Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Graveyard Book

By reviewer Greta Marlow
The Graveyard Book
Newberry Award, 2009
Author: Neil Gaiman
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: Fantasy
# Of pages: 307
Publisher: Harper Collins
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes

Description: (from book cover) ”Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy – an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack – who has already killed Bod’s family…”

Review: I’m not a fan of fantasy or vampire stories, so I didn’t really expect to like this book much. However, the book isn’t so much a fantasy as it is a story about a boy growing up and learning about the world and his place in it. I ended up liking Nobody Owens quite a bit.

Rating: 4, for mild violence

Recommend: Yes

Positive: Bod’s adopted family and extended circle of friends are loving and kind, even though they are dead. Bod grows up to be respectful and considerate of others. During his short-lived tenure at a school outside the graveyard, he tried to help children who are being bullied. There are times when Bod is rebellious, but he respects his parents and guardians.

Spiritual Elements: There is no overt mention of religion or spiritual matters in this book – in fact, although the story takes an afterlife for granted, there’s no mention of heaven or hell. The story is grounded in a world in which ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, and magic are reality, which may make some parents uncomfortable. There are elements of Druid or ancient religions that play an understated role in the story.

Violence: The book begins with the murder of Bod’s family, but it’s not graphic. Actually, it makes me think of old-style horror, in which what we didn’t see was scarier than seeing everything! (Spoiler) The climax of the story has a confrontation with the murderer, but again, the violence is not explicit.

Language: None to speak of.

Sexual Content: None.

4, for mild violence

Recommendation: Yes

Sunday, November 15, 2009


By Reviewer: Dianne Title: Savvy
Author: Ingrid Law
Primary Audience/age group: Ages 9-12
Genre: Fantasy
# Of pages: 342
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Highly recommended

Description: The Beaumonts are a truly unusual family. At the age of thirteen each family member receives a unique birthday gift...their very own supernatural power or savvy, which they then have to learn to use and control. Rocket has a way with electricity which he is struggling to learn how to handle. Fish can stir up the weather with a stray thought or an angry outburst, causing anything from a light breeze and intermittent rain showers to a full blown hurricane. Rounding out the family are Momma, whose savvy is being perfect, Grandpa Bomba who can cause earthquakes, Poppa, who lacks a special savvy, Mibs, Samson and Gypsy, all of whom have not yet reached their thirteenth birthdays.

As Mibs approaches her thirteenth birthday, her curiosity about her soon to be revealed savvy turns to alarm as she learns that her Poppa has been severely injured in an automobile accident. Her only concern now is that her savvy might in some way save her Poppa. As she stows away on a bus that she thinks will take her to the hospital, a hair-raising adventure begins. Along for the ride are her two brothers and the preacher’s son and daughter...and all learn lessons in life, love and finding hidden talents.

Review: I really enjoyed this warm, feel-good, coming of age book. There is nothing sinister about the supernatural savvy that belongs to each family member, and it serves to create a bond that draws them closer together than a blood relationship ever could. Mix in some mischief and caring about others and you have a recipe for success.

Rating: 5

Positive: The strong loving relationship that exists among the members of the Beaumont family makes you forget their struggle to appear as a “normal” family and fully accept them as an almost ideal family. Their love for each other is evident from the care they take to keep from hurting Samson, who is sure that his pet turtle is only hibernating and not dead, to guarding the tunes that Grandma Dollop loved and preserved in canning in jars. Each of these unusual characters learns to deal with the hardships of being different and gains insights in trusting, hoping, and believing.

Spiritual Elements: The Beaumont family is a family of church goers. The children are tended to by their pastor’s wife when Poppa has an accident and Momma and Rocket go to the hospital to stay with Poppa. Lester is a Bible salesman and is the driver of the Heartland Bible Supply Company bus that eventually takes the kids to Salina where Poppa is in the hospital.

Violence: None

Language: H*ll is used a couple of times referring to the place.

Sexual Content: A mild kiss is exchanged between Mibs and Will.

Other: A plan was fabricated to fool Miss Lill into thinking that Mibs had called the pastor’s wife to report that they were all safe.

Recommendation: This book was a pleasure to read, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to the intended age range. Even though the protagonist is a girl, I think boys would enjoy this book as well.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Alligator Bayou

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: Alligator Bayou
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Of pages: 280
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Year of Release:2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: From the book jacket: Tallulah, Louisiana. 1899.
Calogero, his uncles, and cousins are six Sicilian men living in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana. They work hard, growing vegetables and selling them at their stand and in their grocery store.

To 14-year-old Calogero, newly arrived from Sicily, Tallulah is a lush world full of contradictions, hidden rules, and tension between the Negro and white communities. He’s startled and thrilled by the danger of a ’gator hunt in the midnight bayou, and by his powerful feelings for Patricia, a sharpwitted, sweet-natured Negro girl. Some people welcome the Sicilians. Most do not. Calogero’s family is caught in the middle: the whites don’t see them as equal, but befriending Negroes is dangerous. Every day brings Calogero and his family closer to a terrifying, violent confrontation.

Review: Life is not fair and sometimes you have to do whatever will save your skin, instead of what makes sense. Calogero learns this lesson the hard way when he confronts bigotry in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana. As a Sicilian immigrant, he works hard and generally does not go looking for trouble, but trouble seems to find him and the rest of his family as well. Many times as I read this book I was reminded of the injustice that is perpetuated by fear of those who are different, those whose cultures we do not understand.
This book was inspired by an actual incident that occurred in Tallulah, Louisiana close to the turn of the 20th century when Jim Crow laws were in full effect. (Spoiler) Five Sicilians were lynched when they served a black customer in their grocery before they served a white customer who subsequently entered the store. Donna Jo Napoli researched the history of this occurrence and created a story which will make us all remember the sting and ugliness of prejudice. Although not an especially fun book to read, it is one that is gripping.

Rating: 3 for violence

Positive: It is clear in this novel that intelligence, character and worth are not determined by skin color or ethnicity. The value of an education was emphasized as Calogero was determined to go to school even if he couldn’t attend the school for whites. He was encouraged to be an independent thinker. In addition, Calogero had a strong sense of family and was hoping to send for his younger brother Rocco.

Spiritual Elements: The Sicilians were from a strong Catholic background and called on God and the saints in times of trouble.

Violence: There was a fair amount of violence – from bullying and fighting, to the shooting of pet goats. The lynching scene, while not graphically described, was still horrifying.

Language: None

Sexual Content: Mild kissing between Calogero and Patricia.

Other: There was some use of alcohol; limoncello, a lemon liqueur and grappa, a strong brandy. There were no incidents of drunken behavior.

Recommendation: Considering the topic of this book, I would recommend it for ages 14 and up.