The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults
Fiction/Fantasy & YA
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowlings
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Johnson, Angela. 2003. The First Part Last. New
York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0689849222
A coming of age novel by Angela Johnson
poignantly illustrates the heartache and trials of a 16 year old boy in New York City trying to raise his infant daughter
instead of giving her up for adoption.
Told from Bobby’s perspective, strong
emotions of bewilderment, joy and sorrow are on the surface of every page as the reader travels with him when he discovers
he is going to be a father on 16th birthday, then loses his sweetheart, Nia, to preeclampsia during pregnancy. Nia, in a comatose
state is placed in a nursing home and against the advice of the adults; Bobby chooses to take Feather home instead of placing
her up for adoption.
As Bobby attempts to navigate the frighteningly
lightening fast journey from carefree teen to responsible parent all the while attending high school and dealing with the
loss of Nia, the reader feels for him. Bobby’s love for Feather is so strong but the difficulties in the pressures of
both school and parenthood are glaringly obvious. While Bobby’s family is supportive, it is clear that this is his choice
and he must be the one to forgo sleep when little Feather is awake all night.
Francisca Goldsmith, reviewer for
School Library Journal, states, “Bobby is both boy and man, responsible and overwhelmed,
near panic and able to plan an intelligent and loving future Feather, the daughter he adores and nurtures.”
Recommended for children age 12 and up,
this novel speaks of hope and pain in the rush to grow up quickly.
Johnson, is also author of Toning the Sweep, a Coretta Scott King Award winner, a School Library Journal Best Book, and a Booklist Editor's
Choice. Her first novel, Heaven, was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award.
Johnson, Angela. 2003. The First Part Last. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0689849222
Goldsmith, Francisca. 20033. The First Part Last (book review). School Library Journal. July 1, 2003.
Website, available at http://www.teenreads.com/
Rowlings, J.K. 1999. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 0439136350. Read by Jim Dale.
J.K. Rowlings scores another hit with her
third book in her Harry Potter series. This audiobook is narrated by accomplished English actor and singer Jim Dale. Dale
is exceptional as the narrator, in order to successfully create the 134 different voices; he incorporates English, Irish,
Scottish and Welsh accents.
School Library Journal reviewer,
Lori Craft states, “Adding Dale’s vocal talents to Rowling’s already
well-written and engaging story makes this a quality audiobook worthy of inclusion in all audio collections.”
Unabridged on ten compact discs, the sound
quality is clear without static or background noises. Dale’s use of multiple voices is consistent and believable. Each
character is lucid and distinguishable. The female characters even sound womanly. The twelve hours of recordings pass quickly.
In this book, Harry is once again in danger,
this time from Sirius Black, a feared and possibly mad wizard convicted of multiple murders. Black escapes from the Prison
of Azkaban and is heading toward Hogwarts to seek retribution against Harry for causing Voldemort’s downfall. Sirius
Black is also accused of betraying Harry’s parents to the evil Voldemort.
The characters are extremely well developed,
new ones are introduced and Harry develops and matures as he faces the reality of his parents’ deaths. Exciting battles
and turmoil exist on and off the Quidditch field. The Hogwarts classes are ingenious and the new characters interesting and
creepy such as the new teacher, Professor Lupin who also happens to be a werewolf.
Mysteries abound including the dementors,
guards hired to protect Harry, chill him to the bone with apprehension without affecting the others around them.
This installment seems to serve a transitional
role in the seven book series bringing to life small details mentioned in the first two books. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ends with a gripping finale ensuring more amazing adventures are sure
to follow in the next books.
The final paragraph of the book guarantees
that the reader will be first in line to buy or borrow the next book, “And grinning
broadly at the look of horror on Uncle Vernon’s face, Harry sets off toward the station exit, Hedwig rattling along
in front of him, for what looked like a much better summer than the last.”
Rowlings, J.K. 1999. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press.
Craft, Lori. 1999.Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (book review). School Library Journal. May 1, 2000.
Website, available at http://www.jkrowling.com/
Website, available at http://www.scholastic.com/harrypotter/author/
In a fictional journey of self discovery,
Nancy Farmer has a hit in The House of the Scorpion. Young Matteo (Matt) D’Alacran;
grows up favored, yet despised and alone as the clone of a wealthy evil man. The setting is a large ranch called Opium on
the Mexican-American border.
