Category Archives: Crossover

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

three day roadBibliographic Information:

Boyden, J. (2008). Three day road. Toronto: Penguin Canada. (978-0-14-301789-8)

Plot Summary:

Xavier and Elijah are two Cree boys who decide to enlist in the army in World War I. In the War they become snipers because of their hunting background. It is also the story of Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman who refuses to lose the traditions of the past. When Xavier returns from the War, during the three day paddle home, the two characters relate their pasts; Niska to draw Xavier back from the horror of the War and Xavier to find redemption.

Three Day Road is the first of a planned trilogy. Through the Black Spruce won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Critical Evaluation:

Three Day Road is the type of books that can be read on a variety levels. It can be read as conflict of culture – native and European. It can be a book about assimilation or about being true to one’s culture and roots. It can be used as a companion book to All Quiet on the Western Front because of its’ depiction of the human cost of war.

One can also discuss the character development in the novel. The evolution and devolution of the characters of Xavier and Elijah would make a fascinating discussion. The contrast of these two young men who went away to war is marked.

One can also read the novel with a focus on the differences in the voices of Xavier and Niska. Both relate their histories during their three day road. Through the telling of their tales the reader is introduced to the loss of the native culture and the assimilation into the dominant European culture. There is a sadness about this loss and a recognition that a very important part of the people was lost during this time.

Reader’s Annotation:

Two young Cree men leave their community to become snipers in World War I. Three Day Road tells the story of how they change during the War and what comes back after the fighting was done.

Information About the Author:

Joseph Boyden grew up listening to the true stories of his father, a World War II medical doctor. Raymond Wilfrid Boyden was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He also heard stories about a grandfather and uncle who served in the First World War (Nurse). Joseph’s uncle Erl, lived a more traditional lifestyle with a strong respect from Ojibwa traditions which included making his own clothes and living in a teepee. Erl and his father as well as another native war hero, Francis Pegahmagobow, influence Boyden’s plots and characters (McKay, 2012).

Joseph Boyden was born in 1966 in Willowdale, Ontario. He was a voracious reader as a child who was reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica, volume by volume, by the time he was six. After high school he worked on his creative writing degree at York University and at the University of New Orleans. Now, he teaches Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of New Orleans.

For more information please read Joseph Boyden’s biography. He tells his story much better than I can. http://www.josephboyden.com/bio.htm

Genre:

  • Historical

Curriculum Ties:

  • Canadian History
  • First Nations
  • English – Canadian author

Booktalking Ideas:

  • First Nations and World War I

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Adult

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

The main reason that I included Three Day Road is that it is a beautiful example of Canadian literature and, in my opinion, should be an essential text in Canadian literature collections.

Reviews:

“The characters of Xavier and Niska and, to a slightly lesser extent, Elijah are full to the brim with life – they’re quite satisfying and believable as they are, and need no further stamp of authentication.”

  • Keymer, D. (2005). Three-Day Road. Library Journal, 130(9), 104.

“In straightforward, concrete prose, first novelist Boyden evokes a ghastly poetry of death: “small red flowers bloom…around dead soldiers and their rifles…cover[ing] up the horror before the flowers are pounded into black slime by artillery.” This is an exceptional tale of hell barely survived during World War I. Enthusiastically recommended for public libraries.”

Awards:

  • Nominee for the 2005 Governor General’s Awards.
  • Winner of the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award.
  • Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for 2005
  • Winner of the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year

References:

McKay, J. (12 Oct. 2008). Archive: Writer in Resident Joseph Boyden Biography. Retrieved from http://writer-in-residence.athabascau.ca/archive/JosephBoyden/bio/

 

Nurse, D.B. (March 2005). Joseph Boyden: Way of the warrior. Retrieved April 3, 2012 from http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=6573

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

SweetnessBibliographic Information:

Bradley, A. (2009). The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. Toronto: Anchor Canada. (978-0-385-66583-4)

Flavia de Luce series, bk. 1

Plot Summary:

Flavia de Luce is having an interesting day. First, she escapes from being blindfolded and tied up in her closet by her sisters. Then she is present to see the fear on her father’s face when he finds a dead bird with a postage stamp in its’ beak on their doorstep. Later, she overhears her father arguing with a mystery man in his study – only to find this same man dead in their cucumber patch the next morning.

