Category Archives: Fantasy

Scott Pilgrim vs the World Directed by Edgar Wright

scott pilgrim

Bibliographic Information:

Wright, E., Vasconcellos, R., Dale, J. M., LeBoff, J., Siegel, A., Platt, M., Gitter, E., … Universal Studios Home Entertainment (Firm). (2010). Scott Pilgrim vs. the world. Universal City, CA: Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Plot Summary:

Scott Pilgrim is the bass guitarist for a garage band called Sex Bob-omb. He is unemployed and his girlfriend is still in high school.  In short, Scott is stuck in a rut.  He meets Ramona Flowers and falls in like with her .But she comes in baggage in the form of her seven evil who are coming to kill him. He decides to break up with Knives but he just can’t do it. So, he is juggling two girls and fighting all the ex-boyfriends.

Critical Evaluation:

Based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim starts with the basic storyline of a guy in the dumps meeting the girl that who will help him rise to the next level. Part way through the movie it turns into a video game with sound effects, slow motion, and cartoon action.

Scott Pilgrim feels more like a video game than a movie. The interaction between the characters is quirky and plays with many of the teenage stereotypes such as how teenagers speak and dress. It is overly dramatic and theatrical and with the songs sequences that just happen, it plays into the video game subculture.

Reader’s Annotation:

Scott is really into Ramona. To get her, he has to defeat all her evil ex-boyfriends.

Information About the Author:

Bryan Lee O’Malley (writer of the graphic novels)

Bryan was born February 21, 1979 in London, Ontario. He realized early that he loved creating comics. He has tried film making in college and made music as the band Kupek. He released seven albums.

O’Malley started in comics by doing illustrating and lettering work for Oni Press. Scott Pilgrim was second graphic novel project (Albert, n.d.).

Edgar Wright (Director)

Wright was born April 18, 1974 in Dorset, England but spent his childhood in Somerset, England. He started directing films at the age of 14. He has directed a number of television shows and films in England – mostly mixed genres that include humour (Edgar Wright).

Genre:

  • Action and adventure films
  • Comedy films
  • Comic book adaptation

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • N/A

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up
  • MPAA rating: PG-13; for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references.

Challenge Issues:

  • Sex, drugs, language, homosexuality, comic violence

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    • Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion documents
    • Provide school’s selection policy
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

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

I included Scott Pilgrim because when I told my students about this program I was told this title was a must have. This is also an example of why it is important  to look at reviews. This is definitely not a movie that I would have included on my own.

Reviews:

“Its script may not be as dazzling as its eye-popping visuals, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is fast, funny, and inventive, 83%.”

  • Zuckerman, D. (2010). Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Film Comment, 46(5), 70.

“What keeps this adaptation true to the graphic novel is the precise rendering of each character’s clichés. It’s a good cast full of palpable cartooned hip acting.”

Awards:

Wright:

  • Empire Award
  • Comedy Central Award for Best Director

References:

Albert, A. (n.d.). Bryan Lee O’Malley Profile. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://comicbooks.about.com/od/comicbookcreators/p/Bryan-Lee-O-Malley-Profile.htm

Edgar Wright biography overview. (2013). Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://edgarwright.com/bio/

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness; Illustrations by Jim Kay

monster callsBibliographic Information:

Ness, P., Kay, J., & Dowd, S. (2011). A monster calls: A novel. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press. (9780-763655594)

Plot Summary:

Conor is a 13 year-old-boy who is suffering from a nightmare that he has been having for the past few months. Then, one night, the monster comes. The monster tells Conor that he came because Conor called him.

Conor has a lot to deal with. His mother is dying of cancer and his grandmother is starting to take care of him. His father has his own life and family and is not available for Conor during this crisis. And then there is school. Lately, he has caught the eye of a bully.

Critical Evaluation:

The original plot was conceived by Siobban Dowd, as Ness explains in his Author’s note. She died from cancer before writing it herself. The illustrator on the project is Jim Kay. As with a graphic novel, the power of this story comes from the interplay between the text and the illustrations.

