Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Vintage reads

 

 

Anthropomorphic. What a mouthful! But many children’s stories are anthropomorphic. Simple definition: a literary device attributing mrs_frisby_and_the_rats_of_nimhhuman qualities to animals or objects. However, Robert  O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH an anthropomorphic story, is not merely fantasy. or in my mind, science fiction, because many of the human characteristics of the rats originated with a science experiment in a mental health laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Synopsis

Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse, seeks help from a band of odd-behaving rats who are extremely intelligent. As she becomes acquainted with them, she learns they escaped from the laboratory at NIMH. The rats help save her son’s life, and she in turn, is able to save theirs when danger hunts them down. I suppose that’s more of a hook than a synopsis, but I don’t want to give a whole lot away.

 

Because we have moved book reviews to the new website, you can see the pros and cons and more regarding the Rats of NIMH at scriblerians.com. You can read more details about the new site right here on the News Flash post.

 

News Flash!

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For all our wonderful and loyal followers, we have a News Flash for you!

The Scriblerians have opened up a new site!

http://www.scriblerians.com   (click on book reviews to subscribe)

We will still post here, but we are hoping you will check out our brand new idea for the literary world. Here is a description of who we are and what we will be providing.

About the Scriblerians

The Scriblerians is a group of nine authors and critique partners who write for student readers. We agree that our target audience is not the students, per se, but their parents, teachers, and librarians. We want to nurture relationships with those adults who make book-purchasing decisions for their student readers by providing an essential service to them.

We want to provide reviews for books, especially those written for the Middle Grade and Young Adult markets, evaluating both content and literary quality.

This will help us recommend engaging, well-written books and offer discussion questions for popular books that may include questionable content for a Christian-worldview reader.

 

Here is an excerpt from of a critique done by Loraine Kemp.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a bittersweet teen fiction about a boy struggling to come to terms with his mother’s serious illness.

Synopsis:

Connor, a twelve-year-old-boy, is faced with unbelievable stress – a dying mother, a father who has split from the family, a recurrent nightmare, a domineering grandmother, and bullies at school. Then, a monster visits. But this monster, which Connor initially believes is just a dream, insists that Connor “called” him. Between dealing with the above problems, Connor must listen to the monster’s stories that force him to confront his anger, confusion, and frustrations. And at the end of the monster’s three tales, Connor is forced to reciprocate by describing his nightmare – a story of truth, and the root of his depression and anxiety.

 

For the rest of the post including pros, cons, and general impression, hop over to our site http://www.scriblerians.com

Again, to subscribe, click book reviews and plunk away. We would love to see you there!

 

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

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Ten year old Ha and her family have to flee Saigon during the Vietnam war. They are one of the lucky ones who make it out before their home is destroyed. In America though, Ha considers herself the unluckiest girl in the world. Tormented by bullies and missing the familiar of her home she struggles to find her place.

Pros: Again. Beautiful cover. Full of so much life and really speaks to the core of the story. This book is about a ten year old but the subject matter gripped me and I’m sure it would any teen. It’s written in free form poetry so it is a quick easy read but it’s full of so much to ponder and chew on. Ha and her family are very real and deal with very serious situations but it’s presented in a very gentle way.

Cons: There is a church scene where Ha and her family are required to be baptized in order to be accepted into the community. It is not judgemental. It is from the viewpoint of a child that does not know why getting dunked in water makes her acceptable. The Lord’s name is used in vain once in response to the student’s mocking her about “Boo-dah” over and over again.

Rating: I would rate this PG 13 as it does deal with real emotional topics and there is the use of the Lord’s name in vain. Although, I think the way it’s presented in the book is a great springboard to discuss other religions with a teen.

Personal Opinion: I really liked this book. Got teary near the end as Ha dealt with one obstacle after another. It’s also great to see the other side of the Vietnam war. A side that included real people who lost their homes and families. It is an easy read but there is so much packed in there that I’m certain this is a book that I will read again and again to peel back another layer of the onion.

