Tag Archives: Personal narrative

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

navigatingearly

Navigating early by Clare Vanderpool.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published  2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
 (ISBN13: 9780385742092)
From the publisher:

At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.

Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.

But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.

What did I think about this book?

I LOVED THIS BOOK and thought about it long after I had closed the pages. The writing is beautiful and there is depth in the plot and characters…but I wonder if the story could have been developed even further and possibly published as an adult novel? This is a tricky review to write and I am thinking about how hard a “sell” this might be to my students (My oldest are Year 6 – equivalent to 5th Grade in the USA).

So many books these days have action from the start and many readers rely on that to get them hooked. Part of my role in developing readers is to get them to see the value of a strong build up in a story i.e. getting to know the characters, the setting, the back story – before reaching the action. I know that there will be students in my school community who aren’t mature enough readers to persevere past the first chapter or two. I found the start slow and whilst I am well aware that “good things take time” my reading enjoyment was punctuated with fears about whether or not I could get anyone to read this. Once Early and Jack have left the school and are on their adventure, the pace picks up considerably and there is action and adventure aplenty. Unfortunately it’s almost too much happening too soon and so many dangerous and unsettling things happen in quick succession.  Whilst the action and adventure ties in with the parallel story about pi, it did stretch credibility somewhat.

This isn’t a title I would book talk with a whole year level, however I believe this would be valuable and moving read aloud to a group from Year 6-Year 9. Some of my more thinking and mature students will want to read this, but I would prefer to show them the book and talk about it individually . It  is likely I will offer this copy to our Middle/Senior library for their collection as I am confident more of their students will enjoy it.  As Kirkus Reviews said “Navigating this stunning novel requires thought and concentration, but it’s well worth the effort.

Reviews – I’m pasting links to these, because all of them had insightful yet differing views on this book:

Travis Jonker 100scope notes:

Kirkus Reviews:

NY Times:

Publisher’s Weekly:

Teach Mentor Texts:

Megawocka! Granny Samurai : the Monkey King and I – by John Chambers

alt=granny-samurai-john-chalmers-monkey-king

Granny Samurai, the Monkey King and I  by John Chambers. Published by Walker Books, 2013. Paperback 2013. RRP NZ $17.95.

From the publisher:

Granny Samurai is small and dangerous to know. Her teeth are false and so is one of her legs. Her walking stick conceals a double-action repeater, of which there are only two in the world. She has other weapons too, which I am not at liberty to reveal. What I can reveal is contained within the pages of this book. My name is Samuel Johnson. This is our story.

Eccentric young wordsmith Samuel Johnson finds himself home alone while his diplomat uncle is off diverting a crisis in Azerbaijan. As Samuel sits penning his memoirs and wondering how to divert the crisis in his own life – namely the big, hairy brute that is Boris Hissocks – he spots the little old lady next door acting very strangely. Is she actually chopping wood with her bare hands? Then the Monkey King comes knocking, and suddenly Samuel’s whole world is turned on its head…

What do I think of this book!

It’s brilliant!

The story, the humor, the illustrations – what is not to like, in fact LOVE about this book?

This is a book that is difficult to categorise, it’s adventure and fantasy, with shades of Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney), Mr Gum (Andy Stanton) and Ratburger (David Walliams)and episodes of the 1970s show “kung fu” (with Granny taking the place of the Kung fu master) rolled into one. I enjoyed reading this as an adult and could imagine so many of my students getting a giant kick out of this too. Kids 8-9+ will just have to read this and see what they think as I would struggle to talk about the twists and turns in the plot and give it the credit it deserves in a book talk without giving away all “the good bits”. Some kids may struggle with understanding some of the words, but for those kids this would make a great shared read or read aloud – although in my opinion it would be a shame to listen to the very funny and clever text without the opportunity to explore the illustrations, even though the story can stand without them.  Granny generally steals the show – she gives Samuel and the readers the sense that he (and they) just needs to listen, do what he is told and go along with things and all will be revealed…which it is, but occasionally Granny needs to explain a bit more and when she does elaborate, it results in some very funny dialogue.

I love the way it’s written (scribed!) by Samuel – it is written as a narrative journal and the chapters are short. Everything about this book gets a big tick from me: the cover – it will stand out on the shelf; the superb illustrations with an oriental flavour on nearly every page (there is a wealth of small details in these that will mean reluctant readers might pause ever-so-slightly, take a break from the text to explore them before leaping back into the text). Because this is so funny and so brilliantly done, I would encourage some of my reluctant readers to try this…some  might struggle with some of the words and will need help as for many of these boys the vocabulary won’t pass the ‘five finger rule’, but I would encourage them to try this anyway; lastly I adore the author’s obvious enthusiasm for language, vocabulary and writing. Very, very clever, original and loads of fun!

Author website: grannysamurai.com (it is under development… but go there and see a wonderful illustration from the author)

RELATED POST:

A story to capture your heart and never let it go… ‘The One and only Ivan’

It is almost impossible to describe the impact this book has on everyone that reads it.

