Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

by Wendy Wan-long Shang
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Copyright 2011

Personal Evaluation: I tried so hard to just skim this one but it was so good I couldn’t stop myself from reading it. Lucy felt like a friend of mine, I knew her so well. Her siblings were full of surprises: real, many-faceted characters that I was not expecting, ready to write them off to stereotypes of goody-two-shoes older sister and math-whiz brother. It occurred to me that, though Lucy had been Lucy all along, she had also changed subtly over the course of the book, as had her relationship with her great-aunt. I like that she ends up having a great year even after it seems like it’s been ruined. The whole time I was reading it, I was comparing it to Ribbons by Laurence Yep which I also reviewed here and is about a Chinese girl whose grandmother comes to stay. Lucy Wu was written about 15 years later and blows Ribbons out of the water. It showed me that the quality of children’s writing has really changed for the better.

What might interest children: When I was reading this book, I was also thinking of my friend Elana, who started a 5’2″ and under basketball club that I think Lucy would love to be part of. I think kids who are into sports will like it, but especially girls. Also kids who are in the throes of their first crush, experiencing sibling tensions, family changes, and personal injustice… basically any 5th or 6th grader alive (even boys, really).

13 Gifts

by Wendy Mass
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Copyright 2011

Personal Evaluation: One of these days I will stop gushing about Wendy Mass… maybe. This book completes the trilogy formed by 11 Birthdays and Finally, although it took me a while to realize that Finally took place in the same town as 11 Birthdays (since it focuses on a different character). Mass has an ear for dialogue and for how kids think and act. I loved how various aspects and characters of the first two books came together in this one.

What might interest children: There is some serious magic going on in this town, but only some of the residents are aware of it. The reader is part of this exclusive club and privy to its secrets. As hard as Mass tries to appeal to boys and girls, these will probably fall into girls’ hands more often than boys’, although a librarian I worked with used 11 Birthdays for her 4th/5th grade book club and said that kids of both genders liked it. Then again, the main characters of 11 Birthdays were a boy and a girl; the main characters of the other two books were both girls. I think kids will like how the ending ties all three books together and that the characters grow and learn a lot about themselves. It’s also a taste of small-town life for those who did not grow up in one.

The Giver

by Lois Lowry
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Newbery

Personal Evaluation: This is one of my all-time favorite books. Every time I re-read it, I see something new. The first time I read it there was the shock of the plot and the ending, and now I enjoy watching the ending unfurl.

What might interest children: Dystopian novels are very popular right now, and this is arguably the original children’s dystopian novel. One of the things that made the biggest impression on me was the absence of color and music in Jonas’ world. It really made me think about why those things might have been removed and other things I took for granted, and I think kids will like the challenge too. I think they will also enjoy recognizing pieces of the world they do know, like comfort objects.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred D. Taylor
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Newbery

Personal Evaluation: As a kid, I was instantly drawn into Cassie’s world, which was one I had almost no knowledge of – Depression-era South, sharecroppers, pre-civil-rights tensions. Once it occurred to me that this was the time period my own grandparents had grown up in, it really impacted how I saw the world. I read all three books in the series (the other two are Let the Circle Be Unbroken and The Road to Memphis) and loved growing up with Cassie. I got indignant along with her and came to understand what she was going through as a child of black Southern sharecroppers in the 1930s, to the extent that I could.

What might interest children: I think this is historical fiction at its best – readers getting so inside the head and world of the main character and really understanding the challenges and joys of their life and times. A librarian friend once said that kids who are big readers are the most empathetic because they’ve been in so many people’s shoes through reading their stories. This would be perfect for any kid in need of a little (or a little more) empathy.

The Tale of Despereaux

by Kate DiCamillo
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Category: Newbery

Personal Evaluation: I generally like Kate DiCamillo, but I was not as impressed with this book. I thought it was trying too hard to be whimsical and funny and so did not strike me as either. I did not really care about Despereaux or his adventure. I rolled my eyes when I read the unnecessarily long subtitle which is in vogue these days (see also: Toys Go Out). I also thought “oh great, another mouse book” – akin to how I felt when a 2nd-grader asked me for books with hamster protagonists.

In the end, I did like it. I still had some qualms, like the fact that much is made, in the beginning, of the agreement that mice and humans were not to converse and hadn’t done so for eons, and at the end Despereaux is launching into conversations with humans, who were responding without surprise. Or the fact that Miggery Sow (whose name made me uncomfortable every time I read it, and instantly removed any pretense of sympathy for her in my mind) goes home with the ex-con father who sold her to the man who abused her. I think that would’ve given my 8-year-old self nightmares.

What might interest children: I guess they find it whimsical and funny, because it’s a popular book – popular enough to be turned into a movie. They do also like rodent main characters, for some reason, and the ending ties together fairly nicely.