The illustrations are dark and vague. They are suggestions that can work with one’s imagination.Kay describes his technique fittingly when he says, “I prefer to work starting from a black canvas and pull the light out, which makes for a much darker image. The important thing was to give the reader the room to create their own characters and images in their mind, I was just putting suggestions of the Monster and Conor in there to help them along the way; darkness and ambiguity allow the reader to illuminate the scenes internally I think” (Ness, P., Kay, J., & guardian.co.uk).

Illustration from A Monster Calls

Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness. Photograph: Jim Kay and Walker Books from article “How we made A Monster Calls.

Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness. Photograph: Jim Kay and Walker Books

Ness has the chapters with the monster visits and his story interspersed with chapters showing Conor’s life during the day. The monster’s tales are striking. As the monster says, “Stories as the wildest things of all…Stories chase and bite and hunt” ((p. 35) Each story provides Conor a lesson but that lesson may not be the one Conor expects. After the third story, Conor must tell a story and it must be the truth.

A Monster Calls takes the reader on a journey through the emotions of the survivor. It is painful, beautiful, and cathartic. It also holds a lot of symbolism and imagery for discussion in an English class.

Reader’s Annotation:

A young boy is visited by a monster who forces him to accept some unpleasant truths through a visit every night and the stories he tells. The monster agrees to tell three stories after which Conor must tell his story.

Information About the Author:

Jim Kay

Jim Kay studied illustrations at the University of Westminster. Jim Kay loves art and botany. He credits his time at the Kew Gardens as the Assistant Curator for the Illustrations Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for introducing him to a variety of resources across the world (Jim Kay biography).

He has also provided images and research for publishers and television companies. In 2008 his one-man exhibition on the theme of producing ideas for children’s book attracted interest. He is now a full-time illustrator.

Jim grew up in Nottinghamshire.

For more information please visit his site.

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness has two very different biographies. His personal one is quirky and firmly roots him in the world of supernatural writing. His professional one focuses briefly on his life and delves into his works.

Although Ness was born in Virginia, he admits he has never been back. As an army brat he has lived in Hawaii, Washington, and California. He has called England home since 1999 (Biography, 2013).

Ness studies English Literature at the University of Southern California. He always wanted to be an author so he has tried to make sure all his jobs were related to writing. As a result, he worked as a corporate writer at a cable company, freelanced as a journalist, and taught Creative Writing at Oxford University. He has written for a number of English papers including The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement.

For more information please visit Patrick Ness’ website.

Genre:

  • Realistic
  • Identity
  • Guilt
  • family

Curriculum Ties:

  • English
    • Imagery, character types
  • Art
  • Counseling

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read one of the monster’s stories
  • Show some of the art in the book

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

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

I think it is very important that we have a variety of different resources for students. Many students will experience loss while in the high school years and many do not allow themselves to grieve and the pain is internalized. Books such as A Monster Calls will speak to these students. It is also an excellent book to be deconstructed in an English class. It is short but powerful with great imagery and Ness uses a variety of literary devices in his narrative.

Awards:

  • Carnegie Medal
  • Galaxy National Awards Winner
  • British Children’s Book of the Year
  • Red House Children’s Book Award
  • Kitschies Red Tentacle
  • Booklist “Top of the List” for 2011 youth fiction

Reviews:

  • Ritter, C. K. (2011). A Monster Calls. Horn Book Magazine, 87(5), 93.

“Carnegie Medal–winner Ness’s eloquent tale of pain and loss, inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd prior to her early death from cancer in 2007, is both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking.”

  • Welz, K. (2011). A Monster Calls. School Library Journal, 57(9), 164.

“This is an extraordinarily moving story inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd before she passed away. Kay’s shadowy illustrations slither along the borders of the pages and intermingle with text to help set its dark, mysterious mood, while Conor is often seen as a silhouette. A brilliantly executed, powerful tale.”

