Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

So I begin my journey to Narnia. I remember an aunt giving me a copy of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe for Christmas one year. As a kid I was very reluctant to reading assignments both from teachers and well meaning aunts. I have now become interested in the Chronicles of Narnia and the first book of the series has sustained my curiosity. Put simply, The Magician's Nephew details the birth of Narnia. Now that I know how Narnia was made and why the wardrobe is so significant, I'm ready to move on to The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe.

My favorite thing about this book is the realistic and captivating characterizations. Thought the book is decades old situations and reactions between the characters remain true and entertaining. Full disclosure, I listed to the book as read by Kenneth Branagh who really brought the text to life. If you are a fan of audio books, I would totally recommend Branagh's recording.

Monday, December 27, 2010

More from my literary world.....

I know that I'm officially on break from school because I've started giving myself projects. Not big projects (surprised?), but I'm ready to work again. The upcoming semester of school at UNT looks to be a bit lighter than my last (we shall see). For now I'm making it my goal to continue updating this blog with thoughts, feelings and reviews on the things that I'm reading.

I will continue to post on children's and young adult literature in the same format previously used. I'm also planning on posting quick blurbs on "grown-up" books that I read.

Since being on break I read David Sedaris' Chipmunk Seeks Squirrel. By in large I am an avid reader of Sedaris and a huge fan. However, this book was not my favorite. I will say that the final piece of the book "The Grieving Owl" was simply brilliant and I will surely read it again and again.

Did I mention that I'm a big fan of David Sedaris? I have a tradition of reading Holidays On Ice each year around Christmas. This year was no exception. After many reads this books still sheds new light on old holiday truths while remaining as entertaining as ever.

I've just cracked open my second P.D. James novel, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman. So far the book is extreamly well written with a pace that moves but still says "classic English mystery." The tone of the book is less dark than expected do to the pragmatic protagonist Cordelia Gray. More on An Unsuitable Job For A Woman after I finish it.

Up next, I'll be listening to The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis and reading Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Module 15: The Grooming of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Alice and her friends struggle through the summer before their freshman year of high school. Instead of having the time of her life, we see our heroine faced with a new set of challenges. Alice’s father is on the verge of becoming engaged, her friend Elizabeth is struggling with an eating disorder while her friend Pamela is facing major issues at home. Alice must also learn to cope as a dear friend and mentor struggles with health issues. The Grooming of Alice spends a great deal of time focusing on body image and the idea of finding your own “normal” as Alice and Pamela contend with Elizabeth and her struggle with weight.

Overall I think Naylor does a fantastic job addressing some tough issues teens face while refraining from becoming moralistic or preachy. The reader is allowed to process difficult issues like weight, sexuality, and relationships along with Alice. Though part of a series, Naylor creates relationships in this book in a way that makes a newcomer feel like a veteran. I quickly felt like I knew Alice, her friends and her family. As a general note, this book does express sexuality and the female anatomy in a very upfront and honest way. I would feel comfortable recommending this book to older middle schoolers (8th grade) and high school students. In my opinion, all references are made in decent taste that empowers and educates the reader.

Review: Booklist
In the "Story behind the Story" about the Alice books [BKL My 1 99], Naylor talks about how she keeps up with the contemporary teen scene. This twelfth book in the series is as relevant, candid, and touching as ever, both funny and reassuring about what it means to be "normal." It's the summer before high school. One of Alice's friends seems headed for anorexia, her older brother has a superficial girlfriend, and another friend, Pamela, is having trouble at home. When Pamela runs away and asks Alice to hide her overnight, Alice must decide if loyalty to her friend comes before being honest with her dad. Alice is a bit too wise and therapeutic (she says she wants to become a psychiatrist), but fans of the series will grab this for the poignant friendship, family, and dating stories, as well as for the facts about their bodies and insights into themselves. In a great climactic episode, the friends attend a "For Girls Only" seminar at the YMCA, where they learn about grooming and nutrition and also about male and female private parts. They gasp and giggle and cover their faces when the nurse tells them to go home and examine themselves with a hand mirror, but, of course, they do what she says, Then Alice tries to tell her father and brother about it.

Suggested Activities
I would include this book in a library display that focuses on series targeted toward older teen readers, primarily female. The display would include a sign that reads “Books Girls LUV.” I would also include the Twilight series and the Gossip Girl series among others.

Naylor, P.R. (2000). The Grooming of Alice. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0689826338.

Rochman, H. (2000, June). [Review for the book The Grooming of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor] Booklist, 96, 1880-1880.

Module 14: Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

In simple verse, Virginia Euwer Wolff tells the story of LaVaughn, a young teen charged with babysitting for a teen mother while maintaining good grades and potential for a good future. LaVaughn gets a job caring for Jolly’s children. Jolly, while fiercely attached to her children, is ill-equipped to care for them. With the help of LaVaughn and LaVaughn’s mother Jolly is able to get an education and learn to care for and support her children. During this process, LaVaughn gets an education into the real world, inspiring her to succeed in school to secure a place for herself in college.

I was struck by the simple, yet powerful truth conveyed in this book. The characters in Make Lemonade are faced with enormous struggle that is understated in many cases. Wolff brings the facts to the reader and gives the reader an opportunity to meet half way with empathy and concern for the characters. LaVaughn is naive about Jolly’s challenges in many cases, which likely matches the naivety of the reader. The reader discovers the books’ heartbreaks and triumphs with LaVaughn. This book is written in verse, making it simple and void of fluff. Make Lemonade is a great read for older teens and adults. This book leaved the reader empowered and inspired to create change but person and in others.

Review: Publishers Weekly
Poetry is everywhere, as Wolff (The Mozart Season) proves by fashioning her novel with meltingly lyric blank verse in the voice of an inner-city 14-year-old. As LaVaughn tells it, "This word COLLEGE is in my house, / and you have to walk around it in the rooms / like furniture." A paying job will be her ticket out of the housing projects, so she agrees to baby-sit the two children of unwed Jolly, 17, in an apartment so wretched "even the roaches are driven up the wall." Jolly is fired from her factory job and her already dire situation gets worse. Through her "Steam" (aka self-esteem) class, LaVaughn decides that it isn't honorable to use Jolly's money to prevent herself becoming like Jolly, so she watches the kids for free while Jolly looks for work. But there are few opportunities for a nearly illiterate dropout, and LaVaughn sees that her unpaid baby-sitting is a form of welfare. Heeding her mother, LaVaughn decides that the older girl has to "take hold." She prods Jolly to go back to school, where the skills she learns not only change her life but save that of her baby. Radiant with hope, this keenly observed and poignant novel is a stellar addition to YA literature.

Suggested Activities

I would use Make Lemonade as resource for child development students, teen mothers and crisis center volunteers. While no book or person can predict each challenge a care giver or volunteer might encounter, this book opens up the realm of possibilities for the uninformed while still creating a sense of hope.


Wolff, V.E. (1993) Make Lemonade. New York: H. Holt. ISBN: 080502228.

[Review of the book Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff]. Publishers Weekly, 240(22), 56-56.