Discussion points for parents & teachers:

  1. Vietnam war
  2. Belonging
  3. Bullying
  4. Loss
  5. Being different/accepting people who are different

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The White Water Fountain: A Tale of Innocence Destroyed

Vintage reads

 

Last month I shared the childhood story of my education into the world of racial prejudice (The Colored Water Fountain: A Tale of Innocence). I told you it was a set-up for the book review in a future post. I decided to make it book reviews—two middle grade novels by Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry and Let the Circle Be Unbroken.

Middle-graders are ready to expand their horizons past their own homes and friends, to take on the deep questions of life and decide how they will choose to live. Taylor’s books are a great start in helping them examine the concept of prejudice.

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Set in the Depression Era, the books follow an African American family in the Deep South, poor in possessions but rich in love, who have the rare distinction of owning their land, much to the chagrin of the white plantation owners surrounding them.

Both stories are narrated by Cassie Logan. From her earliest memories, Cassie knows she must steer clear of trouble from whites because whenever there is a showdown, the Negroes lose. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry starts when Cassie is nine. The main story follows events leading up to the murder of a white man and ending with a black teenager wrongly convicted of the crime. As we read, we live what Cassie lives—her fears, her pride, and her anger at how unfair life is for black families.

We also see the white culture of the time—the raw power of the landowners, the hate and arrogance in the hearts of so many men, women, and children, and the woefully few who see the injustice. The last group lives between a rock and a hard place. If they try to stop the evil, night riders destroy their homes and livelihoods, and they lose every person who might have been called a friend.

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The novel also contains its own water fountain scene. While my tale from last month was humorous, Cassie’s story could have been tragic. She saw a water fountain in the courthouse, and she was thirsty. Only it was a WHITE water fountain. As she stepped up to it, her white friend yanked her backward and hauled her out of the courthouse before anyone saw she was in the hallway much less ready to drink from their fountain. He deposited Cassie with her older brother Stacey, who was furious. With her. When Stacey pointed out she could have been hanged for using that fountain and Jeremiah had saved her life, any hope she ever had of being considered equal with whites died on the courthouse lawn that day.

Let the Circle Be Unbroken continues the story of Cassie’s family. She’s eleven now, a little wiser, closer to womanhood. Stacey warns her she can’t be friends with Jeremiah, who is always nice to their family. The black man has learned by experience, that even if the white man seems friendly, you never know when he’ll buckle under the pressure of his own culture.

Against his parents’ wishes, Stacey leaves home determined to help the family earn money. His father knows a black boy on his own is easy prey for unscrupulous white bosses. He follows every lead to find Stacey and bring him home. While mother and father search, Cassie and her younger brothers learn several lessons about surviving in an unfriendly world.

Taylor has written other books about the Logan family over the course of twenty years. She gives us an eye-opening and heartwarming view into the heritage of African Americans. When she must describe a violent scene, her words pack an emotional punch instead of embellishing every bloody detail. Her message goes beyond the sting of racial conflicts and offers hope to humanity through the deep questions of right and wrong, good and evil, and the light of individuals who choose to do right.

Skellig

Written by David Almond

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“I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered with dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shined the flashlight on his white face and his black suit.”

Michael has reluctantly moved across town to a new house. His baby sister is very ill and his parents are devastated and distracted, leaving Michael depressed and without his old friends. Exploring the overgrown yard, he ventures into a dilapidated garage. He discovers, under cobwebs and dead insects, a strange creature that resembles a weak old man named Skellig. He is such a pathetic being that Michael starts to take care of him. When Michael meets a neighbour, Mina, and he introduces her to Skellig. They move the winged creature to a safer place and take care of him until he starts to gain strength. Michael wonders if Skellig is part angel. Desperately hoping his sister survives a heart operation, Michael tells the creature about her. During the baby’s operation, Michael is sure she has died, but the baby lives, and the mom describes a vivid dream she had in the hospital of a winged creature visiting the baby before the operation. Skellig disappears but the healthy baby arrives home and the family is whole again.

Pros: The cover attracted me first, but soon the lyrical prose drew me in to the characters and the mystery of what and who Skellig was. Was it human, bird, angel or all of the above? The book is very clearly written from a boy’s perspective and voice, and rings genuine. Michael’s family is going through a lot of tension with the baby’s illness, and the mental anguish they are all going through is palpable. But the theme of the power of love carries through to the very satisfying end.