And so, a new detective is born. As she says, “I wish I could say I was afraid but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” But it will not be her last. In her investigations she will search a man’s room, climb a tower, be kidnapped, and of course, perform some chemistry. In the end, will it be enough to save her father from prison or will she find herself sharing the cell beside him?

Critical Evaluation:

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent example of how a character comes from a certain place and time. In this case, Flavia needs to come from a home where she has a great deal of freedom so she can investigate the crime but also so she can do her chemistry experiments. Further, she comes from a world where girls are not expected to be adventurous or interested in worldly matters. Much of the humor of the novel comes from Flavia’s unconventional responses or her reactions to people’s expectations of her. Part of this can be attributed to her age. She is young enough at eleven to still be outspoken and be a hoyden. These behaviors may not have been as believable in a heroine at sixteen, for example.

Flavia’s ongoing spates with her sisters and irrepressible personality add a level of normalcy and humor to her character. As a result her character is Anne of Green Gables meets Sherlock Holmes.

Reader’s Annotation:

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce decides she must solve the murder of the man found in her cucumber patch to save her father from prison.

Information About the Author:

Born in Toronto Ontario in 1938, Alan Bradley has had a long and varied career as a writer, teacher and media technologist. After attending Ryerson University, Bradley worked as a television engineer in Ontario and Saskatoon (Jessop, 2012). Later, he served for 25 years as the Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Bradley has written screenplays and short stories and has taught Script Writing and Television Production Courses at the University of Saskatchewan. He has been involved in the local literary scene. He was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. He is also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, “a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings” (Author’s bio, 2013)

Alan Bradley was 70 when he wrote the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The story started out as a 15-page excerpt that he had written and submitted to The British Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award, which he won in 2007.

Interestingly, although the novel is set in England, Bradley had not been to England himself until he went to receive his award in 2007. But, he says, he grew up submersed in the English culture through his English grandparents and the English books and magazines he read. He also credits his wife, Shirley, with helping him research the subject (Catto, 2009)


Click here for an interesting conversation between Alan Bradley and Shelagh Rogers about Flavia de Luce and his newest novel, Speaking From Among the Bones.

Genre:

  • Mystery – detective stories
  • Historical fiction
  • Crossover

Curriculum Ties:

  • Chemistry
  • English
    • Mystery novels
    • Character development

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read from page 11 as Flavia adds poison ivy oil to her sister’s lipstick
    • Talk about pranks between siblings
  • Read from page 24 when she eavesdrops on her father to finding the dead man

Reading Level/Interest Age:

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I do not read detective stories very often but this series has received a lot of press lately. I heard an interview with Alan Bradley a few weeks ago and decided to read it. It was funny, smart, and had a good mystery.

Reviews:

Coon, J. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Booklist, 105(17), 35. (star review)

 “Only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book.”

Goldsmith, F. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. School Library Journal, 55(5), 140.

“Flavia is brave and true and hilarious, and the murder mystery is clever and satisfying.

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(5), 49.

Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley’s mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers. It might even send budding sleuths to chemistry classes.

Awards:

  • 2007 Debut Dagger Award
  • 2009 Agatha Award, Best First Novel
  • 2010 Amelia Bloomer List, Young Adult Fiction
  • 2010 Alex Award nominee
  • 2010 Arthur Ellis Awards, Best First Novel
  • Macavity Awards, Best First Mystery Novel
  • 2010 Best Books for Young Adults

References:

Author’s bio.(2013) Retrieved from http://www.flaviadeluce.com/view-authors-bio/

Catto, S. (2009). Alan Bradley: The old/new face of fiction. Quill & Quire. Retrieved from http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=10492

Jessop, P. (2012). Alan Bradley. In The Canadian encyclopedia. Retrieved from

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/alan-bradley

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

CuriousincidentofdoginnighttimeBibliographic Information:

Haddon, M. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. New York: Doubleday.(0-385-65980-6)

Plot Summary:

Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone finds the murdered body of Wellington, his neighbour’s poodle, late one evening. He liked Wellington and thinks that his killer should be punished so he decides to find out who killed the dog. The reader learns the subsequent tale through the book Christopher writes chronicling the investigation and the events that transpire as a result of his investigation. Although never stated, by following the story through Christopher’s point of view, the reader is led to understand that Christopher is an autistic teenager.

