Monday, October 29, 2007

review: Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko

I had to read this book once I learned that it is about little kids who lived on Alcatraz in the 1930s. Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted to purchase Alcatraz Island and live there. (Plus, it's a Newberry Honor Book, so it sort of counts towards my goal.)

The book centers around a family: a mother, a father, a "ten" year old sister, and a twelve year old brother, our protagonist, Moose. The family has just moved to Alcatraz Island where the father works around the clock at two jobs so that the sister, Natalie, can attend a prestigious and expensive school for children with mental issues. Natalie has what would today be called autism.

Moose Flanagan's view of life perfectly depicts the struggle between loving someone and half wanting them to go away. He loves his sister, but she complicates his life in ways that most twelve year old boys don't have to deal with. Also, he illustrates the loneliness of the "okay" sibling. All of the family's resources and time seem to be poured into Natalie, leaving Moose with many responsibilities and few perks.

The feeling of this book stayed with me--mostly via the setting. The images of children on the island, taking a boat back and forth to school everyday, lingering just beyond the field where the prisoners play baseball, hoping to catch a ball, having their laundry done in the prisons.

So, the term is overused, but "heartwarming" definitely applies here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Harry the Nintendog

I love puppies.

I can't have one in my condo.

For my birthday, Matt got me the next best thing: Harry the Nintendog.

When I first tried the game, I was invited to select a breed from six choices: a labrador retriever, a toy poodle, a pembroke welsh corgi, a miniature pinscher, a miniature schnauzer, or a shiba inu. I choose a pembroke welsh corgi. I then got to go to the kennel and select my puppy from the litter.

When Harry and I got home, he was scared and unsure. I called to him and he would look at me, but shiver and whine and stay put. Eventually, I called him enough that he learned his name and my voice. Now he'll only come to me.

We proceeded to learn a few tricks (sit, lay down, shake, and roll over) and to go on daily walks. Harry has to be fed and watered everyday, or else he gets angry and sad. Last week I didn't play with him for three days. When I turned the game on, he was dirty and angry and wouldn't come when I called. It was sad.

At first it was a little weird to call to the digital Harry, but I got over that fast. Now it's a lot of fun to play with him (he romps around like a real dog), take him on walks (he's learned to walk on a leash), and to fed and bathe him.

The landlord doesn't mind Harry at all.

review: Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

A new girl, Stargirl Caraway, arrives in Mica, Arizona. The otherwise homogenous student body of Mica High School does not know what to make of the girl who wears long peasant skirts, plays Happy Birthday on her ukulele at lunch, and puts a tablecloth and candle on her desk in every class.

The rest of the book is not so hard to foresee. At first, Stargirl is an outcast, but eventually she becomes accepted and joins the cheerleading squad. Stargirl, as one might expect, isn't your average cheerleader. Sometimes, she cheers for the other team. Eventually, when Mica's basketball team loses, the students turn on Stargirl. In the meantime, Leo, a shy and average 16-year-old boy, falls in love with Stargirl, but is only comfortable with her when they are not at school. At school, the rest of the student body shuns Leo and Stargirl until Leo can't take it any more. To appease him, Stargirl conforms. But, in the process, she loses herself. Eventually, Stargirl reverts back to her true self, and Leo rejects her. Leo is sad about it later.

So, the plot was rather predictable. In fact, the plot came complete with the wise, ancient, and strange neighborhood archaeologist/cryptic mentor. However, some of the elements of the book were impressive. The Arizona setting was indispensably woven into the story. Desert images abound, not the least of which is Senor Saguaro, a giant cactus who almost seems like a character himself. Also, the message of the book is a good, if a little trite, one.

I would recommend this book to tweens, but probably not any other demographic.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

flight of the harry

Adorable . . . and the inspiration for Harry the Nintendog.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

happy birthday to me!

Someday . . . this will be my present:

Monday, October 1, 2007

review: Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale

Literary academics love to debate definitions. When did the Victorian era of literature really start? To which nation should an ex patriot’s writing be accredited? What is young adult fiction? Stephenie Meyer, one of the most recently popular young adult authors, noted her opinion that young adult books merely have young adult protagonists, while adult books have adult protagonists. That may be true, but YA plots also usually involve some kind of bildungsroman.

Princess Academy is no exception. This Newberry Honor Book follows the coming-of-age of its protagonist, Miri, as well as several of her acquaintances. Motherless Miri lives on Mount Eskel in a small mining community quite separate from the rest of the kingdom of which it is a part, Danland. Though everyone in the village except the very young and the very old labor in the quarry, Miri’s father will not allow her to do so. This exclusion leaves Miri doubting her contribution and value to the small and indigent village.

One autumn day a royal messenger comes and announces that in one year, the prince of Danland would come to Mount Eskel to choose his princess from among the village girls. In the meantime, the village girls were to be sent to the Princess Academy to prepare themselves to be princesses.

The academy not only prepares the future princess for her duties, but it opens up a new world for the isolated mountain girls. Miri’s world is forever altered when she discovers words and finds her place in the village.

Miri is a lovable and believable protagonist with quirks and yearnings and intelligence. Shannon Hale’s prose does not call attention to itself. The book is quickly paced, and the resolution is somewhat surprising but foreseeable. In fact, some of the foreshadowing was, to me, a little too transparent. I knew in generalities how the book was going to end only a few chapters in, but the story was so good that I wanted to see how the characters arrived at that ending.

In the end, a reader does not need a precise category in which to place this book. A place on my bookshelf is good enough for me.