Cons: Michael and Mina associated with this strange human-like creature and hid this fact from their parents, so parents of younger children would have to remind them to never talk to strangers.

Personal Opinion: This is a very well written book with mystery, good character development and suspense, but more than that, Skellig can appeal to both YA and MG readers on different levels. The adventure of finding a mysterious creature in a scary place would appeal to the younger crowd and the lyrical prose and deeper themes would appeal to the older crowd. Skellig has won two awards and was nominated for five more, so this should give readers an idea of how popular the book has been. And I would agree wholeheartedly with their assessments. I highly recommend this book.

Discussion points for parents and teachers:

MG:

  • There are many friendships. Find and discuss three.
  • Michael was very unhappy in the beginning. How did Skellig help him feel better?

YA:

  • Themes are recurrent in the book, like love and nurturing, connections, death, and spiritualism. Choose two and elaborate.
  • The lyrical prose is different from many books. Describe the difference.

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Black, White, Other : In Search of Nina Armstrong by Joan Steinau Lester

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Nina Armstrong is a biracial teen whose mother is white and her father black. Fifteen is already a tough age but now her parents have divorced. Nina struggles to find her place in her family, school and a world where having dark skin labels you as “different”. Can the stories her father tell her about her great-great grandmother’s escape from slavery help her find own identity in a world that has gone crazy?

Pros: First of all, can we not just take a moment to speak of how wonderful this cover is?? Love it! I really like how this book tackles difficult topics without crossing a line for a younger audience. Nina is a very believable character and the layers of different points in history help to make it a rich read.

Cons: There are people who steal and shoplift but it is not condoned. Realistic (and pertinent) violence in the stories of slavery. Suggestion of sexual misconduct by slave owner.

Rating: PG 13 due to the sensetive topic and the realistic portrayal of slave life.

Personal Opinion: This is a well written book that I would recommend to tweens. Because it is written for younger teens those readers who are more mature may not find the tension high enough in this novel. However, this is a great springboard for discussion for those young teens who have questions regarding black history and racial tension today.

Discussion points for parents & teachers: 

  1. Black history
  2. Slavery
  3. Judging someone by how they look
  4. Self Identity (finding out who they are as a person)
  5. Speaking up

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Incredible Journey

Vintage reads

Who remembers the movie, Homeward Bound, subtitled, The Incredible Journey? Yes, an entire auditorium of raised hands fills my vision.

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Now. Who remembers the book titled, The Incredible Journey? Hmmm. A few uplifted hands spike from the audience like corn volunteers in a soybean field. (Can you tell I live in the Midwest?)

Yes, boys and girls, The Incredible Journey was a book long before Sally Field and Michael J. Fox lent their voices to a foolish dog and a sassy cat. Don’t think I’m criticizing Homeward Bound. The producers and director made sure the heart of the story remained true to the book, and I love that movie. It’s one of the few I’m willing to watch again and again and again.

Sheila Burnford published The Incredible Journey, the novel, in 1960. Between the slightly foreign voice of a Canadian author and the acceptable writing style from over half a century ago, kids today will have a harder time appreciating the original story than they did back when I first read the book.

Wait a minute. I’m assuming you know the premise of the story. In case you don’t: because a family has a temporary living situation that doesn’t allow pets, two dogs and a cat have been boarded with a friend of theirs. Of course, the animals don’t know why they’ve been separated from their beloved owners, so they run away from the caregiver and head home.

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The book and both movies pull at the same heartstrings. Yes, both movies. Before Homeward Bound, there was another film, appropriately titled The Incredible Journey. It was completely faithful to events in the novel and narrated in much the same way as the omniscient narrator tells the story in the print version.

 

You would think children would not enjoy the older movie. It’s black and white, narrated, and has no animal voices provided, but my six-year-old granddaughter sat in front of the television, enthralled. Similar to the 1986 comedy-drama, The Adventures of Milo and Otis, children of today still get wrapped up in a story of real animals against the elements.

If you haven’t read The Incredible Journey, go for it. Insist your kids read it, or make it a family read-aloud. Like I mentioned in my September 10th post, make sure your children eat their literary vegetables.