Critical Evaluation:

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been included as a text in many high school English programs for good reason. Haddon has created a work that covers a wide variety of themes and literary devices. His character of Christopher also provides great fodder for conversations about first person narrative and the concept of the “naïve narrator.”

Kunze (2010) in his article about the novel also suggests the novel is an excellent example of metafiction since the novel is shaped as the mystery story that Christopher was writing as a school project. The idea of truth and lie/real and fiction are further developed by Christopher as he tries to understand concepts of metaphor and meaning that is often inferred in language by context, emotion, and body language. As the novel progresses, this duality is further emphasized in his relationship with his father when Christopher learns his father had lied to him to protect him from some difficult news.

As an autistic teenager, Christopher struggles to understand his world through the rational. He likes mathematics because he can understand the patterns. So, he tries to find the patterns in the world around him; 4 red cars in a row make a Good Day, 5 red cars make a Super Great Day but 4 yellow cars in a row make a Black Day. He struggles to understand the emotional context of language and the interactions humans have.

Although in the extreme, these concerns are common to all people, particularly teenagers. We all struggle to interpret the cues we are given in language. I think this is one reason that this novel resonates so strongly with such a wide population. There’s a little Christopher in all of us.


Reader’s Annotation:

The death of a neighbour’s dog leads an autistic teenager on a perilous journey.

Information About the Author:

Mark Haddon is an artist, novelist, screenwriter, and poet. He was born September 26, 1962 in Northampton, England. He studied in Oxford University and later earned his master’s degree in English literature at Edinburgh University. In Scotland, he worked at Mencap (Kunze, 2010), an organization that supports people with disabilities in the community.

He has also created illustrations and cartoons for magazines and newspapers. He has also made a living painting and selling abstract art.

He wrote his first children’s book in 1987. Since then he has written and illustrated over fifteen books for children. He has also written for a number of children’s series for the BBC. In 1999 he won two BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Awards), one of which was an award for his contribution to children’s television.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was the first book Haddon intentionally wrote for adults. It is the first book to have been published simultaneously in two imprints – one for children and one for adults in England. His poetry collection, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea was published in 2005.

For more information please see Mark Haddon’s website.

Genre:

  • Realistic novel
  • Mystery novel

Curriculum Ties:

  • English course
    • Point of view
    • Character development
    • Independence
  • Social Justice
    • People with special needs

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read part of the book and ask the students to describe the narrator
  • Read the scene with Christopher fights with his dad. Talk about how hard it be be to parent a child with Aspergers
  • People with disabilities
  • Autism – What is Asperger’s
  • Murder mysteries

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book?:

My original reason for reading the book was that my daughter (then 17) recommended it to me. I think is it is a great example of a crossover book. I also think Haddon has created an compelling character in Christopher

Reviews:

  • The curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Book). (2003). Kirkus Reviews, 71(8), 557.
  • Hoffert, B. (2004). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time Time (Book). Library Journal, 129(1), 49. (Best books of 2003 section)
  • Huntley, K. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Book). Booklist, 99(15), 1376.

Awards:

  • 2005 British Book Awards Book of the Year, shortlist
  • 2004 Alex Award
  • 2004 WH Smith Award for Fiction, shortlist
  • 2004 South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature
  • 2003 Whitbread Novel Award
  • 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year
  • 2003 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize
  • 2003 Carnegie Medal, shortlist
  • 2003 British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award
  • 2003 British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year
  • 2003 British Book Awards Book of the Year, shortlist
  • 2003 British Book Awards Author of the Year,shortlist
  • 2003 Booktrust Teenage Prize

References:

Author: Mark Haddon. Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/authors/mark-haddon

Kunze, P. (2010). Haddon, Mark. In G. Hamilton & B. Jones (Authors), Encyclopedia of contemporary writers and their work. Retrieved from Bloom’s Literary Reference Online database.“

