovery here for readers is that the characters typify the 1960’s in a way that feels real. The older generation with its 1950’s traditional values and expectations within society’s norms, women just beginning to see the power of education and equal rights in the workplace (and the bedroom), the emergence of folk rock music, 1960’s politics and the Civil Rights Movement and political assassinations, the conflict in Vietnam as it looms over the young men and women in the story who must consider its impact as they make their first adult decisions in life, and our narrator who finds herself in the middle of it – too young to experience everything but too old not to want to try. And of course, how can she resist the free love of a beautiful hippie?! The year 1967 brought more than just the “Summer of Love” and the dynamic impact it had on all levels of society is illuminated in this read. It came and went the way a high school crush does, leaving behind a changed landscape inside and out. An easy read for upper grade students, particularly reluctant or struggling readers.

Quantitative: Lexile Level 780 (High-Low level reader)

Qualitative: YA historical fiction novel written in a very accessible vocabulary level (High-Low) with high-interest content for older readers. Some complex themes and references to historical contexts which are explained within the text, allow students to understand the context and appreciate the time period as it impacts the characters in the story. References to the Women’s Liberation Movement, Sigmund Freud study of human sexuality, the assassination of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the use of psychedelic drugs are all here.  Some of the content is of a sexual nature and the language complexity is a solid UG level for YA readers age 14 and over.

Content Area: English, Social Science: US History – 1960’s; State History – California

Common Core Standards: L.9-10.1 – L.9-10.6; RL.9-10.1-RL.9-10.9

Additional/Digital Resources:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/love/

https://www.google.com/search?q=hippies+in+san+francisco&espv=210&es_sm=93&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=H-KgUs7XKYLjoASunIKgAQ&sqi=2&ved=0CCoQsAQ&biw=1680&bih=885#es_sm=93&espv=210&q=hippies+in+san+francisco+1967&tbm=isch

Personal Note: The book is well-written and the setting of San Francisco is fully explored with the detail of a local eye which gives the reader a feel for the city that is authentic and leaves an imprint in the mind.

Review: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and PoetReview: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

by Andrea Cheng

Lee & Low Books: NY (2013)

ISBN: 978160060451

This is the story of the life of Dave, a slave whose owner’s family own Pottersville Stoneware. When Dave learns the craft, his natural ability leads him to become a renown potter in the south who inscribed his works with sayings and short poems in spite of the slave anti-literacy sentiment in South Carolina in the years leading up to the Civil War. 

The pages contain a variety of voices and verses presenting the views of life from the perspectives of not only Dave, but also those who see him as their property, his two wives, his admirers, his champion (the owner’s wife who teaches him to read) as well as his adversaries. The prose is succinct and plain, much like the language and words exchanged in the time of Dave’s life. The power of brevity is beautifully displayed and subtly pressed into the pages using wood block illustrations. This is a song that shows young readers how a slave named Dave became an extraordinary man, a skilled craftsman with clay and wheel, and a literate man who found a way to share his messages of hope with the world.

Quantitative: Lexile Level 790; ATOS 5.0

Qualitative: Middle grades 4-8; YA biography written in verse.

Content area: English; Social Studies, Biography, Poetry, History-Slavery, Civil War

Common Core Standards: RI.4.1, 4.3, 4.5, 4.6;  RH.6-8.4-RH.6-8.9

Additional/Digital Resources:

http://blog.leeandlow.com/2012/12/10/what-does-close-reading-look-like-in-fourth-grade/

http://www.slj.com/2013/02/authors-illustrators/interviews/everyday-hero-andrea-chengs-etched-in-clay-charts-the-courageous-life-of-dave-the-potter-under-cover/

Personal Note:  There are so many things to love about this book it is hard to know where to start. This book was a pleasure from cover to cover. This “narrative biography, told in verse” uses words the way Dave used his sharp stick – to carve words that seem simple but hold great power. The wood block illustrations are carved as well giving this collection an “etched” feeling in every way.

Andrea Cheng combines the words left behind by Dave (Drake) on the pottery he shaped as a slave in the early nineteenth century with the imagined musings, “dramatic extensions” of truth and reflections of the people around him. This book is a treasure and illustrates the internal conflicts of those who believed in the mid-1800’s that slaves should be educated and that the human spirit will always find a way to make its mark on history. This is a book to buy, to share and to aspire to. As Dave says “… when I write, I am a man.” These are words you don’t want to miss

Subjects/Themes: Slavery, Civil War, Biography, Poetry

Includes bibliography and maps.

Review: Frankenstein

Frankenstein

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
Penguin Books Ltd.: UK
ISBN 0141439475 (ISBN13: 9780141439471)

I have read this book so many times – and every time I do it reveals something new. The first time I met Dr. F and his monster, I was in a high school English class so you can imagine the purposeful, methodical and academic lens through which I first saw the story. Tragic themes: Man as God, good vs. evil, human image, self-awareness, humanity and the need for affection and love, man’s struggle to find his creator, meaning of life, definitions of beauty, historical context of Victorian society, exotic locations and a journey the ends of the Earth, the emotional struggles of characters who are outcast from society, hypocrisy, religious struggle, natural selection vs. human design, morbid and gothic writing of the period, Mary Shelley as an unlikely author and the context for the story itself, and on and on and on.

The biblical themes of this story and the turn of events that bring the creator and his creation full circle are powerful and relevant in many stories throughout time. Man’s struggle to understand himself and the role he plays in the universe as both the creator and the creation is fascinating. Though it is born from monsterous origins, it begins as innocent as a newborn, with all the potential and of a baby, he  is transformed into the vengeful “monster” through the lack of humanity and affection afforded by his creator. The story speaks to anyone who has ever felt like an outcast or an alien among the masses.

Quantatative: Lexile Level: 1170  ATOS 12.4

Qualitative: The themes in this story are mature and even in its adapted version, this novel is best used with upper grade high school or college level readers. The text is complex, using figurative language with multiple layers of complex meaning woven into the story using language that requires readers to have some literary and cultural knowledge of the time and historical context in order to fully appreciate the meaning.

Content Area: English, Religion, British Literature, Gothic

Common Core Standards: Reading Literature 9-12 (RL.1 – RL.5); Language 9-12 (L.1 – L. 6)

Additional/Digital Resources:

http://www.litgothic.com/Authors/mshelley.html

http://www.shmoop.com/frankenstein/resources.html

See Linked Review: Eve & Adam by Michael Grant

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