References:

Biography Patrick Ness. (2013). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/patrick-ness

Jim Kay biography. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.alisoneldred.com/biogJimKay.html

Ness, P., Kay, J., & guardian.co.uk. (2012, June 14). How we made A Monster
Calls. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from The Guardian website:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/childrens-books-site/2012/jun/14/a-monster-calls-patrick-ness-jim-kay

Patrick Ness. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.patrickness.com/index.html

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

hold me closerBibliographic Information:

McBride, L. (2012). Hold me closer, necromancer. New York: Square Fish.

  • Sequel: Necromancing the Stone

Plot Summary:

Sam is a university drop-out flipping burgers in a fast-food restaurant.  When he catches the attention of Douglas, his ordinary, going nowhere life suddenly gets a lot more complicated. Because Douglas is a powerful necromancer who recognizes the Sam is also a necromancer with latent powers.

When Sam declines Douglas’ offer to train him, Douglas decides to send him one of his friend’s severed head to explain that his offer was not optional. Soon, Sam finds himself locked in a cage with a powerful werewolf in Douglas’ basement. Then, things get interesting.

Critical Evaluation:

This is a book that does not take itself too seriously. The characters banter and spar with each other. Sam (Samhain Corvus LaCroix) is sarcastic and confused. He has a Harbinger that is trying to help him in return for waffles. One of his friends is a talking head. His mother is an earth witch.

The story is told primarily from Sam’s point of view. But, McBride does switch to other character’s point of view when convenient for plot development.

There is a dose of the horror element in the plot. Douglas is evil. There is blood and torture and lots of action. But there is also humour – and that is what makes the novel refreshing and quirky. If you are looking for hard-core horror, this is not the book for you. But if you want a fun romp through the supernatural, it will not let you down.

Reader’s Annotation:

Sam is having a tough week. His dead friend’s head is talking to him, he is stuck in a cage, and a powerful necromancer is teaching him to raise the dead. On the plus side, he is in the cage with a beautiful werewolf. Maybe he will ask her for a date – if they get out alive.

Information About the Author:

Lish McBride has a tongue-and-cheek biography on her site that is much more interesting than the one below. I’ve included just the facts. Visit her site to get the good stuff.

Lish McBride grew up in the Pacific Northwest. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of New Orleans. She currently lives in Seattle,

Genre:

  • Fantasy, Fiction
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Paranormal fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Minor violence
  • sex

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the boo
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    • Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion documents
    • Provide school’s selection polic
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

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

It is a fun, quirky twist on a horror book.

Reviews:

  • Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. (2010). Booklist, 107(6), 36-37.

“With fine writing, tight plotting, a unique and uniquely odd cast of teens, adults, and children, and a pace that smashes through any curtain of disbelief, this sardonic and outrageous story’s only problem is that it must, like all good things, come to an end.”

  • Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(17), 862.

“Despite uneven pacing and abandoned plot threads, this quirky urban fantasy will compel fans of horror and supernatural romance–and heroic skateboarding slackers.”

Awards:

  • William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist
  • 2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

References:

Home. (n.d). Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://www.lishmcbride.com/

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

raven boysBibliographic Information:

Stiefvater, M. (2012). The Raven Boys. New York: Scholastic Press. (978-0545424929)

Raven Cycle, #1

Plot Summary:

Blue is the daughter of the town’s clairvoyant. Unfortunately, she does not have the same gifts, although she does have the power to amplify the gifts of others. This is why she goes with her mother to the churchyard every St. Mark’s Eve, the night the soon-to-be dead walk past.

For the first time she sees one of the spirits who speaks to her. Later, she finds out that he is one of the Raven boys, a student at the prestigious private school Aglionby. Although she has made it a policy to stay away from Aglionby boys, Blue is drawn to Gansey and is soon deeply involved in his quest to find the ley lines which, legend suggests, are somewhere in the area.

