Monday, June 27, 2011

List of the Week (#1): Book-based Movies

Aaah, book-based movies...

Every week at the box office, there is yet another book being converted into film--especially young adult and middle grade books (Twilight, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the Wimpy Kid series, etc.). In fact, a book's chances at publication seem to rely more and more on its potential to be adapted into film, and I'm guessing that many YA and middle-grade writers are aware of/influenced by this as they write. I can't say that I am a fan of all these book-based (often loosely book-based...) movies out there, but there are definitely some that hold a lace in my heart, so...I present a list of my top ten favorite YA/middle grade literature-based films. You may wonder about some of the obvious omissions, so I am also presenting a list of book-based movies I have not yet seen but want to:

My favorites:

10) Speak (book by Laurie Halse Anderson)
This is an excellent book and this film version does it justice. It stars Kristen Stewart long before the days of Twilight.

9) The Outsiders (book by S.E. Hinton)
A classic. Even though it's set in the 1950s, this story about gang tension and social class is still very relevant today.

8) The Secret Garden (book by Frances Hodgson Burnett)
I loved this movie version when I was a kid. It is hopeful but, at the same time, doesn't shy away from the darker side of the story (the death of Mary's parents, illness, etc.).

7) Little Women (book by Lousia May Alcott)
Be sure to have plenty of tissues on hand--both the movie and the book are tear-jerkers.

6) Where the Wild Things Are (book by Maurice Sendack)
This book is all about the power of the imagination and that is exactly what the movie version celebrates as well.

5) The Witches (book by Roald Dahl)
This 1990 movie version really creeped me out when I was a kid. But I think that is exactly what Roald Dahl would have wanted.

4) Fantastic Mr. Fox (book by Roald Dahl)
Yes, this is another Roald Dahl classic, but this film version could not be more different from The Witches. It's a quirky claymation version of one of Dahl's shortest stories. Wes Anderson definitely put his own twist on the story, but it's fun to see how much one short book can inspire someone.

3) Of Mice and Men (book by John Steinbeck)
OK, so this isn't exactly "young adult" fiction, but most people I know encountered this book for the first time around 8th or 9th grade. This film version is moving and does great honor to Steinbeck's classic.

2) The Wizard of Oz (book by L. Frank Baum)
Sitting down in front of this movie is like taking a sip of hot chocolate during a winter storm. It just makes you feel good.

1) To Kill a Mockingbird (book by Harper Lee)
Beautiful book. Beautiful movie. I hope they never remake it because it is just so perfect the way it is.

And here are the ones I haven't yet seen, but want to:
1) Lord of the Flies (book by William Golding)
2) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (books by Bryan Lee O'Malley)
3) The Golden Compass (book by Phillip Pulman)
4) Diary of a Wimpy Kid (book by Jeff Kinney)
6) I Am Number Four (book by Pittacus Lore)
7) The Black Cauldron (based on Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander)
8) The Devil's Arithmetic (book by Jane Yolen)
9) Alice in Wonderland (book by Lewis Carroll)
10) Flipped (book by Wendelin Van Draanen)
11) Because of Winn-Dixie (book by Kate DiCamillo)
12) The Tale of Despereaux (book by Kate DiCamillo)
13) Millions (book by Frank Cottrell Boyce)
14) War Horse (book by Michael Morpurgo)
15) Twilight (book by Stephanie Meyer)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: The Fourth Stall

The Fourth Stall

by Chris Rylander

I had my doubts when I first saw the cover of The Fourth Stall (a spoof on the movie poster of "The Godfather"). Would middle grade readers be interested in (or get) the references made to the crime/mafia drama genre? But my doubts were soon laid to rest. The Fourth Stall is clever, unique and thoroughly entertaining. I wasn't the only one who loved the playful tone of this novel. Several of my students read it after I raved about it in class, and it was a big hit all around.

The Fourth Stall starts strong with the likable voice of Mac. He's not your typical 6th-grader. Mac is pretty much the "godfather" of his school. When kids need help (with a test, a bully, getting into an R-rated movie), Mac is the one they turn to. The title refers to Mac's "office," which is set up in a rarely-used bathroom in Mac's school. (The office was obtained through one of Mac's most valuable "connections"--the school janitor.) Mac is a kind-hearted kid, but also a shrewd businessman (with the help of his best friend/business manager Vince). Mac and Vince have enjoyed uninterrupted business since kindergarten, until a legendary bully that goes by the name "Staples" is rumored to be running an illegal gambling ring right under their noses. Staples becomes a threat to everything Mac and Vince have worked for (namely, the World Series Cubs tickets they have been saving for since their first day of business).

The Fourth Stall had me cracking up (somewhat embarrassingly) in public places--reading on the train, for example. There is just something so endearing and witty about Mac's tough mobster tone being used to talk about things like recess, bullies, substitute teachers and riding his bike. This contrast on tone and content makes for a lot of humor. But The Fourth Stall does not make fun of its characters the way many spoof novels do. Often, when writers decide to spoof on a genre, they do not take the time to develop realistic, likable, sympathetic characters. But Mac and Vince completely pulled me in. Their feelings were real to me and I found myself on the edge of my seat, hoping that their business (and friendship) wouldn't crumble the way Staples seemed to want it to.

The Fourth Stall has it all--laughs, tension, excitement, engaging characters, a message. Whether you're a fan of mafia/crime fiction or not, you'll get a kick out of this playful twist.

Original release date: February, 2011

Things to think about while reading The Fourth Stall:
-Genre conventions/Spoofs (How does the book make fun of/mimic the conventions of the mafia/crime fiction genre?)
-Conflict (What external conflicts does Mac face? What internal conflicts?)
-Foreshadowing (Which moments drop hints about what might happen later in the book? Which moment seems fishy to you?)
-Juxtaposition of tone and content (Notice how Rylander creates humor by juxtaposing the content--what is being talked about--with the tone--the way its being talked about.)

