Two great new YA reads: I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak and The Secret Under My Skin by Janet McNaughton. Messenger is the story of Ed Kennedy, a 19 year old cab driver and your basic sweet harmless bum. He hangs out with his friends, plays cards, attempts to suppress his crush on a childhood girlfriend (as in girl-who-is-a-friend), and has an uncomfortable relationship with his mother. When Ed stops a bank robbery purely by chance he begins to receive playing cards with cryptic sayings on them. Eventually, Ed realizes that he has been tapped by a mysterious someone to decipher these cards and intervene in the lives of the three people each card refers to. I really liked this book, sort of a feel-good story for people who dig black humor. Some of the people Ed comes in contact with have more serious problems than others and there is a fair amount of violence but it ends on a great note.
The Secret Under My Skin is set in the year 2368. The environment has degraded, many children are living on the streets without parents and more are in work camps. It is from one of these work camps that Blay Raytee (her name changes later) is chosen to assist the new bio-indicator (a person who’s job is akin to theat of a canary in a mine) with her studies. Away from the work camp and the controlling Commission, Blay begins to learn an alternate history of how the earth’s environemtn became so damaged and what the Commission’s true purpose is as well as more information about her past. A good fast-paced science fiction book.
~posted by Theresa
When I was young, one of the big events in my household was when The Sound of Music came on every year around Christmas time. My parents loved the movie, my siblings loved the movie, I loved the movie. We all yodeled right along with Maria and the von Trapp children during the marionette show and knew all the words to every tune. I knew a children’s biography of Maria von Trapp was published a few years ago but kept forgetting to purchase it for my library until yesterday when Maria von Trapp: Beyond the Sound of Music by Candice Ransom arrived. I grew up near Vermont where the family eventually settled and had heard all the stories about what a hard woman Maria was in reality so I was interested to see how she would be portrayed in this book.
Based largely on Maria’s own writings (I didn’t even know she’d authored books), it chronicles her life highlighting a lonely childhood and an abusive foster family, her years in the convent and as a governess to the von Trapp children, the eventual marriage to Georg von Trapp and the family’s success as a touring chorale group. It’s a great read for kids, not too heavy and only brief mentions made of Maria’s temper and the family’s problems. Only problem is now the soundtrack to the movie is stuck in my head.
~posted by Theresa
Brodt, Burton P. illus. by Luc Melanson. Four Little Old Men: A (Mostly) True Tale from a Small Cajun Town. Sterling, 2005. ISBN 978-1402720062 32 pp. $
Storyteller Brodt has a lilting cadence to his voice that comes across in the text of this tale about four friends who love to play a Cajun card game called Bouree together. Their raucous game gets them ousted from Bubby’s daughter’s house, and they move on to several other locations as weather and other circumstances dictate, finally building a purple Bouree House under a sprawling oak tree until they decide it’s too stuffy, and then they move the game back outside and the house falls to ruin.
Although the descriptions of the Mississippi River, passing seasons, and shack building process are rich and lively, there are many authorial asides that interrupt the flow, and so much fuss is made about the building the men create one expects a much stronger resolution.
The illustrations are soft and comical, portraying the old men as gentle caricatures, each with distinct features, stature and dress. The endpapers are decorated with cards, and the cover illustration is, disappointingly, simply an reproduction of an interior illustration. Children will derive some familiarity and amusement from getting into trouble for being loud, and the various conflicts with perfecting the little house, but the tale seems much more suited to adults from Louisiana.
Grammatical errors such as punctuation inside parentheses, instead of outside further detracts from the overall quality. Sterling Publishing Co. has a fantastic reputation for nonfiction for children; perhaps they need to stick to what they do well, and leave the picture books to someone else.