Clones are used strictly for the harvesting
of body parts so that the rich may continue to live as their organs age. Clones normally are deliberately brain damaged at
birth and kept as vegetables, Matt is not damaged, he is pampered and raised as a pet but loathed by all humans expect his
evil older clone, El Patron, and his nurse and his bodyguard.
Matt’s nurse, Celia, and body
guard, Tam Lin, serve as his surrogate parents, always gently leading him on the path of rightousness. He is told early on
by Tam Lin, “I’ll tell you this: El Patron has his good side and his bad
side. When he was young he made a choice, like a tree does when it decides to grow one way or the other. He grew large and
green until he shadowed over the whole forest, but most of his branches are twisted.”
As he grows Matt remembers this advice
and realizes that although he was born the clone of a very evil man it is through choices not genes that one becomes evil.
The book is exciting with many surprising
twists and turns as Matt discovers that El Patron achieved wealth through enslaving humans to harvest opium to sell to the
rest of the world. The slaves, called eejits, have a chip planted in their brains to remove all free thought. Only capable
of following direct commands, they will not even rest or eat if not told to do so.
Upon the death of El Patron, Matt makes
a perilous escape only to land in an horrific orphanage. Here he learns the lessons of being a truly good human; teamwork,
friendship and the strong should protect the weak. Matt and his friends outsmart the evil overseers and end up reporting the
terrible orphanage situation to the proper authorities.
The theme of evil through dictatorship
and domination is prevalent throughout the book. Free choice is like a tiny seed in Matt’s brain that grows as he discovers
the good in humanity and the absolute corruptible evil of greed and selfishness.
The book climaxes with Matt, at great personal
risk, choosing to go back to Opium and attempt to save the people he cares for and free the slaves.
The ending is wrapped up too quickly and
much too easily, after risking his life to return, Matt slips easily into the role of new ruler of Opium; making plans to
free the slaves, change the cash crop from opium and stop the cloning.
The Hornbook review states that,
“Throughout the story she (Farmer) has raised questions about the meaning of
life and death and about the nature of one’s responsibility for others, and in so doing, has created a thought-provoking
piece of science fiction.”
Nancy Farmer’s, The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, was named a Newbery Award Honor Book in 1995, and also honored as a Notable Book
and a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association, and an Honor Book by the Golden Kite Awards, awarded
by the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators. The House of the Scorpion
won the 2002 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
Recommended for middle and high school,
this book would work will as a companion to Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and is
sure to spark interesting discussions on the true meaning of being a responsible human.
Farmer, Nancy. 2002. House of the Scorpion. New
York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0689852223
Hornbook. 2002. House of the Scorpion (book review). The Hornbook. November 1, 2002.
Website, available at http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/
Website, available at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/writers/
Kadohata, Cynthia. 2004. Kira-Kira. New
York: Atheum Books. ISBN: 0689856393
The cover of the book shows two Japanese-American
girls, sisters Katie, 5 and Lynn 9. Lynn is wrapped in a beautiful blue afghan,
her favorite color. Lynn, the ideal daughter, is almost too good to be true, she sees the kira-kira (glittering) in everything
and shares her upbeat nature with her little sister. The story, told from the young voice of Katie, shares the courage, frustrations
and loving moments of a family simply trying to better itself through hard work and commitment.
In 1956, because of the need for better
employment, the family moves from a supportive Japanese community in Iowa to
the rural town of Chesterfield, Georgia. The girls parents, Mr. and Mrs. Takeshima
take jobs in local chicken hatcheries where shifts are long and work conditions are wretched. Workers are not even allowed
bathroom breaks. There is no health insurance, sick days or funeral leave.
The children become latch key kids as their
parents work double and triple shifts in their quest to save for a house of their own. The children contribute by saving their
weekly nickel allowance.
addition to Lynn and Katie’s encounters with racial discrimination, the
family struggles financially and Mrs. Takeshima becomes pregnant. Sam, the new
child becomes Katie’s responsibility as she was Lynn’s and she treats
him with the same love and affection that Lynn showered on her.