Gansey comes packaged with an interesting set of friends including Ronan, the rich snob with a conflicted spirit always up for a fight, Adam, the scholarship student who desperately wants to belong but always feels inadequate because of his lack of funds, and Noah, who is always on the periphery – there and watching but rarely participating.

Together they will try to solve a mystery and become part of something bigger.

Critical Evaluation:

It goes without saying that characters are an intrinsic part of any well written story. There are some stories, however, that are more rooted in character development and the interaction between the characters than others. Raven Boys is this type of novel.

There are several plots lines woven through the novel based on each of the characters. Stiefvater made a great decision when she decided to share the point of view between her main characters. Gansey and Blue appear, at this point to be the warp threads in the tapestry. Adam, Ronan, Noah, and Blue’s family, particularly her aunt and mother, are the weft threads. The main characters interact and help develop the main plot line but they are also acting and reacting to their own circumstances that are separate from the primary plot. It will be interesting to see how the main characters develop through the rest of the cycle.

The paranormal also plays a major role adding colour and mystery to the tapestry.


Reader’s Annotation:

Blue meets Gansey for the first time at night on St. Mark’s Eve in a churchyard. Actually, she met his shade, which is not good since,”There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love…or you killed him.”

Information About the Author:

Maggie Stiefvater is a musician who plays several instruments including the bagpipes. She is also an award-winning colored pencil artist and a calligraphy instructor. Finally, she is now a full-time writer.

Maggie is the mother of two children and, as she says on her website, “four neurotic dogs who fart recreationally.”

Although Stiefvater gained a loyal following with her Shiver trilogy and Books of Faerie, she started receiving literacy accolades with the publication of Scorpio Races and Raven Boys.

Please see her website for more information.

Genre:

  • Fantasy novel
  • Paranormal fiction
  • Mystery

Curriculum Ties:

  • English – myths

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read the part where Blue sees Gansay’s shade in the churchyard.
  • Watch the book trailer by Maggie Stiefvater from her blog :

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up
  • Reading level 5.4

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

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

I really enjoyed Scorpio Races and hoped that Stiefvater’s writing would be similar in this book. I enjoy when author’s build their stories on the literary foundation of the myths of generations past.

Reviews:

  • The Raven Boys. (2012). Kirkus Reviews, 81.

“From then on, the point of view shifts among Blue; Gansey, a trust-fund kid obsessed with finding King Glendower buried on a ley-line in Virginia; and Adam, a scholarship student obsessed with his own self-sufficiency. Add Ronan, whose violent insouciance comes from seeing his father die, and Noah, whose first words in the book are, “I’ve been dead for seven years,” and you’ve got a story very few writers could dream up and only Stiefvater could make so palpably real. Simultaneously complex and simple, compulsively readable, marvelously wrought.”

  • Chomomaz, E. (2012). The Raven Boys. School Library Journal, 58(10), 151.

“The Raven Boys is an incredibly rich and unique tale, a supernatural thriller of a different flavor. The cinematic feel paces the novel well, and the many pieces of the story unfold with grace. The complicated relationships between the Raven boys and Blue are not of the standard main character/love interest variety’ and makes the curious plot all the more enthralling.”

  • Cart, M. (2012). The Raven Boys. Booklist, 108(22), 66.

“Indeed, reading this novel is like walking through a tangled thicket and coming across one unexpected and wonderful surprise after another.”

References:

Raven Boys. (2013). Retrieved from http://maggiestiefvater.com/the-raven-boys/

White Cat by Holly Black

white catBibliographic Information:

Black, H. (2010). White cat: #1 of The curse workers. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. (978-1416963974)

Curse Workers, 2: Red Glove

Curse Workers, 3: Black Heart

Plot Summary:

Cassel Sharpe is an ordinary teenage boy and that’s the problem. In a family of curse works he is expendable. It does not matter that working people is illegal and that everyone wears gloves because it takes skin contact in order to for someone to “work” you. What does matter is that he even without the talent he killed the girl he loved when he was 14 and his family covered it out.