Kunze, P. (2010). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. In G. Hamilton & B. Jones (Authors), Encyclopedia of contemporary writers and their work. Retrieved from Bloom’s Literary Reference Online database.“

Mark Haddon (2013). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Haddon

Writers: Mark Haddon. Retrieved from http://literature.britishcouncil.org/mark-haddon

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book thiefBibliographic Information:

Zusak, M. (2006). The book thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. (978-0375842207)

Plot Summary:

Liesel Meminger is learning to live with a new foster family in a small town in Germany during World War II. In many ways, Liesel is a typical child; she fights with boys, she makes friends, struggles with loss and how to understand a world going mad around her.

She is also a book thief. After her stepfather, Hans Hubermann notices the first book she stole, The Grave Digger’s Handbook, he decides to teach her how to read and write thus cementing the growing bond between the pair and helping Liesel feel like she belongs. Books continue to help Liesel relate to her community and her neighbours through the ensuring years.

When the son of a Jewish friend, Max Vandenburg, needs a place to hide, the Hubermanns  bring him to live in their basement. Liesel soon befriends the confused and frightened young man. Their friendship is tested when the Hubermanns decide to send him away when a kind act performed by Hans brings them to the notice of the Nazis.

Critical Evaluation:

The lyrical quality of Zusak’s writing immediately captivated me. The mood of this sophisticated story is wistful and intriguing; much like how the narrator feels about the humans he walks among. Zusak’s use of language is beautiful and absolutely necessary for a book that is, fundamentally, about the power of words. Death as the narrator is a convention that is used very successfully in The Book Thief. One could write a paper just on the character of Death. Using Death as a narrator does allow the author a certain latitude with the timeline.

To begin with, Death is relating this as a story already lived. As a result, there is a lot of foreshadowing since Death already knows the outcome. The fluid nature of time also fits very well with the episodic nature of the story. Because the plot covers a number of years, it is necessary to have a natural reason to skip to the important episodes or events. Death’s visiting of this town and checking in on Liesel provides an excellent reason for the pacing of the novel. Another interesting result of having Death as a narrator is that the reader is able to see at a macro level, the scope of the War, and at the micro level of individual lives in a small town in Germany. So, although the Holocaust is in the backdrop of the story, The Book Thief is not a Holocaust story.

The Book Thief is also a book about books. Most of Liesel’s relationships can be described through the stealing, reading, and creation of books.

Reader’s Annotation:

The Book Thief is the story about the power of words to bring death and hope to the residents of a small town in Germany during World War II.

Information About the Author:

Markus Zusak was born in Australia on 23 June 1975 but his roots actually go back to the Germany of his mother’s childhood. In his Printz Award Honor speech Zusak (2007) said that his childhood was different than his friends because his parents’ stories were of the War they lived through in Austria and Germany. He praises his parents for their ability to tell their stories “in a beautiful, meaningful, and compelling way (p. 17).  

Markus started writing when he was sixteen years old, which he also credits his parents for. He says that his parents felt it was important that he could read in English and filled their house with books. Before he became an author, Zusak was a high school English teacher after attending the University of Sydney.

For more information on Markus Zusak, please see his biography.

Genre:

  • Historical fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • World War II
  • Holocaust
  • Point of view

Booktalking Idea:

  • Start with book burning activity
  • Feature a reading of Death’s description of War
  • Book trailer by ExpandedBooks

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up
  • Reading level 5.1

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I read The Book Thief after I read the review in Kirkus and fell in love with the language.

Awards:

  • 2006 – Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (South East Asia & South Pacific)
  • 2006 – Horn Book Fanfare
  • 2006 – Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice  Award
  • 2006 – School Library Journal Best  Book of the Year
  • 2006 – Publishers Weekly Best Children Book of the Year
  • 2006 – Booklist Children Editors’ Choice
  • 2007 – ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2007 – Michael L. Printz Honor Book
  • 2009 – Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Master List

References

Markus Zusak. (2009) Contemporary Authors Online. Gale.

Markus Zusak. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.com/features/
markuszusak/author.html

Zusak, M. (2007). Printz Award Honor Speech. Young Adult Library Services,
6(1), 16-17.