“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.” 

alt=one and only ivan applegate cover

The one and only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Published by Harper Collins, 2012. Available in NZ bookstores in the PB edition pictured here, rrp.$18.99

From the publisher:

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Book trailer:

Reviews and praise:

Kirkus Reviews (starred review): “How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage. … Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates.”

Gary D. Schmidt “This book will break your heart—and then, against all odds, mend it again.”

Source: Author Website

What do I think about this book?

Another book I am reviewing and recommending late in the piece. Like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I am hoping this book wins a Newbery Honor if not the Newbery Medal (announced January 28th 2013).

I challenge anyone young or old to read this and not see animals in captivity in a new light.

The One and Only Ivan is a work of fiction, but the inspiration for this imagined tale lies with a true story. Ivan, a real gorilla, lived at Zoo Atlanta, but on the way to that happy ending, he spent almost three decades without seeing another of his own kind before being moved to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.” Katherine Applegate

The story is told by Ivan from his point of view. I love the way the author captured the way an intelligent creature might see humans (his captors) and how he would rationalise his captivity. We come to really understand him, where he came from and who he is.  The way he rises above his own struggle for survival in order to help the baby elephant Ruby is a lesson for all children in understanding empathy, caring, kindness, hope and love.

This is a beautiful and moving narrative and is powerful as a read aloud. Useful for teaching both narrative and simile. Chapters are mainly short with lots of white space giving the book an airy poetic feel. The structure and layout is great for reluctant readers who struggle with too much text.

Highly and heartily recommended for Year 5-Year 8. Copies in both our Junior Library and Middle Senior too.  (From Year 4 or 8 years old as a read aloud with lots of discussion and tissues!)

Author website:

http://theoneandonlyivan.com/book/

Teacher’s resources:

http://files.harpercollins.com/HCChildrens/OMM/Media/OneAndOnlyIvan_DG_4.pdf

Extra Ivan goodness :

Interview with Katherine Applegate (Publisher’s weekly) about how the story of the ‘Real Ivan’ was Katherine’s inspiration: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/49777-q-a-with-katherine-applegate.html

Teachers – see this moving video by wonderful 4th Grade teacher Colby Sharp – I love how he talks about how this book affected his students. This is a teacher passionate about books and reading! Link to Mr Sharp’s blog here

Quotes from the book (Compiled at Goodreads) can be found here

RELATED POST:

Don’t judge a boy by his face… ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio

A book that has made a huge impact since it’s debut and release in early 2012 – I think it is a stimulating story for teaching about the PYP attitude ‘Empathy’ and encouraging Kindness. This is a powerful narrative – brilliant for reading aloud.

wonder-cover

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Published by Random House, 2012. Paperback available in NZ book stores rrp: $19.99

Synopsis:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

Reviews & Praise (source author website):

Kirkus Reviews December 2011: “After being homeschooled for years, Auggie Pullman is about to start fifth grade, but he’s worried: How will he fit into middle-school life when he looks so different from everyone else?”

“Palacio divides the novel into eight parts, interspersing Auggie’s first-person narrative with the voices of family members and classmates, wisely expanding the story beyond Auggie’s viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie’s arrival at school doesn’t test only him, it affects everyone in the community. Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too. A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.”

Publisher’s weekly: “…Though he has some expectedly horrible experiences at school, Auggie has lucked out with the adults in his life–his parents love him unconditionally, and his principal and teachers value kindness over all other qualities. While one bully manages, temporarily, to turn most of Auggie’s classmates against him (Auggie likens this to becoming the human equivalent of “the Cheese Touch,” a clever Diary of a Wimpy Kid reference), good wins out. Few first novels pack more of a punch: it’s a rare story with the power to open eyes–and hearts–to what it’s like to be singled out for a difference you can’t control, when all you want is to be just another face in the crowd. “ 

Book trailer:

Author interview:  R.J. Palacio talks about her inspiration and has some ideas for teachers wanting to use the book trailer as a provocation for discussion:

What do I think about this book?

I am rather late highlighting this book – when it came out last year I wasn’t working as a children’s librarian and I hadn’t started this blog. I read it late last year as a copy was held in the Middle School section of my library. Recently my family listened to the audio book as we made a road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. I was incredibly moved by the book when I read it and again, as my whole family aged 10-49 were enthralled by the story (there were times we all had tears rolling down our cheeks – the next minute we would be laughing out loud). It is both sad and uplifting at the same time – and the author never lets things get too maudlin, the sadness is tempered with just the right amount of humor. This is one of those memorable stories that stays with you weeks and months after reading it, probably for life!

‘Choose Kind’ will be the focus of the first Library display I make this year. I would love to inspire all my students to start the year thinking about others and how to treat everyone in their lives, and everyone they meet, with kindness and caring. This book has a powerful anti-bullying message. Recommended for ages 9/10 through to adult!

CHOOSE KIND CAMPAIGN:

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Teacher resources:

http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Wonder_EG_WEB.pdfReviews:

Teach mentor texts post on Wonder: http://www.teachmentortexts.com/2012/04/wonder.html#axzz1rpDrD0mC

Author website for RJ Palaciowww.http://rjpalacio.com