Thursday, October 15, 2009

Schooled by Gordan Korman

My 10-year-old son is a big Gordan Korman fan. I would guess he's read at least 20 of his books. According to my book jacket, he has written at least 50. This was my first time reading one of his books, and I was impressed. He writes very honestly, and I think deals with some intense topics, but keeps it appropriate for younger readers.

The characters in this book don't stray too far from their stereotypes, aside from the main character Cap Anderson. Cap and his grandma are the last two remaining residents of a commune founded in the 1960's. He has lead a sheltered life, and when his grandma is convalescing in the hospital, he is shoved into a modern day middle school.

This book reminded me of Stargirl. The stories are similar. While I liked Stargirl better, Schooled has a much happier, tidier ending. Each chapter is written in the first person by one of the characters. I think the technique works well, and provides good insight into the thoughts and motivations of each character. I still think Korman could have been a little more creative with his characters. They were so stereotypical, popular football player, outcast--on the chess team, no less, sidekick, popular girl, etc. But they were well developed.

The most insightful part comes when the popular boy (Zach) has now been outcast and is having a conversation with the boy (Hugh) he has tormented for years.

"My whole life, it's always been obvious what sports to play, what bands to listen to, what people to hang out with. It's as if I was born with a natural guidance systerm inside my head, showing mme how to be cool."....Instead of gloating, he actually seemed to understand. For Hugh Winkleman, the whole planet didn't come with a book of instructions.

Doesn't is seem like from a young age those kids who will be popular and cool seem to stand out? It's hard to explain, but I think Korman said it well.

I'm looking forward to reading more of Gordan Korman's books. Apparently I'll have plenty of choices!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Frog Princess by E.D.Baker

My four-year-old found out about the new Disney princess movie from their website. She was thrilled and told me all about it. When I heard it was based on this book (I'm not sure if it really is....), I had to look into it. Then my friend at book club told me she had read all the books in the series and really liked them.

And, I really liked this book. I didn't love it, but I think it is really fun. The characters are cute, the story is interesting and creative. It's not as predictable as I feared.

I liked the characters, but some of the development was a little confusing. Like the author had little details about them she wanted to make sure to include, and they were just awkwardly interjected. When Emma decides on the swamp fairy plan, it felt weird to me, and out of character.

It almost felt like a Disney animated movie. Cute characters, good storyline, but with a few painfully cheesy lines. Like when Emma mentions that her grandmother lived "through the woods," and "even my horse knows the way."

I also liked that Emma didn't do what I expected her to do. She wouldn't kiss the frog a second time because she knew better. She didn't want to make things worse. She makes her own decisions, but still learns from other characters. I think she's a fun heroine. I will read more of the series.

I just realized my same four-year-old was looking through my library copy this morning and now my little notes are lost. I was so determined to write a more thought out review this time. Sorry.

So I recommend it! From the little research that I did, the movie seems to be inspired by the book, but I don't think it follows very closely. Which is too bad, hopefully it will be a fun movie anyway.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Magician's Elephant By, Kate DiCamillo

I really like Kate DiCamillo's books. If you do too, I recommend this book. Her stories and characters are quirky and a bit strange. This one reminded me more of Edward Tulane and Desperaux than Winn Dixie. It seemed to me like a book I would assume had been written in a different country.

I love the poetic way she writes. Here's the opening sentence,
"At the end of the century before last, in the market square of the city of Baltese, there stood a boy with a hat on his head and a coin in his hand."
Isn't that pretty?

I do love the mis-match characters and how they recognize the good in each other and help each other. DiCamillo describes one of the characters as having "the soul of a poet." I like that.

Another great quote from a kind nun, "All of God's creatures have names, every last one of them. Of that I am sure; of that I have no doubt at all."

And, stay with me here, the elephant, while in captivity, "was saying her name to herself." Why? Because, "It was the name that her mother had given to her and that she had spoken to her often and with love."

There is a dark sadness in the book, but the end is happy. My favorite kind of ending. The characters take leaps of faith. The faith is in the magic, but I'm OK with that because it is such a sweet magical story.

I read this one early because I was the recipient of a generous Barnes and Noble gift card. If you live around here you can borrow my copy.