Category Archives: Loss/Death
By Ron Koertge
Published by Candlewick Press
Copyright © 2010
“Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs,” the sequel to “Shakespeare Bats Cleanup,” gives new meaning to the phrase “Poetry in Motion” with its fluid use of poetic styles to tell the story of Kevin Boland and his mixed up life of baseball, poetry, grief, and love.
Kevin Boland is a baseball player who, just like his dad, loves to write poetry. However, his friends don’t seem to be too interested in this new passion of his. His girlfriend Mira is especially uninterested in Kevin’s writing talent, the only things on her mind seem to be looking good, saving the planet, and annoying her dad. Sometimes Kevin wonders why he is with Mira considering her apparent disinterest not only in poetry but also in his first love, baseball. But of course his friends happily remind him that it is because she is really cute.
What Kevin soon realizes is that relationships can be confusing and occasionally difficult. His Dad is beginning to date again after the death of his mom, some of classmates are boy/girl crazy, and he meets a girl his age that is into poetry too. He meets Amy at a poetry reading at the Book Bungelow and they hit it off, because they have a shared interest in the written word. This of course doesn’t sit well with Mira, and Kevin has a hard time deciding between the two.
This book is right up my alley. I love baseball. I love poetry. I love the way that Koertge shows not that poetry not only expresses a feeling but also tells a story. In addition, poetry doesn’t have to be serious. The poetry about Kevin’s life is a little more serious, but the monster poetry that Kevin and Amy are working on together are just fun. It is wonderful to show that poetry can be fun.
Though Koertge is in his 70’s he writes the relationships of the young so well. He just seems to have understanding of the language of youth. It isn’t all about slang; it’s about how they think and react. Teens and tweens are constantly falling in and out of love and they can be very dramatic and eccentric. Koertge captures that perfectly, especially with Mira and Becca, however he doesn’t just chalk it up to hormones he gives a nod to the stresses that kids are going under. Some of Koertge’s characters are dealing with fighting parents, death, and bullies. And to be able to express all this in poetic form is just amazing.
This book, and its predecessor, are great books to help spread the joy of poetry with children 11 and up. It introduces readers to various poetic forms without being too stuffy about it, and it tells a story that they will be able to relate to.
By Suzanne LaFleur
Published by Wendy Lamb Books
Copyright © 2011
Elise and Franklin like to play out in Uncle Hugh’s workshop in the barn. The Workshop is downstairs. The second floor is off limits and it has eight doors; all of them locked. One day just after the start of the new school year Elise notices a key hanging in the barn with her name on it.
Elise is moving from elementary school up to middle school and she is finding the adjustment to be difficult. She is getting more homework, less teacher support, and more attention for all the wrong reasons. Much of the unwanted attention is coming from her locker partner, Amanda, who is a generally unhappy girl that seems to enjoy yelling, name calling, and lunch squashing.
Elise feels that part of her problems are brought on by her childhood friend Franklin whose innocent nature gets him and her pegged as babies, and therefore easy targets, by Amanda and her friends. In addition, a new baby moves into her house, and Elise is having trouble getting used to not being the center of her Aunt and Uncles attention.
How is Elise going to deal with all of these changes in her life? After reading a letter written by her dad before he died she begins to think that answer lies behind those eight locked doors in the barn.
Suzanne LaFleur has written about middle school life, as well as troubles with friends and identity so realistically that it will be easy for many youths to relate to it. In addition the puzzle that is left behind by Elise’s father for her to discover adds a touch of mystery and surprise that heightens the anticipation for each chapter. Reality fiction at its best, this coming of age story is accessible to children (9 and up) and yet has emotional impact that even adults can appreciate.
Okay For Now
By Gary D. Schmidt
Published by Clarion Books
Copyright © 2011
Doug’s father has lost his job again and he has an offer of a job in a paper mill in a little town in upstate New York called Marysville. Doug isn’t really enthused about moving away from the city and his favorite team the New York Yankees, but it is no use to complain because his father will probably yell at him and pop him in the mouth. Things are going okay for Doug he makes a few friends, learns he has a talent he didn’t know he had, and even gets a job of his own. But if there is anything that Doug knows it is that when things are going too good something bad is bound mess it up. His brother and his dad seem more than willing to oblige and make things worse for Doug. Doug’s father has no problem stealing from his own son, and his brother, who has a habit of making the wrong impression, gets a reputation that unfairly attaches itself to Doug. Can Doug find a way to deal with his dad, and prove everyone in town wrong?
“Okay For Now” is complex tale of survival and betterment. Set in 1968 against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the Apollo space missions, and of course Doug’s beloved baseball player Doug Pepitone playing for the Yankees, Doug not only has to learn to Navigate a new town with new people but he has to navigate his home life with an abusive father and brother and the return of his oldest brother who comes home from Vietnam with life altering injuries. To cope with this Doug throws himself into his job of delivering groceries, learning to draw from the works of John James Audubon, and ultimately taking up his mission to make a special book whole again. In addition to all of this “Okay For Now” tells a tale of how important it is not judge people or places by their appearance, relations, sex, career, or etc. because often the conclusion that we come to are the furthest thing from the truth.