He has the genes for crime so he is the school bookie and can run a con as well as anyone in the family but he is not a worker. So, at school, even though he is as normal as any other kid at school, he still has habits and connections to the Zacharov crime family that he needs to keep hidden. As a result, he really cannot fit into either world.

When he starts having dreams about a white cat and ends up sleep walking he starts to wonder if maybe something is not quite right with his view his world. Could it be that he has been worked? And if so, what possible reason could there be?

Critical Evaluation:

White Cat told from Cassel’s perspective. As a result, the narrative feels slightly jaded and often reads world-weary. Cassel has difficulty making friends because he does not want anyone to know about his connection with organized crime. Besides, it is embarrassing for a guy to admit that his mother is in jail for working a millionaire. Through Cassel’s eyes, the reader can also understand how it feels to be the nobody in a family of talented workers.

Cassel’s reminiscing about his past also provides a detailed backstory that provides the clues for the action of the present. The character of Cassel is one of the greatest strengths of the story. He is a complex character; both bad – he commits crimes and runs a bookie operation – and good. He is sensitive and protective of his friends. He wants to do the right thing but he also has to protect his family. He is both the crook and the victim.

Black has always melded reality with fantasy in her writing. In this series, the two are so intertwined that the magical is just part of the reality. She has created a complex reality where workers suffer discrimination and that discrimination has pushed workers into a world of crime ruled by crime lords.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cassel Sharpe is a con man with a sarcastic wit but he is non-magical and is definitely not a worker. So why is he having crazy dreams and sleepwalking on roofs? It is possible that the con man is being played?

Information About the Author:

Holly Black is a well-established, prolific author for children and young adults. Her bibliography includes The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale and Zombies vs. Unicorns. She has also written poetry and short stories.

Black was born in New Jesey in 1971. She graduated from The College of New Jersey in 1995. She then worked as a production editor and attended graduate school at Rutgers (Biography Holly Black).

For more information please see her website.

Please check out Scholastic site for a video interview with Holly Black.

Genre:

  • Science fiction
  • Urban fantasy

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Include in booklist of the best of the good bad guys.
  • Read one of the sleepwalking scenes.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

The Curse Workers series are not likely to be challenged in high schools because there are not graphic descriptions. However, it is possible that the actions of the characters may be objectionable to some.

    • drinking, gambling, stealing, drug use

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection.
  3. Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion document.
    • Provide school’s selection policy.
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  4. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

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

I decided to include White Cat because my students will love Cassel’s irony and dry humour. It is dark enough to border on horror without stepping over that line.

Reviews:

  • Sparks, L. J. (2010). White Cat. School Library Journal, 56(6), 94.

“Black has written a dark coming-of-age tale with a likable hero. Teens will empathize with Cassel’s desire to fit in and his occasional clashes with his family while rooting for him to unravel the conspiracy.”

  • White cat: The Curse Workers, Book 1. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(7), 302.

“Forget fairy tales. The first in Black’s new series is a dark, complex Chinese puzzle box, full of cons, criminals and curses–a denigrating term for magic in a world where it’s outlawed.”

“Urban fantasy, con story, coming of age–whatever you call it, read it.”

References:

About Holly Black. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.blackholly.com/biography.html

Biography Holly Black. (2013). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/holly-black

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Directed by Peter Jackson

hobbitBibliographic Information:

Jackson, P. (Director). (2012). The hobbit: An unexpected journey [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros.

Plot Summary:

Bilbo Baggins, a comfortable hobbit, is surprised when thirteen Dwarves show up at his hobbit hole expecting a party. When the Wizard Gandalf arrives Bilbo learns that Gandalf wants to recruit him as a “burglar” in a dwarven quest to enter the Lonely Mountain. The Lonely Mountain was the ancestral home of the dwarves that they were forced to flee when Smaug, the dragon, decides to make the Mountain his lair.