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: Museum of Thieves

Museum of Thieves

by Lian Tanner

SOOOOO GOOD! I know I could probably come up with a more savvy "hook" than that, but....THIS BOOK IS SOOOOO GOOD! Lian Tanner's Museum of Thieves blew me away. It is scary and dark and thrilling and inspiring and clever. But beyond being thoroughly entertaining, Museum of Thieves raises some very thought-provoking questions. It never ceases to amaze me how authors create elaborate fantasy worlds that on the surface seem to have nothing in common with ours, but soon are revealed to examine deep truths about the cultures and societies of our own humdrum world. Museum of Thieves is just such a book.

The story begins with one of the best, most-tension-filled opening scenes I have read in a long time. We are introduced to the city of Jewel. Ages ago, this land used to be filled with dangers (flood, kidnapping, murder, famine, plague, etc.), and it made the people fearful. A law was declared that all children under the age of 16 must be safely chained to an adult at all times. At home, children are connected to their parents by a "guardchain," and out in the world, they are connected to "Guardians" (who are basically like teachers/nannies/body-guards). But the times have changed, and Jewel's leader (the "Grand Protector") has become concerned about the power of the Guardians and their leader (the "Blessed Guardian"). The Grand Protector, much to the Blessed Guardian's dismay, has decided to lower the age of separation from 16 to 12. The book begins on this controversial "Separation Day," and Goldie, our bold and rebellious 12-year-old protagonist, is going to be the first one to have her chain removed. But (in one of the best introductions of a plot's conflict that I have read in a long time) suddenly, the Separation Ceremony is cancelled due to a mysterious explosion in the city. Panicked at the thought of having the freedom she longs for snatched away from her at the last moment, Goldie runs away, and so her adventure begins. She discovers the mysterious museum of the book's title and quickly learns that there is much more danger left in Jewel than anyone realizes.

This book is a genuine page-turner. As the end of each chapter drew near, I would promise myself that I would set the book aside and get some sleep, but when I got to the last line, I just couldn't bring myself to close the book. I had to keep going. Goldie is very likable--extremely bold and defiant but also frightened, at times, and unsure of herself. And she is surrounded by an entertaining posse of strange characters. The villains of the book are despicable and the moments of danger (which are many) feel extremely real and urgent.

But beyond being entertaining, there is a lot we can learn from Museum of Thieves, as it reveals truths about our own often-paranoid culture. The panicky, control-obsessed people of Jewel made me think of the ways we try to escape the necessary dangers of living life. I found myself thinking of security measures (in airports, and even in schools, etc) and people's willingness to trade their privacy (even dignity) to feel a little safer. Museum of Thieves shows that risk and danger are not something we can simply get rid of. They exist and are a part of life, and when you try to pretend they aren't, it only backfires--often in ways that are even more dangerous than you first feared.

Release date: September, 2010

Things to think about while reading Museum of Thieves:
-Symbolism (What might the museum represent?)
-Character development (How does Goldie change over the course of the book?)

You might also like...
Dormia by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer

by Rita Williams-Garcia

The story of One Crazy Summer opens with three girls flying across the country to meet there mother. When I say "to meet," I do not mean "to meet up with." They are going to meet their mother for the first time in years--since she left them as babies and toddlers in the care of their father in Brooklyn. After a long flight from New York to San Francisco, the girls find themselves face to face with the woman who chose to leave, and this is where the "crazy summer" begins.

We hear this story in Delphine's practical and no-nonsense voice. At eleven-years-old, she is the eldest sister and has basically been the mother her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern never had. Delphine is serious and dignified and often must be the peacemaker between her sensitive little sisters. But what makes Delphine such an engaging protagonist is that every now and then, her kid side comes through. It is heartbreaking because you realize that even though she has taken charge in her mother's absence, it is only because someone had to. Delphine needed (and still needs) a mother just as badly as her little sisters, but as the oldest, she had to step up and be there for her sisters.

This isn't just your average coming-of-age, mother-daughter story, though. Did I mention that it is set in 1960s Oakland, California at the peak of the Black Panther movement? Definitely not your typical middle-grade/young-adult story setting. It soon becomes clear that Cecile (Delphine, Vonetta and Fern's mother) is involved in the movement in some mysterious way. In fact, on their first morning in California, Cecile sends the girls to the Black Panther day camp, where they encounter ideas and personalities that they have never faced before. It is fascinating to see the Black Panther activities through Delphine's eyes. She starts out suspicious, but soon Delphine (along with the reader) starts to see that the Black Panthers are about a lot more than the violence that the news and media (both then and now) portray them to be. One thing is for sure: that "crazy" summer is to be a summer of change--in Delphine, in her mother, in the world.

This is excellent writing about a part of American history that is rarely represented in historical fiction--especially for the under-twenty set. It's great for readers who think they don't like the historical fiction genre because the setting is not oppressive to the story. It provides the perfect frame to a moving story about a girl learning to want a mother's love again after years of having to deal without it.

Release date:
Newbery Honor, 2011

Things to think about as you read One Crazy Summer:
-Setting (Notice how the historical setting/situation are used to enhance the tension in the story)
-Character development (The characters change a lot over the course of the story. What does this show/teach?)
-Symbolism (What objects and belongings are important? Do they possibly have symbolic meaning? What feelings or ideas might these objects represent?)

You might also like...
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Pinballs by Betsy Byars
Last Summer with Maizon by Jaqueline Woodson
Money Hungry by Sharon G. Flake