I found this book to be a moving and occasionally funny book of survival, recovery, redemption, and so much more. As I’m reading this book I’m thinking how badly I want Doug’s father to get what’s coming to him, however Gary Schmidt even finds a way to weave some redemption in there for him giving Doug hope for life to improve. This was one of those stories that once I got started I just had know how every thing would be resolved. I finished it in a day; it was that good. I highly recommend this book for children ages 10 and up.
By Rodman Philbrick
Published by Scholastic
Copyright © 1993
Max is big and dumb at least that’s what he thinks of himself. He hates school, he has no friends, and he is always picked on. But things are going to change when he gets new neighbors Gwen and her son Kevin. Kevin has a disease that has caused him to remain small, but he is the smartest and most fearless person that Max has ever met. Max and Kevin form a tight friendship that will help them both cope with their personal struggles.
“Freak the Mighty” is a moving book about two teens with different disabilities and abilities that complement each other. Max has a learning disability and emotional scars from the death of his mother; while he is physically imposing the reader can tell that he is quite obviously gentle and kind. Kevin on the other hand has a genetic disorder that causes among other things a small stature, abnormal spine curvature and heart, lung, and liver problems, however Kevin is extremely smart and inventive. These two have obvious physical and mental differences, but such things don’t stop either one from helping the other and forming a friendship that Max will never forget. And when Max needs help the most it will be Kevin who comes to his rescue.
This book will quickly move to the top of my favorite books list. There are no superheroes, faries, vampires, or mutants. This is just a beautiful story set in reality that shows how friendship and imagination can help people endure life’s struggles. I highly recommend this book for youths age 10 and up and for all adults.
Odd and the Frost Giants
By Neil Gaiman
Illustrations by Brett Helquist
Published by Harper
Copyright © 2009
Odd was a young man of twelve who had a peculiar way of making people angry – he smiled. It wasn’t the smile that angered people, it was that his was a knowing smile, in that he knew but he usually didn’t tell anyone what he knew. In a small Norse village where everyone knew everything about everyone else, especially since there wasn’t much else to do in the dead of winter, Odd’s smile and quietness didn’t always sit well. Given this, and Odd’s miserable circumstances, he decides to leave the village for his father’s cabin in the woods. On his first day there he meets a fox, an eagle, and a bear. Oh wait… I mean a talking fox, a talking eagle, and a talking bear, and from this point forward his life will never be the same.
Neil Gaiman has a written an imaginative novel inspired by Norse Mythology. Odd, who lives in a small village in Ancient Norway, has fallen on tough times and he feels it is time to leave the village and his mother whom he loves. He will take a journey that bridges his home in Norway and the realm of the God’s, Asgard. I really enjoyed this book not just for the incorporation of myth and legend, but because the protagonist has a certain thoughtfulness about him. Odd lives in world where men are MEN; they drink and fight and they don’t have much use for thinking or feeling. Odd, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be blessed with the size and strength of most Norsemen, in fact he is basically crippled, and yet he is able to save large animals and defeat giant foes without the use of force. Odd reminds me a little bit of Hiccup in the movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” (Sorry I haven’t read that book series yet. So many books so little time.) If you liked the story in that movie then you should enjoy this book as I did. I must say, I would love to see this book as a movie, but I would settle for Neil Gaiman writing a sequel to this book. Before I finish, kudos to Brett Helquist for some great black and white illustrations that helped us to visualize many of the characters. I don’t really analyze illustrations all that much, but I know what I like and Brett’s work is first class. Great addition to a great story. Recommended for children ages 9 to adult.
By Gary Paulsen
Wendy Lamb Books
Copyright © 2010
13 year old Samuel lives in Western Pennsylvania. He and his family live in what, at that time, is the American frontier. Samuel helps to feed his family by hunting deer and bear. He loves being in the forest; from it he has learned to hear what others don’t hear and see what others don’t see. Most of all he has learned to be independent and survive. While life is tough out on the frontier it is a good quiet life. All of that is shattered by the start of the American Revolutionary war. One day Samuel is out hunting and when he gets back he finds his home and many other homes in the area burned to the ground. Many of his neighbors have been killed for no reason, but a select few have been taken prisoner, his parents being among them. So Samuel sets off to rescue his parents. This is going to take all of what Samuel has learned about tracking and shooting as well as help from some good people along the way.
Paulsen has written an exciting and realistic Revolutionary War story, and he has done a great job at not glamorizing this war as so many other stories do. Paulsen’s description of this war includes descriptions of wounds, illnesses, poor living conditions, and the outright savageness of attacks. While it is sometimes rough information, I wouldn’t call it too graphic; it is tasteful but truthful. Paulsen’s fictitious account is action packed, moving, and historically accurate. This book is suitable, and enjoyable, for children ages 11 and up.