Although reluctant to leave, at the last minute Bilbo has a change of heart and hurries to catch up with the departing dwarves. Now committed to the task, Bilbo has many adventures with the dwarves including meeting Elves and being captured by Goblins.

When Bilbo is separated from the Dwarves he finds a mysterious ring and Gollum who is looking for it. Soon the Company is reunited and continues their journey. Meanwhile, Smaug, the dragon, awakens.

Critical Evaluation:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a trilogy that is based on the Tolkien novel, The Hobbit and the appendices to Tolkien’s The Return of the King.

The movie does stay to true to the novel but it is very long (2 hrs 50 min.) with two more movies still to come.

Reader’s Annotation:

A young hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is pressured into joining a group of dwarves to the Lonely Mountain in hopes of reclaiming their ancestral home.

Information About the Author:

The screenplay was written by Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Guillermo del Toro. It was adapted from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Genre:

  • Fantasy
  • Adventure

Curriculum Ties:

  • Many schools have The Hobbit on their reading lists.
  • Narrative arc, characters types
  • High fantasy

Booktalking Ideas:

  • N/A

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • PG-13

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this title?:

Tolkien is a very popular author in our library so the movie is a natural addition.

Awards:

  • Received three Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Won an Academy Scientific and Technical Award
  • Received nine nominations at the 39th Saturn Awards
  • Received five nominations at the 18th Empire Awards
    • Won Best Actor for Martin Freeman
    • Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Film

References:

Jackson, P. (Director). (2012). The hobbit: An unexpected journey [Motion picture]. United States: New Line Cinema.

The hobbit: An unexpected journey. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0903624/?ref_=sr_1

The hobbit: An unexpected journey. (2013). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hobbit:_An_Unexpected_Journey

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

scorpio races

Stiefvater, M. (2011). The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic Press. (978-0-5422-490-1)

Plot Summary:

Puck Connolly knows where she is from and where she belongs; she is a Connolly and she belongs with her brothers on Thisby Island. But, the family is having a hard time making ends meet and her older brother is threatening to leave the island. So, Puck decides to ride in the Scorpio Races; the first girl ever to do so.

Sean Kendrick, on the other hand, has been riding and winning in the races for years – but always for someone else. This year, if he wins, he will get the most important thing in the world for him – his freedom. Sean admires Puck’s grit and determination to win but he knows that the best he can do is help her train; not so she will win but so she will survive.

Critical Evaluation:

An interesting trend I am enjoying is the recycling of the old monsters, characters of folk tales and mythology, and bringing them into the modern world. In our throw-away society, I believe that too often authors forget the rich and diverse traditions available to them. Stiefvater’s treatment of the water horse, or capall uisce, stays true to its origin thus introducing elements of the story to a new generation of readers. In so doing, she is encouraging readers to dive into the rich literary history that is foundational to today’s culture. But, at the same time, she is adding another layer to the tradition of the water horse.

Further, Stiefvater has successfully created a place for this mythical creature to live. It may seem pedantic to point out that setting is an essential component in creating a believable tale but I believe it is particularly true in this story. Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly have been shaped into the people they are by the loneliness of the island, by the elements, by the insular island culture, and by the beautifully alluring danger lurking in the water. The setting is a secondary character in Scorpio Races.

Finally, by allowing Puck and Kendrick to tell their own stories with their own voice, the reader is able to see the differences and similarities between these two interesting people.

Reader’s Annotation:

Only one can win the Scorpio Races but many can die. The horses are killers and the sea is calling. Is it worth the risk?

Information About the Author:

Maggie Stiefvater is a musician who plays several instruments including the bagpipes. She is also an award-winning colored pencil artist and a calligraphy instructor. She is now a full-time writer.

Maggie is the mother of two children and, as she says on her website, “four neurotic dogs who fart recreationally.”