A series of unfortunate events occur, Sam’s
foot is caught in a trap and needs medical attention, Lynn begins ailing from
a mysterious fatiguing illness and Katie must assume more and more responsibilities.
As the family is crushed under the medical
bills, workers at the chicken plant push for reform. The Takeshima’s do not join in the labor movement until the end
when after losing Lynn, Mrs. Takeshima realizes that the other families are in
the same difficult straits.
Recommended for high school and up, this
novel is both depressing and uplifting. As Katie journeys toward adulthood, she realizes that she must make sacrifices and
can longer be the indulged little sister.
the end, she (Katie) tries to honor her sister’s memory through the valuable lessons that Lynn taught her and
by always looking for the glitter, the kira-kira in life.” Eileen Kuhl, reviewer for Voice of Youth Advocates.
Kadohata earned the 2005 Newbery for Kira-Kira, this is her second novel. The first The
Foating World was also about Japanese-Americans in the 1950s.
Kadohata, Cynthia. 2004. Kira-Kira. New York: Atheum Books. ISBN: 0689856393
Kuhl, Eileen. 2004. Kira-Kira. (book review). Voice of Youth Advocates. August 1, 2004.
Euwer. 1993. Make Lemonade. New York:
Henry Holt & Co. ISBN: 0805022287
Virginia Euwer Wolff uses an unusual structure for her novel Make Lemonade, it is written in rhythmic prose arranged in open verse in the voice of 14 year old LaVaughn. This
style of writing draws the reader into the nitty gritty of the story. The chapters are divided by a picture of a little sticky
handprint and this is also featured on the back cover. The front cover simply has a pitcher of lemonade, a pot of dirt with
lemons seeds and a lemon.
“The form invites readers to drop
some preconceptions about novels, and they will find the plot and characters riveting. Make Lemonade is a triumphant, outstanding
story,” states School Library Journal book reviewer Carolyn Noah.
The reader is right there in the filthy squalid apartment of Jolly, a 17 year
old single mother who fiercely loves her two small children and is deathly afraid of “Welfare” because in her
frightening past she has witnessed it taking children from their families. The setting could be any city and housing project,
the girls any two teenagers. Focused more on the verse than description, the story tells the struggles of the teens to get
out of poverty.
The barely literate Jolly is employed and enlists the services of 14 year old
LaVaughn to babysit Jeremy and Jilly while she is at work. Fired from her job when she refuses to succumb to her boss’s
sexual advances, life quickly gets more difficult as money runs out to pay for basics much less the babysitter. LaVaughn finds
that this isn’t just a babysitting job; she really loves this family and wants to see them succeed.
Hearing her mother’s advice running through her head that Jolly needs
to take hold of her bootstraps and pull herself up, she gently but firmly pushes Jolly to enroll in school in a mother’s
program with childcare provided.
go in 2 directions,
either up or down.
and you remember
The theme of “make lemonade when life deals you lemons” runs through
the book, Jolly discovers it when told a story in Self Esteem class in school about a poor blind widow woman who arrives home
to her hungry children with a lemon instead of an orange. She makes lemonade. This
young mother, raised in foster homes and then homeless, finds hope in this story. Jolly begins to see that opportunity will
visit but not always as in the guise requested and it is up to the recipient to “make lemonade.” Recommended for
middle school and up, this book is an affirmation of human spirit and dignity.
Stephanie Zvirin, reviewer for Booklist sums up the book, “At once disturbing and uplifting, this finely nuanced, touching portrait proudly affirms our ability to reach
beyond ourselves and out to one another.”
Virginia Euwer Wolff’s first
novel for teens, Probably Still Nick Sawansen, is regarded as one of the 100 Best
of the Best Books for Young Adults published between 1967 and 1992. The sequel
to Make Lemonade, True Believer, won
the National Book Award.
Euwer. 1993. Make Lemonade. New York:
Henry Holt & Co. ISBN: 0805022287
Noah, Caroylyn. 1993. Make Lemonade
(book review). School Library Journal. July 1, 1993.
Zvirin, Stephanie. 1993. Make Lemonade
(book review). Booklist. July 1, 1993.
Website, available at www.authors4teens.com