Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Book Roundup and a Disclaimer

I'm going through a number of book reviews from 2004 and later, which I'd like to post here before tackling some of my more recent reading. It's somewhat difficult for me to decide which ones I should transfer to this blog; sometimes, all I have is a few words indicating whether or not I liked a book on a first read. Other times, I know that I might have enjoyed a book, but I also recall valid criticisms of the book--only, not the nature of the criticisms. Sometimes, I know that I have a book that I didn't care for, but another reader might. Though this disclaimer will eventually end up many entries back, I think it's important for me to note here that the oldest couple hundred reviews that will make their way here might be somewhat thin, at the very least! I also hope that I can give a brief but accurate enough summary of the books I read before I started writing longer reviews.

Peter Pan: The Original StoryPeter Pan by J. M. Barrie
I'd only seen movie versions, and found the prose in the book unexpected. I find Barrie to be quite odd, and there are stereotypes and situations in the story that I think kid readers might wish to have explained or challenged. It is certainly an influential and magical read, though it's probably not a re-read for me.

When My Name Was KeokoWhen My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park (Random House - Yearling)
When I first read this, I could find dozens of books for kids about slavery in the U.S., about what it was like to live (usually in Germany) under Nazi occupation, and a few about Japanese internment in the U.S. To find a book about living in Korea under Japanese occupation surprised me, and as I knew very little about the situation, I purchased a copy. Outside of the first three examples I gave of books dealing with historical oppression, and the Civil Rights movement, such topics tend to not be on the K-12 curriculum radar unless they come in as literature--I knew nothing about the events touched on in When My Name Was Keoko before I had a (kickass) Korean voice teacher who explained a bit about the history to me (I no longer recall the context of our discussion). This book, based on real events, had some rough prose at the beginning but takes off after that, alternating chapters (and tenses) to tell the story of a brother, sister and their family. I don't have much of a perspective on the history of the time, and can't comment on the accuracy of the book, but I think it's an appropriate text for a middle grade reader to use as a jumping-off point for additional research.

The Spider and the FlyThe Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt, ill. Tony DiTerlizzi (Simon & Schuster Children's)
This is frightening! Unlike many picture books, this could be thought of as one without a happy ending--although, now that I think about it, I wonder who I'm thinking the happy ending should have been for! Perhaps I want the wrong character to be happy? (Or perhaps it's a little difficult to see an unhappy ending for a prominent character...) Illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi sets the tale by Mary Howitt to dark, cobwebby stills, and this was a Caldecott Honor book. Despite the very scary feel, it's perfect for those kids who like to feel shivers run down their spines.


  1. Re: Keoko, see e.g. Richard E. Kim, Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood (University of California Press, 1970, 1998). Kim calls it fiction, but I think most would read it as fictionalized autobiography; its narrative span is 1932–45, somewhat earlier and a bit later than Keoko.

    Despite being fiction, it's probably more useful as counterbalance (even antidote) to Keoko than a history book would be---and it's much more accessible to a general reader than the alternatives I've met. :) I'd guess that most teens 14+ could read and understand Lost Names, which is the same age range my public library has assigned to the more juvenile-sounding Keoko.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions!


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