Although Stiefvater gained a loyal following with her Shiver trilogy and Books of Faerie, but she started receiving literacy accolades with the publication of Scorpio Races and Raven Boys.

Please see her website for more information: http://maggiestiefvater.com/

Genre:

  • Magical realism
  • Adventure
  • Fantasy

Curriculum Ties:

  • Myths foundational to literature today

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Reading level 5.5

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book?:

Reviews:

  • Kirkus starred review
  • School Library Journal starred review
  • Booklist, starred review
  • Horn Book, starred review

Awards:

  • Michael L. Printz Award Honor, 2011
  • Odyssey Honor Audiobook (audio book), 2012
  • Notable Children’s Recording list, 2012 (audio book)
  • ALA Notable Books for Children, 2012
  • The New York Times Notable Childrens’ Books of 2011
  • Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2011
  • Amazon’s Best Books for Teens 2011
  • School Library Journal‘s Best Books of the Year
  • Kirkus’ Best Teen Books of the Year (2011)
  • Horn Book Best Books of 2011
  • YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012
  • YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

seraphina Bibliographic information

Hartman, R. (2012). Seraphina. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. (978-0-385-66839-2)

Plot summary

Sixteen-year-old Seraphina Dombegh is a gifted musician who has just recently found a place in the royal court as a new assistant to the court composer. Her love of music encouraged her to defy her father and come to court even though she had been taught to blend in and hide since childhood as her mere existence is considered an aberration to both sides of her parentage. Her mother was a saarantrai; a dragon in human form. It wasn’t until her death and Seraphina’s birth that her father learned that the woman he loved wasn’t really a human.

Seraphina’s musical talents draw her into the inner circle of the Princess  Glisselda and her fiancé, Prince Lucien Kiggs. As Seraphina’s knowledge about dragons becomes known, she finds herself in the unique position of helping Kiggs, who is also Captain of the Queen’s Guard, try to solve a mysterious murder. She has come into the world of court at a time of high drama; it appears that Prince Rufus was killed by a dragon just before Ardmagar Comonot, the dragon’s leader, arrives to celebrate the anniversary of a treaty between their two nations. Someone is trying to destroy that peace treaty and Seraphina may hold the key to peace – or to war. But the more time she spends with the observant Captain, the closer he gets to learning her terrible secret.

Critical evaluation

Hartman’s debut novel, Seraphina, received a number of richly deserved accolades including the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel and the Cybils Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction. Seraphina was also a finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada), short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK), and long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (“Seraphina”).

Hartman’s tightly spun plot tells the story of the musically talented Seraphina. Told through Seraphina’s voice, the reader is first introduced to a scared young woman afraid to be noticed. As the plot develops, however, Seraphina’s character is shown to be increasingly complex as the reader is given glimpses of the depth of her confusion and self-loathing about her dragon heritage as she relates memories of her childhood. This coming-of-age story follows a remarkable heroine on her road to self-acceptance.

The kingdom of Goredd has the flavour of the Italian Renaissance with the rich interest in the arts, opulent dress, and focus on politics. Indeed, Hartman has aptly developed two cultures; one based on humanism focusing on creativity, art and emotion and the other based on the founding ideals of the Enlightenment with its focus the intellect, reason, and objectivity. These two ideals are embodied in the character of Seraphina who, being half dragon and half human, is struggling to accept herself as something more than the monster that both societies view her as.

Reader’s annotation

Seraphina’s gift of music came from her dragon heritage. But, when a dragon becomes the main suspect in a royal murder, that closely guarded secret could undermine her growing relationship with Prince Lucien Kiggs, destroy her family and, perhaps, throw the kingdom into war.

Information about the author

According to her website, http://rachelhartmanbooks.com , Rachel was born in Kentucky. She has lived throughout the United States, England, and Japan and currently lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She has a BA in Comparative Literature but “eschewed graduate school in favour of drawing comic books.”

