Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

mockingbird“…Devon says you can’t moan or scream or shake your hands up and down or rock or get under a table or spin around over and over in public.  Actually you can’t do most things over and over in public because that’s not normal unless it’s something like clapping or laughing but you have to do it only at the right times and places and Devon always tells me. Now I don’t know anymore.”  Caitlyn is in fifth grade and she has Asperger’s syndrome.  That makes it hard for her to read other people’s emotions (she uses a chart to memorize how a person’s face looks when they’re feeling a certain emotion) or to understand idioms (like “putting herself in someone else’s shoes”).  What she’s really good at is drawing, reading, doing things exactly the same way every time (Thursday is pizza night), and remembering rules (“You shouldn’t get in someone’s personal space”).  Caitlyn and her dad are trying to find a way to go on after losing her older brother, Devon, in a tragic event.  Caitlyn’s mother died years earlier, so it’s just the two of them.  The school counselor, Mrs. Brook, becomes Caitlyn’s main source of information about human behavior, advice on how to make friends, and most importantly, how to get closure about Devon’s death.  There are many light moments in the book when Caitlyn’s inability to see past the literal meaning of something causes misunderstandings, even with Mrs. Brook. Her many eccentricities are also charming, like her habit of naming gummy worms before eating them.  Her descriptions of others’ behavior can be quite funny –“We are at recess and I think Mrs. Brook might have Asperger’s too because she is very persistent which is one of my skills.  She is stuck on her Let’s Make Friends idea even though I am making it very clear with my eyes that I am no longer interested in this conversation.” Mockingbird has joined the fairly short list of books I love featuring characters on the autism spectrum: Rules by Cynthia Lord, The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, and Blue like Friday by Siobhan Parkinson.  Review by Stacy Church

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

heartIn 1841, while on a fishing trip to earn food for his family, 14-year-old Manjiro and his crew become stranded on an island off the coast of their home, Japan. With very little to eat and the remaining crew hurt or sick, Manjiro, who has always dreamed of becoming a Samurai, decides to be brave and search the island for help. While on the other side of the island, he spots a giant ship sailing close by, and summoning all his courage, Manjiro swims out to the ship. He is shocked to find that the captain and crew are “blue-eyed barbarians,” the “devils” his countrymen have feared and banned from their shores for the past 250 years. Although the captain is kind, the ship is a whaling ship and the voyage is dangerous and long. Manjiro learns much from the captain and the crew, but he is always torn between the excitement of adventure and the dream of going home. This book is based on the true story of a boy named Manjiro, who had the heart of a Samurai, and who is said to be the first Japanese person to visit the new world. Review by Loretta Eysie

The Lost Children by Carolyn Cohagan

lost childrenJosephine’s life with her rich father is very lonely and quiet since her mother died. Her father doesn’t pay any attention to her at all –he doesn’t even speak to her! And to make matters worse, he is responsible for a new town law that says everyone must wear gloves all the time. At school the kids hate Josephine because they hate wearing gloves, so she doesn’t have any friends either. One day while searching the old shed in the back of her huge house, Josephine meets a boy from a different time, but before she can ask him anything, he disappears. Josephine decides to investigate the old shed to see if she can find any clues, and while she is searching, she falls through the shed wall into a dark, scary basement. When she lands on the basement floor, the first thing she hears is someone barking, “No, no that’s all wrong!.....I’m going to throw you down those cellar stairs,” and “you ant brained speck of fly dung! Into the cellar!” Josephine doesn’t know yet that she has landed in a different time zone and a different world –a dangerous world filled with horrible creatures and a more horrible master. Review by Loretta Eysie

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

smileRaina was not looking forward to getting braces, but before she could even get started, she fell and badly damaged her front teeth. Middle school isn’t a very supportive place to live through the experience of having her teeth fixed. It’s embarrassing, humiliating, and maddening, not to mention painful. Her “friends” aren’t helpful; in fact they probably hurt her feelings more than help her. This graphic novel, based on the author’s real life experience, is about teeth and friendship –both sometimes painful! Review by Loretta Eysie

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

long walkThis is a story in two voices. First we hear Nya’s voice as she is trudging in the broiling hot African sun to fetch water for her family. The water jug is light going the three hours to the water supply, but very heavy on the way back. Nya does this everyday, twice a day. Water in the Sudan is very hard to find and carry, but without it, no one could live. This isn’t taking place 100 years ago; this is happening in 2008. Next, we hear Salva’s voice. It is 1985 and he’s in school, and like most students, he is waiting for the end of the day so he can go home. Shots ring out, and the teacher tells everyone to run, run into the bush and don’t look back. Soldiers have come to kill the villagers, so Salva runs. He doesn’t know where he is going or if his family is alive, but he runs. Salva’s run takes him far, far from home for many years. In alternating chapters we hear Nya and Salva tell their stories, neither of them knowing that one day they will actually speak to each other, brought together by something we take for granted every day: water. Review by Loretta Eysie