Challenge issues:

  • none

Seraphina is her first novel.

Genre: Fantasy fiction, subgenre: animal

Curriculum ties: none

Booktalking ideas:

  • Read the section where Seraphina is describing her garden
  • Internal struggle for identity
  • Conflict of the rational vs emotion
  • Use of music as a plot device
  • Fear of the “other”
  • Book trailer

Reading level/interest:

  • 15 and up
  • Grade level 4.6

Why did you include this title?:

  • Canadian author
  • Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, Cybils Award,Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada),Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK),Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal
  • Received starred reviews from Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

City-of-a-Thousand-Dolls1 City of a Thousand Dolls  by Miriam Forster

Bibliographic information:

Forster, M. (2013). City of a Thousand Dolls. New York: HarperTeen. (978-0-06-212130-1).

Plot summary:

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls as a young child. The City of a Thousand Dolls is a place where orphan and unwanted girls are placed as infants or young children. There, they are trained in one of the eight houses to be musicians, healers, courtesans, and wives of nobility. Nisha arrived at the City too old to be placed in any of the Houses and so her place is somewhat tenuous as she belongs to none of the Houses but has trained in most of them. Over time, she found a place for herself as a servant and assistant to the Matron of the City.

She is now old enough to take part in the Redeeming. During the Redeeming, a person can claim a girl as an apprentice or a wife by paying a specified price, which is intended to compensate the City for her training. Nisha knows her chances of being chosen are slim but when she catches the eye of a young noble, she begins to dream that he will speak for her and she will be able to leave the City of Dolls for a new life. Nisha’s dreams are further imperiled when she catches the eye of another, who is willing to purchase her as a slave prior to the Redeeming; something that could happen because of her murky past and lack of connections.

When a series of murders threaten the security of the City, Nisha bargains to try to solve the mysterious deaths in exchange for her own freedom.

Critical evaluation:

Forster allows Nisha to tell her own story choosing to use first person narrative. This convention is common in both mystery fiction and in young adult literature. By using this convention, the author allows the reader immediate access into the thoughts and feelings of her protagonist; a successful technique when writing for a teen audience. Using first person narrative is also traditional in mysteries allowing the reader to uncover clues at the same time as the narrator.

The plot of the story follows many of the conventions found in fantasy writing; a mysterious heritage, unknown protector, and magical creatures. There is little new in this. Forster’s novel is successful, to a large measure, because of her well-thought out setting. By setting her story into a South-Asian inspired context, she is able to bring the real issue of a controlled family size policy found in China with a culture of undervaluing girls to her fantasy. These concepts provide a very modern context for the fictional City of a Thousand Dolls. To this, she has added the details to provide further foundation to her story; the girls being trained for specific tasks by the different houses, which provides some excellent secondary characters for Nisha to interact with.

Reader’s annotation:

Nisha must solve the murders occurring in the City of a Thousand Dolls to save her own life and the life of her friends. While trying to uncover the mystery, Nisha soon learns that there is more to her own story than what she was led to believe when she was abandoned at the gates of the City years below. Do the nomadic Kildi play a role in the murders? And what do the tribe of cats who call the City home know of the present mystery and her own murky past?

Information about the author:

City of a Thousand Dolls is the debut novel by Miriam Forster. In her blog, Dancing with Dragons is hard on Your Shoes, she describes herself as a “recovering barista” and “a bit of a hermit.” She is currently working on a companion book.

Genre:

  • Mystery
  • Fantasy
  • Romance

Curriculum ties:

  • Social justice issues
  • World History – China: one child policy, India: caste system

Booktalking ideas:

Reading level/interest:  13 and up

Challenge issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book in the titles chosen?:

  • City of a Thousand Dolls was recommended by an avid teen reader who appreciated the originality of the setting and characters that wraps a tradition fantasy theme of a young protagonist finding out she is special and in the process becomes a hero. I included it because of the mystery elements.